THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 20. "Might Ain't Right"
Thursday, September 6, 2012

To return would be to condemn her mother and father to a fate worse than death and that she would not, could not, do. Her gift had become her curse but it did not have to be theirs.


TITLE: "MIGHT AIN'T RIGHT" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 20. Sequel to "HAIR OF THE DOG" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "With the Alliance breathing down their necks the crew have to come up with some creative version of the truth but will it be enough? Meanwhile Lucy goes on the run and a wild card throws the Triads into a quandry that can only end one way."


A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

They stared at the huge hulk of the Alliance Dreadnought. What in the nine hells was it even doing here? Not a Cruiser or a smaller inspection vessel but one of the pride of the gorram fleet. Malcolm Reynolds knew exactly what he was looking at and how much top of the line fire power she carried. Had to wonder why. It was Shepherd Book who put it into context.

"I'm guessing they came in response to the discovery on Ithaca Moon, Captain."

Couldn't argue with that. Once an Alliance team landed and checked out why they could get no response from Rufus Pol or any of his crew on the old terraforming ship they must have asked for assistance and the Alliance had come loaded for bear. Obviously the discovery of the bodies had set their collective ant's nest into overdrive and now a gorram Dreadnought was breathing down their rutting necks. Yet if that were true the Dreadnought, top of the line or not, would not have been able to arrive on the scene so quickly. No. Instinct told Mal that the Dreadnought must have followed in the inspection vessel's wake almost as if expecting just such an outcome. How creepifying was that? Wash looked worried.

"They're hailin' again, Cap'n."

The Captain glanced around at his crew and indicated for all of them to leave except his pilot and Zoe, though he wanted his second in command out of view of the monitor just in case. He knew the others would have not gone farther than just outside the door, ears straining same as his would have done were their roles reversed. He nodded to Wash to put the call through.

"Firefly class vessel Serenity, this is the Alliance Dreadnought Reknown."

Mal toggled the switch. "Reknown, this is Serenity. Cap'n Malcom Reynolds speakin', how can we help you?"

A stern stocky man stared back at him, the Alliance grey of his spick and span uniform seemingly spilling into his skin. Man didn't have a lick of colour that wasn't stitched on in cloth. "This is Commandant Urquart, prepare to be boarded!"

"Commandant, what seems to be the problem?"

If anything the Commandant's expression tightened, his eyes narrowing and going beady. Not a good sign. "Was that a refusal, Captain Reynolds?"

The sudden switch to a soft silky voice stirred the hairs on the back of Malcolm Reynolds neck. "No sir, not me. Come aboard an' be welcome just curious is all."

The Commandant gave a curt nod and cut the connection. Stepping back to her husband and Captain's side, Zoe looked none too happy. "Doesn't sound good, sir."

Wash gave Mal a sideways look, wanting to keep at least one eye on the Dreadnought. "We could always make a run for it."

"While that may be a noble notion, Wash, even if we could outrun a gorram Dreadnought - which as you know we can't - we couldn't outrun her gorram guns."

A loud clanking sound announced the docking of the Alliance vessel. The Captain hurried to go meet their unwanted guests. Zoe paused just long enough to pat her husband on the shoulder. His worry deepened as he looked up at her solemn but lovely face. "Be careful, *bao bei*. I hear they eat their young alive."

* * * * *

His eyes glittered with shiny black menace. The wolves lying in a disordered heap where they had simply fallen like marionettes with their strings cut. Nicholas was still standing - just. His eyes were wide and staring, the horror frozen like the blood coagulating in his veins. Perspiration beaded on his forehead trickling down in slow rolling beads on a face drained of colour. Silas allowed a cold satisfied grin to spread across his face.

"You evaded me for so long." He said softly.

The words were so quietly spoken they barely disturbed the now fetid air.

"Ah," said Silas softly "but you cannot speak, can you?" Dark distasteful humour soiled his words. His look smug. Silas tapped the side of his own temple. "Only in here can you be eloquent and now," he paused as if for dramatic effect "even that option has been" he paused again, this time slowly pinching the fingers of his right hand together "extinguished!"

Nicholas's mouth sagged open but no sound came out. No change in his expression except for a sudden dulling of the eyes then Silas seemed to grow bored. Waved his hand as if to dismiss the young man and watched him crumple. Dead before his body hit the ground. At least, thought Silas as he stood in one fluid movement, he would be with his beloved wolves. As Silas stepped over the bodies he smiled and reflected that empty vessels, after all, did not make the most sound...

* * * * *

River was careful. Stayed where she could not be seen and just out of range of the Alliance ships, both the one on the ground and the one docking with Serenity. Her home. From time to time her mind wandered, walked paths too dark to see but she could feel, her senses tingling and sparking with a kind of apprehension that was slowly building. She knew the bodies were being removed from the terraforming ship, the communications panel carefully disconnected and taken away for further examination. Everything being handled on an almost forensic scale. It would have been wrong to say she could see them but she knew and the knowing was getting sharper. Closer.

* * * * *

Commandant Urquart was every bit as stiff and formal as Malcolm Reynolds expected him to be from the short wave. As his boots rang out on the ship's decking his men split up in small organised teams to search Serenity. The Captain's jaw tightened but he kept his tone forcibly affable, nothing to see here.

"You didn't say what you were lookin' for."

Urquart gave him a cold look but his words were polite enough. Maybehaps 'too' polite. "Is this all of your crew, Captain?"

Mal blessed the fact that Simon and River were not strictly crew. Meant he could be more convincing when it came to leaving them out of the gorram equation. Carefully he cleared his throat, didn't want to go into a coughing fit. "This here's my second in command, Zoe Washburne. The man in the flowery shirt is my pilot, Wash." As he spoke Shepherd Book, Jayne, Inara and Kaylee joined them. The Captain could feel his throat starting to itch and tighten up but managed to introduce them then watched the Commandant's eyes narrow as he paced slowly around Serenity's crew.

"I said 'everyone', Captain!" "An' so it is." He paused to clear his throat, could feel himself getting hoarse and he needed to speak clear. "This ain't a big boat, Commandant, just a mid-bulk transport. Got no need for a large crew eatin' me outta house an' home."

The Commandant did not so much as crack a smile, if anything he looked more annoyed not less. "You call them 'crew'," he all but sneered in that soft polite way of his that was just short of calling the Captain a liar to his face "yet you have a Shepherd with you and unless I am much mistaken what looks to be a Registered Companion."

The lift of his brows and the glint in his eye made the Captain want to wipe that look off his face. Before he could reply Shepherd Book took a step towards the Commandant. "I am not a crew member as such, Commandant. I took passage aboard this ship in order to walk a while in the world when I left Southdown Abbey."

Urquart flicked a glance at Inara. "Did you come to walk in the world as well?"

Inara was as smooth and gracious as the Commandant was surly and disbelieving. "*Bu qu*, I have a business arrangement with the Captain." Seeing the look on the Commandant's face Inara was quick to explain, the rebuke too subtle for the odious man to pick up on. "I do not service crew, *dong ma*?"

"Surely, a ship such as this cannot serve your purpose well?"

Inara's smile was sweetness itself, as if he had given her a compliment rather than a poorly veiled insult. "I hire a shuttle from the Captain, it gives me autonomy."

A slow smile split the Commandant's face like a crack in a china plate. "You did not tell me you had two Companions travelling with you, Captain."

Mal blinked, momentarily confused. "No, just the one, *weishenme*?"

"Where is your other shuttle?"

Kaylee brightly butted in. "It don't fly, not since we got attacked by Reavers. Had to jettison it to get away."

"There are no such thing as Reavers."

"Yeah, well they's real." Jayne growled. "Eat the meat right off'n your bones if ya don't move fast enough."

The Commandant opened his mouth, no doubt to again deny the existence of Reavers when one of his men came back from searching Serenity and whispered urgently in his ear. Instantly, the mood darkened. Urquart glared at Captain Reynolds. "What are you and your 'crew' doing here, Captain Reynolds? And I warn you that if you lie it will go very badly for you."

"We had business on Anaeron, cargo to deliver."

"This is not Anaeron."

"No, no it ain't but a Firefly only carries so much fuel. Was hoping to see to that before you hailed us."

The Commandant's eyes narrowed dangerously. His men quietly filing back into the cargo hold, the search seemingly finished. "Do not take me for a *chunren*, Captain. Your ship was heading away from Ithaca Moon not towards it."

Shepherd Book's deep voice rolled calmly into the strained silence. "I think I can explain, Commandant." "I was speaking to Captain Reynolds!" He snapped.

"*Qu* and normally I would not dream of interrupting but when we landed the Captain was taken vilolently ill. Even though he was wearing a mask it was faulty and some of the dust got into his lungs. We nearly lost him." Book did not point out that he was talking about when they landed on Anaeron not its' Moon.

The Commandant stared from Book to Mal as if trying to decide which one of them was the bigger liar. "I am going to impound this ship and take you all into custody! Perhaps once you are on Alliance soil you will decide to tell me the truth."

Kaylee was wringing her hands, close to tears. "It ain't a lie an' we can prove it!"

He turned his glare on Serenity's mechanic. "Did I give you permission to speak, *nu haizi*?"

The Captain bristled but Kaylee was not easily cowed, certainly not by a *tamade hundan* purplebelly without the wit to listen. Instead of shutting up she glared back at him, anger taking over from fear. "If ya don't want the truth why ask? All ya gotta do is send one of your men to the infirmary an' you'll see we're tellin' you the truth."

"What will that prove?"

Zoe realised what Kaylee was getting at and stepped in. "That is where the damaged mask is, *shifu*. Shepherd Book an' I have some doctorin' skills an' we were usin' the cortex to find out what was makin' the Cap'n *shenbing*. This is the first day he's been able to speak more'n a couple of words without throwin' up."

"I'll admit your excuse is inventive."

"It's not an excuse, Commandant." Assured Book in his most level and reasonable voice. "A simple examination of our infirmary will prove it. You do not have to take anyone's word."

For a moment no one moved or said anything. The Captain could feel his throat closing up, what with all the talking he had been doing since his operation coupled now with the stress, the itching was getting worse and he had to put his hand over his mouth to muffle the gagging reflex. Zoe shot him a worried look, not liking how his face had flushed as if he was getting short of breath. Annoyed beyond reason at his body for letting him down when he most needed to be strong, the Captain tried to stand ramrod straight but his lungs were getting thin on oxygen and he was beginning not to worry what in the nine hells the rutting Commandant thought as his shoulders began to hunch forward. Wash took a step towards him and moved close enough that Mal could lean into him if it got too bad. He knew offering to help would upset the man and right now Mal needed to be calm to prevent another coughing fit. Now was not the time to undo any of Simon's hard work.

* * * * *

He looked in the mirror, impressed with the way in which they had aged the tattoo. He was replacing one of the 49s of the Tree of Heaven Triad and had to admit the plastic surgery had given him a close likeness to the man he was supposed to be. Even a foot soldier was important in the hierachy of the Triads but he did not need to get into any long and involved conversations, just remember to do and say what he had been taught. In his pocket the little bug sat inert, awaiting activation. With a grim little flash of a smile, he tried speaking the new name to see how it sounded on his tongue and watch his reaction. Again and again he repeated it - Jon Martensson. After the tenth time it began to feel natural, his expression not changing or reacting adversely to the lie on his lips. First he had some intelligence gathering to do then he would return and let them get him ready to play his part. If everything went according to plan, and he had been assured at the highest level that it would, by the end of this day the Triads on Ithaca Moon and Anaeron would be at war. For now they were dancing around each other, neither sure who was friend and who was foe. Each fearing a new player was moving into place. Both were wrong. The time had come to clear the decks. Wipe the board clean and start again. He thought they were building a Better World, the light of the fanatic a quiet flame sleeping in his eyes blinding him to an even greater lie. The truth was something he was not destined to survive.

* * * * *

It was dark, a perfect camouflage but the knowing of it did not lighten her heart. Lucy moved as swifty as her stiff limbs would carry her, the empty gnawing in her stomach twisting her up with hunger which she tried to ignore. She had never had cause to learn how to live off the land and had no survival skills beyond running and hiding. On the edge of Osiris nature had taken its' rough handed course and there were no tended paths and cleared shrubbery. The plants were hardy and spikey, digging into her arms and legs as she brushed through them and scratching her but she did not cry out. Too tired and too traumatised all she wanted was somewhere safe to hide. A place where Nicholas could not find her. There was only one place that fit the bill and though she quailed inside at the thought of returning to the sewer she knew now that she did not have to go all the way inside, just far enough that he could not mind cast to her or sense her. Thinking further than that was out of the question for now. Briefly she thought of going home, the warmth and comfort of her parent's arms a tug that was almost irresistable. But the same instinct that had made her flee now meant that she could not go back, not now and maybe never. To return would be to condemn her mother and father to a fate worse than death and that she would not, could not, do. Her gift had become her curse but it did not have to be theirs.

Lucy finally found the exit pipe but going back in was harder than coming out had been. It involved climbing over slippery wet rocks with the darkness she was more likely to miss a step than not but there was little choice. Even now she was probably being hunted. Waiting for daylight was something that people not at risk could do, not her. Weary being imagining, Lucy took a couple of deep breaths and set out. Her objective the only thing in mind, though even that was deliberately clouded with anything and everything obscure her tired mind could think of. She didn't want to be betrayed by a stray thought any more than by a reckless fall.

* * * * *

The pain was hard to control as it had no central point but had quickly radiated to all parts of his nervous system. Knowing what he had to do and how little time he had to do it in, was the one thing driving him on. Rest would have been more than a comfort but the delay was one he could not afford. All that mattered was the mission and with the strength of purpose and will of a zealot he forced his rapidly numbing limbs to carry him just a little further.

* * * * *

With the retrieval of the mask from the infirmary a rapid and hushed conversation took place. When Commandant Urquart looked up he was no longer glaring at the Captain or Serenity's crew but neither did he look happy. Something else was going on but what? The man straightened just as Malcolm Reynolds slumped, only Wash's shoulder kept him from keeling over and for that he was inordinately grateful but why the good gorram was he feeling so bad now? Everything had been going shiny, his recovery accelerating.

Urquart scanned the room. "Where's the medic?"

Zoe was about to step forward when she realised he was not talking to them. A young purplebelly hurried forward. Was little more than a boy - didn't look old enough to shave let alone know any doctoring. Urquart pointed to the ailing Captain.

"Examine that man! I want to know what ails him, *mashang*."

Zoe felt her anger grow, almost consume her, and was about to tell the Commandant that they knew full well what was wrong with the Captain but a tiny shake of the Preacher's head stilled her tongue though fury blazed through her like liquid fire. Urquart gave her a disingenuous smile as if knowing exactly what was going through her mind. She had never wanted to snap a neck so badly.

"*Fang xin*, we will take care of your Captain."

Shepherd Book blocked the boy's progress, his smile seemingly genial and deliberately non threatening. "I will help you take the Captain to the infirmary."

"You misunderstand," Said Urquart, his expression more of a spiteful sneer "Captain Reynolds is coming with us. With our superior facilities we are best able to offer aid for what ails him."

Zoe's eyes narrowed. "Thought you didn't know what was wrong with the Cap'n?"

Urquart held up the damaged mask his men had retrieved from the infirmary. "This mask supports your assertion. It is obviously faulty and if the dust is doing him harm then it is in our interests as well as yours to find out as much as we can about it."

"So's ya can help him?" Said Kaylee hopefully.

Something in the Commandant's eyes made Serenity's mechanic quail inside. Her voice now coming out in a thin frightened little wail.

"Ya ain't plannin' on helpin' him, are ya?"

Inara wanted to caution Kaylee against saying too much. Angering the Commandant would just make things even worse but she was not close enough to Kaylee to stop her.

"Your Captain will receive the best medical attention the Alliance can buy."

Something nasty clicked inside Zoe's brain. "You ain't cuttin' him up."

Amusement flickered on Urquart's grey tinged face. A man so lacking in colour that even a corpse looked healthier, but his eyes were bright and sharp. "We will do whatever needs to be done to get to the bottom of his condition."

"Then," said Book in a solemn but no nonsense tone and manner "I will come with you."

That surprised the Commandant so much that it took a moment for him tor him to process the fact that the Shepherd was serious. "You are not a doctor, Shepherd."

"*Bu qu* but I know this man and am familiar with his condition. I can provide valuable insights into what happened."

"I hardly think that is necessary."

"Oh, but I must insist. If you are taking the Captain with you then I must come too."

Urquart's eyes flashed a warning, not at all amused or happy now. "You do not give orders, *dong ma*?"

"Then what are you afraid of?" Said Book softly. He took a few steps forward, now blocking the Captain from Urquart's view. The boy medic didn't know what to do but was not willing to stand in Book's way or to lay a hand on the Captain without further instruction. "How do you know his condition isn't contagious?"

"He appears to be the only one who is *shenjing*."

Book did not take his eyes off Urquart. "No, I think you have seen this condition before Commandant."

The sudden flush on Urquart's cheeks was all the confirmation Book needed. "I don't know what you are talking about. I am simply offering medical assistance." "Offering you say?" Zoe spoke up, as if needing to confirm that this was in fact so.

Urquart nodded, thinking he had found a chink in their armour. "*Qu*, and we will in this case wave any medical expenses that may be incurred." At the look of disbelief on their faces he quickly added a caveat. "As a gesture of good will."

Zoe wanted to tell him where to stick his good will but did not want to make their situation more precarious. The Alliance were not known for such gestures, not without there being a very big and nasty sting in the tail. "Then we must politely an' gratefully decline your generous 'offer'."

The Commandant opened his mouth to speak but Book beat him to it. His voice pitched conversationally but firm. "As you witnessed for yourself when you first came aboard, Commandant, the Captain was much better when you arrived. Having to talk so much before he had finished recovering has no doubt set him back a few weeks but all he needs is rest and care and we can give him both. We thank you for your concern, is there anything else we can assist you with?"

* * * * *

River sat with her eyes staring at nothing, her mind racing in a dozen different directions while she made calculations against the clock ticking inside her head. Timing, timing was everything and Serenity needed to move.

* * * * *

Ithaca Moon didn't have a market place as such and had less facilities than Anaeron but it had less trouble with the dust than the main planet. Were he on Anaeron the dust would have finished what the dart had started long before he reached his destination. As he stumbled towards the Triad's contact point, he fumbled in his pocket and activated the bug. His fall was measured but almost boneless, the knees giving way before he tipped toward onto his face. No one noticed the little bug fly away from the fallen man and at first no one approached the body either.

Inside the old mining hut a face moved in the shadows, watching but suspicious. The eyes scanned the area but nobody appeared to be with the fallen man and as he titled his head it seemed there was something familiar about the man. Cautiously, Rezzik activated his secure com and reported in, using codewords and waiting for instructions. As he did so he noticed the fallen man turn his head and something caught his eye. Something he would have recognised in a heartbeat. With a quick muttered imprecation he gabbled away on the com, the unlikely and unexpected news creating a flurry of interest at both ends. Everything had suddenly become urgent.

Quickly exiting the hut, he ran to the body, his eye fixed on the tattoo he had glimpsed from the window. Gently he turned the man over, a hand carefully brushing the dust off his face but the fluttering carotid pulse told its' own lamentable story. "*Wode ma*! What happened to you, Jon? What * wangba dan* did this?"

Rallying just enough to whisper, he named the rival Triad and warned that they were planning to completely wipe out the Tree of Heaven. A look of shock turned then to fury but before another question could be asked Corby Rezzik realised Jo Martenssen was dead.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bao bei* = precious/treasure *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand? *weishenme* = why? *chunren* = fool/jerk *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shifu* = sir *nu haizi* = girl *tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *shenbing* = sick *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wode ma* = mother of God


Thursday, September 6, 2012 9:50 AM


very cool, though Mal seems to have gotten a lot worse in a very short amount of time. I wonder if all it is, is him pushing himself to hard.

Friday, September 7, 2012 12:05 AM


Glad you are finding the story cool Nutluck. As for Mal getting worse there is a reason and pushing himself too hard is just part of it. Thanks for your welcome comments, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, September 10, 2012 4:04 PM


Silas the hunter has dispatched poor Nicholas, Lucy's on her own and on the run again, River's out and about, the Triad look-alike has made his move, Mal's ill again, and the Alliance commander is up to something. You're keeping all the balls in the air, Ali, and things are exciting. I hope Mal does not get worse. Book and Zoe did right holding the line for him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:35 AM


At least I'm not juggling geese, Ebfiddler! All sorts of disparate threads are beginning to play out their hands, not all of them turning out as expected. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 3:57 PM


geese! haha :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 3:57 PM


geese! haha :-)

Saturday, September 15, 2012 6:58 AM


you really are the Master Juggler, AliD, to many 'geese' in the air, LOL Intriguing developments, I must say, can't wait for the next one xiexie

Saturday, September 15, 2012 7:22 AM


Welcome to the Circus, MalsDoxy! Glad you are intrigued more coming soon. Thank you for the shiny feedback to you and Ebfiddler who for some reason seems fixated on geese! (And yes, I know, that is my fault). LOL. 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.