THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 72. "The 'Verse In A Grain of Sand"
Friday, December 12, 2014

A thin humourless smile cracked tight lips in the pale face, eyes dark and pitiless read the visual code. A single button pressed, the blinking light vanished. The pilot readied his vessel for pursuit mode.


TITLE: "THE 'VERSE IN A GRAIN OF SAND" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 72. Sequel to "THE MOUTH OF MADNESS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The Captain's plan is set in motion. Jayne is curious about the Browncoats and Malcolm Reynolds is upset that he cannot change Rosalie's mind."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was dark, blacker than night. Technology so advanced that even those operating it only had a basic understanding of exactly what the ship could do. Stealth was a good name for it and even more appropriate than cloaked. The pilot had not spoken in more than a day, all commands and responses were digitally compressed and sent in highly encrypted micro bursts timed to be sent whenever Serenity sent a wave. Didn't matter where it was going. Masking even the faintest echo of a signature was paramount.

A light blinked on the console in front of the operator. He entered a code and the blinking light slowed then alternated. Like morse code from the Earth-that-was but not. This was more complex, highly sophisticated and known to just a few. A thin humourless smile cracked tight lips in the pale face, eyes dark and pitiless read the visual code. A single button pressed, the blinking light vanished. The pilot readied his vessel for pursuit mode.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb was curious. He had known right from the get go that the Browncoats Mal had taken off that death ship were a tight bunch but it was the calm, fierce loyalty they showed the Captain that was all manner of teasing to his understanding in the Here and Now. War was over, had been for years, yet these men held to their old defunct ranks. Still called the Captain 'Sarge' and with a level of respect he hadn't heard given to many men in his lifetime. Was it just the common bond of War or something deeper? Something he was maybe missing?

The mercenary finished sharpening his favourite knife and slid it back into the sheath he wore, part of his attention never straying from the men scattered around the big oak table in the commons area and those standing quiet but with sharpened senses. It should have creeped him out but it didn't. If they were loyal to Mal then he had nothing to fear from them and by the looks of it most of their injuries had healed. For all his prissy nature Simon Tam was a rutting good doc even if Jayne would never let those words pass his gorram lips. Man was tighter than a virgin's purse but Jayne respected his skill with a knife. Were he ever to relax like normal folk the shock would probably kill him. Jayne smirked which drew Donnie's eye.

"Somethin' *haoxiao*?"

Jayne did casual like nobody else. "Nah, just bored with all the waitin'."

"You prefer to fight?"

The mercenary's grin was feral. "Do fleas bite?"

Donnie shook his head slightly as if disappointed. "We fight when we have to, *dong ma*?"

"Not how I see it."

That surprised Donaldson, his reaction pleasing Jayne though he was careful not to show it. Donnie raised a brow. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"Ya ain't stood down since ya got here. It's like you're expectin' somethin'."

"We're headin' to a new secret manufacturin' base, Jayne. Makin' the kind of evil that shouldn't exist even in the Devil's own twisted mind. No tellin' what we're gonna face when we get there."

"Accordin' to Wash we're hours away."

"You really think no one's watchin' us?"

Jayne got a creepy feeling down the middle of his back and an itch he would only want to scratch with a hot poker so as to make sure not a single itty bitty fragment of the feeling he had now would be left behind. His voice lowered to a whisper. "Know who's doin' the watchin'?"

"Walls have ears, Jayne Cobb, even tin ones."

Jayne frowned at Donnie, all manner of annoyed at the cryptic non-answer and watched the man leave. One of the other Browncoats, Micky Stevens, followed him out. The other Browncoats stayed where they were but Jayne had the feeling he had missed something important and it was beginning to piss him off.

In the corridor outside Shepherd Book made himself scarce. Wouldn't do for any of the Browncoats to spot him eavesdropping on their conversations and now he knew a little more of the lie of the land. He would have to be *xiaoxin*. Even if all he did was breathe in and out he needed to know that air was clean, untainted. The poison that concerned him would have to take a different path.

* * * * *

"Inara this ain't a good time."

"I haven't been able to speak to you for hours, Mal."

Her hand touched the side of his face, a light fleeting visit that left him craving more but the Captain could not afford to lose himself in Inara Serra's wiles. Even when she meant it the timing was lousey. That she was his addiction was both his greatest joy and biggest fear. Woman could lift him so far above the gorram stars that he would be able to look down on God His own self, but she could also unmake him with equal ease. Later they could lay together, sort out the puzzle pieces where they fit together and permaybehaps if he was lucky - or should that be doomed? - there would be no more cross purposes, no more being spun around and such. He longed for the ease they accomplished when they made love but a small, infinitesimally tiny part of him could not help but wonder how much of what she showed him was real and how much the artifice of one of the most accomplished Companions the Guide had ever created.

Mal hated himself for doubting her but self preservation was a hard lesson to leave behind especially when it was his heart that was at stake. Oh yes, he would love her to his last dying breath but trust was a harder thing to pin down. A more honest emotion that was deep and visceral and immune to his cravings for her. Had to listen even when he didn't want to.

"I promise we'll talk all you want later *xin gan*."

He saw the disappointment in her eyes, quickly masked though it was.


"Go! It isn't a good time, *jide*?"

The words were sharp, cutting, the resulting sting making something in his eyes recoil then stiffen. Another line drawn. He gave a tight nod and was gone. Holding back the threat of tears Inara retired to her shuttle, her own private sanctuary. Why was it so easy to love this impossible man yet so hard to hang on to him?

* * * * *

Rosalie sat in the pod with her eyes closed. Easier to tune herself in without any annoying distractions. But then they did have a habit of turning up. "*Ni yao shenme*?"

"*Ni zhidao*"

Rosalie opened her eyes and stared at River Tam. "You can't stop me."

"Don't want to stop you."

For a moment neither spoke. "I have to do this." Rosalie said quietly.

"*Wo zhidao* though there is another way."

Rosalie stopped speaking out loud, her thoughts echoing inside River's head. 'You know why I can't do that. Everyone I love, care about, all dead *ni bu dong*? What is there left for me? I would be hunted, always'

'Like me'

'I didn't mean...'

'*Wo zhidao*. These are good people, Rosalie. They saved us'

'They can't save me'

'Do you even want them to?'

The last of River's questions echoed long after River was gone. It made something inside the girl ache, a feeling she rammed back down deep where it could not betray her. She would do this. Revenge would be hers and then, when it was all over, she would be reunited with her brother. What did she care if the 'Verse burned behind her? She would not be the one to light the blue touch paper. Her thoughts were interrupted yet again, this time by the Captain, Zoe and what looked like a small army of Browncoats. It should have amused her, instead it made her want to cry. As the Captain reached the pod he crouched down so that he would be at eye level with her, an automatic courtesy that made her eyes prick. She noticed the Browncoats part a little and the big mercenary push his way through to stand behind the Captain.

"We're comin' up on that location you gave us, Rosalie. Can't see any lookouts or planet defences. Know anythin' about that?"

The girl shook her head. "No one knows it's there, Cap'n."

"Except those makin' deliveries I'm guessin'."

"Not even them."

The Captain exchanged a look with Zoe, a horrible feeling in his gut. "You sayin' somethin' happened to those folk?"

Her nod made his gut twist further. "More fodder into the mouth of *diyu*."

Zoe frowned. "*Wo bu dong*, why would they destroy their own people? It don't make sense."

"Does if you don't want witnesses." Growled Jayne.

Rosalie stared at the big man. "Smarter than you look."

The Captain needed to get the conversation back on track, they didn't have much time. "Been speakin' to Wash an' he says it'll be a simple thing to rig your pod to detonate remotely. Not no reason for you to go up in a plume of smoke, *dong ma*?"

It was kind of hard for Rosalie to swallow. River had been right, these were good people but she wasn't. "Can't."

The Captain's voice was soft. "Can't or won't? What you runnin' from, Rosalie?"

She was not running away from anything, not any more, but running towards something. When this was over she would finally have the one thing that had always evaded her. Freedom. Surely a Browncoat could understand that? Rosalie saw right into the heart of him and knew it was something Malcolm Reynolds would never accept. In his eyes she was a child, needing love and protection. Didn't matter a good gorram that she had seen even worse things than he had, that her unique abilities left her with a target painted on her that could never be erased. Rosalie held out a hand to him and after a slight hesitation the Captain took it. "What you wantin', little one?" He whispered.

"You have to let me go, Cap'n."

It hurt. More than torture at the hands of the rutting Alliance. Zoe could feel it, knew what her friend was going through and marvelled at his ability to do the really hard things.

"Don't wanna."

"My choice."

"*Wo zhidao* an' it's respected. Don't have to like it but..."

"No more time." Rosalie interrupted. Just then Wash's voice came over the com telling the Captain they were in position. If the escape pod was going to be launched it had to be now. The Captain acknowledged his pilot.

"One thing before you go. You know what that Dust really is?"


"Gonna tell me?"

Rosalie shook her head and gave him a soft smile, it was the only gentle thing he had ever seen or noted about her then it was gone. "You have nightmares a-plenty, Cap'n."

He was about to protest but Rosalie closed and sealed the pod's hatch then activated a speaker asking for the area to be cleared so the pod could be launched. The Captain sighed, gave the order and reluctantly followed it his own self. Still felt all manner of *cuode* to let a child go willingly into such danger. A danger from which he knew it would be impossible for her to return. Un-noticed, River Tam slipped in behind them as the Captain, Zoe, Jayne and the Browncoats cleared the area. Malcolm Reynolds looked through the small round observation port as the loading bay doors opened beneath the pod and the small escape vessel dropped, carrying its' load of explosives and one very brave young lady. The sound as the doors closed and re-sealed afterwards had never sounded more like a death knell than at that exact moment.

"It was her choice, sir."

"Know that, Zoe. Despite how terrifyin' an' deadly that weapon makin' machine would be? I'm thinkin' the price was too gorram high."

* * * * *

The pilot aboard the cloaked vessel watched, tracked the pod as it fell and noted the subtle corrections made to ensure it remained on target. No room now for error. The pilot waited, watched the open nose cone of the fires of *diyu* seem to flare like eager fiery arms to receive it. Still he waited. The signal was brief, hardly a blip, but enough for the pilot to automatically press the key accessed beneath the clear hinged protective cover. Such a thing was too important to press by accident. Committees existed whose sole existence was the authorisation needed for such action. That order having been given all that was left was the execution.

* * * * *

Wash had never been so popular but it was a popularity he would not have wanted at any cost. Everyone was crowded on the bridge, the Captain staring with haunted eyes at the tiny speck of humanity locked in that gorram pod and heading for certain doom. Wash had raised the Firefly higher but still kept a good view of the facility below. They had to be sure the mission was successful especially given the human cost. There was a certain fascination with watching impending doom. Every one of them had their eyes glued to the facility beneath them, the pod not now visible as it disappeared inside the cone. It was like it was swallowed by some gorram volcano. They waited for the eruption and when it came the whole cone disappeared in fire, the dust igniting and being consumed on contact along with everything else. As they watched a kind of ripple effect spread out from the disgorged cone, the whole planet gradually succumbing to its own destruction. None of them had ever seen anything like it before, even Anaeron had not resulted in the whole planet's destruction just everything on it. This was different by order of magnitude. Wash swallowed, a realisation cutting through the numbness of what they were witnessing.

"We have to go, Cap'n."

"Just a little longer, Wash."

"*Bu qu*, you want Serenity to survive this Mal we've gotta go now!"

Reluctantly the Captain nodded. Wash flicked some switches, comforted by his wife's hand on his shoulder, her breath sweetening the air he breathed. Wash called for Kaylee to give him everything Serenity had. Her core lighting up as the Firefly put on a burst of speed and left the charred and disintegrating remnants of the most secret manufacturing base far behind them. It would be a long time before any of them forgot little Rosalie McFarlane if any of them ever did.

In his bunk, Shepherd Book gave a small sigh of satisfaction, tidied up behind him then left to join the others. River Tam felt the moment he joined them but did not look at him. While the others were locked in various states of sadness she was not. Only later, during the long night in the Black when the ship was quiet once more did she seek him out. Book glanced up from his bible but River knew he had not been reading it.

"I know what you did."

Book affected an air of puzzlement. "I have no idea what you are talkin' about."

River stepped back out of his bunk then paused to look back over her shoulder. "*Xie xie ni."

* * * * *


*haoxiao* = funny *dong ma* = understand? *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *xiaoxin* = careful *xin gan* = sweetheart *jide* = remember *ni yao shenme* = what do you want? *ni zhidao* = you know *wo zhidao* = I know *ni bu dong* = I don't understand *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *cuode* = wrong *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xie xie ni* = thank you


Friday, December 12, 2014 7:08 PM


This is the penultimate chapter, the one that will follow will be like an addendum rounding the story off. I hope those that have kept the faith and been reading and commenting on this tale have enjoyed the journey. Thank you for the feedback, which is the lifeblood of the writer. It is what urges us to keep on writing. When folks stop commenting that is the time to put my crayons away and more on. Stay Shiny, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, December 13, 2014 9:08 AM


Thank you for your kind comments, Chillman. The ship is just called Serenity, not 'the' Serenity. In one episode Inara actually corrects someone on that point. You can be sure there will be more stories and if you click on my name you will see all those I have written and posted to date. Scroll to the very end and you get the first story. Don't forget to look up other authors on this site, you will be spoilt rotten for choice! - Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me"

Saturday, December 13, 2014 6:44 PM


^^^^^ that was me, MalsDOxy :D

Saturday, December 13, 2014 6:44 PM


^^^^^ that was me, MalsDOxy :D

Sunday, December 14, 2014 6:05 AM


Hello MalsDoxy, when Simon was treating the Captain for the Dust inhalation due to the faulty filter mask you will recall the device they found in Rufus Pol's locker and how Simon used his expertise and what he found out to cure the Captain. Until they got the device things were looking pretty terminal for him. As for Rosalie and the stealth ship, all will be even clearer in the upcoming conclusion. So happy you are enjoying the story and thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, December 14, 2014 12:02 PM


This is the best! But to be honest I love all your stories, I just love this one the best,so far. Thanks for keeping me so well entertained

Sunday, December 14, 2014 8:09 PM


You are welcome, Buckshotpilot. It is the feedback that encourages me to keep writing and with such good source material it is a gift to work with. So happy you love the stories. The concluding part will be up in a couple of days then I will start plotting a new tale for the New Gorram Year! "Xie xie ni", 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.