THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 28. "Instinct"
Monday, November 12, 2012

He barked out an order and waited while the body was removed to cold storage. Let them have their secrets for now.


TITLE: "INSTINCT" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 28. Sequel to "MIGHTY FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "After Mal explains what happened to Shen, Rufus and his crew Jerrod has a decision to make. Suzie and Daniel finally reach Osiris. Commandant Urquart pulls all the stops out looking for Serenity."


A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Jerrod Perkins didn't know what to make of it and yet he had the feeling that he was hearing the unvarnished truth. For some reason he was more inclined to believe Malcolm Reynolds and his crew than not even though it meant his friend Rufus Pol had been playing both ends against the middle. He wondered what the man had found out that had brought such swift and violent retribution down upon his head and if any of it could rebound on him and his people. If the Alliance were cleaning up they didn't tend to stop at just the ones who had overstepped the mark, they were like as not to take out all Rufus's friends and contacts too. Just in case whatever secret he had uncovered had been passed on. *Wode ma*, they were all in *shen goushi* now.

Howdy Marks sidled up close to his boss as soon as they were far enough away from Serenity's crew not to be overheard. "You sure you can trust 'em, *laoban*?"

"Do you trust me, Howdy?"

"*Dang ran*."


Howdy blinked at him in mild confusion. "What kind'a question is that?"

"The kind awaitin' an answer."

He could not quite hide the hurt in his voice. "Known you enough years to trust you with my life, that the answer you're waitin' for?"

Perkins leaned in closer, his eyes fixed on Howdy's. "When we first met, you remember that?"

A laugh eased the little bit of tension building between them. Howdy grinned. "May have been drunk but I wasn't stupid. Big gorrilla was about to hammer my head in, as I recall you dropped him easy as pie. Next thing I know we're outside an' hell unleashed is tearin' up the bar behind us. Don't think they ever realised who started that gorram fight."

"I saw somethin' in you I trusted." Said Perkins slowly. He paused and just looked at Howdy.

It took a minute or two before the dime dropped. "An' you see that in Reynolds?"

Perkins nodded.

"Well then," said Howdy slowly "if'n you can trust 'em then so can I."

"Don't mean we don't keep our eyes an' ears open though, *dong ma*?"

Howdy's eyes narrowed. "You think things might not be as they seem?"

"Just sayin'. Rufus was a friend right up until he wasn't."

* * * * *

The Operative's anger was cold and deep despite nothing showing on the surface beyond a mild displeasure. "I wanted him alive."

"The body has its' own secrets."

For a moment no one spoke. The two men from Blue Sun were detached and unapologetic. The body of the Hunter lay in an untidy heap on the floor of the ship. The Operative noted it was laying on a sheet of plastic, trails of blood weeping from every orofice until death had stopped the heart pumping its' vital fluids onto the floor. "How will you extract them?"

The two men did not look at each other but the Operative got the impression they were somehow in tune, the one with the other. Made him think, not for the first time, that there was something eerily not human about them. "Efficiently."

Before he could ask for more detail the two men turned and left him with the body. The Operative's mouth twisted in distaste. He barked out an order and waited while the body was removed to cold storage. Let them have their secrets for now.

* * * * *

"How come I never heard of 'em?" Jayne grumbled.

Kaylee had been tinkering under the belly of Serenity's engine. Her voice kind of echoed back to him. "*Shei*?"

"Them Grey Ghosts."

After a moment or two, Kaylee slid out from under the engine. Grease and dirt smudges on her face. They were the only ones in the engine room. Putting her tools back in the box Serenity's mechanic straightened. "'Cause they're ghosts."

The mercenary did not look happy with that answer. "Book knows about 'em."

"Then maybe you should ask him."

Jayne frowned at her. Kaylee put away her tool box then gave him a thoughtful look. "Why're you so interested anyway?"

"It's like the bullet ya don't see."

Kaylee looked confused. "*Shenme*? What in the nine hells does that mean?"

As Jayne turned to leave she just caught his muttered reply. "It's the one ya don't see that gets ya."

* * * * *

"They must be here somewhere!"

"Maybe they have a cloaking device, *shifu*?"

Commandant Urquart turned to glare at his navigator. "It's a transport ship. Firefly's don't have cloaks, come to that neither do we."

"But we *can* disappear." His navigator said with a little smug smile.

For a moment Urquart felt his black mood lift, just a little. It was true, his ship had all kinds of enhancements not extended to the rest of the fleet. Both experimental and so advanced not all the math had been done on them yet. The exercise on Ithaca Moon and Anaeron being a case in point. They had come up empty in their search for Serenity on Ithaca Moon. The only thing left down there was a man made desert only the dust was not fine sand but something that had been far deadlier. No standing structures were left and all traces of the people, equipment and ships that had been on that moon were likewise turned to dust. A very fine but for now inert material. Reynolds had stumbled on something he should not have done and that little detail could not be left unaddressed.

"We will search every planet, moon and asteroid until we find the rock he is hiding under!"

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds stared at the feed from the remote, shock rooting him to the spot. Crowded behind him was most of Serenity's crew, the only one absent being Inara Serra. For some reason she had not shown her face when they landed in Jerrod Perkins' warehouse and had made herself scarce since. Mal had wanted to ask her about it then decided not to. He did not fancy falling out with her over something he didn't understand, not when they had been getting along so well of late. Sometimes he was sure the woman must be from another gorram planet. *Diyu*, she wasn't even like other women but then wasn't that what drew him to her?


The Captain blinked and turned his head to find River Tam staring back at him, her face only inches from his own. He jerked back, momentarily startled. "I am concentratin', just don't much like what I'm lookin' at."

She shook her head and ignored the quizzical looks passing between Jerrod Perkins and his crew. "Affairs of the heart and mind don't mix."

Everyone was staring at them now, the feed for one blessed moment forgotten. "What are you talkin' about?"

River poked his chest. "Look closer, not at what you see but what is missing."

Confused the Captain looked again at the footage, Jerrod obligingly showing it again from the beginning. When it showed the man in the containment suit, River called for Jerrod to stop the frame. They all stared at the image, frozen in time. The Captain took in every gorram detail then remembered River had said to look for what was missing but how was he to know that? River leaned in close to the Captain's left ear.

"The face plate has a mirrored surface."

Mal blinked and leaned in a little closer then noticed that there was a reflection in the face plate. "There's someone else there."

The girl nodded and straightened. "Do you see what's odd about him?"

Zoe spotted it first. "The man in the reflection isn't wearin' a suit."

The mercenary scowled. "What does that mean?"

"It means," said Book slowly "that either he didn't know there was anything dangerous down there or..."

"He's immune." Wash added before the Preacher could finish.

Jayne didn't look impressed. "Why's that important?"

"It's important," explained Perkins "because everyone else died, *dong ma*? An' I don't just mean fell ill an' got sick then died, they kind'a fell apart as if whatever was holdin' their bodies together suddenly wasn't."

"That don't make sense." Said Howdy Marks, trying to hide how much the thought disturbed him. "I mean, he ain't fallin' apart."

"Which is what I meant by immunity." Book explained calmly.

The Captain sat back in his chair, not liking what he was seeing or the notions running round inside his brain pan. He caught Zoe looking at him and a consensus flowed unspoken between them. Kaylee nudged Simon in the ribs. "You're awful quiet there, Simon."

"I was trying to think of what might cause something like this and.... I can't think of anything."

"It's experimental."

Everyone turned to stare at River. The Captain softened his voice. "You know what did this, little one?"

"*Bu qu* but the who is looking for us. Angry, frustrated. Won't give up, can't give up."

Kaylee's eyes widened. "You mean that purplebelly Commandant?"

"Thought our wings were clipped and we couldn't fly away. Now he's searching. Can't let us slip through the net."

Jayne Cobb looked smug. "Yeah, well he won't find us in here."

"Doesn't have to. He'll just destroy everything."

The Captain turned back to the remote and viewed the footage again, this time watching not only what was happening to the luckless people of Anaeron but the buildings, equipment and structures around them. His throat got tight, his gut twisting. This was beyond bad. "Ain't just the people who're dyin'." He pointed at the screen. "See that there loader?" As they watched it crumpled in on itself, the metal arms disintegrating into a fine metallic dust. it wasn't just metal objects either, anything and everything reacted the same way.


"What is it, Zoe?"

Her voice had gone deadly quiet, the kind of hush of a graveyard multiplied by every body in it. "Why didn't that man die?"

The Captain glanced around the pale faces of his crew and Jerrod's. "*Wo bu zhidao*." "What I don't get," said Jayne, scratching his crotch "is why them purplebellies are lookin' for you."

Simon Tam had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. "I think I might know. It would explain Urquart's interest in your recovery from the dust when you wore that faulty mask."

The Captain frowned. "What're you sayin'?"

"I think Commandant Urquart suspects you could be immune too."

* * * * *

The landing was an exercise in organised chaos, so many people coming and going. Goods carried in, equipment ferried out. The hustle and bustle should have been a good thing but it had Suzie wound tighter than a watch string. Davie Thomas frowned at her.

'*Shenme shi*?'

'We can't slip away like this'

'*Weishenme bu*?'

'Because we're children. It would only take one pair of eyes to see us for the alarm to be raised'

'What can they do if we're leavin'? Where's the harm in that?'

'*Ni bu dong*. We're stowaways Davie which means we haven't paid passage'

Davie started rumaging through his pockets.

'What're you doin'?'

'Lookin' for coin only I ain't got none'

Suzie forced herself to calm down, getting Davie on edge would achieve nothing except to make him jumpy and more likely to do something to give them away. Not on purpose of course but he was only five. Davie watched the comings and goings for a moment.

'We can just walk out when more people leave, that way we won't stand out'


He interrupted her, something he had never done before. 'If we tag on at the back it'll look like we belong with them'

Suzie stared at him. Really. He was only five and that was actually not a bad idea, providing no one looked back as they were leaving. It just might work but they couldn't afford to wait too long. With the ship being emptied of cargo they would soon be left with no boxes to hide behind. 'Okay, but wait until I say it's safe, *dong ma*?'

* * * * *

The facility was ice cold, the sense of being in a freezer accentuated by the blue-white lighting and the stark white walls and ceiling. The floor was pressed steel and either side of the central passageway huge clear vats stood like sentries, their occupants in various stages of decomposition. It was not supposed to have been like this but once it was found that each one had been tampered with the power had been cut to their life support. The Operative only glanced out of the corner of his eye as he passed, not wanting to appear disturbed. They were, after all, no threat to him or Blue Sun's plans.

Behind him a hover sled carried the severed head of the Hunter, the rest of the body already disposed of. The vats would need to be emptied, the contents destroyed and then made ready for new occupants. Always supposing they could find enough of the gifted to fill them. It was a major setback and would cost the programme dear but the Operative was determined to salvage something. Behind the sled the two Blue Sun men walked, neither speaking or taking any overt interest in the facility or anything else. They had their orders and the Operative had his.

* * * * *

"Jayne, you've already eaten!"

The big man barely raised his head to respond to Kaylee. "I'm hungry."

Kaylee looked at him in exasperation partly fueled by their dwindling supplies. "You're always hungry. I think River was right."

He paused, mouth half open, food still in his mouth. "Huh?"

"You do have a gorram tapeworm."

Jayne was about to tell her he had no such thing when River half walked, half floated, into the commons room. "Tapeworm, a ribbon shaped segmented parasitic worm. Any cestode but especially of the Taenia or kindred genus."

Anger flickered briefly in the mercenary's eyes as he swallowed then scraped up the last of the gravy with a piece of bread roll. "Who asked you?"

"I could hear you thinking." He scowled at her. "You're *shenjingbing*."

"And you're *chan*."

Just then the Captain, Book, Inara, Zoe, Simon and Wash joined them. Mal stared at Jayne. "Are you eatin' again?"

"He's got a tapeworm." Said Kaylee gaily, earning a more annoyed scowl this time.

"Why's everyone pickin' on me? A man's got a right to eat."

The Captain leaned over the table to pick up a wrinkled apple from the bowl. "Not when it means everyone else goes hungry."

Inara smiled at Mal and the Captain gave an almost shy smile back. Kaylee watched them dance around each other and felt her heart go all warm and tingly inside. She had so wanted them to get together for the longest time but not in this slow, death by a thousand looks and smiles way. If she had been Inara she would have jumped the Captain within the first week of meeting him but between misunderstandings, petty jealousies and the tendancy they both had to rub each other up the wrong way it was a miracle they were even being civil to one another. Fact was the Captain hadn't called Inara a whore in months and to Kaylee that was a declaration of love right there. Course, anything so straightforward as owning up to it was a feat seemingly beyond their fearless Captain. She sighed without realising it until Simon's arm slid around her waist. Leaning back she looked up into his face and wanted to thank whatever fates had finally loosened the doctor up enough to see what was right before his eyes. Oh yeah, life on Serenity was good.

"I could always give you a check, just to make sure."

Jayne paused as he stood up, whether to refill his bowl or dump it in the sink Simon wasn't sure. "Check what?"

Simon waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the big man's gut. "To make sure you don't have a tapeworm."

Furious now, Jayne stepped right up to Simon and stuck his face inches from the doctor's. "I'll check you if you're not careful."

"I don't have a tapeworm, Jayne."

Before the mercenary could reply, Shepherd Book moved to take Jayne's bowl from him. It was his turn to wash up. "Now Jayne, Simon was just being helpful. If you want to keep the tapeworm that's up to you."

It was funny. Really. Watching Jayne go red in the face until he looked fit to bust just never got old. Wash kept wanting to say something but one look from Zoe kept him silent, but his eyes were merry and bright, humour twinkling and dancing in them. Zoe waited until everyone calmed down again before speaking her mind.

"What's the plan, sir?"

"Well now, that kind'a depends on Jer."

"We can't stay here for much longer," said Book in as neutral a tone as possible "all joking aside our supplies are getting mighty thin."

The Captain couldn't quite hide the worry. "We still got those protein bars?"

"*Qu*, but not nearly enough to last beyond another few days."

"Didn't we have some of that tinned soup?"

"Did is the operative word, Captain, though we do still have some flour but no egg substitute. We also have no fresh fruit or vegetables."

The Captain looked at the wrinkled apple in his hand and considered putting it back in the bowl. He didn't like the thought that he would be eating the last piece of fruit they had on Serenity. "I ever tell you how depressin' it is to be told what we don't got?"

Book smiled. "Do you want me to list our blessings, Captain?"

"No no," Mal said hastily, quickly putting the apple back as if he had never intended to eat it anyway "you keep your religiosity to your own self, *dong ma*?" The Captain straightened and looked round at his crew. "Think I'd best speak to Jer, see if I can get a decision outta him."

"If they ain't ready to go yet, Cap'n," said Kaylee brightly "perhaps they can share some of their supplies with us? We'll pay 'em back when we're able an' I'm sure they won't mind."

"Now little Kaylee as fine an idea as that is we don't know what the state of their supplies is."

"Won't hurt to ask." Put in Wash hopefully. At Mal's look he back tracked a little. "They can always say no."

"I'll see. Best find out what they're wantin' to do first."

As the Captain went out the door, Kaylee turned her head in time to see Jayne refilling his bowl. At her stunned look he paused. "*Shenme*?"

Disgusted, Kaylee nudged Simon and they left. River watched Jayne sit down again but this time said nothing. Gradually the others left until it was just River and Jayne. Halfway through his bowl of protein stew Jayne gave her a beligerant look. "What ya starin' at?"

River turned her back on him and walked to the door then looked back over her shoulder, waiting until he looked up again. "Definitely a tapeworm."

Before he could yell at her she was gone.

* * * * *

"There's no sign of them, *shifu*."

Commandant Urquart was not a happy man. How could one scruffy little Firefly evade the pride of the Alliance fleet? It should not have been possible for it to get beyond his ship's sensor range. They had returned to Anaeron more in frustration that anything else. Having checked a nearby asteroid belt in case Reynolds was hiding there, he had quickly run out of places for them to look.

"Scan the planet again."

"Yes, *shifu*."

Again the answer was negative. Frustrated and somewhat baffled, Urquart knew he could not stay in this region indefinitely. Somehow Serenity and her Captain had managed to outwit him. For now. Denied one target he settled on another. They had already wiped out all forms of life at the dock and market place areas which were the most highly populated areas of Anaeron but that still left a residue scattered in the warehouse district. What was a demonstration if only partially completed after all? With a grim smile, he gave the order to prepare for full dispersal. Not an inch of Anaeron would be left able to support life. Within hours every man, woman, child, building and structure would be reduced to dust. If Reynolds and his crew decided to return there would be nothing for them to return to.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*wode ma* = mother of God *shen goushi* = deep crap/shit *laoban* = boss *dang ran* = of course *weishenme* = why *dong ma* = understand? *shei* = who *shenme* = what *shifu* = sir *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *weishenme bu* = why not? *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *shenjingbing* = crazy *chan* = greedy (for food)


Monday, November 12, 2012 7:35 PM


I was wondering what was going on with Mal not disintegrating myself. I think the proper term here is oh snap.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 11:08 AM


The tapeworm exchange between River and Jayne is spot on...and priceless.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 12:26 PM


With Jayne it might just be two tape worms.

Friday, November 16, 2012 5:16 AM


Been having massive problems with my computer but managed to get this chapter up and posted before it gave its' last cough and died. I think the gorram Alliance are responsible. Have bought a new system, just installed it and happy to see your comments. There is a reason why Mal did not disintegrate which will become clearer as the story progresses, Bytemite. As for Jayne and the tapeworm M52Nickerson and Nutluck, knowing him there could be a whole rutting nest in there all happily chomping away! Thank you for all the comments, the feedback is always much appreciated. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, November 26, 2012 7:02 PM


I'm intrigued by the immunity theory, and would like to see if it pans out in some way. I'm also very curious about the Operative and the Hands of Blue. They seem to be working together and yet not...I think we'll see some consequences of their lack of synchrony. I liked the five-year-old's suggestion about how to blend in. You got that right.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 4:39 PM


it's because of Shadow, Mal was raised on Shadow and the Alliance did, um...something there, oh hell, I don't know but it's intriguing anyway, great last few chapters, AliD, xie xie

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 1:42 PM


it's because of Shadow, Mal was raised on Shadow and the Alliance did, um...something there, oh hell, I don't know but it's intriguing anyway, great last few chapters, AliD, xie xie

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 1:43 PM


crap, sorry for double post

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 10:47 PM


Wondering where the next part is, been a month. :(

Monday, December 17, 2012 4:14 PM


Hope you're well AliD, tied up with RL stuff and not something too serious <3

Friday, December 28, 2012 2:57 PM


Been having problems with the new computer which keeps disconnecting so sorry for not being able to get back to you all for a while. The question of Mal's is not as straightforward as it might seem Ebfidler. As for the Operative and the Hands of Blue, more about them soon. Don't worry about the double post Malsdoxy, was worth it to read your shiny comment. The next part was posted last Friday before I drove down to spend Christmas with the family Nutluck. Nothing too serious interfering with my ability to post just the crappy job PC World did with my new computer. Still not completely right but getting there. Thank you all for the feedback, it is much appreciated. 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.