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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 53. "Not Funny"
Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A longer silence fell punctuated only by bouts of ragged sobbing. Leastways the actual wailing had stopped.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1601    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "NOT FUNNY" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 53. Sequel to "ENEMY HANDS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara SUMMARY: "Monty and Zoe are puzzled as to what the freighter is doing while down on Titan Station the guards are getting ready in case they are attacked. Meanwhile Malcolm Reynolds and Badger try to figure out what in the nine hells is really going on."

"NOT FUNNY"

A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

On the Kingfisher, Monty stared at the huge freighter. Beside him Zoe was a firm silent shadow, her eyes fixed on the ship hanging stationary above Titan Station. She had no idea what kind of monitoring equipment the *jianyu* had but there was no way that anyone down on that Moon could look up and not see it.

"Huh, what're they waitin' for?" Asked Jayne, his tone ansty.

Zoe didn't take her eyes off the vessel. "Somethin's *cuode*."

Their friend Monty was inclined to agree but was also puzzled. "Didn't River say we had to hurry?"

"That she did, also said they were hostages."

Jayne scowled. "They?"

The shrug was in the first mate's voice. "It was as much as I could get out of her, that an' they were hurtin' the Cap'n."

Danny, the Kingfisher's pilot kept scanning all channels but so far had not picked up a single wave either to or from the ship. "We should move back, *laoban*, if they decide to fire..."

He did not get to finish that sentence before Zoe cut him off. "*Bu qu*!"

Jayne was not sure what had changed. "*Shenme shi*?"

"*Wo bu zhidao*. Jayne, go an' get River, . Before we do anythin' the Cap'n might regret I want some answers that don't involve riddles."

* * * * *

It was awful. The pain excruciating, the darkness frightening in its' intensity. He cried, shock robbing him of his senses so that all he could embrace was what had been taken from him.

"Badger, *pinjng zhenjing! Shenme shi*?"

"Arrrggh! My eyes, my eyes, they've taken my bloody eyes!"

* * * * *

"Blood pressure's high and rising, my Lady."

"And Captain Reynolds?"

"That's *qiguai de*."

The Lady leaned in closer to her personal cortex screen, eyes fixed like lasers on her Major Domo. Matthew James Wong who was operating a small hand held device, his dextrous fingers scrolling through readings and translating them to the Lady.

"He is calm, my Lady, and getting calmer by the moment."

"Do you think he suspects?"

Wong looked up from the device to make eye contact through the cortex link. "*Bu keneng*, my Lady. He should be getting more concerned not less."

The Lady looked thoughtful. "Stress can have different effects on people. It is possible that where others fall to pieces Captain Reynolds has learnt to use it as a stimulus for the intellect."

Wong knew better than to question her. After all the Lady had been an eminent scientist in her own right until she had married but the need to amass information and experiment was something she still could not resist. People interested her. Only by learning their strengths and weaknesses could she predict with any accuracy how best to use them, even when they knew not that they were being used. This Captain was sharper than most, not so easily fooled or willing to believe what seemed so obvious to others. It made for an interesting challenge.

* * * * *

It was no good, nothing they did or tried improved their situation. Kaylee rocked back on her heels and stared disconsolately at Serenity's silent non-functioning heart, her face flushed and smeared with dirt and oil. Wash looked tired, frustrated and disappointed. They could have done with some good news by now.

"At least all the connectors are shiny." Said Kaylee, trying to inject something upbeat into the silence.

Wash put the last wrench back in Kaylee's toolbox. Unable to fix the engine they had spent their time getting her ready for removing as soon as Inara figured out a way to get them a replacement. Kaylee had the winching rig all set up but not connected. Much as she wanted to believe that Inara could use her contacts to get them a new engine she knew how much it was asking and how unlikely it was that anyone would not only be able to supply a replacement but get it sent out to them. She glanced around the engine room. Kaylee's work area had never been so tidy but that was just how Wash worked. Kaylee could work in a complete mess and still be able to put her hand on what she wanted when she wanted it but nothing could fix an engine as shot to pieces as Serenity's was and that was a fact.

"*Fang xin*, 'nara knows lots of folk, Wash."

"But not many with a spare Firefly engine."

Kaylee was about to tell him he just had to have a ittle faith when her com activated. Quickly she answered it. "Hope ya got good news for us, 'nara."

* * * * *

Badger wailed and sobbed, his voice cracking from a throat raw from screaming. When the Captain spoke again he sounded somewhat closer, settled into that kind of scary calm that Badger secretly envied. "Thought I was the one blinded?" He said quietly. "Eyes gouged out you said."

Badger didn't give a good gorram what Malcolm Reynolds thought, his whole 'verse narrowed down to his own pitiful situation. "Yeah, well those *tamade hundan* must'a been practisin' on you 'cause I'm blind now."

A longer silence fell punctuated only by bouts of ragged sobbing. Leastways the actual wailing had stopped. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity Mal's mind was clear. Not fogged up with the terrible stench of vomit and death, though it was still there he had been able to consign it more to the background. There was something important needed figuring and slowly he was putting two and two together. "Badger, need you to open your eyes *dong ma*?"

"What part o' blind don't you understand, Reynolds?"

"Just do it. One eye at a time if you wanna but do it."

Badger's voice was rising now, anger and frustration mixed in with more than a little fear. "I don't have any you *chun shenjingbing hundan*!"

The Captain did not lose his temper, his voice remarkably calm. Soothing almost. "Badger, need you to calm down an' listen to me."

The little King Pin ignored him right up until the Captain slapped his face. Hard.

"Oi, you ruddy well hit me! You'll pay for that."

"Open your gorram eyes!"

"*Ri ni*!"

The Captain's voice dropped real low. "I ain't blind Badger an' I'm guessin' you ain't neither."

"Very funny, what you do for a bloody encore? Torture puppies?"

Instead of replying the Captain suddenly caught hold of Badger's hands. Alarmed, Badger tried to pull free and back away but Mal held him fast.

"Leave me alone!"

"Badger, you still got your eyes, *dong ma?*" Then without waiting for a reply the Captain lifted Badger's hands and placed them over the man's eyes. After a few moments Badger realised he was not feeling empty and bloody eye sockets. Shocked, he tentatively explored as the Captain let go and found that they were not damaged at all. "You can open your eyes now, Badger."

Trembling, Badger did just that and blinked in confusion, his sight blurry not from damaged vision but the harsh white light filling the room they were in. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness he stared at Malcolm Reynolds. They were each sitting on stainless steel beds or gurneys. The room looked for all the 'verse like some rutting operating theatre only there were no signs of any equipment. No monitors, no precision instruments for cutting, sewing and putting a body back together or - in their cases - taking them apart. What in the nine hells was going on? If anything, Badger felt more afraid now than he had before. Oddly enough it was the Captain's tan shirt that caught his attention.

"You still got your shirt on."

The Captain frowned slightly, wondered if the man was going into shock. "Got my eyes too."

Slowly Badger looked up and stared at the Captain. "*Wo bu dong*. I saw 'em cut your shirt off you an' that Enforcer Magnus whip you. Strips o' skin an' flesh hangin' off your gorram back."

It was not what Mal expected Badger to say but right now he had to get him sharp and fully functioning again. He unbuttoned his shirt and took it off, twisting his body so that Badger could see his back. Badger raised his eyebrows, his confusion deepening. His voice had a tremble in it when he spoke.

"You're healed, who the good gorram doctored you?"

The Captain put his shirt back on and began doing the buttons back up. Despite the stench the ship was oddly cold. He could not remember if it had been this cold when they were brought aboard. "Nobody doctored us 'cause we wasn't hurt."

Badger thought about that for a minute then scowled at the Captain. "I know what I saw!"

"An' I believed I was blind too but as you can plainly see I ain't an' neither are you. They been playin' mind games with us, Badger."

"Mind games?"

"Yeah, I reckon we been drugged, not sure why."

Mal was glad to see the colour coming back into Badger's face, his usual sunny brand of belligerence making a come back. "They were torturin' us that's why."

"It don't make sense." The Captain slid off his gurney and slipped his braces back in place. Quickly he walked around the room checking all the built in drawers and cupboards as if looking for clues but every one of them was empty. When he got to the door Mal was surprised to find it was unlocked. Carefully he opened it enough to take a look but there was no one in the corridor and he realised just how quiet the ship was. It was kind of eerie. "Where the *diyu* is everybody?"

* * * * *

Titan Station had been put on full but silent alert. Ryland Wilkinson didn't know what was wrong but he had that creeping sensation crawling up his spine. Again he checked the position of the Cold Harbour but the freighter hadn't moved. Spit Henson had been quick to break out the heavy weapons complete with armour piercing rounds and a choice of explosive heads. He liked the pump action on his twin bore but Wilko didn't go in for flash. He had the old anti aircraft guns kicked into service even though they were a mite creaky and there was no guarantee they would be that accurate even if he could get them to fire. Inwardly he cursed the fact that maintenance on them had been such a low priority that it had not been carried out for years. He would be surprised if the gun mountings still worked right let alone the firing mechanisms. All could be remotely operated from the control room but if anything stuck they were just as likely to implode as explode. Jimmy John Dyer seemed to be having the same thoughts.

"I don't think we should try to use the anti aircraft guns, *laoban*. When I looked at them they were more rust than metal an' the mountin's haven't been greased in a dragon's age."

Wilkinson was in no mood to hear the obvious. "Then go grease 'em an' stop your bitchin'."

Although Dyer's expression darkened he said nothing but left the Chief Guard to work out what was going on and what to do about it. Shooting everything that moved, or in this case didn't, was not what he would have called a strategy. He thought Wilko was getting seriously rattled and while he would normally enjoy the sight he was a mite disturbed himself.

As Dyer made his way to the storage bay to collect some grease for the gun mountings he ran into Toby Edwards. The young guard looked worried. "Think there's gonna be a prison break, JJ?"

Dyer shook his head. "You saw the state of the prisoners Toby. We'll be lucky if none of them die the way we been workin' them."

As Dyer continued up the corridor Toby Edwards fell into step beside him. "I meant, what if that freighter full of Browncoats is plannin' to break 'em out?"

Startled, Dyer stopped and stared at Toby. "You know the drill. Those decks were all converted into cells, any Browncoats bein' ferried out to us have no access beyond those cells *dong ma*? Also, the crew are some of the toughest men in the 'verse."

"Then why's it just hangin' there?"

"Most likely got engine trouble. No need to think worse than that."

"Then why ain't they sendin' us a wave?"

Dyer opened his mouth then shut it again. It was a good question and one he had been asking himself since the freighter had appeared.

"I don't like this, Jimmy."

"An' I don't like greasin' gun mounts that are likely ceased anyway. Best you help, we'll let Wilko worry about the rest, *dong ma*?"

* * * * *

It was like moving around a ghost ship but one with all the bodies still in situ, many rotting and giving homes to various kinds of larvae but the deck after this one had sounds in it not related to blowflies and their various cousins. The first human sounds Badger had heard since following that *shenjingbing* Captain out of the operating theatre. It was creepy as *diyu* but there was no way he was staying behind with all the *guai* screaming inside his head. Live company, even that of Reynolds, was better than the nightmares of the dead and the dying he could not help conjuring.

Malcolm Reynolds hurried in the direction of the voices crying out, men driven to their extremis and in the throes of utter agony. What he saw when he reached them made him weep. Even in their sorry state all the men were locked into their individual cells and he did not have the keys. Where the good gorram were the rutting keys? That was when he had an epiphany. Those Tong who had run the ship had taken his gun, must have put it somewhere. If he could find his weapon then he could shoot out the locks. That fun little fantasy died as he looked down the corridor and viewed the endless line of locked cells. Gorramit, he would need an armoury of ammo just to reload. And there were two more levels he had yet to investigate. He turned as Badger caught up with him, the little man wheezing from the unaccustomed exercise.

"You any idea where those *tamade hundan* keep the cell keys, Badger?"

"How the *diyu* would I know?"

A groan turned into a coughing fit before a ragged voice broke free of it. "Guards got the keys."

It was a harsh rattle of a whisper but carried. Mal looked through the grating until he found the right cell, the man lying half propped up against the bars of his filthy prison. One eye was closed but the other looked at him, the face distorted as if the man had suffered a stroke but when he lifted his head clear the Captain could see it was just how he had been lying. Still. Wasn't a pretty sight.

"You know where the cell keys are, soldier?"

"Guards carry 'em."

Frustrated the Captain huffed. "Ain't no guards now."

The man perked up and gave the Captain a closer look, his spine straightening best it could in his damaged condition. "I know you."

The Captain had been looking into the cells either side of him but quickly returned. "*Shenme*? You recognise me?"

The man tried to smile but it came out a gappy grimmace, gums bloody where teeth had been. "*Qu*, you're Malcolm Reynolds. You come to break us out, Sarge?"

"Soon as I find them keys or somethin' to force this lock but first things first. Report!"

The man couldn't make it to his feet but he was sitting up ramrod straight now, his one eye shining. He could not salute without falling flat on his face so he put the respect in his voice and hoped that would convey how he felt. "Gordon Tanner, private first class!"

"When were you taken captive Private Tanner?"

Tanner's expression grew anxious as he tried to remember. "*Wo bu zhidao*, Sarge, but it's been months. Maybe longer. I was loadin' timber on Three Hills with a couple'a friends. Big old freighter landed at the port, me an' the boys didn't take much notice. Thought they was after wood an' supplies, didn't figure out the only supplies they wanted was us until all hell broke loose."

Badger stared at the man. A few seconds ago he would have guessed Tanner was on his last breath, but as soon as he recognised the Captain it was as if the spark of life had reignited in him. The Captain squatted down in front of Tanner's cell so he could be eye level with the man. "*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"Three Hills been havin' trouble with a rival Tong movin' in. Was slow to begin with but then they seemed to be everywhere an' things got gorram ugly, Sarge. The two Tongs started fightin, we figured best get out of there *mashang* before they turned on us only not all the gangs were fightin'. When we tried to leave they picked us up an' hauled us onto this death ship."

Badger leaned forward a mite. "What happened to the Tongs?"

"Who cares? Only know about the ones who grabbed us, White Lotus."

The Captain hid his confusion. The White Lotus Tong were one of the warring factions on Anaeron but the markings on the bully boys who had been paying lip service to Badger were from a different Tong, and now they had seemingly vanished. What did it mean?

"I can tell ya this though, Sarge."

"What's that?"

"As we were bein' rounded up an Alliance ship appeared. Saw it hoverin' above the loggin' mill. Was wonderin' why it didn't land, plus it made no sense for it to be so far out on the Rim."

"What sort of ship was it?"

"One of them top of the line Dreadnoughts but it had these ventin' holes or somesuch all along the underneath an' sides. At first I thought they was gun ports but they weren't. Never seen anythin' like it."

Mal got a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Did you see what happened next?"

Tanner shook his head. "*Duibuqi*, was too busy tryin' to dodge the worst of the blows. Once they got us on board they shoved us in these *shen goushi* cells an' we been pissin' an' dyin' in 'em ever since."

As Tanner finished speaking Mal became aware of the rising clamour of voices vying to be heard from the other cells. Tanner said he had been on this ship months maybe longer which meant the appearance of the Alliance on Three Hills predated what had happened on Anaeron. Was Three Hills the dry run? And if it was what the *diyu* did any of this have to do with the Tongs? Just as importantly, why were they rounding up Browncoats?

* * * * *

GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *jianyu* = prison *cuode* = wrong *laoban* = boss *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *pinjing zhenjing* = calm down *qiguai de* = strange/odd *bu keneng* = impossible *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *dong ma* = understand? *chun shenjingbing hundan* = stupid crazy bastard *ri ni* = screw you *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *diyu* = hell *shenjingbing* = crazy *guai* = ghost/devil *shenme* = what *qu* = yes (lit. go) *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *duibuqi* = sorry *shen goushi* = deep crap/deep shit

COMMENTS

Thursday, September 26, 2013 1:36 AM

NUTLUCK


And the bunny came out of the hat finally, well sorta. Or maybe the cat has poked it's head out of the bag. It is so hard to keep straight which one is poking out more some times but interesting to see/read at any rate. :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013 5:27 AM

AMDOBELL


Who's been reading "The Cat In The Hat"? Your comment did make me smile Nutluck. Thanks for the shiny feedback. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, September 28, 2013 2:45 PM

MALSDOXY


oh Malcolm Reynolds, you magnificent bastard, you're so bloody clever! you're working it all out, now, will you share it with us? great and intriguing chapter, keeping the web as tangled as ever but captivating, too, xie xie, AliD

Sunday, September 29, 2013 6:40 PM

AMDOBELL


Yep, trust our Captain to figure it out - or have a good idea where it is all heading while fitting in the puzzle pieces, Malsdoxy. So happy you are intrigued and captivated. "Xie xie ni", Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, September 30, 2013 2:19 PM

BYTEMITE


Ooooh. This gonna be good.

Drugs hadn't occurred to me, nice twist.

Monday, September 30, 2013 7:09 PM

AMDOBELL


Gorram mind games, Bytemite. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, October 7, 2013 3:19 PM

EBFIDDLER


Oh wow, this was a really interesting twist! I wasn't expecting this -- but of course I'm glad that Mal worked it out. Now if only they can figure out how to rescue the prisoners. Great chapter.

Monday, October 7, 2013 7:07 PM

AMDOBELL


I am glad you didn't see the twist coming, Ebfiddler. The Big Damn Rescue is coming up so hang on tight! Thank you for the welcome feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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