THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 36. "Not So Smooth"
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

As the Lady looked at the perfectly crafted marvel she detected the very slight low level hum of the mechanical insect. All it lacked were new orders.


TITLE: "NOT SO SMOOTH" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 36. Sequel to "DUST TO DUST" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The Captain takes a job from Jerrod. Suzie and Davie worry about how far they can trust their new 'friend'. Meanwhile pieces are slowly slotting into place but they don't make a pretty picture."

"NOT SO SMOOTH" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"You killed him!"

Jayne frowned into the darkness, not liking the accusation but trying to see the speaker. His hand hovered over his holster but for some reason it was gorram empty. Made him feel kind'a naked and not in a good way. "I didn't kill anyone."

The figure stepped into the light and a shock went through Jayne Cobb. Gorramit it was Zoe. She had her stone killer face on and had that icy cold manner that meant she was madder than *diyu*. "You killed Wash."

"*Shenme*?" What the ruttin' *diyu* was she talking about? "Wash ain't dead, he's up on the gorram bridge. What crazy talk is this?"

Something flattened and died in Zoe's eyes. "You callin' me *shenjingbing*?"

Jayne was sweating now, the hair on the nape of his neck standing on end. He tried to take a step back but his bunk wasn't that big and he already had his back against the bed. "*Bu qu*, don't go puttin' words in my mouth an' don't go sayin' I killed someone when I ain't."

She took a step closer. "You're a murderer. You kill people for money."

"Ain't killed you."

Jayne regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. In a kind of sick fascination he froze as Zoe drew her gun and pointed it at him. With barely two feet between them she couldn't miss and Zoe was a mean shot anyway. The noise as she pulled the trigger was deafening. Sweat pouring off his face Jayne could feel a shudder go through him then, as if from a vast distance, he heard someone calling his name. Someone not Zoe.

"Jayne! Wake up, *dong ma*?"

He struggled to obey, wondering when the last of his blood would leak out of the hole Zoe had shot through his rutting heart. He didn't even wonder why he was still able to think and breathe if that were the case. The Captain shook him again, harder this time. Jayne jerked out of his reverie and tried to push the hands away, his eyes flying open in panic. "*Wei*! What ya gorram doin'?"

"Been callin' you on the com. We're about to land on Lilac an' I need you to come with me to get the cargo."

Jayne blinked stupidly at the Captain, his hands going to his chest. The Captain's eyes narrowed as he watched the man pat himself on the chest. "*Shenme shi*?"

For a moment the mercenary just stared at Mal then a scowl slid over his face when he found no bullet hole and no blood. No way was he confessing to the Captain that he'd been having a gorram nightmare. "*Yiwusuoyou*, ya just startled me."

"Yeah, well bangin' on your gorram hatch had no effect. If you wanna share of the profit you gotta do a share of the work."

As the Captain started to climb up the ladder to leave his bunk, Jayne forgot all about the nightmare, his pulse quickening at the thought of earning some coin. "Why did't ya ruttin' say?"

* * * * *

"Why should we believe you?"

Lucy didn't get impatient or mad. She understood, none better. "I was bein' hunted, could feel someone reachin' out to me. Knew if I didn't leave home whoever it was would come to the house an' I couldn't let mama or papa get hurt because of me."

Suzie thought about that for a moment. "How old are you?"

"What's that got to do with anythin'?"

"You're too young to be on your own."

Lucy's eyes widened, scarcely believing what she was hearing, then she laughed. "Is that *yige wanxiao*?" She pointed at Davie. "I'm older than he is an' you're no older than me so drop the *goushi*."

Suzie was tired, wanted nothing more than to find somewhere halfway safe so she and Davie could rest but could they really trust Lucy? Lucy could hear her thoughts as clearly as if they were her own even though Suzie thought she had blocked them. Lucy sighed, she was tired her own self.

"Okay," she said, stiffening her weary back "you don't or won't trust me. I can't afford to stay while you work it all out. If that means I have to do this alone then I will."

Alarmed, Suzie was suddenly sure that letting the girl go off on her own was the King of Bad Ideas. Without thinking her hand shot out and caught the girl's sleeve. "*Deng, wode duibuqi*. I didn't mean to be so hard on you it's just we've been runnin' for so long."

The girl paused, a question in her eyes. "Does that mean you trust me now?"

Suzie shook her head then grinned. "*Bu qu*. We don't know you but you don't know us either so I guess we're even."

Davie had been silent up until now, trying to work out whether the newcomer was a friend or a threat. "You're powerful."

Two sets of eyes homed in on his. Lucy's eyebrows rose a little. "So are you."

"You know how to get past a block. How do you do that?"

Suddenly Suzie had the feeling she had made a terrible mistake but Lucy was relaxed and actually looked pleased as if Davie had passed some kind of test. "When I know you better I'll tell you."

"Why not show me, teach me?"

Lucy laughed. Suzie wanted to berate Davie but couldn't do or say anything without Lucy being aware. The girl turned to look at her and Suzie realised everything she was thinking and feeling the other girl already knew. "You don't need to fear me." Said Lucy gently. "Your enemy is my enemy, *dong ma*?"

"*Qu*," said Suzie warily "but are you our enemy too?"

* * * * *


Matthew James Wong gave a tiny bow.

"*Fasheng shenme shir la*?"

"The details are few but it seems some kind of weapon was unleashed, my Lady. All was destroyed."


"People, buildings, everything reduced to dust."

Her eyes widened in barely controlled shock. So. It was true. The Alliance and Blue Sun had been in another collaboration. This one even more deadly it seemed than the last. "Where?"

"An outlying planet and its' moon. The planet is called Anaeron. Both have been laid to waste."

The Lady paled slightly. Entire planets? "Did anything survive?"

Her Major Domo did not smile but there was a trace of it written in his manner. They might have lost many members of their Tong but not all it seemed was lost. Holding up his closed right fist, Matthew James Wong slowly opened it. As the Lady looked at the perfectly crafted marvel she detected the very slight low level hum of the mechanical insect. All it lacked were new orders. A smile curved the thin bow of her lips, her eyes brightening for just a second.

"You have done well." She paused as the Major Domo closed his fist carefully around the prize. "Where is the Alliance ship now?"

"*Wo bu dong*."

She frowned and Wong swallowed carefully to mask even the slightest hint of nerves.

"It has not shown up in any of the expected quarters nor has the Commandant been heard from."

"Perhaps the ship has stealth technology as well."


For a moment neither spoke then the Lady cut the connection. She needed time to think. As she closed her cortex link down and pressed the switch to seal it safely behind the large heavy bookcase in her private office, her husband's voice called out to her. Rising calmly from her seat she schooled her features and went to join him.

* * * * *

Everyone was in a fine old mood. The Shepherd's deep voice was rumbling out some song never heard within Abbey walls while Kaylee laughed and Inara gently interrupted now and then as she helped make the evening meal. The Captain had no clue what they would be eating. River had been ripping labels off the cans again but at least they would have fresh vegetables with it thanks to Jerrod's supplies augmenting their own. Zoe joined them at the old oak kitchen table to hear about the new job. Wash made sure he set the proxity alarm even though they were now on Lilac and hopefully out of harm's way. With the loss of the Reknown the Alliance would be crawling all over the Black looking for anyone and anything to pin the blame on. Fact was he was surprised they had not seen sight nor sound of the Alliance since fleeing Anaron. Perhaps they didn't know the ship was lost yet? At least that was what Wash was hoping.

Jerrod smiled at the Captain and noted how happy Jayne Cobb looked now that they were away from that planet and looking to earn some cashy money. Zoe was more reserved though she too looked a mite happier. Next to Jerrod sat Howdy Marks and Billy Parks. Simon wandered over from where Book and Inara were sing songing ingredients to each other while River merrily danced about getting in the way but not managing to trip anyone up or knock anything over. Kaylee laughed at River and for once Simon was just happy to see everyone relaxed.

"This job," said the Captain "where we goin'?"


The Captain raised his eyebrows and a look passed between him and Zoe. Jerrod did not seem to notice. "Who we deliverin' to?"

"He calls himself Badger."

Simon was careful not to do or say anything to show how surprised he was. The Captain's voice grew deliberately casual. "You do work for him before?"

Jerrod Perkins gave a little shrug. "Once or twice, a long time ago which was why I hadn't expected the call." He paused then grinned suddenly. An open happy look on his face. "Was mighty relieved to tell you the truth Mal, what with everythin' on Anaeron goin' to *diyu*.

"Was this the job you were talkin' about?"

Perkins shook his head. "*Bu qu* that was a light haul this one pays better. *Weishenme*? You know him?"

The Captain nodded. "Done transport jobs for him before."

Jerrod looked relieved then frowned.

"*Shenme shi*, Jer?"

"*Mei shi* it's just he seemed surprised when I answered his wave."

"Did he now?" The Captain paused, his mind alert and working through all manner of possibilities none of which might have any bearing on the conversation. Didn't hurt to keep gorram thinking. Badger was a wiley one and he was not about to take anything for granted. "Maybehaps he thought a successful businessman like you would have some underlin' answer for him. Didn't expect to speak to the top man himself."

That produced a smile, the brief cloud on Jerrod's face passing. "Then you'll go to Persephone?"

"You get my boat fueled an' put enough coin up front for some supplies an' such an' we've got a deal."

Jerrod held out his hand and Mal shook it. After Jerrod left to pass on the news to the rest of his crew Zoe gave the Captain a long hard look. "Badger, sir?"

Tight lipped the Captain kept his reply short, voice low. No need to worry the others. "May just be a co-incidence, Zoe."

Her look said she didn't believe it. The fact that he had lowered his voice told her he felt the same way. Jayne was grinning, not picking up on the slight underlying tension. "I call it a win"

As Jayne left the table to see how the food was progressing, Wash leaned on the table and looked Mal in the eye. "Any one you walk away from?"

Zoe patted Wash's hand. "I'm sure everything'll be fine, *bao bei*."

Wash nodded in reply but was looking at the Captain, waiting for his reassurance. The look he got was a holding pattern. With a sinking feeling Wash knew what that meant. Gorramit, why couldn't anything ever go smooth?

* * * * *

"You're afraid of me."

Suzie stared at the girl as if she were quite mad. "Do you blame me?"

Lucy took a step towards her. Suzie grabbed Davie's hand and took three steps back, managing to push Davie behind him as if to shield him. Lucy stopped in her tracks, not quite able to hide the hurt. "I need your help."

"Our help?" Suzie laughed but it sounded harsh, brittle, an unlovely thing. "You dare ask? Get away from us, GO!"

"There are others." Said Lucy softly, her eyes widening as if seeing something they could not. Her voice echoing the tenth sorrow. "Some are younger than Davie. We are the lucky ones, *dong ma*? But we will be as bad as those that hunted us if we refuse to help."

"I don't trust you."

Trembling, Lucy sat down before she fell. Her body finally caving in to the need to rest, to lay down burdens no child should ever have to carry no matter her age. Davie peered around Suzie's shoulder, worry taking over from distrust and fear. All of a sudden Lucy's mind was open, thoughts unguarded and vulnerable. He did not even have to push. It was all laid bare, every sight and sound, every torment, her complete journey from the loving safety of her family to the horrors of experimentation. He cried out as much in shock as distress. Immediately Suzie turned on Lucy.

"What are you doin'? Let him go!"

Her words fell on deaf ears - literally. Even as the words left Suzie's mouth little Lucy Dengate collapsed. Her struggle against every deprivation visited upon her finally taking the last of her strength. Startled, Suzie dropped Davie's hand and stared in stunned silence as the boy hurried past here and dropped to his knees. He took the unconscious girl's cold little hand in his and wept for he had seen into the heart of her and she was not evil after all but good.

* * * * *

Inara could not pinpoint the moment everything changed. It was too subtle, a barely sensed alteration in the ambience they brought to Serenity. That feeling of belonging, of home. Something else was affecting the atmosphere and she did not like it. Turning her head Inara found Stan Evans watching her. She could not remember the man's specific role on Jerrod's crew nor could she recall ever having had a conversation with him. Yet there he was, on the edge of conversations, the outside looking in. Why did she think that and what did it mean?

The Captain's distinctive football took her attention from Evans. She forced a note of gaity into her voice as she turned towards him. "I hear you have exciting new crime lined up."

"*Bushi*, it's a legitimate job."

Inara noticed his face cloud over slightly. "*Shenme shi*?"

"Who says anythin's *cuode*?"

"Your face and my feminine wiles."

The joke fell flat. "Just found out who we're deliverin' to." He paused and watched for her reaction. "On Persephone."

The Companion's look sharpened. "Badger?"

He nodded.

"Tell me you didn't take the job, Mal."

His unease was swept to one side by surprise. "You too?"

Inara's eyebrows rose. The Captain's look turned sour.

"Zoe's none too happy neither."

"And you are?"

The Captain huffed and leaned on the rail, looking down into the cargo hold where Jayne was finishing loading the mule. Inara put a hand on his forearm, her expression earnest.

"If you feel the same way why take the job?"

"We need the coin. Jerrod's given us enough to fully fuel the ship an' get some supplies. We get the rest of the coin when the job's done."

"Are you saying the rest of the money will be paid to you by Badger?"

Mal laughed at the shock in her voice then trailed off on a chuckle. Inara was pleased to see his mood lighten if only a little. Nobody should carry a cloud that dark above his head though why the Captain was so unhappy was something of a puzzle. It was no secret that Mal and Badger were not exactly friends but this was business and the Captain had always been very good at shoving his personal feelings down deep and concentrating on the job in hand. Didn't have to like someone to do business with them and as loathsome as Badger was he did put a lot of business their way.

"*Bu qu*. It's Jer's job not Badger's. He's the one payin' us otherwise I'd be tempted to look elsewhere."

Really? Now that was a surprise. Walking away from a paying job meant it was more serious than the usual dislike so what had changed? "Mal, is something else going on?"

His smile was too bright, too sudden to be genuine. "*Fang xin*, just wasn't lookin' to be dealin' with him again so soon." The Captain straightened as Jayne yelled for him to get his *pigu* down there. He looked over the railing and met the big man's eye. "I'm comin'."

When he stepped away from the railing Inara scanned his face. "If this job has got you jumpy Mal be extra careful, *dong ma*?"

The Captain's expression softened as he reached out and touched Inara's cheek. Such a light brush of work worn fingers, had her eyes been closed she could have mistaken it for the lightest breeze. Mal lowered his voice, smooth toffee pouring over his words and making her heart beat faster while it took a second or two for her to take in what he was saying. "*Duibuqi* Inara, didn't mean to alarm you. Just with everythin' we've been through of late I wanted things to go smooth."

Then before she could ask him why they wouldn't, Malcolm Reynolds leaned in and kissed her. His lips warm and full on her partly open mouth. Inara closed her eyes and kissed him back. For a moment nothing and no one else in the 'verse existed but them. As the kiss ended Inara savoured it a moment then opened her eyes to find herself standing alone on the catwalk. Looking down she watched the Captain hurry down the metal staircase and gently touched a finger to her lips. As Mal and Jayne got in the mule, Zoe opened the cargo bay door, waited for them to clear the doorway then punched the button to close up again as she ran down the ramp to join them. As the heavy metal doors clanged shut behind them Inara could not help worrying.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *diyu* = hell *shenme* = what *shenjingbing* = crazy *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand? *wei* = hey! *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *yiwusuoyou* = nothing *yige wanxiao* = a joke *goushi* = crap/dog shit *deng* = wait *wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *qu* = yes (lit. go) fasheng shenme shir la* = what has happened? *jieshi* = explain *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *weishenme* = why? *mei shi* = it doesn't matter *bao bei* = precious/treasure *bushi* = not so *cuode* = wrong *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *pigu* = bottom *duibuqi* = sorry


Tuesday, February 26, 2013 6:20 PM


Simon is right, things never go smooth and I think things will be getting very bumpy in the near future.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 6:16 AM


Oh my, a bunch of interesting developments here. Who is the Lady's husband? You've got me curious. LIked the scene with the children trying to decide who could be trusted, all complicated by their reading and blocking abilities. Especially liked the phrase, with Wash looking for confirmation from the Captain, and finding "The look he got was a holding pattern. " <--like that description. Something's definitely up with Badger, but why? I liked the little romantic moment with Captain and Inara. What's up with Jayne and his nightmare? (You see I have lots of questions! :-) )

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 8:27 AM


Uh oh, dream with Jayne foreshadowing? Still not sure about Lucy? And we have new plots being expanded on, with villains introduced earlier. If the lady is concerned about the Alliance/Blue Sun destroying whole planets, she has no idea yet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 9:55 AM


You are right Nutluck and so is Simon about things never going smooth, hang on for some turbulence! I could give you a hint about the Lady but where would be the fun in that? All sorts still to come, with a few twists and turns but it will all make sense in the end, Ebfiddler. As for Jayne and the nightmare, keep your eyes peeled Ebfiddler and Bytemite. You will find out more about Lucy in upcoming chapters. Thank you all for the shiny feedback, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, March 9, 2013 6:11 PM


BADGER!! that bastard, now what sinister evil thing is he up to, waiting patiently [well, not really patiently] for next installment, thank you, 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.