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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 54. "Cruel and Unusual"
Sunday, October 6, 2013

As he opened his mouth a sound like the earth splitting open filled the air. Muck, grime and heavy metal shearing and twisting under pressure was all the warning he got...


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1588    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "CRUEL AND UNUSUAL" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 54. Sequel to "NOT FUNNY" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Titan Station gets ready to take action against the Cold Harbour. The Captain tries to work out what is really going on while Monty and Zoe set out on a rescue mission."

"CRUEL AND UNUSUAL"

A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

It was like all her Christmases and Birthdays rolled into one. Kaywinnet lee Fry was grinning fit to bust, so full of happy that it was spilling out all over the place. Despite the predicament they were in Wash could not help but grin back. Nobody that lived and breathed could possibly be immune to Kaylee in bliss mode.

"Don't know how ya pulled it off 'nara but you prove miracles DO happen!"

Inara pinked prettily, not a full out and out blush but the more discreet lady-like kind that just added a rose tint to the already flawless perfection of her face. Wash wondered if she was taught how to do that in Companion school then immediately told himself off for even thinking it.

"When I explained our predicament he was only too happy to help, *mei mei*."

Kaylee hummed happily, watching like a mother hen as the two hefty men used a floating pallet to bring the new engine right up to Serenity's engine room. All the more appreciated as Kaylee and Wash had spent well over an hour getting the old engine out using the antiquated low tech lifting gear. Might not be as shiny and top of the line as the floating pallet but it could do things the pallet couldn't, just not very quickly. Right now Kaylee was in her seventh heaven and anxious for the men to lower it gently into the engine housing so she and Wash could get it all linked up and bedded in place. Inara turned a beatific smile on the two men once the engine was in place, following them out with their pallet.

"Please convey my heartfelt thanks to Minister Heyerdahl. I am most grateful for his assistance."

The two men bowed. "*Buyong xie*, Miss Serra." Said the taller one. Is there anything else we can assist you with?"

Her smile if anything brightened further, warming the two men equally. "*Bu qu, xie xie ni.*"

They made their polite farewells and Inara saw them off the ship, a thoughtful expression on her face as she watched them board the executive flyer knowing that somewhere out there was the Minister's own private vessel. For some reason a shadow passed over her heart but it was so fleeting she did not mark it. There would be a price to be paid and her promise to make herself available to the Minister when they next met had seemed a small concession for such a handsome gift.

Inara hurried back to the engine room to see how Kaylee and Wash were doing. Being able to get Serenity back up and running under her own steam would make everyone happy as well as a certain obstinate ship's Captain. With luck they would now stand a better chance of getting Mal back. Had Inara made a detour to the bridge she would have noticed the passage of the flyer leaving their ship. A flyer that was there one moment then simply winked out of sight the next.

* * * * *

For a moment or two Ryan McFarlane was confused and disorientated, unable to grasp what had woken him until the toe of a heavy work boot connected with his already sore and recovering rib cage. He cried out and tried to roll out of the way but hands reached down and dragged him to his feet.

In the dim confines of their room, Ryan heard Elliot being similarly roused along with the other men. Two were so hard to wake that the shock sticks came out and the flash of white light made Ryan squeeze his eyes shut to protect them. "*Shenme shi?*"

A voice he recognised as the new guard, Toby Edwards, answered. "You're needed to man the guns."

He opened his eyes a crack and waited until he could see the man more clearly, sure he could not have heard him correctly. "Guns?"

The deep rough voice of Ryland Wilkinson came from somewhere behind him but Ryan did not turn round to see. Making eye contact with Wilko was tantamount to waving a red flag at a bull. A violent and seriously deranged one at that. "You'll see soon enough, now MOVE, *mashang*!"

* * * * *

"It don't make sense."

Badger scowled at him, annoyed. "You prefer to be *shiming*?"

"Already told you, we were never blind."

"You said we was drugged."

"It's the only thing that explains what we thought happened to us."

Badger shoved his face close to the Captain and looked up, annoyed that he had to crane his neck to make eye contact. "You ever think maybe we're still drugged?" Now that was a scary thought.

The Captain shot him a dirty look then started to stride quickly towards a rusted metal staircase. The little King Pin had to jog to catch up with him.

"*Wei! Women qu nar*?"

"Badger, we have to search the ship an' find those keys, *dong ma*?"

"An' do what? Unlock all those dead an' dyin' Browncoats?"

Suddenly the little man was lifted up off his feet and did not have to look up at Malcolm Reynolds any more. He remembered a mite late that the man was touchy about mocking the Independents and their doomed attempt to free themselves from the yoke of the Almighty Alliance. "Ain't leavin' them behind, *dong ma*?"

"In case you haven't noticed Reynolds this bucket o' rust hasn't moved since we woke up. Maybe those *tamade hundan* sabotaged it, left us on the drift."

The Captain let go and Badger stumbled as he felt the deck once more below his feet. "All the more reason to try to work out what's goin' on as we look for them keys. Not all these men are at death's door, Badger."

"Yeah, well we still got two floors to go so don't get your hopes up."

The Captain gritted his teeth and started to climb. This being the bowels of the gorram ship the only way was up.

* * * * *

With the Cold Harbour being such a massive freighter, Danny had been careful not to get too close and to be on the safe side had made sure the vessel was between them and Titan Station. For all their fears that it might open fire on them nothing happened. The ship neither moved, made or received a single wave or showed any sign of fixing their guns on the Kingfisher.

Monty frowned and slowly stroked his whiskers. "*Wo bu xihuan*."

Danny looked at Monty, little furrows of worry lines showing his growing unease. "*Women ying gou zuo shenme, laoban*?"

Although he could feel Zoe's eyes on him, Monty had no intention of doing anything hasty. Not without more information. Trouble was he had no idea how they were going to figure out this gorram conundrum. Just then River joined them, the other Readers trailing in her wake like a row of ducklings. Zoe gave the girl a level look. Not mad at her but not exactly happy either. "Need you to stop talkin' in riddles, River."

River nodded. "Time to take the gloves off."

"*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

"He knows but he doesn't comprehend."

This was exactly what Zoe did not want, more cryptic craziness.

"Not crazy."

"Who're you talkin' about?"

"Jerrod."

Serenity's first mate had to take a deep breath. "River, you know Jerrod and his men are back on Serenity."

The girl shook her head, an anxious look overtaking her former calm. "Not now. I was confused, they were in pain so I concentrated on them. *Shi wode cuo*."

"River, speak plain, *dong ma*?"

As if in answer to Zoe's mounting frustration Davie stepped forward, paused to glance at River for a moment but the girl gave no sign that she was taking any notice of any of them. A far away look had come into River's eyes that some found a mite disconcerting. Davie turned to Zoe. "When she's confused her mind gets cloudy an' we can't help but sometimes the three of us can see more clearly without tuning in to River. It's not as easy as it sounds but we've been practisin'."

Zoe gave him a nod. "Go on."

"The ship isn't dangerous now but they need help. Some are already dyin'."

Her heart quailed. "The Cap'n...?"

A brief smile flashed over Davie's face to reassure her. "He isn't hurt."

"Then who's dyin'?"

Davie looked as if he wanted to cry. Suzie and Lucy moved closer, Suzie gently touching Davie's arm like a big sister offering comfort. Suzie spoke for him. "Friends, strangers but all victims."

As Zoe opened her mouth to ask what they meant River turned her head and pinned her with a look now in focus. "Browncoats."

Monty looked shocked. Zoe felt sick, her voice dropping to just above a whisper as if she was afraid of what the answer to her question would be. "How many?"

"Hundreds."

Just then Simon arrived with his medical bag. Behind him Jayne cradled Vera in his arms with Shepherd Book coming in behind them. Simon fixed his attention on Serenity's first mate after giving a nod of recognition to Monty. "We have to get to that ship, people are injured."

Zoe stared at him. Monty came to a quick decision. "Take us to the freighter Danny but keep it between us an' Titan Station, *dong ma*?"

"Why ya wanna do that?" Growled Jayne. "It's just a gorram *jianyu*."

Zoe answered automatically even though her mind was wondering in what state they would find her Captain and long time friend. "It's Alliance, Jayne, an' we already know it's a top secret an' top security prison. Means we expect anythin', *dong ma*?"

The mercenary exchanged a look with the Preacher. "Huh, knew I should'a brought grenades."

* * * * *

It was only when the new engine was all fitted and ready for a test firing that Kaylee found something odd about it. Inara had gone to make some tea but Wash was still with her, a big sappy grin all over his face as he imagined the look of surprise and pleasure on his wife's face when they brought Serenity to her.

"Wash?"

It was her tone that Wash picked up on. "*Shenme shi*?"

Kaylee turned to look at him, her expression dull and unhappy. A million miles away from the joy of only minutes ago. Kaylee indicated the engine then chattered on about how happy the Captain was going to be to have Serenity able to fly under her own steam again.

Wash was confused. He looked at the engine, bent his head every which way looking to see what was wrong but Kaylee touched his arm to get his attention then put a finger to her lips. Wash watched her like a hawk and waited for an explanation. Kaylee forced a brightness into her voice that was not matched by the look on her face.

"Don't know about ya but I need a break."

Wash mouthed unspoken words but Kaylee shook her head.

Taking his cue from her Wash nodded. "Yeah, me too."

Once out in the corridor Wash wanted to ask her what the good gorram was wrong but the mechanic shook her head and dragged him to the commons area when Inara was pouring tea into mugs for them. Inara started to smile then realised something was wrong. "Kaylee, is everything alright?"

"It's the new engine, 'Nara."

"Oh no, don't say there's something wrong with it?"

Kaylee took a seat at the table and Inara and Wash did too. Kaylee lowered her voice and leaned towards them. "It ain't right. Someone's fitted up a remote feed."

Wash looked worried. "What kind?"

"The kind that's also a listenin' device so we gotta watch what we say when go anywhere near it, *dong ma*? As for the device itself it's got an over ride function, not added but built in. Means they can cut out the engine any time they wanna." Kaylee paused, speaking carefully so as not to upset Inara. "Who gave ya the engine, 'Nara?"

The Companion had gone pale. The Minister was high up in the Alliance government hierarchy but what possible reason could Minister Heyerdahl have for rigging the new engine? Unless... "I don't believe my contact is behind this and if that is the case it means our communications are being monitored, or maybe just mine."

Wash was confused. "Yours?"

"Don't ask me to explain because I can't."

"This contact of yours...?" Prompted Wash.

Inara's mouth had gone dry. "Is Alliance."

"Don't take this the wrong way Inara but how much did you tell your contact?"

The Companion stared at Wash. It was a fair question but it made her feel culpable when all she had wanted to do was help. "I told him Serenity's engine had failed stranding us and asked if he could help."

Kaylee's expression lightened somewhat. "Well, that don't sound so bad."

"Except," said Wash " you would have had to give him our location."

The two women stared at him.

"We're nowhere near Titan Station, Wash." Said Inara.

"*Wo zhidao* but we would be if our engine hadn't been shot to pieces. It's the only place this far out an' on this headin', Inara. No planets to speak of an' no trade routes. Not like we could be out here accidentally."

Inara put her hand over her mouth as the import of what he was saying sank in. "*Wode ma* what have I done?"

* * * * *

Zoe noted that Book had armed himself, the rifle held as naturally as if it belonged in his hands. What she had not expected to see was the holster and sidearm. "Expectin' trouble, Preacher?"

"We don't know what we'll be walkin' into. Best to be prepared." Her nod was curt but grateful. She had not asked him to come with them but was glad. Book was a calm steadying presence. Didn't hurt that he was also a very fine shot, kneecaps and bible quotes notwithstanding. Right now she would take any help she could get. The freighter spooked her and it was not a feeling she liked. "River, need you an' the others to stay here with Monty."

River did not look happy. "You need me."

Simon put a hand on her shoulder. "*Mei mei*, it isn't safe."

She shook her head. "*Ni bu dong* Simon, I know whereabouts on the ship they are."

Jayne hefted Vera in his hands. "*Fang xin*, we'll find 'em."

"It has four decks and will take time."

"Then tell us where they are." Said Zoe.

River opened her mouth to object but Simon got there first. "*Qing*, it would really help *mei mei*."

The girl gave a reluctant nod then directions. Monty wanted to ask her how she did that, how she could possibly know. It was kind of unnerving when River turned and looked straight at him. "Just do. Some call it a Gift but it's also a curse."

When Monty started to follow them, Zoe paused. "No offence Monty but I'd be happier with you stayin' on your ship. If trouble comes callin' might need you to run interference for us."

The two stared into each other's eyes for a moment and it was as if a whole other conversation was taking place. Monty wanted to get Mal out as badly as she did but nodded his agreement, not able to put it in actual words. Danny brought them in so close that they could see the docking ring and carefully lined the Kingfisher up to form a solid seal with the other ship.

Monty was about to tell Zoe to call them over the Cold Harbour's com with a sitrep but River pre-empted him, her head shaking emphatically. "Too *weixian*. Have to keep radio silence but I'll know."

Oddly enough Zoe felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders and gave the girl a thin but genuine smile. "*Xie xie.*"

"My family too."

Zoe blinked, opened her mouth to say something then shut it again and simply nodded. Simon wanted to give his sister a hug but River took a half step back. "Not a child any more."

At the flicker of hurt in his eyes she relented and let him hug her. "We'll be back before you know it, *mei mei*."

River flashed a grin as they parted. "No you won't."

For a moment everyone froze then River explained.

"I always know."

* * * * *

Despite being so tired he could barely stand, Ryan McFarlane knew what he was looking at and it did not bode well for any of them. He wanted to rant and rail at Wilkinson but if he did that it would just give the man way too much pleasure. Toby Edwards was anxious, the Browncoat was taking too long and he did not want to face the brunt of the Chief Guard's ire for not imposing discipline. The trouble was the prisoners all looked ready to drop and not get up again and that included this one.

"You need to get the gun operatin', *mashang*!"

Ryan gazed at him blearily. Even though Edwards tried to sound firm and authoritative it didn't work too well, what with the young man's voice cracking and the nerves he could not hide. "The gun's seized, *dong ma*?"

A look of panic flickered quickly over the guard's face. "*Ni bu dong*, you don't get that gun firin' he'll kill you."

"At least I'd get some rest." Ryan mumbled wearily.

Edwards tried a different tack. "Probably kill me too."

Ryan blinked slowly and noticed how desperately young the guard was. Probably shaking in his gorram boots but what could he do? "Can't work miracles." He held up his hands, they were still thickly coated in the grease he had been rubbing into the gun emplacement. "The most damage you could do with this piece of *goushi* is throw it at someone, always supposin' you got somethin' can lift it."

Just then Wilko's voice blared out over the speaker system. "If I don't hear them guns start firin' in the next five minutes I'm gonna start shootin'."

Ryan exchanged a look with Edwards which clearly said it wasn't going to happen but whether to save the young guard's face or because he felt sorry for him, he tried to get the gun to fire. Nothing happened. Edwards looked panicked. Ryan wanted to tell him it wasn't his fault, gun was just old and corroded and hadn't been maintained. As he opened his mouth a sound like the earth splitting open filled the air. Muck, grime and heavy metal shearing and twisting under pressure was all the warning he got before the next gun emplacement exploded taking off the top of Ricky Hill's head. The splatter of blood, bits of bone and brain were lost in the cloud of debris and the screaming of men and metal being wrenched apart as the world turned to black.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *mei mei* = little sister *buyong xie* = you're welcome *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xie xie ni* = thank you *shiming* = blind *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *dong ma* = understand? *wei* = hey! *women qu nar* = where are we going? *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wo bu xihuan* = I don't like it *women ying gou zuo shenme* = what should we do? *laoban* = boss *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *shi wode cuo* = my fault *jianyu* = prison *wo zhidao* = I know *wode ma* = mother of God *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart *qing* = please *weixian* = dangerous *xie xie* = thanks *goushi* = crap/dog shit

COMMENTS

Monday, October 7, 2013 4:03 PM

EBFIDDLER


Oh no! Inara's attempt to help has come at a price; let's just hope it's not too high. At last Zoe's rescue team has reached the point at which they might help. Action in the next chapter, I'm thinking. I especially liked River's comment when Simon said they'd be back before you know it. It was just the right amount of disconcerting before she explained what she meant -- a real in-character River moment. :-)

Monday, October 7, 2013 5:07 PM

NUTLUCK


So wonder if the friend of Inara is a new player or someone already involved. Plus River being a smart ass to Simon, what's not to like.

Monday, October 7, 2013 7:00 PM

AMDOBELL


It just goes to show you don't get something for nothing, Ebfiddler. I always enjoy a disconcerting River. As for Inara's friend Nutluck you will be learning more about how he fits in to the story soon. River smart mouthing Simon always makes me smile too. Thank you both for the shiny feedback! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, October 20, 2013 4:58 PM

MALSDOXY


geez can't just ONE thing go according to the gorram plan! I literally let out an audible "OH NO" when I saw this chapter had ended...more please, quickly, please, AliD :D

Sunday, October 20, 2013 7:55 PM

AMDOBELL


Don't worry MalsDoxy, more coming soon. A bit of a delay due to Real Life butting in - don't you just hate it when that happens? Thanks for the welcome feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 6:18 PM

MALSDOXY


Damn that Real Life and all her whacky nephews!! :p


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