THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 18. "Red In Tooth And Claw"
Thursday, August 9, 2012

When placed on the scales the non liquified parts of the body organs and her extremities had made a pitiful legacy to a life ended almost before it could properly begin.


TITLE: "RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE" CHAPTER: 18. Sequel to "PAYMENT IN KIND" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Lucy begins to fear she has chosen the wrong protector. It is time for Serenity to take her leave. Meanwhile the Hunter becomes the hunted and all those caught in-between need to find a place to hide."


A "Firefly" Story

Writtten by Alison M, DOBELL

* * * * *

It was dark, the kind that seemed to move of its' own volition like a living, breathing thing. Little Lucy Dengate was so tired yet fear kept her heart pumping extra quick, ready to run if she needed to. Oddly enough Nicholas relaxed completely, his mind trying to flood hers with reassurance but it didn't work. Her eyes were round as saucers, fixed on the glowing points of light staring back at her. Not one pair but many. She only knew they were eyes when they blinked. Her scream of terror startled him and them. Nicholas reached out and drew her close, his mind forcing hers to open wider. Terror built on terror but she could not oust him. In the background she could hear deep gutteral growling, warning signals that any sane person would not have ignored. Did that mean Nicholas was not sane?

'You have to trust me, Lucy'


'Because I am the only one who can help you'

Slowly forcing her mind to calm he could not yet reach through her terror, so deeply did it grip her. 'What are they?'


That actually gave her pause. Friends? When Nicholas had brought her to the den on the outskirts of the City boundary the first thing that struck her was the smell. It was larger than the burrow they had used before and the stink told her that this one was in constant use but by what? Nicholas reached behind him and rubbed his hand through thick black fur, all Lucy saw was his hand and arm disappear into darkness and the low growl soften. Lucy felt faint.

'*Wo bu dong*

'The Hunter won't find us here.'

She stared stupidly at him. 'He is a Hunter, of course he'll find us Nicholas'

His grin startled her. 'I have thought of that. *Fang xin*. Rest now'

Nicholas had to be joking, right? But no, the boy seemed completely at home. He turned to the biggest wolf and murmured softly to the animal while rubbing his hands through the thick neck fur. The animal never took his eyes off Nicholas. When the boy moved back the wolf leapt passed him. With a cry of alarm, Lucy flung herself backwards but the wolf ignored her and shot passed her, the coarse fur of his coat brushing against her. The other wolves made no move to follow but watched with wary eyes. Nicholas took her hand. Lucy tried to pull away from him but he had a firm grip and in her mind he was trying to coax her into relaxing. After a minute or two he sighed.

'When will you learn to trust me?'

Lucy did not answer. So thick was her fear that for the moment she could not form a single coherent thought.

* * * * *

"*Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"

Even though Simon knew his sister was responsible he could not blame Zoe for wanting the full story. The Captain had been helped into his chair at the large oak dining table, his eyes taking a while to get back into focus, but his brain seemingly running laps around his other senses. "River drugged me."

The Captain paused, focus slowly coming back to his eyes but a pained look behind them that had nothing to do with any physical injury. It was the look of betrayal and it made Simon Tam wince. Although his voice was still scratchy it was already stronger than it had been. Maybehaps the drug had also dulled the pain somewhat. Zoe liked to think it merely meant her Captain was a quick healer.

"Had just brought the tranq darts to the commons room for the Shepherd to collect. Put 'em on the table then Book was there. We spoke a little an' he left to go find Shen. River wanted to find the Hunter. Told her it was a bad idea, that she was not gonna be used as bait. We'd find another gorram way." He paused to clear his scratchy throat, the words feeling like they were bunching up and like to choke him otherwise. A glass of water seemingly appeared out of thin air. Mal looked up and nodded his thanks to Simon and took a long swallow of the blessedly cool liquid.

Zoe hated to hurry him along but she had to know. "Sir, what happened then?"

Simon took the glass off him as the Captain's hand had started to shake just a little. Mal hoped no one else had noticed. "I began to walk outta the room when I felt a prick in the gorram neck, wanted to ask what the good gorram she'd done but already it was hard to stay conscious. Next thing I know I'm the main attraction in a ruttin' three ring circus."

Just then they all felt the ship move suddenly beneath them, the distinctive throbbing hum in the deck plates confirming that Serenity was taking off. Kaylee looked alarmed.

"We gotta open her up 'fore we can take off!"

The Captain just stared, not comprehending her anxiety.

Zoe frowned. "Wash knows what he's doin', Kaylee."

She shook her head. "*Ni bu dong*. Jonas had to open her up to let Serenity land an'..." She trailed off, remembering that Jonas Merritt was now dead along with the rest of Rufus Pol's crew. No matter how Rufus had messed up it was a hard thing to accept the death of his men whose only crime was to be in the wrong gorram place at the wrong time.

Instead of shuddering to an aborted halt the ship kept rising, her ascent smooth and unhindered. Zoe's frown vanished, replaced by a look that on anyone else could only be a mite smug. "*Fang xin*, I'd say Wash solved that problem'."

Simon turned his head and felt an old familiar anxiety creep through him as he scanned the room. "Um, did anyone see where River went?"

Wash could have answered that question. Right now he was in the middle of a disagreement with the doctor's sister up on the bridge. River made a face, not at all happy with him ignoring her request.

"This is *zhongyao*." She persisted.

The pilot nodded, checking his instruments and trimming his speed. They wanted a rapid leave taking but one that wouldn't draw too much attention. "So is this. We need to get as far away from here as possible, *dong ma*? Whoever sent those soldiers will be expecting an update from them. Who knows how long they'll wait before sendin' a bigger force with a lot more firepower to find out why they aren't respondin'?"

River began to look more and more distressed. "If we do that he'll get away!"

"*Shei*? Who are you talkin' about?"

In that split second River seemed to come to a decision and immediately calmed. It made the hairs on the back of Wash's neck prickle, the change so creepy and sudden-like. She looked at Wash and nodded solemnly. "You're right, you have to do what you have to do." Wash could feel himself start to relax. "So do I."

Head whipping round he wanted to ask her what the *diyu* she meant by that but River was already gone and he was left with the uncomfortable feeling that their resident little genius was about to do something they would all regret.

* * * * *

The hermetically sealed sack was transparent. Medical grade and guaranteed not to rupture or leak. The Operative looked at the sorry remains of a little girl sliding around in the remains of her bodily fluids. When placed on the scales the non liquified parts of body organs and her extremities had made a pitiful legacy to a life ended almost before it could properly begin. There was no time to regret the untimely end of Kathleen's brief existence. The sack was placed on the floor next to the other twelve. Something about the number 13 did not sit well with him but it could not be helped. In each case the child's pineal gland had been removed yet not through any recognised surgical procedure. Its' excision was a mystery to the medical technicians and the Operative knew that all the camera footage and details of each exploratory operation captured on various monitors and feeds would be poured over at length in an attempt to understand not only what had happened to these children but how it had been done. The why was already a disturbing reality forming in his mind and souring what should have been a perfect and elegant plan. It incensed him but right now anger was the enemy, it clouded judgement and made all men weak. Only with clarity could this conundrum be solved.

The Operative mulled over every second he had spent with Kathleen. Her words, her every movement, examined again and again for any clue he might have missed. She had been brighter than those already in the programme, that much had been clear from the start. It had pleased him and given him hope that they could accelerate their plans. That was until her examination had revealed the startling truth. Only one man could be responsible and his men were hunting him down. More disturbing than what Silas had taken was why. What nefarious scheme did the man they called the Hunter have in mind? Did he plan a rival to their own? It was the one thing he feared above all others and the only possibility that would make sense of what he had done.

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb had never been so happy to leave a place though something kept nagging at the base of his brain pan. The workout helped him to stay calm and sort through what was troubling him. Shepherd Book was spotting him though the man seemed a mite distracted.

"Somethin' on your mind, Shepherd?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing, Jayne."

The big man paused and carefully set the weights back on the rest before sliding out from under it. Book handed him a towel and Jayne wiped the sweat off his face and neck as he sat up. "Yeah, I keep thinkin' we missed somethin'."

Book frowned. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

Jayne realised what it was and gave his friend a worried look. "What if we left somethin' on Rufus's ship that ties us to them?"

"Well now," said Book slowly as if feeling his way "that's a distinct possibility but short of sanitising the whole ship - and you'll recall it is many times bigger than Serenity - there was no way to do that."

"Wasn't thinkin' of that." Said the mercenary as he stood up.

"What did you mean then?"

"I meant the communication unit. What if there's a record somewhere of when Perkins called Rufus to arrange for us to hide inside his ruttin' ship?"

"Oh, I don't think we need to worry about that."

"Huh. We don't?"

Book tried to ooze confidence. "If Jerrod had left a message for Rufus it would be recorded but I think he spoke to him, a live conversation, hence no need to record it."

"That ain't what I meant. I mean, them soldiers came 'cause no one answered the com, *dui*? That means they have contact with Rufus an' his ship, well what if that contact is monitored? We could be in *shen goushi*."

That was actually a good point and much as Book would have liked to reassure his friend that he was worrying for nothing he couldn't help but start to worry as well. "I'll go and speak to the Captain."

"Might wanna try Zoe."


The mercenary flashed his friend a wicked grin. "That shot of tranq River gave him'll take a while to clear his system."

"Jayne, you are enjoying that idea entirely too much."

"*Wei*, I didn't drug him!"

* * * * *

The Lady listened to her major domo in silence. Absorbing the update. "A Parliamentary Operative?"

Matthew James Wong gave a small nod, almost a bow. "*Qu*, my Lady."

"And the soldiers?"

"Not Alliance but affiliated."

That sparked her interest as he knew it would. Her face leaned in fractionally closer to the little cortex screen. "*Shei*?"

"Blue Sun. Part of their Black Ops Division."

"Allied to the Alliance you say?"

Wong nodded. For several moments the Lady said nothing, her sharp eyes reflecting the operation of an even sharper mind. "Did you find out which Triad member was taken?"

Wong shook his head. "*Bu qu*. Numbers only but not the significant ones, my Lady."

He was referring to the numbers on the tattoo that each Triad member carried signifying their rank and position in the organisation they served so ruthlessly.

"We know only that one was unaccounted for but Chou was able to determine he was from The White Lotus."

Having deliberately stirred the hornets nest this new information added another dimension, one she would need to watch closely.

* * * * *

Inara finished her ablutions and rose gracefully. The white needles tea both refreshed and calmed her. The water from her bowl she carefully emptied for recylcing, the sponge rinsed and placed to one side to dry. Feeling the ship take off had released the tension building inside her. She did not like Ithaca Moon any more than she had Anaeron. Perhaps now they could find a more hospitable planet, preferably one where she could find suitable clients herself.

A soft smile settling on her lips, Inara began to walk to the door of her shuttle when she felt the distinctive little shudder of a shuttle taking off. She frowned and hurried to her pilot's console, pulling the curtain back so she could slide into the seat and get a view outside. Somone had taken Shuttle 2 out but it had not come her way. Inara quickly activated the com.

"Wash, who's in Shuttle 2?"

There was only a fraction of delay before he answered. "That *shenjingbing nu haizi*!"


"*Duibuqi*, Inara, it's River."

Inara was dumbfounded. River? What in the nine hells was she doing in Shuttle 2? "Where is she going?"

"Inara, I can't talk now, I have to speak to the Cap'n."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask her to follow River but hot on the heels of that thought was the realisation that it would just double the trouble they were likely in. "*Bu qu*. I'll speak to you soon."

* * * * *

In the warm musty darkness he relaxed and deepened his trance state. Sitting cross legged on the earthen floor Silas looked calm, peaceful, as if he had not a care in the 'verse. His mind cleared of any distracting thoughts as he opened himself up to all possibilities until the path fate walked began to coalesce in his mid-brain.

Movement, deep and shadowy, yet he moved not. No sign made that he had heard anything. The wolf was huge, a truly impressive beast. Silas was content, had organised his thoughts into their specific compartments and was even now plotting ahead. Not one second was wasted even when he looked to be idling his time away, his mind was never still. The wolf crept closer, lips drawing back over sharp yellowed teeth. Still Silas did not stir. A low growl rumbled out of the animal's throat, hind legs bunching under him ready for the attack. Salivating as if he could already taste the human's warm blood running down his throat and chest as he ripped the man apart. Just before the wolf leapt Silas opened his eyes. He was staring straight at the largest wolf he had ever seen.

* * * * *.

Simon Tam was furious. How could this happen? Zoe had just updated the Captain when Simon stormed into the commons area. Jayne was lounging with his right hip against the edge of the large oak table. Inara looked worried and Kaylee was upset. Shepherd Book came in after Simon but the doctor did not notice, his angry gaze was fixed on Serenity's Captain.

"We have to go back, *mashang*!"

The Captain could feel a headache coming on. Gorramit, lately his life was one big headache. Before he could answer Zoe stepped in.

"We can't do that."

Simon stared at her, eyes widening as he pointed behind him. No doubt thinking to indicate the direction his errant sister had gone. "Do you know what will happen to River if they catch her?"

"*Diyu*, would sure be peaceful." Jayne chipped in.

Mal rubbed his forehead and didn't even bother to admonish his mercenary. Knew Jayne loved to rile the doctor up but now was not the time. "Simon, we go back we all get caught, *dong ma*?"

"You don't know that."

The Captain squinted at him. "Actually I do." He glanced at Zoe who filled in the details Wash had given her. "We took off just in time. Rufus Pol's ship is crawling with purplebellies, Simon."

Jayne was watching Simon closely, noticed how wretched the man looked and how distraught Kaylee was being torn between her worry over River and her need to comfort the doctor. "Yeah, like ants swarming over a pile of *goushi*."

Zoe shot him a look. "You ain't helpin', Jayne." "Not my fault his *sheningbing* sis ain't got the sense she was ruttin' born with!"

"My sister is gifted, a genius. Something you will never come close to in your lifetime let alone understand and she isn't crazy!"

"Let's all take a breath and calm down." Book paused, his deep rich voice rolling over them in a soothing wave that did nothing to dispell the worry growing in all of them. "Does anybody know where she is going?" "Huh, probably don't know herself."

The Captain snapped. "Jayne, *bi zui*! Maybehaps we can't go back but that don't mean we can't keep an eye, try to work out where River went an' what she's plannin'."

Jayne opened his mouth to make another comment but the Captain glared at him and the mercenary shut his mouth. Even if the Captain still wasn't quite a hundred per cent he was still the Captain and anything he said Zoe would back up with the rest falling in line. Wasn't worth making another cheap shot - besides, there was a part of him that felt a mite anxious for the girl himself. Not that he would ever own up to the fact. Kaylee wrung her hands together, on the verge of bursting into tears.

"What're we gonna do? We can't leave River behind, Cap'n!" "Nobody's bein' left behind, Kaylee." The Captain paused and gave Simon a hard look. "We act, we don't react, *dong ma*?"

When Simon didn't say anything the Captain continued.

"Zoe, we need to go speak to Wash. Make sure Serenity is outta range an' outta sight then go take a look see at what's happenin' below." Hope lit up Simon's face. "Then we are going after River?"

"After might be a bit strong. First we need to see where our little bird flew to, then work out a way to bring her back before some *tamade hundan* clips her wings."

* * * * *

Something alien clicked inside the animal's brainpan, too deep and quick to register. The panic and agony struck the instant his brain began to liquify, a pain so all invasive and overwhelming that the wolf would have wimpered had he but the ability. Silas locked eyes with the wolf and would not let him go. Slowly the great beast trembled from nose to tail, his body on the point of collapse. The mental cry torn from the wolf was something Silas savoured and feasted on until the beast collapsed at his feet. Not so much dead as dying. Silas reached out a hand and rested it lightly on the wolf's head but he was not seeking to offer comfort or aid, he was sending a message.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

"*wo bu dong* = I don't understand *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *fasheng le shenme shir la* = what has happened? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *zhongyao* = important *dong ma* = understand? *shei* = who *diyu* = hell *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *dui* = correct *wei* = hey! *shen goushi* = deep shit/crap *weishenme* = why *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shenjingbing* = crazy *nu haizi* = girl *duibuqi* = sorry *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *goushi* = crap/dog shit *bi zui* = be quiet/shut up *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard


Thursday, August 9, 2012 9:22 AM


WOOFIES. *hugs all of them*

Poor wolf.

I'm shocked that Jayne had a good point about communications from Rufus Pol. But it looks like he figured that out too late to stop River from running back to a ship filled with Alliance. I guess we'll have to see what River's up to.

Thursday, August 9, 2012 11:24 AM


All I will say Bytemite is that River isn't doing what you think she is doing. That bit fat brain of hers is always ahead of everyone else. And yes, poor wolf. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, August 9, 2012 4:34 PM


Well the bait is lose, now we will see if it brings in the sharks. Kinda fitting since Shark Week is starting in a few days. :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012 4:54 PM


Ah, the sharks. They have to keep moving or they will die. Shiny comment, Nutluck. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, August 12, 2012 5:01 PM


This Hunter character is really sinister; you've succeeded in drawing a truly creepifying character there, Ali D. I begin to see some of the disparate plot threads converging. I figured River would do something just like what she did -- off in the shuttle. Jayne made a good point about communications -- and didn't he know something about those Triad soldiers, early on? They should pay attention to Jayne.

Monday, August 13, 2012 1:58 AM


Yes, the Hunter is not someone you would want to meet in the dark (or daylight either!). I smiled at you saying people should listen to Jayne, and as for River our little genius has a plan. Thank you for the shiny feedback Ebfiddler, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, August 13, 2012 2:58 PM


i TRULY dislike Silas!!! And River, I know her plan will work but, but...i can't wait for the next chapter...also, typo here
Kaylee wrung her hands together, on the verse [verge] of bursting into tears.
Excellent as ever, aliD, xiexie

Monday, August 13, 2012 10:46 PM


Yes, that Silas is a thoroughly bad lot MalsDoxy and creepy to boot. Thanks for picking up the typo and for the feedback. Much appreciated as always, 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.