Following along behind Paul McArtney, a crowd of people came between the various combatants. Other musicians perhaps, thought Mixt, though none were as recognisable as the Beatle.
'He didn't really change that much through the years.' She looked around for Granyu, but her deadly adversary was nowhere in sight.
'Surely he hasn't left? He wants to kill me. I want to kill him.'
Since Paul McArntey had arrived on the upstairs floor, it was harder than ever to pick anyone out. The crowd had grown and the noise seemed to be increasing all the time. Mixt had realised some time ago that while there was no alcohol served at the event, there were a lot of drugs. The effects were already evident. Some people were sitting on the floor, others stumbled through racks of psychedelic clothes, and others talked animately to each other, or to themselves, or to mysterious phantoms, visible to no-one else. The music grew louder and the light-show intensified, rendering it almost impossible to recognise anyone.
'Where's Nakishdan? Probably talking to Flavia the Poisoner.' Mixt felt irritated. It wouldn't be the first time Nakishdan had forgotten what he was meant to be doing on a mission, after meeting some pretty young woman and becoming distracted.
'It's ridiculous the way he can't concentrate on the task in hand.'
Mixt felt a small jolt, and next instant found herself sitting in a gondola, floating down a canal in Venice.
Mathematician Girsin was facing her. A gondolier propelled them smoothly along a canal. Mixt's first thought was that she'd mistakenly imbibed some of the plentiful drugs on offer at the Beatles' Launch. Perhaps she'd drunk some of the fruit juice laced with LSD. But she'd experienced LSD in the past, and this didn't feel the same. She trailed her hand in the water. It felt real. She didn't think she was hallucinating.
'What's going on?' she demanded.
Girsin smiled at her. He'd removed his hat, but still wore his flowing cape, a garment which didn't seem out of place in Venice, though Mixt wasn't certain what time period they were in.
'It was so confusing in that place.' Girsin smiled. 'And everyone was fighting. I thought we might take a break.'
'So you kidnapped me?'
'I wouldn't call it that. It's more like an excursion.'
'Where are we?'
'Venice. 1420. Those annoying young women from 47 Jeng have been keeping me away from Geeda Lala but I'm still free to move around elsewhere.'
Mixt leaned forward, careful not to upset the gondola, and touched his leg.
'Why did you do that?'
'I was just checking you're actually real. Which you are.' She took out her naginata. 'So take me back to London or I'll put this blade through your neck.'
'Couldn't we stay a little longer? Venice is quite splendid in this era.'
'I need to be in London. I have people to kill.'
They passed another gondola. To Mixt's annoyance, Mathematician Girsin nodded to its occupants, sending a genial greeting to a couple in Medieval garments. It struck her that beneath her coat she was wearing a minidress, a very incongruous garment for fifteenth century Venice.
'I meant it about killing you.'
'Then how would you ever get home?'
'I'd keep on living till I reached 1967 again. I've done it before.'
Gislin laughed. His long brown hair drifted a little in the breeze. 'If you really insist. But I feel you're making a mistake. There's no hurry. I can take us back to the same time period no matter how long we stay here.' He leaned forward and regarded her quite intently. He had rather nice brown eyes, Mixt noticed. 'I adore you hair. Did you cut it short like that for the sixties?'
'No. It was like that anyway. And what do you mean, you adore my hair? You sound like we're on a date. Is this meant to be a date?'
'You could call it that.' Gislin was still smiling.
'Now I want to kill you more than ever. Suddenly taking someone to Venice isn't a date. Not unless you ask them first. Otherwise it's kidnapping.'
The young Kesh looked disappointed. 'I suppose so. I didn't really think it through. It was so unpleasant and noisy in that place. I just thought it would be nice to get away for a little while.'
'Take us back.'
'Is it Nakishdan? Are you involved with him?'
'That's none of your business!' Mixt was becoming more irritated by the moment.
'I could take us somewhere else. The Globe in Elizabethan London perhaps? We could watch the first performance of Romeo and Juliet.'
'The first performance of Romeo and Juliet wasn't at the Globe,' snapped Mixt. 'It was at The Theatre in Shoreditch. I was there. Now I want to be in 1967 and I'm running out of patience.'
'Very well,' sighed Mathematician Gislin. A tiny transparent screen popped up from the palm on his hand. He touched it. Abruptly, Mixt found herself back in the Beatles store. It was still chaotic and noisy. The Small Faces were playing over the sound system. As soon as she re-appeared, Nakishdan grabbed her by the shoulder.
'Where have you been? There was another flying snake then two more agents from 102 Woo and I had to fight them and then - ' he halted, noticing Gislin at Mixt's side. 'What's going on?'
'Nothing,' said Mixt.'
'We've been on a date in Venice,' said Gislin.
'You've been in Venice?'
'Yes,' admitted Mixt. But it wasn't - '
'The canals were beautiful,' added Gislin.
'How could you leave me here on my own to fight flying snakes and ninjas while you swanned off to Venice on a date?'
'It wasn't a date! He kidnapped me. I came back as soon as I could.'
'It's not right,' Nakishdan looked angry. 'You're always criticising me for minor things like being polite to that woman Flavia which really doesn't count as flirting by any stretch of the imagination and then you just go to Venice on a date with a complete stranger who's meant to be our enemy! Who's being irresponsible now?'
Mixt tapped her foot angrily on the floor. 'I really am going to kill someone while I'm here,' she muttered.
Princess Sowena sat on the floor in the bare front room of Rainith the Red's council flat in South London. She wondered, as she had before, how Rainith could live in such frugal surroundings. Had Sowena been obliged to live here she wouldn't have liked it, but she would have made some effort to make her habitation pleasant.
'I'd have painted the walls, at least,' she mused. Rainith's walls were drab, ancient cream paint fading over the plaster. There were no pictures on the walls, no decorations anywhere. Nothing to brighten the room. Every room was the same. Rainith lived her life with nothing pleasant around her, and nothing colourful. It was very unusual for a fairy.
Sowena closed her eyes and let her mind go blank. Her acute sense picked up the sound of a baby crying in a nearby flat but her mind soon tuned it out. She looked back in time for Rainith. It took her a long time to find any trace of her, even though she knew where she was looking. She'd been informed of the event at the Apple Shop, and directed her senses in that direction. Even so, there was no sign of Rainith. Sowena could sense Mixt and Nakishdan, and some others, but not Rainith.
'Someone's hiding her.'
The fairy princess concentrated. She saw Nakishdan talking to a woman who'd lived a long time. She noticed that there was some attraction between them. She saw Mixt, arguing with a stranger in a cloak.
'He doesn't belong in this world,' though Sowena. 'And there are more people who don't belong here.'
She focused on Fourteen Trees. 'She's hiding Rainith. Rainith and another girl. Geeda Lala.'
Sowena looked keenly back into the past, hunting for Rainith. She saw that Fourteen Trees had several companions with her.
That must be her tribe. They're trying to help Geeda Lala and Rainith.
Princess Sowena frowned. There was something not right about one of Fourteen Trees' companions. When anyone committed treachery, by communicating with an enemy, it produced a distinctive aura that Sowena could distinguish. She could see it now.
Fourteen Trees' companion is communicating with her enemies. She's going to betray them.
Mixt and Nakishdan began arguing on the way home and kept it going for a long time. They had a talent for stretching out arguments, repeating the same things over and over, as if the repeated insistence that the other was in the wrong would finally bring victory, though it almost never did.
'I was not flirting with Flavia.'
'Yes you were.'
'Smiling isn't flirting. you'd know that if you weren't so hostile.'
'I'm not hostile. I'm friendly. But I don't go flirting with our enemies. In particular, I don't go paying compliments to the companion of a man who's spent the last four thousand years trying to kill me.'
Mixt was irate that she'd finally come into contact with Granyu, only to lose him again in the confusion at the Apple shop. 'It might be a hundred years before I meet him again.'
'So? It wasn't my fault. You might have been able to find him if you hadn't gone off to Venice with Girsin.'
'He kidnapped me.'
'So you keep saying. It didn't look like you were struggling. Were you fighting in the gondola?'
'I threatened to kill him.'
Mixt's phone rang as they reached home. She glanced at the screen and ignored it. They entered Mixt's huge mansion, then stood waiting in the hallway.
'Why are you waiting here?' asked Nakishdan.
'So I can slam the door.'
'I wanted to slam the door too.'
They glared at each other. Neither being able to slam the door, they carried on into the front living room.
'You do realise she's called Flavia the poisoner for a reason? It wasn't just an affectionate nickname.'
'Maybe she didn't deserve her reputation?'
'Yes she did. She poisoned people. If she hadn't been working for the Roman Emperor she'd have been executed. I've seen you flirt with some unsuitable people but this is a new low.'
'Will you stop saying I was flirting?' Nakishdan's phone rang. He glanced at the screen and ignored it. 'Who was it had a long friendly chat with Mathematician Girsin even after you came back from this so-called kidnapping? Looked quite cozy to me.'
'It was not cozy.'
'What were you talking about?'
'Romeo and Juliet.'
'That was only a co-incidence.'
'Who talks about Romeo and Juliet by co-incidence?'
'It just happened to come up in the conversation.'
The mission into the past had not gone well. There had been so much chaos in the Beatles Apple shop it was hard to tell who had come out on top. Geeda Lala and Rainith were still safe, or so they thought, from the way they'd abruptly disappeared. Their best guess was that Fourteen Trees had hidden them again. But Girsin and 102 Woo had found them once, and might do so again. Then there were the flying snakes. They'd been attracted to 1967, further back in the past than before, which was more bad news.
Mixt and Nakishdan's phones rang simultaneously. They looked at the screens. Agent Duluth was calling from headquarters, as he'd been doing for the past hour.
'You answer it,' said Mixt.
'Why should I? You answer it.'
'Why me? I'm always the one who has to talk to him. Try taking responsibility for once.'
'I'm not answering it.'
'Then I'm not answering it either.'