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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 1. "Nothing Ventured"
Saturday, March 31, 2012

"The crew land on Anaeron to deliver their cargo only for the Captain and River to be caught up in an ambush."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1386    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "NOTHING VENTURED" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 1. FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Wash/Zoe RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The crew land on Anaeron to deliver their cargo only for the Captain and River to be caught up in an ambush." The characters and "Firefly" belong to Joss Whedon. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"NOTHING VENTURED"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

He understands. Knows. And it's not something he has to learn or be told. It's instinctual, a knowledge held soul deep to the core of him. A sanctuary where words lie unspoken like sunlight absorbed directly through the skin, no translation necessary. Fury is but one point of the compass and right now he has no time for it. Is more annoyed at himself than the situation they find themselves in for not anticipating that the milk run would go so far south but he is the Captain and they look to him to not only lead but to keep them safe.

“Big mistake threatening members of my crew.”

The man was huge, tall as a beanpole but broad with it. The ugly mask he called a face was twisted into a mean and spiteful grimace that merely accentuated every nasty angle until even the gaps shone with malice. “She's crazy. Should be happy we're takin' her off your hands.”

The Captain didn't care that every gun was cocked and pointed in his direction. Took no more notice of the fact that he was surrounded than if he were taking a stroll in a gorram park. Admittedly a rutting deadly one filled with all manner of evil beasts masquerading as human gorram beings. And they called River crazy? “She's on my crew.”

For a moment there was a cold icy silence. You could have heard a pin drop. Without blinking the Captain continued, voice deceptively low, mild and calm. It was almost hypnotic.

“But there's an upside.”

The big man looked a mite nonplussed, a wary look creeping over his features. “There is?”

Malcolm Reynolds smirked but there was no humour in it. “It'll be the last gorram mistake you'll ever make.”

The big man, Arran Burke had been told Reynolds was a tricky one but hadn't expected him to open fire while standing within a circle of fifteen of his best mercenaries. The thing was Burke was big and mean and as deadly as a heart attack but he lacked enough smarts to realise that a gun battle would take out more of his own men than Serenity's crew, especially as most were in hidden positions up in the rocks leaving only the Captain and River Tam exposed. That little oversight would be dearly paid for.

The tuck and roll as his gun hand came free saved the Captain from being drilled and spilled with the first volley of shots. Cries rang out as the thugs found most of their bullets sailing over the place where Mal had been standing and finding targets from among their own ranks. Burke swore and cursed, quickly switching his handgun for a sniper's rifle, determined to take out Reynolds if it was the last thing he did. Delaney and Reed had River tangled in a net but as soon as the shooting started the girl somehow sprang up out of it and used the net to snag Thompson, quickly disarming him and shooting the man through the head with his own weapon before taking out Delaney. Reed managed to duck but there was nowhere for him to hide. The ambush had been perfectly sprung making sure Mal and River were out in the open before firing the net and capturing River. It had been child's play to quickly surround the Captain but to their surprise the man had neither panicked nor shown any sign of giving up. The stiff necked *hundan* had acted calm as you please as if they were the ones making the biggest mistake of their lives.

With all the dust they were kicking up in that sand bowl it wasn't long before visibility became an issue. At first welcome then quickly cursed.

Zoe didn't like the fact that she could no longer see the Captain and had to guess where River might be. Suddenly the girl popped up beside her position behind the boulder. “If Serenity comes in low the dust will be cleared by the downdraught. Will also provide a diversion.” River paused for a half second. “We'll need goggles.”

It was on the tip of Zoe's tongue to tell River they didn't have any but the girl was a genius and Zoe couldn't see clearly enough to be sure of hitting one of Burke's men and not the Captain so even without eye protection it was the only plan they had. She clicked her hand held com, reassured as always when Wash answered right away. “*Zhangfu*, need you to come in low over this dust storm. Can't see a thing worth a gorram.”

His cheery voice lifted her spirits. “Your wish is my command, *bao bei*.”

Minutes later the distinctive sound of the Firefly's engine had Burke's men looking up, shielding their faces and raising their weapons. Wash brought her down low, a few foolish men wasting ammo firing up at the ship in panic but it was enough of a distraction for the Captain to slip away and head for the rocky ground where his crew were busy taking pot shots. Really, it was a crap shoot. Jayne whooped every time he took one down but Mal didn't have the heart to berate him, just relieved they were able to turn the tables on the sumbitches. He looked around, caught Zoe's eye and frowned.

“Where's Burke?”

“*Shei*?”

“Ugly big *tamade hundan* about seven feet high with a face that would curdle new milk.”

She glanced across the clearing. A clearing where the sand was quickly turning blood red and filling with the bodies of the fallen mercenaries. One or two looked more wounded than dead. The Captain's lips thinned into a hard unforgiving line. “Don't kill 'em!”

Jayne looked pissed, he had been lining up a head shot. “Why the *diyu* not?”

“Dead men don't talk, Jayne.”

“Huh?”

Zoe didn't turn her head to look at the mercenary over on her left but neatly took out one of the men trying to circle round their position. “Cap'n wants to know who hired 'em, Jayne.”

“Hell,” grumbled the mercenary “I can tell ya that.”

The Captain took his eyes off the killing ground and stared at him. “You can?”

“Yeah. Badger.”

It would have been easy to assume that was the case but it didn't feel right. Burke had made a point of saying they wanted to take River off his hands which meant she had been singled out. As loathsome a creep as Badger could be the little King-pin actually seemed to have a soft spot for River and while he would happily put Malcolm Reynolds and his crew in harm's way he didn't think Badger would want anything to happen to his little albatross. Unless he was wanting Burke to bring the girl to him. Well now. That was a disturbing notion.

In the end none of the mercenaries they had taken down lived. The two wounded ones the Captain had told Jayne not to kill were dead anyway by the time they got to them. The puzzle was not the neat round bullet holes in the middle of their foreheads but who had fired them. With all their enemies dead but one he had to wonder. Had Burke hung back long enough to silence anyone he couldn't take with him? And if so, what was so gorram important that he would take the lives of his own men before letting a word spill past their lips? The Captain didn't say anything to the others, they did not have the time to hang around and speculate and his thoughts were too dark for company. He gave the word to take off and Wash shook the dust of Anaeron off both ship and crew. Not a one of them would miss it.

* * * * *

“*Fasheng shenme shi le*?”

“They caught us in a ruttin' crossfire, *laoban*.”

“I gave you one simple job...”

“It wasn't our fault! We got the girl, had Reynolds in our sights but then the *shenjingbing tamade hundan* opened fire on us.”

“Are you trying to tell me you and your men were bested by ONE man?”

Burke realised what he had said, how it sounded, but couldn't find a way to make it sound less damning. “Man ain't right in the head. Acted as if we were the ones outnumbered not him.”

The *laoban* did not look impressed. “Maybe he was thinking you were – in the brains department.”

The big man's eyes narrowed but he at least was smart enough not to voice what he was thinking. The boss watched him closely and when it became clear that Burke was not going to say anything he gave a small nod. Good. The man was learning, just not fast enough for his liking. Still. Mercenaries were useful but only so long as they were competent. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn't cut my losses?”

“*Wo bu dong, laoban*.”

“Why I shouldn't put a bullet in what passes for that brain of yours.”

All of a sudden, big and mean as he was, Burke felt hideously vulnerable. Frightened in a way that made his mouth go dry. He looked down, noticed he was standing on a large sheet of thick cellophane sheeting. Through the clear material he could see the colour and pattern of the expensive hand made Chinese rug. He knew what that meant. One word and it would be his shroud.

“Give me another chance.”

“*Weishenme*?”

Burke forgot to be afraid, his anger at Reynolds strengthening his resolve as he relived what had happened. “I got a score to settle only this time he won't see it comin'.”

“Your vengeance matters nothing to me. Get me the girl and this...” he paused to wave a hand dismissively “will all be forgotten.”

“I'll need to hire some more men.”

The boss said nothing. Something in his dead eyes chilled the mercenary more than failing.

“Or,” he conceded “I could see to it personally.”

“However you seek to accomplish it, do not fail me again.”

* * * * *

“I can't believe it!”

The Captain resisted the urge to roll his eyes at Simon Tam. He was in the commons room with the rest of the crew either taking up seats round the table or coming to join them. Shepherd Book seemed amused. Behind Simon his sister smirked. Too smug by half.

“What, you want me full of gorram holes?”

The doctor's mouth opened and closed a couple of times then he shook his head before speaking. “No, of course not, it's just... I should put this in my diary.”

Malcolm Reynold's eyes narrowed dangerously but before he could do or say anything that might threaten harm Inara handed him a mug of tea. His eyes met hers briefly. The smile was radiant and as beautifully crafted as her attire, make up and every move she made. The woman was a consummate professional at appearing to be whatever she chose or needed to be. He wished for the hundredth time that she could just be Inara Serra. Her own self not the schooled fabrication of the gorram Guild. But that was not his call to make let alone his business. It left a bitter taste but better to accept the things he could not change and move on. Woman was confusing enough without picking through her wiles. She was also something of a friend though both had their prickly side which like as not meant they clashed as often as got along. Sometimes it wearied him but at others he relished the confrontation, looked forward to needling her as much she did him. It was afterwards, in the still quiet moments of ship's night when the crew were in their bunks sleeping and he was checking his boat before calling it a night that he would reflect on the events of the day and feel a ghost of sadness settle over his heart. It was stupid, foolish, and a road he in no way was equipped to walk let alone survive. Her world was all sharp angles and hidden meanings, one his longing for truthsomeness would always be left wanting. Better to leave that path to those who traded in subtle lies. Folk not him. He could look though. Consider and permaybehaps mourn a little the loss of something that would never be his. Not for his own sake but hers for she could be so much more. That Inara would never see it saddened him most of all.

He sighed. Nandi had known. Had been smarter than all of them but he had not been able to save her. The loss cut him deep.

“Captain?”

He shook himself out of his reverie, surprised to find that Inara had moved on and was now chatting and laughing with Kaylee. Jayne was regaling Book with the finer points of their narrow brush with death and Zoe passed with two mugs on her way to the bridge.

“You need somethin', Simon?”

“Are you sure you're alright, Captain?”

“*Dang ran*, just thinkin' is all.”

For moment it looked as if the doctor didn't quite believe him but after a moment Simon nodded and went over to where Kaylee and Inara were sitting at the table chatting like old friends. He smiled as Kaylee's face lit up, her hand patting the empty chair next to her. The Captain pursed his lips together and decided it was time to talk to Badger.

* * * * *

He is scaring her now because he doesn't see the malignancy of his own excess. The madness that is his crowning glory savouring in slow swallows the waters of her defeat. She would have begged for mercy but that would be to prolong the agony and she had been hurting for so long. He did not leave a mark upon her. No outward sign of the degradation and trauma inflicted upon her without let. The walls of the oubliette confined not just her but him. How twisted that he should climb down into her hell hole to finish this rather than raise her up to the light. Or was that the point? She had held out, denied him, and this was his punishment. Cruel and perverse but soon to be ending.

"You cannot escape me." He said softly.

The words shivered through her like a cold icy wind, carrying the last of the warmth from both body and soul. "I don't know anything."

Her broken words were meaningless to him. A bird without wings. "I will be with you always."

The thought terrified her more than dying. That he had invaded her mind so effortlessly, stripped her memories and feelings down to the raw nerve endings and then left her exposed in a ruthless agony he could end in a heartbeat. That he chose not to told her everything about the monster who would give her no rest. No respite. A slow evil smile stole across mirthless lips and warped the once handsome face into the kind of disfigurement that went beyond the flesh. So, she thought as her soul wailed in torment and horror. This was what Death looked like.

* * * * *

"Badger, we need to talk."

The little king-pin gave the Captain a suspicious look, eyes narrowing. "*Zenmele*?"

"Nothing went wrong my end that is until the mercenaries jumped us on Anaeron."

Badger sat up straight, alarm on his face, eyes wide and anxious. "You lost my gorram cargo?" He accused.

The Captain felt something inside loosen a mite. "*Bu qu*, still got the cargo. *Fang xin*."

"Then what the good gorram you talkin' about?"

"Someone tried to grab a member of my crew. Would you be knowin' anythin' about that?"

"What you talkin' about, Reynolds? If you ain't delivered the cargo you're behind schedule. Delays cost money, *dong ma*?"

"Aren't you curious?"

"About what?"

"Who jumped us an' why?"

"I'm guessin' you got more enemies that I could shake a stick at. Just deliver the gorram cargo, *mashang*!"

The screen went black. For a moment the Captain just sat there and stared at it. Wash and Zoe exchanged a look.

"Sir?"

"Badger isn't behind this, Zoe. Whatever else that slimy toad is up to it isn't this."

"He may still know something."

"What makes you say that?"

Wash looked thoughtful. "He didn't ask who the mercenaries tried to snatch."

That had also occurred to Mal but he wasn't about to mention it. Could just be that Badger only thought about what concerned him and that was getting his goods transported and making money. Speaking of which they were like to die poor if they didn't deliver their own selves. "Set a course, Wash."

"Where to?"

"Anaeron."

Zoe's face darkened. "We can't go back, sir. They tried to kill you."

"Nearly succeeded too but they weren't after me, Zoe. They wanted River."

"Then why go back? Burke is still out there and probably waiting for us to do just that."

"Only we have the advantage."

Wash looked surprised. "We do?"

They both ignored him.

"He won't be expecting us to go back."

"That's 'cause he ain't *chun*."

They turned their heads to see Jayne in the doorway, a sour look on his face. "Jayne, what did I tell you about eavesdroppin' on other folks' conversations?"

"Just sayin' is all. We got lucky this time Mal, might not if we go back."

That gave the Captain pause. It wasn't like Jayne to walk away from a fight. "There somethin' you wanna be tellin' me, Jayne?" He asked quietly.

The big man took a slow deep breath, as if needing to steady himself before replying. It made the hairs on the back of the Captain's neck stand on end. "Yeah. I took a look at those dead mercenaries just in case one was still breathin'."

"And?"

"Recognised some of 'em, Mal. Whatever's goin' on is bad an' the fact that Burke finished off the two that weren't dead so's they couldn't talk should be settin' off all kinds of alarm bells for you too."

"Let's get back to you recognisin' 'em. Who are they Jayne?"

"You ain't gonna like it."

"I like not knowin' even less."

* * * * *

GLOSSARY: (MANDARIN - PINYIN)

*hundan* = bastard *zhangfu* = husband *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shei* = who *diyu* = hell *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *fasheng shenme shi le* = what happened? *laoban* = boss *shenjingbing* = crazy *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *weishenme* = why? *dang ran* = of course *zenmele* = what's wrong? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *dong ma* = understand? *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *chun* = stupid

COMMENTS

Saturday, March 31, 2012 7:14 AM

AMDOBELL


This story is for ebfiddler who emailed me asking for more fic. Sorry I didn't reply but I could not remember your private email address and Real Life has been more than distracting of late, hope this makes up for it. And yes, it is another series so do not say you have not been warned! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, March 31, 2012 12:03 PM

M52NICKERSON


"Only we have the advantage."

Wash looked surprised. "We do?"

They both ignored him.

"He won't be expecting us to go back."

"That's 'cause he ain't *chun*."

You can't tell sometimes if Mal is crazy or a genius...perhaps both. Very nice start!

Saturday, March 31, 2012 12:09 PM

AMDOBELL


I think he may be a bit of both, m52nickerson. Thanks for the feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, March 31, 2012 4:19 PM

MALSDOXY


YAY!! thanks ebfiddler for spurring AMDOBELL on...love her fics and am so happy to see a new one started...always intriguing, AliD...already anxious for the next... gorram REAL LIFE, always getting in the rutting way!

Sunday, April 1, 2012 1:37 AM

AMDOBELL


Thanks for your enthusiasm, Malsdoxy, always appreciated. Best hang on to your hat! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, April 1, 2012 6:39 AM

BYTEMITE


I like this. A little mystery, started with some action. The part with the interrogation was particularly eye catching.

Sunday, April 1, 2012 10:20 AM

AMDOBELL


All manner of things are going to be creeping out of the woodwork, Bytemite. Glad you are enjoying the story. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, April 1, 2012 6:15 PM

NUTLUCK


Wonder who the main villain is. So many to choose from... unless he is a totally new one.

Monday, April 2, 2012 2:27 AM

AMDOBELL


Keep your eyes peeled Nutluck, and thanks for the feedback. Welcome as always, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, April 2, 2012 3:38 AM

EBFIDDLER


What a delightful thing, to come home from a weekend away and discover a *new* story from AMDOBELL in the Blue Sun Room! :-) (and thanks, Ali; if my e-mail did anything to prompt you to write more, then I am well-rewarded as I get to enjoy your new fic.)
So we start with a bang, literally. Love it how Mal turns around the desperate situation with the help of River and his crew. I agree that Badger's not likely to be the one who set them up, but I also don't trust him to be completely above-board, as that's just not his style. Love the little touch about Badger having a soft spot for River; I imagine he still thinks she's from the old colony. Mal's got a good point about going back, and he's especially good at taking the unpredictable action; however, I believe Jayne's right to be more cautious. I am very curious as to who Jayne recognized.

Monday, April 2, 2012 12:04 PM

AMDOBELL


Hope you had a great weekend ebfiddler and glad you love the story so far. You are spot on about Badger and why he has a soft spot for River. I also like it when we get to see some of Jayne's smarts coming to the fore even if he doesn't always get listened to as much as perhaps he should. Thanks as always for the feedback, more coming soon. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, April 9, 2012 5:32 AM

ZOESMOM


Thanks, Ali!

Monday, April 9, 2012 10:10 AM

AMDOBELL


You're welcome, Zoesmom. Glad you are enjoying the story. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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