THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 21. "Double Bluff"
Saturday, September 15, 2012

As each body chamber was closed, the click and hydraulic hiss sent a shudder through him.


TITLE: "DOUBLE BLUFF" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 21. Sequel to "MIGHT AIN'T RIGHT" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Commandant Urquart leaves Serenity not realising he has been fooled on two accounts. While Captain and crew seek to stay out of Alliance hands they piece together a disturbing possibility. Meanwhile, Lucy seeks to hide from Silas while the Hunter plans a surprise for those looking for him."


A "Firefly" Story

Writtenby Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Kaylee shuddered. "He gave me the creeps, *dong ma*? Cold eyes."

"He's Alliance." Growled Jayne as if that explained everything.

None of them could quite get over the fact that the purplebellies had actually left. For a heart stopping moment it had looked as if the Commandant was going to drag Serenity's Captain off the ship under the guise of getting him 'medical treatment'. No one was fooled into thinking there was anything kindly or philanthropic about the so-called offer. Now they were standing around in the commons area kind of stunned as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kaylee narrowed her eyes, still thinking about that gorram Commandant Urquart. "I don't trust him."

Jayne snorted. "Yeah, 'cause he's Alliance."

Kaylee ignored the mercenary and stared at Shepherd Book. The Preacher had helped the Captain to sit down at the table and was hovering while trying not to look like he was doing so. The Captain didn't take kindly to folk fussing over him except when the pain was so bad he didn't notice. The fact that he was so quiet was making them a mite jumpy. A minute or so later Zoe joined them, a dark frown on her face. Inara had been keeping one eye on the Captain but looked up when the first mate arrived, not liking the expression on the woman's face.

"*Shenme shi*? Please tell me they left?"

"They're gone but I think I know why the Cap'n's been feelin' worse." Zoe paused as if to give the Captain a chance to say something then gave the others a sharp look as if bracing everyone for bad news. "Did you notice how dusty the purplebellies were? You should see the deck in the cargo bay."

Book wasn't sure what she was getting at. "What are you saying?"

"They brought dust onboard, Shepherd, that's what. Didn't notice while they were here, too intent on watchin' what was said an' done but once they were gone I did a check, wanted to make sure they never left any nasty surprises."

"What kind'a surprises?" Asked Kaylee.

"Trackin' devices an' such."

Kaylee paled. Zoe quickly continued, not wanting to alarm the little mechanic.

"Couldn't find any of that kind of *fei hua* but I did notice somethin' else. Floor's covered in dust. Everywhere those purplebellies walked they tracked it right through the gorram ship. I'm guessin' the Cap'n reacted to the dust an' him not fully healed yet."

Shepherd Book looked a mite confused. "*Wo bu dong*, if they've been around the dust why weren't they wearing masks?"

"My guess is they were but that either they left in a hurry or forgot to clean themselves off properly."

Kaylee nodded, as if joining dots. "The wave. Must'a interrupted 'em, they dropped whatever they was doin' to come an' check it out."

"That would be my guess though have to say the Commandant didn't have a speck on him just his men."

"Yeah, well, he probably didn't set foot off his ship. That's what the soldiers are for." Said Jayne, the twist of his lips saying just how little he thought of a leader who lead from the back. Man like that didn't deserve no loyalty.

"Now I think on it," mused Kaylee thoughtfully "they did look a mite dusty, more travel stained if ya know what I mean? But that don't make sense. I mean, they came in answer to the call from the ship on the ground, *dui*? So where'd the dust come from?"

Zoe's lips flattened in a line so thin they almost disappeared. "We've been seein' what they want us to see."

"*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"Just this Shepherd, we been thinkin' Urquart came outta the Black in response to that call but if so his ship had to be mighty close before he got the call on'y Wash had no sign of it on the ship's sensors. We didn't see it until it was upon us."

Inara shot the Captain a quick look but it was hard to tell if he was taking in any part of the conversation, he sat with his elbows on the table and head bowed as if slowly catching his breath. At least he hadn't slumped down or worse still, lost consciousness. Inara was not sure what Zoe was getting at. "It doesn't make sense, not even the Alliance could hide a Dreadnought."

"Don't think it was hidin', Inara. I think it was on the ground same as the other one. It would explain why the purplebellies had dust on their uniforms an' boots."

"But if it was on Ithaca Moon Wash would'a seen it." Kaylee piped up, remembering that Wash had spotted the other ship.

"That he would on'y dust ain't thickest on Ithaca Moon." Zoe explained through tight lips.

They exchanged uncomfortable looks before Book said what they were all beginning to suspect. "Are you suggesting it was on Anaeron?"

The first mate nodded, hands on hips, her look grim. "It's the on'y thing that makes sense. When they got the call they would have been approachin' from the far side of Ithaca, wouldn't'a been picked up on our sensors until it was almost on us. We assumed it came from the nearest Alliance outpost to get here not knowin' it was here all the time." "On Anaeron?" Added Kaylee for clarity.

"On Anaeron." Agreed Zoe. "That is why they still had the dust of that worthless planet on them."

"It still doesn't explain why they were so keen to take the Captain with them." Said Book thoughtfully.

"I think it does."

Everyone stared at Zoe as if she was about to pull a gorram rabbit out of a hat. Not that she had a rabbit or a hat for that matter. Zoe glanced over at her Captain and friend, worried that during all the talk he had made no attempt to join in but if she was truthsome he didn't look near as bad as he had. Maybe he just needed to rest a while. She turned back to face the others, automatically lowering her voice a little.

"I think some of their soldiers took sick on Anaeron."

Jayne guffawed. "Hope they die, gorram *tamade hundan*, save me puttin' a bullet in their heads."

Kaylee looked confused. "Why would they want another *shenbing* person when they got enough of their own to worry on?"

"Captain was getting better," said Book now that he could see where Zoe was going with the conversation "they maybe wondered how and if he could recover then so could their own troops."

"Yeah, well, he still left." Said Jayne, his voice surly and an ugly look in his eye. "Didn't care that gorram much about 'em."

"That's the part that's interestin' me."

All heads turned towards the Captain, surprised at hearing him speak. Even more surprised that he wasn't coughing a lung up to do so. As if reading their minds he gave a tight little smile. Kaylee grinned fit to bust but Inara narrowed her eyes at him, always the suspicious one. The Captain's grin widened a mite before vanishing.

"Don't think we got much time though, have to leave *mashang*."

Kaylee's grin vanished. "We can't go, River..."

The Captain cut her off right quick. "River is smarter than the whole gorram lot of us, Alliance included. Ain't gonna leave her, little Kaylee, but we can't stay. I'm thinkin' our little Albatross is watchin' from wherever she's hidin'. When we move we can expect to pick up a little shadow in our wake, one that won't be visible separate from our own sensor image, *dong ma*?"

Jayne frowned. "She can do that?"

"If anyone one can, she can."

"An' if she can't?"

"We go lookin' for our little lost lamb as soon as the wolf's gone."

"He's gone now." Said Kaylee eagerly.

"Just 'cause the Commandant an' his shiny ship have left us alone don't mean they ain't watchin'. Never count on an Alliance *wangba dan* to pass up a chance to track an' follow once they got you in their sights."

Zoe gave her Captain a long hard look. "What're we gonna do, sir?"

"We need to be gone but not so far we can't be close enough for River to find us."

"An' Simon?"

The Captain tried to give his mechanic a reassuring smile. "Stays hid for now. Once we're outta the woods we can wake him, be on our merry."

Book took a step towards the Captain. "If you don't mind my saying, Captain, you've recovered quicker than I would have expected."

There was a glint in the Captain's eye as he stood up. "That's because I noticed how Urquart looked at me first time I coughed. Tried it again to see if I was imaginin' it but I wasn't, he seemed mighty fixated you could say so I played up to it. Let him think I was sicker than I was."

"That was an awful risk, Captain." Said Book.

"Needed to draw him out, find out what was so gorram fascinatin' an' now we know which reminds me. Jayne, need you an' Book to grab a couple'a masks an' brush up that gorram dust. Check the ship out good an' proper, don't want a speck of it left where one of us might breathe it deep, *dong ma*?"

Jayne's eyes widened. "We already been breathin' deep, Mal!"

"An' I'm sure you wanna keep breathin', *dong ma*?"

Jayne scowled unhappily but nodded and the Captain waved him off. Book followed the mercenary out, Kaylee hesitating in the doorway.

"Somethin' you're wantin' to say, Kaylee?"

"You want me to help 'em?"

The Captain shook his head. "*Bu qu*, just keep an eye on that engine. Might be needin' a burst of speed before this is over. Once we get some distance I'll be needin' you to go over my boat with a fine toothcomb." At her look he explained. "In case they left somethin' behind that's a mite harder to find. Just 'cause there was nothin' obvious don't mean they haven't hidden somethin' where we ain't likely to look. Also check the engine's got all it's movin' parts, *dong ma*?" Kaylee's eyes widened in alarm. "You think they sabotaged the engine?"

"Not what I'm sayin', little Kaylee, but they left a mite too easy. Call me a suspicious *shishengzi* but I wouldn't take nothin' those *hundan* do at face value. Best way to stay safe is to be on our toes, not assume nothin'."

"Then we can go get River?"

He smiled into Kaylee's upturned face, his smile reacting to the hope in her eyes. "*Qu*, an' wake her troublesome brother."

"Simon ain't no trouble!"

Her quick defense made his smile widen into a grin, eyes sparkling with a mix of affection and mischief. The next moment he was serious again. "Now go, look after my engine. Don't need her to falter when she needs to fly!"

* * * * *

Every movement was laboured, every limb ached. Lucy could feel the emptiness gnawing her insides where she was so hungry even the shrubby grasses looked good enough to eat but she was too weary. Too tired even to pull a stalk and chew on it's bitter stem. Half stumbling she finally reached the outflow of the pipe, her eyes narrowing in disbelief as she looked up. *Wode ma* she had forgotten she would have to climb to get to it, and the rock all wet and slippery too. One error and she would not need to worry about the Hunter or Nicholas tracking her down. Lucy slumped, hung her head and fought back the tears but her body seemed to numb to obey her. Eyes closed she wished she was back in her own room, safe in the warmth and comfort of her parents' arms, but going back was not an option.

A sound made her jerk her head up. What was that? Nervously she looked around but the failing light was not helping. It had sounded like a small rock or stone rolling down the bank some distance behind her. Had someone dislodged it? Someone cruel and sneaky and even now reaching out to capture her? With a shudder Lucy pushed herself to her feet and with renewed vigor began to climb up the steep rocky slope to the waste pipe above her. It was maybe twenty feet but it felt like a mile. Not daring to look back in case she lost her footing, little Lucy Dengate bit her bottom lip so hard it began to bleed but she was oblivious. Panic forcing her body to move.

* * * * *

The Alliance General was non-plussed. What in the wide 'verse had happened? As the bodies were loaded onto his ship medics in containment suits checked them over for any signs of injury, anything to indicate an obvious cause of death. Not one of the men had a mark on them. Retinal scans were taken, each body quickly identified and labelled before the medical team sealed them in their temporary individual tombs. As each body chamber was closed, the click and hydraulic hiss sent a shudder through him. General Caulfield Wallace knew the bodies would be dissected, no simple autopsy for these men. The Alliance was fanatical about many things, at the top of that list was the need to know everything about everyone. At times the General wondered what kind of behemoth they had created, but it was only a momentary thought no more. To question was to fall from grace and as everyone knew it was not the fall that killed you but the sudden stop at the end.


The General fixed his steely gaze upon the young lieutenant, as shiny and squeaky clean as a freshly minted coin. He ignored the crisp salute. "Report!"

The Lt looked excited and was hiding it poorly. "*Shifu*, we found something."

He sighed. "When I ask for a report I expect ALL of it, Lt, is that understood?"

Inwardly quailing, newly promoted Lt Peter Hall rushed out the news, the words all but falling over each other in his eagerness to update the General. The General blinked. Slowly.

"Lt Hall, shall we try that again? This time clearly enough for me to understand what you are saying?"

"*Shifu, duibuqi shifu*! The engineering team checked the lock up to see if some mechanical fault or failure had caused the men to get trapped in there but the equipment was working correctly. In fact," he paused to whet his lips "it was locked from the outside."

General Wallace had assumed as much but it was always good to be thorough. "*Wo zhidao*, we had to cut through the mechanism to open the door."

The Lt did not seem chastened by the General's words. "They discovered the lock was voice activated."

That however was news to the General. Now they were getting somewhere. "Who activated it?"

"We don't know at this time, the record is being run through the voice recognition database but there was one odd thing about it."

The General raised his eyebrows. Really? Only one? "Spit it out, Lt. We do not have all day."

"It's a woman's voice, *shifu*."

* * * * *

Sophistication meant nothing without the means to act equally as efficiently on the information received. Fortunately, he had access to virtually limitless funds and the kind of technology to make grown men weep. And not with envy. The Operative did not smile or show any other outward sign of his satisfaction but now they knew where the Hunter was. The surprise was that it was Osiris, an Alliance planet through and through. What had drawn him there or did he think they would not look for him among their own?

* * * * *

The General had wanted to take off as soon as the last of the bodies were loaded but a top priority triple-encoded order had come through insisting they remain long enough for the Blue Sun technicians to bring onboard anything else they found worthy of further investigation. They already had the ship's communications unit and various relay panels. Added to that was the locking mechanism along with the electronics governing the voice activation. They had searched in vain for any sign of close circuit cameras but found none. Not a surprise given the type of shadowy character Rufus Pol had been. The Alliance was well aware of the man's other interests, ones which would have put him on their Most Wanted List had he not proved more useful kept within the fold. Now the technicians were looking for secret compartments, safety vaults and other hideaway compartments. They knew they would be shielded to avoid Alliance scans but the shielding meant nothing when walls were ripped apart and floors taken up. By the time the interior of the terraforming ship had been stripped the great hulk would be fit for nothing but scrap. And even the scrap would be checked. Not once, not twice, but over and over again until the technicians were satisfied it had given up all its' secrets.

With a sigh General Wallace turned from his view screen just as one of his men ran onto the bridge. "*Shenme shi*?"

"*Shifu*, there is something odd going on." The man paused to catch his breath and stand straighter. "At first we didn't take much notice, there has always been a few Triad members operating from Ithaca Moon but the numbers..."

"What about the numbers?"

The man shook his head, eyes telegraphing his disbelief. "There must be dozens of them, *shifu*!"

"Which clan and what are they doing?"

"Looks like most of them are from the Tree of Heaven but Norris was looking back at the docks and swore he saw White Lotus members massing."

The General was puzzled. What in the wide 'verse was that all about? Only one thing was certain, if the two Triads were building up their numbers on Ithaca Moon there was trouble brewing. "Return to your post and keep a sharp eye on them. I want updates on numbers and where they are going, what they are doing *dong ma*?"

"Do you wish us to engage?"

He shook his head. "Our priority is retrieval and removal of the bodies and anything that might explain what happened here but we will watch and monitor the Triads."

"*Qu, shifu*!"

The General looked around at his bridge crew and instructed exterior cameras to be activated. Whatever was brewing they would make a record of it. Might come in handy when they returned if they had images of the trouble makers but just to be on the safe side he sent another triple encrypted message just in case Commandant Urquart wanted to come and take a look. The Commandant had the manpower and the firepower to deal with any kind of trouble that might ensue, he also carried the latest biotech warfare. Slowly the General grinned as he waited for Urquart to answer his call. It was so new that the biotech had not yet been tested. If the two Triads insisted on fighting each other it would provide the perfect excuse to test it.

* * * * *

Inara Serra was not sure whether she wanted to hit him or hug him. Truly, the man was quite impossible. Malcolm Reynolds turned his head and caught her staring at him. He did not grin, in fact the confidence he had shown earlier seemed to have gone. Now he just looked drained, as if one tiny puff of wind and he would fall over. Inara frowned, her concern tinged with acid because he had made her fret about him and that would not do.

"You should sit down before you fall down."

Mal raised an eyebrow. "You tellin' me what to do on my own boat?"

The Companion bit back a tide of insults, it would be a waste to use them when she could not be sure he would fully appreciate the level of insult. Also, she did not want to fight with him and that was something too new, too tentative to look closely at for now. "*Bu qu*, Mal, but why must you be so *wangu*? Simon told you to take it easy and breathing in more of that dust, even the small amount on those soldiers' uniforms, is nothing to ignore."

To her relief the Captain nodded and folded himself into the co-pilot's chair. For now they were the only ones on the bridge. Wash was with Zoe, something about curly carrots needing his special attention and expertise. Truth to tell he had been too weary to question the man or protest though he knew Wash would not be gone long. They needed to find River and get back to the Black as quickly as they could. Maybehaps he should have told Zoe to bring the curly carrots to Wash?

"Mal? Mal, are you even listening to me?"

"Oh, *duibuqi*, was just thinkin' is all."

Inara moved close enough to get a proper look at him. "You look *zaogao*, Mal."

"Huh, maybe Kaylee was right, we should wake Simon. Your bedside manner is awful."

"You know that's a good idea."

The Captain blinked, kind of sluggishly as if his movements were slowing down despite his best efforts. "Huh? You agreein' with me now?"

Her smile was all sweetness and light. The Captain remembered his mama telling him it was the sugary content that rotted your teeth. "I think Simon needs to examine your head."

"Not nothin' wrong with my gorram head, 'Nara."

Before he could stop her, Inara put a hand to his forehead, her frown deepening. "*Renci de Fozu*, you're burnin' up!"

The Captain closed his eyes, just resting them was all but Inara's alarm rose several notches. Quickly she activated the com and called Zoe. The fact that the Captain didn't open his eyes or call her on it worried her even more. Maybe the display he had put on for Commandant Urquart wasn't all bluff after all.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *dui* = correct *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *shenbing* = sick *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shishengzi* = bastard (not as an insult) *hundan* = bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma* = mother of God *shifu* = sir *duibuqi* = sorry *wo zhidao* = I know *wangu* = stubborn *zaogao* = terrible Renci de Fozu = Merciful Buddha


Saturday, September 15, 2012 10:45 AM


It's never easy for the captain.

I think Lucy's hunter is close too. And the traids... Still don't know what they're after. Still building dramatic tension I see.

Saturday, September 15, 2012 1:20 PM


You said it, Bytemite. The Captain carries the responsibility as well as the worry. As for building dramatic tension, there's more to come. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, September 16, 2012 4:32 AM


Somehow I don't think Mal would have liked it if Zoe brought the curly carrots to Wash on the bridge.

Sunday, September 16, 2012 6:17 AM


Who knows Nutluck, maybe Wash would have shared? LOL. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, September 16, 2012 8:33 AM


That gorram Mal!! So stubborn!! this is REALLY getting interesting, AliD, thanks for putting this one up so, next one, please? ;)) [reaches over to fasten seat belt, fear a bumpy ride coming]

Sunday, September 16, 2012 9:24 AM


Yep, our Captain is a very stubborn man, MalsDoxy. Glad you are buckling in for what is to come! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, September 21, 2012 7:43 PM


Very good chapter, Ali D! Loved the line about Mal's mama telling him it was the sugary content that rotted your teeth. It appears there are wheels within wheels here, with the General and the Commandant and the various groups of Triads. Just what are they all up to on Anaeron? Personally, I would give that place a wide berth. It seems the Captain is every bit as bad off as he was pretending to be for the Commandant.

Saturday, September 22, 2012 4:11 AM


You are right Ebfiddler, definitely wheels within wheels. You will find out more soon and also why the Captain has had a setback. Thank you 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.