THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 31. "Hidden Agendas"
Sunday, January 13, 2013

The girl was limp but freezing cold. Her breath so shallow it took skill to find it but alive she was.


TITLE: "HIDDEN AGENDAS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 31. Sequel to "INTERSECTIONS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "The Captain puts the plan into operation but Inara is far from happy. Little Lucy Dengate's rescue takes an unexpected turn. Meanwhile Suzie and Davie are not sure whether they have found a safe haven or are in jeopardy."


A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It seemed every rutting body had a gorram opinion, even Shepherd Book.

"The thing about ghosts is they have no shadow."

The Captain stared at Book. "I thought that was vampires?"

"Vampires don't exist, Captain."

River leant forward, her eyes fixed on the Preacher. "Yes, they do. Suck you dry. Not always blood."

The mercenary huffed in annoyance. "Might'a known you'd have some creepy assed theory."

River turned to Jayne, her eyes trapping his. The big man froze. You never knew what was going to come out of that gorram girl's mouth. "Not theory. Fact. You get psychic vampires too."

Jayne blinked. "Huh?"

"River, don't tease the animals."

"But it's fun, Simon."

"I'll teach you about fun." Jayne growled.

"Jayne!" Snapped the Captain. "Concentrate. We got some very unlovely folk to go up against, *dong ma*? And they DO exist."

Just then Jerrod Perkins came into the commons room with Howdy Marks in tow. "It's all set, Mal. Soon as you're ready we can broadcast."

"Where's the remote?"

"Far side of the warehouse district."

A flicker of alarm crossed the Captain's face. Jerrod hurried to reassure him. "*Fang xin*, it's a long ways from here but if we transmit from anywhere but this district they'll know somethin's wrong what with the rest of Anaeron being a wasteland."

The Captain nodded. "I'm obliged."

Everyone began to follow Jerrod and Howdy out of the commons room to watch Mal make the transmission. Inara placed a hand on the Captain's forearm as he was about to get to his feet. He gave her a quizzical look but she said nothing, her eyes asking him to stay. Pausing, he waited impatiently for her to explain. Only when they were the only ones left in the room did Inara say her piece.

"Mal, don't do this. We'll find another way."

His mouth went dry. "There is no other way, *xin gan*. Unless you got a better plan?"

The look on her face told him all he needed to know. Inara had nothing and now they both knew it. Having this brief moment was as close to private as they were going to get but time was not on their side. He had reservations his own self but unless they took some kind of action Urquart was like to kill them all by default. All of them had seen the disturbing footage from the market and dock areas and the Captain had no intention of letting that happen to either his or Jerrod's crew. With Serenity trapped inside Jerrod's warehouse they needed to find a way off world. The plan, such as it was, would be their one chance of trying to get everyone out of this fix. The Captain glanced at the doorway then back to Inara, his look softening at the concern on her beautiful face.

"Took a mighty risk stayin' with us, Inara. Could'a been safe an’ sound at the Companion House."

Exasperation tinged Inara's perfect features. "I stayed for 'you', Mal. Buddha forgive me for that act of insanity but even now I don't regret it."

The Captain was torn between a swell of pride and tenderness and the need to keep her safe, out of his business. But he had learnt long ago that his business invariably tangled with her own. Whether by choice or design they had become tied to one another and now here she was telling him plainly that it was her choice too. Inara watched the play of emotions on his face.

"Inara, there is no risk-free way outta this, *dong ma*? That Alliance ship destroys worlds. Turns everythin' to gorram dust so as *shenjingbing* as this plan is, it's the only one we got."

Inara reached out and cradled the side of his face with the palm of her hand, her eyes searching his, letting him see what she had hidden from him for so long. The love couched in worry and exasperation warming his heart. When the Captain spoke his voice came out a mite husky. "It is what it is but if we get out of this I'm gonna show you just how much I do love you."

"*Wo zhidao*."

Mal shook his head, refusing to let her steal his thunder even with such a sweet breath from those ruby red lips. Impossible woman, always blowing hot and cold but he would not change her for the 'verse. "No, you really don't."

At her look the Captain lifted her hand to his lips and gazed into her eyes so she would know he was serious. "Just keep faith, *bao bei*. I may not believe any God is wearin' our gorram colours but permaybehaps yours will give you a more friendly ear."

The clatter of footsteps coming back towards the commons room with voices clamouring for the Captain to get a move on broke the spell. Inara watched the Captain's tall lean frame as he got swiftly to his feet and cast a fleeting smile in her direction, watched him stride purposefully out of the room towards an unknown destiny. One which would take the rest of them with him in his stubborn wake.

* * * * *

The ports were open, set for full dispersal, when the navigator interrupted his Commandant in a voice tinged with a mix of shock and surprise. “*Shifu*, we’re receiving a transmission!”

Urquart gave him a cold look. “From Command and Control? Why are they breaking with protocol?”

“*Bu qu* shifu*. It’s coming from the planet surface below.”

“*Shenme*?” The Commandant paused briefly, his thoughts racing through possibilities. “It is too late for them to beg for their lives.”

“It’s Captain Reynolds.”

Just when Urquart thought nothing in the ‘verse could surprise him any longer the man he most wanted to track down and seize was doing the job for him. Was there anything more full of folly and idiocy than a former Browncoat? He did not think so but the news lightened his disposition and added a smug veneer to his austere face. “Belay my last order! Keep the ports open and put the ghosts on stand-by. It may yet be a trap.”

Once this had been done Urquart gave his communications officer a crisp nod. It seemed Captain Reynolds was going to save him the trouble of tracking him down, the least he do in response was talk to the man.

“Put him through!”

* * * * *

The girl was limp but freezing cold. Her breath so shallow it took skill to find it but alive she was. The Operative had easily taken custody of the child, his clearance stopping any dissenting voices being raised. There was something very satisfying about being an Operative of Parliament even if the rescuers went away with a myriad of questions in their eyes.

Once aboard his ship, the Operative took the time to have the girl properly checked. He did not want her to die before he could determine her usefulness to him. If she was indeed the one he sought then all was not lost. He barely looked up as the Blue Sun Medical Technician joined him in theatre. No words were exchanged. Quietly and efficiently the technician completed the scans and blood tests before giving his verdict in a flat monotone.

“The gland is intact.”

“Normal or enlarged?”

“Enlarged. It does not appear to have been tampered with.”

The Operative nodded, his mind a-whirl. That meant she was a natural, a pristine mind just waiting to be shaped to their purpose. While River Tam was the ultimate prize this one could, in time, be used to eclipse her. The child was young but she was female and harvesting her ovaries would be a simple operation. More genetic material could be taken while a full medical exam was completed under general anaesthetic. The girl would be unaware of what was happening to her and once they had taken from her what they needed the interesting part could begin.

His smile was without humour or warmth, more a seal of satisfaction and anticipation for the work ahead. The scans showed a pristine amygdala. By the time they had finished with her it would be pristine no more and the girl would become the first in a long line of gifted children doing their part to build a better world. Already he was imagining the perfect way to test her once all the medical procedures had been completed. She would, of course, be given time to physically recover but her mind would need to be manipulated as soon as she was out of theatre. Earlier if possible. Taking control was the key.

* * * * *

Suzie stared up at the man, for once unable to form words. A brief amusement flickered in the man’s eyes. He was big and heavy set with a thick bushy moustache and dark eyes that sparkled.

“I offer you my help and now you have no words?”

Davie was itching to speak, to ask a whole slew of questions but a warning look from Suzie stilled his tongue though she could see the impatience in him as clear as day.

“No *shifu* it’s just been hard to know who we can trust, *dong ma*?”

The big man rocked back on his heels, his wide girth reined in by a thick leather belt over a colourful jacket that looked to be made of something like velvet. Suzie could not be sure as it was a fabric rarely seen outside of Core worlds. The thought made her heart stumble. Had she made a mistake? The man seemed to follow her thoughts with a disturbing ease.

“*Fang xin, nu haizi*. No harm will come to you while you are in my company.”

“*Ni shi shei*?” Davie blurted, his tongue seeming to have a mind of its’ own. If Suzie wasn’t going to ask the important questions he would. “Is this a circus?”

The big man’s eyes crinkled into a silent laugh, his whole face turning into a beaming smile. “I see I am remiss, your pardon young sir.” Then to Davie’s astonishment he took off his hat and gave a little bow then straightened, put his hat back on and took a seat beside them. “My name is Julius Bart, formerly of New Melbourne. And no, this is not a circus even if it looks like one.”

“Then what is it an’ what was that monster?”

Mr Bart threw back his head and gave a hearty laugh. “That was no monster, just a creature of a bygone age.” Seeing that the boy did not follow his explanation the man tried again. “It is called a woolly mammoth, an ancient ancestor of the elephant which, as you no doubt know, is as rare as hen’s teeth itself. Too many poachers and not enough conservationists. I am a scientist, my speciality is in genetic engineering though this I do not do for profit.”

Drawn in despite herself, Suzie just had to ask. “Then why is it here?”

“Ah, the million square question! A new world has been terraformed between Alliance space and the Outer Rim Worlds. It has been crafted to be as near to Earth-that-was as is possible but to be fully viable it needs plants, animals and a certain amount of husbandry to set up the ecology so that it will be self sustaining. The original plan I confess had been to populate the planet with animals that are currently found living in existing habitats on various worlds.”

“*Fasheng shenme shi le*?” Mr Bart looked a bit sheepish if Suzie was any judge. “Um, we made a bet.” At her look he tried to straighten up and look as if he had not done anything monumentally stupid but he was at heart a truthsome man and pretending otherwise sat ill with him. “It was the wine you see. Should have known he was up to something with him doing the buying, then the pouring and me doing the supping.” He flushed a little at the memory and then laughed, his good humour easily restored. “He bet I could not bring back a fallen race, what you would call a creature from extinction. I was well into my cups by then which is to say pretty drunk. It was easy to brag that if anyone could do it I could and before I knew it the deal had been struck.”

Davie and Suzie exchanged a look, their minds asking questions of each other that neither could answer. In the end Suzie just asked him outright.

“Does this mean you’re Alliance?”

He blinked. “Would that be so bad?”

At her silence the big man took a slow breath and carefully set about putting the children’s minds at rest.

“Young lady, were I who you thought I was both you and the boy would be on your way to a government facility. First for processing then for questioning. Like as not you would end up being placed in the care of adoptive parents on some far flung Core world.” At the looks of horror and distress on their faces Mr Bart held up his hands to still the protests before they could swamp him. “I am not an Alliance official of any kind, *dong ma*? I am a free man with business interests of my own. All legitimate I might add, but this little venture.” He trailed off and gave them a thoughtful look as if weighing up how much he should tell them but then a sunny smile swept over his face. After all, what could be the harm? They were children. “This venture is not something that needs to be brought to Alliance attention.”

“This new world…”

He raised his eyebrows. “Eden.”

Suzie nodded. “Eden. Who made it?”

“Ah, now that is a whole other question young lady and before I would answer any more questions I wager we should eat first. Are you hungry?”

The sudden rumbling of Davie’s stomach answered for both of them.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin – Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *fang xin* = don’t worry (lit. ease your heart *xin gan* = sweetheart *shenjingbing* = crazy *wo zhidao* = I know *bao bei* = precious/treasure *shifu* = sir *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shenme* = what? *nu haizi* = girl *ni shi shei* = who are you? *fasheng shenme shi le* = what happened?


Monday, January 14, 2013 4:37 AM


Well, the Alliance has a new test subject and I can't figure out how they're going to trick the commandant. Looks pretty bad.

Nice Mal/Inara moment in there, I'm a sucker for Mal/Inara.

Monday, January 14, 2013 8:37 AM


Things do look a mite bleak for our band of Heroes, Bytemite, but doing the Impossible is what makes them mighty! I'm a sucker for Mal/Inara moments too. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 10:16 AM


Oh not nice making us wait for the next update to see what Mal says to the Alliance officer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 10:38 AM


Don't worry Nutluck, hopefully it won't be a long wait. Thanks for the feedback, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, January 21, 2013 5:02 PM


Loved the Mal/Inara scene...I hope there will be a follow-up to it later int he story, but I guess that's assuming Mal's plan works somehow and they're not all destroyed!!! Meanwhile, I'm glad to get an explanation of what the mammoth was doing in the story -- interesting. And oh no! with the Operative and the little girl. You must bring us more soon, please. :-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 4:22 AM


Don't worry Ebfiddler, more coming in the next couple of days. You will see more Mal/Inara and a few surprises coming up ahead so hang on to your hat! Thank you for the shiny comments, Ali D:-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, March 9, 2013 4:07 PM


geez you do weave an intricate tale, as always, and a hint of future M/I shenanigans, YAY for that Xie Xie AliD moving on to next chapter


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.