BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 12. "Mixed Fortunes"
Monday, June 18, 2012

He felt helpless, unable to give her a definitive answer when the problem he was staring at should not be able to exist.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1310    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "MIXED FORTUNES" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 12. Sequel to "OUTMANOEUVRED" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Simon worries about a disturbing development in the Captain's condition. River helps solve a problem for Zoe and the Hunter finds himself in a unusual position."

"MIXED FORTUNES"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"I think we got them all."

Zoe did not nod. River had said they hadn't got everyone and though neither she nor Shepherd Book knew how many crew members Rufus Pol had she was inclined to err on the side of caution. They had spent hours searching the old hulk of a terraforming ship without success. To all intents and purposes the crew were secure in the lock up but the ship was huge with who knows how many nooks and crannies in which a person could hide. Zoe was thankful that River had told them about the voice activation option on the lock up, something Rufus Pol had never bothered with but that was now keyed in to her voice and her voice alone. Those men would not get out unless she personally released them so if someone else was at liberty on Rufus's ship he would be unable to release them. While not a perfect solution it was the best they could do short of being able to account for every last man. She could ask Rufus but knew he would not be too inclined to help them.

"Still need to keep our eyes open, *dong ma*?"

Book nodded and followed Zoe up the ramp onto Serenity. Once inside he watched the first mate raise the ramp and lock up after them.

"If there is someone else out there, no sense lettin' them get on board Serenity."

"Do you really think there are any more of Rufus's men out there?"

"Just because we can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there, Shepherd, an' I'd rather be safe than sorry."

* * * * *

Simon had finished tending to Jayne over an hour ago, the trickiest bit being the removal of the knife without doing more damage. He had to remove it as exactly as possible along the same trajectory of entry. Once cleaned up and sutured Jayne wouldn't wake for another couple of hours by which time he should be able to release him from the infirmary. Simon scrubbed up again and turned his attention to the Captain who had been disturbingly quiet all this time. Inara gave him an anxious look. While he shared her worry he could not allow any of it to show. Malcolm Reynolds had been lying flat on the other infirmary bed but the doctor did not like the sounds he was making in the back of his throat and with Inara's help managed to raise the Captain a little to ease his breathing. Quickly he scanned the man's lungs and throat, not liking what he was seeing. It was as if the thin coating of dust that had adhered to the walls of his throat and lungs was thickening which should not be possible. Frowning, Simon wished he could put the Captain under but did not dare until the equipment was inserted. All he could do for now was give him something to block out the pain for this was not going to be an easy or straight forward operation. Quietly he explained the problem to Inara, watching as her eyes widened in alarm.

"Mal's getting worse?"

"*Qu*, though I have no idea why."

She blinked. "*Wo bu dong*."

All the while he was talking Simon was assembling the now sanitised and disinfected equipment he had taken from Rufus Pol. Assembling the pieces with care he nevertheless kept a careful eye on the Captain. To all intents and purposes the man looked asleep but Simon knew that was not the case. Breathing quick and shallow, the Captain was trying to conserve his energy while getting sufficient air into his flagging lungs. He would need to go on oxygen soon but first Simon needed to remove the dust. Whatever it was, it wasn't the simple debris he had been led to believe. Bits of grit, gravel and dust did not multiply. It was acting more like a living organism than dust and yet he could detect no signs of life in the substance so what was going on?

Inara paled. "Are you saying the dust is alive, Simon?"

He felt helpless, unable to give her a definitive answer when the problem he was staring at should not be able to exist. "Not in the sense of being a living organism, no."

"Then what?"

Simon indicated for Inara to help hold the Captain's head back on the little pillow he had placed under his neck, asking her to keep her hands on either side of his head to keep him as immobile as possible. He wanted the airway kept open so he could insert the instrument but also needed to prevent the natural gagging reflex that would be trying to eject the foreign object. The drugs he administered would help relax the larynx and between answering Inara and trying to work out the ramifications of what was going on inside his patient as he worked, Simon spoke quietly and calmly to the Captain knowing that even on the brink of passing out his hearing would be the last of the senses to shut down. He did not want his patient to panic and prevent him completing the only operation that could save him.

"*Wo bu zhidao* but we can't wait any longer, *dong ma*?"

Inara nodded and inwardly prayed. Malcolm Reynolds might be a *wangu shenjingbing sishengzi* but he was also brave, idiotically noble at the most inopportune times, hard nosed and pragmatic on the one hand and almost endearingly romantic and puritanical on the other. The man was a mass of contradictions by turns rubbing her up the wrong way and warming her heart. She would not, could not, contemplate her life without the impossible man in it.

* * * * *

He hung back, watching the two doing a systematic search. Couldn't believe what he was seeing or how events had been turned upside down. The *laoban* had been taken away and the rest of the crew locked up but that was okay. Once these two returned to their *lese* ship he would get the others out and then it would be time for some pay back. It took longer than expected, Serenity's first mate and Preacher being a lot more thorough than he would have expected. Despite himself, Ren Milsome was impressed. At last he watched them retreat up Serenity's ramp and close it up after them. He hurried back to the lock up, his blood fired up as he peered through the small viewing window and recognised his friends. Though he could not hear what they said it was easy to lip read the 'Get Us Out Of Here' they yelled back like frantic mime artists. He grinned and started to go unlock the door but it wouldn't budge. Cursing he tried again. Nothing. Just as he was about to give it a third try something brushed his shoulder so lightly he thought he had imagined it but instinctively he turned around just as River Tam spun, landing a roundhouse kick that jerked his head back and sent him reeling to the ground. Stunned, hurt and with a bloody nose that looked as if it might be broken, he stared up at the girl through bloodshot eyes. River grinned down at him then deftly removed his gun and cocked it before he could react.

For a moment the whole 'verse around him narrowed into that one impossible moment. The sound of the gun cocking at point blank range filling his ears with a doom he could not dodge. He raised his hands. "Don't shoot, I ain't gonna do nothin'."

"No, you aren't."

She bullied him to his feet and spun him round then tied his hands behind his back. River took out her blocky transmitter and clicked the button. Wash answered immediately.

"River, where are you?"

"Found a piece of *laji* we missed."

Zoe's voice came over the com next. "Where?"

It took no time at all for Zoe and Book to get back to the lock up and add the last of Rufus Pol's crew to the others kicking their heels and complaining loudly. Zoe shut the door and voice activated the lock with great satisfaction. She looked at River.

"You could have told us where he was hidin', little one."

River shook her head. "More fun this way." She paused then hurried on when Zoe frowned, the first mate not in the least amused by her flippant answer. "Besides, he was in hiding, would have taken at least one of you out before you found him." Her eyes projected absolute sincerity. "Safer this way."

Zoe couldn't argue with the result so just nodded. "Next time you tell me first, *dong ma*? May have turned out for the best this time but don't want you gettin' shot either." The girl's answering smile was blinding.

* * * * *

Shen Willets was surprised to find himself left with Rufus Pol. True, the man's hands were still bound behind his back but that crazy look in his eyes did nothing to reassure him that he was even half-way sane. He didn't know the layout of the Firefly but he did know where the commons room was and pushed Rufus in that direction. As they got to the commons area the first thing that hit him was the delicious smell of food cooking, and not dull but nutritious protein but REAL food. The second was the sight of a vision out of some heavenly dream, a flawless beauty in a silk dress calmly checking her pots and pans before turning to see who had come into the room. Inara paused and stared in surpirse. Suddenly a mite embarrassed at just turning up unannounced, Shen was about to explain when the deep rumble of Shepherd Book's voice coming up behind him relieved him of that burden.

"Something smells *haochi*, Inara."

Inara gave a small smile, her eyes flicking from Shen and Rufus to Book then back. The unasked question all too plain. "I managed to get some fresh produce as well as a little meat."

"This is Shen Willets, Inara, and this -" Book pointed to Rufus, his tone darkening "is Rufus Pol. The terraforming ship we are currently inside belongs to him."

"Why are his hands tied?"

"Ah, it would seem Rufus isn't the friend we all thought he was going to be."

Alarmed, Inara wondered why the man was in the commons room and not locked up in one of the spare guest quarters. Book calmly guided Rufus to the big table, pulled out a chair and sat him down. Shen watched but said nothing, ready to step in if it looked like Rufus was going to try anything. Shen looked up and met the Preacher's eyes.

"What're we gonna do with him?"

Book's smile was more to reassure Shen than for Rufus Pol's benefit. "The Captain wants to talk to him."

Inara turned the heat down low to keep the food warm until the whole crew was ready to eat. No sense in spoiling good food. "I thought Simon was going to operate?"

Book nodded. "He is but he had to see to Jayne first."

Inara raised an eyebrow. "Jayne?"

"Yeah, Rufus shot Jayne then stabbed him in the leg." Said Shen, the look on his face leaving Inara in no doubt what he thought about that little act of treachery.

"Is he alright?"

"Oh, I don't think you need to worry about Jayne." Book reassured. "The same can't be said for Rufus though."

The man, who had been sitting quietly up to now, narrowed his eyes at Book. "Think you're so gorram *congming* don't ya? Ya don't know nothin'."

"Then why don't you tell us?"

Rufus snapped his mouth shut and glanced away. The Shepherd shared another look with Shen, both of them sensing that something else was going on. Something they were not going to like.

* * * * *

Little Lucy Dengate was ecstatic. Getting out of the filthy sewage pipe was the most wonderful thing in the 'verse and renewed her flagging spirits as nothing else could. Not only was she finally outside in the fresh air but moving away from the exit where the pipe emptied its' foul slimey contents into a muck filled channel on its' way to one of Osiris's Sewage Treatment Plants she was able to slowly get her bearings. There was only a wafer thin moon with a scattering of stars overhead but it was more light than she had underground and enough for her to see by. Grateful that she had not emerged during the daylight, Lucy made her cautious way towards the nearest square knowing there would be a fountain and she could get cleaned up. It would not be perfect of course but once she found somewhere safer she could change into the spare clothes in her backpack. She would probably have to throw away the ones she was wearing though, not able to imagine how she would ever be able to get the stink out of them. Beyond that she could not think. Not even hungry any more, her senses so full of the stench of the sewer that the thought of eating would have made her gag.

From his hideout in the deep shadow of the bushes Silas watched, hardly able to believe his good fortune. As Lucy's foot touched the first flagstone she paused, turning her head first this way then that, not knowing what had made her hesitate. Yet everything was still, no sign of anyone about. Was she just being jumpy? Nervous now that she was out in the open? The open. The moment the thought occurred to her, Lucy cursed her foolishness. Retreating quickly she sensed the movement before she saw it, a patch of darkness in the shrubbery that now broke away. Her heartbeat sped up, panic coursing through her mind and body just as she detected a brush against her mind. Silas was quick, knew he could grab the girl and be gone before anyone in the city stirred. He knew where all the cameras were and how to evade having his image captured which was why he had been so careful in choosing his makeshift hideout. Just as he was crossing the flagstones to grab Lucy something sharp and piercing rammed into his mind sending him into a painful freefall that dropped him to his knees. He closed his eyes and tried to block the intrusion but whoever it was they were too accomplished and too strong. Lucy took the opportunity to run, all thought of stealth fleeing with her.

* * * * *

It was a spotless sterile room. Everything was white. The walls, the ceiling, even the floor. Within the stark white room the body seemed somewhat diminutive, irrelevant almost, but it was not. Men entered the room in scrubs, filing in and taking positions around the gurney on which the naked body lay. They took up their places several feet from the gurney and waited patiently, leaving space for the technicians to work. Overhead harsh lighting removed any hint of shadow from the room, leaving every angle of the body in sharp relief.

In silence, the witnesses watched the first incision. The body cavity being opened up and various organs removed with slow but military precision. Each organ was catalogued, weighed and afixed with an electronic identifier. The Mortician in Chief overlooked their work then carefully inspected the interior of the body, taking swabs and handing them to his assistant to place in sterile tubes. Once this had been done he moved to the face, sallow and yellowing with the waxiness of a corpse. Tilting the head he examined the tattoo then carefully removed the skin so that it could be preserved whole and intact. He voice activated his throat mike to ask a question. "Do you want the eyes removed?"

The pause was barely there. "*Bu qu*. Shave the head completely and check for any other details. Preserve a sample of the hair but destroy the rest. Once you have finished your full examination the body is to be incinerated, *dong ma*? I want a double burn."

The Chief Mortician gave a small sharp nod that he knew would be picked up on the camera then got back to work.

* * * * *

Lucy was frantic. Where to go? Back to the sewer or further afield? Did the man know where she had come from, would he follow? The threat of tears pricked her eyes while inwardly she continued to berate herself for her stupidity. All the trouble she had gone to in order to remain hidden and just because the sewer stank and frightened her she had forgotten why she was there. She dared to glance quickly over her shoulder but could not see the man who had tried to grab her. As she ran calming thoughts began to flow through her mind, a soft gentle warmth that startled but reassured her. A thought occurred to her. Was that him? Was he trying to deceive her into letting down her defences? But no, she had shut him out if only temporarily, he was not able to touch her thoughts. Besides, there was no sense of intrusion or violation so if it was not her pursuer who could it be?

'You must hide'

The thought was gentle but insistent, careful not to cause alarm. Her mind was in turmoil, who to trust, where to run?

'I will not hurt you. I am hiding too'

Curiosity got the better of her. 'Who are you?'

'A friend'

'No, you are a stranger'

She thought a sigh sifted gently through her mind, a sigh edged with sadness and a very old and ancient pain. Whoever this was he knew what it meant to be alone. To have no one.

'*Ni jiao shenme*?'

'Nicholas'

'Where are you?'

'Close by but hidden'

'Why should I trust you, Nicholas?'

'Because there is no one else and you must hide before he recovers his senses'

What did he mean, recover his senses?

'Lucy, you must hurry. He will resume his pursuit very soon. Trust me or not, make up your mind *mashang* otherwise no one in the 'verse will be able to help you'.

* * * * *

It was a long operation and Simon was so weary but what made it all the more worthwhile was the feeling of exhultation that it had been an unqualified success. Various members of Serenity's crew had come and peered in through the glass, not wanting to intrude but needing to know what was happening. Inara stayed, both grateful and awed by Simon's care and expertise. When at last he removed the device and disconnected it, the look on her face needed no interpretation. Simon smiled and she felt as if her heart would break with joy but held back her jubilation, needing him to put it into words. To make it real.

"He's going to be fine, Inara."

Tears brimmed in her eyes, unable for once to hide how much those words meant to her.

"*Xie xie ni* for your help."

Her eyes widened in disbelief. He was thanking her? How back to front was that? A laugh broke out on her startled lips, short and unusually brittle. Simon chuckled at the expression on her face then sobered quickly, carefully dropping the dismantled equipment into the sterilisation drum. "I'm the one who should be thanking you, Simon, not the other way around."

"Just doing my job."

Inara huffed but being a Companion it was the most polite and polished huff he had ever heard. "We really don't appreciate just how brilliant you are." She said quietly. Simon felt humbled by the sincerity in her voice but before his head could swell her smile dulled for a moment, eyes suddenly serious again. "Did you really get it all?"

He knew what was worrying her. Could kick himself for mentioning how the dust had multiplied, knew she was fearing that if just a tiny speck had been missed it could all crop up again but later when nobody would be looking for the signs. "*Qu*. I was extra careful, Inara. Of course it will mean the Captain will have to take it easier for longer, the back of his throat is almost raw as are the insides of his lungs but I had to make sure. Also, I will be giving him regular check ups."

"What about infection?"

Simon pulled off his surgical gloves and dropped them in the medical waste bin. His disposable apron followed but his eyes never left her anxious face. "*Fang xin* Inara, the Captain will be fine and I will be watching him closely whether he likes it or not."

Her smile returned. "He's going to be like a bear with a sore head when he wakes up."

"How will we know the difference?"

Her laughter was light and muscial, interrupted by a surly gruff voice as Jayne stirred. "Who ya callin' a bear with a sore gorram head?"

* * * * *

They were deep in the burrow. Although Lucy couldn't see anything she could feel and sense Nicholas just inches from her. He was very careful not to touch which both reassured and puzzled her. Did he think her dangerous too?

'He tried to catch me before'

'*Shei*?'

For a moment his mind was silent. She felt rather than heard his need for her to go deeper. To follow the tunnel worming its way from the burrow and down. A dark winding space that made her heart rate quicken with a primal fear, terrified of becoming trapped in a dark enclosed space from which there would be no escape. Naturally he sensed her fear.

'He will come after us as soon as he is able'

'*Wo zhidao*'

'Then also know this, we must go deeper Lucy. Further. Farther than he can go'

'What does that mean?'

'He is a Hunter and right now our scent is strong'

It took but a moment for her to realise he meant her scent was strong. Of course. She had not been able to clean the muck from the sewer off her body or change her clothes. If the stink made her feel sick how much more obvious was it to someone who was clean? And if the man he called the Hunter found her, he would find Nicholas.

'You shouldn't have come with me, Nicholas. He's *weixian*.'

Nicholas Bey said nothing but in the dark recesses of his multifaceted mind he masked the knowledge: so am I.

* * * * *

It should have been impossible but no, the evidence was laid bare before him. The Operative was unhappy but more than that he was puzzled. He turned to the technician operating the probe.

"It has to be there! I can feel her potential."

The technician shook his head, no emotion on his face, no apology in his eyes. "Either she has lost it *shifu* or..."

He jumped on the hesitation. "Or what?"

The technician felt something inside go cold. "Someone has taken it."

The Operative was about to dismiss the possibility out of hand but stopped himself. A suspicion beginning to form. "Keep looking and notify me the moment you have something."

The technician nodded, not telling him that to continue was to further weaken the subject. The Operative already knew and if Kathleen really had that most precious of things stripped from her mind then she was as good as useless to them. Dead or alive she would soon be discarded. Prolonging the inevitable was not his decision any more than the distress continuing would compound upon her already abused mind.

* * * * *

"He gonna live?"

Simon Tam sighed. It seemed like every member of the crew had their own way of needing reassurance that the Captain really was going to be okay. Only Jayne put the question as baldly as this. "*Qu*."

The big man was sitting on the infirmary bed he had been using until recently, his legs swinging as he watched the sleeping form of his Captain. "Then why ain't he wakin' up? I woke up."

Inwardly Simon was cursing that fact himself. "It was deep surgery Jayne, very invasive. The equipment basically scoured the walls of the Captain's lungs and throat. It was the only way to melt off the dust. It then had to be suctioned out. I couldn't afford to leave any of it inside him. He will be very sore and needing to heal slowly for some time before he fully recovers but he will recover."

"Yeah, but ya don't know that."

The doctor sighed. "Who's the doctor Jayne, you or I?"

Jayne blinked at him in momentary confusion as if being asked a trick question then his look darkened and he hopped off the bed to his feet. "*Wei*, ain't no reason to get snappy. Was just askin'."

Before Simon could apologise the big man was out of the door and stomping away, albeit with a rather pronounced limp. Seconds later Kaylee poked her head through the door, her face a bright ray of sunshine in a dim and dark 'verse. "Hey Simon, ya missed dinner."

He was about to explain he had been in surgery until a few minutes ago when Kaylee stepped right into the infirmary and produced a plate from behind her back.

"I saved ya some. Inara cooked earlier an' put everythin' on a low heat to keep until everyone was ready to eat."

Simon frowned. "She was helping me while I operated. You only just missed her."

Kaylee's head bobbed as she beamed at him. "*Wo zhidao*. Inara cooked early. With so much goin' on an' everyone tryin' to make sure we was safe an' all she didn't wanna leave the food lyin' around to get eaten before she could use it."

The doctor smiled and took the plate gratefully. He leaned over it, closed his eyes and inhaled. A big smile spread across his face, lightening the weary lines with pleasure. "It smells *hen hao*."

"Tastes good too." She paused noticing how tired he was. "If'n ya want," she said as she sidled up close to him "I could always feed ya."

His eyes widened. "Kaylee, I don't think..."

She cut him off with a kiss. As she broke away her smile was smug and anything but innocent. "Of course if ya want some other kind'a coaxin'..."

Simon yelped and jerked back from the sudden unexpected fondling while he was distracted. "Kaylee, *xin gan*, not in the infirmary."

"Yeah, but I ain't seen ya all day an' the Cap'n ain't complainin'"

"The Captain's unconscious and it's best if he stays that way for a while. He's going to need plenty of rest."

Just then River swept into the infirmary and stopped in front of her brother. "Go! Eat first, sex after. I'll watch the patient."

Simon was about to repeat that he was the doctor but Kaylee cut him off before he could get started. "River'll call if you're needed won't ya River?"

The girl nodded. Simon sighed and cast a longing look at the delicious meal cooling on his plate. He really was hungry. "Okay, but you call the minute I'm needed, *dong ma*?"

River saluted and Simon found himself being dragged out of the infirmary. The girl watched them go with a fond smile then closed the door before pulling up a chair beside the sleeping Captain. For several moments she watched him in silence, her eyes becoming sad pale windows on another world. She needed to talk to him but first he had to sleep. Let the drugs run their course but there wasn't much time and River knew she would have to keep a close eye on her inner clock. Whatever Simon might say, they weren't the only ones who needed a fit and well Captain.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *wangu* = stubborn *shenjingbing* = crazy *sishengzi* = bastard (not an insult) *laoban* = boss *laji* = rubbish/trash *haochi* = delicious *congming* = clever/wise *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *ni jiao shenme* = who are you? *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *xie xie ni* = thank you *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *shei* = who? *wo zhidao* = I know *weixian* = dangerous *shifu* = sir *wei* = hey! *hen hao* = very good *xin gan* = sweetheart

COMMENTS

Monday, June 18, 2012 4:39 PM

NUTLUCK


That was interesting ending.

Monday, June 18, 2012 6:26 PM

EBFIDDLER


Oh, wow, interesting chapter. River's capture of the wayward crew member was awesome. Lucy's section was very tense, I'm still worried about her. I'm glad Simon's surgery appears to be successful but I'm guessing Mal's still in for a rough time of it. And what does River know? I'm eager to find out what's coming next.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 12:21 AM

JANE0904


Twists on top of turns, but at least Mal looks to be out of the woods. Although knowing you ... Great stuff!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 12:36 AM

AMDOBELL


I'm glad you are finding it interesting Nutluck and Ebfiddler. River in fighting mode is always awesome I agree. As for Lucy you will have to wait and see. The Captain is no longer in a life threatening situation though the recovery will be a mite painful. You will soon find out what River knows and why that clock is ticking. Yes, lots of twists and turns Jane0904, just how you like them! Thanks to you all for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, June 21, 2012 12:24 PM

MALSDOXY


OK. Inara was in two places at once? I was confounded a bit...shapeshifter about? Excellent chapter, AliD, ratcheting up the suspense, as ever, xie xie

Friday, June 22, 2012 2:42 AM

AMDOBELL


No, she wasn't Malsdoxy. If you read it again you will see the part where Simon tell's Kaylee she just missed Inara. Inara had prepared the meal earlier and put it on a low heat then left it for later when the whole crew could sit together and eat it. That was when she went to see how things were going in the infirmary and offer any help. Hope that clarifies it for you. Glad you are enjoying the suspense and thank you for the feedback. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, June 23, 2012 5:26 AM

MALSDOXY


Ah, I see, my reading comprehension skills have deteriorated somewhat...looking forward to next chapter eagerly

Saturday, June 23, 2012 9:09 AM

AMDOBELL


No problem, MalsDoxy, just glad you are enjoying it! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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