HANDFUL OF STARS: 18. "Devil's Den"
Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Serenity's crew make a slight ammendment to Mal's original plan. Ritchie explains just why Petrie is an even worse foe than Niska."


TITLE: "DEVIL'S DEN" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: None. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: Sequel to "HINDSIGHT". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at

SUMMARY: "Serenity's crew make a slight ammendment to Mal's original plan. Ritchie explains just why Petrie is an even worse foe than Niska." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"You need to put this off, at least until you've had more time to recover."

The Captain tried to hide a wince as Simon finished his examination. Seemed every time he moved his gorram head it felt like it was gonna fall off and not without all manner of agony in the process. "Can't."


"Doc, I know you're just doin' your job an' for that I'm all manner of grateful but this needs doin' sooner not later."

Simon Tam sighed, not bothering to hide his frustration. For once they were the only ones in the infirmary and Mal appreciated not having a gorram audience.

"I'm not saying not to go ahead with the plan just - let the others handle it."

He was so surprised that Mal just stared at him, his brain taking the circuitous route in absorbing what he was being told. Or rather. What Simon was suggesting. Not a bad notion in and of itself but the Captain had a stubborn streak wider than Serenity plus he wanted to finish this himself. Things had gotten all manner of personal. "Petrie needs to be stopped, Simon, an' I don't plan to be waitin' idly by while it happens, *dong ma*?"

"Then remember this: if you go ahead you risk blood bleeding into the brain. When I said you needed time to recover I wasn't just saying it, Mal. Given a few days - weeks would be better - the risk eases off exponentially. Your body needs time to heal."

"I ain't gonna black out?"

"It's more than likely especially if you keep pushing yourself. You could finish what Petrie started."

The Captain paled. "I'm the Cap'n."

"And I'm trying to keep it that way. You also need to think about your crew."

"What about 'em?"

"If you die what happens to Serenity?"

"Zoe's more than capable of runnin' my boat but that ain't gonna happen."

"It may if you don't listen."

The Captain was sitting up on the infirmary bed, his expression perking up at what he saw as a chink in Simon's armour. "May not will."


"You said may die not will."

"I can't believe you're arguing over semantics when your life hangs in the balance!"

"I ain't dyin', Simon, an' that's a fact. Got a job to do an' the sooner it gets done the quicker you'll get to hook me up to all your fancy do-dads."

It was kind of unsettling to see the look on Simon Tam's face. Wasn't used to seeing the doc look so worried about his own self, not that he wasn't a good if not great doctor because he was. It was just, they didn't always see eye to eye. In fact, rarely, truth be told but over their time on Serenity each had acquired a goodly respect for the other. It was just a Captain had to be Captain or he was nothing. Couldn't expect his crew to follow if he didn't lead. The Captain slid his legs round so that he could slide off the bed when Simon put a hand on his shoulder.

"*Deng*. At least lie back and rest until we land."

"I do that you'll stop fussin'?"

It was on the tip of Simon's tongue to retort that he wasn't fussing, it was called medical care. He gave a reluctant nod. Seemingly satisfied the Captain eased himself back on the bed and let his eyes close. Before Simon could claim even a wafer thin victory his eyes snapped open and he lifted his head.

"You ain't gonna drug me?"

There were times when Simon Tam could cheerfully strangle his Captain. "No, Mal."

He shot the doctor a suspicious look. "You've gone kind'a compliant all of a sudden."

"It's called giving up, *dong ma*? You win. Happy now?"

The Captain smirked and laid his head on the pillow, his eyes twinkling a little with mischief as he kept eye contact with Simon. "It's good to be Cap'n."

* * * * *

Hardy and Davy were in the group with the plumb job. Conrad Hemming was older than the pair of them put together and smart with it. There was a reason he was head of their team. A short stocky man, he was all muscle. In his early sixties he would have been forgiven for going a little to fat but not him. A fitness fanatic the man just never knew when to quit and right now his focus was on locating the ship Serenity. His reasoning was as simple as it was sound. Find the Firefly and they would find Malcolm Reynolds.

The other teams had already split. Paul Hartman's group were headed over to the Sheriff's office, Micky Doyle and his team to the man's house. Rod Black and Steve Carter were covering the docks and the whore houses respectively. Privately, Hardy wished they'd got the whorehouses, it would have been easier to slip away without bringing the wrath of Lincoln Petrie immediately down upon their heads and by the time anyone got suspicious they would be be miles away.

Hemming had them spread out a little, each man just in sight of the next. That way they could cover more ground but also communicate by hand signals not radio. Radios were good but could be overheard and if Reynolds had maybe stepped out of his ship for a stroll they didn't want any radio chatter to give them away. He needn't have bothered. Ty Martin straightened up and put the radio to his lips. "Ship's gone, Conrad!"

"How the *diyu* did they know we were comin'?"

Stevie Hall emerged from the shadows and joined Hemming. He gave the team leader a shrug. "Maybe they left to go bury the body."

"Could'a buried it here." Murmured Camo darkly.

Ty shot Camo a look. "Na, if the crew are as tight as the *laoban* says they'd wanna take him home."

"So where's home?"

Hemming looked thoughtful for a moment then his expression cleared. "Shadow."

A couple of the men looked uncomfortable. Hemming didn't care who did or did not support Unification, whether their coats had been brown or purple. They followed a different kind of flag now. Stevie looked a mite edgy, not happy that they were all just standing there. Out in the open. "What're we gonna do?"

Hemming jerked his head back and began to walk off in the direction they had come. "We go back, report in."

Stevie paled. "But Petrie will go *sheningbing* if we come back empty handed!"

Conrad Hemming didn't even pause, just kept walking. "Can't find what's already gone."

Hardy and Davy exchanged a troubled look. If they went back now they would miss their chance, they had to find a way to delay the inevitable. Once back in that gorram fortress any chance of getting away from Petrie would be lost. "What about that old Kingfisher? Heard tell they're friends of Reynolds."

It was kind of satisfying to see Hemming stop and turn. The others paused, waiting for him to decide what they should do next. "You wanna go speak to them, that it?"

Hardy nodded even though something in Hemming's expression made him wish he'd kept his damn fool mouth shut. Hemming started walking towards him and Hardy's mouth went dry.

"Know what'll happen we do that? That crew'll know what we're up to an' are most like to notify Serenity's crew. Any chance we've got of gettin' a ship after them will be made ten times harder, *dong ma*?"

"But..." Davy stuttered to a halt, unused to coming up with ideas himself. He left the heavy lifting to Hardy.


As always, Hardy came to his friend's rescue. "What if we used it flush the Firefly out?"

For a moment no one spoke. "That may work. Good thinkin'. Come on."

To his surprise Hemming turned and continued walking back the way they came. Not feeling brave enough to argue further the others followed suit and no one spoke until they were lost in the shadows and heading back to where they had hidden their mule. Didn't want anyone on the Kingfisher to hear them start her up or take note of them snooping about. Instead of climbing aboard, Hemming called in the result and leant on the driver's side of the vehicle. The response was short and sharp. Petrie would contact some friends and spread the word that Serenity was to be located but keep it low key. He wanted Hemming and his men to wait a few hours before going back and questioning the crew of the Kingfisher. After all, Petrie had made sure Monty's ship was going nowhere but he also did not want his men drawing un-necessary attention.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb didn't like the revised plan. The notion of finding Petrie's hideout and flattening him into a dirty red smear was mighty appealing, it was the lying to the Captain that stuck like a chicken bone in his throat. Huh. When had that become a gorram problem for him? It was Shepherd Book who put Jayne's unease into words.

"The Captain isn't going to be happy about this."

"No", said Simon calmly "but he will be alive."

Zoe's eyes narrowed. "You said he was gonna be fine."

"Yes, if he follows his doctor's orders and rests. Brain surgery isn't anything to take lightly, Zoe."

"You tried talkin' to him? Tellin' him how dangerous it would be?"

Simon huffed and Wash back-pedalled.

"Of course you did, this is Malcolm Reynolds we're talkin' about an' he doesn't do anythin' the easy way."

Zoe frowned but didn't upbraid Wash. Kaylee looked from face to face, worry etching lines into her young face that should have been years in the making. "Why we gotta do anythin'? We should just keep flyin', *dui*?"

"It isn't as straight forward as that, Kaylee, I wish it was." Book explained. "A man like Petrie never gives up."

The mechanic's face took on a puzzled aspect. "*Wo bu dong*. So far as that *tamade hundan* knows the Cap'n's dead so why would he be lookin' for him?"

The others exchanged looks, reluctant to say what they were all thinking.

"I ain't a kid, you can tell me."

They were in the common room, the table covered with ammo and enough firepower to take down a small dictorship which pretty much described Petrie's operation. The only ones missing were the Captain and River. Inara was a silent presence, they all knew what she thought of the first plan and how little she liked the second. She was with Kaylee on this one.

"Kaylee, you have to understand. A man like Petrie is more than bitter and twisted. I believe he is truly evil and capable of all manner of terrible things. A little thing like death will not stop him doing whatever he sets his mind to do."


Zoe interrupted her. "We could talk 'til the stars go cold, Kaylee, wouldn't change a thing. He needs stoppin'. If we walk away from this there's no tellin' what the Cap'n'll do when he finds out. May even go off an' try to end it himself."

The mechanic paled. Inara put an arm around her but for once Kaylee wasn't comforted. Wash looked at his wife,


"Maybe we should just wake Mal an' go with the first plan, *bao bei*."

"Were you not listenin', *zhangfu*?" When Wash fell silent Zoe turned to Simon. "Can't you just drug him 'til this is over?"

"*Bu qu*. He asked me not to and I agreed."

"Huh, that was dumb." Jayne groused.

"Besides," Simon added with a little smile "River said it won't be necessary."

All eyes snapped on the doctor.

"What in the nine hells does that mean?"

"It means, Jayne, that River has slipped into his mind to deepen his sleep."

"Don't mean he won't wake up an' find out what we done."

"Hopefully by the time that happens we'll be back." Zoe paused to check her mare's leg and add extra ammo from the table. As she straightened everyone else got to their feet and turned their heads to see what she was looking at. River seemed to float into the room, her bare feet hardly touching the cold deck, her smile as incongruous as snow on the face of the sun.

"All done."

"How long do we have, little one?"

River tilted her head to one side. "Five, maybe six hours."

Kaylee looked surprised. "How can you be so specific?"

The girl's smile broke into a grin. "That's what it said on the bottle."

Shocked looks stared back at her. Simon Tam actually looked a little faint. "River, what did you do?"

"He needed to sleep, to heal."

"You said you could talk to him, mind to mind, deepen his sleep state."

"Did that too, this way when he wakes he won't think it was the drugs that knocked him out. The thought is lodged in his brain pan now, made him feel so weary, so tired, he will think it was his body talking not me."

Just then the proximity alarm sounded. Wash had toned it down a mite but it was still loud. Quickly, Wash dashed off to switch it off and bring them in to land. River swept her eye over the weapons still on the table and picked two hand guns, quickly checking the barrels and making sure she had plenty of ammunition.

"What are you doing, River?"

"Someone needs to show them the crack."

Simon shook his head but before he could denounce her Zoe stepped in, her face tight and stony. A look in her eyes that stopped the doctor's protests. "*Hen hao*."

"If River's going then I'm coming too."

"*Duibuqi*, doc, need you on Serenity to make sure the Cap'n's okay." She paused just long enough to pat him on the arm. "We'll take care of her, *fang xin*."

* * * * *

"They gone?"

Denny was gentle with the modified sensors. "For now, *laoban*, but that don't mean they won't be back."

Monty frowned. "I don't get it, why are they tryin' to find Mal if Petrie let him go?"

The Sheriff had taken off his gorram badge, shoved it in a shirt pocket, but to Monty and his crew Ritchie Thomas was still the Sheriff. Idiot or not the man had grown up pretty quickly before their eyes leaving Monty unsure what to think especially with the story he had told. Was kind of hard to figure who was now standing in his place. "Petrie is a madman with a silver tongue, Monty."

"Which is how you got dragged into this mess. Don't explain why he was after Mal in the first place though."

"It all seemed to good to be true. The job offer, the financial support an' such."

"That's 'cause it was. He was settin' ya up, Ritchie."

"I know that now." Ritchie paused and had to swallow hard, too close to tears for comfort. It took a great effort of will to hold the emotion back, to harden his heart with the task before him and not collapse into all consuming grief. He needed to stay on track or he would go to pieces. If that happened, Petrie would win. "The only thing that excites that sumbitch is torturin' folk. Says he's a follower of some sick *hundan* called Shan Yu."

Monty paled. "You mean like Niska?"

Now it was Ritchie's turn to look surprised. "You heard of Adelei Niska?"

"He hired Mal to do a train job on'y when he found out he was stealing medicine for sick folk on Paradiso Mal changed his mind. Tried to give the money back. Niska an' his goons caught Mal an' his pilot Wash an' tortured 'em."

"You sayin' Mal escaped from Niska?"

"Yeah. His crew went in an' got him out of that ruttin' skyplex."

Ritchie Thomas whistled between his teeth, impressed. "Then that explains a lot."

Frowning, Monty leaned in close. "Like what?"

"Petrie used to talk of 'the one that got away' like it was some kind of holy ruttin' grail. I'm thinkin' the reason he went after Mal was 'cause he was the o'nly one to ever escape from Niska's clutches."

"He's *shenjingbing*."

"You don't know the half of it. Petrie's ten times worse than Niska ever was, Monty."

The look on Monty's face was doubtful. It was hard to think of a more sickening *hundan* than Niska. Ritchie fiddled with something in his pocket, his face so pale it looked like there was hardly any blood in him. "Remember what I said about him takin' my wife, sayin' he could get her cured of that cancer?" Monty nodded. "It was a lie. Wasn't nothin' wrong with her 'cept what that madman did to her an' then there was the torture." Ritchie broke off to choke back a tear, his voice turning bitter and malicious. Anger building. "An' there was me all manner of grateful thinkin' he was helpin' us! How he must'a been laughin', all the while torturin' my wife an' filmin' it all."

Ritchie broke off and silence fell heavy and sombre over them all.

"I thought her dyin' was the worst of it." The Sheriff whispered, grief thickening his voice with emotion.

Monty didn't understand. Ritchie had never told them what happened after she died. "*Fasheng shenme shi le*?"

"After he told me she died, Petrie gave me a box and this little silver key. Never thought nothin' of it, too full o' grief to take much in truth be told. Petrie was sayin' how sorry he was, couldn't save her an' such. Asked me not to open the box 'til I got home. Didn't find out why 'til later."

Denny found himself staring as Ritchie took a small ornately carved box out of his pocket and set it on the table in front of them. "What's in it?"

With shaking hands Ritchie fitted a tiny ornate silver key into the lock and undid it. He paused before lifting the lid. "Whatever you do, don't lean over the box, *dong ma*? Keep back an' just take a long view."


Ritchie swallowed hard. "You'll see."

With a flick of his wrist, Ritchie opened the lid and Monty's eyes widened. Gasps went round the table then Ritchie quickly shut the lid on seeing Denny start to lean forward for a closer look. Monty looked shaken to the core.

"*Wode ma*, is that...?"

"Yeah, it's one of her eyes, but that ain't the worst of what he done."

Every eye stared at him as if he was crazy. What could be worse?

"Petrie had a gorram camera fitted in the lens of the eye. When I opened the box he was back in his ruttin' fortress laughin' his gorram head off!"

The shock slowly dulling in his mind, Monty had but one question in his mind. "How the *diyu* would you know that?"

"Because", said Ritchie as tears now fell unhindered down his cheeks "he called me up after, told me what he'd done just for the pleasure of hurtin' me. I got no words for how much I wanna kill than sumbitch but first I'm gonna rip him apart limb by ruttin' limb, muscle by muscle, rib by rib..."

Monty put a hand on his arm to stop Ritchie continuing. It was all clear to Monty now. "What that *liumang* has done is *zaogao* and *jingrende* but we gotta keep our wits about us, *dong ma*? Why's he still after Mal?"

"He wants to bring him back from the dead, shock his heart until it beats again so he can torture him more. He wants to be sicker, meaner an' nastier than Niska. Won't be content 'til everyone in the 'verse trembles at the mention of his name."

"He's a mad dog." Murmured Denny, feeling sick to his stomach.

"Yeah," said Monty "a mad dog that needs puttin' down. Trouble is we ain't goin' nowhere, just sittin' ducks."

"Can maybe help with that."

Monty stared at Ritchie Thomas and wondered what was coming next.

* * * * *

Zoe wasn't sure about any of this but River seemed so certain and the Shepherd appeared to have every faith that she knew exactly what she was doing. Jayne didn't care so long as he got to blow Petrie to pieces and his whole damn operation with him. She couldn't argue with that but something was troubling her. It was only when River straightened suddenly and pointed at the rocks up ahead and to the right that it slipped into place. "There! That's the crack."

What had been troubling Zoe so badly was the lack of any sign of any lookouts. If this was Petrie's secret hideout shouldn't there be men with rifles waiting to take them out? Yet she had seen nothing, not so much as the glint of sunshine off rifle sights. River turned to stare at her.

"Doesn't need men, has more eyes than God."

Zoe felt her heart miss a beat. "What do you mean, eyes?"

"Like the lens of the eye, always watching never blinking."

"I think she means a camera, is that what you're saying River?" Asked Book.

The girl nodded, happy to have someone translate. If anything the explanation just worried Zoe more.

"That means he knows we're comin'."

River shook her head, looking impossibly smug. "*Huai le*. Had a fit of temper, now nothing works. It's why we have to go now, before he can fix it."

"So where's all his men? They waitin' inside?"

River half closed her eyes for a moment. "Not many inside, mostly scientists."

"So where are all his thugs?" Asked Zoe.

"Sent them away, hunting, looking."

Jayne frowned. "For what?" His head was swivelling around anyway, just in case there was a sniper. "Ain't nothin' out here but rocks."

"They're looking for Captain daddy." She paused to grin again. "Won't find him."

"You better be right, little one."

Zoe slowed the mule right down, stopping when River indicated to do so. It wasn't as if there was anywhere to hide the mule but no sense parking right alongside the entrance. Book eased his rifle into a comfortable at ready position and took point, Jayne at his elbow. Zoe was about to tell River to stay with the mule when the girl shook her head, her eyes going wide.

"Too late! Knows we're here."

As the words left River's mouth the crack suddenly widened into a large cunningly crafted doorway. Jayne grabbed Vera to let loose a volley of mechanised death just as something big, bad and foul exploded in their faces.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *shenme* = what *deng* = wait *shenjingbing* = crazy *dui* = correct *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bao bei* = precious/treasure *diyu* = hell *zhangfu* = husband *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *hen hao* = very good *laoban* = boss *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *hundan* = bastard *fasheng shenme shi le* = what happened? *weishenme* = why? *wode ma* = mother of God *liumang* = asshole/bastard/gangster/criminal *zaogao* = terrible *jingrende* = shocking *huai le* = broken


Saturday, January 22, 2011 10:28 AM


Yeah... This plan isn't going to go well. Which is something, considering the degree to which plans go bad when Mal IS involved.

Sunday, January 23, 2011 7:25 AM


I just have to say... I love Mal and Simon.. I could see it as well as hear them 'bickering'. As for the plan... isn't it always that way with plans and Mal... or actually just Serenity's crew in general... LOL!

Sunday, January 23, 2011 1:27 PM


No, the plan isn't going well, Bytemite, but that isn't the half of it. And yes, Angellemarcs, I always love the dynamic between a bickering Mal and Simon too. Thank you both for the shiny feedback, hang on to your hats now! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 6:26 AM


You do not disappoint. Thanks for another shiny chapter.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 6:31 AM


Thank you, Colt999. More to come! 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.