THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 41. "On The Road To Who Knows Where"
Sunday, April 14, 2013

Better the slow introduction of terror. Nothing substantial enough to be pinned down but just enough to set the heart racing, the eyes constantly searching the shadows for hidden assassins.


TITLE:: "ON THE ROAD TO WHO KNOWS WHERE" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 41. Sequel to "COMPETING FORCES" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "With the Captain ready to embark on their next hair raising adventure some of the crew have reservations while the others worry about how the *diyu* they are going to pull it off."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Wash was concerned. So far as he could tell their glorious and noble Captain did not have an actual plan, more a loose collection of vague objectives which would expose not only himself but the ship and crew to all manner of danger. Not only was Mal talking about taking on the almighty Alliance but Blue Sun as well. If the man wanted to commit suicide so badly why take the rest of them with him? He did not say anything out loud, with many of the crew on the bridge as he brought Serenity in to land he did not want his comments sparking off any problems with Zoe. No, this was a conversation for when he could get his wife alone. Maybe talk a little sense into what he saw as gungho madness.

"Not *fafeng*."

Kaylee turned her head and looked at River. "Who's mad?"

The girl shook her head. Although River was staring straight ahead Wash just knew she was speaking to his thoughts and how creepifying was that? Then everyone was hurrying off the bridge. Wash turned his head, willing his beautiful but deadly wife to hang back, spare a few words for him but she was already gone. Caught up in Malcolm Reynolds' wake as if the two were joined at the gorram hip. Kaylee looked bright eyed and excited. River had said they needed to hurry or would miss them. She couldn't wait to find out who. With a sigh, Wash powered the ship down. The now empty bridge comforting him as it always did. This was his domain but for how much longer? His thoughts were suddenly interrupted as River stuck her head through the doorway, her voice pitched for his ears only.

"Don't be afraid."

The pilot turned to face their resident little waif. "I'm the husband, it's my job to worry."

River shook her head. "No it's not. Your gift is to fly true, *dong ma*? Serenity needs you but not as much as we do."

Wash opened his mouth to ask what she meant only to realise that the girl had gone again. So, not so much a waif as a will of the wisp.

* * * * *

Badger was frustrated. His men had returned with no sightings of Wong. That meant the man had returned to the Lady, no doubt reporting his lack of co-operation with the gorram *liwu*. He stared into the sealed transparent cube at the remains of his shoe and the oddly mesmeric mechanical insect embedded into the heel. As he stared he began to frown, sure that last time he had looked the injection spike had been buried up to the hilt but now it only seemed to be half buried in the rubber. With a sigh Badger straightened. He was going gorram *shenjingbing* that was the problem. Should have thrown the thing away but it carried a kind of sick fascination and he wanted to know more about it. What it was, where it had been made and why something that had obviously cost a small gorram fortune had been sent to him. Hand delivered no less. It chilled him to think that the Lady was that displeased with him. And, now knowing he had failed, he fretted. Wondering what she would try next.

* * * * *

It was a relief to Monty to finally land his Kingfisher on Lilac. Needed to breath some uncirculated air but also wanted the girl Lucy off his boat. Didn't mind the other two but Lucy was different and given her mood swings too gorram unpredictable to be trusted. Suzie smiled slightly, all too aware of the fashion of the big man's thoughts.

"*Fang xin*, we'll take care of Lucy."

Now he looked down at the girl, at the boy standing so quietly beside her. Davie not saying a word but paying attention all the same. He wasn't sure about Lucy. The girl looked somewhat truculent and out of sorts at being man handled when she had thrown her last fit only Suzie had said it wasn't a fit. Lucy had woken up, panicked because she didn't know where she was or who these strangers were, and then had thrown everything she could get her hands on to keep his crew at bay as if they were the ruttin' enemy. Only when Suzie had calmed Lucy down did the girl approach anything near normal but he was still mighty wary. Girl didn't look sane and wasn't that a disturbing thing for a child to be? Should be running around free and happy among those that loved her but no, she was here and now the time had come for the children to go their own way. Mixed feelings was what he had. Relief to see the back of Lucy but worry over Suzie and Davie, both of whom he felt a kind of duty towards.

"*Xie xie ni, shifu*. We appreciate you helpin' us."

He covered his unease with a frown. "Where will you go? You got folks on Lilac?"

"It's a stoppin' off point, *dong ma*? From here we can get to where we need."

It was on the tip of his tongue to find out where that was, see if it was he same way he was heading but that would mean taking on Lucy as well. To his consternation, the girl in question turned bright piercing eyes on him and for once spoke without flinging the words at him like missiles.

"I'm not your enemy or your friend."

Suzie was annoyed. Here she was thanking Monty for all he had done and Lucy was managing to undo that gratitude with a few surly words. Before she could silently berate her Lucy continued.

"Don't expect you to understand but they did things to us. Bad things." Lucy indicated her head, her eyes not leaving Monty's as if making this point was of paramount importance. "Too many of us didn't survive. Makes me more than wary, I don't trust easily. Didn't mean to lash out." It wasn't what she said but the look in her eyes that moved him. Lucy was saying sorry but without choking over the actual word. It almost made Monty smile, he knew someone else like that. Girl was rail thin and for a time he had genuinely thought she might die on them but Lucy had pulled through and while he was glad she had, he was relieved it would no longer be his problem. Still. A tiny voice in his back brain worried over her fate and that of the other two children. Children. The thought jolted through him. "Where're your parents?"


"Won't they be worried about you?" Monty paused to look at the other two. "All of you?"

Lucy deliberately misunderstood him. "We're not related."

Monty blinked. "Your parent's ain't your parents?"

Lucy wanted to laugh, the thought softened a face that had hardened prematurely and gave him a glimpse of the little girl lost she really was. It hurt his heart to look at her. "That wasn't what I meant." Lucy turned to Suzie and Davie. "Our parents don't know."

Monty Reynolds looked shocked. "You didn't tell 'em?"

"We ran away from our homes when he felt the Hunter closin' in." Suzie explained. Lucy nodded and didn't interrupt. "If we had stayed our families would have been in danger."

"*Wo bu dong*."

"The Hunter would have killed them." Put in Davie.

Horror stole over Monty's face. How could he leave the children to their fate now? Bad enough that they were runaways but hearing that some deadly *tamade hundan* was after them and like to kill anyone else who was with them or gave them shelter made his heart miss a beat. "Who is this Hunter?"

An ugly grin broke out on Lucy's face. It was so incongruous and out of place that it gave Monty the creeps. The grin dimmed into something close to smug. "The Hunter isn't huntin' any more."

"You sayin' he gave up the hunt for you?"

The grin was back and suddenly Monty didn't want to know what happened. Suzie tugged Davie's jacket and jerked her head at Lucy. "We have to go. *Xie xie*."

"Not necessary, just be careful."

Lucy opened her mouth to say she always was when a foreign thought popped into her head. She was so surprised that she froze with her mouth open. Alarmed, Monty looked at Suzie but the girl was looking just as shocked. It was Davie who spoke for them. "We're not alone!"

* * * * *

"What d'ya mean ya ain't gettin' off?"

Jerrod Perkins just looked at Jayne for a long moment, as if deciding how much to tell him. Over by the set of weights where Shepherd Book was working Howdy Marks pretended not to be listening. Neither man was fooled. Even a horse's ears pricked forward when something took his interest. "You folks're gonna need some help."

The mercenary's eyes narrowed. "Thought ya had folks on Lilac"

"We do."

"Who's gonna look after them while you're galivantin' across the Black?"

"Don't you have family too Jayne?"

"Got all I need right here an' ya didn't answer my ruttin' question."

"Let's just say I got a big family, we look after each other *dong ma*?"

"Still don't explain why you're comin' with us on what's like to be a one way trip."

Jerrod nodded.

"Probably die horrible deaths." Jayne added as if Jerrod was a mite slow.

He shrugged. "All gotta die some time."

Jayne was confused. Where was the profit in that? "Just don't get it."

"Mal didn't have to come back for us on Anaeron. Could'a just got clean away an' no blame to him for it neither but he didn't. He came back, made sure we was alright then helped get us off that doomed ball of rock before we were all turned to dust. Not many would'a done that." The words struck a chord with the mercenary and he gave a slow nod. All his life he had mixed with the kind of folk who'd shoot you as soon as you turned your back on them. Not a one of them would ever have come for him if he got in trouble. Might not always agree with the Captain but being a member of his crew made him good as family and Mal was fiercesomely protective of them he regarded as belonging to him. Wasn't just having his own bunk, a regular cut of the take in all the jobs they did or the all you can eat buffet he made for himself in the kitchen whenever he got a mite peckish. Now he realised Jerrod Perkins was seeing what he had discovered over his time on Serenity only Jerrod had got there a whole lot quicker.

Just then a commotion down in the cargo bay had him and Jerrod leaning over the catwalk railing, guns drawn, expecting trouble. Shepherd Book's deep voice rolled like warm caramel over their ears with just a hint of humour dusting it off. "I don't think we're in any danger from Monty, Jayne."

It was true. The big stocky walrus of a man was walking up the ramp with the Captain, Zoe, Kaylee and what looked like a small tribe of children that River Tam was dancing around, her pale face lit with smiles as if she was a Chinese lantern. The noise of Monty's booming voice drawing all the rest of the crew and as Jayne hurried down the metal stairs to join them he could hear Jerrod, Howdy Marks and Book right behind him and Inara calling out to ask what was going on.

Inara paused on the catwalk just as Wash joined her from the bridge. "Were we expecting Monty, Wash?"

Wash grinned. "Nobody expects Monty, he just kind'a shows up." A thoughtful look came over the Companion's face. Was it just coincidence? And where had those children come from? She turned to say something to the pilot only to find he was padding down the stairs. Inara gave a sigh and was startled to hear Simon's voice just behind her.

"I've heard it said a sighing heart never breaks."

A smile teased her lips and momentarily wiped the worry away. "Hearts don't sigh, Simon."

"I know some poets who would beg to differ." The doctor paused and peered over the handrail. "What's going on?"

"It seems Monty's arrived."

"Were we expecting him?"

Inara looked away from the scene below and smiled at Simon. "Nobody expects Monty."

Puzzled, Simon watched as Inara shashayed past him then realised if he wanted to find out more he would have to follow. He wondered what new complications Mal and Zoe's old war buddy was about to bring with him. At least he could honestly say that life on Serenity was never dull. Not exactly safe but never dull.

* * * * *

In a way it was flattering the resources Badger had mobilised looking for him. A thin humourless smile flickered on his face then vanished. He had not left, had not returned to the Lady. His mission was simple but the execution of it was key. The Lady did not want to kill the little King Pin, at least, not right away. No. Better the slow and subtle introduction of terror. Nothing substantial enough to be pinned down but just enough to set the heart racing, the eyes constantly searching the shadows for hidden assassins. Matthew James Wong had never liked Badger but this was a lesson he would savour for a long time after the uppity little man succumbed to a madness of his own making. A little nudge here and there would just be the icing on the cake.

* * * * *

Wash was intrigued by the children but chilled by the notion that they were in very real danger. He would have suspected they were being paranoid were it not for River. Simon's sister had been broken out of a top secret facility where she was being experimented on, her brain cut into over and over again by the kind of sick *tamade hundan* that you only expected in nightmares but these *hundan* existed in the flesh and that was all manner of scary.

Thankfully, Monty had left his crew on board the Kingfisher but even so the three children and a man of his girth and size seemed to shrink Serenity around him. Monty introduced the children to Mal, trying not to hover over them like some over protective uncle. After all, they were nothing to do with him and yet he felt a responsibility towards them. Mal looked at the three, not huddled together but somehow managing to stay apart from everybody else. He softened his voice and spoke calmly, his tone matter of fact but warm enough to convey that he was not in any way judging them.

"I'm thinkin' you all got your stories, *dui*?"

Three heads nodded, cautious, almost reluctant to reveal even that much. River grinned at the children and Davie couldn't help grinning back, he liked her. Suzie frowned at Davie for breaking ranks but he couldn't see why she was so up tight. River had touched their minds, explained her own suffering at the men she called the Hands of Blue. While none of them knew what that meant her story had been terrifying and brought home to each of them how precarious their lives were. With the other two not hiding their reluctance, Davie decided to go first and told his own story. The adults listened in silence, not even Jayne interrupting. Davie managed to fight the urge to cry as he finished, River's thoughts sliding seamlessly into his mind and bringing the kind of comfort that lay like a healing balm on his psyche. Serenity's Captain gave him a sympathetic look that was in no wise patronising.

"You know who this Hunter is?"

Lucy trembled, wanted to duck her head and hide but the slight movement caught Mal's eye.

"If you know little one it might help us track him down."

Despite not wanting to join in the discussion the words were out of Lucy's mouth before she could stop herself. "*Buneng*. He's dead."

Mal raised his eyebrows but said nothing leaving his silence for the girl to fill in her own time. It was obvious that Lucy was still traumatised, probably didn't trust them a good gorram as far as she could throw them. In a hushed voice she explained, her voice getting smaller and smaller but no less compelling.

"I killed him. It was necessary."

"I'm sure it was, little one." He said softly. "Not nobody gonna criticise you for doin' what was needed to get away. Fact is you were very brave."

Her eyes were huge, clinging to his as if no one else was there. A lifeline of sorts. Instinctively he knew, used his voice to steady her, let her know she was no longer alone. His experience with River stood him in good stead now. "Did he hurt you?"

Lucy opened her mouth but no words would come out. Her eyes began to fill with tears. Kaylee made a move to hug her but River shook her head. Disappointed, Kaylee drew back. She wanted so badly to help but maybe River was right. They were strangers and it was too soon. River projected her thoughts to Lucy. '*You're safe here, Lucy*'

'*Why should I trust you?*'

'*You shouldn't, you should trust yourself*'

Wash wanted to ask what was happening but a look from Zoe kept him quiet. Jayne frowned, Book looked concerned. Monty wished he could speak to Mal on his own but given the people crowded round them that was not going to happen. Leastways not any time soon. Mal turned to River.

"You okay?"

Her smile was fleeting but genuine. This was not about her but Serenity's Captain knew it had to be hard for their resident genius given what she had been through and how the children must be making her relieve some very unhappy memories. "*Wode hao*, you saved me."

"Pretty sure that was Simon."

"We can't leave them behind."

"Well now, that depends on what they're wantin' to do, where they wanna go an' such." Mal paused and looked at his cousin. "Cat got your tongue, Monty?"

"If he had he'd spit it back." Muttered Jayne.

Monty swung his head round and glared at Jayne Cobb but before he could give the man a piece of his mind Mal was speaking to Kaylee. "Kaylee, I expect our guests must be hungry. Think you can rustle up somethin'?"

Eager to help Kaylee jumped to her feet and found Inara at her elbow. "I'll help, *mei mei*."

"Xie xie ni*." Mal turned back to the children. "You wanna wave your families?"

All three children shook their heads, various looks of alarm staring back at him.

"*Wei*, why so worried?"

Lucy, Suzie and Davie exchanged looks. Shepherd Book got a nasty feeling curling up inside his gut. "Captain, I think the children are worried that their homes are being watched."

Mal inwardly cursed. Should have thought of that. Suzie fixed him with a keen gaze.

"You can't know everythin'."

Zoe's lips twitched. The children certainly were not the type to be easily cowed except it seemed for the Hunter and if Lucy could be believed he had been taken care of which left them where? Were they still being pursued or were those that were after them content now to wait for the children to make their way back to their homes?

* * * * *

It was bitterly cold, the harsh wind off the Northern Continent whipping up a storm of ice. Ryan McFarlane was heavily bundled against the extreme clime but nothing seemed to completely block that wind. It made his teeth ache and his bones rattle but this was where the facility was and so it was the only place in the 'verse they could send him.

"Keep a move on!"

The guard's voice was more impatient than bullying. For a chain gang Ryan was not much impressed. For a prison complex it could not be bettered. Locking his teeth together he cursed Rufus Pol to the very sphincter of *diyu*. Didn't matter a good gorram that the rumour was that the man was dead, he would dig his worthless carcass up and rip it to shreds before his anger even began to abate. Gorramit, man was a foul fetid stink in his nostrils, a weight around his rutting neck and every curse he had ever heard upon his lips.

Ryan blinked against the ice encrusted on his eyelashes, his face buried as deep as he could into his collar but cracking in the intense cold. Then a huge white blocky shape appeared before them. The facility blending in so well with the frozen landscape that only when you were practically upon it could you see it was not an apparition but solid walls. It might be his prison but already he was straining to get to it faster, the chain taut between himself and the next prisoner. Hercate snarled at him but did not use the whip or the cattle prod. Hercate growled into his handset and a section of the white wall in front of them swung open. With relief the prisoners and their guard got out of the wicked wind, instantly feeling several degrees warmer as the section that had opened up to receive them swung back in place locking them on the inside. As soon as the entry was sealed they were handed filter masks and quickly donned them with fumbling hands before divesting themselves of their thick outer clothing. There was work to be done. Hard, dangerous and gruelling. As Ryan took his place in the line up he cursed the day Rufus had ever made his discovery, that one idiotic act bringing the hoards of *diyu* down upon their rutting heads.

* * * * *

He was tired. All that excitement had taken it out of him and yet he couldn't settle or relax. Where was that gorram man? What was he going to tell the Lady? Badger knew all the rumours but while other men might laugh, sneer even, he never did. He knew the truth was far worse and if he was on the Lady's *goushi* list then this was not good at all. He paced, trying to think what to do. What could he do? Maybe her little frightener was enough to satisfy whatever annoyance she had with him? He was not such a fool as to allow himself to believe the Lady was that benign but it was not as if it was his fault. He could not control everything that happened in the gorram 'verse.

With a heavy sigh Badger realised this pointless speculation was getting him nowhere and with a last look around he gave his men a nod and locked the place up. Time enough to look at things anew in the morning. Right now he needed a nice hot bath, massage and someone experienced and beautiful to take his mind off things and he knew just where to go. The alarm set, Badger began to swagger as he headed for the more interesting part of town . One thing you had to say for Persephone, as well as being a gorram hub for transport ships and the like, it had more whore houses than you could shake a stick at.

In the darkest of shadows, eyes watched. Cold. Calculating. Infinitely patient.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*fafeng* = mad *dong ma* = understand? *liwu* = gift *shenjingbing* = crazy *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *xie xie ni* = thank you *shifu* = sir *jia* = home *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *xie xie* = thanks *hundan* = bastard *dui* = correct *buneng* = cannot *wode hao* = I'm good *mei mei* = little sister *wei* = hey! *diyu* = hell *goushi* = crap/dog shit


Sunday, April 14, 2013 6:01 PM


I would almost say poor badger but since he isn't going to be killed meh*shrug*

Monday, April 15, 2013 6:10 AM


He may not be on a Death List, Nutluck, but that doesn't mean he won't end up wishing he was. (Evil grin). - Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, April 15, 2013 3:42 PM


I knew that the bug thing wouldn't just stay put after getting stomped into Badger's shoe! I'm looking for this plan to unfold, where Badger drives himself crazy wondering how deep he is on the Lady's goushi list. Meanwhile, glad the kids made it to River -- this will help, but knowing your plot twists, Ali, I'm sure something's up!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 1:30 AM


Ah, you know me so well Ebfiddler and isn't that the beauty of it? As for Badger, he has made the kind of enemy even the Devil treads lightly around. *Xie xie* for the shiny feedback, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 10:32 AM


I wonder if Mal's going to find himself getting a little fond of one of the children? Possibly Suzie? And also if Badger's paranoia might not be a little chemically-assisted? Can't wait to read more!

Friday, April 19, 2013 2:25 PM


Mal does seem to have a protective streak a mile wide, Jane0904, so you never know. And no, Badger's paranoia is not chemically assisted though the little King Pin might end up wishing it was. Good to hear from you and thanks for the feedback, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 2:25 PM


Mal...Monty...The Kids...River....BADGER....this is a convoluted recipe if ever I saw one, AliD, moving on to next chapter :|


You must log in to post comments.



His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.