BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 15. "Trail of Tears"
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

He did not blink. Barely drew breath. His expression as blank as an empty slate, his eyes carefully revealing nothing of the thoughts racing through his head.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1878    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "TRAIL OF TEARS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 15. Sequel to "DEADLY OBSESSIONS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Lucy has a decision to make meanwhile the Captain has already made his though Simon Tam is far from happy about it."

"TRAIL OF TEARS"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"We would appear to have lost the iniative."

Chou gave her a steady look but said nothing. A faint smile hovered on her twisted lips, her eyes bright and sharp belying the march of years.

"Appearances can be so deceiving can they not?"

Chou inclined his head sensing the Lady had new information though not its' source. Intrigued but patient he waited. She would tell him what he needed to know when he needed to know it.

"My sources counted the dead, old friend." She said quietly then paused. "Of the two factions one would seem to be 'missing'."

That was news to him. Disturbing in its' oddity. Who would want to take a dead body and why? "Do we know who was taken, my Lady?"

"*Bu qu* but I am more interested in the why. Something else is going on, Chou. Something perhaps even more sinister than we had supposed."

Again she paused, this time her lips flattened in a thin unforgiving line as if a thought displeased her.

"Nothing must be allowed to interfere with our 'interests'."

He gave a slight bow. When he straightened the screen had gone dark and she was gone. Chou wondered what it meant and what threat to their interests such an act might presage. The Lady was not one to take chances or to expose her people to unfriendly scrutiny. Her ways were subtle but no less deadly than any of her competitors many of whom did not even know of her presence. They saw only the effect and invariably blamed each other. All of which suited her purpose most elegantly. This new twist was disturbing. An unexpected variable that could not be allowed to go unexplored.

* * * * *

Inara smiled at Simon. "*Fang xin*, Simon. It was just a scratch."

"*Wo zhidao* but I need to check to prevent possible infection."

Repressing a sigh Inara let him enter her shuttle. She would have preferred a little solitude for meditation but knew the doctor would only fret if he did not reassure himself that all was well. Taking a seat she wound her hair up and fastened it in place to leave her neck clear. Simon nodded his approval and moved closer to check the wound. "How is the Captain?"

"Sleeping though how much rest he'll get with River watching over him I don't know." Simon gently prodded the skin around the wound and was pleased to see that it was not sore or weeping. It would heal well. Straightening he removed his surgical gloves. "It looks good, Inara. Just keep it dry when you bathe, *dong ma*?"

Inara nodded and let her hair down. "Do you want me to sit with him?"

Simon shook his head, he hadn't meant to sound as if he didn't trust his sister it was just she had a habit of being unpredictable and he had been serious about the Captain needing his rest. He was probably over reacting. "*Bu qu, xie xie ni*."

Once he was gone Inara shut and locked the shuttle door, calming herself with the familiarity of a much loved routine. The kettle being heated for tea, lighting the incense. The bowl readied with warm water and fragrant body wash as she knelt in a single sinuous movement, her robe falling gracefully to her feet. Slowly she immersed the natural sponge and washed herself down, the ritual a pleasing cleansing of both body and mind. By the time the water had boiled she had dried herself off, the robe back in place and a calm smile on her lips. Inara had much to think about and little of it to do with the violent and sudden demise of Rufus Pol.

* * * * *

'I am afraid'

'I will not hurt you'

'How do I know that, Nicholas?'

For a moment he seemed too stunned to answer. They had emerged from the endless twisting labyrinth of tunnels in a deeply wooded area on the outskirts of the city. Lucy had never been this far out, it was dark and full of unknown shadows and night noises. It scared her. 'I could have let the Hunter take you' . Came his sullen thought.

Immediately Lucy was contrite. She had not meant to sound ungrateful but the truth remained that she did not know him, he was a stranger, and her parents had always been careful to drum into her the need to steer clear of anyone she did not know. As her father would put it, you could never be too careful. But Nicholas had saved her. Out of nowhere the boy had appeared and taken her under his wing and for that she was grateful but what happened now? With the immediate danger over where could she go that would be safe?

'Trust me or trust me not you need to make a decision'

'*Wo bu dong*'

'If you do not trust me you should go'

Her mental response was as automatic as it was panic stricken. 'You cannot leave me now!'

Nicholas stared at her without blinking until she felt uncomfortable. Lucy broke eye contact first.

'I do not know where to go, what to do'

'What was your plan when you ran away?'

Lucy's eyes widened. How did he know that? Seeing that he was not going to fill in the blanks without any help from her, Lucy decided the truth was all she had to give him. 'I sensed the man, the one you call the Hunter. I was worried that he would find me, that he would hurt my family if I stayed'

'They aren't like you?'

'*Shenme*?'

'Your parents, they aren't like you?'

Lucy shook her head. It had never occurred to her to wonder why. '*Bu qu*'

'Are you adopted?'

Anger and hurt flared in her eyes. 'No! What a mean thing to say!'

It occurred to Nicholas that Lucy was in more trouble than she realised. If the people who had raised her were not her blood parents they would not be able to find her, to reach out to her with their minds and soothe her. Guide her home again or come to her aid. She was different, that much was clear but he was not sure what that meant. He was alone, had been for as long as he could remember. Had no memory of parents or siblings, there had never been anyone to care for him. He wondered if her gift were natural but had no way of asking that would not make the girl even more fearful and perhaps suspious of him. How then to know what he was getting into and whether to take the risk? Having saved her once that should have been the end of his commitment but her mind had touched his, made a tentative connection, one he was reluctant to break. He had been alone too long. Contact was dangerous.

'Nicholas?'

He saw her bottom lip tremble. They were still moving but a lot slower now, all the questions were beginning to distract them from the distance they needed to place between themselves and the Hunter. 'We need to find somewhere to hide'

Nicholas could almost taste her relief. 'Then you are coming with me?'

He paused just long enough to question his own insanity. 'For now'

* * * * *

Simon Tam wondered why he bothered. Really. The Captain didn't need a doctor he needed a psychiatrist, preferably one with access to a padded cell. "I told you not to talk, Captain. It was a medical necessity not a suggestion."

The Captain looked a mite apologetic but the determination in his eye told Simon all he needed to know about how futile it was to try to get any kind of sense knocked into that *wangu shenjingbing* head of his. His words came out in low crackled whispers causing the Captain to wince with pain much as he tried to hide it. "Can't. Little ones need me." Baffled, Simon stared at him then looked at where his sister sat quietly in a chair beside the infirmary bed. To anyone not familiar with the girl, she looked demure and innocent but Simon knew differently. His eyes narrowed, his suspicions multiplying. "What did you say, *mei mei*?"

"Ain't River's fault." Crackled the Captain, his voice fading in and out like a badly tuned old radio from Earth-that-was.

Simon ignored him and just stared at his sister. "River?"

"No one would listen or understand. The voices are so loud now, Simon. Crying, calling out, begging. They just get louder and louder!"

Exasperated, Simon had no time for patience. "River, what are you talking about?"

* * * * *

The screen lit up with a blue arc. The Lady's expression changed subtly, not enough for a casual observer to even notice but he did.

"I lost the girl but there was also another. A boy. He was..." He paused and tried again, as if the words were sticking to the roof of his mouth. "He was... magnificent!"

Her eyebrows rose in surprise. In all their years working together she had never heard anything so close to awe in his voice or manner before. It made her suspicious. Fearful even. "*Jieshi*."

He blinked slowly as if making an effort to bring his thoughts into a less fevered stream of consciousness. Sometimes it was hard to stick to the mundane aspects of verbal communication. He had been mind casting for too long. Verbal exchanges tired him and made him cranky but controlling his temper was a matter of survival with the Lady so he did as instructed and hid his irritation deep where it could not betray him. "He is very advanced, has the mental acuity of a master yet is just a child." Silas paused as if judging how much to say. "I was closing in on the girl when he appeared, almost closed me down completely!" Another longer pause this time, as if he had to fight for enough breath but he was not winded, only seeking control of his emotions. "He must have been hiding."

The Lady leaned close to the little screen. "You found his hiding place?"

Silas nodded. "Yes, my Lady."

A flash of irritation curdled the edge of her face with displeasure then was gone. She did not like having to eek the information out of him. "What did it tell you?"

Silas tilted his head first one way then the other. "He lived alone. I could get no sense of family. His scent was masked but filled the den."

"Den?"

"He was using an old burrow. At first I thought it had been abandoned..." He trailed off as if unwilling to continue.

"Silas, I will not be drip fed what I need to know, *dong ma?"

"*Qu, duibuqi*. I think he was not so much using an abandoned den as... sharing it."

Their eyes locked. The Lady lowered her voice almost without realising it. "What creature made the burrow?"

For some reason Silas misliked forming the words. "A wolf."

They stared at each other in a kind of mutally transmitted shock. The Lady recovered first. "Find him!"

"And the girl?"

"If she is with him that will be her last mistake."

"The boy is beyond gifted."

"You cannot know that for certain, Silas. We will do tests."

He could have told her but said no more. Pointing out that the boy would be far from easy to locate was not what the Lady wanted to hear. Even though Silas wanted to find him more than anything else in the 'verse he was more and more certain he would not be able to give him up when he did.

"Silas?" Said the Lady in a silky smooth voice that made his skin begin to crawl.

"Yes, my Lady?"

"Do not think to cheat me of this prize."

He did not blink. Barely drew breath. His expression as blank as an empty slate, his eyes carefully revealing nothing of the thoughts racing through his head. "You have nothing to fear though locating him will be difficult."

"Then find the girl."

Without speaking he gave a small bow, when he straightened the Lady was still staring back at him. Silas said nothing. Waited. This time exuding a patience he did not feel. The Lady gave a short nod and the screen went black. Silas slowly breathed out. A voice spoke behind him but Silas did not startle. Knew the loyal 462 was one of the few beings able to track and find him at will. "I will not fail."

Chou stepped out of the dark shadows, his movements sinuous and soundless. He did not speak, his eyes boring into Silas but his mind closed off as completely as a metal vault. Not a flicker could Silas pick up. Silas gave Chou a nod and left. Chou watched him go then slipped back into the shadows.

* * * * *

Refreshed, Inara Serra went to see how the Captain was doing and was alarmed to hear Simon shouting from the catwalk. As she drew nearer, Zoe, Wash, Book and Kaylee were hurrying to the infirmary. Her heart missed a beat, all the worst possible scenarios running through her head as she numbly followed the others to see what was wrong. As she reached the door, Inara realised the rest of the crew were all inside the infirmary now. Simon was red faced and still yelling but not, as she had expected, at the Captain but at his sister River. River sat calmly on the chair next to the Captain's bed, the man in question looking worn out but alert. Running out of breath, Simon paused to get his second wind but Jayne beat him to it.

"What the *diyu* did your *shenjingbing* sister do now?" All heads turned to look at the mercenary. Simon was glaring, even angrier than he had been before. The Captain looked like he wanted to yell his own self but knew his voice wouldn't carry and he didn't want to cause more damage to healing tissue than he had already done. Shepherd Book's calm deep voice distracted Simon momentarily from the 101 things he could do to Jayne Cobb with a Scalpel and still keep an edge on the blade.

"Let's all calm down. Simon, why don't you tell us what's happened?"

"He" spat the good doctor pointing at the Captain "wants to take my sister on some wild goose chase looking for lost children."

"They aren't lost, Simon!" River cried, suddenly speaking up, her eyes wide and full of emotion.

Confused, Book had no idea what they were talking about. Zoe threaded her way to the front and eyed her Captain but he made no move to enlighten her by sign, whispered word or written so she turned to River. "What children?"

River was crying now, the tears silent but heart breaking to watch as they rolled down her distressed face. "Like me but not. He's collecting them, hunting them down."

Wash frowned. "*Shei*?"

"The Hunter."

Simon was calmer now but no less incensed. "The Captain wants to use my sister as bait to catch him."

For a moment the others stared at him in stunned silence. Inara's mouth opened then closed as she realised she had no idea what to say. She caught Malcolm Reynolds' eye but he wasn't talking, in fact he wasn't doing anything but sitting half propped up on the infirmary bed looking as if a strong breeze could blow him away. Seeing him anything less than animated not only looked wrong, it felt wrong too. Before she could form a question Zoe starting speaking.

"Sir, we still have the problem of what to do with Rufus Pol's men."

The Captain just looked at his second in command for a long moment then turned to River. 'Okay, little one, this is your gorram show. What you supposin' we do about 'em?'

'They are not the problem'

'You sayin' we let 'em go?'

'Not saying but little acts of spite can be as bad as big ones'

The Captain was sure he had a headache coming on. 'No riddles, River. Ain't shiny enough to unravel 'em, *dong ma*?'

Instead of continuing the conversation non verbally River answered him out loud. "We can't take them with us and we can't let them go."

Zoe frowned. "Sir?"

The Captain opened his mouth to speak when Simon Tam thrust the stub of a pencil in his hand. He could argue but that would hurt his throat as much as disobeying the doctor would. Looking for a piece of paper he smiled when Kaylee pressed a couple of crumpled sheets into his hands. Her grin was like the sun going nova but without burning them all to a crisp.

"They ain't greasy, Cap'n. I made sure they was clean for ya."

He nodded his thanks and wondered where Kaylee had got the paper from.

"Sir?"

At Zoe's impatient little prompt, he bent over the paper and began to write. Just hoping two pages would be enough to outline the gorram plan. His crew would not like it but at least they were loyal. Permaybehaps his second in command could even improve on it, cover the points he may have missed. Any such notion fled the moment she saw what he had written.

* * * * *

The indicator flashed on the panel indicating an in-coming message but there was no one there to receive it. At the other end looks were exchanged and new orders issued. A team was being scrambled to go and investigate. High priority but low impact. They needed to see without being seen. Find out what was wrong and if the operation was compromised. Meanwhile, higher up the chain of command, the sharks were circling. Getting ready to feed.

* * * * *

Silas was worried though he allowed no emotion to show. He had tried reactivating Eve but the silence that met him was total. A great yawning expanse of nothing where the connection he had so cunningly fashioned should have been. It made him uneasy. A lurking suspicion flowering in his mind as if from a poisonous seed, one he had not cultivated himself. It alarmed him to be on the other end of an unknown that could unravel everything he had been working towards. He wondered if his plan had been discovered then discounted the possibility. None were as subtle as he was. No. If the connection was broken it was more likely by some unintended accident that had occurred to the girl. After all, she did not know what he had done to her or what he had taken.

No. Eve was gone, out of his reach but there were others. He thought about the boy and his shock and surprise when he was so effectively blocked. The spike of pain exploding in his brain was a feedback loop channeling his own ability back at him but in such a concentrated and narrow burst that it was like a laser cutting through his brain. Oh yes, he wanted the boy more than he had wanted any gifted child before. And once he located the boy the girl would not be far behind him. Silas retreated, it would be full daylight soon and he worked best in the shadows of the night. He needed to meditate, regroup, and instead of using his formidable mental abilities he would go low tech. Something the boy would not be expecting and would find hard to counter. As he ruminated the answer came to him. It was so simple it was elegant. The den. Sooner or later the boy would return to it, he would have to, and when he did Silas intended to have a suitable surprise waiting for him.

* * * * *

Zoe waited for everyone else to leave the infirmary. Wash hesitated but she told him to go and she would join him shortly. He did not look convinced but when Zoe was adamant about something it did not pay to call her on it. He glanced at the Captain, saw how pale and wrung out the man looked and almost felt sorry for him. With a curt nod he followed the others out. Simon Tam made sure River didn't linger, pleasantly surprised when his sister did not put up any kind of a struggle. Kalyee was patting her friend's hand, her kind eyes filled with concern. River's eyes were large liquid pools staring back at her.

"I won't break."

Kaylee smiled reassuringly. "*Wo zhidao*, sweetie, but you haven't eaten anythin' an' I bet you ain't slept a wink."

River's look was sullen. "I cat napped."

Kaylee blinked. "That ain't sleepin'."

Zoe waited until the sounds of Kaylee and River arguing about what did or did not constitute a good night's sleep had died away. Inara had looked back as if she wanted to say something then changed her mind and was gone. Jayne and Book left deep in discussion and Wash tagged on after them trying to hide his worry. Simon had followed in Kaylee and River's wake as if he was on a piece of string but didn't have the energy or wherewithall to cut himself free. Alone with her Captain at last, Zoe shut and locked the infirmary door. Malcolm Reynolds raised an eyebrow and waited for the storm to hit. He didn't have to wait long.

"You call this *goushi* a plan?" She shook the paper at him like an indictment.

He opened his mouth to speak but she didn't give him the opportunity.

"Usin' River as bait to catch some warped an' twisted *hundan* who'd make Niska look like a boy scout isn't a plan it's suicide only you won't be the one payin' the price for this lunacy!" The Captain frowned, not liking the way it sounded as if he was going to leave River to face the evil *guai* on her own-some. "Ain't like that." He half croaked, half whispered, but Zoe ranted on as if she had not heard him. With a sigh he leant back and forced himself not to close his rutting eyes. He was so gorram tired but this was too important. He watched through heavy slitted lids as his second in command paced back and forth waiting for her to run out of steam. It took longer than he had expected. Zoe came to a halt and stared at her Captain and long time friend. A man she would walk through fire and storm for and had done on many an occasion. Noticed he was flagging badly and remembered that Simon had operated on him only hours before. With a sigh she took the seat River had vacated and spoke more gently, the paper he had been writing on being waved in her hands almost as if forgotten. Her eyes fastened to his as if by sheer will alone she could ram some sense into him.

"It won't work, Mal."

He didn't react to her sudden use of his first name but knew it meant she was serious about this. "*Ni bu dong*," he rasped quietly "Shen's gonna help."

The man's name reminded her that she hadn't seen hide nor hair of Shen Willets for hours. All of the crew had been crammed into the infirmary so who was watching Shen and where the good gorram was he now? A horrible sinking suspicion brought her quickly to her feet. "*Wode ma*! I'm a *baichi*."

Malcolm Reynolds opened his mouth to ask her what was wrong but Zoe was already at the door, unlocking it and rushing through as if all the hounds of *diyu* were after her. "Zoe, *shenme shi*?" He croaked.

But the Captain couldn't raise his voice and Zoe wasn't listening anyway, a panic rising in her that impelled her to dash off hastily, her mind racing, trying to remember where she had last seen Shen Willets. Had he been hanging around outside the infirmary and if so how much had he overheard? Cursing over and over again Zoe raised Jayne and Book and told them to search the ship for Shen *mashang*. She hoped she was wrong but the way their luck was going she was not about to bet any of their lives on it.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wo zhidao* = I know *dong ma* = understand? *xie xi ni* = thank you *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *shenme* = what? *wangu* = stubborn *shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* = helll *mei mei* = little sister *jieshi* = explain *qu* = yes (lit. go) *duibuqi* = sorry *shei* = who *goushi* = crap/dog shit *hundan* = bastard *guai* = devil/ghost *ni bui dong* = you don't understand *wode ma* = mother of God *baichi* = idiot *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately

COMMENTS

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 8:40 AM

EBFIDDLER


Oh, wow. So exciting. Simon's thoughts of "101 things he could do to Jayne Cobb with a Scalpel" made me snicker. The thread with Silas, the Hunter, is intriguing. I really, really like the scene with Zoe and Mal in the infirmary.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 8:40 AM

EBFIDDLER


Oh, wow. So exciting. Simon's thoughts of "101 things he could do to Jayne Cobb with a Scalpel" made me snicker. The thread with Silas, the Hunter, is intriguing. I really, really like the scene with Zoe and Mal in the infirmary.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 8:41 AM

EBFIDDLER


Sorry about the double post.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 12:18 PM

AMDOBELL


Thanks for your comments Ebfiddler and don't worry about the double post, it happens. I was chuckling when I wrote that bit about Jayne and the scalpel. Lots more to come with Silas and Mal's plan has a few bumps in the road ahead. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, July 12, 2012 3:06 AM

NUTLUCK


Hmm... is Shen who he says he is, or is he already in the story with a different name or just a red herring? Guess we will find out soon enough.

Thursday, July 12, 2012 3:46 AM

AMDOBELL


I'm a bit confused by your comment Nutluck, you have already met Shen Willets. He came with Mal, Zoe and Jayne when they left Anaeron to return to Serenity and reunite with the rest of the crew after the Captain took ill. If you recall they blindfolded him initally. Hope that places the character for you. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, July 12, 2012 2:25 PM

NUTLUCK


Yeah I was wondering if Shen wasn't also going by another name in one of the other parts. Just a idle thought.

Friday, July 13, 2012 3:00 AM

AMDOBELL


No, Nutluck, he isn't. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, July 16, 2012 2:08 PM

MALSDOXY


i've got a headache...can't keep track of everyone, i can usually suss it out but brianpan ain't what it used to be...very intrigued with Silas, that vermin, and what he's doing with those kids...waiting patienly for next chapter, AliD, xie xie

Monday, July 16, 2012 2:41 PM

AMDOBELL


Sorry about the headache MalsDoxy but things will start to become clearer. And you are right, Silas is a vermin, one of the nastier kind. Thanks for commenting, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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