THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 29. "Grey Ghosts"
Thursday, December 20, 2012

There was nothing else of interest or consequence in what was left of the Hunter's head. The rest of his body had already been disposed of. Four pairs of eyes looked on from their own observation room.


TITLE: "GREY GHOSTS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 29. Sequel to "INSTINCT" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Suzie and Davie find themselves in a race against time on Osiris. Mal convinces Jerrod Perkins that it is time for them to leave Anaeron only to find nothing is quite that simple."

"GREY GHOSTS" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * * It was more than confusing watching all the comings and goings but Suzie did not dare to drop her guard. They needed to get off the huge transport ship before anyone noticed them. Davie was getting not only restless but more and more anxious and she was afraid if they did not make their move soon he would do something that would draw attention to them.

'I am not stupid, *dong ma*?'

'*Wo zhidao* it's just that this is dangerous, we cannot be too careful.'

Just then Suzie saw the opening she had been waiting for and with a quick nudge to Davie to stay close she darted out from behind the storage crates. Whether by luck or shrewd judgement they managed to mingle with the press of people milling around the docks and disembarking. Suzie dd ot dare to relax but kept Davie on the move, tagging on to families when they seemed to be going in the direction she wanted then breaking off seamlessly to tag on to another group when they turned off. As they threaded their way through the busy dock foot traffic began to dwindle and Suzie had them peel off and leave before they got close to any port officials. Only when they were safely away from the immediate area did she allow them to take a short rest. The ara of greenery was not much, a bit of overlooked shrubbery and thorny bushes that had once been open ground before the concrete jungle of the docking area took over. The occasional stunted tree made t all look rather neglected and seedy.

'Where are we going?'

'*Fang xin*, first we need to find somewhere to hide. A safe place. We'll sleep if it looks safe enough before moving on.'

'You still haven't told me why we had to come here.'

'Another voice called out to me.'

Davie looked shocked, eyes open wide as he realised what she was saying. "Like me?"

Suzie frowned at him. 'Think don't speak.'

"There's no one here but us."

"That's what you think." Said a gruff voice. Before Davie or Suzie could react, a large blocky man stepped out of the shadow of the twisted tree. His face was rumpled as if he had slept in it and something heavy had sat on it before he woke. The man was huge, over 6 feet tall and built like a brick house.

Suzie grabbed DAvie's hand and turned to make a run for it when another figure stepped into view. This man was shorter, skinny and had bad skin with breath to match. A stringy moustache draped over his top lip.

"Now where do you kids think you're goin'?"

Suzie tried to hide how frightened she was. "Leave us alone!"

The large man leered down at them, his eyes dark with amusement but as hard as nails. "Nah, don't think we will."

"My father will have you arrested!"

He laughed. "You hear that Oscar? Arrested? Who'd've thought a stowaway would know such big words."

"What makes you think we're stowaways?"

The laugh was ugly. "We been watchin' you, that's how. Could make us a pretty packet findin' homes for two lost lambs."

"We're not lost!" Said Suzie indignantly.

While they had been talking she had been keeping a lookout, trying to see if anyone was looking their way but she had been so keen to get away from the docks and anyone who might be from the Alliance transport ship that they were pretty much alone. Nevertheless she noted that the shrubs were the thick thorny kind, leggy at the base but thickenin ginto a pretty formidable barrier of long sharp thorns. If they could just dart low through the thorn bushes the men would have to press through the thicker part with all the thorns. It probably wouldn't stop the men going after them but hopefully it would slow them down just enough for her and Davie to get away. Careful not to look at Davie she projected her thoughts to him, hoping he would ask no questions and just do what she said.

'Davie, when I tell you to run make a dash for the thorn bushes. Wriggle as fast as you can through the bottom part not the top then run as fast as you can, *dong ma*?' * * * * * "We have plenty. Go, take it!"

Kaylee was not about to argue but it took some fast footwork to reach the food being offered before Jayne got his meaty paws on it.

"*Wei*, I was gonna get that!"

"Give your tapeworm a rest, Jayne."

The mercenary glared at Serenity's mechanic. "I ain't got no tapeworm, how many times I gotta tell ya?"

Kaylee gave him a sweet as saccharin smile. "Then let Simon check you out. Won't take but a minute."

Howdy Marks looked from one to the other, not sure what in *diyu* the two were talking about. "You want I should leave you alone?"

Kaylee laughed. "Nah Howdy, it's just Jayne never gives his jaws a resgt when he's next to food. Kind'a leaves the rest of us growin'slimmer while he fattens his tapeworm up."


Howdy bit back a grin and helped Kaylee pack up the food, trying not to look at the crestfallen look on Jayne Cobb's face. If had started out as a joke but th eway Jayne couldn't stop filling his mouth was beginning to worry her. maybe he did need Simon to take a good look at his innards after all.

While they were packing the food up and taking it onto Serenity, Simon was getting more and more worried about his sister. River had started off calm and he had hopes that there would be no need to put her on medication again but the last few minutes his sister had been acting anxious and disturbed. It did not help that he could not make any sense of what she was sayting.

"River, *mei mei*, let me give you something to calm you down."

"Not crazy. Seeing the truth is never easy, I don't want to be Cassandra."

The Captain chose that moment to walk into Jerrod Perkin's loading bay with the man and some of his crew while River and Simon were arguing.


River watched Simon with one eye while replying. Careful not to let her overly protectve brother get too close. "She could see things others couldn't but was destined to forever be disbelieved."

Jerrod gave the Captain a sideways look as if not sure whether River was joking or serious. The Captain ignored him and focused on River as if drawn to her distress and wanting to smooth the bumps in her road while getting to the bottom of whatever was troubling her. "Perhaps it would help if you told me what you've been seein', little one."

"I'm not making it up."

"Not saying you are but as you can see we're all gettin' ready to leave so if you've seen somethin' disturbin' I need to know, *dong ma*?"

"They left but when he couldn't find us he started searching. Won't give up, can't give up, even though he doesn't know where we are."

"If he don't know where we are," said the Captain reasonably, his voice low and soothing like warm toffee "then we got no worries, *dui*?"

River shook her head. "*Cuode*. He's angry and mean. Has come back to finish the job he started."

Confused, Jerrod stared at River. "What job?"

She turned to him, her expression one of sorrow and regret. "You wondered what had happened at the market place and dock?"

Jerrod just stared at River. The Captain went cold, some instinct itching in the back of his brain pan. "You sayin' that *tamade hundan* is responsible?"

River nodded, her pale face looking almost transparent as she willed the Captain to understand. "*Qu*. Experimental equipment. Can't leave any witnesses. Dust to dust."

Perkins swore. "*Wode ma he ta de feng kuang de waisheng dou*, gorram purplebellies!"

"River, you said they don't know where we are?"

She could not hide her unhappiness. Simon longed to reach out to his sister, wrap his arms around her and offer what comfort he could but River was keeping her distance from him, ready to dodge any attempt he made to catch hold of her. The Captain needed to know, to understand, and time was running out. River explained as best she could while more of Perkins' men gravitated towards them. Simon didn't understand the strangely intuitive connection between his sister and the Captain but was coming to realise that River's gift, like the girl herself, was as random and unsettling as her pronouncements. * * * * The Operative increased magnification even though what he saw sickened him. The Blue Sun medical technician carefully and efficiently empted the cranial cavity and began to dissect the contents. The over enlarged pineal gland barely gave him pause except to measure and isolate it. There was nothing else of interest or consequence in what was left of the Hunter's head. The rest of his body had already been disposed of. Four pairs of eyes looked on from their own observation roo,.

"How did he accomplish such an amalgamation?"

"How is redundant. The Hunter is dead but the prize - the prize is not."

"I am not sure how we can reap this harvest."

"We cannot. Another carrier is needed, one sensitive enough to unlock what is hidden. One we can control."

No one spoke. The four internal justices continued to watch in silence for a while then the first speaker voiced what they were all privately thinking. "How can one be turned into an army?"

The second justice gave a cold cosmetic smile that fooled no one. "He cannot. It is not numbers we need but influence. The power behind the throne is mightier than any King."

The others just looked at him.

"With such influence we can turn any army, bend any will to our own, *dong ma*?"

Slow smiles of satisfaction blossomed where natural things never could. Armageddon was not the end of a world but the beginning of a whole host of new ones. Each corrupted to their will. Of course to rebuild you first had to remove what had gone before. It was a good plan. Simple, ruthless and ripe for success. * * * * * They were all gathered in the Firefly’s commons room, the crew of Serenity and Jerrod Perkins and his men. It made things a mite cosy but was better than hanging around in that big draughty warehouse. Might be high tech but it wasn’t warm. Kaylee looked from glum face to glum face, a mite confused.

“All we gotta do is sit tight, *dui*? River said they don’t know we’r here so I’m not seein’ the reason for all the long faces.”

Zoe gave a sigh. Wash squeezed her hand but she wasn’t looking at him. “It’s not that simple, Kaylee.”

“*Weishenme bu*?”

The Captain explained. “The moment we lift off we’ll be visible, *dong ma*? No offence to Wash but there ain’t no way we can outrun that Alliance ship.”

Wash nodded. When the Captain was right he was right but that did not mean the pilot had to like it. From the look on his wife’s face she wasn’t happy either.

“There must be something we can do, sir.”

“We sit tight ‘till the gorram coast is clear.”

River shook her head. “Won’t help.”

Everyone stared at her. It was on the tip of Jerrod Perkins’ tongue to ask what the *diyu* she meant by that. Girl was beginning to creep him out but the crew of Serenity just took her weird pronouncements in their stride like there was nothing odd about it. Maybe it was him that needed his head seeing to?

“Why’s that, sweetie?”

River gave her friend a sad little smile, not wanting to dim the bright sunshine that was Kaylee but she could not lie. “They haven’t finished yet. When they have, nothing will be left.”

Howdy Marks stared at her, pop-eyed. “*Ni zhide shi shenme*?”

“Aerial dispersal.”

Simon looked confused. “Are you saying they’re going to attack us?”

“*Ni bu dong*. They don’t know we’re here Simon but it doesn’t matter. The exercise is like a scorched earth policy but down to the molecular level. It will turn Aneron into a wasteland.”

“Oh my!” Said Book, putting two and two together and not liking the math. “Are you saying that’s what happened to the market area?”

“And the docks. Now it’s the turn of the warehouse district, the last part still standing.”

Kaylee looked distressed. “They can’t do that, can they? That would be murder.”

Simon took Kaylee’s hand, wanting to reassure her but knowing that was not possinle. “I don’t think Commandant Urquart cares, Kaylee.”

Her face twisted up with disbelieving anguish. That someone could do something like that on purpose was beyond her. “But why? It don’t make sense.”

“Doesn’t have to make sense.” Said the Captain bitterly. “They’re Alliance. Think they can play God with whoever an’ whatever they like.”

Jerrod Perkins looked ready to spit bricks. “We can’t just sit here and do nothin’.”

“If’n you got a plan Jer, I’m listenin’.”

Perkins stared at the Captain then blinked slowly. “I got nothin’ Mal but there must be somethin’ we can come up with.”

Wash got a thoughtful look on his face. “Do we know where they are now?”

“We got a remote, could use that to take a look-see.” Said Perkins.

The Captain nodded and Howdy led the way off Serenity to the small control room in the warehouse. Both crews crowded round as best they could as Howdy operated the little remote. Zoe leaned forward as something caught the corner of her eye. “What is that?”

Jerrod Perkins took a moment to steady his voice. “That’s all that remains of the folks at the docks.”

For a moment no one said anything else then Simon turned to look at Perkins. Mal knew that look, it seemed Perkins recognised it as well. “How is that possible?” “*Wo bu zhidao* but there’s nothin’ anyone can do. Heard tell you’re a doc but what’s been done is beyond fixin’.”

Kaylee had gone white. “Is that… I mean… a person?”

Howdy was carefully guiding the remote back to their location but it was impossible to miss the signs of total and utter destruction. Everything and everyone reduced to a crumbling dust. Even as they stared in horror remnants of human bones were collapsing in on themselves as if consuming itself until only dust remained. Kaylee gave a little distressed cry and stuffed a fist in her mouth, her eyes bright with tears. Simon wrapped his arms around her and turned her gently so she could no longer see the screen. Silence fell like a pall of death as both crews watched the scene slowly change as the remote drew further away from the docks and market area. As if approached the warehouse district the view seemed almost normal, untouched. A stark contrast that was lost on no one.

“I don’t see any sign of the Alliance.” Commented Book.

“Best tilt the remote,” said Perkins softly “give us a view of what’s above as well as ground level Howdy. Need as much information as we can glean, *dong ma*?”

Howdy gave his boss a nod and did just that. At first all they saw was empty sky then the edges of the warehouses. Just as it was nearing Perkins’ warehouse a huge shadow loomed over the remote darkening the screen. Quickly Howdy dropped the remote to the ground and rested it there, not wanting any movement to alert the Alliance that they were being watched. The little remote was their only means of seeing what in the nine hells was going on outside. No one spoke or dared move, all eyes fastened to the screen as if their lives depended on it. Wash opened his mouth to ask a question just as a grainy mist clouded the monitor screen. The image pixilated and broke up before all contact was suddenly lost. Jerrod looked up, his face drained of all colour.

“*Wode ma*, we waited too long, Mal!” * * * * * Little Lucy Dengate was sure she had died and gone to *diyu*. It was the only explanation for the sight that met her sore eyes. Even in the half dark of the stinking sewer pipe the shapes that moved before her seemed incongruous. Like something she must have conjured up in her fevered brain pan. No way could they be real

“*Xiaoxin*, the poor thing looks half dead.”

“How’d you reckon she got here?”

“Don’t know but we’d best get her to a doc before she dies.”

“Huh, just what we don’t need. One more rottin’ corpse to foul the pipes.”

“Denny!” The foreman’s sharp reprimand cracked through the fetid air like a whip. “Watch your ruttin’ mouth, *don gma*?”

“She can’t hear.”

“Ain’t the point, I can now cut it out.”

The maintenance foreman reached out to pick the girl up in his arms but some instinct kicked in and Lucy roused enough to wriggle back, her eyes barely able to open a crack, her limbs heavy and dragging, body failing. Yet somehow she managed to retreat a few painful inches from the end of the sewer pipe. Denny looked stunned.

“Ruttin’ *diyu* she’s still alive, *laoban*.”

“Yeah, well she won’t be for long if we don’t get out of here. Now, slowly does it. We’re don’t gonna hurt you, *nu haizi*.”

Lucy was beyond hearing now. The last of her strength was gone and as willing hands reached out her body went limp. Alarmed, Marty Kilbride quickly checked her pulse, worried that the poor mite had passed away before she could be rescued. For a moment the men just froze, a lifetime’s waiting in the promise of a heartbeat. When the faltering metronome marked out the flagging beat of her heart, Marty huffed in relief then both men quickly carried the little girl out of the pipe, carefully lowering her down to waiting hands below. * * * * * “What’re we gonna do?” Yelled Jayne.

Perkins was all for taking the fight to the Alliance. River shook her head. “Won’t work.”

Irritated by the girl’s comment, Perkins was getting sick and tired of having continued pronouncements of doom. “If you got nothin’ useful to say best you say nothin’,*dong ma/?”

Simon bristled but before he could say anything the Captain spoke. “River’s plenty useful Jer, she gave us fair warnin’.”

“Well I don’t see how that helps.”

Simon looked none too happy. “My siser has a gift, she sees or senses things. I don’t always understand it but she’s never wrong.”

“You sayin’ she’s a witch?”

“River ain’t no witch!” Said Kaylee indignantly.

The Captain butted in before people forgot who the real enemy was. “”We can’t take off because the gorram Alliance are above us. If we can’t go up can we maybehaps go down?”

Perkins stared at the Captain as if the man had completely taken leave of his senses. “*Ni bu dong*, Mal. You saw the images on the remote, everythin’ turns to dust. That means if the warehouse goes, so does your gorram ship an’ every one of us.”

The Captain did not even blink. “But if we could go down?”

“Huh,” said Jayne “we’d just be diggin’ our own graves.” The Captain gave his mercenary a less that happy look. “Not what I was meanin’, Jayne.”

Simon got a thoughtful look on his face. No one noticed Inara quietly joining them. The Companion had pretty much kept to her shuttle all the while Serenity was inside Jerrod Perkins’ warehouse. Simon turned to the Captain. “When I was examining the dust in your damaged mask Captain I noticed it almost acted like nanites but this is something different.”

“*Ni zhide shi shenme*?”

“I would need to take a closer look under a microscope to be sure but the footage from the remote seems to suggest that whatever the Alliance are using is causing a chain reaction in matter that breaks it down. A biological equivalent to how it operates would be the flesh eating disease that destroys a body only in this case it is whatever it comes into contact with – organic and inorganic.” Wash looked horrified. “Are you sayin’ this stuff eats matter?”

“It doesn’t consume matter Wash but it breaks it down and that’s not all. It keeps on breaking the matter down into smaller and smaller particles until all that is left is a very fine dust.”

“You got all that from seein’ those images, doc?” Asked a stunned Howdy Marks.

Simon flushed slightly. “Um, no, it just reminded me or a biological equivalent though it would be too simplistic to claim they are the same because they are not but they do have characteristics in common hence the comparison If I’m right Captain going down wouldn’t help. It would just keep reacting to everything until only the dust remained. Everything would be reduced to dust including us. * * * * * “No sign of the Firefly, *shifu*.”

Commandant Urquart nodded to his navigator then opened a com channel. “Did you locate the device?”

The soldier’s voice floated back to him loud and clear. “*Qu, shifu*.” “*Hen hao*, send it to me *mashang* and lieutenant?”


“We are set for full dispersal but I will delay in order to give you and your men the opportunity to do a ground search. If the Firefly transport is hiding on this *lese* piece of rock I want it found and the crew seized for immediate interrogation, *dong ma*?”

On the surface the lieutenant conveyed the order to the rest of his unit, a tide of grey soldiers breaking cover to spread out. Strange hand held silvery weapons at the ready. Silently, the lieutenant indicated which warehouses each team was to check. As they soundlessly moved into position to hit the warehouses simultaneously one last order echoed in their com links.

“Anyone other than the crew of Serenity is to be eliminated!” * * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin – Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *wo zhidao* = I know *fang xin* = don’t worry (lit. ease your heart) *wei* = hey *diyu* = hell *mei mei* = little sister *cuode* = wrong *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wode ma he at de feng kuang de waisenme bu* = holy mother of God and all her whacky nephews *tamade hundan* = fucking bastards *weishenme bu* = why not? *ni bu dong* = you don’t understand *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *wo bu zhidao* = I don’t know *wode ma* = mother of God *xiaoxin* = careful *laoban* = boss *nu haizi* = girl *shifu* = sir *hen hao* = very good *lese* = crappy *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *dui* = correct


Friday, December 21, 2012 10:16 AM


Can't go up, can't go down... Hmm. The only thing I can think of where the crew might have an advantage is that Mal might be immune to this stuff. But I can't think how they could use that to their advantage, and I'm also not sure they want to find out for sure that Mal can take it.

Saturday, December 22, 2012 5:05 AM


Of course they can go down, has no one in Serenity seen Journey to the Center of the Earth? sheesh.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 6:01 AM


There's something with the going down option. At least the commander wants to interrogate them before dispersing his kills-and-destroys-all agent. I'm wondering what the Operative is up to, and why he's working with those mind-destroying faceless entities, regarding the Hunter. Also, what's up with all the kids? Many layers here, Ali. I'm wondering how they will all get out of this pickle, and I'm guessing that there will some kind of immunity-equivalent process that will work to their advantage. Poor River, it's hard to be put in the the position of Cassandra.

Friday, December 28, 2012 2:48 PM


Hello Bytemite, they do seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. As for Mal's immunity nothing is quite that straightforward. You made me laugh Nutluck with your Journey to the Center of the Earth comment, at least they would be warm. Yes, there are many layers Ebfiddler but things will start to become clearer soon. As for River, she isn't really Cassandra so that has to be a plus for her, right? Thank you everyone for the shiny feedback. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that the New Year brings all sorts of magic into your lives. Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, March 9, 2013 3:44 PM


Her voice had gone deadly quiet, the kind of hush of a graveyard multiplied by every body in it.
I so love the way you write, AliD xie xie and Happy new year


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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.