THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 47. "A Question of Conscience"
Saturday, June 22, 2013

Lost? Is that what she was calling being burned to bloody death? Murdered just to prove a rutting point?


TITLE: "A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 47. Sequel to "CHANGING THE ODDS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "With both sides trying to stay hidden from each other, River has a plan of her own. Wilkinson shows more than a ruthless streak and Badger is given all the manpower he needs but learns that all gifts come at a price."

"A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"Is it safe?"

The Captain gave Simon a very direct look. They were in Inara's shuttle where Inara and Kaylee fussed over Shepherd Book, carefully easing him into a chair while Wash looked anxiously on. "Not nothin' nowhere is *anquan*, doc. Not while we got folk on board meanin' to do us harm."

Book was slowly coming to his senses and seemed to perk up at the Captain's comment. "They have't hurt anyone, Captain."

"They drugged you, who knows what their intentions are? Not takin' any chances. Simon, think we need to take the Shepherd to the infirmary, then you can check him out. Make sure it was just the sedative they gave him, *dong ma*?"

Book looked worried. "You think they gave me something else?"

Simon tried to reassure Book without dismissing the possibility. "I'll know for certain once we get you to the infirmary."

"Wash, need a hand here."

Wash moved to join the Captain in helping Book to his feet. The man seemed a mite embarrassed. "Captain, I can walk unaided."

As he spoke, Book sagged. Mal and Wash caught him easily and Book flushed.

"Maybe a little help would be a good thing."

Inara followed them to the hatch. "Where did you find him?"

Wash flashed a quick little smile at the Companion but there were worry lines around his eyes. "Actually he was under his bed."

Kaylee wasn't sure she had heard him correctly. "Under his bed? Shepherd was hidin'?"

"No, little Kaylee." Said the Captain as he and Wash got Book to the hatch and paused. "Those *tamade hundan* had knocked him out with the sedative, tied him up an' shoved him under the gorram bed. Probably figured no one would think to look. Give them more time to take down the rest of us."

"If he was under the bed..." Kaylee began but was interrupted by the Captain.

"Must'a been wakin', found his feet stickin' out." She was about to ask another question when Simon spoke urgently, he had noticed the Shepherd looked as if he could pass out completely at any moment. "We need to get to the infirmary *mashang* Captain."

"Then best you take my place an' help Wash, doc. I'll cover your backs."

With a last quick comment to Inara the Captain had Simon swap places with him then drew his gun and checked the coast was clear before stepping out of the shuttle. Cautiously Wash and Simon helped Shepherd Book and followed the Captain. Mal gave a quick glance back to make sure Inara and Kaylee were alright before the hatch shut and the lock cycled behind them.

* * * * *

They were dropping like gorram flies. Cold, iced up excuses for human beings. Dyer hated this almost as much as he was coming to hate Ryland Wilkinson the chief guard of the facility. Surely no one could condone such cruel and unnecessary actions? As if divining his thoughts, Wilkinson stepped in close and hissed in Dyer's ear.

"Don't go feelin' sorry for those *tamade hundan, dong ma*? No one gets sent to a place like this for a ruttin' picnic."

The answer struck Dyer as so obvious that he almost choked on the thought. No, they come here to die. Wisely he said nothing. Wilkinson watched as more men began to drop, there was less than a dozen still standing now. Typical that Ryan McFarlane was one of them. Really, there was no gorram justice in the 'verse. One of the newer guards approached them, eyes fixed on Wilkinson as if he could not bear to look at what was happening to the prisoners in the frozen yard but knew better than to say so.

"*Shifu*, do you want us to wait until the cold has taken all of 'em before we move the dead outta the yard?"

Wilkinson made sure not to look at Dyer. Didn't want the man to think he was backing down in any way. "*Bu qu*. Should be enough of a lesson to the few who're left. Bring 'em in."

The young guard, a man called Edwards, hesitated. "What shall we do with the bodies of the dead?"

A nasty little grin flashed on Wilkinson's face. "Pile 'em up in the cold store."

If Edwards was surprised he showed no sign of it but gave a quick nod and left. The young guard was not to know that the facility had no such thing as a morgue. Wilkinson gave Dyer a sideways look, he was going to enjoy this. "Want you to list the dead, make sure who's who then take the bodies to the cauldron."

The shock on Dyer's face could not be masked in time. Wilko's grin twisted, his eyes glittering with barely concealed malice.

"Why waste fuel?"

* * * * *

"This is *fafeng, laoban*. We can't hide an' we can't get off this *lese* ship."

Jerrod Perkins was beginning to wish he had never heard of Rufus Pol or knew anything about his scary secret. Being party to that knowledge had soiled him but good. Now here he was doing the unthinkable and turning against Malcolm Reynolds and his crew. A man who had come back to save himself and his men back on Anaeron when everything had gone to *diyu*. It was *shenjingbing* but panic had seized him. If only that old Preacher hadn't sent the wave none of this would have been necessary. Stan Evans had a point but they had gone too far to turn back the clock and even if they did there was no guarantee that a now angry Captain and crew would not vent the lot of them into the atmo. It was no more than they deserved but with his back against the wall the only thing left for Jerrod to do was push. "We have to see this thing through, Stan." He paused. "We do this right no one dies, *dong ma*?"

Stan could not speak so he nodded, a sick feeling settling like a hard rock in his stomach. When oh when had they turned into the bad guys?

* * * * *

It was so bloody comical really it was. Badger tried to hide the look of smug satisfaction that kept sliding over his face but kept failing. At first he had been upset to see the old place cleared, the scorched walls of the warehouse torn down and everything cleared off the site as if nothing had stood there. It was kind of a creepifying feeling. Then had come the rebuild, nothing fancy mind. The Lady had been unexpectedly generous with the funds for him to start again but that didn't mean he had coin to flash around. As it was he could use the rebuild as an excuse to peddle the notion that business was on the up and he was improving his base of operations. Might work to his advantage.

The bigger problem had been hiring manpower to replace the men he had lost. Most had been with him a goodly while, he knew them inside and out. What their strengths and weaknesses were and how to keep them in line if any showed signs of not doing as expected as quickly as he wanted. He had some nasty little ways of paying them back but none of that mattered now. New men meant new problems and potential risks. Each man would be an unknown gorram quantity until he dug deep into his background, found out the good and bad and those dirty little secrets kept hidden for so long which he would need to uncover. A man like him could never have too much leverage. It was as the building work finished and he was sorting out the set up inside that he got a wave on his new equipment that should have been the answer to his current dilemna. Instead it made him all manner of *bushufu*.

"What d'you want?"

Matthew James Wong just stared at him in silence for a moment or two until Badger felt decidedly uneasy. Belatedly remembering that Wong was the Lady's right hand man. Wouldn't do to go offending him and it getting back to that malicious old *pofu*. Never knew what kind of retribution that could bring down on his gorram head. Badger cleared his throat awkwardly.

"*Duibuqi*, didn't expect to hear from you is all."

Wong showed no reaction to the apology. "My Lady is sending you men to replace those that were lost."

Lost? Is that what she was calling being burned to bloody death? Murdered just to prove a rutting point? He realised that Wong was still talking and forced himself to pay proper attention. After all, his life might depend on it.

"They will arrive shortly. You, of course, will be responsible for paying their wages, *dong ma*?"

Badger opened his mouth to ask a question but the monitor had already gone black. It was only a few minutes later that Badger wondered how in the nine hells they had got hold of the security passwords and codes on his new computer and cortex links. Gorramit, was everyone in that woman's pocket? As he thought sourly on that notion the men began to arrive. Badger straightened his jacket and the new bowler hat he had bought to replace the one that had been lost then went to meet them. That was when he got another shock. The men were big enough, beefy and muscular with one added bonus. All of them wore the tattoo marks of their Tong.

* * * * *

Mal was worried. While he was relieved to have found Book he was fretting over where Jerrod and his men were hiding aboard his ship. Despite being as stealthy as could be, he and Wash had found neither hide nor hair of them. He could only hope that Zoe and Jayne were having better luck. With a start he realised that Simon was talking to him.

"It was just the sedative, Captain. Once Shepherd Book has slept it off there should be no after effects."

The Captain nodded. "Good to know."

Simon frowned. "You don't look too happy, *shenme shi*?"

"Not worryin' about the Shepherd but Jerrod has eleven men an' so far ain't seen any sign of 'em."

"Could be they're hidin' from us." Said Wash.

"You think they been watchin' us?"

Wash was not sure what to say, after all he knew no more than the Captain. "It's what I'd do."

The Captain ran a hand through his hair, a look of frustration on his face. Then he remembered something Jayne had said to him earlier. "Wash, you know a planet called Amber?"

"Planet, no, but there's a moon of that name, *weishenme*?"

"Need you to work out how long it'll take to get there but don't lay in a course just yet."

"What are you gonna do?"

The Captain paused on his way out of the infirmary, a grim look on his face. "Gonna flush out those back stabbin' *tamade hundan*."

A look of alarm flashed over Simon's face. "You shouldn't go alone."

"You volunteerin' to come hold my hand?"

The doctor glanced down at the now sleeping Shepherd. Before he could reply, the Captain continued.

"Just look after Book, *dong ma*? An' Wash?"


"This ain't the bridge."

Wash quickly nodded and hurried passed the Captain. Simon stepped up to the Captain before he could leave. "How exactly are you intending to flush them out, Captain?"

Mal flashed a patently false smile at Simon Tam, something much harder glittering in the depths of his eyes. "Thought I'd use my natural charm."

Then the man was gone, leaving Simon with the uncomfortable suspicion that he was about to do something monumentally stupid. What surprised him more was how much that thought worried him.

* * * * *

"Shouldn't we contact 'em?"

"*Bu qu*. Have to keep radio silence, *dong ma*?"

"But how will we know when to act?"

"Oh we'll know. *Fang xin*, we'll know."

Silently the ship stayed just far enough back not to ping Serenity's sensors.

* * * * *

The pile of the dead was beyond sickening. Edwards had already thrown up twice ferrying the poor souls in batches to the cauldron. Wilkinson had taken great pleasure in stopping anyone from helping him, making the young nauseous guard lug each of the dead one by one up the steps to the lip of the huge cauldron then, as his stomach heaved with bitter bile, Edwards had been ordered to put them in the cauldron. As much as he was horrified to be doing this, part of him was wondering why the dead were going into the cauldron and not feeding the fiery pit beneath it. It made no sense but apparently it did to the Chief Guard.

Wilkinson sensed Dyer sidle up beside him. "What does this achieve?"

He resisted the urge to laugh. They were pathetic, all of them. Too weak to be much more than cannon fodder to the standard bearers of what was to come. He knew. Was ready and that was enough. Letting a slow ugly smile slide across his face, Wilko turned just enough so that Dyer could see his face but not enough that Wilkinson would miss the enjoyment of seeing those Browncoat scum feed the cauldron. "Practice."

It was not what Dyer had been expecting. Amused, Wilkinson turned away from him. If the others could not work it out it was not up to him to educate them. They had only to obey.

* * * * *

Suzie stared at River as if the girl were quite mad. 'We can't come with you, we're in hiding.'

'Why are you in hiding?'

Davie was itching to push passed Suzie and emerge from the dirty dusty deck space they were crammed into. When River had lifted up the grill he had felt an instant of relief but then Suzie's elbow in his face had stopped him from climbing out. Jammed into a corner Lucy said nothing, her eyes on River. Suzie had the sudden urge to hit River, perhaps knock some sense into her. The girl gave her a wry smile and cocked her head.

'You are welcome to try but Captain Daddy would not be happy with you.'

'The Captain's your father?'

Suzie's shock was amusing but was wasting time. Time the others did not have. 'We helped you, now you must help us.'


'If you want to die like a rat in a trap that's up to you but this crew is my family, could be yours. They need us and you will help'

It was Lucy easing herself up from the corner that broke the impasse. '*Dang ran*, what do you want us to do?'

Quickly River outlined her plan. Suzie's eyes widened, too stunned to object. Davie's eyes were shining eagerly, lit with excitement. Lucy simply accepted what needed to be done. They needed to neutralise one threat in order to wipe out another. When Suzie recovered enough to put up some resistance Lucy stared her down and sent a strong urgent command deep into her brain pan. Suzie stared at her. 'You can't tell me what to do.'

'Either help or stay out of our way, your choice.'

Davie quickly butted in. 'We have to help, Suzie. You heard what River said.'

'*Wo zhidao* but...'

'You are afraid.' River finished for her.

Suzie suddenly felt ashamed and realised that her fear was no substitute for doing the right thing. These people had helped them, would continue to do so. How could she refuse to to do the same? 'What do you want me to do?'

'We,' River corrected 'There is no I any more, *dong ma*?'

Suzie nodded and scrambled out of the deck space along with Davie and Lucy. They quickly replaced the grating and then moved as stealthily as they could while River mapped out their first objective. Working together it would be easy but only if they got the timing right.

* * * * *

The cortex link lit up and drew Badger's attention. To his consternation the Lady was staring back at him. Trying to hide how unsettling that was, Badger inclined his head. He had already learnt that he needed to treat this woman with respect. Didn't matter whether he meant it or not, just so long as he did not incur her displeasure. One lesson was more than he had the stomach for.

"What can I do for you, my Lady?"

"I see you are established again."

"*Qu*, an' your men arrived as you can see."

An elegant if greying eyebrow rose. "Your men."

Badger swallowed carefully. "My mistake, my men."

Something glittered in the Lady's eyes but Badger was not quick enough to recognise it. "I have a task for you, Little Man."

It was on the tip of his tongue to correct her but remembering how easy she was to insult he let it pass. "What job is that?"

The Lady leaned in to the screen and Badger had to resist the urge to lean back. "A most delicate task for which you will be handsomely rewarded if successful."

As the Lady outlined the task Badger's mouth went dry, his palms began to sweat and his heart rate thundered in his breast. This was a joke, had to be, only the Lady was not laughing. With a sinking feeling Badger knew he would have to earn every single bit of coin the hard way. Refusal was not an option.

* * * * *

It was the whispering that caught them out. Howdy Marks had tried to hush Billy Parker but the man was all twisted up with his loyalties in a spin. While he had decided to go along with Howdy on account of he didn't want the blood of Serenity's crew on his hands, he balked at doing anything to actually stop Jerrod. Howdy spun round and fairly spat the words out.

"When're you gonna sprout a backbone?"

Billy's look darkened. "You tell me the *laoban* could be fixin' to kill everybody but all I seen is us puttin' 'em to sleep, all careful like."


Billy shrugged, all manner of confused. "*Wo bu zhidao*, fact is I don't understand any of this."

"Me neither."

"Then what're we gonna do, Howdy?"

In the silence that followed both men clearly heard the sound of a gun being cocked. Before either could react something sharp pricked the skin on the back of their necks. Howdy's eyes widened, realising they were being put under with the same sedative they had been using on Serenity's crew. As they crumpled to the deck, a voice he did not recognise spoke softly in his ear.

"*Yiwusuoyou*. You are goin' to do nothing, *dong ma*?"

Suzie stared at River. 'I didn't think that would work.'

'Suggestion is a powerful thing.'

'They think we injected them, *wo bu dong*.'

'Mind games.' River explained. 'It is what they've been doing to us.'

The others wanted to ask questions but they didn't have time. River indicated for them to help her, and one by one they laboriously dragged the two men into the last empty passenger quarters. Once inside, River dropped to her knees and began removing their shoelaces. Davie frowned at her. 'What're you doin'?'

Lucy grinned, quickly catching on and hurrying to do the same to the other man. 'Buyin' time.'

With his mouth open, Davie watched as River and Lucy were careful to only take one shoelace from each pair of shoes. Suzie shook her head in bafflement. 'You two are *shenjingbing*.'

River flashed her a quick grin as she carefully checked their pockets and recovered the syringes and unused phials of sedative. 'Not crazy if it works.'

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*anquan* = safe *dong ma* = understand? *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *shifu* = sir *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *fafeng* = mad *laoban* = boss *lese* = crappy *diyu* = hell *shenjingbing* = crazy *bushufu* = uncomfortable *pofu* = bitch *duibuqi* = sorry *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *weishenme* = why *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *dang ran* = of course *wo zhidao* = I know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wo bu zhidao* = don't know *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *wo bu dong* = I dont understand


Sunday, June 23, 2013 6:24 AM


I KNEW IT!! River, God love her, RIVER To The, the 'Lady' is really creepy, really, just saying. More please Ali D xie xie

Sunday, June 23, 2013 8:35 AM


So happy you are enjoying the story, Malsdoxy. And yes, River to the rescue. As for the Lady, that is one person you do not want to cross. Not ever! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, June 23, 2013 1:06 PM


And the kids to save the day with shoelaces.... it could happen...

Sunday, June 23, 2013 1:29 PM


Stranger things have happened, Nutluck! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 6:38 PM


I'm wondering where Jerrod et al are hiding...Serenity is not that big of a ship! And Mal would know it better than anyone, except maybe River. Speaking of whom, yay! Someone's taking action. But I thought Howdy was already having enough misgivings to break from Jerrod? I was glad that someone else (Stan) was also having misgivings, and questioned Jerrod. Very concerned about the ship trailing Serenity. I'm thinking we'll soon find out how Badger's job connects with this.

Friday, June 28, 2013 1:28 AM


You will find out more soon, Ebfiddler. Howdy and Stan have misgivings yes, but enough to turn on their long time boss? For River it is all about the timing. As for the ship following in their wake and where Badger fits in I wouldn't want to spoil what is yet to come. Thanks 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.