We are on the Humanities Beacon helipad, dear Reader, and the chopper blades are whirring high above us.

Salty, Freya, Janice, Professor Mise, May-ling (student rep) and Darren stand in a line behind me wearing their Sunday best. As instructed, Darren is clutching a bouquet and a bottle of Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits (1985).

Professor Mise holds her fascinator down with one hand over her unruly hair, and bellows, ‘Is the wine for Ser Basil, dear Ada?’

‘No need to shout, my dear’, I reply, whisking the bottle from Darren’s pale hand, on which I notice there is a long scratch. ‘The flowers will do just fine’.

We watch as the small dark speck in the sky gets larger and larger. The air rises around us. We are blown back a little.

Ser Basil’s private helicopter hovers inches above the helipad, dear Reader.

The helicopter door slides open.

Two lithe women in black bodysuits drop to the ground. They turn back to the helicopter and lift out a sedan chair. It is covered in a heavy veil on which the fleur-de-lovage has been embroidered in the finest gold thread.

I approach the chair, my head bowed low.

‘Ser Basil’, I say. ‘What a pleasure it is to welcome you to Taizhou Campus at last.’

An arm appears from between the folds of the sedan chair.

I recognize that insect-like arm, dear Reader.

The curtain of the sedan chair is thrown back.

There, reclining on damask cushions, is my nemesis of old – Asafetida Lovage.

‘Dr Ada!’, she rasps, ‘I am here to drive the Synergy Agenda, on behalf of Ser Basil, who has been unavoidably delayed after a little local trouble in Astana branch. Allow me to present my Synergy Enforcement Officers – Rose Madder and Vermilion.’

‘Delighted’, I say to the misses Scarlet.

Dear Reader. All my suspicions are confirmed.


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