THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 56. "Tangles"
Thursday, November 7, 2013

He leaned back in his chair and affected another smile, the kind no doubt those ancient creatures on Earth-that-was extended to their prey moments before their jaws clamped down and crushed in their skulls.


TITLE: "TANGLES" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 56. Sequel to "TWISTED" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The Minister worries that he has put a friend in danger. The Captain starts the task of assessing the state of those still alive on the freighter not necessarily helped by Badger. Ryan discovers that surviving the explosion does not mean that he is safe."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The summons was unexpected and beyond inconvenient. More than that it was troubling. It was the last thing he wanted to submit to but the source could not be denied or his place within that depressing but very lucrative hierarchy. Provided you played by the rules and by and large he had done just that. Minister Heyerdahl had no reason to reproach himself yet it was incumbent upon his survival instincts to do just that. The Over Sight Committee seemed to have a particular interest in his recent actions and that roused other even less pleasant suspicions. The Minister pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind as he arrived at the nondescript building on Osiris.

As he approached the outer doors he was scanned from head to foot. He then pressed the thumb of his right hand over the fingerprint reader and leaned close to the retinal scanner. Seconds later the door opened and he stepped inside. The interior could not be a bigger contrast to the mundane outside of the building. Clean, efficient lines with durable but artistically fashioned supporting pillars and beams giving an impression of space and freedom to a building that guaranteed neither. He was met by the current Chair of the Committee, Ivan Rostov. The Chair circulated on a random basis and those elected to fulfill that function were chosen at a much higher level of power.

"Thank you for coming so directly, Minister."

Heyerdahl inclined his head a fraction but did not remove his light but expensive coat. "How may I be of assistance to the Committee?"

Rostov raised a single elegant brow and simply indicated for him to follow. "If you will come this way I will explain."

As he was ushered into Rostov's office, Heyerdahl noticed with some relief that they were the only ones present. So. Not 'that' official then.

"May I offer you some refreshment, Minister?"

"*Bu qu, xie xie ni*."

"Very well then let us get down to business, hmm?" Rostov settled himself into his chair and waited for his guest to take a seat. "I understand that you extended assistance to a Registered Companion by the name of Inara Serra?"

"*Qu*. Miss Serra is an acquaintance of long standing, Mr Chairman."

"Please, Ivan."

The Minister blinked. Ivan. Really? The false bon homie made him feel nervous though he was not sure why. Some primal instinct kicking in no doubt. He would need to stay sharp. "Ivan."

Rostov flashed an approximation of a smile but it looked as if his face was not intended to make that shape. A naturally dour and humourless man, Rostov affecting any kind of easy camaraderie was a thing to set alarm bells ringing. What in the nine hells had Inara got herself mixed up in?

"Had Miss Serra requested transport to Sihnon or any of a hundred Companion Houses no one would have turned a hair but an engine for a Firefly transport ship?" The pause was meant to be theatrical. Heyerdahl was not impressed but kept his expression neutral and waited. "What is a highly respected Registered Companion doing on a scruffy little transport run by that infamous Browncoat Malcolm Reynolds, hmm?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*, Ivan." He shrugged. "Inara asked for help and I gave it."

Rostov leaned forward on his desk, his hands clasped together. "What the Committee wants to know is what she was doing there, *dong ma*?"

"I gather the ship had broken down."

Frustrated the Chairman had to huff for a moment before he could calm himself to speak properly. "Not the ship, though we will come back to that later. What was a Registered Companion doing in Restricted Space?"

Ah, so that was it. Some nasty little Alliance secret becoming unravelled was it? "I was not aware it was restricted. Miss Serra passed the co-ordinates and I instructed the delivery of a new engine."

"And what was your price, Minister?"

Heyerdahl was careful not to react to the insult. "I only asked that Miss Serra be available when next out paths crossed. An amicable arrangement for a courtesy extended."

"When is this 'amicable arrangement' going to take place?"

"No date was set. It could be weeks, months in the future."

Rostov tried a different tack. "Such an engine is a costly *liwu*."

"Miss Serra was in need of assistance. I saw no reason to deny giving it. Was there anything else, Ivan?"

For a moment anger flashed darkly in Chairman Rostov's eyes but was quickly quelled. Losing his temper with the Minister would gain him nothing. He leaned back in his chair and affected another smile, the kind no doubt those ancient creatures on Earth-that-was extended to their prey moments before their jaws clamped down and crushed in their skulls.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds stared at Badger, his voice turning icy and making the gorram hairs on the back of the little man's neck stand on end. "What did you do, Badger?"

"*Wei*, ain't my bloody fault so don't take that tone with me."

Behind Badger more of the former prisoners were joining them having been freed from their incarceration and following the word of mouth to regroup with the others. Mal saw them stiffen at the surly tone the little King Pin had adopted. He spoke up before violence could ensue. Leastways, any not started by his own self. He was like to strangle the man himself. "Badger," his voice softened, sounding even deadlier if that were possible "what did you touch?"

"*Shenme*? 'Ow the *diyu* should I know? All them ruddy knobs look the same."

Jayne was ready to grab the man again but the look on the Captain's face stayed his hand. The Captain's irritation rising exponentially along with the loud ringing sound of the rutting alarm. "Jameson?"

One of the new arrivals straightened up. "Yes, Sarge?"

"Don't let this man outta your sight, *dong ma*? An' don't let him touch anythin' else."

As Mal turned to speak to Zoe, Badger wailed in indignation. "*Wei*! Don't you turn your back on me, Reynolds!"

Hardly had the words left Badger's mouth than the Captain spun and grabbed the lapels of his jacket, his face pushed inches from the little King Pin's. "I. Don't. Need. YOU. *Dong ma*? You, on the other hand need me an'mine if you hope to get off this gorram ship alive. Do we have an understandin'?"

Badger's eyes were bugging out, his throat closing up but not quite enough to cut off his airway just restrict it. In all his dealings with Malcolm Reynolds the man had never taken hold of him like this, never showed how thin his patience was to the point of terminal violence. In that split second Badger had something of an epiphany. "*Dui...bu..qi*. Didn't mean nothin' by it." He managed to choke out painfully.


The Captain didn't react to Badger's constrained apology but that one word from Zoe cut through the red mist and he let go but didn't take his eyes off the little man. "Might want to mind your manners from here on, you bein' the one got us into this gorram *shen goushi*."

Badger just nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The Captain turned to Zoe. "You were sayin'?"

"Could be if we head up to the bridge we can turn off that alarm, sir. Might also be able to find out whether the ship is operational or in lock down."

The Captain nodded. "Good thinkin'. Now if we can just find someone knows the ins an' outs of operatin'a hulk like this."

Shepherd Book quietly cleared his throat. "I think I might be able to help with that, Captain."

Mal blinked, him and Zoe sharing a look that lasted less than a fraction of a second. "An' how might you be knowin' that? You fly many freighters for Southdown Abbey?"

Before Book could answer Donaldson appeared with a few more rescued prisoners in tow. The Captain recognised a few faces but the names escaped him. How come he couldn't remember half the people from units he had served with yet remembered the names of each and every one of their dead? The corridor they were in was now packed with people, all in various stages of well being and malnutrition. A few nursing wounds that with care and attention would heal while others stood straight and nursed the kind of wounds you couldn't see. The ones that never healed. He knew. Carried a goodly amount of them his own self.

"Have all the decks been checked for our people?"

Donaldson looked unhappy. "*Qu* but so many didn't make it, Sarge." He paused as if something was stuck in his throat.

The Captain didn't ask him for numbers. This was neither the time nor place to go down that very dark and depressing road. He needed to find a way to get them all off this drifting graveyard but first they needed to glean every bit of information they could. Assess their situation and try to find out why the guards had left the ship. He did not say what he was dreading, that the reason for abandoning the ship was so they could detonate a bomb and be rid of their problem once and for all. If that had been the plan they would not still be alive, not unless it was some remote activated device waiting to catch them as well. Mal felt the blood in his veins go cold but carefully kept his thought from showing on his face. These men were looking to him to lead them and that was what he aimed to do.

* * * * *

Kaylee wanted to laugh and it had been so long since she had felt the urge or so it seemed. Wash was grinning like a loon but careful even in his glee not to verbalise what he was thinking or doing. It had taken a good deal longer to carefully remove the new engine and fit the old one back in place than either had expected. Carefully cannabalising the shiny new parts and replacing the shot ones had taken a lot of delicate work so as not to give the game away to those monitoring the new engine. Kaylee had kept the g-line rigged to it along with some other electrics. For now it was maintaining the fiction that the new engine was fully installed in Serenity but that would change the moment they fired the old one back up. Hence all the tip-toing.

Keeping to the script they had worked out beforehand, Kaylee put a shade of doubt in her voice. "As shiny as this new engine is, you think it's gonna work?"

"Don't see why not, *weishenme*?"

"*Yiwusuoyou* only it wasn't just the engine got shot up."

Wash shuffled closer to the engine and the hidden monitoring equipment, pretending to be giving it a good look over. "Looks fine to me, Kaylee."

"Look at the electrics. No, not the engine, the ship. See them connectors? Should'a asked for new ones."

The pilot effected a sigh. "*Wode ma*, why don't things ever go smooth?"

"It might hold, Wash, but we won't know 'til we fire her up."

"We don't have any spare wirin'?"

"*Bu qu*. What we got is what we got."

"O-kay, then let's fire her up. Nice an' gently if we can. I'll call you from the bridge when I'm ready, oh an' Kaylee? I don't want you in the engine room when we fire her up, *dong ma*?"

"*Wo dong*."

As Wash started to pass the new engine hanging on Serenity's lifting gear, he gave careful scrutiny to the explosive charge they had rigged to take out the monitoring equipment. Just enough to blow the equipment the Alliance had rigged, not enough to damage anything else. The last thing they needed was a gorram fire to break out on Serenity. When the explosion blew Kaylee would have to disconnect the g-line and electrics from Serenity to the new engine right quick or their deception would not pass muster. Worse than that they could also fry all the electrics and leave themselves in a worse position than they were currently in.

* * * * *

"What're you doin', little one?"

The girl was hanging upside down above an operating console in the Cold Harbour command room which also incorporated the bridge. Suddenly the infernal alarm stopped. Truth to tell the Captain had not missed her when Zoe and the others had boarded the ship, had so much to consider and work out with the survivors and how they were going to get everyone safely off the freighter. Monty's Kingfisher was smaller than Serenity and the number of Browncoats still alive and able to be saved was a lot more than he had expected. Mal's eyes widened as he looked around, taking everything in. At his shoulder Zoe put what he was thinking into words. "Considerin' the state of the rest of the ship this part looks new, sir."

"Appearances can be deceiving." Said River, her head disappearing back behind the console she was hanging over.

Jayne Cobb looked irritated but the Shepherd seemed intrigued. "River, what are you doing?"

"Can't leave everything to God." Her head popped up again, hair hanging down and partly obscuring her face. In the gaps they could see her grin. "The controls were taken out of action. Disconnected not broken. They wanted to leave you stranded. Fish in a barrel."

The Captain walked over to River. "Stranded? *Weishenme*?"

River dipped her head and fiddled with something then slotted the back panel back in place. With a flip she turned in the air and dropped from the strut she had been hanging from. "Greedy, want to catch you all."

Zoe frowned. "*Shei*?"

"Alliance. Special Division."

"River, what Special Division?"

"They work with the Hands of Blue but not officially. On paper they don't exist."

"Right now I wished we didn't exist." Muttered Jayne. The ship had a creepy-assed feel to it.

"Then you would be gone and there would be no point in this rescue."

The Captain turned to Shepherd Book. "Think you can fly this monstrosity?"

"Providing she has fuel."

Both men looked at River. The girl nodded. "Tanks half full plus there's a healthy reserve."

Something sparked in the Captain's brain-pan. "How much fuel?"

"Enough for us and Serenity but we have to hurry."

"Gorramit," growled Jayne "I knew someone would pick up that ruttin' alarm Badger set off."

River shook her head. "*Cuode*." When they all turned to stare at her River explained. "Already on their way."

Simon Tam was anxious. None of the men would stand still enough for a proper exam. "Captain, we need to get these men out of here. My limited supplies aren't going to be much good."

"Zoe, go with Simon. You know how many Monty can carry. Take the worse cases, get them to the Kingfisher."

"I should stay here, sir."

"An' you will, but first things first. Gotta carry them as can't carry themselves, *dong ma*?"

Jayne was listening and trying to work out what plan the Captain had in mind. "What about the others?"

The Captain turned to Book, the man busy running experienced fingers over the controls as if everything he wanted to know were written there in braille and he was translating it straight to his brain. "Will she fly?"

The Preacher looked up and a genuine smile blossomed on his face. "Oh she'll fly, Captain. What course shall I set?"

* * * * *

Inara Serra was stunned. It should not be possible and yet it was. Her heart pounded, mouth gone dry. For several moments she could neither move nor speak, her eyes staring in shock. The spare shuttle was empty. There was no sign of Jerrod Perkins and his men and more worrying still, no indication as to how they had got out of a locked and secure shuttle.

* * * * *

It was hard to think clearly when everything hurt but Ryan knew he had to try. This mess might give them an opportunity they would otherwise never have. Quite how to use the chaos the explosion of the gun emplacement had caused was not easy to judge. Far as he could tell no one seemed to be much interested in how badly injured he was or the fact that one of them had died. Instead the guards were agitated and moving around as if something entirely different was going on. Ryan frowned, unable to figure out what could be worse than this current bout of madness. That was when Wilkinson appeared. The kick to his mid-section made him cry out, unable to mask the flare of pain flashing through his body. Wilkinson leaned down a mite so he could make eye contact and share his pleasure in causing that pain.

"This is your fault, *dong ma*?"

Ryan would have protested but right now he was fighting for his breath. That kick had shifted something in his innards that should not have moved, most likely a rib which meant at least one of them was broken.

The Chief Guard's eyes narrowed and he drew his shock stick. Nice and slow so that Ryan could anticipate what was coming but Ryan was not looking at him, his eyes were clouding over as he danced on the edge of passing out. "Don't you ignore me, boy!"

Fortunately, Jimmy John Dyer had been working his way through the rubble, actually looking out for the dead and injured. He caught the end of Wilkiinson's warning just in time and slipped past him to crouch down and examine Ryan. The movement neatly placed his body between Wilkinson and the injured Browncoat. "*Shifu*, this man needs urgent medical attention."

"You're interruptin' an interrogation!"

It took all Dyer's restraint not to yell at the man but Wilkinson was the one in charge not him and there was only a hair's breadth between him beating a prisoner to death and turning that vicious streak on his own men. The man had no loyalty and no moral compass. Round the Chief Guard everyone learnt to tread lightly. "He's passed out, *shifu*."

Wilkinson swung his shock stick as if tempted to use it anyway but something in that primitive brain must have registered the uselessness of such an action. Wilkinson was mean and sociopathic but he wasn't stupid. "You have one hour then I will be questionin' him about what happened here."

Dyer opened his mouth to protest but Wilkinson had already turned away and as he picked his way through the rubble Dyer turned back to see what he could do for Ryan when he heard a cry. He looked back just in time to see Wilkinson miss his footing and fall, a dent and a gash in the back of his head bringing him to the ground. Dyer was about to call out when he saw the chunk of masonry settle inches from the fallen man. Dyer looked up, whether to see where it had come from or to thank a propitious act of God would not be known as a figure rose from behind a pillar. Dyer froze and watched as the man brushed some of the dust off him and made his way towards Ryan McFarlane. That was when he realised he recognised the man. Elliot glanced at Dyer as he dropped to his knees beside his friend but all his attention was on Ryan, his expression filled with worry.

"It's a mess down here. How's he doin'?"

It took a moment for Dyer to realise he had a choice, whether to admit that he knew Elliot had hit Wilkinson with the lump of masonry or act as if he was unaware. It took no time at all to convince his brain that a loose bit of masonry had fallen on the Chief's Guard's head. Hard head or soft he could only hope that the one blow would be enough. "He needs a medic. I don't have the knowledge or skill to tell how badly injured he is but I suspect he may have at least a few broken ribs. We won't know until we get him to the infirmary."

Elliot glanced over to where Wilkinson lay. Although he felt a mite guilty he was also relieved to see that the bully was not moving. "What about him?"

"We can only carry one at a time an' I need you to help me with McFarlane."

That was when the two men's eyes met and Elliot realised that even in this backwater shit hole not everyone was his enemy. He gave a short nod and between them they lifted the inert body of Ryan McFarlane and slowly carried him out of the carnage, not once looking back at where Wilkinson lay.

* * * * *

"Gorramit, where in the nine hells did that come from?"

Everyone stared at the Alliance vessel approaching them with gun ports open. Jayne Cobb frowned. "They always do that?"

Simon wasn't sure what he was talking about. "Do they always do what?"

Jayne pointed. "They got their gun ports open, means they're gettin' ready to..."

The salvo hit them before the mercenary could complete his sentence. Simon looked confused.

"*Wo bu dong*, why are they firing at us?"

The Captain shot Badger the evil eye. The little man straightened, all indignant. "Ain't my fault!"

Donnie shifted into view. "You set off the gorram alarm."

"Crazy girl said they was already on their way."

Simon bristled. "My sister isn't *shenjingbing*."

"Sir, what do you want to do?"

The Captain stared at his second in command. Really? Did Zoe actually think he had a choice here? Then he saw that she expected him to make a decision. Whatever it was she would follow, didn't matter what it was. That kind of trust was hard not to respond to and now was no exception. No matter how dire the situation they were all looking to him to get them out of this *shen goushi*. Mal turned to Book. "Have they tried to contact us?"

The Shepherd shook his head. "*Bu qu*."

That was when the second salvo hit them. The freighter rocked beneath their feet this time. The Captain wished he had Kaylee or Wash on board but both were back on Serenity. "Shepherd, how good's your flyin' skills?"

Book raised his eyebrows. "I can start the engine and get her moving without much problem, Captain, but I'm not up to the fancy flying."

"Don't need nothin' fancy, just pretend you're a dyin' swan, *dong ma*?"

Jayne made a face. "A dyin' what?"

"It's a bird from Earth-that-was," River piped up "beautiful and graceful in flight, not so graceful in landing."


"*Mei mei*, that's not very helpful." Said Simon.

"Actually it is."

Book stared at the Captain as if his hearing was defective. "It is?"

"*Qu*. Want you to list, tilt the gorram ship an' slowly loose altitude. Think you can do that?"

"Are you asking me to crash this freighter, Captain?"

"Not so much crash as..."

"Land like a swan."

Zoe didn't want to disagree with the Captain's plan but it was hard not to find it disturbing. "Sir, the only thing down there is the *jianyu*."

"*Wei*, I ain't goin' to no prison!"

"Jayne, we aren't goin' to get caught, *dong ma*?"

The mercenary gave the Captain a confused look, more so as Book slowly tilted the ship and began a gradual descent. it was more than a mite disturbing. "We ain't?"

Fortunately the Alliance Dreadnought stopped firing on them but began closing the distance between them. Book checked the ship's readings, a frown deepening on his face. "Captain, we appear to be losing fuel."

"How much?"

"At this rate we'll be flying on fumes within minutes."

"But not the reserve?"

"No, you have to switch to reserve. It doesn't automatically kick in."

Zoe was watching her Captain like a hawk. "What're you thinkin', sir?"

"Need a way to ignite that fuel trail."

River grinned. "Turn the ship 180 degrees."


"The leaking fuel will then be between us and them. After a couple of minutes go to full power."

Donnie looked worried. "They'll open fire again, probably finish us off for good this time."

The girl's eyes glittered, her look a mite smug. "That's what we want them to think."

Book was not sure. "We do?"

"*Qu*. The moment they open fire we change direction as quickly as we can."

The Captain beamed at her. "Their fire'll light up our wake."

"Could be you'll just make 'em mad." Growled Jayne.

"Angry people never think straight." River explained. "All emotion. You forget we have weapons too."

Suddenly Jayne's expression brightened. "Why the *diyu* didn't you say so?"

"Just did."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xie xie ni* = thank you *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *dong ma* = understand? *liwu* = gift *wei* = hey! *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell *duibuqi* = sorry *shen goushi* = a lot of crap/deep shit *weishenme* = why *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *wode ma* = mother of God *wo dong* = I understand *shei* = who *cuode* = wrong *shifu* = sir *shenjingbing* = crazy *mei mei* = little sister *jianyu* = prison


Thursday, November 7, 2013 10:02 PM


Ah the River/Mal talk in riddles and metaphors that no one but them understand but they seem to understand just fine. Almost like the silent communication between Zoe and Mal.

Friday, November 8, 2013 2:19 PM


I always liked the connection between Mal and River, Nutluck. Her being a mind reading genius helps. And Mal and Zoe are like two peas in a pod, both on the same shiny wavelength. Thanks for the cool feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, November 8, 2013 9:38 PM


see here's the thing about your fics, AliD...I can ALWAYS picture everything perfectly in my mind's eye, everything. That's why they're so very entertaining and captivating, cuz they leave you with the wantin', on that note...MORE PLEASE TYVM Have a nice day ;}

Saturday, November 9, 2013 1:16 PM


Hello, Malsdoxy, how good to know that you can picture everything perfectly in your mind's eye, I could not ask for a better compliment. That and the writing faster. *Xie xie ni* for the shiny comments, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, November 22, 2013 8:13 PM


Oh, I see layers on layers here, as Inara's Minister with the gift-engine-with-built-in-spy-feature confronts Rostov, who is creepifying in his own way, too. I liked Kaylee and Wash's little staged conversation, as they work their trick around the spying shiny new engine. And the spare shuttle is EMPTY??? Oh no! It was satisfying to see Wilkinson get knocked on the head, but I think what I liked best was Mal and River and Zoe working together to come up with a way out of their tight spot. Also cool to see Book revealing yet another unexpected skill from his past -- "You fly many freighters for Southdown Abbey?" -- that line made me smile.

Saturday, November 30, 2013 9:33 AM


Hello ebfiddler, glad you are enjoying the layers and sorry to take a while to respond but I have not been able to log on and Haken has now fixed the problem, for which I am truly grateful. Yes, lots happening and soon you will discover what happened to Jerrod and his crew as well as how the rest of the story is set to play out. And Book does keep surprising us doesn't he? Thanks for the shiny comments, 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.