THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 17. "Payment In Kind"
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Though they all looked the same in those featureless uniforms there was obviously a command structure and at a small jerk of the head, one of the soldiers stepped forward to disarm her but as he did so something blurred across her vision and the man stumbled, the gun falling from nerveless fingers.


TITLE: "PAYMENT IN KIND" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 17. Sequel to "MOTIVES AND MACHINATIONS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "While the crew go looking for Shen, River leaves the Captain with an unexpected headache. Silas sets a trap and Nicholas takes Lucy somewhere safe only she is suddenly not so sure she has chosen the right side."


A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Terror was something that gripped him in its' dark ugly maw, as heart stopping as it was unexpected. Only by sheer luck had he managed to hide in time to avoid immediate detection but what he saw and heard chilled him to the bone. Sucking in each breath as if through a straw, he tried to slow the erratic beat of his heart but every cell in his body was distraught and trembling. He gritted his teeth knowing that he would need to find a better hiding place soon. Hot on the heels of that realisation was the sickening knowledge that he would not be able to warn Reynolds and his crew of the doom about to descend upon them. The bile in the back of his throat was bitter and rising. The images he had seen playing over and over in his mind like some new kind of torture device. *Tian Yesu*, what in the nine hells was he going to do?

* * * * *

It was dark, stuffy, claustrophobic but Silas had no problem with any of those limiting conditions. His own lifestyle made such things almost an irrelevance, tiny irritations that barely deserved a second thought. He sat with his eyes closed in meditation. His mind spiralling outwards looking for faint echoes like footprints in the ether that would lead him to his prey. Mind casting was second nature to him and yet he could not detect the girl or more troubling still, the boy with the gift to shut him out. So he cast further afield in search of his next target. A faint shuddering echo alerted his senses that his next target was aware of him. Excitement shivered through his thin frame, the rapid beat of a heart mounting in terror became his elixer, the flavour of eternal life. Though not theirs. So he sent new nightmares as thin and wispy as a ground mist but his did not evaporate with the rising sun. His, settled deep inside the sleeping consciousness of the dreamer, locking the target while he wormed his way deliciously through the young mind. A man not yet knowledgeable enough to set wards or know how to block the intrusion. The mind he could mould only so far, his presence couched in the terms of a nightmare, something not real that would vanish on waking only the vanishing would be a trick, a sleight of mind, for he would leave his mark hidden deep within the folds of the pineal gland. A fortress so far unused and probably unfamiliar to the target yet a rich source of possibilities for him. Oh yes, he could hardly wait to move on and take up the new pursuit but first he would complete the one he was on. A slight sound caught his ear and for a moment Silas wondered whether it was in the Here and Now or in that other state of consciousness.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book could be freakishly quiet when he wanted to be. Jayne Cobb was impressed but said nothing, kept his eyes scanning from across the far side of the terraforming ship as they exited Serenity. It was Zoe who locked up the ramp behind them, an unnecessary precaution Jayne thought but then if Shen Willets was the killer he couldn't argue with the need for extra caution. Didn't want to return to the Firefly to find the traitorous *wangba dan* had stolen it out from under them. He wanted to be up and gone but they had to find Shen, discover just how deep his treachery went. In the shadows River Tam watched but her head was tilted to one side, the evidence of her eyes nothing to do with what she was hearing or inwardly sensing. River blinked and turned her head slightly, a flash of danger in her periphery vision. *Wode ma*, they were too close. Jayne was about to enter the control room of Rufus Pol's huge behemoth when River sidled up close and whispered in his ear. He didn't jump, mercenaries were never taken surprise by a crazy slip of a girl but the profanities about to spill from his mouth were curbed by her small hand touching his lips and making him jerk his head back as if her hand held a knife. She frowned at him, well aware of what he was thinking and annoyed but they did not have time for this dance. Her words were hissed low but right into his ear so he could not mistake what she was saying.

"They're close, we have to draw back or we'll be discovered."

"Huh? *Shei* you talkin' about?"

River hushed him. His voice was too loud and it would carry to the wrong ears. "The Grey Men."

Puzzled and confused, Jayne was beginning to get annoyed with her. Why did the crazy girl have to pick him?

"You're closest." She murmured so quietly that he only just caught the words. "We need to retreat into shadow, somewhere we can watch without being seen."

"I ain't afraid of no...what d'ya call 'em?"

"Grey Men. Soldiers, specialists. Deadly."

Jayne shot a worried glance across to the far side of the huge ship but could no longer see Book. Where the *diyu* was the Preacher? How the good gorram could he warn the man if he couldn't see him?

"He knows." Jayne's head snapped back, his eyes fastening like limpets on the girl's face. River shook her head and put a finger to her lips. No more talking. Reluctantly he let her ease him back into deep shadow. Girl might be a *shenjingbing* freak but she had a habit of being right too often to be ignored. Behind them was a narrow door. Jayne wondered briefly where it went but River was demanding he pay attention. He had to stay quiet, keep watch and wait. The next time he looked, River was gone.

* * * * *

Osiris was not well reknowned for its' public parks and green spaces though it did have carefully manicured and landscaped gardens strategically placed throughout the city for the rich and influential to take the air in circumstances controlled from design to inception. In those places no expense was spared and discreetly hidden cameras kept a watchful eye day and night. Nicholas was careful to steer clear of such places now even though he knew the placing of every camera lens and could easily have avoided them but one miss step would be all it took. It would be like stepping out into a blazing spotlight, the last thing either he or Lucy needed right now. Little Lucy Dengate had no idea how she kept her feet moving, her eyes fluttering with sheer exhaustion but fear and the urging of her companion brought her to a less sulubrious suburb. Rough ground falling away sharply from the city boundary, a demarcation that drew the line where money and privilege ended. Beyond this point a wasteland devolved into crumbling little hillocks where rough coarse grasses clung on tenaciously and learnt to thrive. Thickets of thorny brush dug their roots in deeper soil and dressed the boles of long dead trees where mushrooms and other more exotic fungi grew in scattered profusion among a bright smattering of weeds. Lucy stopped and half fell, half lowered herself to the ground. Nicholas crouched low, his eyes constantly scanning, ears stretched for every sound that should not be there.

'Have to keep going'

'Can't. Too tired'

'Not far now'

'That's what you keep saying, Nicholas'

'Lucy, we are yards from our destination, 'dong ma'? Do you really want to lose everything you have gambled your life on just for a few more feet?'

She was silent so long he wondered whether the girl intended to answer him. Lucy raised a hand, a silent plea for him to help her up. She was not going to ask, wasn't sure she could get back up without his help, but that didn't mean she would put it into words. He flashed her a smile, too fleeting and quick to be responded to even if she had the energy. Nicholas gently helped her up and then to her surprise took her hand in his and led her the last few dozen yards into a world she could not have imagined even in her dreams.

* * * * *

That noise, what was it? Zoe paused. The Shepherd had headed towards the lock up, Jayne had taken the other side of the huge terraforming ship and was on his way to the control room but this sound was too subtle, too stealthy for her liking and was hard to pin point. If it had been Jayne she would not have heard him at all until the big man spoke and Book could move like a ghost. Whoever or whatever this was it was not any of Serenity's crew and raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Cradling her mare's leg, she cast about for a good vantage point. Then, as quietly and carefully as she could Zoe crept into the shadow of one of Rufus Pol's huge dust collecting machines. As she did so, a voice seemed to echo deep inside her brain pan setting every alarm off that she had.

"That's far enough!"

Beyond alarmed now, Zoe watched as grey shapes resolved out of the shadows around her. Gorramit, she had fallen for the oldest trick in the rutting book. There were four of them, all dressed in grey unforms, some kind of moulded bulletproof sections protecting their chests, back, legs and arms. The only weak points she could see were the joints and extremities. Her eyes narrowed. "Who the *diyu* are you?"

A loud click warned her that a round had been chambered ready to fire. Point blank range. "We ask the questions not you."

* * * * *

Simon was just finishing cleaning up in the infirmary. Not that there was a great deal to do but he was fanatical about keeping it as pristine and ordered as possible. All his instruments had been cleaned and disinfected. Now neatly put away in their compartmentalised drawers. Every surface had been scrubbed then sanitised until it shone. Kaylee's eyes widened as she gaped at it.

"Gorramit Simon, if it ain't shinier than it was before!"

The doctor smiled at her, his critical eye running over the surfaces to make sure he had not missed anything. "It has to be as spotless as I can make it, Kaylee. One of the worst things about dealing with open wounds is the danger of infection."

Her smile sweetened. Simon was so very *shuai* and she loved how he cared about everybody. "Yeah, well ya been workin' without a stop for hours. Time ya took a break."

A tray caught his eye. How had it missed it? He gave Kaylee an apologetic smile. "You go on ahead, *xin gan*. There's a tray I've missed." "I can help."

His smile flashed into a grin and he shook his head gently, amused at her eagerness for any excuse to stay. "It's one tray, Kaylee, and I think I can manage."

"Oh, okay then." Kaylee paused and watched him retrieve the tray. "I'll go make some tea then?"

"That would be *hen hao*. I'll join you in a few minutes."

She sidled up to him, a coy look in her eyes as she looked up at him through her eyelashes. "You sure I can't do anythin' to hurry ya along?"

Simon laughed. "Kaylee, if you do that I'll never leave the infirmary now go. I won't be long."


He dropped a gentle kiss on her lips that ended too soon. "I promise."

With a wide happy grin Kaylee left him to finish his cleaning.

* * * * *

For a moment no one moved. Whether the soldiers expected her to make a run for it Zoe had no idea but only a fool would try to out run four weapons aimed at their head. Though they all looked the same in those featureless uniforms there was obviously a command structure and at a small jerk of the head, one of the soldiers stepped forward to disarm her but as he did so something blurred across her vision and the man stumbled, the gun falling from nerveless fingers. The other three turned to face the threat and Zoe immediately rammed the butt of her mare's leg into the back of one of the soldier's heads then turned to attack a second one but by then the other two were already down for the count. Zoe stared as River stopped spinning then quickly disarmed the unconscious soldiers. River watched and waited for Zoe to straighten.

"They killed the others."

Zoe's look sharpened on the girl's face. "Are you sayin' they killed the men in the lock up?"

River nodded. "When no one answered they were sent. Elite team to clear up the mess, leave no witnesses."

"Then it wasn't Shen Willets?"

The girl shook her head. "In hiding. Terrified they'll find him, kill him too."

It made sense. Zoe clicked her com. "Jayne, Shepherd, we've had some visitors. Need a little help securin' them."

Alarmed, Jayne's voice cut across Book's. "We been boarded?"

"Jayne, they're dealt with but I want to secure them before they come round *dong ma*?"

Shepherd Book caught on right away. "We're on our way."

"*Wei*!" Protested Jayne. "Don't need nobody to talk for me."

Book ignored Jayne. "Where are you?"

Zoe told them and within minutes was glad to see Jayne and the Shepherd join her. Jayne scowled down at the soldiers. "Who in the nine hells are they?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*. Right now I'm more concerned about keeping them secure until we can talk to them."

Book hunkered down next to the fallen men. "These men won't talk."

"*Weishenme bu*?"

The Shepherd gently turned one over, Zoe noticing that the man's lips were already turning blue. *Wode ma*, what was happening? "I think you'll find they're dead."

Jayne Cobb looked a mite confused. "Huh, thought ya wanted to question 'em?"

"I did."

Book worked a couple of fingers in the man's mouth and a white foam leaked around his fingers. Jayne's eyes widened, Zoe's lips tightened in a mix of anger and frustration. Only the Shepherd did not look surprised. "Cyanide capsules."

"That's very old fashioned, Shepherd. There are a lot of other methods that leave no tell tale signs."

"Yes, but the modern drugs can be monitored, traced."

"Ya sayin' they bug drugs now?" Said Jayne in surprise.

"Not as such but the kind of drugs we have now are designer ones, advanced chemical formulas that have their own unique and traceable signatures. Something the old fashioned suicide pills never had."

"*Wo bu dong*, why kill themselves? It doesn't make sense."

"Yes, it does."

Three pairs of eyes turned to face River. Zoe had forgotten she was there. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

River glanced down at the unmoving bodies. "Cleaning up."

The Shepherd frowned. "If they committed suicide rather than be taken alive then this is serious indeed."

Zoe pressed her lips together. "Who are they an' what are they doin' here?"

"No one answered when they called. Had to check so they sent a team."

"Why can't ya talk gorram sense?"

Book frowned at Jayne. "I think what River is saying is that a call was sent to the terraforming ship and when it went unanswered certain flags were raised. Whoever was on the other end must have realised their project was compromised."

"Clean up crew." Said River, nodding.

"Yeah well now we have two piles of dead bodies an' no ruttin' answers."

"*Cuode*. Now we know who killed Rufus's men just not why."

Jayne scowled at Zoe. "Huh, that ain't no answer."

"But it is a good place to start." Said the Preacher mildly.

A scuffling noise behind them made them turn, four weapons pointed at a shaking Shen Willets as he stepped into view. The man looked scared but more than a little relieved to see that Serenity's crew were the ones left alive and standing. Jayne Cobb gave the poor man a dirty look and glared at him.

"Where in the nine hells have you been?"

* * * * *

Davie Thomas was five, almost six but not quite. His father had teased him for trying to hurry time but mama understood. Then when his daddy went back to work she had hugged him and sang and rocked him, making him feel as if all was again right with his world.

"Don't try to grow up too fast." She whispered into the blonde curls of his hair.

"I wanna be six!"

Her smile was sunshine and flowers and hot warm cookies straight from the oven. "You will be, *bao bei*, but not today."

"When I'm big *ba ba* says I can help him."

Selly Thomas dropped a kiss on her son's head, noting how he was fighting to stay awake. "And you will, baby mine." She whispered, her heart and soul full of love. It leaked into her voice and flooded his failing consciousness. A familiar comfort to cushion him as sleep bound him. Gently she placed him in his bed, the cot in the corner abandoned to a childhood he was desperate to leave behind. Selly smiled then gave a little amused shake of her head, tucked her son in and quietly crept out of his room.

At first his sleep was dreamless then echoes of the day came striding in wearing a mix of clothes from other times, other stories, other memories. Without thinking he changed scenes at will, turned faces that scowled into those that laughed, told jokes and carried ice cream. The cloud was odd though. He had never imagined that and was even more surprised when it darkened right quick and rained on him. He wriggled as if by willpower alone the cloud would drift on and the sunshine return but people were vanishing, the animals that he loved to stroke and pet went into hiding and the landscape turned into a dark and scary place. In his sleep he whimpered softly, another mind reorganising the architecture of his thoughts and filling him with a nameless fear. He sensed the presence was malign but not what it meant. Was it *Shangdi*? Had he done something wrong? But no. Mama said God was Good, God was Love. So did that make him Bad?

He tried to fight, really he did, but fear weakened him further. In the end he was too tired to struggle any more and as sleep dragged him deeper into that dark landscape his grip loosened and he finally let go. A brooding satisfaction took a look around and curled up in his consciousness. It was the perfect place to hide.

* * * * *

The scream startled Simon Tam so much that he dropped the tray. Not bothering to pick it up he broke into a run. That was Kaylee's voice!

* * * * *

Jayne looked uncertain. "What're we gonna do about the bodies?"

"We'll think about that once we know what we're dealin' with." Said Zoe.

Book and Jayne lengthened their strides to keep up with her as she made her way quickly to the big ship's control room. What they needed was answers not more questions. Whoever had been trying to raise a reply on the ship's com should still be on the system. That was unless the Grey Men had gone there first and wiped all traces. Zoe tried not to think how bad it would be if that had been the case. It was tempting to com Wash and discuss the problem but she didn't know if they were being monitored.

When they reached the control room Jayne's eyes widened in shock. Book took it in his stride and if Zoe was surprised by how small the control room was she did not let on. On reaching the controls she was about to scroll through the messages when Book gently blocked her hand with his own.

"Might not want to do that."

Her scowl was like a storm crowd threatening. "We need answers, Shepherd."

"You can be sure that whoever sent the message is closely monitoring the communications panel, *dong ma*?"

"And you know this how?"

"These people are beyond careful, Zoe. They're paranoid."

"Why d'you say that?"

"They trained their own men to commit suicide if there was the slightest chance they might be taken, what does that tell you?"

"That they have a lot to hide."

The Shepherd nodded, his look grave. "If we intend to examine this ship's communications we need to call in an expert."

"Kaylee's not leavin' Serenity."

" I wouldn't ask her to."

Zoe opened her mouth to ask who he had in mind when Book turned his gaze on Shen. The poor man still looked kind of shell shocked but at least he now had some colour to his cheeks and his hands had stopped shaking.

* * * * *

As Simon ran into the commons room he found Inara Serra kneeling next to the Captain who was lying unconscious on the floor. Kaylee stood with her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide and brimming with tears. Simon hurried over to them and knelt the other side of the Captain, immediately checking for a pulse. Fortunately it was steady and strong. Simon looked up at Kaylee.

"*Fasheng le shenme shi la*?"

"He was just lyin' there, Simon, an' he ain't movin'. Why ain't he movin'?"

Inara stood up and pulled Kaylee into her arms, the poor girl was shaking so hard. "Sssh, *mei mei*, the Captain's going to be fine. He's just unconscious."

Simon was frowning as he checked the Captain over. "He appears to be okay, I can find no signs of injury or distress."

Inara noticed he sounded puzzled and she couldn't blame him. If Mal had fallen there would have been a bruise or cut but there was nothing. Kaylee peered over Inara's shoulder at Simon.

"Ya think he was doin' too much an' just collapsed?"

"It's definitely a possibility, Kaylee." Simon did not point out that he did not think that was what had happened but in the absence of any information to tell him otherwise he could not rule it out. Just then Wash joined them.

"I heard screamin'."

Kaylee flushed and felt a bit embarrassed. Seeing Wash brandishing a firearm was still a bit of a novelty. It only tended to happen when they were rescuing the Captain from that twisted *tamade hundan* Niska. Simon looked relieved to see him.

"The Captain appears to have collapsed."

Wash blinked as if the words made no sense then slowly put his gun in its' holster. "So there's no emergency?"

Before Simon could answer Zoe's voice cut in as she came walking briskly into the commons room with Jayne, Book and Shen. "Wouldn't say that, *zhangfu*."

Wash's face lit up then clouded slightly as he realised what she had said. "*Mafan*?"

Shepherd Book frowned at the fallen Captain. "What happened?"

"I just found him like that." Kaylee explained. "Think he must'a collapsed."

At that point River drifted into the room, she peered over Kaylee's shoulder then looked at her brother's anxious face. "Isn't hurt, just his pride."

A nagging suspicion settled in the back of the doctor's brain pan. He put his hands on his hips. "What did you do, River?" She gave a little shrug as if it was nothing at all. "He didn't want to let me go. Too stubborn for his own good."


Her lips twisted at the censure Simon poured into that one word. Her brother was a spoil sport. "It was just a prick. Will wear off soon."

Something clicked in Book's mind. "You drugged the Captain with one of those tranq darts?"

Jayne actually looked impressed. "They'll bring down a gorram horse!" He guffawed.

"River, this isn't funny."

Just then the Captain groaned as he started to stir. River glanced at Zoe. "Time to go!"

Before anyone could say anything the girl darted out of the commons room and was gone. Wash met his wife's eyes and she gave her first smile in days. Wasn't a big one but it had mischief a-plenty reaching all the way up to her eyes. Oh yes, his big beautiful scary wife was going to enjoy this. But first there was one thing they needed to do, *mashang*.

"Wash?" "Yeah, *bao bei*?"

"We need to take off, *dong ma*?"

He looked a little confused then worried. Seeing the humour disappear from her face he realised she was serious. "We do?"

Her curt nod was all the confirmation he needed.

"Where to?"

"As far away from this *shen goushi* piece of the 'verse as you can find." As Wash ran towards the doorway she called after him. "And Wash, if anyone tries to hail us don't answer."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*Tian Yesu* = sweet Jesus *wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wode ma* = mother of God *shei* = who *diyu* = hell *shenjingbing* = crazy *dong ma* = understand? *shuai* = handsome *xin gan* = sweetheart *hen hao* = very good *daying* = promise *wei* = hey! *cuode* = wrong *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *weishenme bu* = why not? *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *ba ba* = daddy *Shangdi* = God *fasheng le shenme shi la* = what has happened? *mei mei* = little sister *zhangfu* = husband *mafan* = trouble *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *shen goushi* = deep crap


Wednesday, July 25, 2012 11:27 AM


Sounds almost like there's something else out there besides Silas, though the Operative seems to be blaming him at the moment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 12:30 PM


The Operative isn't very happy with Silas, Bytemite, because he knows what he has done. As for what else is out there, it's always a surprise when you lift a rock and see what's hiding underneath it. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 12:54 PM


Why do I think if they take off they will be leaving River behind and she might end up being the one in need of recuse... after she leaves of mountain of bodies in her wake of course. :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012 2:44 AM


Feel free to speculate, Nutluck. All kinds of things coming up! Thanks for the feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 4:03 PM


I like the description of the boundary where wealth and privilege end on Osiris. What is that world that's beyond Lucy's imagination? I suppose we'll find out soon. Uh-oh! The scenes with the grey soldiers were great -- almost like some kind of spy thriller. I like how you're making use of Book and his specialized knowledge.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012 12:35 AM


The world Lucy could not even imagine comes up in the next chapter, Ebfiddler. I chuckled at you likening the grey solders to some kind of spy thriller - ah, the mystery of it all! As for Book, that man has more layers than a gorram onion. Thank you for the shiny comments, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, August 11, 2012 1:40 PM


oh man, Mal's gonna be mad!! this is just all kinds of engrossing, AliD, you do spin a good tale, xie xie

Sunday, August 12, 2012 5:30 AM


The Captain won't be very happy, MalsDoxy, but slowly various threads are coming together - or should that be intersecting? Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.