THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 49. "All Roads Lead to Rome"
Sunday, August 11, 2013

In the stunned silence of their minds, no one commented or complained about the cramped conditions under the deck plates. They were hiding, safe, while those that were helping them faced an uncertain future.


TITLE: "ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 49. Sequel to "A NOT SO PERFECT PLAN" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "Serenity comes under fire. Simon can't wake Zoe or Jayne. Ryan and Elliot are forced into double shifts on Titan Station and things don't look too shiny for the Captain."

"ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"Gorramit! Who in the nine hells is firin' on us?"

River tried to get the Captain's attention as he urged Simon to take his sister and go into hiding *mashang*.

"Not Alliance."

The Captain paused and stared at River Tam. "You know who that is, little one?"

"A lot of their dirty work is outsourced."

He frowned. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

Simon butted in. "Captain, I really think I need to stay in the infirmary to keep an eye on Zoe and Jayne."

The Captain frowned at him in irritation. "Gave you an order, *dong ma*?"

"River said it wasn't the Alliance."

"Don't make it safe. 'Sides, you said Zoe an' Jayne were just sleepin' off that gorram sedative."


"Then best you do as your Cap'n tells you. River, that applies to you an' the other little ones."

"Not so little."

"We don't got time for this, River."

"Just remember to go quietly."

The Captain made a face. "*Shenme*? Don't aim to go nowhere."

"If you promise so will I."

"Huh?" The Captain looked from River to Simon, who was still hesitating about getting his core bred *pigu* in gear just as the second salvo hit them. The ship rocked more violently this time and each exchanged worried looks. "You know what she's talkin' about, doc?"

"I rarely understand my sister even when she isn't a ship."

Frustrated the Captain glared at River. "If I promise will you go, drag your troublesome brother an' the children an' go into hidin'?" River nodded then drew a cross over her heart with the index finger of her right hand. "*Daying*. Don't try to fight them when they come. *Jide* - All roads lead to Rome."

He was about to ask her what in the nine hells she was babbling on about when River grabbed Simon's hand and dragged him away, the children following in her wake leaving the Captain more than a mite baffled. There were times when he felt like the only gorram sane one on his boat. Turning, he began to run back towards the infirmary when he ran into Kaylee. The girl was on the edge of full blown panic with tears in her eyes.

"Engine's shot, Cap'n!"

"Can you fix it?"

She shook her head, the very picture of misery. "Need a new one." "Ain't got a new one, you know that. Best you go to Inara's shuttle, *dong ma*?"

Just then Book's deep rumbling voice cut in. The Captain had not heard him come up behind them. "I don't think that's going to do any good, Captain."

Mal turned to look at him. "You know who's firin' at us?"

The Shepherd shook his head. "*Bu qu*. Wash says it's a freighter, long haul cargo ship but it's been modified."

"Huh, since when've freighters carried weapons?"

"That's the modified part."

"What in *diyu* they want with us?"

"That's what I wanted to tell you, we're being hailed and they want to speak to the Captain."

* * * * *

'*Wo bu dong*, why are we hidin'?'

River's thoughts rang calm and clear in Davie's brainpan. 'Timing'

Suzie frowned. 'You mean we wait until they're all dead?'

'*Ni bu dong*, we can't help them. Have to bide our time.'

'River, that doesn't make sense. This ship is under attack, why didn't we warn them?'

'Because they would have panicked, Lucy.'

'An' no one's panickin' now?' Put in Suzie, her sarcasm clear for all of them to detect. Davie had to admit she had a point. It was the same one that was worrying him. What good were they if they couldn't even warn their friends? And yet he sensed River had a larger game plan, one yet to be shared with the rest of them.

Lucy could not hide her frustration. 'Why don't you tell us the rest of the plan?'



'In case we get separated.'

In the stunned silence of their minds, no one commented or complained about the cramped conditions under the deck plates. They were hiding, safe, while those that were helping them faced an uncertain future. They felt the shocks as the ship was hit, then the engine going dead. What seemed like an age later the unmistakable sound of another ship docking with Serenity made them quail inside. What use was being safe if everyone who tried to help you was gone when you crept out of hiding? And how would they be able to go anywhere in a ship with no engine or crew? In the silence of their minds, three of the children prayed. For Serenity, her crew and lastly for themselves. River could have told them but it was better this way. She was saving her prayers for someone else.

* * * * *

The pain was not so bad now provided he didn't move too quickly. Elliot Carr had done the best he could for his friend but the body needed to heal in its' own time not his. Luckily no bones had been broken just a couple of cracked ribs and though Ryan had lost blood from various cuts they were not that deep and already clotting. The variety of bruises adorning his body were impressive but they too would heal.

Funnily enough, just as Ryan was beginning to count his dubious blessings the heavy metal door was flung open and his least favourite person in the 'verse stepped inside with a couple of his bully boys. Elliot watched as the guards fanned out and began kicking those still sleeping. Assorted groans and the odd cry of pain marked their success but Ryland Wilkinson didn't take his eyes off Ryan and Elliot. "Time to earn your gorram keep."

Neither man replied. Ryan got to his feet as quickly as he was able, trying to hide how much it hurt but Wilkinson noticed and a mean smiled twisted lips that turned even a smile into something more fitting on the face of a gargoyle. Which was probably being all manner of unfair to gargoyles. In silence they were herded back to the cauldron room along with the others, pausing only long enough to allow them to put on their protective clothing. As Ryan stepped up to the door to enter, Wilkinson got up close and personal, his lips peeled back in a snarl of tortured words. "Double shifts, 17831. Got a lot of time to make up, *dong ma*?"

He could have complained but knew it would just be feeding the beast and he had always been taught not to feed the animals. Behind him he could hear Elliot's quick intake of breath but thankfully his friend kept his tongue. Not getting a rise out of them, Wilko entered the code and opened the door, the heat from within almost causing Ryan to gag. As the blast door shut and automatically locked behind them Ryan noticed the shift guards were already in place and watching them like hawks. Spit Henson was up on the gantry, shock stick at the ready should any of them decide to do anything stupid. Dyer and the youngest guard Toby Edwards were spread out opposite a couple of other guards to give cover as the men dutifully got into line, shovels at the ready, then shuffled forward to load up with dust to take to the cauldron. As Ryan stepped onto the grating he remembered what had happened last time and held back a shudder. Whatever was in that cauldron he wanted no part of but his mind couldn't stop trying to figure out what it was doing to the gorram dust and why in the nine hells if terrified the rutting life out of him.

* * * * *

"This is the Cap'n, Malcolm Reynolds. Why the good gorram you firin' on my boat?"

Instead of answering the question the screen resolved into an image that would be burned into the Captain's retina's for the rest of his probably short life.

"Badger! What in the nine hells you playin' at?"

Oddly enough the little King Pin looked awkward, uncomfortable, as if he was embarrassed to be in this situation which made no gorram sense at all. Him being the one firing on Serenity and disabling her engine. "We need to talk."

"Don't recall you tryin' to blow my ship outta the Black the right way to go about it."

Something in the little man stiffened as if he had suddenly grown a bit of backbone or more likely stolen it. "Prepare to be boarded. Be best for all concerned if you don't make a fuss, *dong ma*?"

The screen went black before the Captain could unload a stream of colourful invective at his target. Frustrated and angry as *diyu* he spun round to go and see the slimey little King Pin face to face only to have Wash speak up before he could storm off the bridge. "*Xiaoxin*, Cap'n. Badger isn't likely in this alone."

His eyes flashed a warning but there was also confusion there too. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

The pilot nodded to where the huge freighter filled their vision. "Since when has Badger been usin' freighters?"

"Ain't got time for twenty questions, Wash."

Wash ignored his ansty tone. "You ask me it looks like someone else is pullin' his strings."

The Captain's eyes narrowed, his interest sharpening. "Any idea who that might be?"

The pilot shook his head. "*Bu qu*. All the more reason to be careful an' walk soft." Wash wanted to say more but he was already talking to empty air. With a sigh he cursed the fact that both Zoe and Jayne were still out for the count due to their back stabbing former friends and though Book could be counted on in a firefight they didn't have enough to stand against whatever level of *shen goushi* Badger was about to unleash upon them. That being the case and with the engine shot to pieces Wash decided it couldn't hurt to get his gun just in case.

* * * * *

The Lady heard her husband calling and closed down her monitor, folded the cortex screen into the genuine and costly wooden wall unit built for that specific purpose. It had shelves for books and ornaments and to the casual observer seemed to be nothing more than a large item of furniture. It was so much more. Rising gracefully to her feet the Lady left the room to join her husband. The look on his face when she saw him made her ineffably glad that he knew nothing of her own activities.

* * * * *

It was one of the very few times that Malcolm Reynolds had ever seen Badger without that smug cocky look on his grubby little face. A jumped up little nobody who achieved his place in Persephone's dubious pecking order by means fair and foul with more than a nod to his natural cunning. Seeing the little King Pin actually looking a mite nervous set off even more alarms, only added to by the impressive array of Tong bully boys accompanying him.

"Badger, what the good gorram you doin'? You wanna speak to me why attack my boat?"

Badger seemed to pull himself up mentally and step into the role prepared for him. The thought did not sit easy with the Captain even as the little man put a swagger in his step as he moved a mite closer. "You're not here to ask questions but answer 'em, *dong ma*?" At the Captain's raised eyebrows, Badger looked beyond him then slowly turned his head before fixing his eyes on him again. "An' where might your shadow be?"


"Don't play dumb, Reynolds. Did Zoe finally get smart an' leave you?"

The Captain opened his mouth to respond but it was Shepherd Book who answered. His deep rumbling voice dominating the conversation as the Preacher stepped out of the shadows. "Zoe and Jayne are in quarantine in the infirmary."

That was news to the Captain as well as Badger but Mal covered his surprise, instantly understanding the spin Book had put on their current drugged state. Might only be heavily sedated but Badger didn't need to know that. Mayhap Book's quick thinking could be used to their advantage. Badger's lips twisted as he looked at the Preacher then turned his attention back to the Captain, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"What's wrong with 'em?"

Again Book replied before the Captain could respond. "*Wo bu zhidao*, if we knew that they wouldn't be in quarantine."

"Then it ain't catchin'?"

"I didn't say that but you're welcome to check."

Badger's eyes narrowed on the Captain. "What about you, cat got your bloody tongue?"

"*Bu qu*, just wonderin' what this is all about."

Badger glanced at Red Pole. "Best go check the infirmary, *dong ma*?"

"I'll show you the way." Book offered.

For a moment it looked as if the big man would not obey but the moment passed and taking one of the other men with him, Magnus Martin followed the Shepherd. That left four of the Tong spread out and watching the Captain like a hawk. Badger seemed a mite more relaxed now though he didn't look happy. Glancing around he seemed a mite baffled. "Where the *diyu* is everybody?"

The Captain hooked his thumbs in his belt. "Well now, Kaylee was so upset with you shootin' up Serenity's engine she's in Inara's shuttle. Maybehaps Inara can stop my mechanic cryin' but I don't think anythin' other than a shiny new engine will do the trick."

"Yeah, well, wasn't my idea to be so heavy handed."

That was news to Mal, he filed away that little nugget and would have done more probing but Red Pole reappeared, a frown on his face that looked as if it had been carved in granite. "I couldn't wake 'em, *laoban*."

Badger didn't like the sound of that. "What happened, Reynolds?"

"We came back from a job an' they just keeled over. First Zoe then minutes later Jayne. Not nothin' would rouse 'em an' they been runnin' a temperature."

"How come you ain't took sick? Look healthy enough to me."

"That's 'cause we'd split up."

As if on some unseen signal all the Tong drew their weapons. Shepherd Book slowly raised his hands, one of them holding his bible. "Now now gentlemen, there's no need for violence."

Red Pole barely glanced at Book as he stepped towards the Captain. Badger cleared his throat awkwardly before speaking. "Yeah, no need for this to be messier than needs be."

"Messier?" The Captain looked confused.

"You come with us nice an' quiet an' we won't have to bring the rest o' your crew, *dong ma*?"

"What in the nine hells you want with me?"

Badger gave a slimey self satisfied smile but even that seemed a mite forced. "Just a little chat."

"We can talk here."

The little King Pin's smile widened into a disingenuous grin. "You don't take my meanin'. I wasn't askin', see?"

Before the Captain could react he was surrounded, one of the Tong quickly cuffing him and taking his gun. He was about to fight, get down and dirty then he remembered what River had said. Don't fight. Go quietly. But what had she meant when she said, "All roads lead to Rome?"

Up on the metal walkway, Wash quailed inside. If he could have done something he would but Badger had brought too many men with him, all armed to the teeth, and their best fighters were still under the effects of the rutting sedative. Had that been Jerrod's plan all along? To leave Serenity on the drift and her crew unable to defend themselves? Feeling helpless and utterly miserable, Wash could only watch as they took the Captain with them. His eyes locked on the Shepherd's as they left. The distinct sound of the freighter disengaging from Serenity made his heart sink.

* * * * *

The Chancellor looked decidedly unhappy when he returned to take his place in the board room, only this was not a board meeting and his companions were a powerful mix of men within the Alliance hierarchy but all with a firm loyalty to the Blue Sun Corporation. The ties that bound them were well hidden and convoluted, the better to avoid detection by any seeking to root them out. They held many titles and not all of them were interchangeable.

"Contact has been lost."

No one spoke. In the deadly silence all eyes were on the Chancellor waiting to be illuminated.

"The Plan goes ahead but with a longer projection."

This caused a low stir which faded into utter silence as the Chancellor looked around the table. Only when it became clear that he had said all he intended at this juncture, Robert Dryton Munroe spoke up. His voice rough and cracking as if with disuse, the result of throat cancer, treated and kept in check but with the damage only mitigated. On some days he could not speak at all. "We were led to believe that with the successful demonstration of the Dust's capability things would be moving much faster."

"Indeed it would have had not the ship involved been destroyed during the demonstration."

Eyebrows were raised.

"All personnel were lost." The Chancellor paused to let that information sink in. "It will take time to modify ships to replace it but our shipyards are making good progress. The Dust however has to be handled with exceptional care."

"Isn't that what the prisoners are for?"

"Indeed, but there seems to have been... an 'accident'. The latest figure is that only 12 survived."

That raised a certain amount of consternation around the table. "Was the base compromised?"

Chancellor Owen Stark shook his head. "*Bu qu*, some kind of unrest among the prisoners which got out of hand. None of our staff were injured but it will slow down production."

"Then we need more prisoners, Chancellor."

"That is in hand as we speak."

Slowly the frowns eased and the men began to relax. Senator George Ryan tented his fingers on the table. "Then we are safe?"

"The 'project' is safe." Corrected the Chancellor.

Reassured, the meeting broke up shortly afterwards.

* * * * *

Malcolm Reynolds was more than a mite confused. While he and Badger would never be friends they were not enemies either, at least he hadn't thought they were. After being shoved and frog marched onto the huge freighter he barely resisted a shudder as the ship disengaged from Serenity. Several of the men peeled off and went in different directions to duties he could barely guess at. Red Pole stayed with Badger along with two other Tong. The Captain recognised their rank within the Tong by the numbers tattooed on their faces but the knowledge was far from comforting. What in the nine hells was Badger doing working for one of the Tongs? And what did any of it have to do with him?

"*Shenme shi*? Don't you like my new ship, Reynolds?"

The Captain wasn't sure what he could say that wasn't an insult, it being a fetid piece of junk the size of which almost beggared belief. He decided to go with obscure. "It suits you."

Badger frowned, tempted to get Magnus to hit him but not sure whether he was being insulted or not. Besides he had a feeling that Malcolm Reynolds future was about to become a lot less shiny than his own.

"Why am I here, Badger? You said you wanted to talk."

"I said chat."

"Okay, chat then."

When Badger didn't say anything the Captain flicked his eyes to the Tong Enforcer and the two foot soldiers waiting patiently for orders, but from whom? Badger might be acting as if he was in charge but it didn't look that way to Mal.

"You wanna tell me what this is all about?" He asked softly.

For just a second, a brief flicker of regret cast an odd light on Badger's face. It was gone so quickly that the Captain wondered if he had imagined it but no, Badger's next words confirmed he had not. "Seems you're needed elsewhere, see? Could say you were asked for specially."

"*Wo bu dong*, this a job?"

Badger wanted to laugh. Oh, this was priceless only it wasn't. Even the pleasure of adding a new level of misery to Serenity's Captain paled in the light of what he had been told. In fact Magnus had seemed to enjoy informing Badger of the true purpose of the freighter Cold Harbour.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY (Mandarin - Pinyin) *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *dong ma* = understand? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shenme* = what? *pigu* = bottom *daying* = promise *jide* = remember *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *diyu* = hell *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *weishenme* = why *xiaoxin* = careful *shen goushi* = deep shit (lit. a lot of crap/dog shit) *shei* = who? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *laoban* = boss *shenme shi* = what's the matter?


Monday, August 12, 2013 3:04 PM


/o\ NOW WHAT?? is it cuz Mal 'fought' the dust and survived? The lady, that bitch, it's her, she wants the immunity Mal has cuz she's gonna unleash the dust somwhere...Ok I'll stop babbling, next chapter, PLEASE!!! excellent as ever, ALiD

Monday, August 12, 2013 6:18 PM


So off to Rome to follow the yellow brick road, but will we get to meet the wizard?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 10:30 AM


Everybody has an agenda, Malsdoxy. As for meeting the Wizard Nutluck, you never know what will be waiting behind that gorram curtain. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, September 5, 2013 10:28 PM


"I rarely understand my sister even when she isn't a ship." -- that line had me laughing, such a great example of Simon's sarcastic humor. And...grrrr...that Chancellor and all the Alliance folk in the pocket of Blue Sun, and their bland acceptance of the loss of the entire ship, and the cruelty the prisoners experienced...grrr. I especially liked the interactions of Badger and Mal -- Badger's not Mal's enemy, and his 'off' behavior has Mal on alert. I don't know what he can do with that information, though.

Friday, September 6, 2013 8:32 AM


Simon is always good for the sarcastic one liners, Ebfiddler. And all those unlovely characters in the pocket of Blue Sun, well now there is always a reckoning isn't there? Badger isn't Mal's enemy but he isn't always a good friend either except when it is in their mutual interest. Fortunately Mal knows him really well. Thank you for the shiny feedback, 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.