BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 40. "Competing Forces"
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The others were seated facing him so only he saw what was revealed. He took a sharp intake of breath and paled slightly.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1621    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: COMPETING FORCES" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 40. Sequel to "DOING RIGHT" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PC-13 SUMMARY: Jerrod decides to come clean with Mal. The news finally reaches the Alliance about the loss of Urquart, his ship and crew. Meanwhile River is torn between unbearable excitement and absolute terror the nearer they get to Lilac."

"COMPETING FORCES"

A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Not nobody nowhere could resist Kaylee Frye. The girl had a bigger output of heat and warmth than any sun in the 'verse and now she was shining that radiant charm, with all her innocent glory, at Jerrod Perkins. The man didn't know what to do or say but felt drawn to the sunny girl, a smile on his lips he could not fight when he met her gaily laughing eyes. How in the wide 'verse had a stubborn cuss like Malcolm Reynolds aligned himself with his own personal piece of the gorram sun? She looked too young to be away from home and too happy to be flitting around the black in this old rust bucket of a Firefly and yet he had to admit the craft was a sturdy beast and like to surprise you with unexpected turns of speed.

"Hear you an' your crew're gettin' off on Lilac."

He felt a twinge of guilt but the girl looked guileless. "We lost everythin' on Anaeron."

Kaylee nodded, her smile faltering with sadness and regret and Jerrod felt bad for dimming that sunny aspect. "*Wode duibuqi*. Ya know ya could maybe find a place for yourselves here if ya got nothin' on Lilac. Not permanent of 'course, barely make enough to keep ship an' crew flyin' so not much to spare, *dong ma*?"

Perkins nodded, he understood and was oddly touched to know he could find a place here on Serenity until he and his men could find work of their own to start again but he still shook his head. "*Xie xie ni*, Miss Kaylee, but we got families on Lilac."

Kaylee flushed and he thought it added lovely highlights to her reddening cheeks. Brought a larger smile to his lips. "I didn't realise..."

"Ain't nothin' to be apologisin' over, *nu haizi*. Anaeron ain't never been a friendly place, not the kind of world to take anyone you care to. We only got a warehouse there 'cause business is business an' 'cause of the problem with the dust rates are real low means we keep more of our profits." He paused, his loss sinking in. "Least we did."

"What'll ya do now?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*."

"If ya want I can speak to the Cap'n, pack up some of the supplies ya gave us. Could come in right handy for the family back home."

He found it hard to swallow. Was there nothing the girl wouldn't do to help them? And then there was the other one, the waif. What was her name? Oh yes, River. Strange girl but with a mix of something both innocent and worldly wise that was kind'a off-putting. Had a look to her that gave him a creepifying feeling as if she was seeing right inside his head. Girl seemed to know things, things she oughtn't to know. He realised with a jolt that Kaylee was speaking to him.

"*Hai hao ma*?."

"*Mei you shenme ke daxin de*, I'm fine. Was just thinkin' is all."

"Then I'll just go," Kaylee waved a hand behind her "speak to the Cap'n. Have the food ready for ya to take when we land."

"No, no, don't do that!" Seeing Kaylee's surprise he quickly flashed another smile and explained. "I'll speak to him myself, *dong ma*? Just don't be worryin' about the food, we got plenty on Lilac."

At Kaylee's grateful look he felt a mite better but the talking had got him thinking about what was really on his mind and he realised he needed to have a different kind of conversation with the Captain than he had been planning on. Now, before his courage failed him.

* * * * *

Badger's face twisted up tight and ugly. "What d'you mean you can't find 'im? Man was practically perched on my gorram shoulder waitin' for me to open the bloody box."

"Maybe he gave up waitin', *laoban*?"

The little King Pin huffed, not liking the sound of that but it was a distinct possibility. After all, he had not bothered to hide how unimpressed he was both with the Lady's major domo and the *liwu*. If the man had gone back to the Lady and complained about his attitude it could spell real trouble.

"What do you want us to do, *laboan*?"

"Get some more of the men, split up an' have another look. Maybe he did leave, maybe not. Can't afford to take any chances, *dong ma*?"

When the men had left Badger looked down at the metal insect impaled on the heel of his shoe and bent out of shape. Funny. Despite how tangled the metal was it had not spilt or broken up though it looked a right mess. Better the bug than him. His lips twisted in a sour expression. If the Lady considered a small assassin like this a gift then what other little nasty surprises might she have in her arsenal?

* * * * *

They had waited with varying degrees of patience, worry and suspicion. Now they had all they would receive of a definitive answer but could it be trusted? The Chancellor stared at the communications tech officer.

"If you cannot trace the origin of the message how can you guarantee the signator?"

The picture was a mite grainy but clear enough. After all, it had been re-routed and piggy backed onto numerous other systems to keep the connection both clean and anonymous. Chancellor Davidson was only too aware that this protected the sender as well as the receiver, not necessarily his first choice but the best in the current clime. The Alliance prided itself on having the best of the best but this operative was a pretty high notch above the rest. Sometimes you had to give a little to gain a lot.

"The original transmission has been encoded and encrypted for Your Eyes Only, Chancellor."

The Chancellor's eyes narrowed. "Then how did you come to see it?"

The grin was small, a quick feral flash. Too rapid for the Chancellor to decide whether it was a touch too smug and triumphant or merely a result of nerves. Either was a cause for suspicion. "I didn't, *shifu*. It carried a descriptor with a brief indication of the content but not the full report."

He blinked. Davidson had never heard of such a thing before, what did it mean? Was the sender aware then of this particular low level operative? As highly skilled as the man was it disturbed him that information meant for himself and their Black Ops Division had gone through other electronic high tech systems first but then, how else could it reach them without leaving a trail?

"*Shifu*, do you want the information burst passed on to you or do you wish it to be destroyed?"

That shook him out of his brief reverie. "No, no, send it through. Just make sure it is carrying this message and nothing else, *dong ma*?"

The communications tech nodded, no trace of a smile on his lips now. All business. Within a second the information was on its' way and the operative had signed off. Chancellor Davidson did not thank him. One did not elevate minions to the level of equals even when they were useful to you.

The room was silent as the data packet opened with the Chancellor's password and code. The others were seated facing him so only he saw what was revealed. He took a sharp intake of breath and paled slightly. Quickly he scrolled through the images that told the story more eloquently than words then closed and sealed the packet. Looking up he straightened slightly, pulling himself together to deliver the bad news.

"Gentlemen, Commandant Urquart and his crew successfully completed their test of the new weapon. The material however is far more efficient than even our experts had allowed and it is my painful duty to inform you that as well as the destruction of all life and property on Anaeron and Ithaca Moon the cost was high. We also lost Urquart, his ship and crew."

For a blessed moment there was complete silence then pandemonium erupted. Committee members leaping to their feet demanding to know how this could have happened. Procurement department heads worried that they had lost most of the base material needed to create more of the dust. The representatives from Blue Sun watched, listened and said nothing. Only when the noise level tapered to a low disturbed rumble of disquiet did the Chancellor continue. His eyes flicked over to where the two Blue Sun representatives sat like undertakers waiting to dispose of a body.

"It did however, provide us with the level of destruction you promised." Davidson paused briefly, determined not to show how much he disliked the cost paid to establish that fact. "I can confirm the dust creates an extinction level event."

One of the thin gaunt men folded his hands on the table before him, the thin blue gloves as much part of his attire as the dark suit and blank expression on his cadaverous face. "*Hen hao*. We will need to examine the evidence."

The Chancellor nodded. "*Dang ran."

Only when he was at last alone did the Chancellor let it all sink in. He hung his head for a moment before accepting the loss. He did not particularly like Urquart but the man had been brutally effective and totally loyal to the Alliance and its' aims and a man had to respect that. They were in murky territory now. Not that it was anything new for the Alliance but some things were best kept out of the public domain and this was one of them. If only they had had this weapon when the War started they could have wiped out all opposition without losing a single man themselves. Every Browncoat nest would have been reduced to dust: men, women and children along with their weapons, houses and livestock. Everything gone in the blink of an eye with only the mighty Alliance left standing. They had of course won without it but he knew little pockets of resistance had survived and were seeded on many of the outer and middle rim planets. Not in numbers large enough to start a new War but enough to annoy and niggle High Command at Alliance Headquarters.

A small chilly smile settled on Chancellor Davidson's thin lips. They had this weapon now, a weapon against which nothing and no one could stand. If the rebels ever managed to grow in enough numbers to foment a new rebellion they would be wiped out completely. For once and for all. It was the Chancellor's job to secure the funding for all the Black Ops Projects but this was now his priority. Production of the dust would be stepped up, intensified to replace that which was lost. Once that was done they could choose their next target at leisure. Nothing and no one would be able to stand against them.

* * * * *

Simon was not so much worried about River as mildly baffled. He thought he had seen all her moods but this was something else. A mix of emotional currents that he had never navigated before. Was she happy, upset, depressed? Did he need to get a smoother ready? River's head jerked up and towards him in a quick bird-like action, her eyes no longer lacking focus but sharp and intent. Her legs folded beneath her on the bed in her room. He froze.

"I was worried about you, *mei mei*."

"Not *shenjingbing* even when I act like I am."

"*Shenme shi*?"

She tilted her head and seemed to drift off, his heart missing a beat as if he was somehow losing her, but River snapped back into the Here and Now so quickly that he wondered if he had imagined it. "*Wo bu zhidao* but it's getting closer."

"What is, River?"

"The good and the bad. Can't choose between them until they get close and by then it could be too late."

Her words ended in a small muted wail that had Simon moving without even having to think about it, his arms opening to cradle his sister close to his heart. He started to rub his hands up and down her arms, a doctor's care and a brother's love staring at her in alarm. "River, you're freezing!"

"Can't be, there's no frost and my lips haven't turned blue."

"What did you mean about good and bad?"

"New friends and old enemies. We have to be prepared."

Simon paused. "Are you saying we're in danger?"

Suddenly a huge smile broke out over River's face which lit up with delight. "Strawberries!"

Dazed, the doctor just stared at his sister just as the tatami door to her room was slid open and Kaylee stuck her head through. Her lips were reddened and still wet. "Ya comin' out to get somethin' to eat or I gotta finish them off all by myself?"

River jumped off the bed and darted out of Simon's reach, her hand dipped down to grab a strawberry as she passed Kaylee.

"*Wei*! That's my strawberry!"

River grinned, the strawberry pinned between her teeth, the juice running down her laughing mouth. "Mine now!"

Then she was gone, her laughter echoing behind her in a bright ribbon of sound. Kaylee turned and gave Simon a look of amusement then dipped her head so she was looking at him through her eyelashes. "Wash says we're more'n four hours to planet fall."

"I should speak to the Captain..."

He didn't get any further. Kaylee closed the door behind her and stalked towards him, slowly sucking on a strawberry in the most suggestive way he had ever seen anyone eat fruit. Simon felt warm, had someone turned up the heating? Then Kaylee was pressing herself up against him. Simon opened his mouth just as she kissed him, the fruit in her mouth now pushed between his teeth with her tongue as she toppled him onto his back.

"Kaylee, I..."

It was the last bit of coherent speech the good doctor managed before Kaylee devoured more than just strawberries.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds knew who was at his hatch before the man knocked. Not a tentative knock neither which meant Jerrod had come to some kind of decision. Likely irreversible. The Captain closed the big ledger in which he kept Serenity's accounts. Careful juggling between what they had and what they didn't left him knowing the margin of error he had to get not what they needed but what they could afford to be going on with. Never did have enough to get everything especially with Kaylee's ever increasing wish list of ship parts. If he let the girl have her way he was sure they could build from scratch another two Firefly transports, not that he had any intention of saying as much out loud. Instead he turned in his chair and faced the ladder down to his bunk.

"*Qing jin*, door ain't locked!"

The hatch swung open and Jerrod began to clamber down, pausing only to shut the hatch behind him on the way. So, not a social visit. "Mal, we need to talk"

The Captain nodded and put down his pen. Now that Jerrod was there he was not sure this was such a good idea but it was too late to change his mind and he could not be certain that the *shenjingbing* girl wouldn't say something before he and his men disembarked. Besides, he really didn't want to cause Serenity and her crew any trouble. They could have left him and his people back on Anaeron and made good their escape but these folks weren't like the back-stabbing *tamade hundan* he had spent too much of his life dealing with. It was that realisation that gave the final nudge to his conscience.

"It's about Rafe, Mal."

The Captain didn't dare say anything, trying to not show how eager he was to hear what looked to be some kind of confession. Jerrod Perkins' face flushed as if realising the same thing then he straightened his back and explained what he knew as best he could. It was something of a relief to see how surprised and shocked the Captain was at hearing the news. Not disgust, no not that. That would surely come later.

"You're sayin'," said the Captain slowly, his voice kind of hushed "that Rafe was workin' for Blue Sun?

"Didn't know it for the longest time, Mal, you have to believe me. He'd always been rantin' an' ravin' about the ruttin' Alliance. Figured he felt the same way about those creepy sumbitches but then I got to hearin' a bit more. Stuff I wasn't supposed to know, *dong ma*?"

"Go on."

"He was speakin' all quiet like to one of his men. At first I thought it was Rolo but then I realised it was that mechanic."

"Jonas?"

Jerrod bobbed his head and sat on the end of the bed, him and Mal only a foot or so apart now. As if what he had to impart needed as little distance as possible to be conveyed. Didn't want any chance that other ears could eavesdrop on their conversation even though the hatch was shut and locked. A man couldn't be too careful when dealing with Grey Ghosts and Black Squads. "*Qu*, Jonas Merritt. Always seemed a pretty sensible level headed sort but he an' Rafe shared a secret, Mal. One that was burned into me just listenin' in on 'em. Didn't mean to but the mention of a different kind'a terraformin' caught my attention. What the good gorram did they mean? There weren't but one method of terraformin' an' it weren't as if the hulk of his old ship could perform that function no more what with the guts ripped out of it but that was where I was wrong Mal." His voice dropped into a deeper register and the hairs on the back of the Captain's neck stirred. "Dead wrong."

* * * * *

The alley was dark and silent as the grave but it wasn't empty. Badger's men had given it a cursory look over but dismissed it as being a dead end. As they passed on, eyes glittered in the dark and Matthew James Wong silently eased out of the shadow into a splinter of light falling from a lantern across the street from the alley. With the kind of care and stealth that hunters dream of achieving, Wong turned the hunters into the hunted. He kept to the shadows and places the men had already checked none of them thinking to look behind them and unlikely to have spotted him if they had. He was a master at many disciplines and the Lady's displeasure had been a black mark upon his soul. One of these careless *wangba dans* would make the first down payment on clearing that debt. The final payment would be the odious little King Pin himself.

* * * * *

Suzie and Davie felt excited. Couldn't wait to get off the ship and take a look around but Monty was more cautious even though he did not think the children would come to harm on Lilac. It was their volatile little friend that troubled him. Girl with fits and starts like that would draw all kinds of attention. He did not know that Suzie, Davie and Lucy knew exactly what he was thinking. Lucy made herself calm down, annoyed that she had completely lost control and lashed out before checking whether or not it was safe. She had been *ben dan* and now the Captain who had taken the others in was thinking she was a whole 'verse load of trouble. Lucy waited for her moment then approached the big man as soon as she could get him alone. It was almost amusing to see that great behemoth of a man give her a wary look but it also saddened her. She had not been looking to make enemies. "*Wode duibuqi*. I didn't mean to freak out but I woke up, didn't know where I was an' then there were strangers crowdin' round me."

"You could have asked. Got a tongue in your head, *dui*?"

His voice was deep and gruff but thought he was scowling at her she saw it as the mask it was. He was not angry at her but needing to make sure she understood her actions had been unwarranted. Lucy nodded and gave a small sigh. "I've been runnin' for so long, everybody I meet fills me with fear."

Monty indicated for her to sit down then sat opposite, one hand brushing down his considerably bushy whiskers as he looked at her thoughtfully. It was easy to see the fashion of his thoughts and realise this was a good man. Big, burly and no doubt mean when roused he was also kind hearted but nobody's fool. "Maybe it's time you told your story."

At the sudden flash of alarm in her eyes, Monty almost smiled.

"Have to trust somebody sometime, *nu haizi*." He said softly.

The kindness in his eyes almost undone her. A tear broke loose and rolled slowly down one cheek. Alarmed, Monty fumbled in his pocket and shoved a colourful hankie at her. When she didn't take it immediately he frowned.

"It's mostly clean, just a bit of engine oil on it."

Lucy nodded and snuffled into the cleanest bit, went to hand it back but Monty shied away as if touching it now would bite him.

"Yours now." He growled.

With a nod Lucy decided it would be good to confide in someone. She had tried with Suzie and Davie but they didn't trust her, even though all three of them were in the same metaphorical row boat and not an oar between them. When she finished Monty stared at her, stunned.

"You sayin' you can see into folks heads?" He twirled the fingers of one hand alongside his head.

"*Bu qu*, I don't see, I hear. Not out loud but here, in my head."

"Huh." Well, didn't that beat all? "An' you say these folks're after you an' the others to cut you up an' do all manner of harmful things to you?"

Lucy nodded. "I saw the tanks."

Monty blinked. Tanks? What kind of War was this child talking about?

"Not that kind. These are glass, taller than a person *dong ma*? They were filled with somethin', not water but clear, an' people were inside the tanks. A lot of them were smaller than me."

*Wode ma*, Monty had to use a great deal of effort not to rip off a string of curses that would make even Jayne Cobb blush. "Lucy, what in the nine hells them folks want with you an' children like you?"

A new track of tears rolled down her face but both ignored them. "The man with the sword said they were gonna build a better world."

* * * * *

Shepherd Book heard Malcolm Reynolds out in silence. "Oh my, this is worse than I thought."

"You thought about this stuff?"

"I think about a lot of things, Captain. It does explain a few things though."

Zoe looked ready to shoot someone and annoyed as *diyu* at not having a target to hand. It was just as well that Jerrod and his crew had gone with Jayne to lift some weights. Zoe thought Jerrod was all manner of cowardly for dropping this bombshell in the Captain's lap then making himself scarce so other people would face the fall out.

"It's not like that."

The first mate turned to look at River. "What do you know about this, little one?"

"He didn't want to hide it from you but didn't know how to tell."

"He found his tongue now." Noted Wash.

"I think it was right fine of him to speak up." Put in Kaylee, not wanting the crew ganging up on Jerrod and his people just because the news he gave was so shocking. Simon was not exactly on the same page, after all the dust had almost killed them. Different types of it almost killed the Captain twice. "Could'a just got off on Lilac an' we'd be none the wiser."

"We could have used this information earlier, Kaylee." Said Simon.

"Oh, I don't think it would have made as much difference as you think." Book paused and looked at everyone, his gaze ending on the Captain. "The more interesting question is what do we do now?"

Inara had been standing in the kitchen area making mugs of tea. Kaylee jumped up to help her hand them around the table then sat down. Inara did not take a seat but stood just behind the Captain's chair, there being no empty seat next to him. Kaylee quickly sipped her tea to hide a grin, pleased as punch at how close the Captain and Inara were getting. Not wanting to say the wrong thing and jinx it.

The Captain gave Inara a brief little smile and sipped his tea for a moment, his look thoughtful. Everyone waited to find out what he would say. "I'm thinkin' this don't change anythin' in the short term. We still gotta find out where that gorram dust is bein' made."

"We do know it is likely to be a Blue Sun facility, sir, that should cut down on some of the speculation."

"Still, that's a very wide net to cast." Book opined.

"Have to speculate to accumulate." Said River in a sing song voice.

Simon shook his head. "That isn't very helpful, *mei mei*."

"Is so." River suddenly tilted her head as if listening to something then a big wide smile blossomed on her pale face. There was something almost other worldly about River Tam. "Time to go!"

"We haven't finished our discussion yet." Protested Zoe, but River was already on her feet and tugging at Wash's sleeve to get him up.

"Woah, what's the rush?"

"Can't narrow the net until we land."

Everyone stared at River. The Captain put his mug down real slow and never took his eyes off her. "Need you to speak plain, little one."

"Captain Dummy talk?"

"Cap'n Dummy talk."

"The others have landed and we'll need their help. We have to land NOW or we'll miss them."

Wash got up, ready to hurry off to the bridge on the Captain's nod. Mal held up a hand to get Wash to wait a minute longer. "*Shei* River? These fine folk got names?"

"Like me but running. The compass needs hands not feet but we're running out of time."

Even though River's explanation did not make things any clearer the Captain sensed what she meant and waved Wash to go and prepare the ship for landing. Things were beginning to move apace and he was determined not to lose any chance to track down that secret facility. The part about kids floating upright in jars was too chilling for words but woe betide those responsible if he got his gorram hands on them. As everybody got to their feet Inara hissed in the Captain's ear.

"Is this wise, Mal? We have no idea what we'll be up against."

He turned his head and her heart faltered at the grim expression on his face. "Wise? *Bu qu*. But necessary. If we don't follow this through Inara the gorram Alliance, Blue Sun an' whatever secret units they got operatin' are like to finish fine tunin' this death weapon an' wipe out all opposition to their rule. Know what that means?"

At his bleak look she was afraid to even reply.

"It means the end of freedom as we know it, *xin gan*. Not just for our ownselves but for every man, woman an' child in the gorram 'verse. Fought a War for that freedom, may have lost the War but still got my liberty. We don't stop this now that is a luxury not none of us will ever have again."

"Mal, you're talking about starting another War!"

"No, no I ain't. I'm meanin' to stop one."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *dong ma* = understand? *xie xie ni* = thank you *nu haizi* = girl *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *hai hao ma* = are you okay? *mei you shenme ke daxin de* = there's nothing to worry about *laoban* = boss *liwu* = gift *shifu* = sir *hen hao* = very good/I feel okay *dang ran* = of course *mei mei* = little sister *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wei* = hey! *qing jin* = come in *shenjingbing* = crazy *tamade hundan*/*wangba dan* = fucking bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ben dan* = moron (lit. stupid egg) *dui* = correct *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wode ma* = mother of God *diyu* = hell *shei* = who *xin gan* = sweetheart

COMMENTS

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 9:56 PM

NUTLUCK


Very cool and it looks like all the parts are slowly coming together.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 8:55 AM

AMDOBELL


Yes, they are Nutluck. All manner of chickens coming home to roost. Thanks for the shiny comment, Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, April 6, 2013 9:07 AM

MALSDOXY


Mal, Mal, Mal...what sort of misbehavin' are you gonna have to do NOW?? They'll meet up with Monty and the kids, River will spew some more obtuse information, plans will be made, THINGS WILL GO WRONG...next chapter, please and xie xie, AliD

Sunday, April 7, 2013 3:37 AM

AMDOBELL


Gorramit Malsdoxy, you know me so well! All manner of things coming up so hang on tight and thanks for the shiny feedback. Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, April 7, 2013 3:53 PM

EBFIDDLER


I found the Chancellor chilling -- who could sit so calmly and take in the news about the deadly dust, and then calmly plan genocide for all opposition to the Alliance. Mal's quite right, he lost the war but they didn't take his liberty from him, and that's what they're aiming to do now. I believe that they're going to meet up with Monty and the children soon, and the disparate threads of this story are going to intertwine. Thanks for another good chapter!

Monday, April 8, 2013 4:50 AM

AMDOBELL


Yes, that Chancellor isn't on my party list either, Ebfiddler. The threads are coming together, some more obvious than others. So happy you are enjoying the story, shiny! Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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