THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 42. "The Gorram Plan"
Saturday, April 20, 2013

When Simon stared at her River continued, her voice sounding more like a school marm than his little sister. River in lecture mode was not to be messed with.


TITLE: "THE GORRAM PLAN" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 42. Sequel to "ON THE ROAD TO WHO KNOWS WHERE" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: Mild NC-17 SUMMARY: "Badger doesn't like it when the other shoe drops. The Captain reveals his Plan which leaves everybody wondering if they will survive it."


A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The girl's body was pale but soft, taut perky nipples testament to youth not age. Everything about her body was lithe and ripe with temptation. Badger could not suppress his need, the itching of fingers wanting to touch, to explore, to draw out cries of passion beyond those of pain or loathing. He did not flatter himself that the prostitute would ever have picked him but she had needs just not the same as his. Her needs were more basic, those of the soul on a breadline. Coin for food, clothing and a roof over her head even if all those wants were provided at the cost of her virginity and dignity in the House Madame's brothel.

Feeling pleased with himself Badger had insisted on bathing first but not intending to lift so much as a finger to clean himself. No, that was her job. Well, one of his many increasing demands. She kept her head lowered, lashes fanned down over her eyes to shut him out but he demanded she lift her head. He wanted to see her, to watch, to enjoy what he was paying for. Afterwards he exhausted himself taking what he wanted not caring and pretending not to notice when the salt of her tears flavoured his sexing. It could not be called love making and although she had chosen this life out of despair, a detached observer would not have exactly called it willing either.

With a self satisfied sigh Badger rolled over to look at her but to his intense annoyance the girl had already gone. He huffed his displeasure then a smile broke out across his face as he remembered and luxuriated in reliving every touch and movement, all his senses revelling in the release of pent up tension and frustration. Likely the girl would have some bruises, he knew he could be rough when he was like this, but she was well paid and he fancied he probably treated her better than most. Yeah, better than. His smile morphed into a smirk then he got up and got himself dressed. It was the start of another day and there was business to be done.

* * * * *

"I should check the girls, Captain. Especially Lucy."

Serenity's Captain looked concerned. "You sayin' they been hurt? Beaten or somesuch?"

It was Monty who clarified. "Lucy wasn't well, Mal. Collapsed and passed out when she came onboard my boat then started havin' fits, of the violent type *dong ma*?"

"Traumatised. Seen too much, endured too much."

They turned their heads to look at River Tam. Simon had last seen her talking to the girls, trying to reassure them they were safe before coaxing them to go with her and Kaylee to get something to eat in the commons room. None of them had heard his sister double back and follow them into the infirmary. Simon looked worried.

"Did they tell you what happened?"

River nodded. "The Hunter was also a collector, hunting the strongest readers. Discarding them once he took what he wanted."

The Captain didn't like the sound of that. "You saying that *tamade hundan* raped them?"

"*Bu qu*, all in the head."

"River," said Simon slowly "*ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"He rapes their minds."

The men exchanged worried glances. Monty felt uncomfortable but could not walk away now. He needed to know what had happened and it seemed River was the only one able or willing to tell them. "What about physically? Did he, you know, touch 'em in a wrong way?"

River shook her head. "Not in the way you mean but he terrified them, tried to reach them with his mind and force them to come to him. It didn't go well."

Something was bothering the Captain. "You said he was also a collector?"

"*Qu*." River took a step towards him and poked his forehead right between his eyes making the Captain blink and take a step back. "The pineal gland."

"The whabba what?"

"The pineal gland, Captain," explained Simon is located in the brain, it is also known as the pineal body. It secretes a hormone like substance, melatonin, which may influence rhythms of activity."

The Captain gave him a blank look. "*Shenme*?"

"It's a small piece of tissue attached to the posterior wall of the third ventricle of the brain."

"Some call it the third eye." Offered River helpfully.

"That isn't based on fact, River."

She poked her tongue out at her brother and carried on explaining to the Captain and Monty. Contrary to Simon being top three per cent at MedAcad he did not know everything. "Think of the evolution of species. In some lower vertebrates the pineal gland develops a lens and retina which shows it to be derived from an eye or pair of eyes situated on the top of the head in ancestral vertebrates."

"River, that has nothing to do with us, we are human beings." Her brother protested.

"Don't interrupt!" When Simon stared at her River continued, her voice sounding more like a school marm than his little sister. River in lecture mode was not to be messed with. "The pineal gland still detects light through the skull in some fish, lizards and birds. The historical evolution of the gland in lower vertebrates is what gave rise to the belief that the pineal gland in humans could be developed by meditation and trance."

"Why in the nine hells would anyone wanna do that?" Asked Monty.

"To open the Third Eye."

Simon opened his mouth to discount his sister's assertion but she turned her head and pinned him with a look that had him closing it again.

"Not saying it's true but some believe it and not everything is known about what it can do."

For a moment no one spoke, as if River's input were confusing them even more. The Captain couldn't figure how it had anything to do with the children but that didn't mean it was so. It was the not knowing that was bothering him. "So this is an eye that ain't an eye?"

River leaned forward, eyes locked on the Captain's. "Imagine a small gland, shaped like a little pine cone with a small body at the end of an up-growth from the optic thalami of the brain. A vestigial third eye in front of the pineal body."

"River, I got no clue what you just said except some animals had this eye that could detect light, *dui*?"

"We have one too but not developed in the same way. Some people believe it can be trained, accessed and awakened."

Mal and Monty exchanged wary looks, both men feeling kind of uneasy and out of their depth. Simon wanted to reassure them that while everything his sister said was basically true it did not have any bearing on the children and what was happening to them but River gave him a stern look before he could say what he was thinking.

"Don't discount the possibility before the facts are established, Simon. What we think doesn't matter."

"It doesn't?"

River shook her head. "*Bu qu*. We have to think like the Hunter."

"Little one, the Hunter's dead, *jide*?" Said the Captain gently. "Lucy said she killed him."

"*Wo zhidao* but what did he believe?"

"It's not like we can ask him."

"No," agreed River, her eyes shining "but we can do the next best thing."

* * * * *

It was bitterly cold. The kind that ate into a man's bones no matter what he was wearing. Skin, flesh, clothing, all were but flimsy pathetic outer garments unable to keep a body warm. How could the inside be near as cold as the outside anyway? Even with the filter mask the only relief for any of them was being out of the cruel wind. Harsh, unremitting and as tender as a scouring pad made of razor blades. Titan Station was a cruel proto-moon, part terraformed, part forgotten by all but the nastiest of power hungry *hundan*. It was a place kept apart not only by distance and its' inhospitable clime but also by its' very nature as a top security prison. Only McFarlane knew it was more than that.

The electric prod surprised him into crying out as his body felt the electrification frying bits of him that just a split second before had been numb of all feeling. "Get a move on, 17832."

It was on the tip of his tongue to say he had a name but what was the use? Besides, he didn't want that twisted excuse for a human being to get too comfortable with his name. Staggering to get his balance, Ryan McFarlane forced himself to comply. He knew where they were taking him. Wished he didn't. The sleek top of the range inter atmospheric craft had landed almost an hour ago, it's sleek shiny body catching reflections of light from the blinding white ice and snow on the benighted proto-moon beneath it. Wasn't Alliance, he knew that much. No. It was way worse than that.

* * * * *

He felt almost light of heart. Relaxed. Smug. Sated. Badger swaggered as he headed towards his warehouse, hand already fishing out the keys and his handy little data pad. Without that pad no one could get in or out. He liked the new fangled piece of tech, made him feel safe. Secure. When he was still a dozen yards from the complex he started to frown and sniff. Was that gorram smoke? He turned his head every which way looking for tell tale signs of a fire only there was nothing to see, not until he reached his warehouse. The door was still closed, looked to be secure even, but it was all blackened as if someone had tried to set light to it. And where was his security?

Almost afraid to open up, Badger connected the data pad after brushing the port clean of soot. He had a bad feeling about this but if no one got in what was the harm? Only he didn't feel half as cocky now. The door opened with a creaking sound and slowly Badger pushed it open all the way, hanging back in case something foul came charging out at him but nothing stirred. It was black as night inside. He reached out for the light switch and recoiled as he touched something foul and slimey as he flicked it on. The light momentarily blinded him while the stench had him gagging. What the...?

Stunned, Badger stared, eyes wide as saucers. He stared at the blackened lumps on the ground before taking a closer look and realising it was all that remained of the men he had left to guard his place overnight. Dashing outside, he bent over and threw up. Fear touched him deep leaving him badly shaken. That could'a been him in there, cooked to a cinder and still smoking. He started to wonder who had done this when a dread certainty crept over him. He knew and the knowing of it was worse than any nightmare he could have come up with.

* * * * *

Wash was not sure what to make of the meeting. All of Serenity's crew, Jerrod and his people plus Monty. The fact that Monty had left his own crew on his boat at least was something. The only ones not present were Inara and Kaylee who had elected to look after the three children, taking them up to Inara's shuttle so they would not be part of the discussions going on in the commons area. River did not point out that you could not keep anything from a Reader. Simon had wanted to give the three children thorough medical checks but the Captain had told him that would have to come later, he wanted Simon to be present. Glancing at his sister in no way enlightened him. River had a vacant look on her face which made his heart miss a beat. He loved her so much and she had been through so many terrible trials yet how could he protect her? At least the Captain had been right about Serenity, they were always on the move and everyone knew a moving target was harder to hit. Simon just would have preferred no one to be aiming at them in the first place.

The air of anticipation was almost palpable. Jayne Cobb kept flicking an eye over Jerrod and his men, not sure why they were still there. Weren't they supposed to be getting off on Lilac? Book had given him a rough outline of what the Captain wanted to do which he thought was suicidal but then this was Malcolm Reynolds and the man hadn't been half sane to begin with. It didn't explain why Jayne stayed though.

"Jer, I want you to tell everyone what you told me."

The man stared at the Captain as if he had just been invited to stick his head in a gorram noose but Mal waited expectantly, his look patient and reassuring. Swallowing slowly, Jerrod Perkins began. Zoe's look hardened as she listened to the story unfolding, hardly believing what she was hearing about Rufus Pol, the terraforming ship and what he had really been doing on Ithaca Moon. Putting the pieces together sickened her. Jayne was not as patient as the others.

"You sayin' he was workin' for the gorram Aliance?"

"Not exactly."

"Say what ya mean."

Jerrod sighed. "It was Blue Sun Industries, on'y I never knew until right at the end. When I first met Rufus he had already been on Ithaca Moon a good while. His terraformin' ship had the guts ripped out of it I assumed by the Alliance though it was never explained why he still had the gorram carcass though he did have those huge cranes an' some earth movin' equipment so the line he strung me made a kind'a sense."

Simon looked intrigued. "What kind of line?"

"Rufus said he used the ship as a base much as I use my warehouse on Anaeron. He got jobs where he had to move heavy plant an' equipment, stuff too big for normal equipment to handle. All sounded legit to me an' I couldn't see the sense in him lyin' about it, least not then."

Jayne was still suspicious. "How long you know he was a spy?"

"Not until after that business with Mal's faulty mask when me an' Rufus were drinkin' one night. Rufus got pretty drunk, said about how he stumbled upon how the dust came to be on Anaeron an' Ithaca Moon. That it was the waste from the terraformin' ships which I didn't think made sense. Alliance rules are strict about disposin' of it but then given who was breakin' the ruttin' rules I should'a guessed. It explained why the Alliance sent regular shipments of the gorram masks so folk could still carry on their business but not get sick." Jerrod paused. "Might'a known it were nothin' as straight forward as all that."

"*Weishenme bu*?"

"Rufus didn't tell me everythin'. See, once he figured out what they done he did some diggin' where he didn't ought to have done an' found out that not all the waste was dumped as dust. Alliance had specially adapted ships would take piles of it away on'y not in the daylight when folks might see but in the dead of ruttin' night."

Shepherd Book mulled over what he was hearing. "Did he know where they were taking it?"

"Not for a long time but he got more an' more curious an' Rufus is a man who likes to know things, *dong ma*? So he makes it his business to find out an' that's when he hears about the gorram ice planet."

Simon looked at him in surprise. "Ice planet?"

"Yeah, took Rufus more'n a year to get a name. Titan Station."

"Huh," said Jayne, sounding unimpressed "don't sound like a gorram planet to me"

"It ain't, it's what they call a proto-moon."

Jayne scowled. "Then why call it a ruttin' planet?"

"Jayne," said the Captain calmly "best let the man finish."

Monty raised an eyebrow at his cousin but the Captain gave a tiny shake of his head. He would fill Monty in later. Shepherd Book watched the by-play but said nothing. Jerrod cleared his throat before continuing.

"Seems to work the dust ya gotta stop it gettin' hot. Any kind'a heat can activate it."

"Thought it was any kind of people an' buildin's."


The big man turned his head and gave the Captain an innocent look. "*Shenme*?"

"You want we should be here all night? Now *bi zui* an' let the man finish."

"The waste from the gorram terraformin' ships acts like a kinda irritant to the lungs, like asbestos I been told but other than that it ain't harmful providin' ya wear a mask. What they been doin' though is takin' some away to Titan Station where they been experimentin' with it, addin' stuff to it to see what else it can do until finally they hit on a formula right from the pit of *diyu*. Found a way to add nanotech an' turn the gorram dust, which was dangerous enough as a by-product, into the ultimate destructive material. On'y it don't just destroy an' break down any other material it comes in contact with - organic an' inorganic - but its' ownself too. On'y stops when everythin' is reduced to a dust so fine it's more like a gorram powder." Everyone looked shocked as well they might. It was Simon who found his tongue first, that enquiring mind of his working overtime. "That's not strictly true, is it?"

Jerrod Perkins' eyes narrowed. "You callin' me a *shuohuangzhe*?"

"*Bu qu* but if it destroys everything it comes into contact with then how would Commandant Urquart have been able to carry it aboard his ship to use as a weapon?"

"Obviously he had it in some kind'a gorram containment." Said the Captain. "It's the on'y thing that makes sense."

"Then why," Simon asked slowly "did Urquart's ship end up bein' destroyed by it?"

For several minutes no one spoke then Shepherd Book's deep voice broke the silence. "Something must have broken the containment."

"Or," said Simon thoughtfully "some one."

The Captain straightened. "Why you lookin' at me?"

River spoke before Simon could answer him. "They took your mask back to their ship. Got sloppy. Didn't contain it, the dust in your mask was contaminated and active. It must have been taken into the containment area and interacted with the treated dust."

"Yeah, but how'd it get out of containment?"

The little genius smiled at Jayne. "It mutated."

The mercenary frowned. "Huh?"

"What my sister is saying is that when the Captain's mask was taken into the containment area the dust on it was still active and reacted with the dust they had engineered forming a new strain, one which was no longer confined in the same way that the original creation was."

Wash felt really uneasy. Sounded like this stuff was not just deadly but all manner of unstable. "Are we sure we want to find the facility where this comes from?"

The Captain's expression was bleak. "Gotta destroy it Wash."

"What if it destroys us?"

"That's why we're havin' this meetin'."

"It is?"

"We need to work out a plan, find a way to reach the facility, get an explosive device inside then blow the whole gorram lot of it into a fiery ball."

The silence that fell was like a death sentence. Zoe eventually said what the others were thinking. "Will that destroy it, sir?"

Monty huffed and made his only succinct contribution. "Either that or that whole ice moon will go with it."

"*Qu*, said Wash in a hushed voice "but if the cold keeps the dust inactive, in hibernation, how will we know if it has really been destroyed?"

The Captain's look was grim. "One of us will have to go down an' check."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dong ma* = understand? *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shenme* = what *dui* = correct *jide* = remember *wo zhidao* = I know *hundan* = bastard *weishenme bu* = why not *bi zui* = be quiet/shut up *diyu* = hell *shuohuangzhe* = liar *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean?


Sunday, April 21, 2013 1:49 PM


Very interesting new twist on the dust.

Monday, April 22, 2013 2:07 AM


Glad you like, Nutluck. Lots more still to come so hold on to your hat! Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 3:48 PM


oh dear god Mal really IS crazy!! it was just a matter of time before he, next chapter, please, AliD and thank you so much for this great fic [as always]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 1:54 AM


Was there really any doubt, Malsdoxy? So happy you are enjoying the story, thanks for the shiny feedback! Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 5:22 PM


Ooh, wow, now things are beginning to click. I'm not sure how they're going to manage to destroy this dust, because it seems to me an explosion might just catalyze more mutations, as it were, and keep the monster going. But maybe there's more to Mal's plan than we know. Good chapter!

Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:12 AM


Mal, you may or may not be immune, but there's other ways to check, and other ways to commit suicide too.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 1:44 PM


Glad things are beginning to click, Ebfiddler. As for the how and the why and whether it can work, the Devil as they say is in the detail. Mal isn't actually trying to commit suicide Bytemite though sometimes with his plans it is hard to tell. I appreciate the shiny feedback, thanks! Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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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.