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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 13. "Joining The Dots"
Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jayne grinned, spat on the blade of his knife and began to sharpen it calm as you please. His eyes glittered dangerously promising a messy end if Rufus found a way out of that room and tried anything.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2653    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "JOINING THE DOTS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 13. Sequel to "MIXED FORTUNES" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Zoe worries about what Rufus had been up to while Lucy is reassured by Nicholas despite their dire situation. While the Captain rests, River realises that she needs to talk to him sooner rather than later."

"JOINING THE DOTS"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Wash knew Zoe was worried but was a mite baffled why. The Captain was on the mend and that duplicitious so-called friend Rufus Pol was locked up as were his crew though not in the same place. He wasn't sure why his *qizi* hadn't thrown him into the secure lock up along with his men. Why he was being kept on Serenity was something of a mystery to him. They were laying in their bunk, warm and sweaty from a recent bout of sex but he had the feeling Zoe's mind was elsewhere.

"*Bao bei, shenme shi*?"

She slid her warm sensuous body along his and Wash almost forgot to worry. "What makes you think anythin's wrong, *zhangfu*?"

"You just seem a little distracted, as if somethin's worryin' you."

Her sigh was so soft and quiet that had they not been tangled up together he might have missed it. At first he thought she was going to deny it, pretend nothing was wrong, but they were way past that. "It's Rufus."

"I thought we had him locked up in a spare guest room with someone keepin' watch?"

They both remembered the incident when the Fed had come on board and tried to take River. Nobody wanted a repeat of that little fiasco. "*Qu*, the Shepherd's takin' first watch."

He thought about that for a moment, one hand coming up to gently stroke the side of her face, his eyes watching her closely, taking in every detail. "You think Book's gonna try to talk to Rufus?" Zoe shook her head, strong and firm with no hesitation in it. "Ain't that, *xin gan*, it's just Rufus is hidin' somethin'."

That surprised Wash. "*Shenme*? What's he hidin'?"

Her look was troubled. "*Wo bu zhidao* an' that's what troubles me. With the Cap'n out of things for a while it puts us at a disadvantage."

"Zoe, the only one at a disadvantage as far as I can see is Rufus an' his crew. Got himself into this fix an' he's not goin' anywhere."

Stangely enough this did not reassure her. Rather, she looked more concerned not less. "That's what worries me."

"*Bao bei*," said Wash gently "I love you to within an inch of my life but you aren't exactly makin' sense."

Her sigh was soul deep and hurt him just listening to it. "*Wo zhidao*. I'm not worried about what he might do, Wash. It's what plan he may already have in motion, *dong ma*?"

"You think he's already done somethin'?"

Zoe nodded.

"You said him an' Mal were friends?"

"That's what I thought, now I think it might've been somethin' else."

Now he was totally confused but also feeling some of his wife's anxiety rubbing off on him. "Do you think Mal knows?"

She shook her head. "You know the Cap'n, when he trusts someone..." She trailed off, knowing he would finish the sentence in his head. "I think he's been usin' the Cap'n's friendship, what I don't yet know is why."

"An' lyin' awake worryin' about it will help?" Wash asked softly.

For a moment Wash thought he had gone too far but after a moment or two the harsh planes of her face softened. "*Bu qu* but I have to figure this out, Wash, before whatever he's been plannin' can come to pass."

* * * * *

They wriggled, squirmed, pushed and dragged themselves down the narrowing walls of the tunnel system, winding their way seemingly deeper and farther from the surface where danger lay. Yet Lucy could feel her panic building, the sense of claustrophia that would not go away and could not be ignored. Just ahead of her Nicholas did not pause, his mental assertion that she should keep one hand on one of his ankles so they would stay always close gave a small measure of comfort but no support.

'Try to relax'

If she was not so frightened it might have been funny only it wasn't. 'I can't do this, Nicholas'

'I have news for you, you ARE doing this'

'*Wo bu dong*, how can getting trapped down here save us? We'll suffocate and that will be the end of things'

Somehow his humour tinged his thoughts. 'He is bigger, larger. We are small, thin, underfed some would say. We can go where he cannot. At some point he will have to retreat, unable to follow any further. When he does we will have a period of time in which to find a safer exit and get away'

'What if he closes up the other exits? We will die'

'There are exits he will never find'

Puzzled, Lucy forgot for the moment how afraid she was. Kept moving because he did, her hand on his ankle a reassuring lifeline. 'What do you mean?'

'Trust me'

'I do, I am here aren't I?'

'You followed out of panic' The thought was gentle, not an accusation but a statement.

She realised he was not judging her. 'What else could I do? I hate this'

'Lucy, why did you leave home?'

Her heart faltered. Not sure she wanted to talk about it but if she couldn't tell Nicholas who could she confide in? 'I could feel him, reaching out to touch my mind, seeking me out, calling to me. I knew if I stayed he would come and my family would be at risk trying to protect me so I ran'

'Where were you going?'

Where was she going? The question gave her pause. '*Wo bu zhidao*. Anywhere that was away. In hiding'

'The sewer was a very brave idea and it worked, Lucy'

'Yet he is here'

Nicholas did not point out that he was here because she had left the protection of the sewer. Lucy did not need that preying on her mind as well. 'He could have been searching for me'

'*Shenme*?'

'Did you think yours was the only mind he was seeking?'

Confused, Lucy took a minute or two to consider his words not realising how much deeper they had gone, how much narrower the earth walls now pressed. Surrounded by the warmth of his thoughts it was almost comforting, like being back in the womb. 'Are you saying he knows you're here?'

'If he did not know before he knows now'

Lucy trembled. 'Then we are in twice as much trouble'

The laughter that seeped through his thoughts was unexpected. 'Lucy, Lucy! We have something he will never have, *dong ma*?'

'*Shenme*? What is that?'

His thoughts gentled into something almost akin to affection. 'We have each other.'

* * * * *

"You need to rest."

Malcolm Reynolds blinked the sleep from his weary eyes, knowing that - thanks to Simon - he had dodged a pretty ugly bullet this time. One that would have not so gradually choked the life out of him. The very thought of that kind of death made him go cold inside, not that he had any intention of mentioning specifics but a thank you wouldn't go amiss only, though his mouth worked, he couldn't seem to articulate his thoughts into words. Just trying hurt and relaxing his throat afterwards seemed to bathe him in fire burning him up inside. The Captain closed his eyes.

"I meant to warn you not to speak." Simon said quietly.

Those eyes flickered open and the Captain glared at his shiny doctor. Simon Tam seemed completely unaffected by the Death Glare aimed his way. Huh, seems even that was waning. He had so many questions and now because of the gorram operation he was left unable to ask a single one of them. Had Simon done that on purpose? The ungrateful thought vanished the moment it formed, the Captain knowing it was just his frustration looking for someone to blame. Such notions were a waste of ruttin' energy and served no useful purpose. What was done was done and he was still alive, walking but not talking. He wanted to ask Simon how long it would be before he could get his voice back but the doctor thankfully anticipated him.

"You should start to recover your voice in a couple of weeks. At first you will only manage a whisper. Don't try to rush things, you need to heal properly or you will be left prone to infection. The operation was a complete success, I managed to remove ALL of the dust from your lungs and throat and it will not recur. If you take your doctor's advice then there is no reason why you shouldn't make a full recovery and be shouting and ordering us all about in no time."

The Captain frowned then relaxed. Simon watching him like a hawk. Slowly a smile formed on his face, a kind of crooked self-mocking humour that made Simon realise that a lot of the man's bark was intended to replace the need to bite then he realised the Captain was pretending to write. Nodding, he went to a drawer and removed one of River's drawing pads. The pencil next to it was not much more than a stub but it would serve its' purpose. He handed both to Mal and got a nod of thanks back. Curious, he watched the Captain write something on the pad then looked surprised when he turned it round so he could read it. The words were simple but more fullsome than he would have expected.

-Thank you for your shiny doctoring-

He bit back the temptation to laugh but smiled instead. "*Bu xie*."

The Captain turned the pad and added something. Simon swallowed hard when he read the words.

-You saved my life, Simon-

"It's what I do, I'm a doctor..."

Mal waved his words away. Didn't want the man making light of something this serious so Simon trailed off and simply nodded back. He noticed the Captain looked tired and his natural concern for a patient surfaced again. "You should try to get some sleep."

He shook his head and wrote -Wanna see Zoe, question that *tamade hundan* Polly-

Alarmed, Simon shook his head, imagining all his hard work being undone if such a thing were to go ahead. The Captain raised a hand before Simon could launch into a blistering denunciation of any such foolishness.

-Zoe'll do the talkin', just wanna listen to what he's gotta say-

The suspicion on Simon's face was at war with the Captain's promise to let Zoe handle the interrogation. As well and good as that was, the doctor didn't want Mal getting all het up either. Keeping the man calm he realised was something he wasn't going to be able to impose on the man without drugs. Simon sighed and decided to try a compromise. "I will only agree if you try to get some sleep now. A few hours at least."

The Captain wrote two words in big letters on the last empty section of the page. -NO DRUGS-

Simon nodded back. "I promise, no drugs."

Really, the man was so predictable. Satisfied that Simon would keep his word the Captain lay back and allowed Simon to put the pad and pencil to one side. As he straightened, the doctor was pleased to see that his patient was already drifting off to sleep.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book gave Jayne a grateful nod then hesitated. Even though the bullet in the big man's left shoulder had gone right through the man should have been resting, especially as his leg was heavily bandaged and causing him to limp and curse every time he put any weight on it.

"Jayne, you should be resting. I can watch a little longer."

The mercenary shook his head and dragged the chair Book had been sitting on into place so he could sit opposite the door where Rufus Pol was kept locked up. "*Diyu*, this ain't nothin' but a scratch. 'Sides, you been up all night."

"I would hardly call a few hours 'all night'."

"Yeah, whatever. I'm here now."

Book paused, making no effort to go. Jayne gave his friend a quizzical look, wondering what was on his mind. "What do you think is going happen to Rufus, Jayne?"

"*Weishenme*? Ain't like anythin' that happens to him won't be his own ruttin' fault."

"We can't kill him."

Jayne gave him a hard look. "We ain't lettin' him go, *dong ma*? Cap wants to speak to him."

"*Wo zhidao* and that's not what I meant, it's just I feel somewhat uncomfortable passing judgement."

"You ain't but we gotta find out what they was up to. The *guai* knows who he's told."

"What do you mean?"

The big man huffed but kept his voice low. No sense in Rufus overhearing their discussion. "They was settin' us up, Cap wants to know why an' who else might be involved."

"That makes sense but didn't Rufus serve with the Captain in the War?"

"Don't make 'em kin."

"He also served with Zoe and they've stayed close." "Ain't the same thing. Heard Zoe sayin' she an' Mal were friends before the War."

"And Rufus?"

Jayne shrugged. "*Wo bu zhidao* but I'll tell ya this. I wouldn't trust that piece of *goushi buru* as far as I could throw him."

"I thought you liked him?"

"Like ain't trust an' there's somethin' else." Shepherd Book moved closer in response to Jayne lowering his voice. "What's that?" Jayne drew his knife and circled the point around the side of his head. "Don't think he's all there."

Book was about to answer when there came a hammering on the locked guest room door. "*Wei*! Let me outta here!"

Jayne grinned, spat on the blade of his knife and began to sharpen it calm as you please. His eyes glittered dangerously promising a messy end if Rufus found a way out of that room and tried anything. Making no attempt to answer Rufus, he gave Book a nod. "Best you go, get some rest."

* * * * *

She was so tired, more than bone weary. Like a marionette with her strings cut once free of the chair she crumpled to the floor. No one picked her up or showed one iota of care towards her. The Operative had dismissed the girl from his mind as well as his presence, an object once of interest to him now discarded. In his wake the technician looked down at the wretched child and through some odd remnant quirk of humanity crouched down and removed the tape keeping her eyelids open. He ignored the faint sigh of utter relief that eased out of the trembling lips. It did not pay to show any sign of concern. The master they served was fickle and any life, high or low, could be extinquished for the most insignificant of reasons. He left, turning crisply and walking away with quick busy strides. Back again minutes later with a repulsor sled. The girl was hefted onto the flat surface but not unkindly, then removed from the sterile room.

Kathleen had worried and fretted that she might end up in one of the tanks but need not have concerned herself. Only those with great promise were elevated to that level of service. Had she but known she might had cheered at being spared that horror at least but then she did not know what lay in store for those who did not make the grade.

* * * * *

"Sir, you wanted to see me?"

The Captain was sitting up in the infirmary bed, itching to be out of there but unwilling to untangle the wires from the various monitors Simon still had him hooked up to. He knew there was little more the doctor could do, having already performed a miracle in the Captain's eyes getting that gorram stuff off of his lungs and such but Simon Tam was nothing if not thorough and no way was he going to release the Captain to his bunk or anywhere else until he had made sure it was in the patient's best interests to do so not that that was the full reason why he was holding on to him. The Captain insisted on speaking to Zoe then Rufus via his second in command, so Simon had agreed but stipulated he must do so in the infirmary so he could monitor his condition. Normally the Captain would have argued but he didn't have the energy and to be truthsome didn't much care where the discussion took place just so long as it did.

Simon was surprised when the Captain didn't use the pad but flicked the fingers of his right hand in a rapid sequence. He saw Zoes' eyes widen slightly then she nodded back. The Captain continued with the hand sign for another couple of minutes then he saw Zoe's mouth tighten.

"You sure that's a good idea, sir?"

The Captain gave her a hard look and she sighed back.

"I'll go get him though I don't think you'll be hearin' anythin' you can count on as the truth."

He opened his mouth to disagree but caught the firm shake of Simon's head and snapped it closed again. Zoe left, leaving the Captain to glare at the empty doorway in mute frustration. Simon made himself busy taking readings he didn't need, one eye on his monitors, the other on the Captain. A noise at the door had him spinning round expecting to see Zoe with Rufus Pol but it was his sister. River swept into the infirmary in agitation. Simon felt his heart sink and went straight to her.

"*Mei mei*, you shouldn't be here."

Her eyes were wide as saucers with a wild look in them as if something had frightened her. Simon hoped he would not have to give her a smoother.

"You can't tell me where I'm supposed to be, Simon."

He tried to steer her to the doorway but River ducked and easily evaded him, not stopping until she stood next to the Captain. Simon could feel the world unravelling around him, a sensation that always hit him when his sister was like this. River looked the Captain in the eye. "You can't talk but you can listen."

Simon tried to intervene. "River, now isn't a good time."

"The only time IS now, Simon."

Just then Zoe arrived with Rufus Pol, Jayne limping along behind them, his hand resting on his holstered gun. Simon watched Rufus, noticing his hands were no longer tied. It made him suddenly realise that having this discussion in the infirmary had been a bad idea. As if reading his mind, Jayne of all people tried to reassure him.

"Ain't nothin' gonna happen, doc. He so much as twitches wrong an' it'll be the last gorram thing he does."

Simon stared at the mercenary. Why did everyone assume that violence was the answer to everything?

Then Zoe was speaking, the Captain signing as she relayed the questions to Rufus. The man had gone an interesting shade of gray. "I ain't betrayin' ya, Mal."

"You ain't tellin' us the whole truth neither." Said Zoe, her lips set in a hard unforgiving line.

Rufus was careful not to show how he felt having Zoe there, not wanting the Captain to side with her against him. Something that had happened more times than he cared to recall during the War. "Ain't nothin' to do with any of you."

The Captain flashed a question, Zoe interpreting for Rufus. "What ain't?"

He paused, about to confabulate a suitable reply when River spoke up. "He feels responsible, guilty, but doesn't want to be held to blame."

Everyone stared at her. Rufus looked set to bolt only there was no way to get passed Zoe and Jayne. "Ain't my fault, Mal, I didn't do anythin'!" He wailed.

Mal looked from Rufus to Zoe. Zoe gave a tiny nod. "What ain't your fault? An' don't even think of lyin', Rufus."

The man whet his lips, nerves and anxiety running through him. River was watching him closely, moving away from the Captain's bed and closer to Rufus. Zoe's eyes narrowed not liking her getting so close.

"You can tell them the truth or I will." She said quietly.

Rufus paled. "Get away from me, you witch!"

Simon bristled. "My sister's not a witch."

Rufus ignored him. River smiled but it wasn't a pleasant one. "You made a deal, took the waste. Where's there's muck there's money. Were supposed to go and fire it into the sun, proper disposal only you thought why use up all that fuel for *laji*? So you looked for somewhere to dump it."

The Captain's eyes widened with realisation. Rufus could feel his heart slam up against his ribcage, panic building. "Wasn't doin' nothin' *cuode*." He whined.

"No," said River "just using Anaeron as a dumpin' ground for industrial waste."

"*Wei*, I wasn't the only one! Folk been doin' it for years, you ask anyone."

"Except it was outlawed years ago when the Alliance realised there were side affects."

Zoe looked sick. "You dumped the dust?"

Rufus held his hands up, eyes shifting as if looking for a way out only there was none. "I didn't know Mal'd get sick plus everyone wears masks now, he wasn't supposed to get exposed to it, *dong ma*?"

Something occurred to Simon. "That's why you got the terraforming ship, isn't it? Did the Alliance give the ship to you?"

"It's on contract. You probably noticed it ain't got the heavy terraformin' gear on board no more. They emptied it of them workin's so I could haul more dust, save them the trouble."

Jayne couldn't stop fingering his gun. "Should just put a bullet in him anyway Mal."

The Captain shook his head, but his eyes were fixed on Rufus Pol. Former friend. The Captain made a sign and Zoe spoke for him. "What else did you do, Rufus?" "I didn't do nothin'."

Mal and Zoe could both see the fear in his eyes, the panic at being found out. Zoe just knew there was more. He could have owned up about the dust when the Captain got sick and Mal would have forgiven him. *Diyu* she probably would have forgiven him as well but she would not have forgotten. Not for a second. It was Simon who realised something the others had missed.

"That's why you had the equipment isn't it?"

Rufus tightened his lips but said nothing.

"It never occurred to me at the time to wonder why you would have the specialised laser equipment to remove the solidified dust from the Captain's lungs. After all, there should be no need for it, *dui*? Only you knew there was a need for it, wanted to be sure there was a way of surviving if you got any into your own lungs so you made sure you had the equipment then hid it away. But why hide it? What if one of your men had gone sick?"

Something clicked for Zoe. "He wasn't goin' to share were you, Rufus?"

"*Ni bu dong*."

Zoe took a step towards him but Rufus had spotted a gap and darted through it towards Simon, the doctor too stunned by his sudden movement to react. Something shiny caught Rufus Pol's eye and he grinned, snatching up a scalpel from the doctor's instrument tray then making a dash for the door just as Inara Serra stepped through it carrying a couple of mugs of tea. In frustration at having the exit blocked Rufus threw the scalpel. The Captain tried to call out a warning to Inara but nothing came out, Jayne had to zig zag round people to get a clear shot then fired before Rufus got completely clear. A stunned silence followed, Zoe running out into the corridor to see what had happened. Rufus Pol lay at an awkward angle, the top of his head blown off and one hand stretched out before him. As she watched the fingers twitched and spasmed then he moved no more. Jayne limped up to the body, kept it covered with his gun while he checked for life signs though it was clear the man was dead. In Jayne's experience it didn't hurt to make sure.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bao bei* = precious/treasure *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *zhangfu* = husband *qu* = yes (lit. go) *xin gan* = sweetheart *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *diyu* = hell *shenme* = what *wo zhidao* = I know *dong ma* = understand? *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bu xie* = you're welcome *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *weishenme* = why? *guai* = devil/ghost *goushi buru* = lower than dogshit/lowest of the low *wei* = hey! *mei mei* = little sister *laji* = rubbish/trash *cuode* = wrong *dui* = correct *ni bu dong* = you don't understand

COMMENTS

Sunday, June 24, 2012 11:55 AM

BYTEMITE


Hehe, Mal writing on a notepad. I like his sign language with Zoe, but for the rest of the crew it'll probably still be the notepad. That's going to start getting frustrating for him, but it's entertaining for the rest of us. I'm reminded of a series called "Notes on a Fridge," funny stuff.

So the whole story comes out. If Rufus would have just been forthcoming he could have avoided most of this. But perhaps he was still thinking he could get his turnabout and his revenge on Zoe, and get his profit selling the crew into slavery.

But with this part about the psychic hunters, I can only guess that Rufus didn't have just one buyer, and with the tongs I can guess that his government buyers just found out about the other deals.

Guess we won't find out for sure now until it happens.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 2:33 PM

AMDOBELL


I remember that series 'Notes on a Fridge', Bytemite. Can only imagine Mal's frustration growing, can't you? Yes, Rufus was foolish not speaking up and coming clean. All sorts still to come with the pyschic hunters and the Tongs so hang on tight. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, June 24, 2012 7:27 PM

NUTLUCK


Hmm so where did the scalpel go? Ruffus threw it but at who and did it hit? If it hit who did it hit? Did you leave it hanging like that on purpose?

Monday, June 25, 2012 3:01 AM

AMDOBELL


Yes, Nutluck, and your questions will be answered in the next chapter! Thanks for commenting, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, June 28, 2012 3:28 AM

EBFIDDLER


I just loved it that Mal's first use of the notepad was to thank Simon. It's like Kaylee says, he really is a good man. Just hides it (sometimes, he hides it pretty deep). That scalpel can't have done any good. I'm afraid for Inara. Jayne's solution to the Rufus problem is pretty permanent, and it does prevent their getting any further information. Nasty, nasty stuff, to be involved in illegal toxic dumping. Slaving, toxic dumping, what else was Rufus involved in? I have a feeling it goes even deeper, and they won't find out until it's nearly too late. It's going to be interesting when your various plot threads begin to come together.

Thursday, June 28, 2012 3:28 AM

EBFIDDLER


Also, the secrets of Zoe's unspoken communication with Mal --- revealed!

Thursday, June 28, 2012 6:35 AM

AMDOBELL


Yes, Ebfiddler, Mal really is a good man - much though he tries to hide it. Rufus was up to a few things, and Jayne's reaction seemed very in keeping with the man. Glad you liked the secrets of Zoe's unspoken communication with Mal revealed. Lots more to come! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, June 30, 2012 7:40 PM

MALSDOXY


i really like Nicholas, reminds me of Thad from the Genius Series (one of my faves BTW)...methinks he'll be a big part of...of...whatever the hell is going on. jumping to next chapter which I see is up! YAY, xie xie, AliD


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