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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 46. "Changing The Odds"
Saturday, June 8, 2013

Once there, he had his feet unbound and was prodded to walk under his own steam, hands still bound behind him, and that heavy gorram burlap sack scratching at his face every time he moved an inch.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1398    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "CHANGING THE ODDS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 46. Sequel to "DARK FORCES" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "While Book fights to regain consciousness Ryan and Elliot realise this may be the day that they die. Serenity's crew have troubles of their own and Badger comes face to face with how own private nightmare."

"CHANGING THE ODDS" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Sluggish. Sound a great yawing muffled cacophony of noises pulled and stretched every which way but failing to inform his barely functioning brain. What in the nine hells had happened? As the thought rose through the sticky treacle of congealing bits of memory, some stuck together in a bid for coherence. His mouth was so dry, could not swallow properly. Had he been drugged? A memory flashed through his brainpan and surprise, shock then anger bled through to non responsive muscles. *Wode ma*, he had been drugged! Injected with something. Obviously they had not meant to kill him just incapacitate him but why?

It took forever for the retreating sounds to disappear and silence to ease his tired brain into a fleeting semblance of control. Not movement but thought. The ability to think eased the panic in him but not the worry. Book tried to move but the action was beyond him, the message not getting through from his brain. Even trying to open his eyes was futile. As he realised the extent of his limitations a deep weariness crept over him. He tried to fight it. Needed to regain full consciousness and warn the others but he felt himself drift away on that dark tide before realising he had failed.

* * * * *

The false alarm made the guards even meaner than they had been before. No one knew who or what had set the fire alarm off but Wilkinson had his suspicions. Nothing he could prove naturally. Whoever had set it off knew the layout and coverage of each and every camera. Just before the activation one of the cameras went blind, then came the activation, followed by the camera in full operation again. As if someone had thrown a jacket or cloth over the lens.

The men were assembled in the snow covered yard, shivering and unable to get warm in their thin working clothing. The guards had not allowed any of them to put on their specially padded outdoor clothing to conserve body warmth, they did not even have a pair of rutting gloves between them. It occurred to Ryan that the guards would be just as happy if the lot of them froze to death. Was sure they could concoct some story to explain the tragic 'accident'. Gorramit they even had the activation of the fire alarm logged to use as a starting point. Elliot gave him a quick glance, worry reflecting back at him then masked as a guard moved closer. The two friends were careful not to stand next to each other, didn't want the guards pegging them as friends. Fortunately Ryan was leaning on a wall, the back of his shirt sticking to the ice and sending the cold through to his very bones. He was not yet well enough to stand unaided and an unexpected bonus of the cold was how it numbed the pain. At least the support of the wall made him appear upright and less vulnerable.

"One of you *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* set off the fire alarm. You're all gonna stay out here until the one responsible owns up!"

No one said anything. Empty, puzzled looks stared back at Wilkinson. The head guard frowned. One of the other guards sidled up to him and whispered close to his ear. "They're like to freeze to death out here, Wilko."

Wilkinson sneered back at Jimmy John Dyer. "Let 'em. If they're too dumb to realise protectin' whoever set off that gorram alarm is the stupidist thing they could do then they dont' deserve to live, *dong ma*?"

Dyer felt a mite disturbed by the chief guard's reply. "Who we gonna get to do the work if they all die?"

"*Wo bu zhidao, wo bu danxin*. Always plenty more where they came from."

The guard moved away again, not liking what he was hearing or what it might portend. Dyer could be strict when he had to be but he was also fair. What Wilkinson was sanctioning was murder pure and simple and he did not want to be standing anywhere near the *tamade hundan* when it happened. Inwardly he hoped and prayed that whoever set off that gorram alarm would own up to it but knew even if he did there was no guarantee that Wilkinson wouldn't let them all freeze to death for the sheer hell of it. At times the gorram man had no self control. No self control at all.

* * * * *

Howdy Marks was sweating, his hands grown slick with unease and panic. This was wrong on so many levels he couldn't count them all but how to change the *laoban's* mind? Man could be stubborn as a gorram mule and that was one of his good points. Billy Parker nudged his shoulder. Jerrod had paired them off and split up the syringes between them. "Come on, Howdy. Gotta work quick, *dong ma?" Billy hissed.

"This is *cuode*. You know it an' so do I."

"You heard the *laoban*."

"Yeah, but it don't make sense." Howdy drew in a shaky breath. "These folks saved our lives, Billy, *jide*? Came back an' got us out when everythin' was turnin' to *goushi* on Anaeron. Is this how we repay 'em?"

He could see that Billy was as unsettled as he was but Billy was younger, used to just obeying the boss and not thinking too deeply about anything. Not that there had been anything as remotely disturbing as this asked of them before. So why now? What had changed to turn their boss against Serenity's crew? Gorramit he liked them, trusted them, and now this? It made no sense.

"You heard the *laoban*, just puttin' 'em to sleep."

Howdy's look was eloquent. "An' then what?"

Billy gave him a blank look. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"We gonna be asked to push 'em out into the atmo?"

Billy looked shocked. "I ain't killin' no one, Howdy!"

All of sudden Howdy's hands stopped shaking, a calm coming over him that had not been there before. His reservations finally leading him back onto a path he at least recognised. "I'm not doin' this. You do it if you wanna but it's *cuode*."

Alarmed, Billy grabbed his shoulder to stop Howdy walking away. "What you gonna do?"

"What I should'a done in the first place." Howdy paused, weighing up the other man before speaking further. "You can carry out this madness or you can come with me."

Billy was frightened, this was not how it was supposed to be. Not any of it but neither did he like the thought of doing this alone. If Howdy was backing out maybe she should too? After all, these folks had saved their lives and that had to count for something.

* * * * *

If the kidnapping and then the flight into the unknown had been frightening it was as nothing compared to how he felt once all motion stopped. Roughly shoved to his feet he was taken on to some kind of overland vehicle, probably a mule of some kind, and transported to their final destination. Once there, he had his feet unbound and was prodded to walk under his own steam, hands still bound behind him, and that heavy gorram burlap sack scratching at his face every time he moved an inch.

Badger felt when the solid flooring beneath his feet changed to something softer. Carpet most like. Rutting hell, where was he going? His heart was hammering ten to the dozen and his mouth already going dry when he felt a light draft of air as a door opened and he was manhandled into a room. For a moment everything stopped. A hand on his shoulder keeping him stationary, no one speaking and no other sounds to give him any clue as to his surroundings and how many people were in the room. Then the sack was removed and the light blinded him, so fierce he closed his gorram eyes until the voice he feared the most had him opening them again in shock and a sickening sense of doom.

The Lady was terrible in her splendour. Age did not diminish her power or the effect she had on him. He wanted to plead with her, ask why he was here, why she had burnt his warehouse down and killed his men but he could not form the words. Was terrified of angering her further.

"What should I do with you?"

The cold silky voice slid through his senses like a hot knife through butter. Belatedly he realised it was not a rhetorical question. "Whatever I done, *wode duibuqi*."

An eyebrow rose, elegant and deathly cold. Her face was pale with high cheekbones etched into a visage that he would remember in his nightmares forever. All these years he had only seen her on a cortex screen and that had been scary enough. He knew her reputation, how highly placed she was and what happened to those who crossed her but he hadn't done that had he? Hadn't betrayed her as such? Furiously he thought back over their last conversation but could not see what it was he had said or done that had sparked off this reaction not that they had always agreed but people had opinions, wasn't a hanging offence was it? Looking into those cold eyes he was not so sure.

"You think me a *chunren*? You operate unopposed because I let you."

Confused he stared at her. She let him? What was this? As terrified as he was of her she didn't have to give him permission to do a bloody thing yet here she was acting like some gorram Empress. As if she could read his mind, the Lady took a step towards him and Badger felt his blood freezing in his veins.

"You disagree?" She purred.

It took a second for Badger to recognise the sudden warmth running down his leg and flushed with embarrassment. The Lady never looked away from his face though something like amusement glittered briefly in those unforgiving eyes.

"You took something of mine."

He was trembling now. "*Shenme*? What I take?"

"I gave you a *liwu*."

Badger frowned, his mind taking too long to function in the fear that was gripping him so completely. The Lady held out a hand and her major domo stepped into view with a small square box. Rutting *diyu*, Badger recognised that box. Before he could guard his tongue what he was thinking spilled out of his mouth. "All this because of a rutting *liwu*?"

The Lady cradled the box as if it was something precious. Beyond price. "You insulted me. No one insults me, *dong ma?"

At that moment the Lady removed the lid and the gold metallic insect buzzed quietly inside. Badger's eyes widened in fear, remembering how the gorram thing had attacked him and only by stamping on it with his gorram heel had he been able to prevent the bloody thing stinging him. But this had to be another one, the one the Lady had given him had been bent and twisted, impaled on the bottom of his ruddy heel. Kept in that special transparent strong box he had made especially for it. Only now he was thinking back, remembering, his face going pale. When he entered the warehouse and found everything destroyed, his men burnt to a bloody crisp the strong box had been lying broken and shattered on the ash filled floor. Empty. He hadn't had any time to think about what had happened to the gorram metal insect, his shoe lying off to one side but details were filtering through his brain pan. Painful worrying ones that set a new level of terror racing through his veins. Looking into the Lady's stony but patient face he saw her nod.

"Now you understand."

* * * * *

"This is ridiculous! We can't hide on our own ship."

The Captain gave Simon Tam a look, his eyes flicking in warning to Simon's side where Kaylee was standing in shock. She could not believe that their new friends were now their enemies. Inara Serra shared Simon's reaction but was silent, her eyes watching the Captain like a hawk. That they were having this discussion in her shuttle was significant.

"Simon, ain't got time to go into what is an' what ain't, just need you to trust me. All the while Jerrod an' his men are loose on this ship not none of us are safe, *dong ma*?"

"I'm sure if we could talk to him we would find this was all just a terrible mistake."

The Captain nodded, his look grim. "*Qu*, his"

Simon opened his mouth but Inara spoke, startling them both. Her look was innocent which made Mal narrow his eyes a mite. "*Wo tongyi*, the Captain's right. You and Kaylee should stay here with me for the time being."

Kaylee looked from Inara to the Captain, confusion on her face. "Cap'n, won't you need me in the engine room? Someone needs to look out for Serenity."

"An' they will, little Kaylee, but for now I need you here *dong ma*? Inara can you cycle the regular lock so not nobody from outside the shuttle can open the hatch or over ride the lock?"

Now Inara looked troubled, what was it Mal was not telling her? How much trouble were they really in? "If you think that's really necessary." But the look on her face was asking why.

"What about the spare shuttle?" Asked Kaylee.

"Don't you go worryin' about that, *mei mei*. Got it covered. Just sit tight an' don't nobody leave this shuttle without me or Wash givin' the all clear."

He waited until all three nodded then went to let himself out. A hand on his arm made him pause and look back into Inara's eyes, now crowded with a concern she made no attempt to hide. Her voice had dropped for his ears only but the Captain was sure both Kaylee and Simon were straining for all they were worth to eavesdrop. "Mal, what's going on?"

The Captain flashed her a patently false smile, the kind she had learned to hate. "Not got time to go into this now, Inara, but soon as I do I will." Then he leant closer and dropped a kiss upon her lips, using the closeness to say the words she had longed to hear but thought would never pass his lips. "*Wo ai ni ye, bao bei*."

Before Inara could respond the Captain was through the hatch and closing it after him. Inara cycled the lock with a new encrypted code then spun round and viewed her two guests. "Now, will one of you tell me what in Buddha's name is going on?"

* * * * *

The next time Book stirred it was dark but not a uniform dark, it was dappled and patchy. That just struck him as wrong. The Shepherd tried to turn over then froze. *Wode ma*, his hands were tied behind his back. He tried to move his feet but they were fastened together at the ankles. HIs attempts to move disturbed the dust which got up his nose and made him sneeze. Wasn't any use trying to muffle the sound. He quickly realised he was alone and tried to calm down and take stock of his situation. First he examined the narrow space in which he was crammed, surprised to realise he had been rolled underneath his bed.

Turning his head he saw that whoever had dumped him there must have straightened the bedcover because it was now neatly hanging over the side of the bed. Anyone entering his bunk would take one look and go back out again, thinking the room was empty. Well now, that told him a number of things. Whoever had trussed him up didn't want him dead, they also didn't want any of the crew to know anything was wrong. A flash of memory came back to him. What in the nine hells was Jerrod and his crew up to and what were they looking for? As he rolled onto his other side he caught a glimpse of his travel case which he always kept under the bed and pushed up to the far end where it would not be seen or disturbed. He remembered taking it out to make the call, ensuring it was properly encrypted before sending it then putting everything back in place. His mind was working overtime connecting possible dots that would reveal a clue as to their intentions. Was it possible? Had Jerrod somehow picked up the signal he sent and if so why had he been monitoring Serenity's crew in the first place?

* * * * * "Do you know what this is?" Badger stared at the shining gold coloured insect, unable to take his gorram eyes off it. He shook his head and wondered where all the gorram air in the room had gone.

"This is the servant to my will. All those who I take into my confidence as business contacts receive this *liwu*. To refuse is to give the gravest insult."

His mouth had gone dry. "I didn't know."

"This is your last chance to accept my gift."

Badger wasn't sure what he would do with a metal gorram insect but he supposed it was pretty enough if you liked that sort of thing and if was made of actual gold it could be valuable. He gave the Lady a nod. "Then I accept your *liwu*, my Lady."

"You must stand completely still."

The Lady flattened her hand and to Badger's horror the insect buzzed a moment then lifted off and flew towards him. He wanted to step back as quickly as humanly possible and run from the room but knew such an action would immediately be a death sentence. Badger swallowed hard and closed his eyes. Just then he felt a sharp prick at the side of his neck, yelped and opened his eyes just in time to see the mechanical insect fly back to its' mistress. The Lady seemed amused by his reaction. Badger slapped a hand to the side of his neck.

"What did you do to me?" He wailed.

"Trust only goes so far, I prefer to have a little insurance."

"You drug me?"

"*Bu qu*, you have not been harmed. You have been injected with a tiny remote control capsule. All the while you remain loyal to me it will remain inactive but should you seek to cheat or betray me it will be activated, dissolve and an undetectable but deadly poison will be released into your bloodstream. Within seconds it will reach your heart and you will be dead."

Shock robbed him of words. His legs felt too weak to hold him. As he collapsed he barely noticed Wong placing a chair under him. Badger slumped in it, mouth open, eyes wide and staring at the woman who now held his life in the palm of her capricious hand. "You call that a *liwu*?" He said in a faded mimicry of his usual voice.

Her smile dazzled with a wrongness that was beyond creepifying. "I should also tell you there is no antidote to the poison so if you do anything to cause me to doubt your loyalty 'Badger' I will eliminate you."

Badger's voice broke as he responded. "Thought this was all about trust?"

"Oh it is," she said with a frosty smile "you see, I don't trust you. The gift solves that problem, don't you agree?"

He could not speak, wanted to strangle her but feared some button would be pushed before he could take a single step and that would be the end of him. Having no other choice but to comply, Badger nodded. The Lady turned to her major domo and Badger was taken out of her presence, back aboard the ship that had brought him there and in silence was flown back to his old seat of power. Persephone. In a daze he turned to face Wong as the little ship landed.

"Got nothin' left." He said bleakly.

"You have your life."

Badger blinked. "How'm I gonna start again? It's all gone, everythin' I've worked for."

Matthew James Wong took a black draw string purse from a deep hidden pocket and held it out to the former King Pin. "My Lady believes this will cover your losses and leave enough for you to start again." Money? She was buying him off with money? He took the bag nonetheless and as he opened the neck and looked inside his expression slowly cleared and he found his mood improving at his restored fortunes though the whole pantomime left him confused. He looked up to find Matthew James Wong was already climbing back into his ship. Badger did not wave or nod just stared at the neat trim vessel and watched it take off. Then, remembering just where in the 'verse he was, Badger quickly hid the purse out of sight. Wouldn't be smart to let anyone realise his sudden change in fortune. Too many would be only too ready to steal it off him and he had plans to make, an empire to rebuild. Best get on it, *mashang*.

* * * * *

Jayne lay the body down as quietly as possible. Had to admit that gorram sedative acted mighty quick. Zoe eased the second man down and checked his pulse. Strong steady beat. Good enough.

"Shouldn't we tie 'em up?"

"Simon says the sedative will last 6-8 hours, Jayne. If we need longer than that it probably won't matter."

Jayne screwed up his face and wondered what in the nine hells she meant by that. As she stood up Zoe touched her earwig which Mal had insisted all of them used to communicate. He had insisted they keep talking and communication to a minimum, at least until Jerrod and his men were accounted for. "Sir, two down."

The Captain's disembodied voice whispered back. "*Hen hao*. Soon as you take out the next two meet me at the infirmary."

Jayne and Zoe froze as they heard a sound in the corridor outside. Someone was out there but moving quietly, movements stealthy and furtive as if whoever it was did not want to be heard.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *wode ma* = mother of God *chusheng xai-jiao de xiang huo* = animal fucking bastard *dong ma* = understand? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *wo bu danxin* = I don't care *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *laoban* = boss *cuode* = wrong *jide* = remember *goushi* = crap/dog shit *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *chunren* = fool/jerk *shenme* = what *liwu* = gift *diyu* = hell *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wo tongyi* = I agree *mei mei* = little one *wo ai ni ye* = I love you *bao bei* = precious/treasure *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *hen hao* = very good

COMMENTS

Sunday, June 9, 2013 7:16 AM

NUTLUCK


And now the cat and mouse game aboard Serenity really beings.

Monday, June 10, 2013 5:57 AM

AMDOBELL


You are so right, Nutluck. Hang on tight! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 8:46 AM

BYTEMITE


I almost feel sorry for Badger.

And hmm, dissension in the ranks about betraying Mal. They might just pull this off and save the poor browncoat prisoners.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 9:06 AM

AMDOBELL


I smiled at you almost feeling sorry for Badger, Bytemite. As for dissension in the ranks and the plight of the Browncoat prisoners, lots more yet to come. Thank you for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 4:30 PM

EBFIDDLER


Badger's slippery and untrustworthy, but even I don't wish this remote control death capsule on him. Maybe it's all just a mind game that the Lady plays to keep her subjects in line. Meanwhile, looks like Mal's plan to deal with Jerrod is going forward, but there are going to be a few wrinkles. I'm glad Howdy is able to think for himself; maybe a few others are not mindless minions as well. Book has something in that box, doesn't he? Wilkinson is even more odious than before, if that's even possible. An exciting chapter.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 11:05 AM

AMDOBELL


You have Badger weighed up Ebfiddler. As for the remote control capsule, the Lady is not someone you want to cross. All sorts still to come with our BDHs and as for Wilkinson, that's what the bottom of the barrel looks like. Thanks for the shiny comments, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, June 16, 2013 12:01 PM

MALSDOXY


i always loved the Star Trek episodes that were completely contained within the ship- this is when it gets good, eagerly awaiting the next installment, AliD, xie xie

Monday, June 17, 2013 4:19 AM

AMDOBELL


So happy you are enjoying the story, Malsdoxy. Thanks for the shiny comments, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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