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THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 19. "Hair Of The Dog"
Sunday, August 26, 2012

What had happened? And why did she think that as bad as things had been before they were about to get infinitely worse?


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2342    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "HAIR OF THE DOG" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 19. Sequel to "RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Simon/Kaylee Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "With more than one plan afoot things start to get more than a mite complicated."

"HAIR OF THE DOG"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The Lady was tired, her age definitely catching up with her not that it had ever stopped her doing anything she set her mind to but she had to be careful. The call was scrambled and triple encrypted. Once sent she closed everything down the better to be sure to leave not even the ghost of an echo to show she had been there or who had sent the wave. For several minutes she sat in her favourite chair and considered all options. This was an interest she must keep from her husband at all costs. He had his business, she had hers. He must never know of this particular enterprise. At times he would look at her and a hint of suspicion would lurk in the back of his eyes then he would smile like a cracked walnut. The hint vanishing as if a veil had been drawn over it. He never asked questions that might produce a revelation he might not wish to face for then he would have to fashion a suitable and no doubt spectacularly bloody response. Her husband was far from subtle but he was effective to a fault.

So they held their positions each professing blindness to the other's actions and flaws. Deliberately choosing to concentrate only on the things that bound them, that kept them strong. It was a partnership that spanned decades and survived on the delicate balance of their individual self interests. A marriage of more than convenience, of power. Her money, his ruthless cunning. A jaded passion in which she collected beautiful things and he despoiled them, but only after their usefulness had been exploited. It was a dangerous game made all the more exquisite for that adrenal rush spurring them on. A part of her was momentarily saddened not to be able to share this with him but she had not lived such a long and successful life by being careless. No. This was one secret she could not afford to share for it underpinned all those that followed.

* * * * *

The graft was meticulous, the result absolute perfection. The quorum of observers watched with critical eyes.

"How will his absence be explained?"

One of the technicians gave a thin humourless smile. "It won't."

Eyebrows were raised. "*Jieshi*."

The biomed technician slowly stepped back from his work. "The reconstructive surgery is virtually flawless. To all intents and purposes he is indistinguishable from the one who died."

"Only he isn't the same." Rasped one of the internal justices.

"*Bu qu*. We could do nothing to resusitate the original body but as you see -" he waved a hand grandiosly at his creation "the solution is very effective. Now that the tattoo has been grafted in place his own mother would have difficulty telling the difference."

The second justice spoke up. "We need a demonstration, *dong ma*?"

"*Dang ran*."

The technician touched a control, carefully bringing the sleeping man to full consciousness . He spoke quietly to the man who rose obediently from his suppine position on the operating table. The only hint of oddity was the way he moved with unnatural grace. They watched, eyes narrowing, as the technician asked questions and the man answered, finally sitting when asked to do so. The technician left the small surgical theatre and closed the door behind him so that the subject could not overhear their conversation. The third justice softly cleared his throat, his eyes flicking from the viewing window back to the technician. After all, this was not his area of expertise..

"Is this the voice of the original?"

For the first time a flicker of apology shadowed the biomed technician's face. "That was not possible, *shifu*. The original was already dead and we could not save his vocal chords but it is a good approximation."

The justices exchanged looks. The technician was quick to reassure. Perhaps too quick.

"We did research on his Triad." He paused to take something small out of his pocket and opened his fist. On the flat of his palm sat what looked like an insect. "This," said the technician with unmitigated pride "is our most perfect surveillance device. As you can see it looks like a common form of fly and it moves and sounds like one. Yet, we can mute the buzz it makes in flight for silent operation and it is small and quick enough to pass for the real thing."

The first justice straightened. "*Xiongwei*."

The technician however had not finished. "As much as this construct looks like a harmless fly," he paused to give a mirthless grin that vanished in the moment it formed "it carries a deadly sting."

Not willing to use the actual prototype by way of illustration, the technician brought up the specifications on their screen then walked them through it. The quorum heard him out in silence, their eyes drinking in this new marvel that had cost them more than a top of the line Alliance dreadnought. If the plan worked it would be cheap at half the price and then some. The second justice was first to speak, a weak copy of a smile plastered on his pale face. Something dark and unwholesome glittered in the black depths of his eyes.

"About that demonstration..."

* * * * *

The air was light and diaphanous up in the clouds but River had no intention of staying there. She only needed their shelter for a little while longer, her eyes sharp and taking in every detail she could gain from the shuttle's sensors while her mind raced and opened up pathways less travelled. There wasn't much fuel in the shuttle but it would be enough. Just. Everything would depend on the timing.

* * * * *

The cry was torn from his mind but not his throat. Lucy Dengate's eyes widened in alarm. The pack shifted around her, a dark seething mass that felt like every nightmare she had ever had combined into one terrifying conglomeration of violence barely held in check. The anger was like a red wave washing over her and blocking out all other senses. Nicholas looked to be in shock and agony but Lucy was too terrified to reach out to him, the wolves churning around the boy until with a sudden bound they leapt out of the den. Lucy closed her eyes, her teeth locked together to keep herself from screaming. All her efforts concentrated on blocking out the emotional pain and fury she felt radiating from Nicholas and his feral friends. Only when they were out of range she did shakily open her eyes, relieved to find the den empty and silence a more fitting companion to the whirlwind of thoughts swirling around inside her head like some bizarre merry-go-round. Lucy gulped in several deep breaths, trying to calm herself down, her hands shaking.

What had happened? And why did she think that as bad as things had been before they were about to get infinitely worse? For the first time since running away from home, Lucy wished she had stayed. Faced whatever terrible fate was about to fall upon her knowing that her parents would be there to defend her. As she calmed, common sense flooded back to her and she accepted that staying would have put her parents in danger. A danger she had instinctively known they would not have survived. No. As strange and terrifying as her new life was, at least they were safe. Shuddering with little aftershocks, Lucy tried to comfort herself with that knowledge but a small nagging voice in the back of her brainpan mocked her certainty and as the minutes stretched into hours a different kind of fear began to creep through her body and soul.

* * * * *

Tension seemed to stretch the air to breaking point on Serenity. Simon Tam wound so tight it was a wonder the poor boy didn't snap clean in half. Even Kaylee couldn't calm him, her never ending sunshine quickly dimmed when they had found his sister gone. The Captain was grim faced but on his feet and looking better than he had in days. Even his voice was losing that crackly scratchiness that made her want to hand him limitless amounts of water to ease it. Zoe stood at his side, hands on hips, a look on her face that cautioned even Jayne against interrupting.

"This is how it is. We got a whole nest of purplebellies down below crawling over every inch of Rufus Pol's terraformin' ship. The shuttle is a short range vessel an' even if it wasn't it ain't got the fuel to go far."

Simon was so tense it made Kaylee's heart ache to look at him. "Then River can't be far. We can..."

"No we about it." The Captain interrupted. When Simon was about to protest Mal raised a hand and Simon snapped his mouth shut. "One thing we do know is River ain't *chun*."

"Except when she takes off without tellin' nobody." Quipped Jayne, unable to hide his annoyance or confusion. "What I don't get is why."

They were crammed up on the bridge. Wash looking on with undisguised worry, the Preacher a thoughtful but silent witness. Inara didn't know what to make of it but was as concerned as the others not only with why River had left but also her state of mind. There was no doubting that the girl was a genius but she could also be very unpredictable and there was no telling what she had been thinking when she left.

"What do we do then?" Asked Wash.

"The only thing we can do." Said Mal. "We can't go down an' we can't leave, need to be here when the time comes to bring our lost lamb home." "How can we do that if we don't even look?"

The Captain stared at Simon and crossed his arms over his chest. "An' where exactly you suggestin' we look?"

Simon waved a hand towards the viewscreen. "Anywhere is better than not looking at all."

"Except if it's the wrong direction." Zoe put in.

The doctor opened his mouth to argue then shut it again. That was actually a good point.

"We are far enough away to avoid detection from the ground." Mal continued. "Wash is keepin' an eye on the sensors in case any Alliance ships come into the area. So far there's only the one on the ground with all the troops."

Shepherd Book was worried. "They are bound to find Rufus and his men in the lock up."

"That they are." The Captain nodded. "Can't be helped but we didn't kill 'em, Preacher."

"I'm not sure that will matter if they find us in the vicinity."

"We gotta get outta here!" Said Jayne, his voice rising in urgency. Not liking where all this might be leading them. "I ain't goin' to no Alliance *jianyu*."

"*Fang xin*, we play this right none of us will." The Captain said, his voice projecting calm and certainty even if he didn't feel it. For a moment he and Zoe shared a look. The kind that said a thousand words and left the others baffled. It used to frustrate Wash no end but he was too worried to pay it any mind.

"What do you want me to do, Cap'n?"

Just then the com flickered to life. A look of shock and surprise flitted across Wash's face. "It's River!"

Quickly the Captain leaned in close, slapping a hand on the com to switch it on. "River, what the good gorram you think you're doin'?"

Her cheerful voice sailed back to him at odds with the words she uttered. "Simon needs to hide, *mashang*!"

Simon crowded as close as he could get. "*Mei mei*, where are you? We can pick you up and..."

River's voice was now irritated. "You're not listening!"

The Captain stopped Simon from speaking again. "You got a plan, little one?"

Sounding relieved River gave a quick outline of what they needed to do. Naturally Simon protested but it did no good. "Going to radio silence now, Captain. Don't call me and don't panic. When the wolf is at the door it is best not to give him anything to eat, *dong ma*?" Then she was gone. Wash tried to get her back but could get no reply. Vibrating with anxiety Simon tried to get them to go and look for her but the Captain had the feeling that the only one thinking straight right now was River and if that wasn't enough to worry a man senseless he didn't know what was and yet the knowing of it calmed him. In an odd indefinable way he felt less worried now than he had before, not that they didn't have worries a-plenty on their doorstep. "Simon, you need to trust your sister."

Simon looked at him as if he were *shenjingbing* but the Captain walked right passed him, Zoe hanging back to stand by Wash's chair, one hand placed on her husband's shoulder. Not getting any response from the Captain, Simon followed him not realising where the man was going until they ended up in the infirmary. Behind Simon trailed a curious Book, Jayne and Kaylee. The Captain nodded to Kaylee. "Need you in the engine room, Kaylee."

She wanted to stay but one look at his face told her not to argue. With a nod she hurried off to the engine room. The Captain began opening drawers and cupboards seemingly at random while Simon continued to complain, after a few moments the doctor trailed off and stared at the Captain.

"What are you doing?" "What does it look like I'm doin'?"

Simon frowned and started closing drawers and cupboards automatically as if being tidy was encoded in his DNA. As he brushed passed the Captain, Mal spun round and quickly injected him in the neck. Pushing away from the Captain, Simon stared at him as if he had been betrayed. His eyes wide with alarm and disbelief. "What have you done?"

The Captain ignored Jayne chuckling and the sound of Book admonishing the mercenary that now was not the time. Calmly he took Simon by the arm and started to guide him out of the infirmary, Jayne and Book stepping back and wondering what in the nine hells was going on.

"You call me *wangu* Simon but if you ain't the most stubborn man in the 'verse. River said you need to hide an' that's exactly what you're gonna do."

Simon tried to shrug the Captain off but his co-ordination was off. "Let go of me!"

"Jayne, need a little help here *dong ma*?"

Jayne grinned and caught hold of Simon's other arm. Book raised his eyebrows. "If I might ask, what are you going to do?"

"Gonna look after River's brother so he don't mess up her shiny plan."

The Shepherd blinked as they passed him and trailed along behind them more than a mite confused, his mind in a whirl. Plan? What plan?

* * * * *

As dark and comfortable as his new hidey hole was, something drew him back. Back, back, and further back from his new acquisition until his consciousness returned to the seat of his power. Silas opened his eyes, a slow knowing wakefulness with not a single vestige of sleep remaining. His meditation disturbed but still fruitful. When the wolves rushed the burrow he was ready. There were five of them, all lean dark and menacing, lips drawn back exposing their jagged canines and filled with the lust for bloody vengeance. Silas remained sitting, almost amused though his eyes were cold. The smile an affectation meant to mock rather than a sign of humour. He was going to enjoy this. The wolves crowded in front of him, blocking the way out, but Silas was not going anywhere. He felt Nicholas enter the burrow after the wolves, the boy's mind still in turmoil and so upset he was having difficulty controlling his emotions. Excellent. The plan was going exactly as intended. Between them lay the body of the alpha male, the other wolves growing more and more enraged but wary as if sensing that the man sitting so casually before them was not to be underestimated.

Silas waited until Nicholas had emerged fully into the burrow and saw the body of his wolven friend lying dead at his enemy's feet. A sense of deep satisfaction filled the Hunter. Now his audience had arrived, he could begin.

* * * * *

The Lady listened to Chou in silence. The news about the soldiers searching the terraforming ship on Ithaca Moon piqued her interest. That ugly monstrosity had not flown in years. Her sources indicated that much of its' equipment had been removed leaving a huge cavernous space with just a few specialist pieces of machinery kept in prime condition. Her eyes glittered as Chou fell silent.

"How large is the interior?"

Chou gave an accurate approximation and the Lady nodded. She had not asked because she did not know. It was a test. Double checking information received from another source. Scrupulously careful it served her well to pay attention to every little detail for that was where the Devil lay.

"A vessel that size," she mused darkly "could easily accommodate a Firefly."

Chou said nothing just waited. A slow thin smile ironed the creases in her lips erasing for a moment the puckered edges of time.

"Have they found the ship?"

"*Bu qu*, my Lady."

A little dry laugh barked out. The glitter in her eyes darkened with something like appreciation.

"It would seem that Captain Reynolds is wilier than we had anticipated." She paused to sift through her thoughts, prioritise possibilities. "If the ship is gone where did it go and why the sudden interest in the old terraforming hulk?"

"The soldiers are like ants on dung."

"They are looking for something, Chou."

Chou lowered his voice, his face now very close to the small cortex screen. "I saw bodies, my Lady."

Her look sharpened, startled, though she quickly recovered. "What bodies?"

"Although I could not be certain they appeared to be the crew of the terraforming vessel."

"Was Reynolds and his crew among them?"

"Not that I could tell, my Lady."

"How many bodies? Describe them." Chou did just that. The Lady listened and mentally filed away every descriptive word then finally nodded as he finished. "I think you are right, old friend. Reynolds and his crew were not among them which leaves us with another mystery." The two exchanged a long silent look, both of them thinking the same thing.

* * * * *

He choked to full wakefulness, eyes wide and staring with fear, heartbeat stuttering and uneven. Too shaken to cry out he lay trembling in his bed, silent tears coursing down his cheeks. Davie Thomas had always been loved. Protected. This was the first time in his short life that he had faced Evil, had it touch him with its' cold insidious seeking breath even if as yet he had no name for it. He longed to climb out of bed and run to his parent's room, climb in and be hugged and comforted but that would mean moving and the terror still gripped him. Afraid to close his eyes, Davie slowly felt the grip of terror begin to fade as the sluggish hand of time dragged him into a bright new day.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book was somewhat reassured when the Captain dropped a blanket into the crawlspace before getting Jayne to help him put Simon into it. Once satisfied that the doc would not hit his head when he came round and hurt himself, a second blanket was laid over the top of him before the grill was replaced. Jayne gave the Captain a funny look.

"Huh, don't see why he needs blankets. Ain't like he's conscious."

"We don't know how long he'll need to hide an' lyin' between gratin' ain't no fun."

Book helped the Captain ease the grating back into place just as Wash's voice sailed over the ship's com, just a touch shy of panicked. "Cap'n, you need to get up here *mashang*. We're bein' hailed by an Alliance ship!"

"Gorramit," growled Jayne "even unconscious they's trouble."

"None of this is Simon's fault, Jayne." Snapped the Captain, his strides lengthening into a run. The other two swept along in his wake.

"Huh, this day just gets better n' better." The big man grumbled in an unhappy murmur.

Book wanted to reassure his friend but was concerned himself. Until they had more information there was no telling just how bad the news was going to be.

* * * * *

Little Lucy Dengate was tempted to mind cast but was afraid of what else might be out there. Nicholas had been distraught, his pain and distress flooding her mind and blocking any chance she had of finding out what was wrong. His emotions were too strong, too raw, too all-encompassing. The strength of them frightened her. Unable to do aught but watch him leave with the rest of the wolves Lucy was left to contemplate what it meant but her mind was a confused and unsettled fog. Alone in the den Lucy began to consider the unthinkable, some instinct egging her on. Being with Nicholas was no longer the safest option.

* * * * *

The internal justices were conferring in private. Decisions made still needed to be talked through and refined before they were put into operation. The second justice sucked his bottom lip, his look thoughtful.

"I am surprised he volunteered especially as the procedure cannot be reversed."

The first justice gave him a thin smile. "He is a True Believer."

Eyebrows raised, the second justice was impressed despite himself. "Are you saying he was trained for this?"

A laugh. Empty and hollowed out, devoid of anything approximating actual humour. A chilling sound. "True Believers are trained for anything. Nothing is beyond their scope or capabilities. No sacrifice too great."

He left unsaid the words 'To Build a Better World'. The internal justices exchanged knowing looks for this had nothing to do with building a better world and everything to do with controlling those they had within their grasp while reaching ever outwards to those that lay far flung on the fringes of their great maw. Control was Power. Money was Power. So was Possession. In their case it was more than nine tenths of the law, it WAS the Law and in their hands were written the weasel words with which to weild it.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*jieshi* = explain *bu qu* = no (no go) *dong ma* = understand? *dang ran* = of course *shifu* = sir *xiongwei* = impressive *chun* = stupid *jianyu* = prison *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *mei mei* = little sister *shenjingbing* = crazy *wangu* = stubborn

COMMENTS

Sunday, August 26, 2012 9:01 AM

BYTEMITE


And why did she think that as bad as things had been before they were about to get infinitely worse?

Yep. Minds are about to be shredded. But at least we might find out what exactly Silas is stealing from his prey, and how.

So there's a particular underground interest in the crew of Serenity, beyond the obvious military and creepy government people as well.

Poor Simon, but the boy really does have to get some common sense and not let River doing as River needs to disconcert him so much.

Sunday, August 26, 2012 9:43 AM

AMDOBELL


Call it instinct, a premonition, whatever, all manner of things will soon be coming to the surface Bytemite. You will find out more about Silas in upcoming chapters. As for Simon he has never quite been able to get on River's wavelength. Fortunately others are looking out for them both and I don't mean the bad guys. Thank you for the shiny feedback! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, August 26, 2012 10:27 AM

NUTLUCK


Very interesting, wonder how well River's plan will work. Somehow this time i don't think it is going to work as well as she thinks it will.

Sunday, August 26, 2012 10:32 AM

AMDOBELL


You will find out soon, Nutluck. Thanks for the feedback, always appreciated. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, August 27, 2012 5:23 PM

EBFIDDLER


Wheels are turning, things are happening, and it looks like we'll see some action soon after lots and lots of build-up. I am interested to see more of River's plan. Meanwhile, a whole host of creepifying characters and their strands of story, and Isuspect we'll see them intersecting soon. I especially liked the scene in which Mal "deals" with Simon's reluctance to follow River's plan.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 3:13 AM

AMDOBELL


You are right Ebfiddler, those wheels are turning and speeding up somewhat. All sorts of threads about to intersect and as for Mal's solution in dealing with Simon, I'm thinking he will be getting a lot of flak for that from the man himself when it is over. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, September 1, 2012 11:37 AM

MALSDOXY


so Lucy won't try to find Nicholas or save him? or maybe she will? Silas, that bastard! River has a shiny plan...Simon's unconscious...what a tangled web you weave, AliD, thank you...next chapter please

Sunday, September 2, 2012 10:47 AM

AMDOBELL


Lucy has worries a-plenty which are making her re-think Nicholas as someone to blindly trust and follow, MalsDoxy. As for Silas, he is REALLY evil and creepifying. As for River's plan and Simon being out of it for a while, lots coming up! Thank you for the shiny comments, always appreciated. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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