THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 71. "The Mouth Of Madness"
Sunday, December 7, 2014

Silence. Suddenly the absence of his tormentors was kind of frightening, balancing out the relief with a sense of a doom temporarily suspended.


TITLE: "THE MOUTH OF MADNESS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 71. Sequel to "MILK RUN" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The Captain has a disconcerting talk with Rosalie. Jayne and the Captain find the ammo store. Meanwhile a transport ship makes an unwelcome discovery."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The Captain listened, not a single word of sarcasm or disbelief passing his lips. Eyes glued to the girl as she outlined what needed to be done. Zoe didn't like it. The mission was too gorram important to be trusting a child and one that had appeared out of nowhere at that. They knew nothing about her except that she was a Reader and that information had set all kinds of alarm bells off inside her brain pan and yet here they were listening to every word she said. Had to admit the girl knew things. Things most adults in the highest echelons of every corporation she had ever heard of could not know and that included all of the Alliance funded ones. It was beyond creepifying.

Serenity's first mate watched her Captain and closest friend taking it all in, his lips closed tight as if glued shut to stop any objections tumbling out. What was he thinking? Was he even thinking at all? When the Captain finally spoke it startled her out of her reverie but Zoe recovered quickly.

"You wanna turn your escape pod into a bomb?"

Rosalie did not nod or crack a smile. "Not just a bomb, Cap'n."

"Then what?"

"It has to be guided, *dong ma*? Taken right into the heart of the manufacturin' base, right into the very furnace where those *tamade hundan* are creatin' this evil."

"You got some remote control technology in that pod I don't know about?"

It was *haoxiao*, really. Zoe kept her face expressionless but inwardly mused at the very thought of Mal and technology in the same rutting sentence. He was a good man, a smart one even, but more given to thinking on his feet than understanding the ins and outs of technical things. Even on his ship he would leave such complications to Wash and even River, expecting them to dumb down the complicated things into something he could grasp more easily. Didn't mean he was *chun* just unschooled in such things.

Rosalie shook her head. "*Bu qu*, it just needs an added component."

The Captain frowned. "What kind'a component?"

"A livin' one."

Alarm flashed on his face and Zoe got a horrible presentiment of what the girl might be meaning. Malcolm Reynolds leaned in close to the girl, his voice tightening. "Got exactly no patience with bein' strung along, *dong ma*? Need you to spell out what you mean, *mashang*."

The girl's voice dropped to scarcely more than a whisper but the Captain and Zoe heard her as clearly as if she had shouted. "Me."

The Captain stared, non-plussed. "You? What the good gorram does that even mean?"

"It means I have to be aboard the pod an' guide it to its' target, Cap'n."

"Not no way you bein' part of that bomb! We'll find another way."

Rosalie began to look distressed. "*Ni bu dong*, there is no other way."

"Any minute now me an' Jayne are gonna collect some heavy ordnance, enough to blow the whole gorram planet to pieces. Got no intention of you bein' one of them pieces, *dong ma*?"

The girl reached out a hand and touched the Captain's arm, her hand resting light as a feather but carrying the weight of generations as yet unborn. "Don't mean to upset you but I have to do this."

His voice grew a crack in it. "*Weishenme*? Just answer me that."

"My brother used to tell stories about the War."

Malcolm Reynolds blinked. What was this?

"He spoke of you, often. They all did. Even when he was captured an' taken away by the purplebellies he said the proudest moment of his gorram life was servin' with you."

The Captain and Zoe exchanged a look. "Your name's Rosalie?"

"*Qu*, Rosalie McFarlane. My brother was a Browncoat..."

"Your brother was Ryan McFarlane?" At the girl's nod the Captain paled a little. He had known Ryan McFarlane well, had a goodly respect for him as well as a strong liking. "*Wode ma*, heard tell he got captured after Serenity Valley. Lost a lot of good men, men as survived the War but lost the gorram Peace. What the *diyu* happened?"

"The Alliance shipped him off to a *jianyu*, highest security from what I could find out. Then much later I heard about some experiment they were doing, real hush hush. Tried to find him but then discovered they sent a man they called the Hunter lookin' for children, folk like me."

Mal felt sick. "You mean Readers?"


The Captain looked too stunned to speak for a moment but not so Zoe, after the initial surprise at Rosalie's revelation her mind was a-whir with questions. Not everything adding up in her mind. "Your story bein' true don't explain what you were doin' in that escape pod, the ship it came from or how you got there."

"I promised not to tell."

The Captain frowned. "That story you told even true?"

Rosalie flushed. "*Qu*."

"What promise you talkin' about an' who did you make it to?" Said Zoe.

Push had now come to shove and Rosalie could see that holding back the information would prevent her being able to complete her mission. How could she explain to them that if the ordnance the Captain and Jayne were going to fetch was the means of destroying the base, she was not just the delivery system but the fuse needed to set it off?

"Clocks tickin'." The Captain said softly.

The hairs stirred on the back of Rosalie's neck. Fine light hairs that would never now grow thick and strong. She had made peace with her destiny and now she needed to get Malcolm Reynolds to do the same.

* * * * *

The ship was oddly quiet. Not silent, more like subdued. Even the turning of the engine was kind of muted as if the ship itself were holding its' breath. Shepherd Book had watched Jayne and the Captain take the spare shuttle down to the surface of Amber. He knew only too well what was down there but it was not the Alliance who had put it there. He had let Jayne think as much because it was the easiest answer, the one that roused less suspicions. Had it been an Alliance storehouse it would have been guarded, kept secure, even after all this time. No, this store belonged to a much nastier crowd, one he knew with an intimacy that still gave him the odd nightmare. Fortunately the codes still worked and he had been able to disable the remote alarms and leave the owners blind. Once Jayne and the Captain were safely back on Serenity he would reactivate them and no one would be any the wiser.

"Playing with fire."

Book jumped. The girl was like a bad penny, always popping up when he least expected her. "I have no idea what you're talkin' about."

"*Shouhuangzhe*, but then your Master was the Father of Lies."

He felt a chill go through him. "River, there are many things you do not understand."

"I won't let you hurt them."

He was genuinely surprised. "Child, I have no intention of hurtin' anyone."

"You can harm by not doing as well as doing. Like the lookout that pretends not to see, leaving it too late to call out a warning."

"Why would I do such a thing?"

"You know why."

He watched her go, more disturbed that he liked to admit.

* * * * *

Nothing so simple should be this much hassle. Monty felt like strangling the annoying little King Pin with his bare hands. The children had watched him storm away from Badger, his footsteps echoing on the deck plates as he passed. Lucy looked at the others, her mind projecting and joining them all in simple accord. Davie grinned. He liked the idea and it would be payback for all the whining and complaining the whole ship had to endure because of their most unwelcome passenger. The journey to Persephone could not end soon enough.

"*Wei*! Who's out there?"

No one spoke or moved out of the shadows. Badger had been pacing the tiny little room he had been given, not at all impressed by Monty's largesse. He felt like he was in a bloody cupboard and the smallest one at that.

'Ungrateful' Sang in his head.

Badger twisted round, trying to see in every direction at once. "Who's that? I know you're there."



"Show yourselves, now!"

The taunts continued, the children taking it in turns to pop words and images inside Badger's head until he thought his gorram brain pan would burst. He put his hands over his ears but the words had not been spoken and nothing he did could keep the litany of accusations out. After an hour or so everything went quiet. Badger sat on the floor, hands still over his ears, eyes widening as he listened. *Yiwusouyou*. Slowly he took his hands away and allowed himself to feel a sense of relief. A thought echoed in his head, softer than the rest, but somehow more insistent.

'Every time you complain we will return until little by little you will be swallowed into the mouth of madness'

Chilled, Badger didn't want to admit how much the thought rutting well frightened him. "Who are you?" He whispered. Silence. Suddenly the absence of his tormentors was kind of frightening, balancing out the relief with a sense of a doom temporarily suspended. He could not wait to get to Persephone and as far away from this haunted ship as humanly possible.

* * * * *

The suits were big and bulky, not like the usual EVA suits. These were heavy duty. Donnie had explained before they left that whatever happened they must not spend longer than four hours on the planet surface.

"Huh, ain't that big." Jayne responded.

"Doesn't have to be," the Browncoat replied "when you get to the store it will probably be locked which means time taken to open it up, then you have to sort through whatever's in there an' take it back to the shuttle. It all takes time an' you don't wanna waste a minute of it, *dong ma*?"

The Captain nodded. "How'd you know so much about it?"

"The *jianyu* on Titan Moon, though I'm told they also had the ice to contend with. Often for fun the guards would shove the men into the prison yard without suits or filter masks just to see how long they could last without 'em. Not everybody made it back inside. Not that I was on Titan Moon my own self but that was where we were headed before you rescued us, to replace those that had died. One of the men managed to get news out but after a few months we never heard from him again so we guess he was caught. Don't wanna think on what they did to him, Sarge."

Mal didn't answer, he was thinking of Rosalie's brother Ryan. A man he had the pleasure of once calling a friend, a fellow Browncoat who had deserved better than to die on that pitiless Moon at the hands of the gorram Alliance bully boys. If their plan worked, not nobody else would ever suffer what those men had gone through.

Now he and Jayne were down on the surface of Amber and staring out at the kind of landscape that looked as if it had been sculpted by a hurricane in a blizzard. A more hostile environment was hard to imagine with fierce winds whipping at their suits and throwing tiny shards of rock and dust against their face plates. Even Jayne had to lean into the gorram wind but the good news was that the planetoid was so small they could actually see the structure as soon as they left the shuttle. It had not been camouflaged, just built into the side of a lumpy rock face. The two men exchanged a look then went to examine the door. Thick steel. It looked to have a combination style lock which was odd until Mal realised with no power on the planet any kind of electronic system would have been worse than useless. He grinned at Jayne.

"It's low tech."

Jayne took a look, could see no sign of an alarm. Which either meant it didn't have one or something sneaky and possibly deadly was waiting for them on the inside. The Captain shrugged, clearly having the same thought.

"We don't got time to take a vote, Jayne. Just get it open, *mashang*."

Jayne used the blow torch he had brought with him and in seconds they were in. The big man paused then whistled through his teeth, a glow of delight on his face. "This place has everythin', Cap!"

"We just take what we need."

The mercenary gave him a disbelieving look. "They got every mercenary's wet dream in here, Mal..."

The Captain waved a gloved hand in front of his face plate as if to scrub that image from his mind. "Not somethin' I need to be thinkin' on, Jayne. Now pick out what we need an' on'y that, 'dong ma'? Ain't got time to fill your twisted fantasies."

Jayne muttered obscenities half under his breath but the Captain didn't care. He was watching the clock, anxious not to overstay by a nano-second. As quickly as they could they ferried what they needed back to the shuttle then the Captain told Jayne they needed to re-secure the door. The big man gave him a sour look. "Don't know why you're botherin' lockin' up again. Save us time when we come back."

"Jayne, just 'cause we didn't find a security system don't mean there ain't one, *dong ma*?"

"Yeah, but..."

"Don't just want it secure neither. Need you to rig it to blow if anyone but us comes back."

Jayne's eyes widened. "Are you *shenjingbing*? There ain't no one here but us!"

"If there is a security system it might be passive, we might'a tripped somethin' when we opened the gorram door. Means someone may come to check, *dong ma*? Just lockin' the door might slow 'em down but if we rig it to blow it'll stop anyone followin' us."

Jayne stared at the Captain for a moment, quickly calming down as he thought it through. "Ya really think somebody's gonna come an' check?"

"*Qu*. Somebody put the ammo store here, Jayne, an' like you said it's got everythin'. I'm thinkin' whoever that is won't be happy with us breakin' into it."

The big man nodded and started setting it up. The Captain didn't want it to be obvious from the outside. It would only blow if someone came after they left and forced the door. Once it was set they made their way quickly back to the shuttle and didn't speak again until Mal had lifted off. "What if nobody comes back to it?"

The Captain hailed Wash to let him know they were on their way back then looked at his mercenary. "Then Jayne, when we're sure it's safe, we come back an' you get your wet dream."

* * * * *

Wash watched his wife's tense expression, knew she thought she should have gone down with the Captain but he was personally grateful that she had stayed on the ship. The life they led had dangers enough without looking for more. Besides, Jayne was their explosives expert. As soon as shuttle 2 docked with Serenity the Captain's voice came sailing over the com. In the background they could hear Jayne complaining about something but not clearly enough to hear what.

"Wash, need you to patch in the co-ordinates from Rosalie."

"I still don't understand how she can know the co-ordinates when she says she's never been there."

Zoe put a hand on his shoulder. "We only have her word that she's never been there, *zhangfu*."

Wash entered the co-ordinates and looked at his wife. "You think she lied to us, *bao bei*?"

"I think there's no way of knowin'. Guess we'll find out when we get there."

"Think it's a trap?"

Serenity's first mate paused. "We'll find out soon enough."

* * * * *

Toby stared at the com unit, an expression on his face that Devon Peters found beyond disconcerting. "What did they say?"

"They want us to land."

Shock and surprise registered on Devon's face. "*Shenme*? You sure you didn't misunderstand? We ain't never set down before, just opened the cargo bay doors once we're in position and drop the load down the gorram chute."

His oppo looked uneasy. "Don't ask me, I checked twice."

"It don't make sense."

Toby checked his screen. "They're askin' for us to hand over control so they can guide us in."

Devon raised an eyebrow, that had never happened before. "Best do that."

"Dev, *wo dui zheige bu manyi*."

"*Fang xin*, what could go *cuode*? Just do it. The sooner we get rid of this load the sooner we can go home, get paid, *dui*?"

Not having a good reason to disobey, Toby handed over control and felt an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach as their ship descended to the planet surface. It had no name, no designation, and was in the deep Black far from trade routes and other planets. Gave him the gorram creeps truth be told. It was only as the great maw of the manufacturing base grew bigger and bigger that Toby's unease began to turn to alarm. As they dropped lower he could see the very fires of *diyu* lit up beneath them. They were not heading for the chute or the landing yard but the very centre of operations. The Devil's Cradle. It had seemed a stupid rutting name at the time but looking into that molten pit, seeing it consume every gorram thing in the vicinity he wanted nothing more than to wreast control back and get out of there as fast as they could. But the ship was no longer under his control and as he stared with horror, the truth finally dawned. They were not landing on this God-forsaken excuse for a planet. They were fodder for the fiery pit.

The last thing Toby was aware of before his existence went up in flames was the sound of Devon's screams or maybehaps they were his own. Around him the ship was melting and devouring itself, the superstructure folding inwards like gorram tin foil, alarms sounding only to be swallowed up along with the wiring and everything else. Toby Porter opened his mouth only for his face to crumple into a hot fetid dust that burst into flames as his eyeballs exploded.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *dong ma* = understand? *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *haoxiao* = funny *chun* = idiot* *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *weishenme* = why *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma* = mother of God *diyu* = hell *jianyu* = prison *duijili* = exactly *shouhuangzhe* = liar *wei* = hey! *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *shenjingbing* = crazy *zhangfu* = husband *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme* = what *wo dui zheige bu manyi* = I'm not happy about this *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *cuode* = wrong *dui* = correct


Monday, December 8, 2014 10:34 AM


You really have Jayne pegged, Chillman. We are coming up to the end of the story so things are starting to gather pace. Hang on to your gorram hat and thank you for the shiny feedback! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, December 8, 2014 2:11 PM


I like how River put Book over the heat some, he cant hide his past from his family forever.

Monday, December 8, 2014 3:42 PM


River knows lots of things, especially when someone is trying hard to keep something hidden. She has put Book on notice and he knows it. Thanks for the shiny comment, it is appreciated. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 7:43 PM


oh geezus, that was horrific...can't wait to see what Mal does to stop it, hoping it's not too costly in coin or lives, maybe Book will do something heroic? more please **mashang** Thank you AliD

Thursday, December 11, 2014 6:50 AM


Just goes to show that the bad guys really don't care who gets sacrificed to keep their dirty little secrets. As for what Mal will do, best you hang on tight, *dong ma*? Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.