DarkHorse Vendetta by Orin Drake
A completed novel, available as a paperback through Lulu and an ebook (Part One) through e-Quills.

        Chapter 2 - Another Day at the Office (Sort of)

        The alarm woke her slowly, and she was grateful for that. It more often than not woke her with such a start that she'd tumble out of bed, hence the very low mattress. She rarely slept with any covers over her since she always got tangled in them during these rude awakenings anyway. That, and the air conditioning on board didn't work right. Or, most often, at all.
        Jack sat up and flung her feet over the edge, rubbing her eyes sleepily. One fantastic advantage of being in the Lady's "good graces" was having your own shower. Of course, the water was either hot, or cold. There was absolutely no in-between. Another glorious engineering/electric problem that would never be solved.
        Half awake, she stumbled into the corner where the shower was located and stripped off her t-shirt and briefs, flinging them somewhere behind her. She tripped in a sleepy blindness, but caught herself before running headlong into the artificial tile. Turning on the water, she waited for the result.
        And what will it be this morn--cold!!! But there was little she could do about it. At least it woke her up... sort of. She spent as little time under the water as possible, barely bothering to lather the shampoo, let alone let the conditioner soak in. It's not like she ever had anywhere to go or anyone to look good for anyway, was it? By the time she'd fully rinsed the lather off of her body, the shivers had become completely uncontrollable. She rushed out and grabbed for a towel--that wasn't there.
        Oh yeah. Laundry. She'd forgotten to pick up her clean things the night before. Freezing cold and dripping wet, she walked over to her closet and used her dress uniform instead. Hey, it was soft and clean. And again, who the hell did she have to wear it for? She used the pants and shirt for her body, and the jacket for her hair. It was a sadistic pleasure, truth be told.
        Still cold but mostly dry, she hurried on her more typical uniform. There was only one left, so she damn well better pick up her laundry that night. After the cobalt blue pants came the plain dark gray t-shirt. Then she strapped her Spectre's holster around her, securing it as tightly as it would go. Under the jacket--a thick, cobalt blue material to match the pants with a dark maroon stripe across the middle from her right shoulder to her left hip--the holster would be utterly invisible. Hell, she didn't think even Lady Astrid remembered from day to day that she carried a weapon at all.
        After lacing up her black military boots, she swept a hand through her hair. It was still a little damp, but she'd deal alright. It'd be hot in the corridors this time of morning, so it would dry quickly.
        A deep breath. Another deep breath. A third really, really deep breath. This got harder every time. When she was finally on the verge of light-headedness, she stepped out of her quarters and walked down to Lady Astrid's door. At first she pondered just walking past it and telling the new guy that this ought to be
his job... but then, she was a chick. The Lady probably wouldn't take too kindly to a man walking into her sleeping quarters, let alone "helping" her get dressed. Damn. Foiled again.
        She placed her palm on the panel at Astrid's door and waited. The computer was painfully slow, registering every ridge on her hand. At last the door opened, and she stepped in as quietly as she possibly could. This was never fun. Walking through the main room, she found the "parlor" and walked past even that, until she found the low stairway. At the top, she softly rapped on the door.
        A mumble from inside, but nothing solid. So, she knocked again. Much louder.
        Another light mumble. Jack sighed harshly, knowing she couldn't be heard anyway. She opened the door and was met with a wall of fragrance and girly stuff. Fluffy, everything was fluffy. And very smelly.
        Getting her bearings, she finally approached the Lady's bed. Sleeping very soundly, of course. Jack didn't even bother to prepare herself, she just reached down and shook Astrid's shoulder.
        The Lady rolled to the side with a yawn as delicate as her supposed nature. "Mmmrff... mmr? Oh. M-morning, dear."
        Jack said nothing. She just straightened her stature and waited. Oh how she hated the little parts of her job.
        "Run my bath... if you would..." Astrid stretched, sitting up.
        Well, technically that could not be refused. So she walked back down the stairs and through the other side of the parlor, taking a right there and a left, getting to the bathroom. It was one hell of an exquisite place with green and white marble and gold faucets. Then there was the bath. It could have been considered a small swimming pool to some. She leaned down and adjusted the faucets, waiting until the proper temperature was reached. Astrid's room had it's own water heater. Jack... was bothered by that. She put the gold plug in the bottom and waited.
        The Lady wandered into the room with only her fluffy pink bath robe draped around her shoulders, looking almost glamorous.
Almost, Jack stressed in her mind. It wasn't that the Lady Astrid wasn't a pretty-ish young woman. She was, really. But... there was a haggardness about her that Jack could never put her finger on. Her skin was very fair and lightly tanned, her hair was of a blonde sort that was actually quite pretty... but she just wasn't... "correct". It may well have been the inbreeding in the family.
        Jack had to use all of her skills to hide the grin threatening to break through with that thought. She took the robe without a word, hanging it on the hook then closing the door.
        Astrid daintily put her toes into the water as she did every time. Swishing it around, she nodded. Taking that as her usual cue, Jack offered an arm to help the Lady in without falling.
        Now for all of the exciting shit. Jack bit back, falling into routine. What, a Lady couldn't bathe herself? But no, she insisted. A Lady had to be bathed, apparently. It was a shame Julian couldn't do this, actually. They may hit it off and deepen the gene pool.
        "What are you smiling about?" Astrid asked lazily.
        "Uh... new soap." Not a great save, but it may work.
        "Oh, you like it?" the Lady suddenly became a little more awake.
        Oh what the hell, she could play along. "It's nice, that's all."
        "Mmm." Astrid responded.
        Jack took a quiet breath and began the whole "ritual cleansing" or whatever the hell it was. Rise, lather, repeat. Rinse, lather, rinse. At least the Lady had taken it upon herself to bathe her own body with the sponge (save her back, of course). Jack probably would have gone on an insane spree of some sort had that not been the case. Finished, she helped Astrid out and offered a towel as usual.
        Back in the bedroom, Jack sat at the edge of the bed and waited for the Lady to choose an ensemble, the pink bath robe folded in her lap. She was not cut out for this; she realized it long ago, but every day it got pounded into her a little further. At least Ki'ehr would be there soon. Very soon. But not soon enough. She still had to live through the rest of the day, and most of the day after. Could she make it? Without killing anyone?
        A door chime. And who the hell could that be? No one interrupted this time of morning--then Jack remembered her new "assistant". Well, he was up early. Almost as early as she was. Must suck for him, too.
        "Go see who that is, dear." The Lady suggested, pulling one of her thousand dresses out and trying it on in the mirror.
        Gladly. She laid the robe on the bed and darted to the entrance. Anything was better than this. Upon opening the door, she didn't even bother to ask who was there. It was pretty clear, anyway.
        The door slid open to reveal Julian, looking incredibly like he did just the day before. And still with that military stance. In fact, it was even more rigid than she remembered. She glanced down for no particular reason, noting his feet were exactly a foot's length apart. His shoulders were perfectly level, hands behind his back as if ready to receive an order. It was... puzzling. He really was academy material.
        "Jack." He greeted with a terse nod.
        "Jules." She grinned. Hell, someone needed to break him of this professional habit. And that nickname had done the trick, certainly. His reaction was quite sour regardless of it being incredibly subtle. "The Lady is getting dressed. But she'll be out in a minute for breakfast, so get comfortable." She stepped back to allow him in.
        He regarded the place with a sweeping glance first, then stepped inside and stood beside the door. When it was clear that he was not going to sit, let alone move from his position, Jack commented, "Way to get comfortable."
        Julian titled his head ever so slightly, staring at her. He had no idea how the hell she got this job. There was no respect, no professionalism, no... anything. As he opened his mouth to inquire exactly what his thoughts were aiming for, a movie-style entrance was made by Astrid.
        "Well?" she asked, spinning with dramatic flare. It was a dark, shimmery bronze dress with no sleeves and thin straps crossed over in the back, a tight waist with a flowing skirt that reaching just above her ankles. She wore with it a pair of shoes that exactly matched its color that Jack happened to know would have cost three months of her salary.
        "...Great." Jack stated without enthusiasm.
        "You look lovely, Lady Astrid." Julian covered. A look was exchanged between he and his "assistant", but that was dropped quickly.
        "Oh." The Lady covered her mouth daintily. "Why thank you. Now, shall we breakfast?"
        Well, that was a perk. Jack got the good food when she was around Astrid. Of course, she couldn't choose her own food. Anything Astrid wanted was so obviously what everyone else did, as well. Jack looked across the breakfast table in the parlor to Julian, almost letting a smile go at his puzzled look. The Lady had ordered the food without asking either of them what they might want. And so it went. But at least it was the fancy shit. She couldn't help but get a little more satisfaction out of that.
        When the door chimed, Jack jerked her head over to indicate that Julian ought to come with her. He had no idea why until he saw two very large carts outside; the chef or delivery boy had obviously taken off, proving him/herself to be a little smarter than Jack had anticipated. Julian found the lack of any visible human outside to deliver the food... very odd, really.
        At least things smelled good. They delivered the buffet, uncovering the food and serving the Lady whatever she pointed at. After she was settled, they served themselves. Jack went all out, having piles of a little bit of everything, while Julian took a bit of this and that, getting his satisfactory amount of nutrition. They even got to eat with the good silverware.
        When breakfast was over (and the carts were sent alone via a lift to the proper floor), it was time to get to "work". They waited while Astrid made some final aesthetic "touch-ups" (she looked exactly the same coming out of her bedroom as she did going in), then rode the lift to the "executive floor". While the Lady had no reaction to such a ride, the other two braced themselves against the wall and tried desperately to hold on to that breakfast.
        Successful, they followed Astrid down a long hallway and into a room almost the size of her apartment. It was referred to as the conference room, but really it was another one of the Lady's rooms that the common people were free to enter... if they had something important to discuss. It was where Astrid did her "work", approving things and making suggestions to the rest of the government at home. All via computer system. And all without the need for her body guards.
        It didn't take long for even Julian to get bored. He wondered how often Jack had to tolerate this, completely unaware that he'd be doing this every day. He looked over and found her bouncing a superball against a panel--or, more accurately, it was half of a superball. He desperately longed for the other half, all of a sudden.
        Jack looked up, noticing him staring at her. Even though he looked away instantly as though he didn't want her to know how utterly desperate he was, she caught onto his thought process. Maybe he wasn't such a tight boy, after all. She'd lost the other half of that particular ball quite a long time ago. So, she turned around and placed it on the conference table on the other end from the self-involved Lady and pulled out her weapon.
        Julian barely stifled an impressed gasp. A Spectre .45; he'd recognize that
anywhere. It was an ancient weapon that he wasn't even aware existed in one piece anymore. He'd only handled models of them at the academy weapons museum, but had never seen the real thing. It was magnificent, a gun and a knife in one. The gun portion was almost like some of the "old west" illustrations in story books, and that alone was astounding. But the blades made it that much more fascinating. Two long, shining knife blades--one at the top and one at the bottom of the barrel that almost came together save the gap that was required between them so the bullet could pass through--extended several inches past the barrel itself. The top blade was just a little longer than the bottom, making what looked like one barely interrupted and extremely dangerous edge. They almost joined in a single knife point at the tips, looking... utterly deadly. And Jack was using it to cut a half of a superball in half again. Unreal.
        She winked at his reaction, noting his unhinged jaw and wide eyes. She knew damn well how old, rare and perfectly kept the weapon was. Not that she ever meant to show it off, but... well, hell. Once in a while was okay, especially for someone just out of the academy without a single clue as to how things really worked. He might as well know what she carried, anyway.
        "Does that... work?" he whispered so as not to interrupt Astrid's typing.
        "Perfectly." Jack replied, replacing her treasure in its holster. That was original, too; absolutely amazing considering it was leather. But she took care of it, rubbing it down with specialty leather soaps once a week or so thanks to Ki'ehr's involvement with some trading and shipping organizations.
        Julian was utterly awed. "An original?"
        She nodded. The story wasn't really interesting enough to tell, so she didn't bother. "What do you carry?"
        "Just a standard issue Storta." He pulled it out of it's place at his left hip, pointing it up and turning it to show her the silver and black automatic. It wasn't as deadly as the Spectre, but it was dangerous as hell. Especially if he ever needed to use the splatter bullets. Speaking of... "Where do you get bullets?"
        "I make them." She tried to hide the pride in that statement. "A friend has connections, gets the material for me."
        A... friend? He nearly grinned at that. She just... didn't strike him as the "type" to have... friends. But then, a friend with deadly connections didn't surprise him too much. He gladly accepted the superball quarter with a, "Thanks."
        "Almost done!" Astrid called, clacking away at the keys.
        The comm beeped. So, being the helpful thing that she was, Jack responded. "Yes, console."
        A pause. Then one the security officers' voices. "Is Julian DeVeirna in the room?"
        He'd never get used to a ship without the bio sensors, knowing who and where you were at all times. "Yes."
        Another pause. "Come to the dock station to pick up your identification credentials."
        "Will do." He agreed, not having even been aware he needed I.D. creds.
        "Console off." Jack ordered. "You better go before they lose them. And they
will lose them."
        Julian was starting to doubt her less and less, come to think of things. The ship wasn't run... all that efficiently. At least, not that he'd seen. "I'll be back in a moment, Lady."
        "Mmm." She responded, too involved to notice.
        "Well, I'll know you're gone." Jack joked.
        A lot of enthusiasm that statement had carried. But, he took it as it came. With a nod, he got up and walked out, none too ready to ride the damn lift again. It... bothered him.
        Jack leaned back and waited for the Lady to actually get done. Then she'd be allowed to go back to her quarters for a while and do whatever she wanted until Astrid had some other menial task for her. Until then, she amused herself with the quarter of a superball that bounced at odd angles. At least that was unpredictable and entertaining for quite some time.
        "There!" the Lady finally cried, stretching her arms as if she'd just exerted herself. "So much to approve of!"
        Imagine that, leader of a planetary nation and having to approve of government functions. Jack kept utterly quiet with a polite look across her face. It was her normal look around Astrid.
        "You know..." the Lady began, scooting a bit closer (regardless of still being three seats away), "Since Julian is out, I've been wanting to discuss something."
        Oh shit. Again, just that polite expression showed--it had to. Firstly, the Lady used Julian's name as naturally as anything. Astrid never called Jack by anything other than "dear" or "sweetie" or other equally as disturbing things. And secondly, she wanted to discuss something. Something that seemed partly serious. This never turned out good or anything remotely resembling comfortable. Jules, come back...
        "We don't really talk much." Astrid offered in a friendly sort of way. The sort of way someone would be friendly and charming to, oh, say a convicted serial killer.
        Jack's teeth clicked together. She didn't really know what to say. Nothing but "I gotta go" or "I quit, bye" came up in her head, so she sat there to suffer in silence.
        Taking the silence as an invitation, Astrid continued. "I mean, I don't know that much about you..."
        Jack couldn't take it. She wouldn't allow this to be taken. With all of the polite and regal air she could muster, she responded, "Lady, maybe that's best."
        Astrid looked a little taken aback. "How so?"
        She thought fast. "Well, security mostly. I mean, I can't go on talking about all of the places I've been. I could endanger you and this entire ship."
        The Lady nodded, seeming at least mostly satisfied with her response. "Well then. I suppose that's acceptable." She looked a bit... almost insulted, really. But she just nodded. "Go ahead and wait in the hallway. I'll be right along."
        No problem. She got up and walked straight for the door, with that same freakin' polite look. She glanced up as she got there, seeing Julian. Walking past him, she saw the absolutely huge grin plastered across his face. He'd obviously watched the whole exchange from the doorway, the I.D. pick-up having gone far too quickly.
        "I hope you enjoyed yourself." She whispered from the corner of her mouth.

        She and Julian had accompanied the Lady back to her "castle" and had been allowed to rest in their own quarters. She wondered what the hell Julian was doing, since there wasn't any more furniture than a mattress, a chair and a computer console--oh yeah. Her computer chair was still busted. She ordered a new one through the inventory system while standing up. No new e-mail and nothing interesting in the news feed, she decided to sit on her bed and read a good book. She picked up the one she was halfway through, a science fiction novel about globalization and international warfare that was striking a little truer of current events than she'd hoped when she'd bought it. But, she liked that kind of thing. It made her think, kept her on her toes and one step ahead. Particularly because, despite being science fiction, it was increasingly true to her life. Maybe it was better labeled as horror.
        Right at the beginning of the third page she'd made it through, the console beeped. With a ragged sigh, she called, "Yes, console."
        It was Astrid. Of course. "I have a meeting all of a sudden, dear. He checks out, so I'm going alone first. Then you can do that thing where you walk in a moment later and all that."
        Jack shuddered; at "dear", then at the idea. Granted, it was a good idea. She'd come up with it after all, for intimidation purposes. And now that there were two security heads for the Lady, it'd be that much more intimidating. "Alright." Chances were it was just someone asking for money, anyway.         Traditionally, it didn't take much to scare that sort away.
        "Meet me in the embassy room in five minutes." She ordered, then cut off.
        "Console off." This would not be fun. As usual. As always, in fact. It'd no doubt be some drugged-up drifter asking for funds or a job or something of the sort. Like it always was. Reading interrupted for that. Ah well.
        She walked down the hall to Julian's quarters and rung the chime several times. Not to be annoying, just to... well, alright, to be a little annoying. She was feeling annoyed, so she assumed she could get a little of that out on someone else for the moment. As she did, she saw Astrid walk out and stroll down the hall, completely oblivious to the fact she was there. Good thing she has a security team. She'd never see anything coming.
        Julian went to press a scan panel, then remembered the lack of technology and gave in to asking, "Who is it?"
        "Jack." She responded. "We have a 'mission'."
        He knew well enough to know they didn't do "missions". So, they obviously had a duty to accomplish. He stepped out, not having been doing much more than checking the ship's schematics on the computer system.
        "We have to run intimidation tactics." Jack half joked. "Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who gets to go in first."
        That made him chuckle uncharacteristically. "You can go first. When do I go in?"
        "I'd say you time it for exactly one minute and thirty seconds afterward. They usually have just enough time to worry, then."
        He stared at her for a moment. "You've thought a lot about this?"
        "It's my field of expertise." She stated simply.
        Given the conversation he'd heard between she and Astrid, he was beginning to wonder... But, it wasn't his business. If one learned anything in academy, it was not to get your nose into anyone else's business. That, and never go back for seconds.

Upon getting to the door to the embassy room (and readjusting to a floor that wasn't moving like it was going to collapse at any moment), the two of them waited outside. Julian assumed his usual military stance, but Jack just leaned against the wall, relaxing. One couldn't hear what was going on inside, so she had to trust her instincts.
        At least, the time seemed right. "A minute thirty from when I go."
        Julian nodded. A strange way to go about things, but he had to trust her for the moment.
        With a simple prod at the opening button, she stepped inside in a very confident manner, the door closing behind her instantly. She stopped dead in her tracks and gaped. The man that stood before Astrid was none other than her first "fucked up love interest", as Ki had very gently put it. William. A very different looking William than from how she remembered him, but there was no mistaking. He had longer hair, darker hair, and something that resembled a fedora of all things sitting atop it. Just as she was about to find somewhere else she needed to go, he turned to face her.
        "Christ! Jacqueline!" he drawled, sounding very much like she remembered. He actually seemed genuinely excited about seeing her.
        Caught. She'd been completely caught, trapped, and had no way out now that Astrid had her eyes on the pair curiously. Feigning interest as best as she knew how, she walked over and offered her hand. "Been a long time, William."
        The smile dropped from his face at her obviously fake reaction. "Don't be like that, babe..." he suggested quietly, taking her hand in a shake.
        She gripped his hand even tighter and dug her fingernails in just the slightest bit. It felt so damn good. It wasn't that they were ever all that serious, but they were "steady" at the time that he decided he'd rather have the easy blonde. She couldn't blame him, really. Blondie was really easy, whereas she... wasn't.
        William took his hand back, rubbing the pain away. "I didn't know you were here."
        "I'm sure there's a reason for that." Jack made no attempt at hiding that venom tone. Exactly one minute and thirty seconds after she'd walked in, Julian strolled in himself. He certainly could be good at this scare tactic thing; he was quite frightening when he wanted to be. Not that it did much when he stood on one side of the door and saw the way the unfamiliar man and Jack were standing.
        "Is this your new steady?" William asked crassly.
        The glare Jack shot him was more powerful than a Spectre bullet. Even Julian felt the impact from afar. "This is my... security assistant."
        "Ah." William nodded, backing up. "What, couldn't get over me?"
        It was clearly a joke, but not a welcome one. Julian raised an eyebrow, taken a bit by surprise. So they were... so Jack had a... wow. He really hadn't been prepared for this job.
        "What do you want?" Jack's statement was clear-cutting, alright.
        William cleared his throat and excused himself to one of the chairs in the middle of the room. The place was for international conferences, after all. There were lots of circular seating arrangements, so he may as well start.
        Astrid followed his lead, as did Julian. Jack took a moment to do so, sitting across from the cheating bastard.
        He cleared his throat again, then began. "Actually, all I needed was transportation to Ceist Vyst. I know we're already close and on course, but the ship that brought me here wasn't big enough to take the asteroid dust."
        "Oh!" Astrid exclaimed. "Is that all you need? Of course!"
        Julian could see Jack's lip curl from the corner of his eye. She was clearly unconvinced. Maybe that was logical, but he had to pay attention to this, too. He was security now, after all. They'd have to look out for each other as much as Lady Astrid if things were to go well.
        "Please." Astrid continued. "Take a vacant quarters until we get there and relax." And then she did the unthinkable. She looked at Jack and asked, "Will you show him, dear?"
        Julian held his breath. He didn't know her well, but he knew enough. He was waiting for some sort of explosion... but all they got was no response at all. A very long, very tense moment of no response at all.
        "Well..." it was surprisingly William that broke the silence, "Nice to meet you, Lady Astrid. Thank you." He stood up and offered his hand to the other security officer. "I'm William, by the way."
        Julian shook his hand under Jack's careful stare. "Julian." He responded. There was really little else to say at the moment.
        Jack didn't say a word. She just got up and walked out, expecting William to follow her regardless. He did so with another polite nod to the Lady, leaving a stunned and silent room.

        There was no conversation down the hall. None on the lift, none down the other hall, through a common room, down the last hall and to the door of an empty guest quarters. William thought it best this way, letting her steam a bit; she just wanted him to spontaneously combust his way out of there. At least they'd be within range of Ceist Vyst within half an hour, if that. She'd be rid of him soon.
        "Come on." He finally suggested, seeing that she was ready to walk off as soon as he stepped inside. "We should talk a little."
        "Feel free." She responded flatly. "I'll be in my quarters."
        He stepped in front of her just as she turned to leave. "Please, Jacqueline." He drawled softly. "Just talk, that's all. I swear."
        She glared at him, straight through him. "Damn fucking right, 'that's all'."
        He smiled a little. "You'll come in?"
        "You have ten minutes, then I'm gone." She assured harshly, walking in before him. Damn her curiosity; it so often got the better of her.
        Well, that's all he needed, he supposed. At least she'd agreed at all. He walked in behind her and waited until the door was closed. "You don't know how sorry I am--"
        "I have an idea." She cut him off. "Is that all you wanted to say?"
        He looked a little shamed by her response. "Well... no. I'd hoped that--"
        She didn't need to say anything. All it took was a look.
        He swallowed. He never remembered a look from her like that. "No, not that. I just... I don't know. I wanted to give you a patented Willie Squeeze and talk."
        "That still sounds disgusting, after all this time." She responded without emotion.
        Well, that was something. He smiled, rubbing the back of his head with nervousness like he used to do. "Yeah, it does. But I just... I want to make amends." When all she did was stare at him, unblinking, he sighed. "Oh come on, Jacqueline. Just turn around."
        "So you can what? Hug me? Make everything alright?"
        "No." He admitted. "But... it's a start, okay? Please?" When it was clear that she was not making any movement, he pleaded even more, "Jacqueline, please. Honestly."
        And why was it he always insisted upon calling her by her full name? She sighed, not really wanting to. But hell, she could use a little comfort. Maybe use him for once, huh? She turned and waited for the feeling of arms around her, something she honestly barely remembered. But all she got was a sudden blunt blackness. In hindsight, that really shouldn't have been a surprise.

        One hell of a massive headache. A dull pain in a field of black. Black with little white sparkles. Conscious thought seeped in like rainwater. Drip, drip, drip...
        William... she opened her eyes, heavy with something that didn't quite resemble sleep. Drip, drip, drip...
        She remembered unconsciousness. She remembered long ago having been knocked there, and it had felt quite similar to this now... Drip, drip, drip...
        Her eyes flashed open with the realization. The air was harsh in her lungs, smelling of sulfur and acid. Smelling of Ceist Vyst air. How long and what the fuck?
        Movement. She blinked several times to clear her vision, trying to adjust her eyes to the dull light. One figure was probably William. But that other thing... wasn't. It was almost humanoid, yes, but... far from it. The head was huge and there was no neck. No midsection, almost. And eyes--she shuddered. There had been stories of a race on Ceist Vyst that resembled spiders. She'd read many of the books, herself. Just a story, or so she thought.         It was a little too dark to see clearly; the luminant stone only produced so much light, and it was all slightly yellow in color.
        Serves me right for being an idiot. The pounding in her head reassured her that she was not dreaming, though it blurred her vision again for a moment. The bottom of her skull, by the back of her neck; that's what had been hit. She could pick it out now, fully coming to. That mother fucker knocked her out and took her with him. Some fucking transport security. How the hell could they have not known?!
        The form that was quickly becoming clearer walked to her; William. She heard some sort of distant clicking noise and tensed. Little good that did; she only found that she was quite tightly secured in some sort of rope system. She was hanging, clearly (she'd never been two inches taller than him before), her arms and legs separated and held firmly enough not to give her any slack.
        "Ah, Jacqueline." William's voice was almost a sexual coo. "What a shame."
        The word "why" came to mind, but she didn't speak it. It seemed like a stupid question, in the end.
        He answered it, anyway. "I know you're the one who did Grady."
        Shit. That was years ago. She was just a young dumb thing back then, hired to do a job that a young city girl should never have been hired for. Dangerous corporate assassin work, but she was up to the task. "You were in with that rat bastard?"
        "He paid for everything, darling." William grinned wide and brightly, proud of himself. He used to take her to dinner quite often. Back then, she wasn't smart enough to question where he'd gotten his money, or his gifts. He was lucky to have played the old times sake card and win when she turned her back. "All I had to do was destroy his records. But you had to go and kill him when we were dating. So, consider this... payback." He didn't even wait for a retort, let alone continue to look at her. He just turned and started to walk away.
        "You fucking bastard!" she shouted at his back. Stupid, stupid, stupid...
        William turned momentarily and tipped his hat. "Don't take it so hard, honey. I did what I could." With that and a devious look of sweet satisfaction, he just walked away through the tunnels ahead.
        "Mother..." she growled as he disappeared. That's what she got though, wasn't it? That's what she got for being an idiot, for believing him again. That rancid piece of shit left her behind again. Only this time, it was a little bit worse. This time it was more than unlikely she'd be making it out alive so she could kill him slowly.
        Oh well, she sighed bitterly. At least now I can prove all of those rumors about the "spider people" in the desert of Ceist Vyst are true. A lot of good that will do me now.
        That clicking again... and then she felt something strange on her skin. She looked over to see a line of intense green on her left wrist. A little more seemed to leak like a solid string across her arm--she did not want to look up. There was something up there, alright. But there was no way in hell she thought she could maintain her composure if she saw what it was. What it was dropping, though was... really disgusting. Just a little at first, and then that clicking started up again. With the clicks came more of that green stuff, binding her even tighter. Several clicks later, she knew exactly what a fly in a spider's web felt like.
        Whatever grotesque web-like green crap that held her also burned. She gasped with a hissing pain as she felt the surface of her skin start to heat as though against an oven coil. The clothing was in the way only dulled the heat for mere seconds before it seemed to melt away against the criss-crossing lines and keep nothing between her skin and the chemical doing the singeing.
        A novel idea, she would have thought if she could have shoved the pain away. Just a novel way to soften prey. But goddamn it, it hurt. She could feel the strands slowly burning into her flesh, and even worse, she could hear a slight sizzle to go along with the clicking. She hoped it was just her imagination, but she couldn't deny what her ears told her. She was cooking in a web of chemical slime so she could be digested by these grotesque, nightmarish things... all for the sake of what? Not that she ever thought there was a god, and certainly not a logical god, but this was getting a little ridiculous.
        Worse yet, the burning moved in pulses. This was only worse because it would prolong the time she spent cooking alive. The more she struggled, it seemed the longer the period of time between "cookings". She knew she couldn't struggle forever, but... she could try. She just hoped one of them accidentally shot themselves with the Spectre, dammit.

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