This isn't a new story, I'm afraid - it's been over at gatchfanfic for a long time, but I only just noticed I hadn't posted it here.

Original author's note follows:

Written for Dei's "Goat's Tail Challenge" to write a complete fic in under 1,000 words.

Thanks to my husband for beta-reading, despite being told he wasn't allowed to add more than five words or tell me I needed to expand it :)


Pest Control

"Another false alarm," Jason said in disgust as they filed back onto the flight deck. "You'd think people would know better by now."

"What, that we're not going to take out their political rivals on their say-so, just because they mention Spectra?" Mark sighed. "I think I may have been a bit too rude to him. He is a head of state, after all."

"I thought you were very diplomatic. I wouldn't have been."

"At least we didn't go in shooting," Tiny said with a glance in Jason's direction. Jason ignored him, sitting down at his console with a flourish.

"So, can we go home now? If we're quick... Crap!"

"What's wrong?" Princess asked.

"I saw something move. Under Mark's console."

Mark pulled out his boomerang and advanced cautiously. There was nothing there, or under the seat. But there was a big gap in the metal panelling underneath, up in front of where his knees would be: an emergency inspection hatch.

"What, Jase? Mouse?" He didn't fancy that idea one bit. Chewed wiring could ground them here for hours if not days.

Jason shook his head, then closed his eyes, frowning as he reconstructed. "Not a mouse. The movement was wrong, and it was up under the surface." He opened his eyes and pulled a rueful face. "I think it was a really big spider."

Keyop's eyes lit up, and he held his hands about four inches apart. "That big?"

Jason pulled his wrists apart another four inches. "That big."

The delight on Keyop's face was matched by the unhappiness on Princess's, and Mark took pity on her.

"Okay, there's no way we're carrying on with an eight inch bug loose in here, it might chew through something. Princess, you and Keyop go find something to put it in - a big bucket?"

"Spiders don't chew," said Keyop.

"We go places other than Earth, remember? It might not be a spider." He reached into his belt pouch for his torch. "Right then, let's have a look at you..."

There wasn't a great deal of room under the console, so Mark put his helmet on the seat before folding himself into the space. "Why am I the one doing this?" he grumbled.

"Because you're the smallest person left in here?" Tiny quipped.

"What are they doing anyway, making that bucket?" Mark didn't wait for an answer, just aimed the beam of his torch into the hole, and wriggled close enough to get a good look inside.

He wasn't entirely sure what happened next. One moment his eyes were acclimatising to unevenly illuminated wires and circuit boards, the next he was on his feet with his back to Jason's console, his head throbbing where he'd cracked it in his hurry to extract himself. Both Jason and Tiny had their guns out and aimed at the base of his console, and it felt like forever of nothing happening before Tiny turned, question marks all over his face.

Mark felt himself flush. "It's a really, really big spider. Forget a bucket. We're going to need a crate."

Tiny took a couple of steps back, and even Jason tensed. And Mark felt better.

.

Keyop, however, dismantled the metal plates around the hole with perfect equanimity. Even though the giant web and several long, twitching, black and hairy legs were now visible, the young engineer appeared to be having a good time. Princess had taken one look, made a rather incoherent comment about needing to pack the crate's ex-contents in something else, and fled. Mark would have liked to join her, but he did have some pride left.

"Ooh, you beauty!" Keyop crooned as the last plate came away. He put it down carefully and reached into the hole. "Aren't you a big girl?"

Princess had assured him that nothing could bite through birdstyle, but Mark still flinched as Keyop lifted out a blue-black spider with body nearly the size of his helmet, and legs as long as his forearm. He held it affectionately a moment, then gently placed it in the crate and put the lid on.

"That's one hell of a big spider," Jason said, hand still on his gun. "I wonder where it came from?"

"She," said Keyop.

"How can you tell - no, forget I asked. Please tell me you didn't bring it on board."

Keyop looked more than affronted. "Not an idiot, Jason. Alien species could be dangerous to ours."

"You think it's alien?" Tiny asked.

"Don't know, let's leave it to the biologists," Mark cut in. "Keyop, is it safe for us to fly?"

"Spider silk's non-conductive. But maybe don't use your console."

Mark couldn't have agreed more. He had no desire to go anywhere near his seat, not with that gaping black hole filled with white filigree threads just two feet in front of it, blocked from his sight by the console's surface. Instead, he took Princess's place. She could stay somewhere that didn't have a giant spider in it for the flight home, and they'd both be happy. And, if they were quick, Jason might even make it to the track in time to race.

.

Jason did make it to the race, and was disgusted to come in second. The spider, it transpired, was a Rigan blue-leg. Rare, female, and pregnant, the local zoo was only too delighted to give her a home. Just for once, Keyop showed enough sense not to ask if he could keep her. And Mark insisted, quietly but firmly, that the inspection hatch under his console was to be fitted with a cover. preferably yesterday. The thought that that...thing...could have crawled into his lap at any time during the last few missions was enough to make his blood run cold. It wasn't that he was afraid of giant spiders. He just preferred them mecha-sized.