THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 62. "Two Steps Back"
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Carefully he made his way back to the spare room he had been given and eased himself down on the narrow bed. He still felt sore and a mite weak plus he had some serious thinking to do. And all before they reached Lilac.


TITLE: "TWO STEPS BACK" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 62. Sequel to "ONE STEP FORWARD" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "Even when everything appears to be going their way it really isn't."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"It was destroyed?"


Chancellor Owen Stark was not happy but it did prove one thing. The Dust really did create an 'extinction level event'. They just had not meant it to destroy their only manufacturing facility complete with what had been left of their base material. Starting again from scratch would be difficile but not impossible and given the resources at their disposal it was more a matter of time. First they would have to let those party to the project discuss and iron out how they would move forward. Assessing every aspect of the operation including what had gone wrong was now top priority.



Stark glanced around the table. "Suggestions?"

A small, weasel sharp man at the far end looked thoughtful. "We will need to find a new base for future operations. One that has not been 'compromised'."

The Chancellor knew he was referring to what had happened with the Cold Harbour. How had Malcolm Reynolds turned his capture into such a dramatic and impossible escape? He and the other captured Browncoats had been the intended cannon fodder for the project, fuel to feed the manufacture of their most effective weapon yet. Only the man had found a way to turn defeat into victory taking with it a top of the line Alliance ship in hot pursuit. Now all was lost, reduced by the voracious Dust into an inert compound which took all life and left nothing useful in its' wake. And yet, Reynolds had escaped.

"We must pursue him, leave him nowhere to hide."

Robert Dryton Munroe cleared his throat. His voice was rough and cracking, the result of the ravages of a throat cancer that all the expertise of the best surgeons and medical research technicians on Osiris had been unable to cure. "*Bu qu*. The more we pursue him the more he will slip through our fingers."

Every eye was now on him.

"Gentlemen." Munroe leaned forward, as if his creaking voice needed a little extra support. "Let him be for now. Let him think he has won this small victory. In the meantime we will slowly and quietly rebuild what was lost."

"But that will take YEARS, *shifu*!"

Munroe's smile was the barest crack in a face as hard as granite. "Next time our demonstration will not only wipe every Browncoat off the face of the 'verse, it will give Reynolds a role to play in their entire destruction."

Chancellor Stark looked hard at Munroe. "We should eliminate him first. That man has long been a thorn in our side."

Munroe shook his head slowly. "Have you not heard the phrase, 'revenge is a dish best served cold'? No, we will leave him be for now. After all, when the end comes we will need a witness."

* * * * *

Monty thought the children were *shenjingbing. Fafeng*. Touched in the head. Davie smiled at him.

"We won't be in danger."

"That's not how it looks to me. You only just got away with your gorram lives an' now you wanna go back in the lion's den. This can't end well, *dong ma*?"

Suzie needed to somehow get through to Monty. "*Ni bu dong*. We won't be in any danger because all the others are dead."

He stared, horrified and stunned. "You wanna rescue DEAD people?"

"They deserve to go home." Said Davie quietly. "The same as us."

Monty stared but could not gainsay them. Kids had a point but... they were just children. Lucy reached out and tugged Monty's sleeve. "We're not sayin' you have to come with us, just tellin' you how it's gotta be, *dong ma*? We heard them, dyin', in our minds. Every one callin' out, longin' for home. How can we leave them?"

"They'll be guarded *nu haizi*, you'll be caught..."

"*Bushi.*" Said Suzie, her voice firm. "No one will do anythin' but we have to move now. There's no more time."

Monty looked a mite confused. His men hung back, not sure what to make of the three children. "You said you wouldn't be in no danger so why the rush?"

Davie looked sad and let Lucy speak for them all. "The bodies are going to be burnt. Thrown in the incinerator with the rest of the trash."

Something in Monty's eyes hardened. "I gotta speak to Mal."

* * * * *

"Couldn't ya just..."

The sigh escaped aching lungs as if it the air in it was rusting on its'way out. "*Shenme*?"

"Ya know, duck."


Even injured the Captain knew exactly where his little albatross was. Girl kept popping up like a gorram Jack-in-the-box toy from Earth- that-was. "Not helpin', little one."

"You aren't a duck."

"No," growled Jayne in frustration "neither are you, just an annoyafyin', creepifyin'..."


The sudden crack of the Captain's voice, albeit lacking in its' usual commanding strength, was enough to derail the big man's train of thought. "Just sayin' is all."

Movement on the periphery of the Captain's scorched eyelids warned him that Simon Tam was back. He did not see what the doc had in his hands but could guess, him wanting to operate and all. "No drugs."

Simon didn't huff or complain. "You need plastic surgery."

Mal was vaguely aware of Jayne sniggering in the background. He probably thought he was being discreet but this was Jayne and discreet wasn't even in the man's vocabulary. "Just need somethin' for the pain, *dong ma*?"

There was a loud hiss and the touch of something cold on the side of his neck.

"What the good gorram was that?" The Captain asked suspiciously.

"You won't feel a thing." Simon answered, voice soft and oddly quiet-like. Why was Simon whispering? Then Mal didn't hear any more as darkness descended in a comforting blanket.

Jayne Cobb peered down at the singed face of his Captain. "You knock him out?"

"*Qu*. Contrary to popular belief I don't like my patients to feel anything when I operate."

"Huh, he ain't gonna be happy when he wakes up. All he wanted was *zhitong yao*." Jayne paused, suddenly unsure. "He IS gonna wake up, *dui*?"

"*Dang ran*. This is some limited reconstructive surgery Jayne not a heart by-pass."

"Huh! Cap don't have a heart."

"Yes, he does." Piped up River, her head popping up from under the operating table.

Just at that moment Simon became aware of someone hovering in the doorway. He did not have to look up to know who it was. "I will be operating soon, Inara. Did you want to stay?"

Jayne glanced at the Companion then left without saying anything. A glare in River's direction having no effect. Simon's sister was not going anywhere.

Inara knew Simon was the best, Top Three Per Cent, but it did not stop her worrying about his most frequent patient. Once closer she realised her worst fears had been just that. Her imagination conjuring all kinds of physical horrors on Malcolm Reynolds. After all, a bomb was a bomb and yet... "He doesn't look that bad."

"He isn't but the bug exploded in his face which is why I need to reconstruct his eyelids and remove these tiny metal shards that are embedded in his face." Simon paused and gave her a look. "I won't ask where you got the specialised equipment from Inara but *wode ganji* and when this is over I'm sure the Captain will be as well."

"Does Mal have any other injuries?"

Simon gave a fleeting smile as he set up the equipment. "Apart from his pride, *bu qu*."

"What about the head injury?"

"It was a mild concussion thankfully. I suppose we should be grateful our Captain has such a hard head."

Inara felt something inside her relax. "Can I do anything to help?"

"No, *xie xie ni*."

"Then I'll come back later."

Once Inara had gone River tilted her head and was lost for a moment in thought. "Different but the same."

"What was that, *mei mei*?"

River smiled. "Love each other but can't say the words."

Her brother's mouth dropped open in surprise.

She flashed her brother a quick smile. "I didn't peek."

* * * * *

Wash watched his beautiful but deadly wife pace the confines of the bridge while he rapidly worked out how long it would take to get to Lilac. "*Ni xianzai keyi fangsong le, bao bei*. Simon said most of the Cap'n's injuries are superficial."

"That's not what's worryin' me, *zhangfu*."

"Then what is it? *Shenme shi*?"

"We have to isolate Jerrod."

The pilot blinked. "He's in the airlock, *bao bei*. I'm not sure how much more we can isolate him without ventin' him into the atmo. An' did I mention the rest of his men are in there with him?"

"Badger's bomb nearly took the Cap'n's head off. If Simon hadn't removed it when he did Badger would be dead."

"If Jerrod's goes off it can't hurt us."

"That's not what I meant." Zoe gave him an intent look and Wash almost forgot to breathe. "Why hasn't his bomb gone off?"

"*Shenme*? How would I know? We don't know how long its' been inside him. Could it have been on a timin' mechanism?"

Serenity's first mate shook her head. "*Bu qu*, that wouldn't make sense." Zoe paused. "Both Badger an' Jerrod said the bomb was injected into them an' could be remotely activated which would seem to imply that nothin' would happen unless it was deliberately set off in this case by remote activation. If that's the case then why did Badger's activate once it had been safely removed from his stomach?"

"You think removin' it set it off somehow?"

"It's *keneng* but what if it's been transmittin' all this time?"

"*Bao bei*, why would anyone do that? It was in Badger's GUT, would you want to listen in to the foul things that man puts in HIS mouth?"

"You're missin' my point, Wash." Said Zoe drily. "Badger was cagey about it, frightened to say or do the wrong thing an' have it activated. What does that tell you?"

"That he's a paranoid *tamade hundan*?"

"I think whoever put it there has been monitorin' the device. Which means..."

Wash didn't like where this was going. "You think Jerrod's bein' monitored as well?"



"*Wo bu zhidao*. I'd talk to him but I don't think I would get the truth. However, I know someone who might have more luck."

* * * * *

The chair of the elite and secretive Oversight Committee took in the news without giving any reaction. Ivan Rostov was more interested in why he was being informed and in person of all things. After all, housekeeping was not his area of concern or expertise but this visitor was another matter.

"Your commitment to the Alliance is beyond reproach." Rostov said softly. The words were clearly enunciated and in just the right tone to imply commendation yet an air of the opposite hung like an aftertaste of something unpleasant on the tongue. His visitor could choose to be offended by something too vague to quantify or take the words at their face value. The visitor did neither. He was a messenger only albeit one who could not be ignored.

""The project must be shelved."

Rostov raised an eyebrow. "The facility was totally destroyed." He said mildly as if this made the visitor's comment redundant. "Or do you have supplies of which we are unaware?"

The question was ignored. "Too much attention has been raised."

No mention was made of the number who had died furthering the experiment. "And yet, it works."

His visitor clasped his hands together, eyes unblinking. "While the outcome was never in doubt the delivery was."

That was news to Ivan Rostov and more interesting than the fact that Minster Heyerdahl and his Ministerial Aide were dead. He had a feeling that his visitor had some connection to that untimely but fortuitous demise. No tears would be shed for the Minister. His loyalty had already raised a discreet red flag.

The visitor rose in a single fluid movement signalling that the meeting was at an end. As the visitor turned to leave Rostov could not help but think how easy it would be to quietly build up their resources to recreate the programme again. This time without the interference of their partners in the Blue Sun Corporation. As if he had heard Rostov's thoughts the visitor put his right hand in his pocket and turned to face him. Rostov waited, a small puzzled crease forming between his eyes when the slim device was taken out of the visitor's pocket. It looked like a short metallic stick.

"What is that?"

Even though the visitor's expression remained blank, Rostov had the odd feeling that he was smiling at him. "Insurance."

Rostov opened his mouth but no words came out. The little silver rod extended at either end and suddenly he found it difficult to think, his mind a muddle of diminishing brain function. Red tears leaked from his eyes, thin rivulets of blood now streaming from his ears and nose as something vital inside broke down. Like a puppet with its' strings cut, Ivan Rostov collapsed, the last of his life force expended before he hit the ground. Casually his visitor put the rod away and without another glance at the body at his feet turned and left the office. His blue gloved hands leaving not so much as a fingerprint to show that he had even been there.

* * * * *

It was not often that anything surprised Shepherd Book. For a moment he forgot all about the vegetables he was chopping to add to a tasty stew he was concocting for dinner. The careful mix of herbs intended to mask the taste of protein while various flavourings would give the illusion that at some stage the contents may have actually flirted with real meat.

"You want me to interrogate Jerrod?"

Zoe's expression was grim and unyielding. "He knows more than he's sayin'."

"*Dang ran*," Book nodded slowly "but that could be said for all of us."

Her eyes narrowed. "You sayin' you got somethin' you wanna confess, Shepherd?"

"Now you sound like the Captain."

"That's not an answer."

"What am I supposed to be lookin' for?"

"The real reason he an' his men came with us after we rescued them from Anaeron."

"Why do you think he came with us?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* an' that's what I aim to find out. An' Shepherd, we need to do it now, before we reach Lilac."

* * * * *

Although he was tired Simon was pleased with the results. The equipment from Inara created a really neat seal though it would take a few days for the new skin to take on the properties of the old. Until then the eyelids would be fragile and he might need to run the dermal mender over the joins again before being fully satisfied. As he turned to put the equipment away Kaylee stepped into the infirmary, careful not to come too close what with being smudged with engine oil and not having cleaned up first. Simon walked over to the door and they both stepped outside.

"How'd it go?"

"*Hen hao*, barring accidents you won't be able to tell the difference by the end of the week."

"That quick, huh?"

He caught the flirtatious look in her eye and took a careful step back. "Kaylee, you need to clean up, *dong ma*? We need to keep the infirmary sterile."

"Ya ain't in the infirmary now, Simon, an' I been missin' ya somethin' awful."

How could Kaylee come to him covered in dirt and grease and think of sex? Oh. Of course. This was Kaylee. She always had sex on her mind, not that he normally minded but there was a time and a place. "Kaylee, we aren't going to be doing anything until you get properly clean and I've finished up here, *ni dongle*?"

Her look brightened up turning her whole face a-glow with anticipation. "Then we can have sex?"

Simon laughed, his heart unaccountably lighter. "Yes, *xin gan*, then we can have sex."

* * * * *

Jayne didn't understand why Zoe wanted Jerrod separated from his men. It wasn't like they had two airlocks and taking the others out so they could walk around the ship sounded like the worst of bad ideas. Shepherd Book correctly read his friend's concern.

"*Fang xin*, Jayne. Donnie, Rudi and some of the other Browncoats have offered to keep an eye on them. Besides, Jerrod an' his men'll be gettin' off when we reach Lilac."

"Any chance we can drop off Badger at the same time?"

Book smiled. "He been complainin' again?"

"Never stopped." The mercenary growled. "Don't know why the Cap'n had that bomb taken outta him. I'd'a let it do it's job, save us a lotta trouble."

"Jayne, that would be murder."

The mercenary shook his head, an ugly grin blossoming on his face. "Nah, just Badger gettin' what he deserves."

"That isn't for us to judge."

"Yeah, well you got your God, I got mine."

Hidden from view in a doorway, Badger waited until Book and Jayne had gone. There was a thoughtful look on his face as he wondered why in the nine hells Zoe wanted to speak to Jerrod. What the bloody *diyu* was going on? Since coming on board Serenity with some of those rutting Browncoats Badger had kept a low profile and done everything he could to keep out of their way. He knew he was not popular among the Browncoats especially after they discovered he had been robbing their dead. Wasn't like they could take it with them, was it? He didn't see what all the fuss was about but that didn't stop everyone giving him the stink eye.

Carefully he made his way back to the spare room he had been given and eased himself down on the narrow bed. He still felt sore and a mite weak plus he had some serious thinking to do. And all before they reached Lilac.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wuyi* = none *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shifu* = sir *shenjingbing* = crazy *fafeng* = mad *dong ma* = understand? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *nu haizi* = girl *bushi* = not so *shenme* = what *qu* = yes (lit. go) *zhitong yao* = painkillers *dui* = correct? *dang ran* = of course *wode ganji* = I'm grateful *xie xie ni* = thank you *mei mei* = little sister *ni xianzai keyi fangsong le* = you can relax now *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *keneng* = possible *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *weishenme* = why *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *hen hao* = very good *ni dongle* = do you understand *xin gan* = sweetheart *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *diyu* = hell


Wednesday, April 30, 2014 1:58 PM



Wednesday, April 30, 2014 3:08 PM


So happy you are enjoying the story, Buckshotpilot, and thank you for the shiny comment! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, May 3, 2014 8:15 PM


Hey, Nice title! LOL Ok Badger has used up way more than his nine lives and yet he lives...not for long, I'm hoping...what the hell is he up to? Thank you, AliD... [more ,please :D]

Sunday, May 4, 2014 4:17 AM


Thought that would make you laugh, Malsdoxy. And yes, Badger has outlived his nine lives, the sneaky little gutter-rat, but then joining up the gorram dots can be such fun. Thanks for the shiny feedback. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, June 5, 2014 7:20 PM


Hello Z8RH, glad you are enjoying the story. More to come soon, been a bit delayed by Real Life. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 7:06 PM


Ah Badger is about to do something stupid I think.


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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.