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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
When the door opened she froze, fear accomplishing what nothing else could. Her sudden stillness a counterpoint to her inward terror.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1521 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "FRIEND OR FOE?"
SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE
CHAPTER: 6. Sequel to "NIGHTMARES MADE FLESH"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon
SUMMARY: "Alarmed by the Captain's deterioratiing
condition, Jayne and Book are not sure who or what is
responsible. Meanwhile forces are massing."
The characters and tv series "Firefly" are the property
and gift of Joss Whedon. No infringement of copyright
"FRIEND OR FOE?"
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Malcolm Reynolds could not believe they were back at Perkins' warehouse. Jerrod gave the Captain a long sober look.
"You need to get off-world, *mashang*, Mal."
"That's what me an' mine were tyin' to do." He paused to cough, his throat so dry and dusty it was beyond irritating. "Not my decision to come back here."
"No, 'you', Mal."
The Captain blinked at him. "Me? What makes me so gorram *tebei*?"
"You need fresh air, *dong ma*?"
"Case you ain't heard, Jer, air on Serenity's recycled."
Much as he tried to make a joke of it talking triggered another coughing fit, worse than the one before. Shepherd Book gave Perkins a worried look, not liking what he was seeing or hearing.
"Is that why Shen took the Captain's filter mask?"
Perkins nodded, though he looked far from happy. "It's contaminated."
Jayne frowned but held his peace. Hoping whatever the Captain had wasn't catching. Three pairs of eyes stared at Jerrod Perkins in shock. Book noticed that Shen Willets did not look surprised and the other men made a point of not looking in their direction. He could not decide whether it was pity or if they were just being polite. Either way he wished they were back on Serenity and had Simon on hand to find out what was wrong with the Captain.
"Do Jayne an' I need to worry?"
Perkins shook his head. "If you haven't been sick by now you're safe."
"You said contaminated," Jayne cut in "what do ya mean an' if you're right how in the nine hells did that happen? An' if the Cap's sick how come me an' Book ain't?"
The Captain turned his head away and spat on the floor then gave his mercenary a sideways glance, his voice quiet and kind'a hushed as if talking pained him. Sounded a mite weak too if Jayne was any judge. "Still here, Jayne."
The big man scowled and Book hoped he wouldn't say anything else but this was Jayne. "Yeah, but for how long?"
The sleek craft cut through space leaving not a ripple in its' wake. In a small closed off room the girl was huddled in a corner, shaking so badly that her teeth rattled. When the door opened she froze, fear accomplishing what nothing else could. Her sudden stillness a stark counterpoint to her inward terror. The man was slim but not remarkable. An average clean shaven face, neither particularly handsome nor plain. His grey uniform turned nondescript into an art form, made of a curious kind of webbing she had not seen before. Unlike the kind of uniforms she was used to this one lacked the embellishments of any recognised rank or militia group. In fact, it seemed to be designed to be unremarkable in the extreme.
"You look *leng*, child."
She did not reply. He raised an eyebrow and took a moment to contemplate her. Kathleen tried to hide a shiver. The man noticed and took a blanket from the narrow bed and held it out to her. She did not dare take it. Even with the cloth between them it would still be contact of a sort and he was the enemy.
"I will not hurt you." He said softly.
'Too late' she thought. When the girl did not reply he wrapped the blanket around her shoulders before she could move out of the way. That he immediately stepped back was a small comfort but one siezed upon. Kathleen knew better though than to trust this seeming act of kindness. Even the smallest acceptance from the hand of an enemy was a betrayal.
"*Ni ele ma*?"
When Kathleen did not answer he seemed to be expecting it and nodded to himself. He gave what he must have thought was a reassuring smile as he walked towards the door. "I will make sure you get something hot to eat. *Fang xin*, you are safe now."
As the door closed softly behind him she heard the electronic lock cycle and bit back bitter tears. The room was small but furnished to look like a normal bedroom but Kathleen knew exactly what it was. A cell. And she was a prisoner.
Inara paused. Sure she had heard something. The sound was not very loud, almost muffled. Retracing her steps she was surprised to find a section of grating dislodged. Alarmed, Inara peered down into the crawl space but it was empty. She turned and looked around her, careful to make no sudden movements. "River? Is that you?"
Silence. Inara waited a few moments then called again, her voice soft and quietly pitched. If River was finding places to hide she would be distressed though why was beyond her. She thought back to the curious things River had been saying earlier and wondered if the two events were connected. Had River been trying to tell her something? But try as she might, Inara could not recall anything that made sense. With a sigh, the Companion carefully eased the grating back into place not wanting someone to trip on it and injure themselves. She would have a look around and see if she could find the girl. Failing that she would speak to Simon.
He did not like to interrupt her meditation but Matthew James Wong knew she would be displeased if any new information was not passed to her immediately. The flicker of the screen caught her eye and she activated it for two way conversation. "You have something?"
Wong gave a small bow, more of a nod, but respectful enough to smooth any ruffled feathers. His quixotic *laoban* had indelicate appetites and was not known for her patience with any she classed as subordinate. "They have returned to the warehouse, my lady."
A haughty eyebrow arched. "What of their ship?"
"No sign of it."
"Are you saying they returned because the ship was not there?"
"*Bu qu*, my lady. It would seem the Captain was taken ill."
Her brows drew together in thought. Rising to her feet she began to pace slowly back and forth in front of the cortex screen. Even when Wong was in the same building as her, the protocol was always the same. Never face to face contact always via the electronic screen. He knew it was not out of fear for her safety or any worry that she might be betrayed by her own. No. The lady's iron grip was absolute but there were other considerations and compartmentalisation of both information and actual contact was part of it. Only off-world would they meet, never at her place of power.
"What arrangements have you made?"
"Chou remains to keep watch for the ship, my lady."
"And the warehouse?"
"We can go in pursuit but it would leave our interest vulnerable. Also, we could not breach it to gain entry without using a great deal of force. It would undermine our policy."
"Do not think to instruct me on our policy!" She snapped, the words icy and hard enough to make him inwardly quail. Wong knew first hand what happened to those who displeased her. "Remember who wrote it."
Wong bowed deeply. "*Wode duibuqi*, I spoke without thought."
Her voice dropped to a cold and silky conversational tone completely devoid of warmth. A sibilant whisper. "To speak without thinking makes the tongue redundant, *dong ma*?"
Wong paled, understanding the threat and the promise it contained. "*Wo dong*, my lady."
Satisfied that he would take more care she paused to give the matter some thought. "The girl is not with them therefore it is likely she is still on the ship." Her eyes sparked with a brief flash of fire. "Find the ship, find the girl."
This time Wong was careful not to respond, not to assume an order was being given until she commanded it to be so. Her eyes drilled into him but he did not move a muscle or flinch, waiting only for her command to act or not to act. After several minutes of total silence she nodded slowly. "We can afford to be patient - for now. In the meantime glean what you can without drawing attention."
He bowed low. When he straightened the screen before him was dark, his audience ended.
People made a point of not noticing the extra activity at the docks. Local tradesmen concluded their business early and melted away as casual as you please. There was a scent of something unpleasant brewing in the air. Andy Bryce noticed the increase in Triad members, his eyes narrowing slightly but not enough to draw notice. He had spent a lifetime living below the radar and now every alarm in his body was sounding though to all intents and purposes nothing was wrong. Just folk going about their business. Or not. Too many of the 'not doing anything but hanging around' variety for his liking. He considered going to the Den for a drink but decided against it. More folk were gradually filtering in among the locals and it was making all of them increasingly uneasy. He took his time before disappearing, carefully taking note of who was where, who appeared to be with who and what if anything the various extra heavies were looking at or for. It was this sharp eyed attention to detail that slotted something very nasty into place. Something he hadn't seen in many a year. This wasn't some Triad takeover of the docks, for one thing not all the tattoos fell into the same grouping. His stomach flipped into a lower register of bad feeling. Unless he was much mistaken there were two distinct Triads massing and everyone knew the Triads did not mix. It could only mean one thing.
Taking up a sack of protein mix, he lifted it onto his right shoulder the better to hide his face and left. No one looked twice at him. He flicked the fingers of his left hand against his pant leg as he passed several of his friends, none of them making eye contact or speaking but the message picked up and passed around. Within minutes the local folk would be gone to ground, with luck to some place even God couldn't find them.
In the shadow of a tall dark building Chou watched. Knew people were getting jumpy, bailing out, but that just meant less people to get in his way. Silently he kept watch, knowing that soon the mercenaries would be pouring into the area. If he had nothing for the Lady by then things would become uglier than even the most doom laden of souls could possibly imagine.
Wash could not believe his ears. "*Bao bei*, that would be *yige cuowu*. We'd be trapped!"
"Or safe." Kaylee piped up trying to put a bright spin on things, her voice a mite higher pitched than normal and her bottom lip trembling. Simon moved closer and she flashed him a false grin just a touch short of total panic. He did not smile but reached for her hand. She clasped it gratefully and felt herself start to calm.
Zoe looked at them one by one, making sure they knew this decision was something they were not going to be able to alter. Good or bad it was what it was. Didn't mean she agreed with it but she trusted the Captain's instincts. "The longer we delay the greater the chance we'll be spotted by unfriendly eyes, *dong ma*?"
Reluctantly they nodded, keeping their reservations and murmurings low enough that she could ignore them. For now. Zoe moved close to Wash and gave him the co-ordinates, with a solemn nod he hurried to the bridge. Zoe turned to speak to Kaylee but the girl was already nodding, keen to do whatever she could to make this go smooth. "I'd best go the engine room."
A flicker of gratitude crossed Zoe's face. Simon followed Kaylee until it was only Zoe and Inara. There was no sign of River. The Companion took her time speaking. "Are we sure Ithaca Moon is safe?" She asked quietly.
Hating the question as much because of the uncertainty it threw up as for the accuracy of Inara's concern, it reflected Zoe's own too closely for comfort. "Is anywhere?"
"Zoe, there are no Alliance soldiers here." That caused Zoe to raise her eyebrows but Inara continued before she could say anything. "That doesn't mean they aren't here."
The first mate sucked in a sharp breath. her look sharpening. *Wode ma*, why couldn't anything ever go smooth? "You know this how?"
"Know is putting it a little strong..."
"*Fei hua*, Inara! You know somethin' best speak plain. Don't have time to read between the lines of what you say an' what you don't."
"So, this big plan of yours?"
Perkins didn't smile but he wasn't tense either. "It isn't safe for you or your crew on Anaeron, Mal."
Jayne snorted derisively at Perkins for stating the glaringly obvious. The man ignored him. The Captain could feel his head slowly clearing but still felt a mite sick, his affliction hitting him in gorram waves. "You think they'll attack the warehouse?"
"*Bu qu*, at least not straight away."
"Huh," grunted Jayne "how can you be sure?"
"Can't which is why waitin' to see what happens next ain't smart." Perkins paused noting the Captain wince slightly, close his eyes, then slowly open them again as if the light pained him. "*Ni juede zenme yang le*?"
"*Wo hao danr le*."
Shen Willets peered at Serenity's Captain. "Don't look better."
Mal squinted up at him from where he was sitting. Most everyone else was standing. "You a doc too, Shen?"
"Nah, just know a sick man when I see one."
The Captain tried to swallow but his mouth was so dry there wasn't a drop of moisture in it. "Bedside manner could use some improvement."
Shepherd Book watched and listened, not encouraged by the way in which the Captain was perspiring and reacting to light, not a lick of colour in his face. "We need to get you to a doctor, Captain."
He tried to cough but it was like dragging something sharp and irregular across the back of his throat. Out of nowhere a glass of water appeared. Perkins' man Howdy Marks gave a quick nod as Mal gratefully took it then retreated again. The Captain frowned but didn't comment on the fact that the circle around him was actually growing wider. Instead he forced himself to drink slow then had to stop quickly to prevent gagging. Immediately, Perkins stepped close and took the glass as if expecting such a reaction. The Captain found that all manner of disturbing. What in the nine hells was wrong with him?
"*Rongyi*, Cap'n. Think you need to lie down."
"Can't, too much to do." The Captain mumbled though there was no strength to his words. Gorramit, he felt like he was burning up.
Shepherd Book placed a cool hand on the Captain's forehead, alarmed at the heat coming off the man. He looked up and met Perkins' eyes, both men thinking the same thing. "*Women ying gai zuo shenme*? We can't stay here and we can't leave."
Mal struggled to open his eyes just a crack. "*Bushi*, got it covered." He mumbled.
Every eye stared at him as if he was spouting fairytales. Even to the untrained eye it was obvious the Captain was not doing well.
"Help's on it's way."
Jayne looked at Book but the Shepherd was no wiser than he. "You asked Serenity to come pick us up?" He asked hopefully.
But the Captain was passed listening now, slumped in the chair and barely conscious. Book and Perkins eased him off the chair before he fell off it and laid him on the ground. Willets took care to lay him in the recovery position, making sure to keep his airway open. Alarmed, Jayne sprang back even though he was several feet away.
"He ain't *chuanran*." Perkins assured Jayne, but the big man was taking no chances.
"Then what's the matter with him?"
It was the Shepherd who made the nearest thing to a diagnosis. "You said the mask was contaminated, Mr Perkins?"
Perkins nodded. "Yeah, happens sometimes you get a bad batch, not properly filtering the dust. *Weishenme*?"
"Oh, I don't think the mask was contaminated by being faulty."
Shen Willets' eyes narrowed. After all, he had actually examined the dust mask. The Shepherd hadn't. "What're you sayin', Preacher?"
The Shepherd's voice remained calm, soothing and almost conversational. Careful not to sound as if he was blaming any of them. "I think someone tampered with it."
Willets didn't bristle but several of Perkins men looked ready to step in. Jerrod Perkins stilled them with a look. He turned deceptively mild eyes on Shepherd Book. "Best you explain."
"I think the Captain was drugged and the sooner we can get him back to the ship the better. Our doctor should hopefully be able to find out what drug was used and work on an antidote."
Perkins eyebrows shot up. "Must be some fancy doc you got, able to do all that."
Book shot Jayne a look and the big man kept his mouth shut. Wouldn't do to let slip that Simon was a fugitive from the Alliance as was his sister. The less people who knew their history the safer it was for them all. "Our ship's doctor has been steadily increasing the range of our medical supplies and equipment though of course there's no guarantee he'll find out what was used but at least we have somewhere to start looking."
The Shepherd nodded at Perkins then looked at Shen Willet. "You kept the mask Shen which is good thinking, that could be important in helping determine what's wrong with the Captain."
For a moment it looked as if Willets was contemplating hanging on to the mask but a nod from Perkins and his expression closed up. Instead he nodded. "I'll go get it but you're *cuode*."
Book didn't smile. "We're much obliged."
Just then a strange roaring sound could be heard. As it got closer the top of the warehouse began to vibrate. The Captain stirred sluggishly and moved his lips. Book knelt beside him and leaned close to hear what he was saying. Jayne looked frightened, as if he was expecting the man to die but the look on the Shepherd's face confused him. Book turned to Jerrod Perkins.
"It appears our transport has arrived."
Arran Burke had twenty mercenaries and five Triad members taking up their positions around the docks. Each man was in line of sight of another. They would not communicate by radio but using their own unique hand signs. He noticed another Triad had members dotted about in twos and threes. Something prickled along his spine but he resisted the urge to turn around and look. This was getting more complicated by the minute. Surely the White Lotus Triad was not after the same thing he and his men were? Such a possibility chilled him to the bone. He reassessed his placements and had his men double up, just to be on the safe side. What had looked like overkill before they got to the docks was now looking like too few men to do the job. Perhaps the others were here for some other purpose? But though Burke fervently hoped that were the case his gut was telling him otherwise.
Jayne's mouth fell open in shock. Really. It was something he could not have imagined in his wildest dreams. He had thought the big hover cranes were awesome but seeing the roof of the warehouse peel back in two great halves like someone rolling up sections of metal took any words he might have wanted to say right out of his head. Gorramit! The ship descending through the opening was like nothing he had ever seen before. Beyond ugly yet somehow it had an odd kind of grace. Good gorram, he must be dreaming that was it. But Jayne could not take his eyes off what he was seeing to rub them and make sure. Any minute now someone would pinch him and he would wake.
As soon as the ship's hydraulic stablisers dropped down for the landing everyone hurried back out of the hot and pressurised downdraught. Shepherd Book took a moment to shift his gaze from the ship to the ailing Captain. "I must say I'm impressed, Captain."
The Captain mumbled something incomprehensible but despite how bad he felt a small smile twisted his lips. Jerrod Perkins broke into a laugh, part surprised but the bigger part relieved. "Seems you solved your own problem, Mal."
He got no answer. The Captain was still conscious but having a problem getting enough breath. Book was getting more and more worried, concerned that even with a ship to get them off this Godless world they might not get him to Simon in time for it to make any difference. Shen Willets was watching Book closely.
"*Fang xin*, he won't die."
For a moment all eyes fastened on his like limpets. Willets had the faulty mask in its' sealed clear bag and handed it to the Shepherd.
"When you see your shiny doc hand him this an' tell him to look real close at the fibers."
There was a hiss from the hydraulics of the ship as the bulky little craft set down like the topmost bit of a mountain squatting. Overhead the rolling roof sections closed up again. Book frowned at Willets as he took the bag. "*Wo bu dong*. What is it you're not telling us?"
"I know what you're thinkin', you think he's been poisoned *dui*?" At Book's nod he sighed softly and tried to explain. "The fibers of the mask are rough not smooth, means it's faulty, not filterin' the dust like it should *dong ma*?"
Their heads snapped round in time to see Zoe coming down the ramp of the ugly craft with Rufus Pol beside her. A man in a scruffy black t-shirt and ratty cut down trousers followed in their wake. Jayne was sure the unwholesome smell was coming off of him. Seeing the Captain looking as if he was about to pass out, Zoe's right hand immediately settled on the butt of her mare's leg, her eyes turning a stony glare on Jerrod Perkins.
"*Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"
Jayne sneered at Willets as if doubting his assertion. "The gorram dust mask the Cap was wearin'. Someone tampered with it."
Alarm added to the suspicion on her face, a deadly combination. Willets tried to calm the tension suddenly rocketing around them.
"Don't know that but what we do know is the mask was faulty."
Zoe looked away from Willets to Jane and Book then squatted down next to the Captain, her voice dropping for his ears alone. "Can you walk, sir?"
He seemed to rally a little at the sound of her voice. "Not sure I can gorram stand, Zo."
She nodded, straightened and told Jayne and Book to get the Captain onboard *mashang*. As they got him to his feet, the Captain groaned softly then fell silent. Rufus Pol looked beyond worried but said nothing, he was watching to see what would happen next. The tension not lessening even though they had now got the Captain moving up the ramp with Jayne on one side and Book the other. Pretty much carrying the man on board. As Jayne passed Zoe on his way up the ramp she whispered. "We get paid?"
The mercenary nodded but his lips were tight and twisted in an unhappy expression that matched the murderous glint in his eyes. So. Jayne thought they had been betrayed too. Her nod was barely there but understood. Book didn't say anything but his expression seemed to urge her to suspend judgement, at least until they could get the Captain into Simon's care. Then she noticed Shen Willets whispering something urgently to Jerrod Perkins.
"You got something' to say, you can say it out loud *dong ma*?"
Willets paused but let his boss answer. "We know you're suspicious an' you've every right to be but we didn't do this. An' it may not be something done on purpose either."
Her eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. "Why do you say that?"
Instead of Perkins answering Willets took a step towards her. "We live here on Anaeron - live, work, raise families *dong ma*? These masks are our life, if one fails it's a tickin' clock before time ends us."
The colour bled from her face. "Are you sayin' the Cap'n's dyin'?"
"Not if your doc is as good as the Shepherd says he is which is why I'm comin' with you."
All her instincts were telling her to shoot him, right now, without wasting another breath but something stayed her hand. "Why would I do that?"
"You need someone who knows the ins an' outs of these things an' Mal don't have the time for us to argue back an' forth about it. Makes sense to go now, get back to wherever your doc may be an' start puttin' him right."
Zoe couldn't argue with that but wasn't sure about Willets. After all she didn't know the man, had never met him before and now the Captain was down with some unknown illness that was like to kill him if untreated and this stranger wanted to go with them.
"*Qing*," broke in Perkins "I can vouch for him an' if you want any more help I'll give what I can."
He looked sincere. *Diyu*, they all did. Knowing she didn't have time for any delays Zoe gave a curt nod, turned sharply and began walking quickly up the ramp. Shen gave his boss a nod and hurried to keep up. As the ramp rose after them, the roof rolled back again and all the men hurried to keep back out of way as the ship took off. The vertical thrusters were mighty powerful and within seconds the craft was up and disappearing from view. One of the men hit the control to close the roof and for a long moment no one spoke. Jerrod Perkins rubbed a hand over his face, suddenly feeling ten years older. He had begun to hope that they had found a fast friend in Captain Reynolds and a hopefully regular transport for their goods on and off world. This latest complication was the last thing any of them wanted to happen. If the man died Perkins was in no doubt that his stern and fiercesome second in command would coming looking to take the loss out of his hide. He sighed, blinked and tried not to worry. Were the shoe on the other gorram foot he would probably be inclined to do the same but the thought didn't make him feel any happier.
Folks always assumed any desert landscape was empty but it wasn't. Small things lived and scurried about, tiny insects and burrowing creatures that often carried their own deadly sting. The plants were few and far between, coarse and spiny but made to survive the harsh environ. The sniper was surprised when the small ship had hovered over the warehouse he was watching, even more so when the roof rolled back and it disappeared inside. Well, wasn't that something? His teeth would have glinted but for the mask even so the smile was an unwholesome thing, bitter and twisted and entirely too mean to carry a lick of humour or kindness. Minutes later he saw the roof open again and the same dark craft shot up and kept going. That interested him. Vertical takeoff was commonplace but to keep going up? That was new. He watched until the quickly vanishing ship was gone then opened his com link. The secure scrambled transmission taking his update straight to the ears of his *laoban*.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *tebei* = special *dong ma* = understand? *leng* = cold
*ni ele ma* = are you hungry? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go)
*wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *wo dong* = I understand *bao bei* = precious/treasure *diyu* = hell
*yige cuowu* = a mistake *wode ma* = mother of God *fei hua* = garbage talk *rongyi* = easy
*ni juede zenme yang le* = how are you feeling? *wo hao danr le* = I'm feeling better *bushi* = not so
*women ying gai zuo shenme* = what should we do? *chuanran* = infectious *wo bu dong* = I don't understand
*dui* = correct *qing* = please *weishenme* = why? *cuode* = wrong *laoban* = boss
*fasheng le shenme shir la*? = what has been happening?
Tuesday, May 8, 2012 9:27 AM
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Wednesday, May 9, 2012 3:12 AM
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