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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 51. "Cannon Fodder"
Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Not that I don't appreciate this little heart to heart but you got me chained to a wall. What do you expect me to do about it an' why am I here anyway?"


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2327    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "CANNON FODDER" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 51. Sequel to "DIRTY LITTLE SECRET" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "With the Captain in enemy hands and Serenity unable to move under her own steam, Zoe finds help unlooked for. Meanwhile the Captain finds out the truth about that gorram freighter."

"CANNON FODDER"

A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Zoe was unhappy with River, feeling the girl had let them down but not understanding why. "If you could see all this goin' down why didn't you warn us?"

There was no masking the misery in River's eyes but there was also a strong determination there. "Would've done no good. This way they feel safe, think they've won."

Jayne couldn't hide his disgust and frustration. "That's 'cause they have, bird brain."

"*Cuode*," River shook her head firmly "they won't be on their guard."

Wash looked at Zoe but she didn't have a clue what the girl was talking about either. "An' this is good how?"

She gave Wash a small flickering smile, a reward for asking. "Won't see us comin'."

"They've got the Cap'n." Said Zoe, her voice unable to hide the bitterness.

"*Qu*," said River as a slow smile blossomed on her face solemn face "and we're going to get him back."

Just then Monty rejoined them. He had a grim expression on his face as he and Book herded Jerrod Perkins and his men into the commons area. Jayne hefted Vera into position in case any of the *tamade hundans* tried anything. Bringing up the rear Monty's men had fanned out a mite to make sure there was no chance of escape but even to the casual eye they looked like beaten men. Zoe opened her mouth to speak then snapped it shut again, her eyes flashing sparks as her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "There's two missin'."

River danced in front of the first mate. "Had to keep them separate."

"River, where the good gorram are they?"

"With Inara."

Alarmed, Zoe drew her mare's leg and nodded to Jayne. Before River could tell her that there was no need for guns they were both gone. Shepherd Book gave River a long considering look. "River, why did you put the other two in Inara's shuttle?"

"They tried to help us. I was afraid Jerrod would punish them." River paused at the look of consternation on the Preacher's face. "*Fang xin*, they're sleeping."

Monty looked confused until River held up the empty phials of sedative. Trying to hide a smile the Shepherd shook his head gently. "Oh my."

* * * * *

They were starting to fall now, one by one overcome by malnourishment and utter exhaustion. Wilkinson entered the code and stepped inside the cauldron room, his eyes narrowing dangerously at the fall in activity. Jimmy John Dyer could have told him but there was often no reasoning with the Chief Guard. Why the man had been put in charge of the facility instead of a Prison Warden was beyond him. His was not to reason why though it sure as *diyu* wasn't to do or die either.

"On your ruttin' feet, *mashang*!"

The electric prod he carried sparked in warning. Matthew Price tried to rise to his feet but as he got to his knees his body failed him. Even as he collapsed Wilkinson moved quickly and shoved the prod in the poor man's lower back. Dyer bit his lip as he watched Price's back arch in pain filled spasms, pallid lips drawn back as if to cry out but lacking the strength or moisture in his throat to do so. Infuriated that the man appeared to have passed out, Wilkinson was about to hit him with another shock when Dyer called out. It was foolish he knew but he couldn't stand it any longer.

"He can't respond Chief, why waste power and energy on him?"

Wilko spun round, outraged that Dyer would dare to interfere. "Who put you in charge?"

"*Meiren*, it's just these men are *leihuai le*."

Wilkinson took a step towards Dyer, his voice softening as if to show how reasonable he could be only Dyer was not fooled. He recognised the cunning undertone. "You want that I should let 'em rest?"

Dyer affected an unconcerned shrug. "Not my place to judge, Chief. They just look as if all of 'em are ready to drop, that's all."

His face distorted into an ugly scowl, Wilkinson raised his voice so every man could hear what he had to say as he waved his electric prod at the prisoners. "These men have a *dancheng piao, dong ma*? An' I'm the one gonna punch it for 'em."

No one spoke. In fact the guards seemed as keen not to draw attention to themselves as the prisoners. Having made his point the Chief started to calm down and realised that the state of the prisoners meant they would get no further work out of them this day. It incensed him to realise that Dyer had been right but he didn't want to kill off the last of them until the new supply arrived. He might be an insane and brutal henchman but he wasn't stupid.

"24 hours!" Wilkinson growled as he headed for the door. "That's how long they can rest, after that there better be no slackin' for them that don't keep up won't be tolerated."

* * * * *

Her husband affected an air of sadness, a concern that was paper thin. "Now is dead, matter closed."

The Lady had many things she could have said to him but he was already aware of her displeasure. Going over old ground would only make the days ahead harder and she was a practical and pragmatic woman. Reading acceptance into her silence her husband was quietly pleased. So. They could move on.

* * * * *

In the dimly lit fetid squalor of the cells, Malcolm Reynolds still could not fathom what the good gorram any of this had to do with Badger or why the slimey little crime lord had chosen to rope him in. He ached all over from Badger's Enforcer, Red Pole's, attempts to hammer compliance into him. It seemed some folk just didn't appreciate a smart tongue. Now the Captain was paying the price for his freely given wit.

"Of all the things I would've suspected you of Badger this is a new low."

The Captain hung from rusty manacles chaining him to the metal wall of his cell. Badger stared at him and, even though they were seemingly alone, hissed at him. "*Bi zui*! Will you shut your bloody yap? This ain't my idea, see? Not like I got much choice."

"What're you talkin' about?"

"My place got burned down, see?"

The Captain frowned, one ear working better than the other where Red Pole had swiped him hard with a closed fist. Not nearly so hilarious when he was on the receiving end. "What has that got to do with..."

Badger moved in closer, his voice more urgent. "*Bei chao*! Wanna get us both killed?"

"As opposed to just me you mean?"

Badger gave him his version of a death glare. "Now you can either listen or I walk away *dong ma*? Wash my hands o' you."

It was obvious that the little King Pin was serious. Mal knew something had been very much off the moment Badger and his new best friends had boarded his boat but so far had been given nothing in the way of explanation. "I'm listenin'."

"Seems I somehow offended the Lady. As a mark of her displeasure she burned my gorram business premises to the ground." Badger paused as if the memory was still painful. Like an open wound.

"Thought you built a shiny new one, better than?"

"Had to say that, see? Couldn't have folk think I wasn't on the up." Badger paused. "My men was locked inside. Not nothin' left but ash an' teeth."

The Captain looked shocked, no wonder Badger was so upset. "I didn't know..."

"Yeah well bad as that is it gets worse, see? She sends her Tong to replace the men I lost, sort of a 'sorry' only it ain't. I been tagged."

Mal blinked, sure he must not have heard Badger correctly. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"This thing they put in me. I do anythin' to displease her an' boom." Badger curled his hands together then opened them up like a fan to mimic an explosion.

"*Wode ma* Badger, you sayin' you got a ruttin' bomb inside you?"

Annoyed, Badger flapped his arms angrily and growled. "Why don't you shout it for all her bully boys to hear you *chunren*?"

"*Duibuqi*, I'm just shocked."

Badger calmed, his expression downcast. "Yeah, well imagine how I feel."

For a moment neither man spoke, both lost in their thoughts. Malcolm Reynolds was still mystified by the way in which Badger's failing fortunes had spun out of control and had caught him up in his troubles. "Not that I don't appreciate this little heart to heart but you got me chained to a wall. What do you expect me to do about it an' why am I here anyway?"

"We might not see eye to eye but by an' large we work well together. Don't have to like one another to do business, *dong ma*?"

"I think I'm gettin' teary eyed."

"Stow it Reynolds, I'm serious! One thing I always admired was your insanely loyal crew."

"They ain'there, Badger, an' in case you're feelin' slow you shot Serenity's engine to pieces an' you will be payin' for that. So my crew ain't goin' nowhere even if they wanna."

Badger gave him a thin, almost genuine, smile. "I've learned not to put anythin' passed 'em. If there's a way for them to get you outta this mess they'll find it."

"An' let me guess, when this miracle happens you wanna be clutchin' my coat tails, that it?"

"Just seems we could help one another. Get you free an' your shiny doc removes the bloody bomb in my gut."

"If it's in your gut can't you just wait until..."

"*Bu qu*. An' you can wipe that smirk off your face 'cause it ain't funny."

The mental image of Badger's exploding *pigu* was almost too much for Mal. Badger's eyes narrowed dangerously, he was getting seriously pissed off with being a figure of fun.

"You laugh an' I'll see it's the last gorram thing you do."

"Just got one thing to say to that Badger - coat tails."

This time the silence that lapsed between them was lengthy and sullen with Badger in a funk and the Captain realising just how much *goushi* he was in. When Badger spoke again he sounded sulky.

"You're lucky we need each other."

The Captain frowned but let the comment pass, he had more important things on his mind than Badger suddenly wanting to be his new best friend. "What exactly do they want me for?"

Badger straightened a little. "You know that War you failed to win? Seems they want you to keep the others in line."

"*Shenme*?" Mal froze, his thoughts taking a much darker path as horrified realisation stole upon him. The other prisoners, many already in an advanced state of decay...

"You don't mean...?"

Badger nodded though he didn't look too happy about it. "They're all Browncoats - or were. Every last one o' them, Mal. Don't know what they want with 'em but it was supposed to be you an' Zoe on'y with her bein' sick an' in quarantine..."

The Captain sent up a heartfelt prayer of thanks to Book for his quick thinking. Bad as his situation was he in no way wanted his oldest friend to be sharing it with him. Then he got to thinking how many cells were on this deck and multiplying it by three. No, surely some of them cells must be empty?

"You said they're all Browncoats. How many, Badger?"

It was painful to see the spike of sympathy on the little man's face before he buried it. His question hanging between them like a rutting hangman's noose as Badger weighed up how best to answer. "Alive or dead?"

* * * * *

River was true to her words, Billy and Howdy Marks were out cold in Inara's shuttle. River had used the pieces of string and laces she had collected to tie their hands and feet together just in case the sedative wore off before expected. Inara rose quickly, her eyes scanning their anxious faces.

"*Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"

"We were boarded, Inara." Zoe explained, her voice terse. "They took the Cap'n."

Inara felt her heart quail. "What do they want with Mal?"

"*Wo bu dong*, in fact none of this makes an ounce of sense."

"I felt several impacts, were they firing at us?"

Zoe nodded. Inara's eyebrows rose.

"Alliance?"

"*Bu qu*." Jayne elbowed his way just inside the door, not convinced the two men were completely unconscious until he could lay his eyes on them. "Some ruttin' big freighter. Had weapons added, Book thinks they were scavenged from the War."

Zoe cast a puzzled look around Inara's shuttle. "I thought Kaylee was with you?"

"She was but when Simon looked in to see how we were she dragged him away with her."

"Yeah," growled Jayne "I could hear 'em in her bunk ruttin' away like the end of the 'verse was comin' instead of just them."

"Jayne!" Snapped Zoe.

"*Shenme*? What I say now? It's the gorram truth. You wanna find the doc he'll be under Kaylee. Just follow the noise, they been doin' each other all mornin'."

* * * * *

It was heart breaking really it was. By the time Badger had brought the Captain up to date he felt sickened to the pit of his stomach. Then slowly, inexorably, his sorrow and disgust were pushed down deep and he gathered himself back up again. He was no good to anybody if he let Badger's news unman him. Had to find a way out of his gorram prison, check on the state of the prisoners on the other two decks and hope some were more alive than dead. Badger shook his head.

"Can't. First I don't have the gorram key an' even I did I wouldn't unlock them manacles."

"Badger, thought you said we should work together?"

"*Qu*, work together not die to-ruttin'-gether."

"You're a real hero."

"Yeah, well I ain't the one chained to the wall of his cell, am I? 'Sides, I free you they'll know it was me."

"Where exactly're we headed?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*, heard Magnus say somethin' about some gorram station on'y I ain't never heard of it."

Something sparked in Mal's memory. "Titan Station?"

"Yeah, that's it." Badger paused and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "How come you know about it?"

"Didn't 'til recently but I can tell you this. It's a top secret Alliance *jianyu* an' that ain't all."

"*Shenme*? You got more bad news to share?"

So Malcolm Reynolds told him, watching how the little King Pin's eyes widened in horror and alarm. "We're dead men."

"Permaybehaps but this might not turn out so bad after all."

Badger stared at him as if Serenity's Captain had taken complete leave of his senses. "You're *shenjingbing*, you know that?"

Something glittered hard and implacable in the Captain's eyes and Badger just knew that no matter how crazy the plan he would going along with it anyway. After all, what choice did he have?

* * * * *

Howdy Marks came to sluggishly, everything dragging at his senses as if his mind had been reduced to liquid and was bleeding out of his ears. "Huh?"

"He's awake."

"Really? You go to doctor school to learn that?" Growled Jayne sarcastically.

Simon stared at the mercenary and wondered what was the matter with him, apart from them being left adrift in the Black with their Captain missing and Jerrod Perkins and his duplicitous crew clamming up on them. When Jerrod refused to explain his actions, they left him and the others locked in the spare shuttle. Zoe was now anxious to see what Howdy Marks and Billy Parker had to say for themselves, especially as River was adamant that they were trying to help Serenity's crew.

"You care to explain why you stole phials of sedative from our infirmary then tried to put us all under?"

Howdy blinked at Zoe, could feel the fear bubbling up inside him choking off any attempt to speak. Luckily Blly Parker regained consciousness and his senses at the same time. "Wasn't our idea, *dong ma*?" Billy paused and glanced at Howdy to give him a chance to speak up but the man looked as if he had been struck dumb. "Don't mind Howdy, he isn't that quick on the uptake even when he's got his brain in gear."

Howdy Marks glared at him but Billy took no notice. It was time to lay what cards they had on the table, quick before one of the crew decided to vent them into the atmo.

"Don't know what got into Jerrod truth to tell. One minute he was fine then he got a call an' everythin' changed. Like suddenly we wasn't on the same side no more which didn't make sense. Couldn't talk to him, he was all fired up."

Shepherd Book's interest immediately tweaked. "What kind of call?"

Billy shrugged. "Dunno, but he was right scared. That was when he babbled on about pickin' up some gorram transmission."

Book and Zoe exchanged a look. Billy didn't know what it meant until the Shepherd leaned in close, his voice dropping a register. "Is that why you injected me with sedative?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *cuode* = wrong *qu* = yes (lit. go) *tamade hundans* = fucking bastards *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *diyu* = hell *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *meiren* = nobody *leihuai le* = exhausted *dancheng piao* = one way ticket *dong ma* = understand? *bi zui* = shut up/be quiet *bei chao* = not so noisy *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *wode ma* = mother of God *chunren* = fool, jerk *duibuqi* = sorry *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *pigu* = bottom *goushi* = crap/dog shit *shenme* = what *fasheng le shenme shir la* = what has happened? *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *jianyu* = prison *shenjingbing* = crazy

COMMENTS

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 8:09 PM

NUTLUCK


Yes but what about Serenity she has been shoot and bleeding out... well what ever ships bleed out... the humanity.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 11:55 PM

AMDOBELL


Patience Nutluck, you can't expect everything in one chapter. Well, you can, it just doesn't work that way. More coming soon. Thanks as always for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, September 5, 2013 11:01 PM

MALSDOXY


they want Mal to 'keep the prisoners in line' ? oh they are fools aren't they? they don't know him very well, do they?? mine is an evil laugh BWAH HA HA more please AliD

Thursday, September 5, 2013 11:04 PM

EBFIDDLER


I'm thinking the guards on Titan Station are also sent there as a punishment...what a rotten assignment, to be under the command of Wilkinson! I'm glad to see Mal gather himself together -- it certainly looks desperate, but desperate situations are known to bring out some of the best in Malcolm Reynolds. Let's just hope it'll be enough. He's got an ally in Badger, and knows enough about him to assess just to what degree he can count on Badger (i.e., Badger will help if it helps him save his own skin, too). At least Badger is a somewhat predictable factor in this mess.

Friday, September 6, 2013 8:24 AM

AMDOBELL


I agree Malsdoxy, it is funny them wanting Mal to keep the prisoners in line. They are so going to wish they hadn't wanted that. And yes, Titan Station is a punishment posting for the guards Ebfiddler but some enjoy it more than others. Badger can be a dubious ally but he knows he can't get out of the situation without Mal and the Captain can use that. Thank you both for the shiny feedback! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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