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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Carefully he kept his monitoring subtle,nothing to make her aware that she had given herself away. He did not want her to go to ground again, at least not until it was him taking her there and by then it would be too late.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1961 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE
CHAPTER: 11. Sequel to "NOT SO GOOD INTENTIONS"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon
SUMMARY: "Rufus tries to make a run for it. River provides
a cryptic insight into what is going on, the plot only deepening
when Shen Willets starts putting two and two together."
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Zoe could have happily shot the lot of them but was surprised by the Captain's voice cutting through the dead air behind her.
"Polly, best you tell your men to lay down arms *mashang*!"
A twist of the gun barrel from Jayne had Rufus Pol cutting off whatever whining complaint was on the tip of his duplicitious tongue, Vera rammed up against the edge of his windpipe. Only getting a partial breath into his lungs he tried to nod but the mercenary just stared back at him, not an inch of give in his eyes.
"Do as he says!" He croaked out.
Not able to turn his head, Rufus could hear the clatter of guns being thrown down. Malcolm Reynolds moved slowly into the open so everyone could see him. Zoe didn't like the sheen of sweat on his face but was glad that Book and Jayne were there. On her own she had no doubt in her mind that Rufus Pol would have killed her in the blink of an eye and with not one iota of regret. Would probably have celebrated the fact afterwards but not in front of the Captain. No. In front of Mal he would be all sorrow and bafflement, wondering what in the 'verse could have happened. She could see it now only that wasn't how things had turned out and it was Rufus and his crew on the end of their guns not the other way around.
"Zoe, Book, best collect up the weapons."
Jonas Merrit, the mechanic, twisted his face up in an unhappy scowl. "Ain't no need for that."
The Captain's look hardened, his voice taking on a deadly edge. "You drew your guns on my crew, Jonas, what does that tell you?"
"We heard shots, came runnin' an' saw your man with a gun in the boss's face!"
"An' yet," said the Captain calmly "he didn't pull the trigger."
Jonas swallowed awkwardly, his eyes flicking nervously to the great greasy remnant of manhood that slicked the floor not a dozen yards from him. Even with the head blown off he recognised Duke Manning from what was left of the clothes on his back. Duke was five years younger than him, the thought was kind of sobering. Now didn't seem the right time to argue with Serenity's Captain and crew.
Zoe and Book gathered up the assortment of guns and rounded up Rufus's crew.
"What do you want me to do with this one, Cap?"
The Captain was now close enough for Jayne to hear him sigh. "That depends on Polly." He paused. "Jayne, let the man breathe."
Zoe could see the war on Jayne's face but within seconds he was doing as he was told though he never took his eyes off Rufus Pol or pointed Vera in any other direction but the man's face. If Rufus so much as breathed wrong he would end him.
"See if there's some kind'a lock up on this boat."
She frowned, it was not a good idea for any of them to split up even if Rufus and his men were disarmed there were still twice as many of them. "Sir?"
"Just need a place for them to kick back their heels without a chance to cause trouble while I have a talk with Polly."
Before she could answer River appeared half walking, half dancing across the dirty deck towards them. When she reached them her grin seemed more than a mite unsettling. "No need. There's a secure room at the back, next to waste control."
Rufus looked nonplussed, how did the *shenjingbing* girl know that? She spun close to him and stared into his eyes all signs of humour gone, not an inch between them. Over her shoulder Jayne was grinning, enjoying the look of confusion and discomfort on Rufus Pol's face.
"It's where you hide your prisoners. All rigged up with special extractors. Meant for air purification but just as efficient at removing it altogether. Quick, neat, no blood."
All the blood drained from Rufus's face. He stared at the girl in horror. "You're a gorram witch!"
"She's a member of my crew, Polly. You ain't." Warned the Captain.
Rufus tore his attention away from the disturbing girl and looked at Mal, hoping to plead with him, turn the tables on Zoe and get back in the Captain's good graces only the look on Mal's face disabused him of that fantasy. "It ain't what it looks like, Mal." He pleaded weakly.
"An' what might that be?"
He gulped, not willing to say anything that would skirt too close to the truth. Zoe might be beyond suspicious and have no reason for trusting him but she didn't know the why of it and he wasn't gonna tell her. Trouble was, he hadn't reckoned with River Tam. A girl whose alarming insights twisted him up inside.
"You spoilt his plan."
Rufus glared at the girl. "You shut your gorram mouth!"
Jayne didn't even have to flex his muscles to ram Vera's barrel into Rufus's chin making him bite his lip. A thin trickle of blood ran out of the corner of his mouth, his look darkening as he got madder and madder. The Captain took River's place.
"What plan is that, Polly?"
"Girl don't now what she's talkin' about."
River shook her head. "He was going to betray you, capture the crew and sell them to slavers."
Rufus looked close to panic now. How in the nine hells did the girl know that? He looked around wildly but none of his men refused to meet his eyes, none showing any signs of guilt, yet one of them must surely have said something. River looked at the Captain.
"You, he was saving."
"Was he now?"
If Jayne wasn't keeping him on his toes with Vera, Rufus would have dropped to his knees and begged. Panic was writ large on his face, convinced any minute that Mal would put a bullet in his brain pan unless Zoe beat him to it. If Malcolm Reynolds or one of his crew didn't send him right to *diyu* he was a dead man anyway. The Captain was feeling a mite queasy, he gave Zoe a look.
"You an' Book take 'em to that secure room. River go with 'em, make sure no one tries to give you the slip, *dong ma*?"
River grinned back at him and gave a sloppy salute. "Aye, Aye, Captain!"
He watched the little group go. "Jayne?"
"Bring him with you. Me an' Polly are gonna have a nice long talk."
It was on the tip of Jayne's tongue to tell the Captain he looked close to passing out but there was a look in his eye that made the big man hold his tongue. As they began walking towards where Serenity was berthed Shen Willets's eyes widened in shock. The Captain was about to ask him what was wrong but Willets was not staring at him but at Rufus Pol.
"You *chusheng xai-jiao xiang huo*, you set us up!"
The Captain stepped in front of Jayne and Rufus. "*Pingjing zhenjing*, Shen. Gonna sort all this out, *dong ma*?"
Willets was red faced, angrier than anyone had ever seen him. "It's all fallin' into place now, Mal." He growled.
Confusion swept over the Captain's face. "It is?"
"Yeah. This is a terraformin' ship."
They were making their way slowly towards Serenity, Jayne making sure to keep a good grip on Rufus with one hand while holding Vera close to the man's face in case he decided to try to do anything. Rufus Pol looked like a beaten man, all the fight seemingly gone out of him. Jayne though, never took anything for gorram granted. Knew a man was the most dangerous when he was cornered, didn't matter a good gorram if he was armed or not, made him all manner of unpredictable especially if he thought he was a dead man anyway.
The Captain didn't feel so good. Wished everyone would stop yammering. Seemed like the ship was miles away but how could that be? They got to the bottom of Serenity's ramp just as the Captain stumbled. Shen moved towards Mal and Rufus used the distraction to make his move, sliding a knife out of his pocket and shoving it as hard as he could into Jayne's thigh. Jayne howled, as much in anger as in pain, but that was where Rufus made his mistake. Instead of breaking free and making a run for it he tried to wreast Vera out of the mercenary's hand and that immediately focused Jayne's attention on him. As Shen got the Captain steady and provided a little support to keep him upright both men turned at the sound of Vera firing. Jayne stumbled back, bleeding from his right shoulder and the knife wound in his left thigh. For a moment Rufus stood where he was then turned and took a step off the ramp just as something flashed passed them and hit him inbetween the shoulderblades. Rufus went down and rolled onto his back but before he could get up again found himself staring into a wildly colourful shirt that fair hurt the eyes. Wash held the gun steady, his eyes hard. "Don't even think of movin', *dong ma*?"
Rufus raised his hands. Behind Wash came Simon and Kaylee. Simon tutted at the Captain for leaving the infirmary then realised that Jayne was wounded. Vaguely, he was aware of people speaking but all his attention was on staunching the gunshot wound in Jayne's shoulder. Fortunately the knife was still embedded the big man's thigh where it was stopping too much blood escaping. The Captain was so gorram weary and his throat kept wanting to close up but there would be time enough for that once they were all safely on his boat.
"Wash, best you tie him up."
The pilot nodded and waved his gun at Rufus. "Get up!"
Rufus rose cautiously.
"Take off your belt."
Without a murmur he did as he was told but he was not watching Wash, his eyes were on the Captain who was swaying badly now. His eyes narrowing in something that in anyone else would have been concern as Kaylee ran towards the Captain to help. Rufus put his hands behind his back and let Wash tighten the belt around his wrists. It was makeshift but would have to do until Wash got hold of some rope. Shen watched Simon help Jayne while Kaylee hung on to the Captain's arm despite his protests that he could gorram walk. Slowly they made their way towards the infirmary. Shen content to hang back and walk with Wash. No way in *diyu* was he going to let a slippery *tamade hundan* like Rufus Pol make another attempt to escape.
* * * * *
Opening his eyes a smile graced mirthless lips. He rose without hurry and gathered his things, knowing a ship would be made ready for him. Nothing big and fancy on the outside but with extra engine capacity making it one of the swiftest vessels in the fleet. The dark shaded craft was like an arrow shaft, its' surface graduated from coal black to matt, the surface having a quality that confused the eye when it was in flight. Made it look like a trick of the eye rather than a sleek state of the art pursuit vessel. It had no markings and the kind of stealth capabilities that any smuggler would give his eye teeth for. In flight it blended with the Black and on the ground was menacing enough that folk unfamiliar with it gave it a wide berth. Silas boarded quickly, the door sealing shut behind him. As he got to his seat the ship was already taking off, as smoothly as if it was born in the air.
He closed his eyes and reached out once more, letting his mind clear of everything but his target. The brightness of her aura drawing him on whether she willed it or not. Almost he sensed he could taste her thoughts which initially had been ebullient and full of relief and gratitude but were now shielded. Yet he had seen the spark within, had the measure of it and knew where and how to look to pick up that thread once more. Oh, she was trying to stay off his radar but it was too late now. Carefully he kept his monitoring subtle, nothing to make her aware that she had given herself away. He did not want her to go to ground again, at least not until it was him taking her there and by then it would be too late.
* * * * *
The men glowered but Book was not moved. If they thought his being a Shepherd meant he would not lock them in they were much mistaken. It was the safest place for them and for the crew of Serenity. As he watched Zoe seal the door shut River's sing song voice caught his attention.
"In the end they'll thank you."
Book gave her a look of mild confusion. "They don't look too grateful, River."
Her smile was merry but brief. Her thoughts quick flashes of intellect partly reflected in her expressive face. "Not now. Now they want to kill you, kill us all. But when this is over, they'll be grateful they were kept apart."
Zoe checked the seals one last time then cycled the lock. River showed her how to use the voice activated code it was also programmed with but which Rufus and his crew had never bothered with. In fact it was doubtful they knew how to use it properly. The fact that the door locked on the outside was good enough for them. Zoe paused. "You sure it's a good idea to use my voice?"
"River," said Book mildly "these men aren't going anywhere."
"Not now they won't."
He shook his head. Zoe coded her voice in and watched the little screen accept and lock it in. She turned to River. "Why did you want me to do that?"
The girl smiled. "Now you won't need to leave anyone to watch the door."
Book frowned. "River, the door is locked."
"Yes, but not everyone's inside."
Zoe opened her mouth to ask her what she meant but River was gone. Alarmed, Zoe gave the Shepherd a look. He nodded and held his rifle ready.
"Best we split up and check, just to be sure."
"I think we also need to find the bridge and disable the communication system. If there is anyone else on this ship they could have gone into hiding. We don't want anyone to be able to call for help."
Book nodded, it was good thinking. Without another word they parted, quietly and cautiously to search the ship from top to bottom. Inwardly Zoe lamented the sheer size of the beast aware there must be dozens of places a person could hide if they were minded to.
Fear had become such a constant companion that Kathleen was sure she was beyond being shocked any more. She should have known the Universe would prove her wrong.
"W... what're ya gonna do to me?"
The smile was too serene to be heartfelt, like something the Operative had crafted without much thought as to whether or not it would reassure her. In fact, her feelings were of little interest to him for he was a true believer. Her heart quailed. Those eyes. Might be windows to the gorram soul but as far as Kathleen was concerned they led only one way and that was to the very pit of *diyu* and he would be taking her with him. "You are about to help create a Better World."
The harness was frightening. Not heavy but just as restrictive. The straps were leather but the frame that kept her head in place seemed to be made out of some kind of light but strong alloy. Pinned to the chair she could only stare straight ahead. When the needle had gone in she had cried out as much in panic as in pain. The Operative had smiled kindly at her, humming something barely audible as the technicians worked. She wanted so much to close her eyes, to lose consciousness, to be rendered insensate but they kept her awake, unable to blink only to endure. At first she thought it was to torture her. How foolish she was to think it would be that simple.
Images, faces, emotions, every feeling, every sensation, every thought teased out and examined. After a time Kathleen stopped trying to cling on to them, no longer aware of what was being harvested and what was discarded. Her mind becoming a landscape she barely recognised as it was restructured in a way utterly foreign to her. Her body trembled, reaction catching up with her as Kathleen's breath hitched. The technician did not pause, gave no sign that her distress was even noticed. Then he paused, spoke softly to the Operative who frowned slightly and made some kind of murmured response she could not hear. That was when everything began to speed up, as if searching for something that they could not find. After several hours the torment stopped. The technicians let their equipment speak for them, the Operative taking it all in with not a word uttered. He stared off into space, a man lost in thought, and for a time she dared to hope her ordeal was over. Kathleen's mouth was dry, her eyes sore from running out of tears and being unable to close them. Her body aching in sympathy with her mind. It felt like mental rape, the measure of their control somehow making it even worse. A systematic and deliberate violation. Every touch like a laser rewriting the software of her brain but that wasn't possible, was it? It was creepifying and utterly terrifying. Only the Operative's current distraction allowed her to tentatively examine what was left, finding to her mounting horror that not only had some things been removed and others restructured, but elements were now in place that had not been there before. They were not only foreign but seemed aware of her scrutiny in a way that made both her body and mind crawl with fear. It took several moments before she realised the Operative was talking to her. Shaking uncontrollably she tried to concentrate on what he was saying but it was so hard.
"You are not intact."
The words were meaningless to her. Not intact? What did that mean? It was so absurd she would have been tempted to laugh only it was not actually funny. How could he accuse her of such a thing when he was the one having probes stuck in her brain, removing the memories and thoughts he did not like? When she did not reply, a look of displeasure momentarily flitted across his face then he appeared without emotion once more. The two technicians were silent, one remaining in his position at the monitoring equipment, the other now several feet behind the Operative but pointedly not making eye contact with her. It was obvious who held all the power in this brightly lit and sterile room. The Operative leaned in closer until his eyes were but inches from her captive ones.
"Where have you been little girl and who have you talked to?"
Kathleen opened her mouth but no words came out. She was shaking so badly now that only the restraints kept her in place. The Operative waited. When Kathleen still did not answer he gave a soft disappointed sigh.
"I had hoped to save you this." He murmured.
Save her? From what? The only thing she needed saving from was him. That was when a sudden bright, needle sharp intrusion had her back arching, eyes wide as saucers, heart beating so rapidly it was in danger of being bruised against her rib cage - or so it seemed. She did not realise for the longest time that the intrusion was not a physical one. Her mind cried out in despair but there was no respite and her voice had vanished so that all her cries were silent though her mind screamed and begged but in the nightmare that was now her life was ignored.
Simon was pleased. Not that Jayne had been shot but that the bullet had gone straight through his shoulder.
"Just wad it up, doc. Cap needs his operation."
The doctor stared at him. "The entry wound is small but the exit is a mess, Jayne. I need to suture it closed so you don't lose any more blood then I want to look at the knife wound."
"I'm right here." Murmured the Captain quietly.
"The Captain is going nowhere, Jayne, and neither are you. As soon as you let me finish I can see to the Captain, *dong ma*?"
Jayne couldn't argue with that, realising that his attempt to avoid Simon's attentions were only delaying the Captain's surgery and that was the last thing he wanted. His lapse into silence was taken for the acquiessence it was.
Both men were laid up on infirmary beds but Simon only had one pair of hands. One of the first things a good trauma surgeon learnt was triage, it was a skill that stood him in good stead now. Choosing the patient who needed to be treated first and right now blood loss said that was Jayne Cobb. He would get to the Captain as soon as he finished with the mercenary. Fortunately he did not have to worry about the Captain sneaking away while he was concentrating on Jayne. Truth be told he was worried by how passive the man was, it was out of character enough for Simom to be concerned that the dust might be more widespread or invasive than he first judged. A noise by the door made him look up to see Inara Serra hovering in the doorway, unable to hide the worry in her eyes.
"I thought you could use some help, Simon."
"*Xie xie ni*, Inara."
The Companion's eyes widened slightly when she saw Jayne's injuries. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask what had happened but this was not the time for distractions. She cast a look in the Captain's direction but he was staring straight up at the ceiling leaving her free to give him a brief but critical assessment without having him pick her up on it. Then Inara scrubbed up and took a pair of surgical gloves out of the drawer. Simon nodded his approval and showed her the instrument tray. With a nod Inara took the surgical needle and threaded it for him. Simon cleaned and sutured the entry wound in Jayne's shoulder then did the same to the larger exit wound, taking care to be as neat as possible. It wasn't just a matter of pride. Small neat stitches left less scar tissue not that Jayne Cobb would worry one way or the other. As soon as he was done, Simon quickly doped the mercenary before he realised what was happening. Across on the other table the Captain had turned his head just in time to see Simon put Jayne under.
"Best not be pullin' that stunt with me, Simon." He slurred softly.
The doctor paused, initially tempted to rail at the *wangu* man but noticing how badly Mal was flagging. He tried to hide his concern. "I need to remove the knife in his thigh, Captain. I would rather do it without Jayne howling the place down."
Mal didn't laugh, crack a joke or even smile. Slowly his eyes fluttered and closed as if losing their battle to remain open. Inara wondered if Simon had already given the Captain the good drugs. Simon could have told her but why worry the Companion more than she was already? He could not begin to understand the prickly relationship between Inara and the Captain but it was clear that they did care deeply for each other. Perhaps as much as they drove each other insane. He remembered hearing Inara once wish the Captain hundreds of fat children. For the sake of the sanity of both he dearly hoped they would not be hers.
It was dark in the shadows and he knew all the best places to hide unobserved. Even in a place like Osiris, populated as it was by the monied classes and their hangers on. The towns and cityscapes were all a-glow with a multitude of lights, every street swept so clean you could eat your dinner off it - if you were sominded. Lamps glowed on wires criss crossing the main thoroughfare but beyond the town night crowded in and plants ran riot in an unruly tangle once free of the rigid landscaping, eagerly clawing back its' rightful place as Nature intended. He waited, patience was his watch word. Only when the normal sounds of night resumed did he shift his position. Not much, just enough to peer into the deeper dark where his senses told him she would be.
Contact was fragmentary now, a fact which should have puzzled him but rather his pulse quickened with the chase. She either knew she was being pursued or had resumed her careful progress. So why had she shown herself? It was an aberration that had occupied his intellect on the journey. He took a cloth map from a pocket within his jacket. Meticulous to a fault he would not use flimsies or even maps copied onto parchment or ancient papers. Anything that might crackle or reflect the slightest bit of light from a moon or a star was too risky. Ninety nine times out of a hundred it would not matter, he would not tip his presence by such devices, but that one hundredth time would likely be the one when he was pursuing his greatest prize so he would not risk it.
Across a wide and elaborate square, punctuated with stylised fountains and topiary clipped to within an inch of its' life, another set of eyes also kept watch. This time on a much smaller thinner frame, the night clothing the youth as if the darkness had been painted onto his skin. His hair was very short, jet back and tightly curled against his scalp. Nicholas Bey was almost eleven. A child of the streets, one abandoned by every system of care that should be a mark of a modern society. His parents had disowned him at an early age as soon as his abilities became more apparent. Incidents that they had assumed accidental and having no connection to their son began to become more frequent until they paid closer attention and felt a strange fear rising within them. This child, this boy who had been such a cause of joy at his birth, was now a frightening stranger to them. Something twisted out of nature until they no longer recognised him. He was three when they dumped him on the street. Not on their own homeworld but far away on Osiris where they reasoned the high and mighty Alliance could use their wealth and expertise to either cure or institutionalise him. In their way they were trying to do right by him but it was not prompted by a selfless act but their own self preservation for slowly and surely one fact had emerged that neither of them would openly admit: they were afraid of their own son and even more fearful that someone might find a way to link the child to them. Whatever *guai* was in him had nothing to do with them, they washed their hands of him. His mother had hesitated, reluctant to actually leave him now that the decision was made but unwilling to fight to keep him. So they left, paying passage on a slow frieghter until weeks later they returned by a roundabout route to their homeworld on the Rim. One thing they had given him at birth increased his chances of survival and that was the midnight colour of his skin. Perfect camouflage for a child who would learn with alarming speed how to use it to his best advantage by only coming out of hiding at night.
Now he was watching, ears stretched but catching no spoken word. Every tiny motion noted and mapped, his eyes able to see clearly in the darkness. He had been lightly sleeping, resting in a deep abandoned burrow that he had taken over as his own. Dark and warm, the close walls comforted him as if still inside his mother's womb. Trailing thoughts had alerted him to something unexpected. Strange, uninvited thoughts and mental images but they were not exactly random. They glanced lightly passed his defences not knowing of his existence but seeking another, the presence so unexpected it drew his attention like an intruder triggering a trip wire. He recognised it at once: a hunter on the prowl. He did not know who that hunter was but this now was his world, his home, and he sensed the man - for such it was - did not belong. What was he after? Who was he seeking?
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *shenjingbing* = crazy *diyu* = hell
*dong ma* = understand? *chusheng xai-jiao xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard
*pingjing zhenjing* = calm down *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go)
*xie xie ni* = thank you *wangu* = stubborn *guai* = devil/ghost
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