THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 48. "A Not So Perfect Plan"
Friday, August 2, 2013

The others looked round to see what she was looking at and Davie gasped in fright.


TITLE: "A NOT SO PERFECT PLAN" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 48. Sequel to "A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Jerrod realises his plan might have a few flaws in it. Even with the Readers on board Malcolm Reynolds can't help wondering why things just never go smooth."

"A NOT SO PERFECT PLAN" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"What're we gonna do? Ship's crawlin' with crew."

Jerrod Perkins gave Stan a sidelong look before addressing the rest of them. "We have to sit tight, wait 'til the gorram coast is clear."

"An' how're we gonna know that from in here?"

"Someone'll have to go an' check."

"*Wo bu dong, laoban*. Thought everyone was supposed to be asleep?"

"Yeah, well somethin' must've tipped them off." Said Lionel.

Jerrod's look hardened. "Somethin' or someONE."

Stan did not like the look in his boss's eye. "What're you thinkin'?"

"It's obvious, those gorram Readers."

"They're just children *laoban*."

"Yeah, children who know too much."

"Maybe we need to call a truce. No way're we gettin' off this ship except in boxes otherwise."

For a moment no one spoke, all eyes on Jerrod waiting for him to make a decision.

"We're not givin' ourselves up."

Lionel frowned. "But..."

Jerrod quickly cut him off. "That's why we're in here, *dong ma*? They won't think of lookin' in the spare shuttle."

"No," said Stan slowly "them kids could just tell the Cap'n where we are. Could lock us in an' remove all the gorram air."

Suddenly there was a loud metallic click. Stunned, the men stared at each other as one of their worst fears was realised. Stan turned to his boss. "I think it's a good bet they know exactly where we are, *laoban*."

"Yeah," drawled a very unhappy Lionel Rhodes "now we have the fun of waitin' for the air to run out."

* * * * *

'What now?'

River grinned. 'We wait.'

Suzie looked concerned. 'They think the air's runnin' out.'

'We're not really lettin' them suffocate, are we?' Asked Davie tentatively.

'*Bu qu*, but they don't know that.'

Lucy was about to ask what they were waiting for when she caught a glimpse of River's intent. Her eyes widened. Slowly, River Tam let all of them see what she could see. Davie gasped in horror.

'We have to warn the Cap'n.'

'Captain Daddy will know soon enough, we have work to do.'

The others looked at each other then stared at River as she unveiled the rest of her plan.

* * * * *

Badger had no idea why the Lady wanted him pick up the freighter Cold Harbour or why it has such an odd and ugly name. He was no rutting transport Captain. He gave orders, others carried them out. But since the Lady had put her mark on him the whole notion of who was boss had been turned on its' head and while he was not happy about it at least he still had his head. Plenty of time later to find a way to re-establish the status quo. In the meantime he was in no hurry to incur the deadly woman's wrath.

At least he now had names to ascribe to his newly acquired crew, the biggest and baddest of them being Magnus Martin. His tattoo showed he was a 426, the Triad Enforcer, also known as Red Pole. When he asked the man how he wanted to be addressed the man just stared back at him until Badger decided to just call him Magnus. If he had anything to say about it, tough. Should have spoken up when he was asked. The others were all foot soldiers, 49s, but were equally as tight lipped. They spoke when spoken to but there was none of the chatter or banter he had enjoyed with his own men. Badger felt a sting of loss, a hollow that would grow if given too much attention so he shoved it back and ignored the twinge of regret. What was past was past, this was the present and while he might not much like the way things were going at least he was alive to take advantage of whatever opportunities came his way but *wode ma*, this was not what he had been expecting.

The interior of the huge freighter had a thick cloying rancid stench about it that made him gag. What the bloody *diyu* had died down here? Red Pole led the way through the ship as if he had been born on it, the ship's Captain having handed over the papers and left as soon as Badger and the men boarded. The Enforcer paused and looked Badger in the eye.

"We should lift off, *laoban*."

"What's the hurry?"

Magnus Martin's eyes narrowed just a fraction but it was enough of a warning to cause something in Badger's gut to tighten. "The Lady's instructions were very clear."

"What instructions? I only know we had to pick up the bloody freighter."

"We have a delivery to make. You will be well paid."

Huh, 'you' not 'we'. Thought these were his rutting men now? Red Pole glanced at one of the men, Clancy if memory served. Clancy straightened and looked Badger. "I'll go to the bridge, *laoban*."

Not knowing how else to handle things Badger nodded. He knew they were humouring him, giving the illusion that he commanded them but they all knew where the real power lay and it was not in his hands. So why the good gorram was he here? Belatedly he realised Red Pole was talking, filling him in on the details of the vessel they were now in possession of. The multiple engines that powered the huge vessel and gave it the kind of speed the envy of any Alliance ship except the sleek and very deadly Seeker class. Badger followed the man down interminable corridors then down stairs leading to what felt like the bowels of the ship. If anything the awful stench got worse, thicker, heavier and even less wholesome. Only when they progressed down to the lowest level did he realise the reason. Stunned with shock Badger belatedly realised that the Cold Harbour was lifting off, the bulky weight of the vessel yawing as it rose up into the atmo before the powerful engines seemed to catapult it up into the Black.

* * * * *

Quick nimble fingers made short work of the ropes binding them. River made sure that each length of rope was carefully gathered up and shoved in a pocket then checked her friends over. Zoe was the first to show any sign of responding though it was so sluggish River knew she would not be able to rouse her fully and carrying Zoe and Jayne to the infirmary was out of the question. Even on his own, Jayne Cobb was just too heavy. They needed Simon and the Captain to come to them. As River turned she grinned. The others looked round to see what she was looking at and Davie gasped in fright.

Howdy Marks stood in the doorway. He raised his hands to reassure them that he meant no harm. "*Wei, fang xin*. We aren't gonna hurt you. Fact is we don't agree with what Jerrod's been doin'. You folks been good to us, came back to Anaeron an' got us out. Didn't have to do that."

"Why are you here?"

Howdy shared a quick glance over his shoulder with Billy Parker and lowered his hands. "We were lookin' for Jerrod an' the others. Haven't seen hide nor hair of 'em."

Suzie stared hard at Howdy and wondered why neither she, Lucy nor Davie had sensed the two men. "Why should we believe you?"

He blinked. "It's the truth..."

River cut in quickly, mind made up. "There's one way to prove it. We need to get Zoe and Jayne to the infirmary."

Howdy hunkered down but made no move to touch either of them. "Have you been able to wake 'em at all?"

"*Bu qu*, Zoe roused briefly but not enough to wake. The sedative will take hours to wear off and we don't have time."

Howdy didn't like the sound of that. Didn't have time for what? Then he remembered the boss calling them Readers, did they know something he didn't? "You can trust us, we'll help."

"Not you I'm worried about." Said River.

Howdy opened his mouth to ask what she meant but River was getting impatient, they were taking too long. "Help first, questions later, *dong ma*?"

Behind Howdy, Billy Parker couldn't stop the grin flashing across his face. Despite their predicament he could not helping liking River Tam. She was smart, feisty and more than able to stand up for herself. Howdy did a quick mental calculation then huffed. "Only way to move 'em quick is over the shoulder, one a'piece."

River nodded and kept watch while Howdy hefted Zoe upright, took a deep breath, then heaved her up and over his left shoulder. Had to keep his gun hand clear. Billy had a bit more trouble with Jayne, the man was bigger than him and a mite heavier too but once he got him settled the two men carefully followed River and the children and hoped they wouldn't bump into Jerrod and the others before they could get to the infirmary.

* * * * *

The gruel was worse than the usual grey sludge. Ryan didn't want to eat any of it but if he wanted to survive he had no other option. Waking had brought with it a painful reminder of injuries that had been given no time to heal and nearly freezing to death in the gorram prison yard. He wanted to check on the other survivors but felt too weak. Slowly he sat up then wished to *shangdi* he hadn't, every muscle in his bruised and battered body protesting. As he took his first look around him, confusion fogged his brain pan. "Where the *diyu* are we?"

"*Bei chao*! They don't know we're awake yet." The hairs on the back of Ryan's neck prickled with apprehension. "Elly, that you?"

"*Bu qu* it's another dumb sumbitch, who were you expectin'?" Elliot grumbled.

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask his friend why he was so gorram touchy. "*Zenme huir shir*?"

"Not sure but it looks like only twelve of us survived."

Ryan paled then fought the tide of fury rising inside him. "You mean..?"

"Yeah," Elliot paused and gave a long world weary sigh tinged with pain "everybody else died in that ruttin' yard."

"Then why are we still alive?"

A voice both men could have lived a lifetime without ever hearing again broke in on their whispered conversation. "Someone has to teach the new blood their jobs, *dong ma*?"

Ryan felt faint. "New blood?"

Wilkinson stepped out of the shadows into their line of sight, a look of pure pleasure and venom on his face. Ryan wondered if he pulled the wings off live butterflies when he was a kid, just for the fun of it. "Uh huh, new shipment en route as we speak."

Ryan and Elliot said nothing. They watched as the *tamade hundan* grinned then left. The big steel door clanging shut on their large grey stark cell. He wondered for a moment whether to wake the others but mercy stayed his hand. The tins plates of gruel that had been shoved under the door looked even worse congealed. The longer the others could rest the better. He had a feeling their day was about to get a whole lot worse.

* * * * *

Wash was beside himself with worry. "*Bao bei* say somethin'."

"There's still a lot of sedative in their bloodstreams, Wash. The best thing to do is let them sleep it off."

"Don't you have some kind'a antidote?"

"Yes, Wash, it's called sleep."

Wash and Simon were the only ones awake in the infirmary. When Howdy and Billy had got to the infirmary with Zoe and Jayne the Captain, Wash and Simon had hurried to get them settled on infirmary beds and checked them out while River and the children had hung back and watched. Wash had been relieved to hear that they were merely unconscious but he still needed his *qizi* to wake up and reassure him that all really was well. The Captain gave Jerrod's men a hard look then took them to the commons area for a word and was pleased to see that Shepherd Book was up and about and looking none the worse for wear. River and the children followed like a line of little ducks in his wake. Silent but alert. The Captain frowned when he saw them but before he could say anything River beat him to it.

"You need us here."

The Captain raised a wary brow. "I do?"


"River, I got no time for any of your games."

The little genius shook her head. "*Ni bu dong*, we hold all the cards but we won't be alone for long."

The Captain turned to Howdy and Billy. Howdy shook his head.

"*Wei*, we're no danger to you or your crew Cap'n Reynolds."

"That why you an' your back stabbin' *laoban* been injectin'my crew with sedatives, Howdy?"

Howdy flinched at the memory. "I never wanted any part in that. In fact me an' Billy wanna help."

"How you plannin' on doin' that? Jerrod send you to plead his gorram case?"

Book moved close enough to hear what was being said and still be able to keep a close eye on the two men and anyone who might happen to come through the door. Saying you meant no harm was not the same as meaning it. River glanced at the Shepherd. "Tellin' the truth."

"You really wanna help, you'll convince Jerrod an' the others to give themselves up."

"I don't think they'll listen to us, Cap'n."

"What's his plan?"

Howdy and Billy looked at each other. "We don't exactly know. He kind'a went screwy on us after the ship lifted off."

"Got instructions he couldn't ignore." Billy added. "Now he's in too deep to get out or change his mind."

The Captain gave River a searching look. "What you sayin', little one? Instructions from who?"

River didn't answer but looked at the Shepherd. "Not your fault. Picked up the transmission but didn't know what it said. Saw you as a threat."

Now the Captain was beyond mystified. Transmission? He started at the Preacher. "Did ya now?"

"Captain I can explain..."

Malcolm Reynolds crossed his arms. "Who you been sendin' waves to?"

"I thought we might need some help."

Just then the proximity alarm went off.

* * * * *

Inside the spare shuttle Jerrod Perkins felt his heart rate triple, his gut twisting as the alarm set them all on edge.

"What we gonna do, *laoban*?"

Jerrod would have liked to tell them to stop asking stupid questions but he knew that he was the cause of this crisis and that proximity alarm told him they had just run out of not only options but time. *Wode ma*, why did he have to get involved with Rufus Pol and how in the wide 'verse was he going to get him and his crew out of this mess?

* * * * *

Kaylee's eyes widened in fright. "That's the proximity alarm!"

Inara quickly sat down in the pilot's seat of her shuttle and tried to see what had set it off. Kaylee was beyond anxious, what if it was the Alliance? Did Simon and River hide in time? Her heart quailed then leapt in hope when Inara shook her head.

"It's not Alliance, Kaylee..."

The mechanic flashed a hopeful grin. "Then we got nothin' to worry 'bout, 'Nara."

"I didn't say that."

Kaylee leaned in close to the window but it was hard to see much. "Who is it then?"

Inara Serra had been using her scanning system and what she discovered made her pale. "I've never seen a ship of this configuration before, Kaylee."

"If it ain't Alliance that's good, *dui*?"

Before Inara could reply the shuttle was rocked by a hard and violent impact. Kaylee's eyes widened into frightened and startled saucers. "They're firin' at us, 'Nara! Why would they be firin' at us? We ain't even armed."

* * * *

Ryan McFarlane was over his dizzy spell but not the shock of what had taken place in the yard. Everybody knew what a nasty twisted *tamade hundan* Ryland Wilkinson was, but the Chief Guard held complete sway over the rest of the guards, not one who so much as dared to stick a toe out of line. Elliot Carr shot his friend a worried look then tried to act as if he had not been keeping an eye on him. He might have known Ryan would call him on it.

"*Shenme shi*?"

Elliot screwed up his face and whispered back as quietly as he was able. "What do you think? We ain't gonna get out of this crap-hole alive."

If Ryan hadn't been feeling so rough he might have laughed but that would only wake up all his bruises and have them holding hands. "Did ya think they'd let us go?"

"*Bu qu*, but I didn't think they'd be torturin' us - or rather you - an' killin' so many just to make a point."

Ryan's look sharpened. "What point?"

Elliot shrugged, a small barely perceptible gesture meant to go unseen by anyone caring to monitor them. "That they're in charge."

"They didn't have to freeze so many to death to prove that."

Elliot didn't agree with him but kept his opinion to himself. He knew it was all about Wilko rubbing their faces in it but why? He also remembered something else. "Wilko said there were plenty more where they came from."

"You think they got another ship load of folk comin' in?"

The bleakness in Elliot's eyes confirmed that he did think just that. "An' not just folk, Ryan. Browncoats."

"Huh, they'll fight."

Elliot held his eyes for a long sober moment. "They'll lose, *wode pengyou*."

Ryan didn't like the way his friend seemed to have given up. "You don't know that, Elly."

"Yeah, yeah I do." Elliot Carr lowered his voice. "How'd d'you think they got us?"

He felt the fog in his brain cloud his memory as he tried to visualise exactly what had happened. As the memory slowly became sharper Ryan felt his gut twist. He stared in horror at Elliot. "They won't stand a gorram chance!"

* * * * *

Badger was many things, most of them unpleasant and very much of the untrustworthy variety but even for him this was a new low. "You want to what?"

Red Pole stared dispassionately at his titular boss. "Orders, *laoban*."

His mouth dry, Badger watched the scruffy little Firefly come into focus on the Cold Harbour's sensors. The big heavy freighter had a turn of speed that defied its' massive ugly bulk and left so many unanswered questions in its' wake. "You know who Captain's that piece of *goushi*?"

Red Pole nodded. Badger could feel his world spinning round leaving him not sure what direction his life was heading in and not liking being kept in the gorram dark. What the *diyu* was the Lady up to and what in the nine hells had any of it to do with Malcolm Reynolds and that rag tag crew of his? "What about the job?"

The huge man gave him a feral grin that made Badger quail inside. "This *IS* the job, *loaban*."

Not knowing what else to say, Badger looked on in stunned silence as Red Pole ordered another salvo. Badger watched Serenity as the barrage ripped into the little mid bulk transport and thick black smoke replaced the forward motion of the engine. Badger did not have to check the sensors to know that Serenity was effectively going nowhere, her once glorious engine completely fried.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wo bu dong* = I don't understand *laoban* = boss *dong ma* = understand? *Bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wode ma* = mother of God *diyu* = hell *wei* = hey! *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *shangdi* = God *bei chao* = not so noisy *zenme huir shir* = what's happening? *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *bao bei* = precious/treasure *qizi* = wife *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *dui* = correct *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wode pengyou* = my friend *goushi* = crap/dog shit


Friday, August 2, 2013 5:55 PM


aye yi aye!!! Not our 'scruffy little Firefly', leave her alone!! this has me all confuzzled, AliD, what the hell does that creepy lady want with Mal and all of them? This is swimmin' around in my brain pan, like to drown!! [um next chapter, por favor] :D

Friday, August 2, 2013 6:43 PM


And now most of the threads have come together, but it isn't a complete spider web just yet.

Saturday, August 3, 2013 4:48 AM


Wheels within wheels, Malsdoxy. The murkiness of all the threads will begin to become clearer. And yes, Nutluck, not a complete spider's web just yet. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, August 5, 2013 10:20 AM


Hmm, everything seems to start pulling together, all the threads. I seem to remember a mention of the Triad lady having an Alliance husband and they tried to keep out of each other's business. Guess he found something out.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:40 PM


The Lady's husband isn't Alliance, Bytemite but the Lady is careful to keep her business away from his. All sorts still to come, thanks for the welcome feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, September 5, 2013 10:03 PM


Back from holiday, finally ready to read again! :-)
So I read and say: OH NOOOO! This is not looking good! Badger's under the thumb of the Lady, and he's firing on Serenity? I gotta hope that River's plan is going to work, or that whomever Book called is coming to the rescue. So the Lady's people are Triads? There was more than one Triad group, in conflict, earlier, so this is interesting. Also, Ryan and Elliot's predicament has me concerned. Lots of threads beginning to converge, here, and you're keeping the suspense going, Ali. Another very good chapter.

Friday, September 6, 2013 8:35 AM


Welcome back, Ebfiddler, hope you had a great holiday. All sorts of threads are coming together and the sharp eyed will connect certain dots. Lots more 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.