Saturday, April 27, 2013

Folk broke into places to steal things of value but to set people alight, to torch a place? He tip toed through the ashes and ruin of his former place of power, eyes flicking nervously right and left as if he expected one of the charred bodies to sit up and speak to him.


TITLE: "THE FIEREY PIT" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CAULDRON CHAPTER: 43. Sequel to "THE GORRAM PLAN" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "Ryan McFarlane runs into trouble on Titan Station, meanwhile Badger is gettng more and more panicked. Mal's plan begins to take shape but Monty is far from happy about it."

"THE FIERY PIT" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

He hated this but it was not as if he could complain. Folk who stepped out of line had a habit of disappearing very quickly, never to be seen again. He had heard rumours. Nasty, eerie, creepifying rumours about what happened to anyone creating even the hint of a stir. If they had been taken away and quietly executed it would have kinder than what was their rumoured fate. Test subjects in some mind bending and truly horrific experiments. Ryan McFarlane did not want to find out first hand what had happened to them.

The furnace was a shock the first time you saw it. Here, in the middle of this frozen wasteland at the ass-end of the gorram 'verse, in the last place you would expect to see something like this Yet this was not natural, far from it. There was no volcanic activity on Titan Station so how had they managed to create the angry, heat ravaged maw of the depths of *diyu* and then build a rutting prison complex around it?

A glare from a guard had him moving more quickly, his heartbeat hammering at the clumsy slip. He could not afford to wool gather, had to keep his gorram wits about him. The line moved up, shovels in hand. One by one they carefully scooped up the dust and added it to the cauldron hanging over the fiery pit. For a moment, just a fraction of a second, Ryan thought something had glittered and stirred in the dust as he tipped his shovel. He blinked. Nothing. What the *guai* was the matter with him? He could not afford to start hallucinating now. It was a moment's hesitation that was all, but the shovel had lingered over the pit and it was long enough. Something so tiny but metal bright flickered in the light of the glowing flames flaring up below it and skittered back up the head of the shovel. Ryan didn't notice, but sharper eyes than his were watching.

On the gantry that ringed the pit from above, a guard watched. His special protective glasses were more than they appeared for they were the highest tech, could do all manner of things including zooming in on objects or incidents so that nothing would escape detection. Inside the lens information scrolling down one side, a constant update that could be changed at the blink of an eye. Literally it tapped into his brainpan, gave the kind of automatic responses the synapses would do in an organic body. It was how and why he saw what the prisoner missed. Noticed. Wilkinson slowly grinned behind his mask but not with humour. He spoke into his voice activated throat mike and reported in. When Ryan filled his shovel and turned back towards the pit he sensed something had changed. Not daring to turn his head and show his curiosity he flicked his eyes every which way and noticed none of the guards were now in sight. Huh. That was odd. As he stepped up to the fiery pit an alarm sounded and heavy reinforced shutters cut him off from the cauldron, a massive heavy set of interlocking plates moving to seal off the pit from the rest of the prison complex.

Ryan was sweating with more than the intense heat and this time he did look around and as he did so did a double take. What in the shiny sphincter of *diyu* was going on and where had all the other prisoners that had been working beside him gone?

* * * * *

Kaylee was fascinated. The children were sharp, intelligent but wary. Not scared of her and Inara but something made them cautious, watch what they were saying. It kind of saddened her that, being Readers and all, they could not see that no one on Serenity intended them any harm especially not her and Inara. Suzie looked the mechanic right in the eye.

"Not a question of trust, *dong ma*?"

Kaylee shook her head. "Sure it is. You're all Readers, *dui*?" No one nodded but they were watching her closely. "Then ya know we don't mean ya no harm."

"*Ni bu dong*."

"*Wo zhidao* which is why I'm askin' why ya won't talk to us?"

Inara gave her friend a look, wanting to caution her to stop pushing. The children would talk if and when they wanted to, in the meantime pressuring them was not the answer. It was Davie who broke ranks though his words did not enlighten Kaylee in the way she would have hoped.

"You ask too many questions."

Inara spoke before Kaylee could respond. "*Duibuqi*, is there anything any of you wish to ask us?"

The children did not exchange looks but Inara got the impression they conferred mentally. A quick, efficient agreement of how to continue. How weird was that? The one who spoke the least, Lucy, was staring at Inara.

"Not weird."

It took all of Inara's Companion training not to react. She was used to River, or as used to River as anyone could get, but this was different. She did not know the children and they did not know her. "I didn't mean any offence."

Kaylee frowned. "What they talkin' 'bout 'nara?"

"I was thinking how weird this all was, I didn't meant they were weird."

Kaylee shrugged. "Yeah, well maybe ya did." Inara turned to stare at Kaylee, could not believe she had just said that. Kaylee was unrepentant. "Deep down, ya know? I know I'm findin' it all kind'a weird even though River is a Reader it ain't the same as facin' three of 'em an' none of 'em known to us neither."

"Kaylee, you're not helping."

A tiny crack of smile touched Davie's lips. "Actually she is."

They all looked at him and the crack spread into a genuine smile. Kaylee couldn't help but smile back. "We've been afraid so long, *dong ma*?" Kaylee nodded, eager to show she not only understood but could sympathise. "Ya don't have no reason to be afraid on Serenity. Cap'n won't let anythin' bad happen to ya."

Davie fell silent, his smile fading. Kaylee looked at him in alarm then looked at Inara. "What did I say?"

Inara Serra shook her head, sensing it was not so much what her friend had said as what the children were thinking. The Captain had asked her and Kaylee to bring the children to her shuttle while he and the others discussed what to do next. But the children were Readers. Inara had no idea whether they cast their minds individually or were able to join together, become stronger with that contact. Whatever was the case she had a feeling that the children right now knew more than her and Kaylee did. It was more than a little disconcerting not to know whether that was a good thing or not but Davie's suddenly solemn expression did not bode well.

* * * * *

He was trembling, hands all sticky and unco-ordinated. The safe was untouched, no sign that anyone had even attempted to break into it which would have been odd if this had been a burglary. Folk broke into places to steal things of value but to set people alight, to torch a place? He tip toed through the ashes and ruin of his former place of power, eyes flicking nervously right and left as if he expected one of the charred bodies to sit up and speak to him. It was as he was turning to head back out that something caught the light of his torch. Badger approached cautiously then frowned as he recognised the broken ruins of the sealed box he had kept the bug in. His shoe was lying charred amongst the shards of broken glass but he could see no sign of the battered metal insect that had been attached to the heel. Could be it was lying nearby under all the gorram ashes but somehow Badger knew it wasn't. Knew with a growing certainty in his gut that if all the ashes were meticulously sifted he would not find any sign that it had even been there.

Badger looked up and glanced around at the destruction. He knew who had done this and why and the knowing of it terrified the gorram life out of him.

* * * * *

The meeting ended with an overlap of agreements between all parties and some things yet to be ironed out. On the whole Malcolm Reynolds thought it had gone well but he was not exactly happy. Knew it was asking a lot of his crew and Jerrod's not to mention Monty, that maybehaps some of them wouldn't come back but it was what it was and the evil that was stalking little children was not something to be suffered and give a man a peaceful sleep. Not any man with an ounce of decency in him. Not that he was decent as such but some things he could not abide and somehow he just knew the children had some kind of connection to what was happening with the dust.

"Good instincts, no proof."

He didn't jump but blinked back at their resident little genius. "*Wo zhidao*, little one, which is why we need to piece this gorram puzzle together."

River did not smile, her face solemn and serious, eyes locked on to his. The Captain was glad the meeting had broken up and no one was anywhere near them. "Wode gongzuo*."

Alarmed, the Captain could not hide how much that notion disturbed him. "River, this is too *weixian*. Need you safe, *dong ma*?"

Her voice softened and the look in her wide eyes captivated him. "Need you safe too."

A noise behind him had the Captain turning in time to see Book and Jayne part company. The Preacher off to do whatever it was he did in the privacy of his gorram bunk and Jayne heading straight for him. Mal turned to speak to River only to find the girl gone. Huh, well wasn't that shiny?

"This is ruttin' *shenjingbing*, ya know that *dui*?" The mercenary growled as he joined him.

"River says they were cuttin' up gifted kids, removin' a piece outta their brainpans."

The big man frowned. "I'd ask how she'd know but.."

The Captain nodded. "*Jingque de*. All them Readers aboard I'm thinkin' they probably been conversin' since they came onboard."

Jayne looked surprised then doubtful. "But they ain't been here, 'Nara an' Kaylee took 'em to her shuttle."

"Since when has metal stopped our little albatross pickin' thoughts outta our gorram heads?"

For a moment Jayne looked truly shocked but then Mal could imagine the kind of lewd things festering inside his mercenary's head. Didn't much like the thought that River may have picked up on any of it but it was not as if he could stop her. *Diyu* none of them could.

"Not what I wanted to talk to you about, Jayne." The Captain paused and noticed they were now alone in the commons room. "Think you can make an explosive device powerful enough to bring a top security facility to its' gorram knees?"

The big man's face broke out into a big happy grin, pleasure lighting up his eyes like the 4th of July on Earth-That-Was. "*Dang ran* but I'll need some supplies dependin' on how big ya want it."

"Big as you can make it, Jayne. We've seen what the gorram dust can do. Best if that factory is destroyed even it if takes all of Titan Station with it. Don't want a speck still active when we're done."

"Yeah, well, I been talkin' to Book an' he says the place is some kind'a top security *jianyu*. Might be harder to get explosives in than ya think."

A grim little smile settled on the Captain's face, his eyes turning cold and flinty. It was a look Jayne had learnt to be wary of. "Gettin' it in ain't gonna be our problem. It's gettin' out us off that ice rock before everythin' is blown to *diyu*."

* * * * *

Sweat was pouring down his face, trickling down his neck and back. Hands just as sweaty, fear widening his eyes as the fleck of dust that he had not properly shaken off the end of the shovel interacted with the heat flaring up from the cauldron he had been tipping it into. He took a step back but the dust was quicker than anything he had ever seen. *Diyu*, the gorram stuff was evil that's what it was. As he watched in helpless fascination his shovel began to disintegrate from the tip where the dust that had been unintentionally activated still clung. It was creeping up and interacting with the inactivated dust, changing and mutating it as the metal disintegrated as the dust moved towards the wooden handle, seeming to multiply as if feeding off the rutting thing. He wanted to let go, throw it down into that ruinous pit and save himself but it was as if he was transfixed by the horror of it all. Couldn't move a gorram muscle.

From behind a specially created blast door, Wilkinson watched with glee and satisfaction. Then, as the dust approached Ryan's hands the guard flicked a switch on a handheld device. The metal grating on which McFarlane stood was in sections forming a ring around the mouth of the fiery pit, his section tilted suddenly towards the cauldron almost tipping him over the edge. Suddenly off-balance, Ryan was shaken out of his state of frozen panic and let the handle fall into the cauldron as he leapt off the grill taking an eight foot dive to the concrete below. Swearing as he watched, the guard could not believe the man's luck. His face twisted up in frustration that his bit of entertainment was not going to end on the high he wanted. Still. There would be other occasions and unlike a gorram cat, 17832 did not have nine rutting lives.

* * * * *

Monty was worried. He knew Mal, knew his gorram *wangu* streak was a mile rutting wide but it was also one of the reasons he had such respect for his cousin. Even when he wanted to knock six barrels of *goushi* out of him, Monty could not help being more than a little proud of him. Trouble was, that kind'a thinking tended to get him drawn into his cousin's plans.

"You need to think this through, Mal. Ain't just you to consider, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo zhidao*, don't think I'm takin' any of this lightly Monty which is why I'm glad you're here."

The big burly bear of man gave him a long look. "What you got goin' on in that devious mind of yours?"

Serenty's Captain threw him a grin, quick as a flash then it was gone. "*Fang xin*, you an' yours ain't gonna get caught up in this *fafeng* scheme, *dong ma*?" Monty's brows drew together suspiciously. "Got somethin' else in mind for you."

"Don't work for you, Mal, *jide*?"

"More a favour an' no danger to you. Just need to have the children safe, *dong ma?* Can't take 'em with me, not where we're goin'."

"Mal that's *shenjingbing*! You don't even know where this Titan Station is."

"Which is why Wash is checkin' the cortex lookin' for any trace of it. Shepherd's askin' some contacts of his. Ain't plannin' to go into this with my gorram eyes closed."

"An' what about your crew?" Asked Monty quietly. "They have any say in this, Mal?"

A determined look flittered across Mal's face. "They'll be given the chance to come or go with you, that make you *gaoxing*?"

"What would make me happy would be to find another way. What you're plannin' is suicide."

A bleak look came into Mal's eyes. "There is no other way."

Monty shook his head. "*Bushi*, you just ain't found it yet."

"You got a plan, a better plan Monty, I'm listenin'."

The big man huffed, a look of misery in his eyes. "You know I ain't but that's not the point. You're talkin' of takin' on a top secret Alliance *jianyu* Mal an' one bein' used by Blue Sun an' who knows who else to do things so far from natural that even the *guai* would weep. It's too *weixian*, Mal."

"That mean you won't help me?"

Monty wanted to hit him so hard his teeth came out through his rutting ears but how could he do that? His cousin was the most frustrating but noble of *baichi*. For all the things Mal did wrong, he had an unerring way of knowing not only what was right but what could not be tolerated no matter how low a man might sink. "That ain't what I said or meant. I'll help you, you know that, just don't ask me to be happy about this fool's errand."

The Captain clapped Monty on the shoulder, a smile on his face of both relief and reassurance but Monty did not smile back. If wishing and praying could make it so Malcolm Reynolds and his plucky crew would be bullet proof.

* * * * *

The dark concealing shadows were his allies, not that he needed them but caution was ever his watch word and right now Matthew James Wong was dispassionately observing Badger's reaction. There was no sense of satisfaction or pleasure at bringing the odious little man to heel just the necessity of carrying out the Lady's instructions to a point where their intent could not be misinterpreted. Privately he thought the reaction a little harsh but then the Lady was not one to waste her compassion on those who did not prove themselves worthy.

As for the man himself, Badger was shaken but also genuinely confused. How the good gorram did they get inside and manage to set his place alight with his men inside? Surely at least one of them could have got away, raised the bloody alarm? Also, now that he was thinking more clearly he noticed something more chilling even than that. Boyce and Randall were scheduled to remain inside, the others took shifts watching the outside of the premises in a rotation yet he had counted the charred remains. Sickening as it was he needed to know. To his intense unease, every single man he had was accounted for in that warehouse. All dead. His hands shook, his body trembling with reaction, sweat beading down his face and trickling down his back. He felt as if any moment now his legs would give way under him yet he could not move beyond the door, his eyes drawn back time and again to what was left of his little empire.

Slowly the shaking stopped, the shock turning to a deep burning anger and resentment. He had plenty of contacts, people who owed him, but it would take time to hand pick men he could trust when he set up a base to replace this one. That it would have to be on Persephone was a given, he had too much in the way of passing trade to turn his nose up at the location but that meant the Lady would still have him in her evil bloody gun sights didn't it? And what had he done that was so dreadful it deserved this? Really, he would like to know but only from a safe gorram distance where she couldn't have him picked off. Oh, he was on her shit list alright, up to his neck in *goushi* and almost drowning in it only he wasn't dead was he? So her little spiteful scheme hadn't been a complete success. That last thought steadied him most of all. Thought she could scare him did she, well two could play at that game. Straightening himself, Badger turned and walked away from the ruins neither looking left nor right, his mind feverishly plotting and scheming. Knowing there could be no room for error. Of course he could just walk away, forget it, but if he did he would be forever looking over his bloody shoulder for one of her ruttin' assassins. No. There was only one way to deal with the twisted *pofu* and that was to play her at her own game but with one slight adjustment. His rules. Oh yeah, he could play dirty too, see? Only she wouldn't see this coming.

* * * * *

Captain Malcolm Reynolds stared at the children. He had been counting on River backing him up on this but his little albatross seemed to have aligned herself with the three children, all of whom were adamant that they were going with him.

"This ain't no country stroll, *dong ma*?"

Pretty much everybody had gathered in the cargo hold, partly because it gave them more room but also because Monty was waiting there to take the children aboard the Kingfisher only it looked like none of them were going. Not unless Jayne tied and trussed them up for the journey and that didn't seem likely even if Mal allowed them to be manhandled in such a way. Suzie knew the Captain was just trying to protect them but no one could do that while the bigger threat hung over all of their heads.

"*Women zhidao, chuanzhang. Xie xie ni* but we can help."

"Darlin' don't take this *cuode* but where we're headed ain't no place for us to be takin' children."

Suzie shook her head. "You can't protect us if you aren't with us."

He blinked. "*Shenme*?"

Zoe would have laughed at his expression if things were not so serious. Wash looked upset, he didn't want anything to happen to the children. Actually, he didn't want anything to happen to them either. Monty cleared his throat.

"You'll be safe aboard my boat."

"*Bu qu*, we'll just be delayin' the inevitable." Said Suzie. Next to her Davie looked as if he wanted to argue but swiftly changed his mind when Suzie sharply reminded him with a projected thought. Chastened he stayed quiet and waited to see how this would play out. Suzie glanced at Lucy, happy to see the girl was totally cognisant and in agreement as to what they should do. "You say we can't go with you but we have to."

"*Weishenme*? Give me one good gorram reason why?"

As Suzie opened her mouth to reply River beat her to it. "You don't know where to go."

Everyone turned to stare at River. The Captain frowned. "You sayin' they know?"

Lucy stepped forward. "*Qu* an' it's farther than you thought."

It was on the tip of Mal's tongue to ask how in the nine hells she knew what he was thinking then reminded himself they were gorram Readers. Simon was standing next to Kaylee and Inara, a look of horror stealing over his face. "You can't bring them along, it's too *weixian* Captain!"

The Captain sighed inwardly, he didn't want to, really he didn't but it was a good point. He did not know where Titan Station was. He glanced across at Book who was on the other side of the little group but he gave a slow shake of the head, nothing. Wash had already told him the negative result of his check on the cortex. So. Without information from the children they were not going to be able to execute his very fine plan. River caught his eye and grinned.

"Can't go 'boom' without us."

Jerrod and his men looked totally confused and Mal could not blame them. Kaylee looked ready to cry. "Ya gotta let 'em go with Monty, Cap'n."

"Ain't me stoppin' them, little Kaylee."

Davie gave Kaylee a smile, wanting to reassure her. He really liked Serenity's mechanic and didn't like her feeling so bad and getting all upset. Zoe spoke up when it seemed that no one was going to do so.



"What we gonna do, sir? We sit on this dock much longer we'll spend all our coin on berthin' fees."

The Captain definitely felt ganged up on. Oddly enough it was Lucy who smiled her sweetest smile at him as if to cushion a blow he could not dodge. "You need to let us help, *chuanzhang*. We won't be safe until you do."

Jayne was scowling, trying to get the pieces of the puzzle to fit. "Huh, what's that gorram Hunter that was after ya got to do with killin' dust anyway?"

"Two by Two, Hands of Blue...."

He spun round to look at River but the words had not come from her lips. Looking back at the three children he noticed Suzie staring straight back at him. She nodded as if in answer to him wondering who in the *diyu* had said that. "Blue Sun. All roads lead to them, *dong ma*?

Standing next to Jerrod Perkins, Shepherd Book felt the ground open up beneath him. "*Wode ma*," he murmured "something tells me this isn't going to go smooth."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*diyu* = hell *guai* = devil/ghost *dong ma* = understand? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *wo zhidao* = I know *duibuqi* = sorry *wode gongzuo* = my job *weixian* = dangerous *shenjingbing* = crazy *dui* = correct *jingque de* = exactly *dang ran* = of course *jianyu* = prison *wangu* = stubborn *goushi* = crap/dog shit *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *fafeng* = mad *jide* = remember *gaoxing* = happy *bushi* = not so *baichi* = idiot *pofu* = bitch *women zhidao* = we know *chuanzhang* = captain *xie xie ni* = thank you *cuode* = wrong *shenme* = what *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *weishenme* = why *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma* = mother of God


Sunday, April 28, 2013 6:51 AM


fiery pit activates the dust? the kids know where Titan Station is? Book, he knows something...geez, lots going on, eagerly awaiting next chapter, AliD, xie xie :D

Sunday, April 28, 2013 10:56 AM


Yeah I think Badger isn't going to like the results if he decides to play with the lady.

Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:41 PM


The fiery pit causes the nanotech added to the dust to activate which changes it into the weapon material, Malsdoxy. The children know all manner of things and Book has his part to play too. So happy you are enjoying the story. And yes, Nutluck, Badger would be the King of Idiots to mess with the Lady but then at times he really isn't very bright. Thank you both for the shiny comments, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, April 28, 2013 1:01 PM


> The big man's face broke out into a big happy grin, pleasure lighting up his eyes like the 4th of July on Earth-That-Was. "*Dang ran* but I'll need some supplies dependin' on how big ya want it."

Perfect Jayne, scary prison, and something tells me Badger's plan is going to go better than the crew.

Monday, April 29, 2013 10:02 AM


Badger's plan going better than our Big Damn Heroes plan, Bytemite? Now that IS gorram scary! Thank goodness for Jayne is all I can say. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 5:46 PM


Jayne gets to blow something up. That will make him happy. Something is sure to go wrong with the Captain's plan, because it's Mal we're talking about! ;-) I think Badger has bit off more than he can chew. Your description of the prison and its fiery pit and all the security measures -- very good. Another good chapter.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 11:18 AM


Yes, Ebfiddler, Jayne will be in his element. As for Badger he really has bitten off more than he can chew. Glad you are enjoying the story and thank you for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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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.