THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 68. "A Better World"
Thursday, November 13, 2014

Immediately three Gate Keepers slammed down blocking her out. So. They knew enough to protect each other by combining forces. Interesting.


TITLE: "A BETTER WORLD" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 68. Sequel to "CHOICES" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The Captain decides it is time to find out what the girl from the escape pod is really doing in the middle of No and Where."

"A BETTER WORLD" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was frustrating. When the creepy Reader left Rosalie thought she would at last be on her own but no, it was more like a changing of the guard. Or should that be guards?

"We know you're awake."

Perhaps she could just ignore them? Rosalie bit back a sigh and kept her eyes closed. Even without her ability she could tell they were settling around her, their tiny little minds making tentative reaches towards her own. It was laughable. Did they think they were up to her level? No. Not even the three of them acting in concert were able to make any headway unlike the one who had come before. That not only irritated her, it was also a worry. A different voice spoke up this time, a boy.

"Why are you here?"

Rosalie could continue to play dumb but they were just children. Maybe this could work to her advantage? Carefully she made an exploratory probe of the boy's mind. Immediately three Gate Keepers slammed down blocking her out. So. They knew enough to protect each other by combining forces. Interesting. They might be young and naive but at least they were loyal.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was surprised and that intrigued him. He stared at the Captain for a moment. "What makes you think I would know something like that, Captain?"

Malcolm Reynolds watched him resume making himself a mug of tea. They were alone in the commons room but that was not like to last. Folk they had on board someone was sure to come wandering along for a bite to eat or to make themselves a drink or somesuch. Was sheer good fortune to catch the man alone not that prying information out of Book would be easy. Man was like a gorram clam that had swallowed a bottle of quick setting glue.

"Just seems the kind'a secret you'd keep."

"Secrets hmm?"

The Captain smiled but it had nothing to do with humour. Years of training kept the Shepherd calm but inwardly his mind was racing, making connections he had ignored before as mere coincidence. He had always known the Captain was sharper than he looked or acted but how sharp?

"I don't know what to tell you." He prevaricated.

"The truth would be a goodly place to start, *dong ma*?"

Book stirred some of their precious supply of sugar into his mug. Normally he drank it without sweetening the brew but tonight he felt the need for that little extra lift. "I know nothing about any stealth ships."

"Yet you do know a lot about the Alliance. Have some kind'a connection with them I'm thinkin'."

"Now you're reaching, Captain."

"Didn't invent that ident card or how them purplebellies suddenly changed their tune in givin' you medical treatment when you got shot that time. An' not no grubby make-do from a field kit in the middle of No an' Where. Never did explain the why of it as I recall."

'And I never will' thought Book. He took a slow sip of his hot tea, spinning it out to give himself time to think. "I take it the girl isn't speaking?"

"She's sedated."

That surprised Book. "How do you expect to discover what she's doing out here if she's not even conscious?"

"You still haven't answered my question. Do the Alliance have cloaked ships?"

The Shepherd sifted through his options but the Captain spoke again before he could frame a reply.

"Or maybehaps Blue Sun?"

Book suddenly went cold though he kept his poker face and managed to appear outwardly calm. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

The Captain took down a mug and began to pour himself some tea. "You know an awful lot about all manner of things. Things not found in your bible. Makes me wonder what you did before you became a Preacher. Is Book even your real name?"

Malcolm Reynolds' voice had been getting softer, quieter, but if anything that had stirred the hairs on the back of Book's neck more than had he shouted. Made the whole conversation seem all manner of intimate in a deadly kind of way. Book knew that for all his rough ways the Captain was a very subtle man and right now he hated being in the spotlight of his regard no matter how casual it seemed. "You're asking the wrong person, Captain, though I will gladly be present when you come to question the girl."

"You expectin' some kind'a confession?"

"*Bu qu*. All we know is that we found an escape pod drifting in the Black. Not everything unexpected is a threat, Captain."

The Captain went over to the sink and tipped away the rest of his tea. He rinsed the mug and left it to drain then gave the Shepherd a small nod as he began to walk away. "An' yet sometimes it is."

Book stared at the empty doorway after the Captain had gone, his mind racing as his heartbeat slowed back to normal. He was curious about the girl himself, even had suspicions of his own about what she was doing in the pod and how she had got there but even if he could confirm those suspicions he was not sure that he would tell the Captain. He was a collector of secrets not a disseminator of information, not unless in doing so he could unlock even deeper or darker truths.

* * * * *

He wailed, pounded on the gorram sealed and pressurised hatch, but no one came. Of course they could all be lined up outside and laughing their bloody heads off for all he knew but Badger was trying to stay calm and losing that battle. He kept remembering Jerrod and how easy it had been to press that button sending the man out into the void of Space. That such a fate most likely awaited him was more than a little terrifying. He found it hard to concentrate on anything else.

* * * * *

Everything was proceeding well. At the rate they were going the initial steps to producing the Dust would be fully implemented soon though they still needed more source material. Fortunately it was a common material, the silicates and other aggregates present in the grainy sand was perfect fodder. The problem was Dust consumed not just the source material but everything else around and in it, breaking everything down again and again until it was all rendered into something so fine that no filter in the 'verse would be able to keep it out. The masks were good for the initial stages but once the Dust got to the refined level nothing could stop it. And the only ship with the special molecular shielding in its' superstructure to contain it had been destroyed. The how of it was still something of a mystery.

The Chancellor pursed his lips as he listened to the report. Nothing sent by wave, nothing written down or recorded. Nothing for an enemy or spy to pass on or to implicate the government in this latest and most promising Black Ops Mission. Money was no object and security was tight. So paranoid it made his skin crawl with a tension he could not show. Outwardly calm he listened while the Operative outlined what had been achieved so far, the man's tone a level emotionless modulation that could have been mechanical had it come from anything other than a human voice box. The Chancellor did not want to speculate on how much of the man was still human. All that mattered was that he obeyed without question. After all, they were building a Better World. Not that he would live to see it but the power and riches he would amass supporting the venture would keep him in security and luxury for the rest of his life.

A cold smile flirted briefly with lips that rarely smiled. No humour or warmth reaching his eyes. The Operative neither moved nor spoke again, he waited only on the Chancellor's pleasure.

"What about manpower? Do we have enough?"

"For now but as production increases we will need more."

"That is what the *jianyu* are for. After all, the enemies of the Alliance cannot be allowed to prosper." He paused. "How long until the next stage?"

"Within the week, *shifu*."

The Chancellor frowned. "Why the delay?"

"The transports have a great distance to travel and we cannot use recognised trade routes."

Ah, of course. The secrecy. Even he did not know the name or designation of the planet chosen as their new manufacturing base but that produced delays of its' own as well as necessitating the disposal of any and all witnesses once their contracted shifts came to an end. It was brutal and very wasteful on manpower but deemed necessary. The Chancellor suspected it was step too far but the stakes were too high to even think of voicing such a concern. Men had vanished within the hierarchy for less.

* * * * *

Wash entered in the co-ordinates for Lilac but seemed somewhat hesitant. The Captain called him on it.

"*Shenme shi*, Wash?"

"Are we sure we wanna drop off Jerrod's crew? We still don't know what the girl means or if the ship that left her is comin' back."

There was only Wash, Mal and Zoe up on the bridge and the Captain was glad of that. He did not fancy having to explain and convince everyone who voiced an opinion. He was the gorram Captain and this was his boat. Where he led his crew had to follow. "We'll still have Donnie an' the Browncoats in case of trouble."

"So we're expectin' trouble, *dui*?"

"Just bein' careful, Wash."

"Monty doesn't mind takin' the children back to their homes, sir?"

"He was none too happy about it Zoe but we can count on him though they won't set out until after Jerrod's men are gone an' we've had a chance to question the girl."

Zoe's eyebrows rose. "You intendin' to interrogate her?"

"*Shenme*? What d'you think I am, Zoe? Just have some questions need answerin' is all."

"Like what happened to the ship that dropped her off." Said Wash helpfully.

"*Duijili*. Need to know if she's a victim or a gorram threat."

The three stared at each other, then Wash slowly voiced what was on his mind. "An' if she is a threat?"

"Well now, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"She's just a child, Mal." Said Wash gently.

The Captain's look was grim. "That she is but who's pullin' her strings? We gotta stay sharp, Wash. Keep us all safe, *dong ma*?"

* * * * *

Kaylee stared, she couldn't help it. The girl looked so innocent and well, young. Couldn't imagine anything bad yet the Captain and everyone else were acting all wary, practically tip toe-ing around the girl even though Simon had sedated her. Simon checked the girl's vitals though truth to tell he did not need to, he knew what they would be by heart but it gave him something to do while he watched Kaylee, interested by her reaction. Kaylee broke the silence first.

"What d'ya suppose happened to her, Simon?"

"Hopefully she'll be able to tell us when she wakes up."

Kaylee looked up. "She *will* wake up, *dui*?"

"*Qu*, in fact she should be awake already. I didn't give her that much sedative."


Kaylee and Simon turned to look at River, neither having heard her enter the infirmary. Kaylee frowned.

"What d'ya mean? Why would she be hidin'?"

River stepped passed her friend, eyes fastened like limpets on the girl lying prone on the infirmary bed. "She listens, hears."

"Are you saying the girl is awake, *mei mei*?"

"Has been for some time, Simon." River leant right over the girl until her face was only inches from the girl's. "You can come out of hiding now." She said softly, then projected her thoughts into that silence waiting cavern. 'You gain nothing playing possum. I know who and what you are'.

Rosalie's eyes sprang open, more with annoyance at River than anything else. Simon and Kaylee took a step back in surprise then Simon moved close again. "Who are you and where are you from?"

The girl just stared at him. Kaylee gave Simon a hesitant look. "Shouldn't we wait for the Cap'n?"

"Her name is Rosalie Williams. She hasn't been home in a long time."

Rosalie glared at River. To her consternation, River smiled at the girl. 'You have no secrets from me'

Just then the Captain, Zoe and Jayne joined them. Jayne scowled at the girl. Couldn't understand what all the gorram fuss was about. Kaylee stepped back so the Captain could take her place. "*Ni hao ma*?"

The girl looked puzzled, why was he asking how she was? "Am I a prisoner?"

The voice was surprising. Light, almost musical but with something underlying the tone of it that put him on notice. This girl was not what she seemed. The Captain noticed a flicker of something in the girl's eyes. Maybehaps she was reading his mind right now. "That depends on whether you're friend or foe."

Rosalie tried to sit up but Simon put a hand on her shoulder, gently restraining her efforts. The Captain gave him a look. "Let her sit if she's up to it, doc."

Not happy but having no reason not to comply, Simon took his hand away and watched Rosalie sit up. The girl turned so she could swing her legs over the side of the bed and kept eye contact with the Captain. "I'm no threat, Cap'n."

The Captain crossed his arms. "I'll be the judge of that. First I need to know what in the nine hells you're doin' here an' what happened to the ship that brought you."

Rosalie was about to answer then paused a fraction, her eyes flicking to River and knowing the girl would tell them if she lied. She saw a thin smile slide across River Tam's face and tried not to react, to show how annoyed it made her. "I'm here to help."

Jayne snorted, gorramit if that wasn't the funniest thing he'd heard in forever. Zoe gave him a look but it had no effect. The Captain ignored him. "Your name's Rosalie?"


"Where you from Rosalie an' what're you doin' on my boat? An' I want the truth, *dong ma*?"

"My home is Regina but I haven't been home in a long time. An' I'm on you're ship because you brought me here."

Something stirred in Zoe's back brain. A memory or somesuch. ""Regina was a Rim World."

Rosalie nodded slowly, a subtle sadness leaking through her skin like ambient light. "Nothin' left on it now."

Kaylee looked horrified. "Then you're family..."


"Still don't explain why you're here, *nu haizi*." Said the Captain. The look she gave him was the closest thing to naked he had seen since Saffron. Well, wasn't that creepifying?

"Those that killed my world want to cause even greater destruction. You've seen some of it first hand, Cap'n."

The Captain and Zoe exchanged a look. Jayne's interest picked up. "She talkin' about the Dust, Cap?"

Mal glared at him. Jayne had no idea what he had done or said to make the man mad at him. Zoe gave a tiny shake of the head and Jayne didn't speak again though he wasn't happy. Gorramit if he knew why the man was so damn prickly. The mercenary would have stomped off to his bunk but wanted to find out what the girl was doing there and whether or not they would be throwing her in the airlock with Badger.

"You said you came to help." The Captain's tone was smooth, like warm toffee. "*Zenme*?"

Her answer when it came shocked everyone except River. For the first time since Rosalie had opened her eyes, River Tam was smiling at her with genuine warmth. Inwardly the girl could not help but shudder.

* * * * *

Billy Parker was non-plussed. "You're takin' us home, just like that?"

Zoe nodded. "Cap'n's had the course set for Lilac."

He looked at the others, some more surprised than others. "Didn't think he'd let us go," said Howdy Marks "not after what we done."

"Cap'n don't take a life unless he has to."

That caused a few shuffling feet.

"Plus you're eatin' us outta the last of our supplies." Growled Jayne.

"Well that we can maybe help with." Billy paused. "We all got families on Lilac, a few of us have pieces of land we farm for food an' such. The least we can do is share what we have."

Zoe nodded. Jayne gave them a hard look. "Got any meat? An' I ain't talkin' that tasteless protein *goushi*. Real meat, from cattle. Somethin' a man can sink his gorram teeth into."

The men exchanged a look. "I uh, ain't got no cows but got some chickens." Offered Lional Rhodes, though he looked as if a chicken bone was caught in his throat making the offer. Maybe he hoped they wouldn't take him on it.

Shepherd Book had been listening and now stepped forward, his face breaking into a happy smile. "Now that would much appreciated, *xie xie ni*."

Jayne scowled at Book. "*Wei*! Don't forget what they done."

"Now Jayne, the past is past. These men have learned their lesson, it is only fair to let them make some recompense when they leave."

A few hours later Serenity came in to land on Lilac. The whole crew seemed to have turned out to see them off including a few of the Browncoats. Monty stayed on his ship but the children said they wanted to spend some time with River before it was time for them to go and Mal had agreed. Zoe gave Book a nod and he and Jayne followed Jerrod's men off as the ship landed to go replenish the ship's food supplies. Kaylee wanted to go along with them but the Captain didn't want anyone else getting off. Closing up the cargo bay door the Captain turned and looked around at his crew, Donnie and the Browncoats gravitating towards him while up on the catwalk Inara looked down and wondered what was going to happen next. In the infirmary Rosalie had more company than she wanted but River and the children had no intention of leaving her alone. For once, Rosalie was actually pleased that Serenity's doctor was there though knew Simon would not be able to help if the Readers decided to invade her mind. A drift of humour sifted through her cagey thoughts.

'Can't keep us out or in'

'Leave me alone'

River smiled and gave her an innocent look. "Captain wants to talk to you."

"Already spoke to him."

"Now it's time to tell him what you held back."

Rosalie's eyes widened, not quite fear but wary and more than a little disturbed. Simon was intrigued. What was River talking about and why did Rosalie suddenly look as if she wanted to crawl out of her skin?

* * * * *

The skies above Lilac were clear, a cool breeze heralding a change in the air. Humidity turning to a light frost adding a fierce sparkle to the stars shining out of the Black. Against the inky black drop something shimmered making the stars waver in their orbits. For a moment every bird and insect fell silent, just for a moment no more. The interruption was subtle and missed by most but not all. As Jayne and Book finished loading up the mule with their bounty of fresh vegetables and foodstuffs the Shepherd felt a shudder go through him. He didn't know what it was but from that moment on he was hyper alert, one hand careful not to stray too far from the sidearm he had started to occasionally wear. Glad that this was one of the occasions he was wearing it.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *jianyu* = prison *shifu* = sir *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *dui* = correct *shenme* = what *duiliji* = exactly *qu* = yes (lit. go) *mei mei* = little sister *ni hao ma* = how are you? *nu haizi* = girl* *zenme* = how *goushi* = crap/dog shit *xie xie ni* = thank you *wei* = hey!


Thursday, November 13, 2014 9:06 PM


It was great to hear the captain lean hard on Book for some answers about his past. Riveting chapter as always,Thanks

Friday, November 14, 2014 12:21 PM


Glad you enjoyed the little dig into Book's past, not that he was giving anything away. Thank you for the shiny feedback Buckshotpilot, it is always appreciated. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, November 14, 2014 8:20 PM


Mal, MAL!! He's so deadly when he speaks in that low, semi-threatening-but-I-maybe-I-won't-hurt-you voice, makes my hairs stand on end, too!! River is just a jewel...more please and xi xi, AliD, engrossing as ever

Saturday, November 15, 2014 6:20 AM


No one should ignore that quiet but deadly Captain-y voice, Malsdoxy. And I agree, River is a jewel and so much shinier than all the other jewels in the treasure box. Thanks for the shiny feedback, always makes my day! 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.