THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 22. "Heroes and Monsters"
Saturday, September 22, 2012

She covered her face. Trembling from head to foot she rocked herself but the images wouldn't go and the nightmare scenario brought tears streaming down her pale face.


TITLE: "HEROES AND MONSTERS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 22. Sequel to "DOUBLE BLUFF" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "Commandant Urquart makes the most of an opportunity while Captain Reynolds appears to suffer a setback. Meanwhile Jerrod Perkins and his crew are getting more and more worried as things go from bad to worse."


A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

General Caulfield Wallace stared at his monitor. Commandant Urquart looked confident and composed, not the expression he would have expected on the face of a man hearing the news for the first time. Or could he be over reacting? It was not as if Urquart was expressive at the best of times. "Are you sure your biological weapon can deal with this problem, Commandant?"

If anything the impassive look on Urquart's face turned a mite smug. "It's as far removed from biological warfare as it can be and still have a biological component, General."

The General frowned. "What are you saying?"

"This is biotech and so advanced it only has a designation. Masks won't be any use. Only those wearing full biotech containment suits will be protected and even then only for short periods which is why we will engage in airborn dispersal."

"For how long?"

"*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"How long until it's safe for us to go and take a look? Estimate the level of success."

Urquart took a moment then laughed, a short sharp bark that only succeeded in annoying the General but he could hardly upbraid a man who outranked him and had the ear of the Alliance hierachy. A man destined to become part of that powerful controlling body. "*Ni bu dong*, General. Once we have 'cleansed' the area of troublemakers there will be no going back, *dong ma*?"

"Are we talking weeks or months?"

Something in Urquart's expression hardened. "General, no in this case means never."

General Caulfield Wallace paled. "*Wode ma*, what is that stuff?"

"The final solution."

The General was beginning to regret notifying the Commandant about the build up of Triads on Ithaca Moon. Preventing a bloodbath between rival Triads was not the same as wiping out every man, woman and child on Ithaca Moon. Destroying all life down to the cellular level. Even simple bacteria would not survive. At least, that was how Urquart explained it. The General took a moment to get his lungs to work properly. "What kind of solution is it," he said faintly "if everyone dies?"

Commandant Urquart gifted him with a disingenuous smile. The kind Wallace would like to remove with rocket fuel. "The 'final' kind." Urquart gave a theatrical pause, wanting his words to sink in. "And General, this conversation never happened. In fact, once we leave Ithaca Moon neither of us were even here, *dong ma*?"

Too shocked and distressed to reply, General Wallace could only nod. As the screen went black the General closed his eyes. 'Tianna', he had just unleashed Armageddon.

* * * * *

Zoe and Wash came running just as the Captain slumped in the co-pilot's seat. Inara had been trying to rouse him without success. Zoe's voice was clipped, all business.

"*Zenme hui shir*?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*, one minute we were talking then he closed his eyes. I can't wake him, Zoe."

"Wash, best go find Book or Jayne. We need Simon, *mashang*."

Even though Inara agreed with Zoe, she remembered what Mal had said about the need to keep the doctor hidden until it was safe for him to come out. She watched Wash leave with mixed feelings. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"Unless you've suddenly become a top trauma surgeon, yes."

Inara didn't say anything else, she was as worried as the first mate but didn't want Simon falling into Alliance hands either. As if they did not have enough things to worry about. It would seem that not all of the Captain's earlier performance had been acting.

* * * * *

Anaeron was not the first choice for anyone to settle and in fact had not been terraformed with that end in mind. The planet had resources that could be exploited and exploited they were. By keeping the terraforming to the minimum the Alliance had also solved the problem a large permanent population would have caused them. The only people on the planet were workers and their families though many preferred to keep their familes off world and rotate their shifts in longer blocks so instead of working all week and having the weekends off they would work for three to six months then be off world for the next three to six months. It was an arrangement that while not perfect made the best of working in a hostile environment where a man could not afford to let down his guard or spend more than a minimum of time away from his work colleagues. Friends were those who had a vested interest in keeping you alive, they were also best kept in sight.

Jerrod Perkins had bucked the last rule by using a crew that had been with him over many years. They knew each other as intimately as any family, were bound not by simple vested interest but by loyalty and each man watched the other's back. It made them sharper, stronger and all the more wary of any changes, however subtle, in the austere life they led. All of which helped not a single jot when the boss was being driven almost *shenjingbing* with worry. The stress in every line of his body touched each and every one of them. The tension palpable.

"*Wo bu an*, we should have heard from Shen days ago! Not only that, I can't raise Rufus either."

Perkins paused, his face darkening with a mix of worry, anger and confusion. What the good gorram had happened?

Howdy Marks had been watching their *laoban* pace up and down. When the man stilled and fell silent he spoke up. "*Ni zuo shenme ne*?"

"Nothin' I can do, not without more information." Perkins spread his hands in a frustrated gesture. "We got nothin' an' more importantly we ain't got Shen either. If that Cap'n did anythin' to him I'm gonna rip his sorry hide limb from ruttin' limb."

"What if it wasn't Reynolds?"

The boss looked sharply into Billy Parker's face. "What're you sayin'?"

He shrugged. "Could be Alliance. They mess with everythin', *laoban*. Was their gorram fault this place is deadly without them masks an' we know they ain't always properly sealed."

"You think the Alliance nabbed 'em?"

"Don't know what I'm thinkin' but it might explain why we can't get hold of Rufus either. An' then there's the other thing makin' my skin crawl."

All eyes fixed like limpet mines on the man now. Perkins eyes narrowed. "*Shenme*?"

"I been followin' local chatter an' it seems that the Triads have been gettin' real busy. Numbers multiplyin' outta all proportion, like there was somethin' mean brewin'."

Everyone knew the Triads kept eyes and ears on most planets, only two Triads took that much interest in Anaeron and Ithaca Moon. Now why in the nine hells would they be building up their presence on Anaeron and what did it mean?

"This just on Anaeron, Billy?"

"*Wo bu zhidao, laoban*. An' that's another thing I don't like. Nobody seems to be able to get word off planet, not just planet to planet or ship to ship, *dong ma*? It's like somethin' is blockin' all off-world communication. Can't even raise Ithaca Moon."

* * * * *

He was not happy. Firstly being knocked out then manhandled into one of the Firefly's many hidey-holes then being rudely dragged out again, wakened and expected to now help the man responsible for his foul mood. Looking as rumpled as he was disgruntled, Simon gave Zoe his dirtiest look.

"Give me one good reason why I should check on that *baichi* of a Captain of yours?"

Zoe bristled, ready to do really serious harm to their shiny but not always forward thinking doctor when Book's calm deep voice interrupted.

"Think maybe the Captain saved your life, Simon."

Simon Tam blinked. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"Your sister said you needed to go into hidin', *mashang*." Zoe explained, though her expression showed she had not forgotten or forgiven the doctor's attitude and derogatory comments about the Captain. The Captain who had still to regain consciousness. Him being a doctor and all that should have meant something to Simon she was thinking.

"Yeah," said Jayne in an irritated, slightly puzzled tone "even gave ya a blanket to lie on though don't see why he bothered."

Simon looked from face to face, noticing no one was smiling. His anger fading somewhat. "Were we boarded?"

"Alliance Dreadnought, came outta nowhere." Said Zoe.

"Gorram purplebellies searched the whole ruttin' ship." The mercenary added. "That's when the Cap took sick."

He blinked at Jayne, all anger now gone and a slow concern growing in the pit of Simon's stomach. *Wode ma*, what had he missed? "*Shenbing*? How bad?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*," Zoe admitted "after Urquart left Cap'n seemed his old self. Said he'd laid it on thick as soon as he saw how the Commandant was watchin' him like a hawk when he got that coughin' fit." Simon didn't like the sound of that. "I need to see him right away, he shouldn't still be coughing."

"Yeah, well them purplebellies dragged in a load of dust with 'em."

"Dust?" Simon gave Jayne a horrified look. "What do you mean they dragged it in with them?"

Zoe cut in, not wanting the conversation to take all day. "The soldiers had dust on their clothes Simon an' after they left we found they'd tracked it through the ship on their boots as well."

The doctor looked down but Book reassured him. "We swept it all up as soon as they were gone."

For a moment silence fell then Simon gave Book an urgent look. "What did you do with the dust?"

Book and Jayne exchanged a look. "*Weishenme*? *Fang xin*, we got it all."

"*Ni bu dong*, I need to examine that dust. See why such a small casual exposure had such a quick and violent reaction."

Jayne didn't understand what all the fuss was about. "It's in a sealed container. Put it in the ruttin' airlock ready to vent into the atmo though don't know why you're gettin' your panites in a twist, it's just gorram dust."

"I need you to bring it to the infirmary, *mashang*."

"Huh, I ain't your slave."

"Jayne, go get the cannister." Snapped the first mate, all out of patience.

Jayne glared at Zoe then huffed, not angry at her just hated Simon ordering him around like he was some servant but the look on the first mate's face had him giving a curt nod and hurrying out.

"Now," said Zoe in a deceptively mild voice belying the solid steel underpinning it "are you ready to look at the Cap'n, Simon? While he's still breathin' that is?"

It was gratifying to see Simon Tam flush, a mite embarrassed, but he quickly recovered and gave Zoe a quick nod before hurrying after her towards the infirmary. All the while a nasty suspicion forming in his Top Three Per Cent brain while he hoped with all his might that he was wrong.

* * * * *

She covered her face. Trembling from head to foot she rocked herself but the images wouldn't go and the nightmare scenario brought tears streaming down her pale face. River Tam knew but the knowing of it was no comfort at all because even if there was someone to warn they would not listen. Like Cassandra she would not be believed and after the warning they would turn on her. No. She had to stay hidden but it was so hard.

* * * * *

"You must have some news!"

The Officer shook his head, hardly bothering to emote the right amount of compassion. "*Duibuqi* but don't worry Mrs Dengate, children go missing all the time. I'm sure she'll turn up when she's hungry."

Her husband pushed passed his wife, his face darkening with anger and only just able to keep his tongue civil. The Alliance were not ones for being very understanding if members of the public questioned their methods or reasoning even on Osiris. Many an irate parent had been hauled off to *jianyu* for not playing along with whatever line the Alliance played out. "My daughter is not a runaway!"

The police officer sighed and leant forward on the high counter. His side of the counter the floor was six inches higher than on the customer side, made it easier to look down on those deemed of a lesser status. "Sir, you said yourselves there was no sign of a break in."

"That's right but it doesn't mean someone didn't entice her away. She's just a child!"

The officer picked up the original report and read it through, each word sounding like an indictment against their parenting skills. "She took her night clothes, day clothes and pink backback. An assortment of clothing but no food or water, *dui*?"

The parents nodded.

"And there was no forced entry?"

"We already told you that," said Mrs Dengate, her eyes full of tears and face flushed.

For a moment a flicker of compassion crossed the man's face. "You have a recent photo?"

Mr Dengate passed it over without comment. The officer took it with hardly a glance. "We'll get this image passed to all our patrols and notify the port authority too. The moment we have anything we will notify you."

* * * * *

On Ithaca Moon General Wallace was ready to take their depressing cargo and lift off when one of the search team hurried onto the bridge and snapped off a quick salute. Wallace frowned, there was no time for delays. "*Shenme shi*?"

"*Shifu*, we found something disturbing."

"It can wait until we have lifted off."

"With respect *shifu*, this can't wait."

Annoyed, the General frowned at the man. Sgt Phinneas Ford was a long server, loyal as they came but not quite smart enough or bright enough to go further career wise. In some ways Wallace envied the man. He would never have to know the things he did, things that kept him from sleeping deep at night. Things that would likely haunt him forever. As he hurried to follow the man he wondered what new horror was about to unfold before him.

* * * * *

Chou finished his transmission and carefully put the portable cortex player in his inside pocket. The build up of Tree of Heaven and White Lotus triad members was unprecedented on Anaeron but he could not risk getting close enough to eavesdrop. Both sides were skittish and paranoid, the slightest thing could trigger them off but why? What in the nine hells had happened and why did he know nothing about it? The Lady had been confused, not understanding what could possibly be behind the build up. She told him there was a report of a similar thing happening on Ithaca Moon but there the numbers were even greater. Was that a clue? Was the reason on Ithaca Moon? He was ordered to make haste and go there to try and discover what was causing this rise in tension between the triads. On Anaeron there were no signs of any of the usual workers who made this their temporary home. Whether wise or lucky, they were keeping out of sight. Maybe he would have better luck on Ithaca Moon.

Quickly he boarded a light transport and pondered over the events of the last few weeks. Had he missed some clue? A couple of hours later they landed and he was one of the first to disembark, his eyes screwed half shut above the filter mask that had become as much a part of his attire as his clothing. A man without a mask was a dead man walking.

He noticed the increased numbers immediately but also the atmosphere, as tense and electric as he had ever known it. In fact the place was fairly vibrating with it. Not a good sign. Carefully Chou checked out the market place, making sure he did not make eye contact or appear to be watching any of the triads. The men were all tense, jumpy and armed to the teeth. Chou noticed a small shed, usually locked but never left untended. It was a small observation post. His eyes narrowed, disturbed by the fact that the door was wide open. *Tianna*, what the *diyu* was going on? Slowly he edged his way over to the observation post and waited until no one was looking his way and slipped inside. Chou paused and waited for his eyes to adjust in the dim and dusty gloom, the light coming through the door and dirty window seeming that much brighter in contrast. With rapid efficiency he checked the outpost but it was empty, nothing to give a clue as to what had happened or where the men who should have been guarding it were. Had they gone outside? If so, they could be back soon. Chou was about to slip back outside when he heard a sound. Quiet, stealthy almost but had an oddness to it. He tilted his head the better to listen and caught the distinctive buzzing sound of an insect. Turning his head he could see nothing but the dusty interior then the sound seemed to come from right alongside his left ear and quick as lightning his hand shot out and caught the bug. A smile of satisfaction stole across his face behind the mask before it turned to surprise, shock then pain as something sharp began to burrow through the palm of his hand. Leaping back he opened his hand and tried to shake the insect away but the stinger was embedded deep and was it his imagination or had the buzzing got louder with a more metallic edge to it?

Tears brimmed in his eyes as the pain spread out across his palm, down his wrist, a sudden violent agony drove him to his knees as the bug that was not a bug finished burrowing its' way through skin and bone. Eyes glazing over, Chou watching without reacting as the bug buzzed round in front of his face before disappearing off out of the door. If Chou could have marshalled his thoughts he would have contacted the lady with this latest twist but already his body was going numb, the poison already turning his DNA against him as his blood rich veins turned black. By the time he hit the floor he was already dead.

* * * * *

Simon did a thorough check of the Captain but was honestly baffled. The throat and lungs were thankfully clear of dust so what was causing his current condition? In the absence of an obvious cause he looked for one that was not so obvious. It did not help having Serenity's first mate watching every move he made like a hawk. At least she had stopped the others interrupting him every five minutes for an update. Zoe watched him take a couple of blood samples, her lips compressed into a thin unhappy line.

"What's wrong with him?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but it's not the dust. At least, not 'this' dust."

At her frown the doctor held up a hand and turned to take the container from Jayne as he appeared with it. Simon noticed Jayne was wearing a mask. "Jayne, the dust is inside a sealed container." "Don't care, I ain't gettin' sick."

It wasn't worth arguing with him. The mercenary left and Simon noticed Zoe looking at him with concern. "*Shenme shi*?"

"You might want to put on a mask before you open that."

He nodded. "I intend to, and so for that matter should you."

"I won't be gettin' that close, doc."

Simon stared at her for a moment. "Zoe, by all accounts the Captain wasn't that close to the soldiers or the Commandant yet he still became distressed."

She frowned. "Distressed?"

"*Qu*. Distressed, ill, unwell. Pick your adjective."

"I'd rather have answers."

"*Duibuqi*, so would I."

Simon went one better than masks, he had himself and Zoe suit up in contamination outfits then put up a screen between where the Captain lay at one side of the infirmary and where they were working with the container and its' contents at the other side. Simon asked Zoe to put out a call telling the rest of the crew not to go to the infirmary until Simon had finished his tests. He locked the door then Simon carefully opened the container. Instead of tipping out some of the dust as Zoe expected he inserted a long glass tube into the container, put his thumb over the end and withdrew it, some dust trapped inside. Simon only needed a small sample under the microscope but it was enough to almost stop the breath in his lungs.

"*Wode ma*, I've never seen anything like it!"

"What is it?"

"It isn't dust, Zoe."

"That don't make any sense." She sounded puzzled. "Looks like dust."

"That's because the particles are so very fine yet look at this. Under the highest magnification you can see that this is actually a construct."

"Are you sayin' it's man made?"

"I am saying it is micro technology of the very finest kind. If I am not mistaken much of it appears to be inert."

"What are you saying?"

"I'll know more when I've examined all of the contents in the container."

"Is it *weixian*?"

"I would guess that some must be or the Captain would not have been affected."

"*Wo bu dong*, the Captain took sick right quick, how come the purplebellies didn't?"

"Maybe they were immune?"

Zoe's frown made him want to squirm under that unimpressed scrutiny. "You said it's a construct an' it ain't biological therefore how can a body be immune?"

Something nasty tickled in the back of Simon's brain pan but it was too far fetched, too ludicrous to be possible. Wasn't it? The first mate noticed his distraction, the colour draining slowly from his face.

"What're you thinkin'?" "Um, it's *bu keneng*..."

"Spit it out, Simon."

"There could be another reason why the Alliance personnel that boarded the ship were not in danger from this 'dust'."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *dong ma* = understand? *wode ma* = mother of God *tianna* = Oh God! *zenme hui shir* = what's happening? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *wo bu an* = I'm worried *ni zuo shenme ne* = well, what are you going to do? *laoban* = boss *shenme* = what? *baichi* = idiot *shenbing* = sick *weishenme* = why *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *duibuqi* = sorry *jianyu* = prison *dui* = correct *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *shifu* = sir *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *weixian* = dangerous wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bu keneng* = impossible


Saturday, September 22, 2012 1:04 PM


OH MY, this is really getting fascinating, your fics are just completely engrossing, thank you AliD

Saturday, September 22, 2012 1:08 PM


Good to see you getting completely engrossed, MalsDoxy. All kinds of things coming up so hang on tight and thanks for the shiny comment. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, September 22, 2012 1:28 PM


OH MY, this is really getting fascinating, your fics are just completely engrossing, thank you AliD

Saturday, September 22, 2012 1:29 PM


HAD to say it twice LOL [sorry]

Saturday, September 22, 2012 1:33 PM


No problem, it made me smile. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, September 22, 2012 5:41 PM


Oh, wow, excellent chapter and quite a cliffhanger there! So now I'm wondering why only the Captain was affected by the "dust" that's not really dust. And the "bug" got Chou--that's some bug! I hope someone or something intervenes and Commandant Urquhart is not able to release his 'final solution," the monster. Great job with amping up the tension, Ali.

Saturday, September 22, 2012 8:16 PM


>"It's as far removed from biological warfare as it can be and still have a biological component, General."

Welp. That tops my list of the creepiest things I've heard in the last three months.

> River Tam knew but the knowing of it was no comfort at all

First she was all like "I'm going to be bait!" And THIS is her plan? Okay. Next time, the crew locks all the shuttles and they figure out a plan with River that isn't terrible. Come on River.

Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:21 AM


There is a reason why the Captain was the only one affected, Ebfiddler, and that all becomes much clearer soon. As for that gorram bug and Urquart's final solution you'll be finding out all kinds of things that may keep you awake at night! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:26 AM


Yep, creepy about sums it up Bytemite. As for River and the 'bait' part of the equation, her plan is not exactly straight forward. The not being on the ship part is not simply to avoid being nabbed but to draw the Alliance away from Serenity to search for her hence baiting them in that sense, but the situation is mighty fluid and as things are getting more tense she is picking up on the changes and having to adapt. Quite the juggling act, and not a goose or gosling in sight! Thanks for the shiny observations, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, September 23, 2012 4:24 PM


So dust programed to kill Mal, that's new.

Monday, September 24, 2012 12:00 AM


Those sneaky Alliance will try anything, Nutluck! Thanks for commenting, 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.