“Well. Sure. I like coffee.” [Jade] smiled and stood up, risking nervously looping her hand through his arm. He smiled, and several of his subordinated spilled their drinks in shock at seeing the foreign expression on his face. There was a chorus of wolf whistles and cheers as they got up to leave. Jade blushed and glanced over her shoulder, glaring at her friends, mortified that they had embarrassed her like that.

Still chuckling, Cass watched her leave with a mixture of envy and surprise. It had taken Jade just over three minutes to make a move and whisk Harris off for ‘coffee’, or some other thinly veiled excuse for a damn good seeing to – Cass wouldn’t have minded a bit of the same treatment herself!

Shaking her head, she glanced at Jay, who was laughing at something Jamie had just said. What the hell was she doing wrong with him, she wondered. After all the time they had shared together and all those drunken nights, in spite of and all the chemistry they had together, they were still as far apart as ever.


That was something Cass had struggled with for months and still couldn’t answer. By rights any normal man would have succumbed to her (admittedly somewhat limited) charms long before now, but Jay, it seemed, was either not interested or, even worse, was holding out on her, in the hope that Katrina would somehow magically walk back into his life – It was possible, after all, that she was still alive in this universe.

That would be the final insult to heap on top of a whole pile of injuries.

Dejected, she drained her gin.

For wont of a distraction, Cass stood "My round.” she said “Same again?"

Jay nodded and held up his near-empty glass "Lager"

"And pork scratchings" Jamie added.

"Diet or full fat?"

"Either. As long as they're not prawn cocktail flavoured"

Suppressing a shudder at the very idea, Cass turned and made her way across the sticky carpet, towards the bar.

"Hiya Reverend" one of the barmen greeted her "What can I get you?"

"Lager, bitter and a thick G&T" Cass counted them off on her fingers "And two bags of pork scratchings - Can we have the ones where they've at least tried to shave the pig this time?"

"Sure thing" the barman's accent had more than just a little twang of American in it; which was weird given that America had long since ceased to exist.

While he busied himself with pouring the drinks, Cass was left to ruminate on her predicament with Jay for a moment. Maybe it was never going to be, she mused. They were friends, so perhaps she should just leave it at that?

After all, it wasn't as though he was the only attractive guy on the ship - The guy she'd got off with on New Year’s Eve had been extremely easy on the eye. Cass had even gone so far as to make discreet enquiries about him and, so far, had established that he was called Mark and that he was one of the Dwarf’s combat pilots.

Cassandra's lips curled into a faintly sardonic smile at the thought of what Jay might say about her moving on and having a liaison with someone who actually had a pilot's licence.

Fuck it. She shook herself from her reverie as the barman placed the drinks and two bags of salty fat, down on the bar, in front of her. Cass had bigger problems to worry about at the moment; like what to do about her family.

In her own universe, her parents were both long dead; her mother from cancer when Cass / Brittany was just seven, and the abusive alcoholic that her father degenerated into, when she was sixteen. Here however, they were both alive and, apparently, blissfully happy, living together on a tropical water world, in a system a couple of hundred light years away.

It had been something of a shock for her, to come back from the alien’s ship, slicked in filth and gore, to find a New Year’s greeting from them, waiting on her terminal.

The message, recorded several days earlier and beamed over via TBR had left Cass struggling with an array of conflicting emotions. To make matters worse, the brother she never even knew she had, had messaged her the next day, to ask if she was coming to visit their old dears at the same time as him.

Cass hadn't even mentioned this to Jade yet, but she was quietly panicking about how to reply. As she carried the drinks back to her friends, she had time to reflect that she was thankful Thacyon Relays didn’t allow real time communication beyond a few light years.

She had no idea what she was going to do.

"Drinks" Cass placed the glasses down on the table and tossed Jamie his pork scratchings "and some extra hairy, salty filth for you"

"Just the way I like them" Jamie sighed, tearing into the packet.

"Cheers" Jay raised his glass

"Cheers" Cass echoed with Jamie.

Friends, then. For now.


“Bing-bong. Attention all crew: Signups are being taken for a foray into the arboretum. Standard additional benefits will apply along with additional rare rations and leisure time. Bing-bong”

Cass groaned at the announcement and emerged from beneath her duvet.

“Fuck off Holly, I was asleep”

“Sorry mate” Holly bobbed back onto the screen “Captains orders; she’s after people to go and get some homoeopathic medical supplies. Do you fancy signing up?”

“I’m not stupid enough to actually think that homoeopathy works.”

Pushing her hair back out of her eyes, Cass glanced over to her left, to check there was nobody in bed with her. Empty. Probably just as well - Last night got a bit hazy towards the end.

“Yeah, but -”

“Off” Cass said, loudly, and the monitor winked into blackness “Fuck’s sake”

One of the best things about being the ships chaplain was not having to be in work until after eleven, so with the time at barely past seven, Cass rolled over and pulled the duvet over her shoulders, with the intention of settling back down to sleep. The Captain, however, had other ideas and, given the low turnout of volunteers, had Holly remind the crew about the importance of the mission on an increasingly irritating basis.

In the end Cass angrily gave up trying to sleep and, wishing she still had full control over Holly and the rest of the ship, she stomped the shower.

Having dressed and teased her hair into some semblance of presentability, she stalked out, onto the Promenade twenty minutes later, in search of some breakfast.

“Hey Cass” Jade called to her as she was just about to duck into a coffee shop “I was just on my way to see you – Are you coming to help us get the medical supplies?”

“The what?”

“The medical – Have you not been listening to Holly’s announcements?” Jade chided

“Ah...” for a moment, Cass considered explaining her opinions on homoeopathy, but quickly thought better of it. As long as she was given real drugs when she needed them, there was no need to offend her friend. “I wasn’t planning on it” she admitted.

“Well, Jay and Jamie are in and Tara’s sent me along. We could do with an extra pair of hands that we can trust”

“I was just going to get breakfast...” Cass stopped and frowned as she recalled Jade’s speedy disappearance, the previous evening “Where did you go last night?”

“I’ll tell you on the way” Jade caught her arm up in hers and pulled her along towards the Drive Room.

“But, I’m not dressed for the Arboretum”

“You’ll be fine...”


“It’s so wonderful that you’re all here, eager to risk your lives for the benefit of everyone else” Captain Ferrington-Blonde paused in her address to regard the eighteen volunteers, who had all squeezed into the little conference room. There were a few good people here, she realised, who she could well do without losing.

Cassandra’s stomach growled in the silence.

Ignoring the sniggers, the Captain continued “Since we’re lucky enough to have so many of you step up and volunteer, I suggest you split up into teams; the size and composition is entirely up to you, but past experience has shown that small groups of between two and six individuals have the greatest chances of success

“Now, you all have been issued with rucksacks and terminals, preloaded with maps and a list of our requirements. We need the easy stuff as well, but if you’re able to find any of the rarer items, then there we’ve got some some great rewards lined up.

"Weapons and munitions will be issued to those who require them from the security station on level twenty seven – Just try and avoid any hull breaches this time, okay?

“Now, I'm sure you're all keen to get going, so: Dismissed” the Captain snapped off a salute “And hey – Hey!” she raised her voice above the scraping chairs and the sudden hubbub of conversation “That ointment still hasn't worn off the bees, so let’s be careful out there!”

With her words still ringing in their ears, the volunteers filed out of the room, discussing strategies amongst themselves and negotiating alliances for the expedition ahead.

“I say we take lift cluster seven” Jay frowned down at his map as they walked “It’ll give us a couple of quick wins for sage and agrimony and then, if the coast is clear, we should have an easy run over to the starboard cliffs for the mountain daises and maybe even some honey”

“Well, good luck with that” a voice said behind them “Last I heard, the Pink Tree was there a couple of hours back”

“I’m sure we can handle it” Jay said, turning with the others to regard the man who had just spoken. Cass froze.

“You sure?” he asked.

It was him – Mark – the guy she had got off with over New Year.

He winked at Cass “Alright?”

“Positive” Jay said coolly, glancing between Cass and him “I’ve faced worse”

“If you say so” Mark shrugged “But a word from the wise: I’ve seen the way that tree moves – It’s spooky. If it gets up close to you, whatever you do, don’t use incendiaries; it’s a flame retardant Christmas Tree, so you’ll just wind up pissing it off even more. The last guys who tried it were plant food within seconds”

Jay folded his arms “You finished?” he asked.

“Nah, mate. Not quite” Mark grinned and nodded to Cass “I’m a hand short on my crew, so I was wondering if you’d like to join us, Reverend?”

“I, ah...” Cass croaked, her mouth suddenly dry. What the fuck!?

“She’s with us” Jay said firmly.

“What!?” Cass rounded on him.

“I think the lady can answer for herself”

“Damn right I can!”

“So?” scarcely able to believe they were having this conversation, Jay raised his eyebrows.

“Don’t fucking try me Chrysler”

“Cass” Jade said, wearily “Jay – Pack it in”

“It’s a fair point” Jamie nodded

“Yeah, yeah, alright” Cass took a deep breath and turned to Mark “Thank you Mr...?”


“As much fun as accompanying you, would undoubtedly be, I’m afraid I’ve already made arrangements”

Jay shook his head at this and muttered something under his breath, forcing to Jade clip him over the back of the head, before Cass had chance to round on him.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s toes” Mark grinned “Maybe next time, eh?”

“Yeah” Cass nodded as she watched him go “Maybe next time”

“C’mon,” Jay grumpily waved them all on "There was no need for that. Let’s move"

“You’re still staring” Jade murmured to Cass as she made her way past her

“We'll grab some weapons first, and then move onto cluster seven” Jay announced.

“Yeah, but the Pink Tree...” Cass began.

“He was trying to psyche us out” Jay snarled through gritted teeth.

“But what if...?”

“Cluster seven” Jay said, firmly.


Bright light and exotic scents filled the lift cabin as the doors pinged open, thirty minutes later.

“See?” Jay said “No Pink Tree”

“Yeah, but what the hell is that?” Jamie pointed up, into the trees.

What is it?

We’ve got another two or three other teams, working against us. What are they up to as well?

Next one will be shorter – Promise :)

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