THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 35. "Dust to Dust"
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A spark of fear ignited inside her, heart pounding. The temptation to take to her heels and run was powerful but she stopped herself with an effort. *Wode ma*, it could only mean one thing. Their pursuer had caught up with them.


TITLE: "DUST TO DUST" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 35. Sequel to "THE DEVIL'S CRADLE" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: " Suzie feels fate closing in on her and Davie. Commandant Urquart is struggling to grasp what is happening and why. Meanwhile the Captain tries to stop his crew from going stir crazy." "DUST TO DUST" A "Firefly Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was harder than she expected to find a suitable ship and was it just her imagination or were people staring at them? Suzie tried to keep calm, give the impression they had every right to be there. On some folk it seemed to work and faces turned away, bored or no longer curious, but other eyes seemed to sharpen a mite. It occurred to Suzie that being at the docks might not have been her best plan.

"*Shenme shi*?" Davie hissed in barely more than a whisper.

"*Fang xin*, it's just busier than I expected."

He knew she was lying but had no idea why. Davie was tempted to mind cast but remembered her insistence that it was not safe. Whoever was hunting them could read minds. To him it had always seemed a natural talent right up until he discovered that none of the rest of his family had inherited it. Some instinct had stopped him blurting it all out though why was still a mystery to him. The longer Davie spent with Suzie the more the notion troubled him.

"Ah. This looks good."

Davie blinked and stared in disbelief at the scruffy ship towards the back end of the docks as if the Captain could not afford to pay for a prime berth. Or maybe they were as anxious not to draw attention as the pair of them. A Sandy haired man hung around in front of the ship as if waiting for someone. He was slim, had a pleasant and mostly clean shaven face which was mobile and open as if the owner was naturally friendly. Davie wondered if this was the Captain but he looked too young, too much wanting to please and he didn't think a Captain would be ingratiating himself with other people in such a casual way. No, this looked to be a man who took orders rather than gave them even though there was an air of confidence about him that was mildly seductive.

Suzie picked up the thought and wanted to warn Davie not to trust strangers, especially those who looked most trustworthy but how to do so without drawing attention was the problem. Now in earshot they were too close and she tugged Davie's hand as if to head away from the docks again. The man didn't seem to take note of them, was now looking down and fiddling with something. Davie squinted and managed to make out a piece of wood being expertly and carefully whittled. Suzie gave his hand another tug and they lost themselves in the comings and goings of people until they found an old dilapidated stall. Davie frowned but Suzie looked relieved.

"I thought we were lookin' for a ship?"

"Hush, *bei chao*. We are but we don't want any of the ship's crew to notice us, *dong ma*?"

Davie nodded though he was not sure why they had to be so secretive about it. After all Mr Bart had actually helped them get to Osiris when he discovered they had been stowing away on his ship. Suzie did not want to point out to Davie that the more than helpful Mr Bart might have been the one to betray them. No. They could trust no one.

A vague thought inveigled its' way into her mind reassuring her that she was right. Suzie assumed it was her own instinct guiding her then realised it had come from outside. A spark of fear ignited inside her, heart pounding. The temptation to take to her heels and run was powerful but she stopped herself with an effort. *Wode ma*, it could only mean one thing. Their pursuer had caught up with them.

* * * * *

The Commandant was furious. How could this be happening? Striding away from the biohazard area he made sure they were out of earshot of the rest of his crew then rounded on his Chief Medical Officer. "What do you mean there must have been a loss of containment?"

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Roman Piscorri, not only understood the Commandant's anger and frustration he fully shared it. Truly, it was baffling. "*Wo bu zhidao, shifu."

Urquart's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What do you mean you don't know? You are not employed for your ignorance."

"*Bu qu*, but it should not be happening. The men have been to the surface before, on Ithaca Moon and containment was never breached."


"*Wo bu dong, shifu*. According to our monitoring systems we still had full containment until recently."

"When? Be exact, *dong ma*?"

Dr Piscorri gave him every detail he had been able to glean. When he finished the two men lapsed into a highly charged and almost painful silence. Dr Piscorri sighed softly, his expression puzzled. "It is as if something happened to breach our strict protocols."

The Commandant gave him a sharp look. "Such as?"

The Chief Medical Officer tried to think of a suitable example. "If something that was not contained entered the containment chamber introducing the active agent but of course that is impossible."

A horrible thought occurred to Urquart. The only other thing brought aboard his ship that had been in contact with the molecular structure of the bio-weapon was the filter mask seized from that damnable Firefly. Seeing the Commandant's face pale, Dr Piscorri had a sinking feeling that the Commandant knew more than he was telling but he had to know. "*Shenmi shi, shifu*?"

"The filter mask from Serenity, what happened to it?"

Dr Piscorri opened his mouth to answer then stopped, a look of horror stealing over his face. "*Wode ma*! We were about to put it in a separate containment chamber when the clean up team returned to the ship. It must have been left in the biohazard room when the ground team came in. We had yet to evaluate whether the mask still contained any of the active compound of the dust."

The alarm on their faces as realisation struck was then echoed by all the ship's alarms sounding at once. Swearing, Urquart sent Dr Piscorri to do what he could to establish a second outer containment area but knew it was unlikely to be established in time. As he ran for the bridge calls were coming in from all over the ship of parts of the superstructure weakening, not so much buckling as dissolving into dust. They had to leave Aneron immediately, try to make it to Ithaca Moon then use what shuttles they had to evacuate as many of their people as possible. As he reached the bridge his navigator turned a face white with fear in his direction, his eyes wide and frightened.

"*Shifu* we are losing the biohazard area along with most of medical!"

A squeal on the communications board diverted the navigator's attention and if anything he paled even further. There were now warning lights flashing over all the board then they too began to flicker and break up until everything shut down. As Urquart opened his mouth to demand an update he felt the top of the line dreadnought shudder and was it his imagination or were the walls beginning to waver and shimmer?

* * * * *

"Ya mean we can go?" Said Jayne eagerly.

River shook her head. The big man scowled at her, annoyed at her for getting his hopes up. "It's all in the timing."

The Captain didn't want everyone badgering River at once but it was hard not to insist on more information his own self. Simon gave the Captain a pointed look, Kaylee standing so close to him you could not have got a piece of flimsy between them. He didn't want to think of what they had been doing only moments before he called the meeting. The sweat on Kaylee's flushed face was enough of a gorram clue.

"My sister isn't a fortune cookie, Captain."

"Never said she was but she is a Reader."

"SHE is standing RIGHT HERE!"

All eyes turned to River Tam. It should have looked ridiculous to see the slight, waif like figure demanding to be acknowledged rather than spoken about in her presence.

"*Duibuqi*, little one. But Jayne does have a point. We need to know when it's safe to leave, *dong ma*? With the remote in Alliance hands we got no way of seein' what's happenin' outside."

"She knows and she comprehends." River paused and cocked her head to one side as if listening then a slow smile of satisfaction spread over her face. "We can go now."

Jayne got up but couldn't resist grumbling. "About ruttin' time."

River was dancing away on light feet when she stopped suddenly, the smile on her face vanishing. "Uh oh, no time to brush the sand off. Have to hurry, *mashang*!"

Zoe and Wash were coming into the commons room just as River dashed out of it, the rest of the crew in her wake. At Zoe's look the Captain quickly brought her and Wash up to speed.

"Aren't we goin' to dig Serenity out first?" Said Wash.

Mal shook his head, they were all hurrying now. The rattle of booted feet almost drowning out their words. "River says there's no time."

His second in command frowned. "That doesn't make any sense, sir. Why the hurry?"

"Yeah well I ain't in the mood to argue the why of it. Girl's right more often that she's wrong, reckon this'll be a case in point. Wash, why you still here?" The pilot opened his mouth to reply then thought better of it and broke into a run, Zoe just a pace behind him. The Captain looked around until he spotted Kaylee. "Kaylee! Need you in the engine room, *mashang*."

She was about to protest that it couldn't be that urgent but the Captain had his no nonsense face on and Simon had the wit to quickly detach himself from Serenity's mechanic. Simon gave her a smile and quick peck on the cheek and she nodded back. Then everyone was hurrying about the ship. Simon went to the infirmary, Jerrod took his men to go and check that everything in the cargo bay was tied down. Jayne ran to his bunk and began to load himself up with as many of his favourite guns as he could carry. He paused before leaving his bunk and went back to grab a few grenades, a grin breaking out on his face. Never knew when they might come in handy. Wasn't gonna trust that they could lift off without some *tamade hundan* purplebelly trying to board them and if that happened he was gonna spread some of his own mayhem and destruction.

* * * * *

Osiris was an affluent and orderly world. All the Alliance biggest companies had their head offices on Osiris. The biggest and best of everything was showcased here where the wealthiest and most influential families made their homes. Each a place of power in their shiny Alliance shaped world. Beyond the central city the outer environs were little more than barely managed wasteland, only given the barest attention when scrubland or forest began to encroach upon the boundaries of the city. The docks sat squarely between the two extremes, tolerated for its' commerce but not its' content. Suzie was getting more and more anxious, her heart rate speeding up as if it could outrun whatever destiny was dogging their steps.

"How're we gonna choose?" Cried Davie.

Before Suzie could answer another voice spoke just behind them. They jumped and spun round, eyes wide, ready to run but needing to make sure it was indeed a threat.

"*Fang xin*, I won't hurt you."

They stared. The girl was filthy, her clothes clotted with dirt and the kind of debris you don't want to look at too closely. Davie's eyes widened, was that blood? The girl grinned at the expressions on their faces.

"My name's Lucy."

Davie blurted out what he was thinking. "What the *diyu* happened to you?"

Lucy laughed, her voice trembling a little. Suzie gave her a closer look and noticed how thin the girl was, she seemed on the point of collapsing. Suzie gave a quick glance around but no one appeared to be looking their way.

"Appearances can be deceivin'." Mumbled Lucy quietly, her eyes catching Suzie's. For a moment the two froze like insects caught in amber. "Suggest we go somewhere less public, *dong ma*?"

"Why should we trust you?"

Lucy sighed, it was a soft pain filled sigh that made Suzie's heart ache just to hear it. 'I was hunted, captured, tortured'

'How did you get away?'

'If you want to know we need to move away from the docks, *mashang*.'

Davie gave her a suspicious look. 'Weishenme?'

'Because the people huntin' me are huntin' you.'

* * * * *

The great Alliance Dreadnought Reknown shuddered as she rose from the planet surface, a slow ungainly lurch towards freedom. On the ship the crew were like ants scurrying frantically in the hopes of keeping the ship contained just long enough to reach Ithaca Moon. The navigator did not think for a minute that they would make it but the Commandant was not a man to be crossed even in circumstances as dire as this.

Urquart was on the bridge snapping out orders that his men tried to carry out but the ship was breaking up faster than they could set up secondary containment areas. His brow shiny with perspiration, Urquart fought to maintain a dignified calm but his control was slipping.

As the Reknown rose and gained height it seemed to one beautiful heart stopping moment that they were going to be able to make it. Several of the crew silently prayed. Just as they were about to set the co-ordinates for Ithaca Moon, the navigator stared in shock at the ship's sensors then looked up at the Commandant. "*Shifu*, I'm picking up another vessel on the sensors."

Commandant Urquart hurried over, his eyes widening as he read the confirmation. A broad triumphant smile spread across his face, all thoughts of panic vanishing. "Well, well, well. It seems Reynolds and his grubby little ship were hiding after all!"

As they watched, the Firefly spilled dust as she rose into the air then turned her back on them and began to speed up towards the Black. Urquart slammed the palm of his hand down. "Belay my last order, follow that ship and when we are in range I want you to blast it out of the sky!"

"*Shifu*, what about Malcolm Reynolds?"

"Damn him to the deepest pit of *diyu*."

With a nod the course change was made and the Reknown began to follow. Urquart frowned.

"Faster! They're getting away!"

Before the navigator could tell him the ship would go no faster there was a loud rending sound then air rushed in as the ship plummeted towards the ground. They were going a lot faster now but in the wrong direction. Men cried out and the superstructure around them buckled and crumbled, the solidity of the ship reduced to a sparkling dust that ate through everything. Horror mounted on horror, the Commandant wanting to scream in rage and frustration but unable to do anything but stare in stunned silence as everything was being swallowed up in a destruction so total it numbed the mind. By the time he opened his mouth to scream there was no one left to hear it, his own body collapsing in on itself as he joined the fate of the rest of his ship and crew.

Up on the Firefly mid-bulk transport River could not stop dancing and singing, her hands clapping in glee. It was even beginning to get on Wash's nerves. Zoe patted her husband's shoulder, ignoring River's antics but wondering how close they had come to sharing a similar horrific fate. "No need to rush now, *bao bei*."

The Captain was staring then gave Wash a grim little smile. "Turn around Wash then cut to a quarter speed."

"We're not leavin'?"

"Oh we're leavin' alright but sight like this? Think we can pause long enough to enjoy it before we go."

Wash grinned back and Zoe dipped her head and kissed her *zhangfu*. Eyes glittering he stared up at her with unadulterated love. "What was that for?"

"There need to be a reason?"

The Captain opened the com and invited everyone up on the bridge to watch the last of the dreadnought as it was reduced to dust. An image worth the savouring and a fitting end to the monster who had made the nightmare in the first place.

* * * * *

"You want to what?"

Lucy hushed Suzie and urged her to keep to non verbal communication. It might look as if they were alone but this was Osiris and Lucy had learnt not to trust anything to be as benign as it seemed. Davie looked around warily, half expecting Alliance soldiers to materialise out of the bushes. He hadn't forgotten the fright he and Suzie had when those men had tried to grab them.

'You said you would explain yet you expect us to go with you. *Weishenme*?'

'It isn't safe here any more' Lucy paused, her thoughts sad. 'I had to run away from home to save my family'

Davie frowned. 'Wo bu dong'

'They're lookin' for anyone with abilities like ours. We're telepathic but that isn't valuable enough for them. The Alliance have been workin' with the Blue Sun Corporation in an attempt to develop super soldiers. They want to use our abilities an' make them even more powerful then use them to build an army that can out think, out fight an' out perform any soldier that has ever gone before.'

'We aren't soldiers' Said Suzie.

'They don't intend you to be' Seeing their puzzled expressions Lucy explained even though every word hurt her. 'I found out what they were doin' because they intended to do the same thing to me. They're harvestin' our abilities.' With a hand that shook, Lucy pointed to the middle of her forehead. 'There's a gland here, the size of a pea. I heard them call it the pineal gland an' when you have abilities like ours it gets concentrated here. I don't know the science, don't want to either. It's creepy as *diyu*. They've been capturin' children with the gift an' removin' this gland, then they kill an' throw the bodies away'

Davie stepped back in horror, his eyes wide as saucers and filled with fear and dread. 'They, they, KILL children?'

Lucy did not sugar coat it for them. '*Qu*. I'm only alive because I got away'

Suzie gave Lucy a long hard look before saying what was bothering her. 'Yeah, about that..."

* * * * *

The meal was an odd mix of merry and subdued. The Captain was glad it was over but parts of it were still mighty perplexing. Inara gave him a smile and touched his shoulder as she passed, the Captain settling into his chair while his eyes followed her progress around the table until she found a seat she liked and graciously lowered herself in it. For a moment he had thought she would sit next to him but the tease on her lips matched the mischief in her eyes and he knew nothing was ever going to be that simple. Fortunately things had been going well between them and he didn't want to jinx it by asking her intentions. Quickly the table filled up, with crates and stuffed armchairs added to accommodate Jerrod and his crew. Those that couldn't fit around the big oak table settled in close proximity with Shepherd Book urging Kaylee to pass the dishes so he could ladle out the evening meal.

Jayne's mouth was watering, his big meaty hand reaching out to take the stew pot from the Shepherd but Book was wise to that ruse and gave his friend a knowing smile and a nod. "Raise your bowl Jayne, don't want to spill any of this stew, *dong ma*?"

"Just hand the pot down an' I'll do it myself."

Kaylee cut in before anyone else could. "If the Shepherd does that there won't be nothin' left for the rest of us."

He turned and gave her a hurt glare. "*Wei*, I just want my share."

"An' everybody elses." Put in Wash.

Jayne turned a more ferocious glare on the pilot. "I can hurt you, little man."

"An' I can bury you where the sun don't shine." Said Zoe, her voice without any kind of inflection and so flat and deadly it ended the debate.

Jerrod watched the by-play with some amusement and thanked Book as his own bowl was filled. River passed the bread making sure it got to Jayne last so that there would be enough to go round. Jerrod dipped his bread in the stew, soaking it with what he hoped were genuine meat juices but was likely protein. "What you gonna do now, Mal?"

The noise around the table lowered a mite as ears perked up to listen in. The Captain chewed on his stew, recognising some of the chunky bits as different kinds of vegetables and smiling when he came upon an unsuspecting mushroom. "Was gonna ask you an' yours the same."

"Me?" The surprise on Jerrod's face was kind of comical. "Ain't my ship."

"*Bu qu* but seems you can't go back to Anaeron so I'm wonderin' where you want to be goin'."

Howdy Marks was sitting next to his boss and gave the Captain a big grin, not realising bits of stew were stuck between his gappy teeth. "Home!"

"Need more than that."

Jerrod Perkins smiled and looked round at his crew, dotted around the commons area. All of them safe, in one piece and thankful for it. "Most of us are from Lilac so if it's not outta your way...?"

The Captain turned to Wash. "We got enough fuel to get to Lilac?"

"*Qu* but we'll need to find a job before we can take off again."

The Captain nodded and smiled at Jerrod. "Soon as we've eaten I'll have the course set for Lilac."

"*Xie xie ni* an' though I can't promise anythin', Mal, I may be able to put a job your way."

"With money up front for fuel an' supplies?"

Jerrod laughed realising the Captain was quicker on the uptake than he had expected. The others round the table didn't seem to clue in which was fine with him. "*Dang ran*."

Once the meal was over, the Captain asked to see Simon for a moment. Kaylee went to follow but the Captain raised an eyebrow at her. "Your name Simon?"

Flustered she tried to bluff her way through. "No, but..."

"Then best you check on the engine, *dong ma*? You'll see plenty of Simon later."

Blushing a little, Kaylee hurried away and found Simon watching him closely as the Captain guided him to the infirmary. Simon frowned as the Captain shut the door behind them then locked it.

"I been thinkin' about that gorram dust, doc."

"Are you having any trouble, Captain? I thought you were clear..."

"I am an' you did a right shiny job, got no complaint on that score. I'm just a mite confused. Need your expertise to maybe clear that up."

"I'll be happy to help if I can."

The Captain's look turned serious. "When we hid the ship we went to the dock area where the gorram dust had already done its' worst an' was now inert." Simon nodded. "The Alliance did the same to the warehouse district, not nothing left standing on that whole miserable world that ain't been turned to dust." Another nod from Simon who was now giving the Captain a curious look. "So here's the thing that's been botherin' me, doc. Why did the gorram Alliance ship turn to dust?"

A small light voice chirped from behind them. "I could tell you..."

They turned their heads and found themselves looking straight into River Tam's eyes. She was sitting in the far corner with her legs folded under her and a look on her face like the cat that got all the gorram cream. Her smile turned into a wicked little grin.

"But then I'd have to kill you!"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *bei chao* = not so noisy *dong ma* = understand? *wode ma* = mother of God *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *shifu* = sir *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *jieshi* = explain *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *duibuqi* = sorry *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *diyu* = hell *weishenme* = why? *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wei* = hey! *xie xie ni* = thank you *dang ran* = of course


Tuesday, February 19, 2013 10:55 AM


Cute ending.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 11:41 AM


Hmm, I think this isn't quite over. There's still the plot thread about Lucy, Suzie, and David. And with Serenity's luck, well, at some point the two plot lines will intersect.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 3:34 PM


I just delighted in some of the turns of phrase here, Ali.

"the two men lapsed into a highly charged and almost painful silence." -- liked how you highlighted that moment in the conversation between Urquhart and the doctor.

"Kaylee standing so close to him you could not have got a piece of flimsy between them." -- delightful and funny image!

"SHE is standing RIGHT HERE!" -- River is so right to call them out on talking about her as if she's not standing right there. They all have a tendency to do that, even her brother.

Liked Mal in Command Mode as River's urgency translates into immediate action from him.

Urquhart makes the decision to pursue Serenity rather than try to save his crew, the hundan. Although I'm not sure they could have been saved anyway. I was happy to see him disintegrate to dust, since he shed his humanity long ago. Too bad he had to take an entire shipload of people with him.

"Kaylee went to follow but the Captain raised an eyebrow at her. "Your name Simon?" -- this and several other lines of dialog in this section made me laugh!

Altogether an interesting and well done chapter, Ali. As Bytemite points out, not all the threads are wrapped up yet, so more to come, I'm sure.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 9:30 AM


Glad you liked it Nutluck but this is not yet the end as Bytemite and Ebfiddler spotted plus I always flag up the last chapter as the conclusion. I did smile at your logic Bytemite and can't fault you for it! So happy you liked the turns of phrase in this chapter, Ebfiddler. And yes, they all have a habit of overlooking the presence of River and talking about her as if she is not there, always good when she puts them right. Thank you all so much for the shiny feedback, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:44 AM


Well I meant ending of this chapter/page. Not end to the story.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:46 AM


Thanks for clarifying Nutluck. More to come! Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, March 9, 2013 5:36 PM


so good, you just do this crew and ship so well, so true to the series, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart AliD


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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.