“Oh, you are” Jade breathed, coiling her arms around Cass and pulling her towards her “Kiss me…”

“Whoa” Cass squirmed, trying to wriggle out her grasp “Whoah – Just… Just wait a minute!” she succeeded in pushing Jade away for a moment “Have we done this before?”

“Many times,”

“Seriously? I – I mean...” Cass trailed off, leaving the fact that she’d occasionally considered doing exactly this, left unsaid.

“Oh, yes.” Jade drew her closer, her lips sensuously parting as they neared hers.

Horrifyingly, they continued to stretch further and further away from her mouth; her face neatly splitting into quarters and peeling back, like the blooming petals of a sick skin and blood flower, to reveal a wet red mass of tentacles writhing beneath.

“What the fuck!?” Cass screeched in panic.

“Kiss me” the voice bubbled from somewhere deep behind the tentacles, which coiled and reached towards her.

“No fucking chance”

One elbow set, pushing back against ‘Jade’ (or whatever the smeg this thing was), Cass leaned backwards, trying to escape her embrace, but Jade's weight bore down on top of her, toppling the two of them backward on the sofa, the tentacles surging to wetly caress Cassandra's face.

Her mouth clamped closed, Cass emitted a muffled cry of disgust and tried to push Jade away, but if was no use; three weeks in AR had done nothing for her fitness and she was unable to break free.

“Kissss...” Jade’s voice bubbled

Still trying to fight her off, Cass frantically scrabbled on the floor with a free hand for anything, that she could use as a weapon. Her communicator chimed, just as her hand closed around her half-finished bottle of beer.

Swinging the bottle upwards with all her might, she smashed it across the side of Jades head, showering herself in glass and beer. “You fucker” Cass snarled as Jade hissed in pain.

The communicator chimed again.


<snip>’Cass? Plisken here.’ </snip>

Jade lunged forward, her hands closing around Cassandra’s throat while the tentacles tried worming into her mouth.

‘What is it, Plisken?’
‘Oh, are you eating dinner?’
There was a short silence.

Cass smashed the broken glass bottle into the side of Jades neck. Once, twice, three times for good measure. Hot, crimson blood splattered everywhere, and Jade slowly went limp, slumping forward onto Cass, the tentacles slipping out of her mouth with a wet slurp.

Taking a deep breath, Cass reopened the communicator channel.

‘No. Look what is it?’
‘There is – ‘
‘3 hours,’ said Ransom, looking at her watch.
‘3 hours until the Fazon arrive and Jamie is off going to the AI Computer Room?’

Heaving ‘Jade’ off her and onto the floor, Cass rolled over and sat up

‘The AI Computer Room?’ said Cass, her full attention now on the issue at hand, ‘What could he want there? Why didn’t he clear it with us?’
‘I’m not sure but I think –‘
Suddenly, there was a burst of static sound, furiously coming over the airwaves.
‘This is Talon,’ said a distressed voice, ‘This is Talon on all wavelengths - I’ve just seen Pornsak rip Belvedyr’s head off.’
‘What?’ came a torrent of a voice over the vox unit, ‘I did absolutely no such thing.’
‘Yes, you did!’ insisted Talon, ‘I saw it with my own eyes!’
‘I’ve been in the lab ever since me and Plisken came back empty-handed – you can ask Pickman!’
‘Please don’t drag me into this,’ came Pickman’s feeble voice.
‘That’s it!’ shouted Cass, ‘Everyone to the Refectory now!’
The line went dead.

“Fucks sake” Cass stood, brushing shards of glass off her. What the hell was going on?

“So, you see,” Cass said later in the refectory “Talon was just mistaken and, in any case, Belvedyr’s head is easily detachable, so even if it did happen, there’s no harm done. l personally think the Fazon are peaceful – I mean, has anyone thought to actually talk to them?”

“But...” Jamie frowned “They tried to kill us”

“Details” Cass waved him away.

“Yeah, but -”

Everyone stopped and stared as another Cass strode into the room, carrying a gun and what appeared to be a severed head. She shot the Cass who had just been speaking and slapped the head down on a table while the room erupted in uproar. Pulling a psi-scanner out, she swept it around the room and wordlessly shot Pickman, eliciting even more angry shouts and cries of dismay.

“Hey! Hey!” Jamie yelled, closing in on Cass, readying himself to try and disarm her.

“We’re all clear” Cass raised her hands.

“Drop that weapon, right now!” Plisken bellowed.

Shrugging, Cass tossed it on the table next to the head. “Like I said, we’re all clear. I won't need it”

“What in hell’s name are you doing?” Jade demanded.

“And why are there two of you?” Porksak added, ever the perceptive one.

“They’re gene thieves – or something like that” Cass picked the severed head up by its auburn hair “This one attacked me earlier on”

Jamie frowned at the hair and the peeled-back face, surrounding the limply hanging tentacles “Is that Jade?”

“Yeah, they’re... I don’t know if they came aboard when we docked with the fuel station, or if they’ve been here for ages, but they seem to be biomechanical.” Cass set the head back down on the table “When they’re able to collect a genetic sample, their morphology alters to resemble that of the donor. ”

“They look so real” Jade crouched down to examine the bloodied corpse of the fake Pickman “I take it that psi-scan allowed you to tell them apart from us?”

“Yeah, but I'm not sure how long we’ll be able to rely on it. They seem to become more and more human the longer they maintain the same form.”

“So, you’re saying that unless we track them down immediately, there’ll be no way to detect them?”

“Kinda” Cass shrugged “There may be other markers that we can detect with more in-depth scans, but that’s just conjecture. We probably need Holly back online for those, and to be able to effectively track us and them”

Plisken raised his voice over the discontented mutters “Is that why they want access to Holly?”

“Fucked if I know” Cass paused to take a deep breath “Why is Holly offline anyway?”

“Wait - Are you one of them?” Jamie demanded.

“Hell no” Cass hurriedly waved the psi-scanner at herself and turned it around to present the results “See?

“I just don’t remember why we switched Holly off. After being in that AR game for so long, I think I might be suffering from a bit of reality shock”

“Nobody remembers” Jade said firmly “We all edited our memories. That’s all we know”

“Seriously?” Cass frowned “What happened?”

“We don’t know” Pornsak said “And when we tried to find out, we found messages from ourselves, telling us not to”

“Wow. That’s just... Wow”

“I have a few theories,” Plisken said in the silence that followed “but I’m not about to elaborate”

“Did we get fucked up on drugs and have an orgy? That would-”

“Ew, Cass – No!” Jade raised her voice “That is just wrong!”

“I take it you didn’t fancy a bit of hot grandad action with Plisken?” Cass laughed.

“And you can bugger off too!” Plisken retorted.

Jamie cleared his throat “Anyway” he said, loudly “This still doesn’t help with the approaching Fazon fleet. I’ve got the ramscoop rigged to deliver an EM pulse that’ll hopefully take them out, but we need to power off all the ships systems to provide enough juice for it”

“It’s probably best not to do that while we’re still refuelling” Cass observed “The feedback could torch the fuel station”

“There is that” Jamie conceded.

“Plus, the pulse will fuck the ramscoop up too”

“Yeah. And that”

“It would be nice if we didn't have to do that. How’s fuelling coming on anyway?”

“Slowly. We're getting there, but it’s hard to be accurate without Holly online”

“It’s going to keep coming back to that, isn’t it?” Cass sighed. “Okay, so, here are the priorities:

“One: Defend or destroy Holly.

“Two: Finish fuelling and get the hell away from the station.

“Three: Get to engineering and reroute all the power to the ramscoop

“After that, if we somehow survive, we need to hunt down an eliminate any surviving duplicates” she paused to look around everyone in the room “Anything else?”

“We’ll need a buddy system.” Plisken said “If the duplicates become impossible to detect, we need to stay together in pairs and not get separated. That way we can be sure of who’s who”

“Yeah, good plan. So, let’s pick a buddy and get on with it...”

So, there’s three jobs going: Holly, Engineering or Drive Room (or something else?). Pick a buddy and see what sort of interesting times you can inflict on each other ;)

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