Closing her eyes, Cassandra seemed to sag as she took another deep drag on her cig
“Now, that explosion wasn't so far away” Alex continued mildly “We really should go and investigate”
"Yeah, I suppose..." she murmured
“Well, it’s either that or the plague rats on the other side of the door” Seymour smiled, sensing a rare victory “You really should try to be a little less obstreperous Ms. Jones”
Taking a last deep drag on her fag, Cass flicked it away as Jacky sat up with a groan
“Smeg off Seymour” she sighed

As the group made their way through the eerily deserted corridors, they passed several other laboratories, some similar to the one they had just exited, whereas others were crowded with arcane machinery of indeterminable function, which Cass took to be automated research equipment or manufacturies of some sort; but as much as she would have liked to have investigated these, she found herself unwilling to risk jeopardising her position any further than she already had when she had used her directorial access privileges in front of Alex – She was, she morosely assumed, going to have to have a word with him about that at some point
“I’d say we must be getting closer to the site of the explosion” Seymour announced as they came to a halt at an intersection “I’m sure I can smell smoke”
“Yeah” Cass shrugged glumly “I think it’s probably...”
She trailed off, noticing for the first time that one of the laboratory doors had been left open
“Oh hello...” she murmured, prowling towards the door
“Ms Jones, we really don’t have time for this” Seymour chided, as she dodged into the lab to emerge a moment later, clutching a satchel
“I got one!” she said excitedly
“What's that?” Jacky groaned, barely able to stand upright
“Another time drive!” she smiled, holding the bag open for everyone to see “And a handheld and... and some other stuff!”
“That’s great Cass” Alex nodded patiently “We’re still going to see if Jay needs our help though”
“Yeah, I know” she sighed “But now at least we can get out of here if we need to!”
“Yeah, c’mon” Alex turned to move off down the corridor, Cass trailing behind him and the others as she dug the time drive out of the bag to begin trying to determine how to operate the device


A single slender figure moved amid the smoke in the room beyond the door
“Cass?” Jay croaked incredulously, thinking he recognised the long hair and thin build
“You wish” Brittany sneered as she strode out of the smoke

For a moment, Jay was so stunned that all he could do was gawp at what was essentially Cassandra, but with blond hair and blue eyes – She had the same features, the same build, everything; even the way she looked at you, and the way she carried herself was the same
“Who the smeg are you?” he breathed, wondering what the hell was going on here
“Brittany” the woman replied coldly “We're disappointed you don’t recognise us”
“What!?” Jay roared, suddenly hauling his assault rifle up to train on her "Keep the smeg back!"
“It's been a while Chrysler” she seemed almost amused as she walked through the ruined doorway and out onto the landing, her shoes making small wet noises as she padded through Hoshi's blood "How're you doing?"
"I said stay back!" Jay shouted, still sighting her down the barrel of his rifle
Brittany just ignored this and strolled across the landing to lean over the handrail, and look down the stairs towards where Katrina was still trying to comfort the crying Max a few flights below
"Cute kid" she smiled, incensing Jay into firing a warning shot and blasting a scorched hole in the wall behind her, which did at least make him feel better, even though she didn't even so much as flinch
“Don't you dare, you bitch” he snapped as Phil, spurred into action by the gunfire, staggered unsteadily up the stairs to join his friend “I should kill you for what you’ve done to me and my family!”
“Woah” Phil blinked and shook his head, apparently still somewhat concussed by the detonation “Is that Cass?”
“It’s Brittany” Jay snarled
“Aw shit” Phil muttered, fumbling to draw his pistols and train them on her “Why the smeg does she look like that?”
“You boys and your big guns...” Brittany smirked, lounging against the landing handrail “We’re terrified”
“Button it” Jay snapped “You’re obviously here for a reason, so what is it!?”
Brittany pushed herself away from the handrail and turned to face the two men, a smile playing across her lips
“It’s rare that We make an appearance around here, which is one reason why the place is so quiet; the other of course being to minimise the casualties that would otherwise have been caused when Seymour parked the Dwarf in the base, but regardless, We’re here at this juncture because it suits us to meet with you and explain a few things”
“Like what?” Jay frowned suspiciously
“The weft and warp of the wyrd is a curious thing” Brittany began in a coldly serious tone “Every action has consequences and reactions - a spiral of cause and effect, radiating outward from every thought and deed; what was informs what is and what will be”
“The patterns in the web are vast and virtually indiscernible” she continued “but with enough data, you can recognise them, plan for them and, ultimately, manipulate them to your own ends; the result of which is that if you’re in possession of all the data, you can manipulate everything”
“What the smeg?” Phil breathed, his brow furrowing
“Ah here she comes!” Brittany suddenly smiled and turned to gaze through the ruined doorway as Cassandra and the other members of the Dwarf’s crew approached down the corridor beyond “The belle of the ball and her honour guard!”

True enough, the others filed through the doorway a moment later, joining Jay and Phil on the gore besmirched landing, Cass looking almost murderously unhappy at the sight of Brittany
“Why’s that blonde lady look like Cassandra?” Efof asked Seymour, in an over-exaggerated stage whisper
“I said that this was a stupid idea” Cass snapped unhappily “I’ve no idea why she looks like me”
“She’s a backup” Brittany shrugged
“No!” Cass cried, suddenly aghast
“She’s what!?” Jay growled dangerously, as Cass fumbled the time drive out of the satchel to try and get the thing to perform a jump
“We don’t look like her” Brittany smiled evilly “She looks like us; she’s a backup – a clone of the person We used to be before We became Brittany”
“You smegging what!?” Jay snapped, his expression darkening with rage "Is this true!?"
"No..." Cass quavered, still desperately trying to get the time drive to work
"Of course it is" Brittany smirked "The previous queen was too stupid to have ever achieved what We have; it took someone with an intellect like hers and ours to guide humanity to greatness"
"Tell me this isn’t true!" Jay yelled, but all Cass could do was mutely shake her head, her eyes brimming with tears
”You lying bitch!” he suddenly exploded, training his rifle on Cass instead of Brittany in a moment of indecision before thinking better of it and returning his aim to Brittany "I can’t... You... You smegging bitch!"
"Well, now that little bit of unpleasantness is out of the way" Brittany drawled as she stalked across the landing towards Cassandra “May We just say how good it is to see you again Miss Jones, and remind you that there’s always a position here at the STCP for someone with your talent’s”
“Smeg off” Cass yelled, her voice thick with emotion as Jay simultaneously bellowed at Brittany “Do not move! Do not smegging move!”
“We do as We please” Brittany grated, barely sparing him a glance
“I said stop” Jay fired another warning shot into the floor between the two women, making Cass scream and flinch, whereas Brittany seemed entirely unconcerned
“Any more of that shit Chrysler and We tear your family’s very existence from history” Brittany snapped
Jay’s rage was so intense at that point that he was barely aware of what he was doing, and just blasted Brittany with a wild burst of fire that seemed to wash over her in a colourful display of heat and light, as whatever shielding technology she was wearing deflected the attack, to leave her completely unharmed
“You met Katrina later on in your career and you're down to just the one child now” Brittany's laughter was mocking “Don't force me to erase him from history as well!”
“Smegging hell!” Cass choked, as visibly shocked as everyone else, the time drive in her hands, now glowing brightly, suddenly forgotten
“Drop dead you bitch!” Jay aimed again but was interrupted by Katrina’s sudden arrival at the top of the stairs
“For pity's sake Jay” she screamed “Please don’t! Max is all I have!”
Still aiming his assault rifle at Brittany, Jay’s inner turmoil was obvious to everyone present, even after he eventually pulled his weapon up with a snarl of anger
“And this is where we get to the object lesson of this encounter” Brittany intoned with a chilly smile “Reality is our plaything Chrysler; Whole civilisations live and die by our will alone. We plan and orchestrate the evolution of entire species; We plan their nature and their interactions with their galactic neighbours, their battles and the casualties in their petty little wars, the rank incompetence of their various commanders...”
She paused to let what she had said sink in
"Does any of that sound familiar to you Chrysler?”
“Are you saying you orchestrated the Hymenoptera attack that killed half my crew!?" Jay breathed, his bubbling rage building once more towards a blinding crescendo “The one that led to me being subjected to six smegging centuries as your smegging slave!?”
Brittany shrugged
“It was essential in ways your tiny little mind could never comprehend”
“Then smegging die!” Jay bellowed, raising his gun once more as Cass finally activated the time drive, executing the sequence she had programmed and jumping them all back to the Dwarf’s drive room before a second jump fired to liberate the ship from the embrace of the STCP’s headquarters and return them back to their own time

It was debatable whether or not Jay was aware of what he was doing by that point but he opened fire anyway and destroyed one of the helm consoles, Max’s hysterical screams finally bringing him abruptly to his senses as Katrina dashed out of the room with him in her arms
“S’Okay honey” she could be heard soothing him outside, her voice getting fainter as she moved further away “It’s ok, it’s ok...”
The occasional fizz and crackle of shorting circuits in the ruined console and Jays ragged breathing were the only sounds for a moment as Cass quietly slipped the depleted time drive back into the satchel with shaking hands
"I am not that woman" she said in a small voice
For a moment, nobody said anything until Jay suddenly sprinted towards her with a wild snarl of rage and the room erupted into chaos as he body-checked her, his weight and momentum knocking her to the floor as he bore down on her, his hands closing around her throat

In the end it was Justin and Alex who hauled him off her, although not before Justin had manage to cop a crafty grope
"I want her dead" Jay bellowed, struggling hard against the two other men as Cass scrambled away from them on all fours, coughing and gasping for breath
“I’m not her!” Cass croaked as Jay suddenly broke away from Justin and surged towards her again, only to be hauled back by Alex
“Calm the smeg down!” Solvay yelled as Justin scrabbled to regain his hold on Chrysler
“You need to leave now!” Alex shouted at Cass, who grabbed the satchel and scrambled up to run from the room without another word, her face a mask of abject misery

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