THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 24. "Hell And Back"
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

As his brain began to shut down the General was unable to voice the many thousand curses that vanished the moment he thought of them, his body collapsing in on itself as bone and tissue broke down into a fine ash that seemed to be consuming itself into smaller and smaller atoms of matter.


TITLE: "HELL AND BACK" SERIES: "THE DEVIL'S CRADLE" CHAPTER: 24. Sequel to "ARMAGGEDON" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "While Urquart is busy unleashing his biotech weapon, River returns to Serenity and Simon has an idea that may help the deteriorating Captain's condition."


A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Oh, the boy was delicious. Silas savoured the young fresh mind, almost tasting the contours of thoughts and emotions still pliable but with remarkable resiliance and properties he could not wait to exploit. The shuddering shock of that mind closing like a clam shell instead of infuriating him brought a smile of pride and satisfaction to his face. Oh, yes, the boy would be a fitting culmination to his life's work. He had been tracking the girl but had lost contact, it would have been frustrating but for the sudden flare in the boy's aura, a mental signature far too enticing to ignore. Even planets apart the boy was that strong. Abandoning his search for the girl he began to make his way rapidly back to the port, he needed to leave as quickly as possible, while the last tendrils of the boy's powerful projections were still easy to follow.

Little Lucy Dengate never knew how close she had come to being captured. Exhausted beyond endurance, she slept the sleep of the dead.

* * * * *

"What'ya mean I can't come in?"

Simon Tam closed the door to the infirmary behind him. "*Duibuqi*, Kaylee, but you aren't sterile."

"I can wash."

It was on the tip of his tongue to explain the difference between splashing water on her face and scrubbing her hands and under the nails until every inch of exposed skin was so clean it shone but there was no time. "*Wo zhidao*."

"Ya said ya needed me."

"I do, I need to know if you have a magnet in your toolbox."

Her eyebrows rose and vanished into her unruly shock of hair at the odd request. "*Shenme*? Thought ya wanted to help the Cap'n?"

"*Qu*, do you have one or not?" "Um, just give me a minute."

Simon tried to wait patiently but he was anxious to try River's suggestion. Nothing else had worked, at least nothing medical. As he waited Book and Inara joined them with Jayne lumbering along minutes later to see what was going on. Really, the doctor could have done without the audience but he understood their concern. Kaylee was rumaging through the toolbox and it seemed to be taking forever, Simon's hands were itching when suddenly Kaylee got frustrated her own self and picked the toolbox up and tipped it upside down. With a clatter everything landed on the floor. Behind Simon the infirmary door opened and River slipped out, crouching down quickly to help go through the contents spilled onto the floor. Kaylee looked up and stared at her friend in surprise then joy.

"You're back! River I've been so worried about ya." "Wasn't in any danger. Where's the magnet?"

Kaylee turned her attention back to searching through her tools then sat back on her heels. "Huh, I forgot. Took it out a whiles back, it's in my bunk."

Before Kaylee could say anything else River was up and running. Confused, Kaylee realised where her friend was going and ran after her. Jayne looked down at the scattered tools. "Huh, I ain't cleanin' that up."

Inara gave him a look. The mercenary glared back at her. Who did she think he was? Her gorram slave?

"Ain't my mess."

The Shepherd looked from Inara to Simon then at Jayne's retreating back as the man left them to it. "I'll get it. Kaylee will need these later for working on the engine. Best not let anything get left behind."

Just as he was finishing up he turned his head as River and Kaylee came clattering back, River holding up a square blocky thing with a triumphant look on her face. "Found it!"

Kaylee looked a mite abashed. "It'd rolled under the bed. Don't know how the good gorram it got there."

Inara gave her a fond smile. "*Fang xin*, Kaylee. You found it and that's what matters."

Kaylee beamed at Inara then turned to the Shepherd as he handed her the toolbox. "That's right shiny of ya, Shepherd."

"It was no trouble."

Simon and River darted through the infirmary door and it was just closing when Kaylee scowled at the doctor. "*Wei*, ain't I comin' in?"

He gave her a look of apology. "*Wo duibuqi*, Kaylee." "How'm I gonna know it if works?"

River leaned around her brother and grinned. "I'll tell you."


"I promise."

Kaylee watched Simon and River move away from the now closed door and towards where the Captain was lying. Sitting next to the Captain's bed was Zoe, a look on her stern face that made Kaylee's mouth go dry. She had never seen the first mate look so worried. Kind of put her own frustrations into perspective. A hand on her shoulder roused her from her reverie.

"Come on, *mei mei*. Let's make a hot drink shall we?"

Shepherd Book gave Kaylee and Inara an encouraging smile. "Sounds like an excellent idea."

As they moved off towards the commons area the Shepherd paused and cast a thoughtful look through the glass, hoping that whatever *shenjingbing* idea River had come up with would help. Meanwhile, the Captain would not have to know if he sent a prayer or two Heaven-ward. As he caught up with the others he could hear Kaylee quizzing Inara.

"When did River get back an' how come nobody told me?"

"It was only a few minutes before I came to get you, *mei mei*."

"So ain't no one followin' her now?"

"I wouldn't say that." Said Book as he caught up. "The Alliance can be very *wangu* so we shouldn't take any chances."

They all felt the thrum as Serenity got under way. Kaylee felt better now that they weren't hanging around hoping to find River and not bump into those *tamade hundan* purplebellies. A grin spread across her face. "They're gonna have quite a surprise when they come back an' find us gone."

"You did a good job findin' all those trackers and the inhibitor." Inara praised.

"Just hope I got 'em all."

For a moment the others froze. "Do you think there might be others?"

Kaylee shook her head. "Nah, I was pretty thorough 'Nara. Cap'n made a point of me bein' real careful not to miss anythin'."

Although not the ringing endorsement Inara would have liked the Companion could not help hoping that Kaylee was right.

* * * * *

"*Shifu*, this is *qiguai*. We're experiencing a breach."

Alarmed, General Wallace leaned over the Navigator's console just as the alarm sounded. "*Tianna*, are you saying the hold is no longer secure?"

"*Bu qu, shifu*. It's not the hold, it's the ship."

The General stared at him then snapped at him to kill the alarm so he could think. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"It looks like a hull breach but *wo bu dong*. How can that happen when we're still on the ground?"

That was when the General noticed it was getting hard to breathe. *Wode ma*, what was this? The particles were fine, not so much a dust as a kind of mist. Almost visible to the naked eye one minute, gone the next. The particulate matter so fine it appeared to have no affect except that everything it came into contact with had an immediate adverse reaction to it. Metal. Flesh. Bone. Nothing was immune. It was not until his dying breath that General Wallace realised the greatest threat had not been from within. The hold was still sealed, still secure, which meant whatever was causing this had come from some other source. An exterior one. That *meiyou muqin de xiao gou* Urquart had released his biotech weapon, nothing else made sense. As his brain began to shut down the General was unable to voice the many thousand curses that vanished the moment he thought of them, his body collapsing in on itself as bone and tissue broke down into a fine ash that seemed to be consuming itself into smaller and smaller atoms of matter. Little puffs of vapor momentarily clouding the air above his body as his clothing formed an untidy heap. It had taken not days, nor hours, but minutes. The bridge reduced to the odd hush of a graveyard, the silence only punctuated by the creak and groan of metal under stress before the ship's superstructure also succumbed to a weapon against which nothing could stand.

* * * * *

Billy Parker was growing beyond anxious. "Nothin' works, *laoban*. Can't raise nobody on Anaeron an' tryin' to get the cortex up an' runnin' for off-world ain't happenin'."

They were all gathered in a tight group, somehow sensing that unnatural things were happening or were about to happen. A spookiness seemed to hang in the air. Jerrod Perkins ran a hand through his hair, puzzled, bewildered and increasingly concerned by the loss of contact.

"You think the Alliance are blockin' communications?"

Perkins shook his head. "*Bu qu*, even the great an' almighty Alliance can't do that. They could block contact off-world or shut down communications on world, to do both has never been heard of." "Yeah, but what if they really wanted to?"

"Well," said Perkins slowly "guess they could though why in the nine hells they'd wanna is anybody's guess."

"They're Alliance." Said Howdy Marks with a shrug. "Unless they can control everythin' an' everyone they ain't never happy."

Jerrod Perkins gave a small tight smile. "Now you're soundin' like Malcolm Reynolds."

"What do ya think is happenin', *laoban*?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but I aim to find out."

Howdy Marks' eyes widened in alarm. "Ya ain't thinkin' of goin' outside? Still got them sharp shooters waitin' to pick folk off."

"*Bu qu* but we got that remote, *dui*?"

"Yeah but it was took in part payment, ain't even tried to see if it works. Could just be another pile of *goushi*." Grumbled Billy Parker. "Well then," said Jerrod straightening up "it's passed time we tested it, *dong ma*? If the thing flies an' we can get visual an' audio feed workin' maybe we can find out what the good gorram is happenin'."

* * * * *

On Boros Davie Thomas could not stop shaking. It did not make any difference that he was in his own home, with his parents and sister chatting in the main room while music sailed through the air. He was vaguely aware of his older sister trying to sing along, making up words for the ones she didn't know and not too mindful that the tune she sang bore little relation to the one coming out of the house speakers. His mother laughed lighty and teased Sara Kay while his father got ready to go to work. All of sudden Davie didn't want his father to leave. A terrible dread was settling over him, the walls of his world contracting until he felt he would not be able to breathe. It was Sara who noticed something wasn't quite right with her little brother.

"Come on Davie, you're not singing!"

He choked on empty air, no words coming out. Something was trying to worm its' way in as hard as he was trying to shove it out, which left little or no room for the air to circulate in his lungs. Frightened by how red his face was, Sara cried out to their mother. "Mama, mama, somethin's wrong with Davie!"

Mrs Thomas called to her husband just as he was going out of the front door and both then rushed over to see to their son. Davie toppled on to his side, his mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out. Eyes wide and staring, pleading for them to somehow understand the danger he could not articulate. Misunderstanding what he was trying to say, his mother panicked.

"Call for an ambulance, Henry! *Mashang*!"

His father paused only long enough to wipe the sweat damp fringe from his son's face, a look of such concern on his own that Davie felt sorry for worrying them. His right hand flailed, trying to say what he could not verbalise. Mrs Thomas caught his hand in hers and gave it a little squeeze, intending to be comforting, her eyes filling with tears while in the background Davie could hear Sara asking if her brother was dying. Oddly enough Davie would have preferred death to this, whatever this was.

* * * * *

Even though the Captain was unconscious Simon hesitated. Zoe insisted on staying but stepped back to give the doctor room to work. River was peering at the device Rufus Pol had reluctantly given them when the Captain had first become ill with the dust.

"It shouldn't be possible but it is."

The doctor looked up at his sister, her words distracting him from thoughts too dark to share even though River could easily pluck them from his brain pan. "*Shenme*?"

"You noticed the high iron content but couldn't account for it. There was none in the original dust."

"River, I'm still trying to understand how any of this is possible in the first place."

Zoe didn't like what she was hearing. "What do you mean it wasn't in the original dust?"

"It's like genetic engineering but with inanimate objects."

Simon blinked at his sister's explanation, momentarily lost for words. "You know that makes no sense don't you?"

Her grin was incongruous then vanished at the frown on Zoe's face. "It's very fine," she said softly "You can't see it but it is still detectable."

"*Wo zhidao*."

"Hurry Simon, before it becomes absorbed into the lining of his throat and lungs."

A look of alarm flashed over her brother's face. "I didn't think it had progressed that far."

"While we're talking it isn't still. Every in-drawn breath draws it closer to the lungs until it can be absorbed. We have to remove it before that can happen."

He nodded and didn't prevaricate a moment longer, his movements swift and sure. The magnet being carefully incorporated into one end of Rufus Pol's device. Simon fretted that the seal was not perfect but River said it was good enough and the only thing that mattered now was speed so he set it up and fitted the end of it into the Captain's mouth while River folded a hand towel into a roll and with Zoe's help carefully slid it under the Captain's neck. Simon nodded his thanks, knowing they needed to keep the airway open. The machine was noisy until it warmed up then he carefully began the painstaking job of removing the thin metallic powdery substance. It was only a few flecks and at first Simon was disappointed, worried that he had failed and it had already been absorbed. River shook her head, her voice gentle and reassuring.

"You got it all, Simon."

"How can we be sure?" He whispered back, his eyes fastened on the Captain's unnaturally still body. He knew the man was still alive because his chest rose and fell slowly but still he fretted that he had not done enough. As Simon removed the device, Zoe could not hide her worry.

"Is the Cap'n gonna recover?"

Simon would not lie. "*Wo bu zhidao*."

Zoe stared at the doctor for a moment then turned her head and caught River looking straight back at her. "What do you say, little one?"

A slow gentle smile bowed the fey girl's lips. "Recovering now, out of danger."

Her brother wanted to warn her against giving false hope but noticed the Captain's breathing was getting better. River grinned. "Told you."

"You're still a brat."

Zoe was looking at the tiny amount of silvery powder Simon had removed. "How could such a small amount of anythin' do such a lot of harm?"

Even as three pairs of eyes peered at the substance it seemed to be changing. Zoe stepped back in alarm.

"What the *diyu* is happenin'?"

"We need to get rid of it, *mashang*." Said River calmly, her voice matter of fact but firm. "Before it eats us out of house and home."

Zoe looked to Simon but he shook his head, he didn't understand his sister even when she was making sense.

Gingerly Zoe took the device from Simon, careful to keep the end with the powder in farthest from her. River hurried to open the infirmary door and then darted ahead of the first mate to make sure no one delayed her. Only when it had been jettisoned into the atmo did Zoe allow herself to hope the worst was over.

"It is for us but not for them."

She blinked at the girl. "*Shei*?"

River looked so sad that for a moment Zoe thought she was going to cry. "So many souls, silent now, but they died screaming."

A cold chill ran through Zoe. "What do you mean?"

"They were in the wrong place at the wrong time but they made a good demonstration."

"River, what are you talkin' about?"

"Ithaca Moon."

"Someone on Ithaca Moon, is that what you're sayin'?"

River shook her head, tears gathering in her eyes. "Not someone, all of them."

Before Zoe could question her further Kaylee, Inara and Shepherd Book appeared. The Shepherd's deep voice rolled over her in a soothing wave of carefully understated concern. "How is the Captain?"

"Looks like Simon got to him in time."

Kaylee couldn't stop smiling. Inara still looked somewhat worried. "Did someone just open the airlock?"

River grinned. "Just throwing out the *feiwu*."

"Huh," said Jayne as he joined them "thought ya weren't ventin' the Cap'n into the atmo?"

Kaylee gave him a playful punch on the arm, the happy on her face enough to tell him that whatever danger the Captain had been in was now passed.

"Glad to see the back of that ruttin' place." He grumbled.

"Too late for Ithaca Moon."

Confused, Kaylee stared at River as they all made their way towards the infirmary to check on the Captain. "What was that, sweetie?"

"We can't go back."

Shepherd Book didn't say anything, he had a feeling they were missing whole chunks of conversation. Zoe sighed. "River says everyone on that Moon is dead."

Shock and confusion stared back at her. Inara asked the question they were all thinking. "*Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"

River's sorrowful voice was the only one speaking for the dead. "It was a demonstration. Used to stop a riot it stopped everything."

Jayne frowned. "Riot, what riot?"

"The triads were revolting."

"The triads are always revoltin'."

"Not funny, Jayne." Cut in Zoe.

"Wasn't laughin'. Triads is scary."

"Gone now."

"Yeah, well I say good riddance."

"Jayne!" Admonished Kaylee. "They're still people."

"No they ain't, they're stone killers little girl." "I ain't a little girl."

"Y'are to me."

Ignoring Jayne and Kaylee, River stepped in front of Zoe causing the first mate stop in her tracks. "We have to help."

"River, you said they were all dead *jide*?"

"But not on Anaeron."

"River," asked Book slowly "are you saying what happened on Ithaca Moon is happening on Anaeron?"

"Not yet but soon. We have to hurry before it's too late!"

Kaylee looked baffled. "What happened to 'em?"

"It's a weapon, biotech, experimental. Killed everyone on Ithaca Moon and now he knows it works it's going to be set off over Anaeron."

"Well that ain't no loss."

"*Wei*, we got friends there, Jayne." Protested Kaylee.

"Ain't got no friends outside of Serenity."

"What about Monty?"

Jayne huffed. "He ain't on Anaeron."

"No," said Book thoughtfully "but Jerrod Perkins and his men are." "Ain't our trouble."

"I think we need to check on the Cap'n first," said Zoe "then we'll see what we can find out before makin' a decision."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*duibuqi* = sorry *wo zhidao* = I know *shenme* = what *qu* = yes (lit. go) *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *wei* = hey! *wo duibuqi* = I'm sorry *daying* = promise *mei mei* = little sister *shenjingbing* = crazy *wangu* = stubborn *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *shifu* = sir *qiguai* = strange *tianna* = oh God *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wode ma* = mother of God *meiyou muqin de xiao gou" = motherless cur *laoban* = boss *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *dui* = correct *goushi* = crap/dog shit *dong ma* = understand? *diyu* = hell *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *shei* = who *feiwu* = trash *fasheng le shenme shir la* = what has happened? *jide* = remember


Thursday, October 4, 2012 12:16 AM


Well I was wrong, River wasn't up to what I thought. Of course now they have to go save a moon/planet and then a bunch of kids... all in a days work for Mal and crew of course.

Thursday, October 4, 2012 3:02 AM


Things are never straightforward are they, Nutluck? Doing the Impossible, that's what makes our BDHs mighty! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, October 4, 2012 3:37 AM


Biotech? Or nanotech? Actually yeah both. Definitely a creepy weapon, though - figures the Alliance would use too much the first time, they seem to be big believers in overkill.

Also River! So I guess she's been feeling all the dying, and while going through that working out a countermeasure. I imagine she still intends to try to take on Silas though.

Looks like the hunter got another one.

Thursday, October 4, 2012 4:57 AM


Overkill is the Alliance's very favourite thing in the 'verse, Bytemite. Yes, River has been picking up on the full emotional impact in several ways. Thank you for the cool feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, October 7, 2012 7:56 AM


Captain's gonna be mighty peeved when he hears the Alliance is up to their usual 'Kings-of-the-Universe' tricks...anxiously awaiting next installment, xiexie, AliD

Sunday, October 7, 2012 9:25 AM


You are so right, MalsDoxy, though he won't be surprised knowing them as he does. Should be ready to post the next chapter in a couple of days. Thanks for the welcome feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 6:50 PM


Glad the magnet worked, and good riddance as they vented the stuff into space. Hopefully we'll see Mal recovering soon. Meanwhile, that Hunter has me completely creeped out. Lucy might be safe for now, but now there's another child in danger. I'm hoping Kaylee's search uncovered all the trackers and that there aren't further booby traps yet undiscovered. This non-biological bioweapon seems unstoppable: surely someone, somewhere has an antidote or a remote control stop button or something for this stuff.


You must log in to post comments.



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.