THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 61. "One Step Forward"
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Her smile was the permafrost before glaciers moved. A long way from the ice melt signalling the end of an Ice Age. Minions were there for a reason.


TITLE: "ONE STEP FORWARD" SERIES: THE DEVL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 61. Sequel to "BIG DAMN RESCUE" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Escaping from Aneron is not the only thing the Captain has to worry about."


A "Firefly" story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"Not leavin' you behind, sir."

"Not askin', Zoe. 'Sides, sooner Monty takes off the sooner he can drop everyone off on Serenity an' come back for me an' the others."

"*Bushi*. If the mountain won't come to Mohammed..."

The Captain turned at the girl's voice and stared at River Tam. "Whabba what?"

River smiled. "Sacrifice would be in vain."

If that wasn't all manner of confusing the Captain didn't know what was. Just then Monty's booming voice made everyone pause. The fact that the behemoth was grinning from ear to ear was even more unsettling. "*Fang xin*, gonna get everyone off this rock, Mal."

The Captain exchanged a quick look with Zoe but she didn't know what Monty was on about either. "How you gonna do that?"

Monty stroked his whiskers with one big hand, eyes twinkling like newly lit stars. "Had a wave."

Mal's heart missed a beat. "More gorram Alliance?"

The big man laughed. "*Bu qu*, it's Serenity. Seems they got her fixed up an' she's comin' to help."

The Captain looked as if he could hardly believe his ears. How in the nine hells did his boat, with her engine shot to gorram pieces, get fixed? Was this a wind up? But no, he could see from Monty's face that despite the grin he was actually serious. River sat down next to the Captain.

"If you can't believe your ears look up."

He gave her a quizzical look but River just tilted her head back and as the Captain followed her lead he heard the unmistakable sound of Serenity's engine just before the downdraft hit him. "*Wode ma*, that is some impressive rabbit you pulled outta the hat, little one."

Then suddenly everyone was moving, hurrying to split the rescued Browncoats between Monty's Kingfisher and Serenity. Jayne looked around trying to locate Badger then noticed a couple of the Browncoats had got the little King Pin trapped between them. He might not have fought in no war but he approved. Would like it even better if the slimey little man came to some permanent mishap of the real lethal kind but that wasn't his call.

Once the two ships lifted off, the Captain started to make for the bridge. Zoe matching him step for step, anxious to reunite with her *zhangfu*. As they neared the bridge Inara came towards them, a smile on her face that set Mal's heart a-tumbling. Zoe murmured something and hurried on ahead. The Captain turned and met Inara halfway, their eyes devouring each other with words they had never spoken.

"Ain't you a sight for sore eyes."

Inara laughed, the low intimate sound like a tuning fork reaching every part of his body. Gorramit if he wasn't tempted to drag her off to her shuttle or his rutting bunk. *Diyu*, he'd take her where she stood if they had the ship to their selves only... The Captain blinked, not sure he was seeing what he was seeing as shadows revealed themselves to be people. People not locked up in the gorram airlock. Seeing him tense, Inara quickly explained. Mal's eyes widened in disbelief.

"An' you believed 'em?"

"Mal, trust has to start somewhere, *dong ma*?"

Right hand on his holstered gun, the Captain didn't look convinced. "They betrayed us, Inara. Who's to say this ain't some plot they dreamed up to steal Serenity?"

Jerrod Perkins moved a few feet closer, hands away from his sides so that Mal could see he was not armed. He stopped several feet away and looked him in the eye. "*Duibuqi*, Mal. Never should have made a move against ya, I know that now."

"That a fact?" The Captain's voice was flat, unforgiving. "Don't mean I trust you."

"*Wo dong*. You can put us back in the airlock if that'll make you happier."

"Be happier if you'd never left it."

A deep voice rumbled from the top of the metal staircase then Shepherd Book was there, a shotgun in his hands and Jayne Cobb at his side. Mal could hear some of the Browncoats down in the cargo bay asking what was going on but right now all his focus was on Jerrod. "I can explain, Mal."

"More lies, I'm thinkin'."

"Mal, I..."

The Captain raised his left hand. "Don't. We'll take you to Lilac even though you don't deserve it. Then we're done, *dong ma*? I see your face again I'm like to shoot first, ask questions after."

"Captain, perhaps we should hear the whole story first?" Said Book.

There was a clatter of boots on the metal stairs then Donnie and a couple of the Browncoats were joining them, quickly seeing that things were a might tense and wishing they were armed. "Trouble, Sarge?"

"Just roundin' up some backstabbin' folk. Think I'll put 'em in the airlock."

Donnie's eyes widened a fraction. "You gonna vent 'em into the atmo?"

The Captain paused, gave Inara a quick assessing look. Wondered at her silence and decided not to do anything she would make him regret later. That is, if there was a later. "Jayne?"


"Let's herd 'em up."

Jerrod called out softly to his men and they all appeared, quiet and oddly docile. It gave Jayne the creeps as if he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Quickly they were taken to the airlock and as Jerrod led his men inside the Captain counted them off in his head. Jerrod indicated for his men to sit on the floor, his eyes never leaving Mal's. "You really gonna let us go?"

"Providin' you cause no further trouble."

Book stepped up to the hatch before the Captain closed it. "Why did you drug me?"

Jerrod took a weary breath. "Panic. You sent a wave, I had orders. Didn't wanna kill nobody so came up with the idea of knockin' ya all out. We'd take the ship, drop you off someplace then be on our merry."

"Why do I think we wouldn't'a woken up?" Growled Jayne.

Jerrod didn't say anything.

"Yeah, thought so."

Inara touched the Captain's arm and he gave her a nod then told Book and Jayne to lock them in. As he walked away from the airlock he turned to the Companion, a look in his eyes that made her heart falter. "How could you trust 'em, Inara?"

* * * * *

"You were followed."

Ice touched her lips, a cold humour that was echoed in her eyes. "The threat is gone."

"What about..."

Her smile was the permafrost before glaciers moved. A long way from the ice melt signalling the end of an Ice Age. Minions were there for a reason. "It has been dealt with. Do not question me again."

The man covered his error with a deep bow, self preservation once again proving his most enduring armour.

The Lady watched him go then made her way to her quarters. Once inside she activated her link and waited for her major domo to appear. "Well?"

Matthew James Wong's expression was inscrutable. "Titan Station and everything else has been reduced to dust, my Lady."

"Did anything survive?"

He correctly read her meaning. "It would appear that Malcolm Reynolds and some of the others from the freighter were rescued, my Lady."

"What about the Alliance ship?"

"It was consumed along with everything else after the Captain left."

The Lady paused, a thoughtful look on her face. "Did no one survive from the *jianyu*?"

Wong shook his head. Not sure what look passed quickly in the Lady's eye. Concern? Regret? Hardly. Then it was gone and so was she.

* * * * *

Badger didn't like this. Hated that he had no rutting say in what was happening. Simon Tam looked down at him, no expression on his cultured face. Badger squinted in the fierce light shining down on him, not sure which terrified him more. The bomb inside him or the emotionless doctor who was going to look for it. Look for it, mind. Never said anything about removing the bloody thing. And where did that leave him? Nowhere good, that's where.

"*Wei*! You can't go cuttin' on me. I got rights, see?"

Malcolm Reynolds was leaning all casual-like against a work surface, arms crossed and far too relaxed for Badger's liking. On the other side of the infirmary two of his bully boys seemed to be enjoying the little King Pin's discomfort far too much, not that he could do anything about it. Donnie tried to keep a straight face.

"Want me to hold him down, Sarge?"

Simon turned to the tray with his surgical implements laid out and Badger found it suddenly hard to swallow around the lump of fear in his throat.

"*Bu qu*, Don't think Badger's gonna give the doc any trouble are you?"

Badger's eyes widened. "Why you doin't this, Reynolds? I put work your way, no need to cut on me."

"You said the Lady injected you. A remotely triggered bomb she could activate any time or was that a *shuohuang*?"

The little man wriggled into a sitting position on the operating table but Donnie stepped forward and eased him back into position. "She's scary enough, wasn't takin' no chances."

"Then neither will we. Simon? You about ready?"


Alarmed, Badger's wail could be heard halfway down the outside corridor. "Don't I get no anaesthetic?"

Donnie clenched his right hand into a fist but Simon waved him back and injected Badger. "You should start to feel the affects almost immediately."

"Why you doin' this?" Badger mumbled.

"You survive this?" Said the Captain in his silkiest toffee coated voice. "Maybehap we'll do the same for Jerrod, then again..."

Badger didn't hear any more. All his senses were going numb and he couldn't remember what he was so frightened of. He struggled to fight against it but his eyes closed of their own volition and then he was out for the count.

* * * * *

"We should celebrate!"

Wash and Zoe stared at Kaylee's bright happy face as she clattered onto the bridge. Here they were barely out of the woods and the girl wanted to celebrate. Not that Wash had any problem with the whole partying thing but. Something niggled in his back brain about tempting fate or some such. Zoe was the more forthright of the two.

"Might be a little premature."

Kaylee frowned. "*Weishenme*? Way I see it we rescued the Cap'n an' escaped a fiery death."

"Kaylee does have a point, *bao bei*."

Zoe turned to her husband. "Just think we should wait, is all. That Alliance ship didn't send itself an' don't forget what happened to Titan Station."

"How could I forget the highlights?" Seeing his wife's unimpressed expression Wash hurried to make amends. "Not that I don't agree with you. I'm all for not temptin' fate."

Kaylee looked from one to the other, disappointed that they were not sharing her enthusiasm for the whole not dying thing. "Everythin' worked out shiny though, didn't it?"

Zoe got up from the co-pilot's chair. "It isn't over yet, Kaylee."

The mechanic's eyes widened fearfully. "It ain't?"

"*Bu qu*. We still have to drop off Jerrod an' his people at Lilac then there's what to do with the men rescued from the freighter."

"Don't forget the children." Added Wash. "I know they're on Monty's ship but still..."

Zoe nodded. "We don't know if anyone is still after them."

All of sudden all the happiness seemed to seep out of Kaylee. Seeing her deflate, Zoe tried to lighten the mood a little. "Don't mean we can't celebrate after."

"When it's safe." Added Wash.

Kaylee nodded and started to back out of the door. "When it's safe."

Once Serenity's mechanic was gone Wash drew his wife onto his lap. "Were we a little harsh, lamby toes?"

"No point paintin' things brighter than they are, *zhangfu*."

"But we survived."

They kissed, a gentle fushion of more than a kiss. The melding of two hearts into one. As they parted Zoe pinned her husband with a look. "Doesn't mean those that are after us have finished lookin', *bao bei*."

"You mean...?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but we need to be sure before we let down our guard, *dong ma*?"

Wash nodded. "*Wo dong*."

* * * * *

Monty felt more than a mite frustrated. "Why don't you wanna go home?"

Suzie tilted her head as she looked up at him. "It isn't over until it's over."

"Yeah, but your part is. You're safe now, *dong ma*?"

"Not all." Said Davie softly.

Confused, Monty didn't have a clue what they were talking about or why none of the children wanted to return to their homes. A sudden thought struck him. "Is this 'cause you don't wanna be parted from each other?" That was something he could at least understand.

"*Bu qu*. We're the lucky ones." Said Lucy, her eyes big and round and touched with an odd kind of sorrow that no child should be tainted with.

Monty hunkered down so he could look her in the eye. "You sayin' there are others?"

The children nodded.

"Like you?"

More nods. Monty's expression darkened. "Do you know where they are?"

An incredible sadness came over the children. Suzie spoke for them all. "We need to bring them home."

The way they were acting chilled him. Gorramit, what did he know about kids? This was not his area of expertise. He needed to speak to Mal. Maybehaps organise a rescue. Lucy shook her head.

"Too late. We have to bring them home."

He did not understand but they could not, or would not, explain it better.

* * * * *

"Is impossible! Always the incompetence!"

She watched as her husband spat out the words. His pacing bleeding off some of the frustration he could not contain. In silence she kept one eye on him and the other on her cup of fragrant tea. The delicate china touching her frosted lips just long enough for her to sip the scalding liquid. As she put her cup back on its' saucer he turned and threw his hands up in the air in a dramatic gesture before looking at her, calm once more but with a thin veneer of control like surface tension on a pond. His meeting had not gone well so he had come out here to the breakfast room to vent his frustration.

"I ask so little yet still they fail me. Is disappointing."

"I warned you that Eric was too young. Inexperienced, *zhangfu*."

His look hardened. "Is time he learnt."

She wanted to remind him that her nephew was just a boy only he wasn't, not really. Just young in the ways of devious and malicious crime lords. Her husband sighed and tilted his head back, the light glinting off his glasses and hiding his eyes. "A simple job." He slowly spread his hands. "And now I have something different. More complicated, yes, but very exciting." He started pacing again, his mind scrolling through possibilities and rejecting them just as quickly. He spun back and looked at her.

"Your nephew must pay for his the mistakes."

Then her husband turned away and walked briskly out of the room. The unspoken threat seemed to suck air out of the room in his wake. She remained seated and slowly, methodically, took sips from the cooling cup. Her mind considering options her husband had no knowledge of.

* * * * *

It was a relief to finally have Badger silent. Simon was careful, scanning the chest cavity and abdomen until he located the foreign object. Malcolm Reynolds had insisted on being present. Wanted to see what all the gorram fuss was about and just as importantly whether or not Badger had been lying.

The incision was neat, River handing her brother the surgical instruments before he could ask for them. The siblings worked seamlessly together. Kind of creepifying but had a kind of poetry to it. Simon leaned closer, his scanner sweeping very slowly over the area until the reading shot up. Peering intently he explored more deeply until he caught the shiny glint and realised he had found the culprit. His sharp intake of breath drew the Captain near.

"*Shenme shi*?"

"*Yiwusuoyou*. Badger was right, Captain."

Mal blinked. "He was?"

"*Qu*. It really is a bug but like nothing I've seen before."

As Simon spoke he carefully cut away a tiny piece of the stomach lining to which the finely crafted articulated bug had been clinging and carefully put it in a shiny kidney shaped tray. Two heads leaned over the tray as Simon brought it under the overhead light for a better look. It was a bright golden colour, definitely some kind of metal device, but fashioned to look almost like...

"Huh, well ain't that creepifyin'. It IS a bug."

Simon was carefully scanning it while the Captain was speaking, now he looked up at Mal, his expression as serious as he had ever seen it. "Captain, the device is active."

"*Shenme*? How is that possible? Didn't think nothin' could live inside that man."

"Badger did say it was remotely activated."

"Your meanin' bein'?"

"I think we need to get rid of it, *mashang*."

Simon held the tray out to the Captain who really didn't want to take it. Simon sighed softly.

"I have to sew him back up which means you need to dispose of this."

"Why do I always get the best gorram jobs?"

Simon couldn't stop a small smile. "You are the Captain."

"*Dang ran*." Grumbled Mal taking the tray. "An' now I'm the waste disposal man."

As the Captain turned to go River popped up in front of him with a metal instrument box. "Be safer if you put it in here."

Mal gave River Tam a genuine smile. "*Xie xie ni*, little one."

As he took the box and stepped up to the doorway there was a sudden, blinding flash of light and the Captain was flung through the air as the device exploded before he had a chance to get it inside the gorram box. Around him the air was electric and throbbing with the concussive result of the blast. Everything that could shatter did so, glass and twisted bits of debris showering down on the stunned occupants as if heralding the end of the rutting 'verse.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bushi* = not so *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wode ma* = mother of God *zhangfu* = husband *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand? *duibuqi* = sorry *wo dong* = I understand *jianyu* = prison *wei* = hey! *shuohuang* = a lie *qu* = yes (lit. go) *weishenme* = why *bao bei* = precious/treasure *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *shenme shi* = whats the matter? *yiwusouyou* = nothing *shenme* = what *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *dang ran* = of course *xie xie ni* = thank you


Saturday, April 19, 2014 2:28 AM


Ah poor Mal, getting blown up yet again.

Saturday, April 19, 2014 10:14 AM


I'm thinking our good Captain may be a trouble magnet, Nutluck! Thanks for the shiny comment, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, April 19, 2014 10:15 AM


I'm thinking our good Captain may be a trouble magnet, Nutluck! Thanks for the shiny comment, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, April 19, 2014 1:59 PM


I KNOW the title of the next chapter, AliD..."Two Steps Back" right, am I right?? holy shit this story is really intriguing, thank you [more please ;D]

Saturday, April 19, 2014 6:41 PM


You did make me laugh, Malsdoxy. At this rate you will be able to write the chapters for me as well! So happy you are enjoying the story and thanks for the 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.