THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 45. "Dark Forces"
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

As he turned and headed off towards the docks to find transport off world a shadow shifted in the darkness behind him.


TITLE: "DARK FORCES" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 45. Sequel to "SCUM OF THE 'VERSE" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Ryan has a lucky escape. Badger looks for help but finds something much worse. Meanwhile the crew of Serenity have troubles of their own."

"DARK FORCES" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"What the *diyu* happened?"

Ryan moved carefully but it still hurt. Even his gorram bruises had bruises and he was pretty sure he had at least a couple of cracked ribs. "It was those psycho guards." He drew in a quick pained breath. Even talking hurt. Elliot gave his friend a worried look but Ryan shook off the unspoken question. They didn't have time for this. "Help me, Elly."

A quick glance then Elliot was moving low to grip his friend. He hissed a quick warning then dragged him out into the ice bound yard where everyone had been forced to gather as soon as the alarm went off. Their only safety was in numbers. They could not see the guards but knew better than to assume they were unobserved. Crafty, spiteful *hundan* were probably watching and laughing. What concerned Elliot Carr more was why the guards had decided to make Ryan their personal punch bag.

"Told ya not to make trouble." He hissed.

"*Bushi wode cuo*, Wilko's been itchin' to have a go at me. This time he brought friends."

"Yeah but *weishenme* an' why now?"

Ryan McFarlane knew, it was that gorram dust but telling Elliot might paint a target on his back too and one of them up to their eyes in *shen goushi* was one too many.

"If they got it in for ya," said Elliot quietly as he gently checked his wounds "they could try anythin' next."

"You're a real comfort Elly, anyone ever tell ya that?"

His words belied the truth because Ryan did appreciate his friend's words of caution, shared them even. Elliot's hands paused, not wanting to cause his friend more pain if it could be avoided but needing to know how bad it was. "Nar teng*?"


"Not very helpful." Elliot grumbled.

There was a stir in the yard and both men froze. The other prisoners had been careful not to draw attention to them or to get too close either. From time to time people had a habit of disappearing from their ranks and they all knew what that meant. No one wanted to invoke death by association yet Elliot could not ignore his friend when he was this badly hurt. It was a risk that might cost him dear and both men knew it.

"So what," asked Ryan in a pained whisper "set off the ruttin' alarm?"

Elliot Carr was eloquent in his silence.

* * * * *

"It must be in here somewhere, look harder!"

Howdy Marks hated this. Had been against making any move against Serenity's crew but when the ship lifted off from Lilac the *laoban* seemed to go into panic mode. Oh, it was all tightly held in check but he had known Jerrod Perkins a long time. Could read him like an open book and what he was seeing made him more than a little unsettled. It was as if the man was becoming unhinged before his very eyes.

"Shouldn't'a drugged the Preacher."

Perkins spun round with a snarl on his face. "He was sendin' a ruttin' signal, *dong ma*? Probably callin' up extra men an' us trapped on this *lese* ship with no way off."

It was on the tip of Howdy's tongue to ask why Jerrod had volunteered to go along with Reynolds if he felt like that but one look at the *laoban's* face kept him quiet. What in the nine hells was going on and why did he feel as if he would not like the gorram answer?

The Shepherd lay at an awkward angle on the narrow bed where he had been unceremoniously dumped, one arm hanging off the side of it. Swallowing down any further protest Howdy got to work sifting through Book's small store of personal possessions. Every book carefully opened and leafed through in case there was something hidden inside it. Having no idea what he was looking for he looked at everything, checking the pockets of the prone man then moving on to the items on his small but functional dressing table.

* * * * *

"Why should I trust a slimy, back-stabbin' weasel like you?"

The little King Pin stiffened. "Badger."

Mrs Burke frowned, still blocking the front door which left Badger feeling isolated and vulnerable in a part of Dayton Colony he didn't know any more without even the shelter of the doorway to shield him from prying unfriendly eyes. "*Shenme*?"

"Badger, it's my name. Not weasel."

Her eyes narrowed, dark angry orbs that burrowed into his own. "Weasel by nature. My Arran never trusted ya."

"Yeah, yeah he did. Got men together for a job on'y Reynolds had 'em caught in a crossfire, see? Everyone dead."

Mrs Burke's eyes flashed with a dark implacable fire. "Not you."

"I wasn't there, see?" He jerked the lapels of his now ratty and dusty jacket as if that would make him look more upstanding and presentable. "Business man, see? Should'a gone like gorram clockwork, would'a all had a big payday."

"You betrayed 'em."

"No, no, *ni bu dong*..."

Before he could roll out another excuse Mrs Burke reached for something beside the door then shoved a shotgun in his face. "I buried my son 'cause of *goushi* like ya. Best ya leave before I count to five."

Five? It took just a second for Badger to realise the *shenjingbing* old hag was serious. Quickly he retraced his steps and as he reached the street corner the sliver of light leaking out from Mrs Burke's door abruptly vanished as it closed leaving him in the gorram dark. He heard something heavy being shifted into place and realised that door would not be opening again to him no matter how hard he pleaded or what excuses he gave her. Her son had done a job for Badger and only Badger was still standing.

Badger had been banking on getting help from her, the woman was a power broker among the criminal gangs on Dayton Colony but she did not run any of them. If she put the word out, and it seemed likely given her reaction that she probably would, he wouldn't be able to hire so much as someone to polish his gorram shoes. He swore, it had been a mistake coming here. As he turned and headed off towards the docks to find transport off world a shadow shifted in the darkness behind him. Matthew James Wong smiled thinly. His little talk with Arran Burke's mother had gone exactly as planned. Quickly he let the shadows gather him in like one of their own then turned and took a more circuitous route towards the docks. There was no rush. The little King Pin could run but he could not hide.

* * * * *

The Captain's eyes widened as Jayne Cobb entered the commons area and unloaded what looked like every bit of ordnance they had in Serenity's armoury along with a fair amount of weapons Jayne kept in his bunk. He liked to be close to his girls. Mal wanted to know what they had to work with wihout making it common knowledge to Jerrod Perkins and his men. The less detail he gave them the better.

"Jayne, I thought you said you needed a whole ton of extra munitions?"

The big man grinned, his large hands moving among the collection with a deft touch not unlike that of a lover. "That's 'cause we need explosives. Got plenty of guns but we're gonna need 'em to cover each other's backs, for the big boom we're gonna need somethin' more."

Before the Captain could ask for a list Jayne shoved his hand in his top pocket and pulled out a grubby piece of paper and handed it to him. Mal raised an eyebrow and took it, his eyes widening as he mentally ticked off Jayne's Wish List. "Gorramit Jayne, this is gonna cost us every bit of coin we got left."

The mercenary shrugged. "If we're gonna do this, Cap, we gotta do it right or not at all."

For a moment neither spoke then the Captain gave a small sigh which flapped in his lungs like a flag of defeat. Jayne was right but that didn't mean he had to like living off fumes.

"*Fang xin*, we do this right Cap we'll get plenty of supplies from what's left of that *jianyu*."

The Captain did not have the heart to tell Jayne that with the amount of explosives they would be using there would not be much if anything left to sift through except rubble. Or, if their suspicions were correct, dust. He also had not told Jayne about the Browncoats imprisoned there who, if things went smooth, he hoped to be bringing back with them. More mouths to feed and less food to go round. Permaybehaps doing the job was the easy part. "Where we gonna fill this list?"

Now Jayne Cobb gave his best shit eating grin. "Some place we don't have to pay for it."

The Captain's voice squeaked up an octave. "You mean for us to steal it? Not that I'm against it in principle but who from? An' how can we pull off a job like that an' keep it quiet? We gotta stay under the radar, Jayne."

He could see that Jayne was enjoying himself. Jayne leaned forward, his eyes fastened like limpet mines on the Captain, wanting to savour the man's reaction. "Alliance. They got a store on Amber. One of a few stockpiles left over from that war you fought an' lost. Got all kinds'a interestin' stuff hidden away."

"How in the nine hells would you know about that?"

"Book told me."

That silenced the Captain and good. Why had the Shepherd confided in Jayne and not him? He was about to ask when Jayne told him anyway.

"Didn't wanna come straight to you. Had the notion he was being watched."

The hairs on the back of Mal's neck prickled. "When d'you see him last?"

Jayne frowned. The Captain wasn't reacting as he had expected. The news that they could steal what they wanted from a hidden Alliance ammo dump seemed to make the man all manner of jumpy and anxious. "A couple'a hours ago, *weishenme*?"

"Best put all those weapons back 'cept Vera an' make sure they're locked up good. Already woke Zoe an' Wash."

That was news to Jayne. "*Weishenme? Zenme hui shir*?"

"River knows where Titan Station is."

Jayne frowned. "Already know that but thought we wasn't goin' nowhere 'til mornin'?"

"River says we gotta hurry. Seems Jerrod might try somethin'."

"That why you think Book's in trouble?"

The Captain checked that every chamber in his gun was filled and put it back in his holster, his expression grim as a gravestone. "Book was supposed to meet us here, on'y you showed up Jayne. Knowin' what you now know what does that tell you?"

Jayne wanted to tell Mal to calm down, that they didn't know anything was wrong, but one thing he had learnt about Malcolm Reynolds right quick was that the man had good instincts. If the Captain was worried about Book then God help anyone who so much as harmed a hair on his friend's head. Quickly and as quietly as they could, Jayne and Mal gathered up the extra weapons and locked them away then headed for the bridge. They felt the ship gently turning beneath their gorram feet before picking up speed. With luck, Jerrod wouldn't notice but they didn't want to leave anything to chance.

* * * * *

Badger jumped but couldn't cry out, the hand clamped across his mouth only just left room for him to breathe through his gorram nose. As he began to struggle something pricked the side of his neck. Panic seized him which simply had the effect of quickening the contents of the injection on its' journey through his veins. Already losing consciousness, Badger cursed himself for letting someone get the drop on him.

* * * * *

The first mate's expression hardened as she caught the look on her Captain's face when he entered the bridge. "*Shenme shi*?"

The Captain explained quickly, his voice little more than a whisper. Behind Zoe, he could see Wash paying close attention while making sure he followed River's directions to the letter. River was silent but watchful as a sky full of stars. Jayne could feel his adrenaline pumping, every sense alert.

"We got us another *wenti*."

Zoe watched the Captain like a hawk. "What problem's that?"

"Book was due to meet up with me an' Jayne, on'y Jayne showed up."

"Doesn't mean anythin's happened to him, sir."

"With Jerrod on the prowl?"

She paused, a new level of worry kicking in. "You sayin' Jerrod's been up an' about while most of the crew's in their bunks?"

"Not only is he sneakin' about but so is his crew. River says she could feel 'em crawlin' around in her head, all furtive like. Not made it to the engine room or bridge yet but give 'em time an' we might be the ones vented into atmo."

Zoe turned her head and looked at River. "What else did you see, little one?"

"Glimpses, impressions. Not moving now. Laying low."

Zoe was not sure what to make of that. It was not exactly proof that the man had been up to anything, maybe he had just wanted to stretch his legs? "Sir, Jerrod's never shown any sign of animosity toward us an' we did go back an' rescue him on Anaeron."

"I'm thinkin' that might'a been a mistake." The Captain's look was grim.

Wash had a thought. "Maybe they don't wanna go with us to Titan Station? After all it is a top secret Alliance *jianyu* Mal."

"Then why not say so? Why all the sneakin' around, Wash?"

"Well," said Wash slowly, not sure how the Captain would take what he was about to say next "we haven't exactly told them the 'real' plan."

"An' I'm all manner of grateful we haven't. What I can't figure is what in the nine hells they're up to."

Just then they looked round as Simon Tam joined them.

"What're you doin' here, doc?"

"We have a problem, Captain."

Jayne scowled. "*Shenme*, another one?"

The Captain ignored Jayne and stared at Simon. "What's *cuode*?"

"The voices River heard weren't whispering in her head Captain, they were coming from the infirmary. Someone's been through our medical supplies."

Wash looked confused. What would anyone want in the infirmary?

The first mate's suspicions were running a mile a minute. Pretty much in tandem with the Captain's. "What did they take?"

"That's just it, it looks like the only things missing are some phials of sedative and all of the syringes."

The Captain felt his heart miss a beat. "How many syringes did we have?"


None of them liked what they were thinking. The Captain had to know if what he was suspecting was correct. "How many phials of sedative, doc?"


Jayne scowled, thinking furiously. He looked kind of non-plussed. "Huh, there's on'y nine of us."

"Eight now." Said River softly.

* * * * *

Davie wasn't happy but at least he knew to keep his complaint sub-vocal. River's earlier warning still echoing inside his brainpan even while much of what she had said to them had been confusing. '*Wo bu dong* why we gotta hide down here? It stinks an' I keep getting dust up my nose'.

'She told us to hide.' Lucy's thoughts were calm but somewhat distracted.

'Should've just gone to the Cap'n, don't see why we have to hide under this gratin.'

Suzie knew why they had to hide, could feel and sense the men checking the rooms the Captain had given them to sleep in. It chilled her to the bone that they were being hunted by people that should have had no quarrel at all with them. She could have told Davie that River was with the Captain but it would just have made the boy even more eager to crawl out of their hiding place and she could not allow him to do that.

Lucy tried to settle their minds. 'River says they're frightened an' that makes them dangerous'

Davie looked like he wanted to cry but was trying hard not to. 'Why pick on us?'

Lucy and Suzie exchanged a look before explaining. 'We're Readers, Davie.' Said Suzie gently. ' They're scared we'll find out what they know an' tell the Cap'n what they're up to.'

'But we don't know anything!' Davie's thoughts wailed back at them.

'No', thought Lucy 'but River does.'

* * * * *

He woke feeling sluggish, disorientated and finding it hard to grasp what had happened. As he shifted position the burlap sack over his head scratched against his face. The memories flooded back and Badger began to panic, realising as he did so that his hands were tied behind his back. Even his feet were tied together almost cutting off his blood circulation. Gorramit, he'd been nabbed but who by and why? Wasn't Arran's folks though Lord knows they could hold a gorram grudge. They were more like to shoot him dead than go in for kidnap. No. This was something else. Someone else.

It was the hum beneath him that told he was rutting well airborn. With a terrible sinking feeling in his gut, Badger realised only one *hundan* would go to all this trouble on his account.

* * * * *

Jerrod Perkins was getting frantic. Where in the nine hells were those creepy kids? Could it be that they really were Readers? Even the notion of it terrified him. The plan had been to put them under with enough sedative to stop them being able to interfere with anything but if they were not where they were supposed to be did that mean Serenity's crew had been tipped off? He turned quickly as the door to his temporary bunk opened. Howdy Marks looked a mite confused. Jerrod knew that feeling.

"Well? You find it?"

Howdy shook his head. "There's nothin' in his bunk but a few old clothes, a bible an' some papers."

"What kind'a papers?"

"Look like sermons."

Jerrod's eyes narrowed. "Looked like or were?"

Frustrated, Howdy was in no mood to be hauled over the coals for the Preacher's reading material. They had gone looking for a hand held cortex screen or signalling device of some kind and come up empty but all Jerrod could focus on was sermons. "I'm tellin' you there was nothin' there, *laoban*. What're we gonna do?"

"Billy says the sedative lasts for up to six hours."

"Not much time, *laoaban*."

"Yeah, well it''s all we got. We need to locate the others an' put 'em under, *mashang*. Load the syringes an' split 'em up among the crew."

"What about the Preacher?"

Jerrod tilted his head in query. "What about him?"

"He's an old man, *laoban*. Don't feel right harmin' a Preacher."

"We're not gonna harm anyone." Snapped Jerrod. "Not unless they get in our way an' then, well, seems a bullet in the brain pan would be more of a kindness than they'll get on Titan Station."

* * * * *

It was always dark in the Black but the new nav system was working like a dream. Sharp eyes watched the signal on the monitor and carefully, oh so carefully, the ship followed. Far enough back to avoid detection but close enough to catch the slightest change in the Firefly's position.

Malcolm Reynolds was a stiff necked *wangu wangba dan* but then so was he and nothing short of death would shake him loose.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *diyu* = hell *hundan* = bastard *bushi wode cuo* = it's not my fault *weishenme* = why *shen goushi* = a lot of crap/dog shit *nar teng* = where does it hurt? *daochu* = everywhere *laoban* = boss *dong ma* = understand? *lese* = crap/crappy *shenme* = what *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *goushi* = crap/dog shit *shenjingbing* = crazy *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *jianyu* = prison *zenme hui shir* = what's happening? *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wenti* = problem *cuode* = wrong *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *wangu* = stubborn *wangba dan* = fucking bastard


Wednesday, May 22, 2013 6:57 AM


Huh. I guess someone is still hunting for the kids besides Jerrod. Unless it's someone after Mal in particular.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 1:26 PM


You will have to wait and see Bytemite. Thanks for the welcome feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 6:20 PM


Exciting chapter! Action's heating up, Jerrod has started his plan although I still don't know why, and Mal is already suspicious. Can't wait to see what's in store.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 6:59 PM


Seems everyone is in deep trouble now. Though I have my doubts the sermons where "just" sermons, Book is deep and mysteries.

Thursday, May 23, 2013 4:56 PM


so they're being shadowed by who, an Operative? no, wait, that's not right...WHO IS IT?? Argh, such a tangled web you weave, AliD, so intriguing, xie xie
PS Bet River does something spectacular soon, I'm thinkin'

Friday, May 24, 2013 1:39 AM


Glad you are enjoying the building action, Ebfiddler. You will find out in the next few chapters just what is driving Jerrod. You are right, Nutluck, Book is deep and mysterious, so many layers to him. As for who is shadowing them, Malsdoxy, it will all come together in a few. So happy you are enjoying the tangled web and thank you everyone for the shiny feedback! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, May 24, 2013 1:40 AM


Glad you are enjoying the building action, Ebfiddler. You will find out in the next few chapters just what is driving Jerrod. You are right, Nutluck, Book is deep and mysterious, so many layers to him. As for who is shadowing them, Malsdoxy, it will all come together in a few. So happy you are enjoying the tangled web and thank you everyone 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.