In his villa, which doubled as the headquarters of his mercenary army, Mathematician Girsin was attempting to ignore Deetmir. This wasn't easy. The tiny spherical robot could be a persistent critic. One it got an idea fixed in its mind it tended to whirr around his head, lecturing him. It could be infuriating, particularly as there seemed no way to reprogram it. Girsin could have destroyed it, but was reluctant to do so. Deetmir was one of the most sophisticated mathematical devices in the universe, and a vital assistant for much of his activity.
'This is one of your worst ever plans,' said Deetmir. 'And you've had plenty of bad plans.'
Girsin focused his attention on the screen that floated in front of him, and didn't reply.
'If you can even call it a plan, that is,' continued Deetmir. 'You construct a new virtual world, trick Mixt and her friends into coming here, and for what? Revenge after she chopped up your bunch of flowers?'
Girsin scowled. 'I went to a lot of trouble to select that bunch of flowers.'
'Even so, trapping the intended recipient in a hostile world would not normally be seen as the next logical step.'
As Deetmir swooped too close to his head, Girsin attempted to swat it away, which was hopeless. Deetmir's sensory array was too efficient to allow it to be struck.
Girsin returned to the figures on his screen and tried to ignore his companion.
'I miss the days when we just looted worlds,' said Deetmir. 'Before you started falling in love. Life was simpler then. Incidentally, 102 Woo should be arriving soon.'
Mathematician Girsin's head jerked in alarm and surprise. 'What?'
'102 Woo. They're on their way.'
'I constructed this world so they couldn't find it.'
'And they recruited someone who could. Melusine Mak.'
'An up and coming mathematical mercenary, so I believe.'
Girsin was scornful. 'Let her come. I've dealt with these people before.'
'True. Deetmir whirred. 'But if she's smart enough to lead 102 Woo here, she might be able to cause you problems. You'd better make sure your Double Red mercenary army is well equipped and ready, because 102 Woo are extremely annoyed at you.'
Rainith returned to the bunker in triumph with her loot. While Nakishdan grumbled that the fairy had an unfair advantage, being able to shrink herself and fly in a way that their enemies were not programmed to cope with, Mixt was more gracious about her success.
'You did well, reaching that crash site.'
Rainith's loot, a small silver box, lay on the table in front of them.
'So what is it?'
'It won't open,' said the fairy.
Mixt brought up her screen and entered the usual command for opening a locked box. Nothing happened.
Fourteen Trees studied the box. 'We need advanced opening skills for this. Do we have that?'
Mixt and Nakishdan shook their heads. 'You need the advanced science upgrade to get that. We've never bothered with it.
'We prefer just blasting things open with powerful weaponry.'
'That won't work with this.' Fourteen Trees brought up another screen. 'We have a level upgrade after that battle. I'll upgrade my science level, skills, I'm not really suitable for blasting things.'
The young girl pressed several buttons, taking the upgrade. Mixt and Nakishdan meanwhile upgraded their armour rating, giving them more protection in combat.
'Lets see what happens now.' Fourteen Trees successfully opened the box. Inside was a small metal strut, a few centimetres long. She took it out and laid it on the table.
'What is it?'
'A small piece of metal.'
'That's not very exciting.'
Rainith was unimpressed. 'We had to go on a mission for that? What a stupid place this is.'
Abruptly, the metal strut disappeared. A few seconds later, it popped back into existence.
'How did it do that?' Mixt looked as puzzled as her companions. 'Look, it's disappeared again. Now it's come back. How does it keep disappearing?'
Geeda produced her scanner, also upgraded, and pointed it at the mysterious object. 'It's not disappearing,' she told them. 'It's rotating through more than three dimensions. That's why we can't see it sometimes.'
Mixt stood up. After some trial and error, she'd managed to re-produce the short, blond spiky hairstyle she'd worn on Earth. That could be tricky in the virtual game-world, where the hairstyling screens were difficult to use. Nakishdan had spent countless hours doing his own hair, and still wasn't completely satisfied. 'A strange, multi-dimensional object. It's probably got some important use. Fourteen, I expect you'll work it out in no time. I'm going to the kitchen for a glass of space gin.'
Fourteen Trees, failing to make progress with her investigation into the strange artefact they'd acquired, took a break, during which she turned her logical mind to the best way to survive their current situation.
'It seems to me your approach to this gameworld is too random,' she announced to Mixt.
'Pardon?' Mixt had been working her way through their supply of space gin, but was not yet too inebriated to listen.
'The way we all level up, and then spend our money on new armour and weapons. It's haphazard. We should make plans so we all get equal shares and we all increase our strength in the most appropriate ways.'
Mixt didn't entirely approve of this. She and Nakishdan were by nature impulse players, not given to planning. Geeda Lala, however, supported her friend. 'Fourteen's right. We should be more careful with our resources. Work out what the best armour and shielding we can afford, and the best weapons.'
Rainith, in her small fairy size, was sleeping on a bookshelf, and took no part in the conversation. Mixt shrugged. 'Can't do any harm I suppose. Though it sounds tedious. It'll probably take ages to work it all out.'
'I've already done it.' Fourteen Trees brandished a list, causing it to appear instantly on everyone's screen. 'So far we've earned twelve thousand credits by selling the goods we've collected. I've worked out all the best equipment to buy to make us stronger. If you read my list you'll see I've apportioned everything carefully - ' Fourteen Trees paused. 'That's odd. What happened to our money?'
'What do you mean?'
'We're supposed to have twelve thousand credits but it's disappeared. We only have eight credits left.' Fourteen Trees looked baffled, and scratched her head through her hat.
'Maybe you made a mistake adding it up?'
An accusation of making an error in simple addition was very insulting to the young Fourteen Trees, who prided herself, justifiably, on her mathematical brilliance. 'I didn't! We had twelve thousand credits and it's just vanished for no reason!'
The door to the next room opened. Nakishdan appeared. He was dressed in a dazzling yellow frock coat, with yellow breeches to match, and a three cornered hat with a yellow feather. Rainith woke up and took to the air in alarm at the sight.
'I just bought a new outfit!'
Mixt shook her head. 'Well if it isn't Lord Foppington, visiting from the eighteenth century. Couldn't you find anything more ridiculous to wear?'
Oblivious to, or at least unconcerned by, his companions disapproval, Nakishdan strutted round the underground bunker in his new outfit. 'Isn't this great? I finally managed to afford one of the next level uniforms.'
'You look ridiculous,' said Rainith.
'What would a fairy know about anything? This outfit expresses my personality. I call it bright yellow pirate.'
'It's not exactly discreet,' Mixt pointed out. 'When mercenaries are shooting at us you'll stand out like a beacon.'
Nakishdan smiled in a superior manner. 'No I won't. Look - ' he touched a button on his wrist screen, and the dazzling uniform changed colour, becoming a dull grey, more in keeping with the military outfits common in the city. 'This is high-quality clothing. Instant chameleon disguise, excellent shielding, keeps out most laser and plasma attacks and adds plus ten to defence against rockets.'
'But again, you look like Lord Foppington.'
Geeda Lala and Fourteen trees were baffled by the cultural reference.
'Who's Lord Foppinton?'
'A ludicrously foppish character in The Relapse. A comedy. First performed in 1696. I remember it well because I was in the original run in Drury Lane.' Mixt smiled. It was one of her favourite memories. 'Only for a few performances. I was an understudy. But it was a good part. Mary Kent was playing a breeches role, acting as a male character. She was a good actress but she injured her leg dancing on the table in a tavern - there was a lot of drinking in the theatre world back then - one of the male leads was continually drunk from the opening night till the end of the run - so anyway I had to stand in for a few nights, strutting round the stage as a young man with a sword at my hip. I enjoyed that.' Mixt sipped her gin. 'Good times. I liked Restoration Comedy. Much better than what came after, when the moralists took over.'
There was a long pause, Mixt's reminiscences having interrupted everyone's train of thought. Fourteen Trees was the first to rally.
'But now we don't have any money! No one else can upgrade. Nakishdan, it's really selfish to spend all our money.'
'I needed a new outfit. Anyway, I earned most of it, capturing weapons with my superior skills.'
'No you didn't.'
'Yes I did. You might say I was being generous, sharing it with everyone.'
'But you haven't shared anything!' cried Geeda Lala.
'And we just made a new plan for sharing everything,' added Fourteen Trees, accusingly.
'Sounds like an excellent idea,' said Nakishdan. 'We should definitely do that.'
'You've just spent all our money on a new outfit!'
'That was before we made the new rules. Can't blame me for that. From now on, I'm in full agreement about sharing all resources.'
1 of 1: posted 11 April 16
The underground bunker was well supplied, well protected and well ventilated. It was however, too small for comfort when there was tension in the air, as there was after Nakishdan spent all their money, thereby ruining Fourteen-Trees' carefully constructed fiscal plans. The young Kesh girl now sat in front of her multiple screens, in a bad mood, resolutely refusing to communicate.
'What a grump,' muttered Nakishdan to Mixt. 'You'd think a mathematical genius from an advanced society might be more convivial.'
'I'm not sure there's any reason to think that. You did destroy all her calculations by squandering everything on your ridiculous Lord Foppington outfit.'
'Shouldn't you be supporting me? The man once carried you along the pavement because you were worried about stepping on the cracks? Who saved you from some of the larges flying snakes yet recorded?'
Mixt laughed. 'I do support you. That doesn't mean you aren't ridiculous.'
'I hate this stupid radio!' screamed Rainith. 'Why is there no good music?' The fairy, having tried every available station, was now angry at them all, and was demanding to hear X-Ray Spex, though Geeda Lala thought it unlikely that such a band had ever existed in this particular reality.
'Stupid reality,' complained Rainith, and began hitting the radio.
'Let's go out for a while,' muttered Mixt to Nakishdan.
'Anywhere it's peaceful. Though we're still wanted criminals so you'll have to wear your disguise.'
'But I just bought this great new outfit.'
'You should have thought of that before you wasted all our money dressing up like Sir Fopling Flutter.'
Nakishdan regarded her suspiciously. 'Now you're just making names up.'
'Certainly am not. Sir Fopling Flutter, The Man of Mode, Restoration comedy, George Etherege. Some time in the 1670s. I forget which year exactly, I was working a gin still at the time and sampled a lot of the product.'
Once again disguised as hooded merchants, Mixt and Nakishdan left he bunker, travelling via hover taxi into the heart of the city.
'You liked all that restoration theatre. How come you gave it up?'
Mixt shrugged. 'Manners in London changed. They cleaned up all the plays. It wasn't much fun after that. Anyway, I couldn't stay around too long. After ten years as a young actress, people start to wonder why you aren't getting any older.'
Nakishdan could sympathise. It was a problem they both shared. Their ageless existence had often made people around them curious. Before reaching the security of Mixt's mansion, they'd frequently found themselves obliged to move on, to avert suspicion.
'So where are we going?' asked Nakishdan
The hover taxi came to ground on a rough piece of tarmac. Like much of the city, the small hoverports tended to be dilapidated. Only a few wealthy parts of Star Metal City were well maintained.
'What are we looking for?'
'One time when were were playing at home I noticed something odd at one of the market stalls. A silver sort of thing, seemed to disappear and then come back again, just like the one Rainith found at the crash site. I just remembered it.'
'I never saw it.'
'You weren't there,' said Mixt. 'You were busy on another of your unsuccessful forays with the blue-skinned barmaid.'
They approached the busy market.
'You think maybe I should visit her again?'
'Don't let me stop you. If you wear the yellow pirate's outfit at least it will give her a laugh.'
Nakishdan halted, and looked annoyed. 'Why is everyone being mean about my clothes?'
Mixt immediately regretted hurting her companion's feelings. 'I'm sorry. You can't help your foppish clothing desires. Nothing else would suit your personality, when you think about it.' She took his arm and they walked into the market together.