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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
She stared in the damp darkness and tried not to inhale too deeply. Somewhere she could hear water dripping but at times she faniced it was not water but words gurgled softly in the back of a dying throat and echoing like footsteps meting out her doom.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 656 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "SUFFER THE CHILDREN"
SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE
CHAPTER: 7. Sequel to "FRIEND OR FOE?"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon
SUMMARY: "The Captain, Jayne and Book
head back to Serenity. River starts to get more
frantic. Meanwhile the Triads draw a step closer
"SUFFER THE CHILDREN"
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
"This is utterly *shenjingbing*." Simon sighed. He turned slowly, taking in the unlovely hulk in which Serenity now rested like Jonah in the belly of the Whale. Kaylee couldn't wipe the happy smile off her face, her dungarees smeared in grease and dirt from where she had been exploring.
"They won't think of lookin' for us here, Simon. It's *wanmei*!"
He gave her a stunned look. How could Kaylee find something this awful so wonderful? But then she thought Serenity was the be-all and end-all of ships which unfortunately spoke volumes. He would never understand her love for all things mechanical and invariably messy. Maybe that was why she was always so tolerant of that big ape Jayne?
"Homo sapiens not the right genus or taxonomic group."
Simon spun round to see his sister grinning back at him. "River, where have you been? Inara's been looking everywhere for you."
"I wasn't lost."
"That isn't an answer."
Kaylee butted in before Simon could give his sister the third degree. "She was just playin', Simon, weren't you?"
The grin fell off the girl's face, her eyes widening as memories that were not her own crowded out all other thoughts. "They're in danger, so many voices crying out, Simon!" River put her hands over her ears, her face distorting into one of distress.
Kaylee reached for her but Simon got there first, his arms drawing her to him though he had no clue what had set her off this time. "Ssssh, it's alright *mei mei*, you're safe. I'm here."
"*Ni bu dong*, they aren't safe Simon!"
Kaylee looked worried and confused. "Who isn't safe, sweetie?"
"So young, too young, but the nightmares are real."
Just then Edmond Rolls crossed the yawning central bay of the ship. Simon had estimated the interior of the terraforming vessel could easily house 16 or 17 Firefly transport ships and still have room for it's own small fleet of ship to surface craft. So far Simon and Kaylee had only counted four crew left on board when Wash, Zoe, Rufus and his mechanic left to go and pick up the Captain and the others from Anaeron. Kaylee still didn't know why they could not go and get them in Serenity but couldn't really complain as it gave her free reign to have a look around the inside of the biggest space going vessel she had ever seen. And still she had only seen a fraction of the behemoth, it was that huge.
"*Shenme shi*, Rolo?"
Edmond Rolls grinned at her. He liked the sparky little mechanic, all sunshine and smiles but with a feel for a ship's innards that he could happily relate to. Simon scowled, not liking their easy camaraderie. "*Yiwusuoyou*, just the lander's comin' back."
Kaylee's face brightened even more, something Simon had not realised was possible. How did one person cram in so much happiness? "Zoe an' Wash get the Cap'n an' Jayne an' Book?"
He grinned back. "Yep. Best y'all get on board Serenity *mashang*."
"What you gonna do?"
"Gonna go an' guide 'em in."
Simon's face was a picture. "This ship is enormous, I don't think they are going to miss it."
"Not what I meant. Gotta open a bay for 'em, first get it depressurised *dong ma*? You wanna stay be my guest but ya ain't gonna like the shape you'll be in afterwards."
Kaylee laughed and even River cracked a smile though she looked as if something else was on her mind. Kaylee tugged on Simon's shoulder. "Come on, Simon. Rolo knows what he's doin' an' we're just gettin' in the way."
The doctor gave the man a nod and let Kaylee half coax and half drag him over to where Serenity was berthed. Beside them River had gone mercifully quiet, though she kept looking back, her eyes wide and hopeful but with a touch of sorrow shadowing her pale face.
Who would have thought there could be so many dark, secretive places in the heart of Alliance territory? Certainly Lucy Dengate had not expected to find what to her was a perfect, if smelly, hiding place. Instinctively she knew it would confound her enemy but for how long she could not tell. Hiding was one thing but it was a short term solution driven by necessity and though she had filled her little pack with some of her most precious things Lucy had not thought to pack any food.
She stared in the damp darkness and tried not to inhale too deeply. Somewhere she could hear water dripping but at times she fancied it was not water but words gurgled softly in the back of a dying throat and echoing like footsteps meting out her doom. Lucy shivered and hugged her jacket more tightly around her, not daring to reach out with her mind to check if she was alone. Hopefully the only rats sharing her hideout were the four legged kind, but though she was tired through and through Lucy dared not sleep. Not when a sleeping mind was an open one. She could not chance that her enemy would not try sneaking into her thoughts while she was off guard. Only by staying awake would she be able to detect anyone reaching out for her. Young as she was little Lucy Dengate knew it was the only warning she would get.
Willets was more exasperated than annoyed. "This isn't *biyao de*."
Serenity's first mate was unrelenting as the thrusters made the deck beneath their feet vibrate. "I'll be the judge of that."
Shepherd Book seemed mildly puzzled. "Why are we blind folding him?"
"Maybe he's just tryin' to help or maybe this is his way of findin' out where our ship is."
Book's eyebrows rose. "I really don't think..."
Zoe cut him off curtly as Jayne finished tying the thick cloth around Willet's head, completely covering his eyes. She saw something that might have been distaste flicker briefly over the Shepherd's features.
"Are we going to tie him up as well?"
Her answer was dry, practical rather than heartless. "Depends on him."
"I won't 'cause any trouble." The man in question said calmly.
Crouching down next to the seated man, Zoe spoke next to his ear sending a chill down his spine. "No, you won't. One wrong move an' it'll be your last, *dong ma*?"
The blind folded man nodded, surprised that they had left his hands free and made no attempt to lash him securely to the chair. "*Wo dong*."
Satisfied, Zoe gave Jayne a stern look and waited for the mercenary to nod back. Message received and understood. It would be his job to watch Willets, at least until they figured out what the good gorram they were up against and which side the man was on. Leaving them in the small cargo hold, she turned and went in search of her Captain and long time friend, anxious to get an update on how he was doing. Book hung back a moment as if to say something to Jayne then glanced at the blind folded man and decided it could wait. Then he followed in the first mate's wake.
The short range inter-atmosphere ship or landing craft was a pretty basic model and older even than Serenity. Zoe had wondered who the scruffy man in dark clothes was and found out as soon as they boarded behind Rufus Pol that it was his mechanic, Jonas Merrit. The man was a head shorter than Rufus, stocky but not fat, with a round pitted face on which no hair would grow. When Zoe caught her first sight of him she thought he was just dirty but that wasn't it. Seeing him close up she realised his face was a patchwork of skin grafts, probably over some considerable amount of time by the variable success she could see. It did not make him so much ugly as unfortunate and her heart softened a little towards him, only able to imagine what he must have gone through to undertake so much surgery under so many different knives. Jonas never complained, was pretty much acting as if he looked no different than the rest of them. It was surprising how quickly they got used to his looks.
Rufus apologised for not having an infirmary.
"Nothin' to apologise for, Rufus. How long until we get back to Ithaca Moon?"
Jonas grinned, an odd multifaceted effect caused by the uneven joins and lumpy seals of the skin grafts but the twinkle in his eyes was all humour. "Four or five hours. Got her on autopilot for the first couple'a hours then I'll go an' do the fine tunin' 'fore we land."
She glanced at Rufus. "Fine tunin'?"
Rufus laughed but it was quite a sober humour, he still didn't like the look of the Captain and seeing that worry steadied Zoe. Made her dislike Rufus less though she still did not quite trust him. "Yeah, when we're ready to land Jonas'll signal the mothership an' once they're ready he'll take us in."
Zoe frowned at his terminology and looked at her husband who had just joined them. "Mothership?"
Rufus Pol chuckled. "Yeah, seems years ago back before the exodus from Earth-that-was any lights or objects in the sky that nobody recognised were thought to be aliens. The biggest of the lights they called the Mothership. It's just *yige ezuoju*."
Rufus took in her dead pan expression and smirked then his humour fled as if someone had opened a tap and drained it out of him.
He took a second before answering, not wanting to say too much and wake the sleeping Captain. "Mal don't look good, Zoe. *Wo bu xihuan*."
"This doc of yours better be good." He growled quietly.
Zoe's eyes narrowed just a fraction at his tone but Rufus was not intimidated. He had spent much of the war feeding off her anger and irritation much to the sometimes humour and frustration of their mutual friend Malcolm Reynolds. Wash opened his mouth to make a quip but one look from his beautiful but deadly wife and he closed it again. He wanted to go to the bridge with Jonas, maybehaps convince the man to let him bring her in to land but the tension was such that he decided not to say anything. The undercurrent was odd, not exactly hostile but not friendly either. Like a truce, begrudged and held beneath a dirty white flag that could blow away at any moment. Zoe stiffened. Wash gave her an anxious look, reaching out to squeeze her hand but she was not looking at him. He turned his head and noticed that Rufus had placed a hand on the Captain's shoulder.
"Don't you ruttin' die on me you *sishengzi*."
The Captain didn't stir and that worried Zoe even more. A thought occurred to her, not exactly welcome but needing airing all the same. "Wash?"
"*Qu, bao bei*?"
"Go find Jayne an' get him to bring Willets with him."
Wash's mouth flapped open in surprise but one look at her uncompromising expression and he nodded quickly.
The men were getting restless. Not the Triads so much as the hired mercenaries. They didn't like hanging around doing nothing but give them someone to torture or kill and they were like pigs in *goushi*. Being idle made them fractious and difficult and Arran Burke was in no mood for either. This job was not going the way he expected. Not only was there no sign of the *lese* Firefly or any of its' crew, but the massing of a rival Triad organisation was unsettling. The longer they staked out the docks the more worried he got. He had the unsettling feeling that somehow Malcolm Reynolds had outfoxed them but how? There was no way he could know what was going on unless one of his men had betrayed him. Softly he snorted. A few heads turned his way then ignored him when he did not say anything or react to them. No, there was no breach in his operation, he had personally seen to it ending the lives of those men wounded but still breathing after their first encounter with Serenity's Captain. So where in the nine hells were they?
The meat was always sweeter nearer to the bone. Sharp teeth scraped off every last scrap of flesh until the bone shone white as if bleached in the sun. He did not throw it aside but placed it gently in an open necked sack at his feet. Waste not, want not, and he had plans for those remains. With a smile he closed his eyes slowly and reached out, his mind a thread elongating across time and space to seek out and touch those he sought. It was a delicious irony that those who tried the hardest to remain hidden were easiest for him to find. No one in the Alliance of Allied Planets was able to accomplish what he could and though they might not like him or completely trust him he was their only link to tracking down the gifted.
For hours he sat cross legged, eyes closed, not moving except to breathe in quiet deep breaths that barely stirred the fetid air around him. The smell of death clung to him, its' sweet sickly aroma something he cherished. At last he twitched, his eyes sprang open like a trap being set. They glittered with eager anticipation, his blood speeding through his veins, his head a cacophony of voices crying out in fright and despair knowing an eye had been turned in their direction but not from whence the danger would come. Slowly he grinned, his sharp teeth yellowed and dirty but filed to an edge that made short work of both sinew and muscle. His hunger sated he rose to his feet, ready to feed another far stronger appetite. One that was never sated and did not sleep.
He stirred slowly, senses sluggish and a mite confused. Where was he and what the good gorram was going on? When he managed to get his eyes open it was to find a circle of faces gathered around him. "Zoe?"
The relief when she replied worried him. "Good to see you awake, sir."
"How long I been sleepin'?"
"Too long." Grunted Jayne.
The Captain barely glanced at him, all his attention on his second in command. "Report."
"It was the filter mask, sir. Seems yours was contaminated."
He paused, trying to remember. "Seem to recall bein' sick."
Willets voice sailed clearly over Zoe's shoulder. "Yeah, we think you probably coughed most of it up but it's nasty stuff."
Zoe partly turned her head and indicated for Jayne to bring Willets close enough for the the Captain to see and hear him. Malcolm Reynolds opened his mouth to speak but for a second words failed him. He blinked and tried to sit up only to find the Shepherd gently easing him back down. Turning his attention back to Willets he couldn't help but ask. "Why you blind folded? I ain't that gorram ugly."
The laugh made Rufus smile but no one else seemed to be in a humorous mood. Zoe quickly explained that he was one of Jerrod Perkins men who had insisted on coming with them back to Serenity.
"An' this requires a blind fold?"
His first mate wet her lips. Not nervous but not liking that he was more concerned that Willets had been blind folded than that he was dogged in his determination to go with them. "We don't know him, sir, an' I thought it best to be safe when we meet up with the others."
Though no emphasis was given to the other members of his crew the Captain was quick on the uptake realising Zoe was talking about Simon and River. He gave a nod of approval. "Good thinkin'." Mal paused and gave Book a hard look. "No need for hands on, Shepherd, just wanna sit up."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea at least until..."
He was about to say Simon's name but the Captain cut him off right quick. "This your body, Book?"
Book blinked. "No, Captain."
"Then best you leave me to know what it needs an' what it don't an' right now it needs to be sittin', *dong ma*?"
Behind Book someone pushed to the front until the Captain was face to face with Rufus Pol. For a moment they just stared at each other then the Captain laughed, a look of delight stealing over his face. If Zoe didn't know better she would say the Captain looked as if nothing at all was wrong with him but she wouldn't relax until Simon had checked him out to within an inch of his life, Captain or no Captain she wasn't taking any chances.
"Polly! If you ain't a sight for sore eyes."
The man was grinning from ear to ear. "*Diyu* Mal if I ain't pullin' your *pigu* out of the gorram fire again!" Rufus paused, his grin fading into a small pleased smile. He cocked his head slightly to one side and the smile faded. "Been too long, Mal."
"Huh, as I recall it was you gettin' me into trouble not the other way round."
Jayne and Book exchanged amused looks over their heads. The Captain tried once more to sit but still felt a mite weak, without waiting to be asked Rufus put a shoulder behind him and got him half upright propping a pillow that had seen better days behind him. Zoe frowned but held her tongue, waiting for the Captain to pass out but pleased when he didn't. Maybe he wasn't as bad as she feared but until Simon gave the all clear sitting up was all he would be doing for a while. Malcolm Reynolds glanced around at the sea of faces wondering why he had suddenly become so fascinating.
"Now will someone tell me what the good gorram is goin' on?"
Chou's face was expressionless as he listened to the response to his latest update. The lady was displeased that the ship had not returned but seemed excited about something. Schooling her features back into one of iron control she gave a slow nod as her major domo in the field finished. It was a pared down succinct report that told her everything in a nutshell. No waffle and no elaboration.
"Which Triads are taking up positions?"
"The White Lotus and the Tree of Heaven."
"You saw mercenaries too?"
"*Qu, my Lady. Most were with the Tree of Heaven but others allied to the White Lotus have begun to gather."
A slow brow rose like a drawbridge, her expression giving nothing away. "*Youqu*. We could use this to our advantage."
Chou waited, as patient as the stone mountains. He watched for the slightest sign of her will that he might more readily make it come to pass for he lived to serve. Life or death by her will kept his feet on the path. Her instruction was simplicity itself yet correctly carried out it would have a devastating effect. She had exposed herself too much already, even though that exposure was minimal by other people's standards. Not one to take risks her skill was shrouded in the subtle arts not the coarse and right now the coarse ones would provide all the distraction she needed to make her next move. Chou bowed low and the small portable cortex in his hand darkened. Closing it he carefully put it away while his agile oriental mind began to rapidly devise ways to achieve the desired effect for his Lady.
"Told you, *wode hao*, Zoe. No need to fuss."
Being reunited with the rest of his crew on the huge terraforming vessel on Ithaca Moon had left the Captain momentarily speechless. While he knew Rufus had the beast he had no idea just how enormous it was. The notion that such a behemoth could actually fly seemed ridiculous in the extreme. Plus, unless he was much mistaken someone had stolen the guts out of the thing. Rufus noted his friend's expression and just smiled. He would enjoy explaining it all in detail later when he could finally get Mal alone.
Simon resisted the urge to say something sharp and pithy. It had disconcerted him to see a man with a piece of dark cloth wrapped around his head in a blind fold. What had gone wrong now? Zoe scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to the doctor. Both eyebrows rose in surprise and though he very much wanted to question her about the instruction as he read the note he trusted her to know her business better than he and if it kept himself and his sister safe he would follow it to the letter but he would not have been human if he had not been intrigued. Kaylee leaned over his shoulder and read the note. At a look from Simon, Kaylee nodded and showed the note to River.
"Captain, I need to take a look at you."
The Captain bit back an impatient sigh but the look on his first mate's face brought grudging acceptance. "Maybe it wasn't the gorram mask made me sick, you ever think of that? That crawler of yours," he threw in Willet's direction "was mighty uncomfortable. All that rockin' an' swayin'. Ain't a natural way to travel."
Shen lifted his head a little. "Your doc listenin', Mal?"
Simon nodded then realised the man would not be able to see it. "Yes, and I want the Captain to come to the infirmary so I can do a proper check up." He paused and was about to start walking away when he noticed Jayne trying to make himself scarce. "Jayne! That means you too."
"Huh, I ain't sick."
It was on the tip of Simon's tongue to disagree but now was not the time for sniping. Shepherd Book stepped in quickly. "You'll need to check me too, the three of us were all wearing dust masks though for some reason only the Captain got ill."
` Book turned to help Willets to his feet and guide him. Simon had so many questions he wanted to ask but knew he would have to wait until it was just the crew. Once on board Serenity the little party made their way straight to the infirmary. The Captain bit back a sigh and sat on the infirmary bed. The dizziness and earlier queasiness all but gone now though there was a dryness to his throat that he couldn't seem to shift.
"Now, while I start to examine the Captain will someone please tell me what happened?"
The craft was sleek, her tapered angular lines giving the ship more the appearance of a dart than a space going vessel. In her cell, Kathleen tried to think of a way out of her predicament but none came to mind. The room was sealed and not just the door either. There was something odd about the walls, floor and ceiling. Not just that they were metal, after all she was on a ship. No. This was something else. It was not until several hours later that she realised what it was. Within this room she could not project a single thought nor extend her senses. She sat on the end of the bed and shivered as she let that sink in. Not only was she being held prisoner but within these walls she was being kept blind, deaf, and dumb, her extended senses unable to operate while inwardly her heart quailed. She knew why she had been hunted but had not expected them to take such extreme measures in their transportation of her. What did it mean? And where in the nine hells were these creepy *tamade hundan* taking her?
Anaeron docks was always busy for while the numbers of folk living on the planet was relatively small, business was brisk with ships coming and going all the time to load and off-load their cargoes. The high concentration of off-worlders would not have been unusual were they not a mix of Triad members and mercenaries. Chou kept to the shadows and watched, the only thing moving was his eyes, tracking every one in the dock area and making sure none had noted his presence. Like all men of subtle skills he used nothing that was scented either in the soap he washed with or the shampoo or bathing oils given to him by his Lady. Nothing to mask his scent and nothing to replace it.
He took his time picking his target. Most of the Triad members were 49s, mere foot soliders. He needed to locate the Enforcer, Red Pole. Better still if he could take out each side's Enforcer, it would throw the 49s into disarray and while momentarily leaderless they would react to the perceived threat. As for the mercenaries of each side, they would be caught up in the middle. Chou stiffened slightly, he had found his first mark. Slowly easing the small metal tube from his inner jacket pocket he placed it to his lips then inserted a dart in the end. As the Enforcer passed within feet of his hiding place Chou expelled a fierce but measured breath, the thin sharp dart penetrating unprotected skin on the side of the man's thick neck. He automatically swatted the site of the sting with the flat of his hand thinking it an insect bite and the tiny featherless dart was further embedded under his skin by his own unthinking action. Chou moved on, knowing it would take a minute or two for the poison to work giving him time to locate the Enforcer from the other Triad. This one was more watchful, suspicious of every thing and every one. He watched him for a few seconds, selected another dart and got ready only his target did not move but seemed satisfied to stay in one spot. Chou approved the location and his caution, it gave him the best point of advantage in every direction but one. Chou lined up his shot and expelled the little dart with all the power of his lungs. Even as it burrowed into the man's neck he was moving, not forwards but backwards and sideways. Before a second had passed he was already on his way out of the docks. Chou did not need to wait to see the effects of his actions, the milling Tree of Heaven Triad buzzing like a hive of angry bees around their fallen Enforcer. Without drawing so much as an eye he melted away from the scene just as the second Enforcer dropped dead to the ground. Immediately each Triad thought the other had attacked them.
Arran Burke looked on in horror, unable to exercise any control over the 49s of the Tree of Heaven. His paid mercenaries were straining at the bit to join the fray but he could not afford to lose them too yet within minutes that decision was ripped out of his hands along with the side of his face. His quick bloody death spared him the cacophony of gunfire as the two Triads errupted into a fierce battle of attrition.
The sleek craft settled, lights dimmed but still enough to see by. Kathleen hated being shut in, cut off from her abilities and not knowing what was going to happen to her. She had her suspicions but most were born of fear. She needed more information. A muffled sound caught her ear. It sounded rhythmic but far away yet as she tensed and listened it grew nearer until the sounds stopped then the door was unlocked and she found herself shrinking back in terror, suddenly unwilling to leave her prison.
The man who faced her was not the one who had visited or sought to bring her food. This man she had never seen before but she could feel his power. Not the same as hers but frightening nonetheless.
"What do you want with me?"
For a long moment he did not speak. When he did she was shocked by his cultured speech, how reasonable he sounded. Everything about him seemed to say 'you can trust me'. Obviously well educated, not the kind of violent mindless thug she had been expecting. His appearance threw her and being invited to go with him she found herself automatically falling into step only noticing as he turned to leave the room that across his back he wore a scabbard and in the sheath was a sword. Sensing her hesitation he turned and gave her a gentle smile, his eyes seemingly wide with innocence yet as deep as any abyss. It was the knowing in them that touched something in her making her quail inside despite his soft voice and polite tone.
"*Shenme shi*? Don't you want to help make a Better World?"
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*shenjingbing* crazy *wanmei* = perfect *mei mei* = little sister *ni bu dong* = you don't understand
*shenme shi* = what's the matter? *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *mashang* = at once/immediately/on the double
*dong ma* = understand? *biyao de* = necessary *wo dong* = I understand *yige ezuoju* = a joke/trick
*wo bu xihuan* = I don't like it *sishengzi* = bastard (not an insult) *qu* = yes (lit. go) *diyu* = hell
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *goushi* = crap/dog shit *lese* = crappy *youqu* = interesting
*wode hao* = I'm good *dang ran* = of course *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard*
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