“Fuck’s sake!” Cass yelled “How cold is this fucking water!?”
“Keep scrubbing” Jade called back from outside the cubicle “I want you both completely spotless!”
Leaning forward over the basin, Cass scooped another cupped handful of chilly water up and into her hair, making her gasp in shock. “Urgh. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck”
“You want to toughen up Jones” Jamie called from one of the adjacent cubicles.
“It’s not my fault that I haven’t spent the last ten years smearing myself with piss”
“Now, now” Jade said sternly “We said we’d never speak of that”
“Well...” Cass scowled at herself in the mirror; she was stripped to the waist and still smeared with streaks of black filth. You could tell she was cold “He started it”
“Did not -”
She bad temperedly banged the heel of her palm against the hand dryer’s start button, both to drown him out, and to momentarily bask in the musty-smelling hot air from the upturned nozzle of the dryer.
“Fucker” she grumbled sourly, her voice drowned out by the roar of the fan.
They were in the command centre’s toilet block; a collection of cramped, unisex cubicles that had thankfully come with a washbasin inside each cubicle, instead of the more usual arrangement with communal sinks that Cass had been concerned they’d find – Even in spite of her having previously had to make ends meet by taking her clothes off, she hadn’t particularly wanted to strip off in front of Jamie; especially since the guy hadn’t seen a real life naked woman in more than a decade.
Jade interrupted her reverie by banging on the cubicle door. “Come on Cass – The sooner you’re done, the better”
Making some vaguely affirmative noises as the dryer finished, Cass miserably kicked off her boots before hauling the rest of her clothes off.
She wasn’t looking forward to this.

In the end, it took close to twenty minutes of swearing and almost constant complaining, before Cass was clean; her skin scrubbed and pink in the mirror as she splashed about on the flooded floor, trying her best to dry herself off with the hand dryer.
There was a knock on the cubicle door.
“It’s me” Jade called from outside “Jaxx and Eve came back”
“Great” Cass unlocked the door and cracking it open, leaned around it to chat to her friend “Did they manage to find any clothes?”
Jade grimaced “Yeah... Kinda”
“They came back with these” Jade held up a selection of tacky-looking outfits
“You’re fucking kidding me?”
“Um... No”
“No way” Cass shook her head vehemently “No fucking way”
“Is there anything in my size?” Jamie called
“Do you want to wear assless chaps?” Cass yelled back
“You what!?”
“Chaps. Assless”
“That’s what I thought you said” Jamie cracked his own cubicle door open and peered out “Is this some sort of joke?”
“Leather underwear?” Jade proffered the garments to Cass
“I’m... No” she was aghast “Is there nothing else?”
“There are some medical scrubs but, believe me, they’re so thin you can see right through them – they’re just lightweight, disposable surgical wear; you’re meant to wear other stuff underneath”
“What were Jaxx and Eve thinking?” Jamie demanded
“You’re assuming they’re even capable of rational thought” Cass snapped, getting angry now “So it’s a choice between either walking around with my arse hanging out, or dressing like some fucking perverts idea of a schoolgirl slut?”
Jade shifted her weight uncomfortably “Maybe we can do something with one of the skirts?”
“Fuck off” Cass almost shouted this
“Hey, don’t start on me!” Jade protested, her own voice raised “This isn’t my fault”
“I know,” Cass yelled back “but I am fucking well not wearing those perverted, tawdry fucking rags! No fucking way! Ever!”
“At least you get a bloody choice!” Jamie huffed from behind his cubicle door “It’s assless chaps or nothing for me!”
“Look, look” Jade soothed “Why don’t you at least try an outfit on, Cass? You can’t wear your old clothes, they’re -”
“If you so much as come near me with those fucking bastard things, I’m going to rip your fucking head off and shit down your fucking neck!”
“These are all the clothes there are” Jade tried again “Jamie, won’t you at least -”
“No!” he banged his cubicle door closed and locked it again “Tell Jaxx to go find some better clothes”
“I’m not sure... Oh, look, okay, I’ll go and ask” Jade sighed and turned to go “I’ll leave these here, just in case” she hung the outfits on a couple of coat hooks out in the main room and hurried out through the door
Cass launched one of her boots after her after she exited the room, the heavy piece of footwear crashing into one of the mirrors on the wall and shattering it in a cacophony of splintering glass.
“Fucks sake” she yelled, bad temperedly banging her cubicle door closed again and turning her attention to her filthy clothes, down on the floor, to see what, if anything could be salvaged.

It was a few minutes later when Jade gingerly poked her head back in, around the door
“Uh... Guys?” she called above the whine of the hand dryers.
“This had better be good news” Jamie snarled.
“Hopefully it is - White Wolf has asked Jay to see if he can pick some other clothes up for you. Sit tight and we’ll see what he comes up with, eh?”
The latch clacked back and the door to Cassandra’s cubicle creaked open. Dressed in just her underwear, she looked ridiculous, wearing her remaining boot on one foot. She nodded towards where the other one lay amid the shards of broken mirror. “Would you mind passing me that?”
Giving her a wry look, Jade bent down and scooped the boot up from the floor “Yours I believe” she crunched through the broken glass to proffer it to Cass.
“Thanks” smiling gratefully as she accepted it, Cass shook out a few slivers of mirror before dropping it on the floor and wriggling her foot into it “I’m sorry about shouting” she said as she straightened up “I’m just not happy about...” she glanced across at the Sailor Moon outfit, hanging on the coat hook and curled her lip “What were they thinking?”
“I... I don’t know”
Not having discussed her bisexuality with Cass before now, Jade felt that it was somewhat churlish to look where she wanted to look “I’ll go and see where Jay has got to” she flustered and turned to hurry out of the room, leaving Cass to irritably bang her cubicle door closed behind her.
“I know you were spying Eastlick!”

Jay and the others arrived a short while later, thankfully bearing some marginally more suitable clothing, and in fairly short order, Cass and Jamie were dressed and the whole team assembled in the gloomily lit confines of the command centre to discuss their situation.
“Well, we’ve some good news and some bad news” Artemis beamed, pivoting slowly around in mid-air as he addressed everyone.
Perched on one of the command consoles, Cass glanced towards Jay, who was sat brooding in one of the chairs, waiting for him to say something “Go on” she eventually prompted Artemis in his stead.
“The good news is that with the aid of the inimitable H-343, we’ve managed to locate the equipment stores and the parts we’ll need to fix that Starbug up and get off this primitive rock.”
“And the bad news?”
“You’re all going to die” H-343 said matter of factly
“Oh, don’t listen to him” Artemis said sourly “He’s been saying that since I switched him on. No, the bad news is that the supply depot is deep in the heart of these mutant creatures territory”
“Those zombies, like, totally don’t worry me” Jaxx boasted, much to Eve’s eyelash fluttering approval.
“Mutants” Artemis said pointedly, before turning back to the rest of the group with an audible sigh “Now, we’ve managed to locate the drive core we need to get the Starbug back in the air,” he continued “but from what we’ve seen on the few, still functioning, cameras down there, there’s some really weird shit going on”
“Such as?” Cass frowned as she glanced at Jay, wondering why he wasn’t engaging with everyone.
“Observe!” Artemis span around with a flourish and nodded to White Wolf, who in turn rolled his eyes and pressed the ‘Play’ button on the keyboard in front of him. A holographic display flickered into life overhead, displaying a series of grainy images of the storage levels far below them.
“There’s the drive core” Artemis pointed up at an indistinct shape on the display “It’s covered in all kinds of crud, but the crate’s unopened and still intact, so there’s no reason to believe that it isn’t still fully functional”
“We’ll need some way to move the thing” Jamie nodded “They’re bloody heavy”
“Some sort of trolley, perhaps?” Artemis said archly
“What the hell are those?” Cass pointed up at the next picture, showing a series of weird tubes hanging down from the ceiling in front of one of the cameras “Are they organic?”
“We have no idea,” White Wolf rumbled “but there are worse things than that” he tapped the keyboard with one of his claws and the picture changed again “See?”
“That thing’s massive” Jade breathed as they all eyed the huge, pallid-looking predator, padding silently through the shadows.
“Are there no other drive cores kicking around?” Cass asked “Can we not just scavenge one from another Starbug?”
“The other ‘bugs were all mothballed and picked clean long before this place was lost” Artemis shook his head, or more accurately rotated his body back and forth, making his brain slosh about inside its tank.
“Bugger” Cass frowned as the image changed again to show some weirdly organic-looking tunnels “I don’t like this. What do you reckon Jay?” she looked expectantly at him, but he just shrugged and refused to meet her eye “What is it with you?”
“Oh, ignore him” Plisken grumped “He’s just upset because his bike got wrecked”
“It was a bloody brilliant bike, as well” Jay scowled and folded his arms defensively in front of him.
“Aw, Jay” Cass slipped down from where she was perched and crossed the room towards him “We can get you another” she said, leaning in to place a conciliatory hand on his shoulder “Hell, we can probably even build you something better – You know what we can achieve when we put our minds to it”
It took a moment, but Jay eventually glanced up and met her gaze “Yeah, I suppose” he reluctantly agreed
She smiled at him and ruffled his hair as she straightened “I’ll see you right, mate, don’t you worry”
Tara raised her eyebrows “So, the tart has a heart, after all” she sneered “What is it that’s going on with you and her, Jay?”
“Not helping” Cass snapped
“I quite agree” Artemis said smoothly “We should concentrate on the matter in hand”
“Yeah, did you hear anything back from that Downing guy?” Cass asked, turning her back on a bristling Tara.
“No, he’s gone mysteriously quiet on us” White Wolf reported with an ironic twitch of his whiskers “I’m not entirely certain that he can be relied on”
“We can live without his help if needs be, but we’ll need you to at least aim us in the direction of the Dwarf, before the engines fail, Jay”
“What am I doing now?” Jay perked up a little, his interest piqued.
“We’re punching our way out into space with a massive power burn”
“That’ll screw the engines”
“Yeah, but it’ll be fast enough to evade any missile launches. Think you can do it?”
“Sure” Jay smiled that the prospect “We’ll need vacc suits; military if possible, to prevent g-LOC -”
“We’ll need those anyway” Artemis interjected “The Starbug doesn’t come with life support, and we’ll also need to patch up a few holes in the hull before it’ll be fully flight capable”
“Bloody great” Cass sighed and shook her head
“It’ll be fine” Artemis burbled with his normal groundless, but manic, optimism “There are bound to be enough spacesuits in the Starbug hangars and I’m sure we can cannibalise hull plating from one of the other bugs”
“There is that” Jamie nodded appraisingly
“Assuming the superstructure’s still intact and it can withstand the g-forces” Cass wrinkled her nose
“I was going to wait until the initial inspection before I mentioned that” Jamie grumbled “So what are we doing, anyway? – Are we splitting the group? – I can go and make a start on the Starbug with anyone else that wants to help out”
“I don’t think we should split up again” Cass shook her head “We can probably use everyone’s skills, down where we’re heading for the drive core, and we can all muck in and help fix the Starbug once we retrieve the thing”
Jay shrugged “I can see benefits in both approaches; I -” he paused and frowned “What’s that flashing light mean?” he pointed up at the holographic display.
“Huh” White Wolf twitched his whiskers in irritation as he tip-tapped his claws across the keyboard, manipulating the display to twist and warp, with dizzying speed, to zoom in on a series of red markers, blinking slowly in the upper reaches of a map of the complex “Looks like we’ve got some company”
“Who or what are they?” Jay asked
“They’re human” White Wolf peered up at the display “It’s a detachment of those jokers who blew us out of the sky”
“Time with No Boundaries” Plisken rumbled “Just as I feared” he pushed himself tiredly to his feet, wincing in pain “We should hurry”
“No, wait a minute” Cass snapped “I want to know who these fuckers are”
“You don’t need to know” Plisken shook his head “You don’t need that knowledge distracting you”
“Bullshit!” she rounded on him “We’re here risking our fucking lives to rescue you – I think we deserve to know why!”

So there we have it:
We need to retrieve a drive core from deep in the storage levels where we’ll be prey to the terrifying mutant predators that roam down there.
After that we need to get the thing up to the shuttle bays, fit it to the last functioning Starbug and patch the bug up before punching out into space
The only fly in the ointment is the detachment of troopers, seeking to capture or kill us and the hordes of mutants, roaming the complex – what could possibly go wrong?

So, will Plisken deign to enlighten us, or does someone else want to convince Cass that there isn’t time for this, and have us head down into the storage levels?
What happens on the journey down there?

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