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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 55. "Twisted"
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

...like a fey she was already out of reach, a luminous almost ethereal body half-haunting half-taunting him through an umbical chord that could not be broken.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2614    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "TWISTED" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 55. Sequel to "CRUEL AND UNUSUAL" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "Zoe goes off with Monty to rescue the Captain. Down on Titan Station, Ryan and the others are counting the cost of lazy maintenance. Meanwhile Wash comes up with a plan that will get Serenity operational again yet free of Alliance entanglements."

"TWISTED"

A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

"Jayne, you can't just go bargin' in with grenades!"

The mercenary scowled darkly at Simon Tam as if the man was a back-birth. "Never said I was 'cause we didn't bring any with us."

Simon gave a sigh of relief. "I can't believe you would even think that was a good idea."

"*Wei*, at least I had *yige jihuan*!"

Everybody stared at him. Zoe and the Shepherd exchanged a look. "This is a rescue mission not an attack."

Jayne still looked unhappy. "Yeah, well we don't know what's waitin' for us on that freighter."

"Yes, we do."

They all stared at River. The girl rolled her eyes and started rattling off the ship's specifications.

"It's a Langstein Freighter, four decks..."

"What about people? Do we have any surprises waitin' for us?"

River looked at Zoe and her mood became more sombre. "He didn't know he was betraying us."

Simon looked alarmed. "*Shei*? Who are you talking about, *mei mei*?"

She did not look at her brother but kept her eyes fixed on the first mate. "Badger. He was used but it doesn't matter now. We can't save them all."

Before anyone could ask her any more questions the air pressure equalized allowing them to open the door and step through getting their first good look inside the freighter. Whatever they had been expecting it was not this. Either side of the corridor prison cells held their rotting cargo, the corpses in varying stages of decomposition. Their only commonality being that all were dead. Not a flicker of life left between them. Shepherd Book slipped passed Zoe to go on ahead, his rifle at the ready, eyes scanning carefully s if at any moment he expected the dead to rise up and attack him. Jayne could feel his heart rate quicken as he followed Zoe, the stench of death in his nostrils fouling the very aired he breathed. But at lest he was breathing. Simon had not needed to take a closer look through the bars to check the state of the prisoners and felt his heart lurch with pained sympathy and anger at those who would do this to people. It was beyond inhuman. The others seemed to take it in their stride but for Simon it was an affront against everything he believed in and at that moment he very much felt like the odd one out but no one had said working with this crew would be easy.

"You're crew too." River admonished as she danced passed him.

The doctor reached out a hand to catch her but like a fey she was already out of reach, a luminous almost ethereal body half-haunting half-taunting him through an umbical chord that could not be broken. It was both reassuring and immensely frustrating but she was his sister and he loved her more than life itself. The only good thing was that the other children had been left with Monty and his crew on the Kingfisher.

That first deck was eerie in the silence of the dead. It felt hollow and empty, the sounds of their passing like echoes of lives that had been and would never pass this way again.

Simon recognised the sickly sweet smell of putrefied flesh and wished he could send River back to the Kingfisher but it was too late now. He caught Zoe's eye and had the odd feeling that she knew exactly what he was thinking. How many times had Zoe and the Captain fought among a pile of their mounting dead praying that their Angels were coming while around them the sounds of the wounded and dying filled their ears and deadened their hearts with the kind of pain and loss nothing could fill?

As they moved stealthily down the corridor River's voice, though hushed, carried clearly. "Don't split up."

"Thought ya said this level was empty?" Grumbled Jayne trying not to look through any of the cell bars as he passed.

River nodded, her eyes wide pale lamps that seemed to see things of which Jayne was not aware. "Only of the living."

"Well if that ain't creepifyin' as *diyu* I don't know what is."

"Jayne!" Zoe's hissed warning was plain and the big man fell silent, alert and kind of spooked too though he would not have owned up to the latter. Wasn't going to admit to no girl scaring him.

It was not until they reached the stairwell that they heard it. Voices drifting up to them from the belly of the beast. It was not that the voices were loud or raised, they just carried. A dark indistinct murmur that was impossible to decipher. Zoe frowned, not recognising any of them. Quickly she took the lead from Book and began to descend, the voices sounding no closer or farther away as she reached the next level. The others crowded close behind her. Quickly and quietly they progressed along the corridor checking the endless row of cells on either side of them. Creepier than finding them full was seeing them mostly empty on this level, the doors mangled and twisted as if by some angry giant hand. Simon would have been relieved had it not been for the smears of blood and patchy crimson rags that on closer inspection revealed themselves to be little chunks of human flesh. Ripped or torn by teeth or claws he could not tell. It made his stomach clench and his heart miss a beat. What in the nine hells had happened on this ship?

* * * * *

Not far from him the young Browncoat died quickly but in agony. Ryan found taking deep breaths too painful, as if his lungs had been squashed almost flat and now would not properly inflate. He did not want to dwell on why that might be. Dust was everywhere even after the debris had settled. It clouded the air and fogged up the lungs, also seemed to do odd things to his hearing but Ryan knew that was not the case. He was recovering from the effects of the explosion. The young Browncoat, Ricky Hill, would not have that problem. It was his gun emplacement that had exploded taking the poor man apart and scattering his remains but leaving half of his head lying bloody side down so that his left eye appeared to be watching the ruin all around him. Ryan turned away and was promptly sick, an action that caused him immense pain. Maybe he had cracked or broken a rib or two? Certainly felt like part of his innards were threatening to push up through his gorram flesh.

Ryan lay semi recumbent, his upper back resting on a broken stone column. He wondered about the others. How far had the explosion travelled and who had been caught up in the blast? Where was Elliot? It was too much to hope that Wilkinson had been caught in it. Knowing that sadist it would be just like him to write them all off, including his own men, and go about his business as if nothing had happened. Huh, knowing the Alliance they would probably give the man a raise and a rutting medal.

By the time anyone was able to get to him Ryan had passed out. Of the twelve prisoners that had survived freezing in that yard they were now down to ten. Lenny Burke had taken a couple of shards of metal to his shoulder and stomach. Had been chatting and trying to reassure those left that he was okay only to be coughing up blood minutes later then drowning in it. Guards had appeared on the scene by then but not one tried to stop the bleeding or administer first aid. Ryan had been spared seeing that but Elliot wasn't and though he said nothing his watchful eyes were unforgiving. After all, someone had to bear witness and keep count. Didn't matter a good gorram if they all died in this benighted place, in this world or the next there would be a reckoning. He would see to it.

* * * * *

The Captain stared at the glorified bug. He wanted to ask all manner of questions but Badger was making it abundantly clear that they not say anything at all. It looked ruined, the back of the axe head that Badger had hit it with had split and partly divided the mid section of the metal insect yet still there was a quiet kind of buzzing. Malcolm Reynolds frowned and wished he had pen and paper. As he opened his mouth Badger brought the back of the axe down on the insect again and again, bits of it breaking off and flying every which way. The Captain dodged out of the way, not knowing what nasty little surprises the pieces might hold. Once Badger was satisfied that it was no longer operational he picked up a long rusty nail and used it to pry apart what was left.

Two heads leaned over the remains. "Huh," said Serenity's Captain, sounding a mite disappointed "don't look like much."

"This thing's deadly, see? It can inject poison an' who knows what else as well as reportin' back our comin's an' goin's."

"Only not so much with the goin'."

Badger scowled at him. "D'you have to make everythin' into a bloody joke?"

"Do I look like I'm laughin'? *Fang xin*, just sayin' is all. Think it's time you told me about this Lady of yours."

"Ain't mine but before I do we'd better check there are no more nasty surprises."

"You remember how big this ship is, *dui*?"

"We ain't alone now, *dong ma*?"

"Badger, most of those men can't stand let alone walk."

"Most ain't all, see? Need more eyes than we got an' we need to do it now. Before anyone comes lookin' to see what's *cuode*."

The Captain blinked, what Badger was saying made sound practical sense. Was a bit of a shock to realise the little man could think sensibly. Was not so shiny that he hadn't thought of it first. Maybehaps that drug was still moving around his system? He shut his eyes quick as a wave of nausea threatened to unman him.

"*Shenme shi*? You wanna sleep do it when we're safe an' sound an' tucked up in our beds, *dong ma*?"

"Thought I was gonna throw up but nice of you to show your concern."

"Complain later, we got a lot of ground to cover, *dong ma*?"

"You don't order me around, Badger." The Captain growled.

"Fine, then go your own way."

Mal was about to reply but stared passed Badger instead. Badger frowned and turned to see what he was looking at. Behind him a huge ragged mountain of a man loomed, his clothes no more than ripped fragments of the rags that had been his clothing. They were covered with dried blood. The big man was not looking at Badger but straightened as he met the Captain's eye. When he spoke his voice was almost as deep as Book's.

"Heard you was here, Sarge, didn't believe a gorram word of it. Had to see for my own self."

The Captain gave the man a nod. "Report!"

"Private First Class Donaldson. Served under Cap'n Melrose, last saw action on Hera where I was injured. Alliance snatched a whole pile of us up but it wasn't no med ship, Sarge. Been shuffled from one ruttin' *jianyu* to another until we got stuck on this death ship."

"How long ago was that?"

"Months, maybe a year. Hard to tell the time in *diyu*, Sarge."

"Where were you injured?"

Donaldson waved vaguely at his head and the Captain noticed that the right side was flattened and scarred where a piece of it was no doubt still missing in action. "Still get flashes but at least I'm alive though I'm thinkin' the dead got the better deal. Leastways," he paused to flash a sudden grin, his eyes dancing with a cold humour sharpened on revenge "until now."

Mal noticed the man had the remains of manacles on his wrists but the chain had been broken a couple of links from the cuffs. A man of Donaldson's strength would have worked at that chain again and again until he got free or died trying. "We need to free the rest of our people *mashang* Donaldson only I can't find any cell keys. How'd you get out?"

Again that grin. Donaldson raised his hands, the short bit of chain hanging from each manacle cuff jangling as he did so making him seem a twisted version of Marley's Ghost. "When I heard you was here Sarge nothin' was gonna keep me cooped up. Once free of the wall it was easy to bend the gorram bars apart."

Badger looked part stunned, part horrified and part impressed. "You did that... with your bare hands?"

"Would'a got here sooner but had to help the others."

The Captain's look sharpened. "Others?"

Donaldson nodded. "There's seven of us out of cells right now, the others are searchin' to see if there's any guards but it's like they've all gone. Don't make sense to haul us all the way out here then leave us."

"What's your first name Donaldson?"

"Mike, but friends call me Donnie."

"Okay Donnie, let's get everybody out that's still breathin'. "

"We ain't gonna leave the dead behind are we, Sarge?"

"*Bu qu* but I'm guessin' there's too many to carry. First we get our people free then those that can walk can help us search this huge pile of *goushi* from top to bottom for any guns an' ammunition. Most likely they've got a small armoury hidden away, probably on the same level as the control room."

* * * * *

Wilkinson hated this. Where were the reinforcements? And why was he having difficulty raising anyone at Command? A horrible thought clawed its' way through his back brain, kind of adding paranoia to a growing suspicion. But no, they couldn't just abandon this facility. It was cutting edge. They were the solution not the problem, the Minister had told them that. Had sounded mighty proud of them too. Only now he had to wonder how genuine that had been. Ministers were Politicians after all and everyone knew you couldn't take their word as gospel even it was handed down on ten rutting tablets of stone. At least, that was the way he had heard it. Had scoffed at the time. He was not scoffing now.

* * * * *

It felt weird to have the new engine fitted and for Serenity to be so silent but Kaylee did not dare start it up with that traitorous contraption built into its' workings, ready to betray them the moment they tried to get the ship under way. Her face showed her anguish all too clearly as she sat at the big oak table in the commons room nursing a cup of stewed tea with Wash. "What we gonna do, Wash? Cap'n's relyin' on us."

"Actually he isn't."

For a moment Serenity's mechanic stared at the pilot as if he had taken leave of his senses. "*Shenme*?"

"The Cap'n doesn't know about the new engine so he won't be expectin' us."

Kaylee nodded slowly as what he said sank in. "Don't make me feel no better. Wanted to surprise him, you know? With the shiny rescue."

"That's what Zoe an' the others are gonna do, our job is to..." Wash trailed off, his eyes roaming around the commons room as if the answer might be posted up on one of the walls and he might have missed it.

"Our job is to what?"

Wash blinked then his brain seemed to kick back into gear and with it some of his natural optimism returned. "We need to put the old engine back in, Kaylee. It's the only thing that makes sense."

"It's all shot up."

"*Wo zhidao* but it's damaged, *dui*?"

Kaylee frowned. "Yeah, as in ain't goin' nowhere."

"Not without new parts."

The mechanic stared at him then slowly her eyes widened. "What ya got in mind?

Serenity's pilot sprang to his feet, a big grin threatening to split his face in two. "We're gonna be real careful. Remove the new engine an' put the old one back in but replace the parts that got all shot up from the new one, *dong ma*?"

"What about the over ride?"

"That stays where it is but we have to do this with little or no talkin'. If they realise what we're up to they might set a gunship to come an' finish us off."

Kaylee paled. "They can do that?"

Wash could have kicked himself for worrying Kaylee more than she was already but it was best to face the possibility just in case. "If we're not careful."

"Won't they guess once we fix her all up an' get Serenity movin' again?"

"We'll have a little surprise for them when that time comes."

Kaylee glanced around for Inara as she got up to follow Wash to the engine room. "*Wei*, where did 'Nara go?"

"Said she was gonna check on Jerrod an' his crew."

Kaylee looked guilty. "Shouldn't we take them some food an' such? They been in there hours."

"Don't start feelin' sorry for them, Kaylee. They're alive an' we can think about feedin' them when Zoe an' the others get back, *dong ma*?"

A smile blossomed on the girl's face as she anticipated their return. "Shiny! If we're gonna do this then let's get started."

* * * * *

The shot almost took Donaldson's head off. The Captain yelled at him to hit the ground then turned his head but could not see hide nor hair of Badger. The whole corridor was filled with gorram smoke. "Who the good gorram is firin' on us?" He growled.

Donaldson shook his head and whispered back while keeping his body prone. "Don't look at me Sarge, none of us got weapons."

A nasty thought occurred to Mal. "You think the Guards came back?"

The big man frowned then shut his eyes as several rounds cracked around their ears and pinged off the walls. "*Wo bu zhidao*."

Another barrage of gunfire put pay to any further conversation then Mal thought he heard a voice he recognised. Confused he raised his head just a little bit and decided to test out his theory. "*Wei*! Stop gorram firin'."

The silence was almost deafening then slowly the smoke began to clear and Zoe's voice floated over to them. "Sir, is that you?"

"It is, though I'm a mite disappointed if this is your idea of a rescue."

Zoe glared at Jayne before replying. "*Duibuqi*, sir. Jayne got a little carried away. Thought you were Alliance."

"An' you just had to join in, that it?"

Seeing the Captain appear before her as the last of the smoke dissipated made her take a deep breath, thankful to find the man upright and in one piece. "We were expectin' some resistance, sir."

"Yeah, well, it seems the guards left. Don't know the why of it so we had to bust ourselves out on account of havin' no cell keys to speak of."

Shepherd Book appeared, followed closely by Simon Tam. The Captain blinked, sure he must he seeing things.

"Not an apparition."

The Captain turned towards the voice and hid a sigh. "You here too, little one?"

"He takes so much looking after."

"Don't he just."

Simon ignored the jibe. "I should check that you're alright, Captain."

"Still walkin' an' talkin', doc, but there are them as are needin' your doctorin'."

Simon immediately looked passed the Captain but all he saw was a huge behemoth of a man coming towards them. As the man came alongside the Captain he broke into a grin.

"Corporal Alleyn? That you?"

Zoe frowned then recognised him. "Donnie?"

"In the flesh. Right happy to see ya."

The Captain interrupted. "Where in the nine hells did Badger go?"

Just then they heard a hell of a ruckus coming their way. Jayne raised Vera and got ready to fire but Book gently nudged the gun to one side just as a group of emaciated men came into view, the two in front carrying a protesting Badger before them. Each man had an arm under one of Badger's so that as they carried him the little King Pin's feet were a foot off the ground. The Captain sighed, closed his eyes for a moment as if the sight pained him then opened them again.

"Badger, what did you do?"

The man looked affronted as he was unceremoniously dumped at the Captain's feet. "Caught him lookin' through people's things."

"I was lookin' for keys. How many times I gotta tell you?"

One of the men leaned forward making Badger lean back. "Dead men's things, Sarge."

A look came over Mal's face that made the little man quail inside then River side stepped her brother and stood in front of him, one finger poking Badger in the chest as she stared into his eyes. "Once a thief always a thief, doesn't even have to be bright an' shiny. Anything'll do if you can sell it. After all, what's it to them, not like the dead can use it is it?"

Badger swallowed. River's Dayton Colony accent making him more than a mite uncomfortable. "Not what it seems."

"Yes, it is but they didn't find everythin' you took, did they?"

Suddenly Badger felt afraid. "What, you some kind o' witch?"

"My sister isn't a witch!"

The Captain put a hand out and stepped in front of Simon before things could get out of hand. "Give it back, Badger."

"Wasn't doin' no harm."

"You were robbin' the dead. You don't hand back what you took those men are gonna lynch you."

For a moment it looked as if Badger was gonna argue but then he deflated a little, dug deep in his pocket and took out a ring, two watches and a slim travelling silver photograph frame. The kind only seen in vids from Earth-that-was. Riley poked Badger in the back and growled. "That ain't the worst of what he done, Sarge."

"What else?"

When Badger didn't reply Riley spoke for him. "We followed the little weasel to the bridge"

The Captain stared at Badger. "You took somethin' from the Bridge? Tell me you found the gorram keys?"

The little King pin looked a mite embarrassed now. "Wasn't my fault, I was just tryin' to help - see?"

"What did you do?"

Riley spoke up when it was obvious Badger wasn't going to say anything else. "When we got there he was pressin' buttons an' throwin' switches, Sarge."

Just then an almighty alarm sounded throughout the ship. Riley gave a long suffering sigh, his annoyance barely held in check. "One of 'em we reckon was the distress beacon."

"Gorramit, Badger!" Hissed the Captain. "If the Alliance didn't know there was trouble on this gorram boat before they surely do now."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *wei* = hey! *yige jihuan* = a plan *shei* = who *mei mei* = little sister *diyu* = hell *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *dui* = correct *dong ma* = understand? *cuode* = wrong *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *jianyu* = prison *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *goushi* = crap/dog shit *shenme* = what *wo zhidao* = I know *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *duibuqi* = sorry

COMMENTS

Thursday, October 24, 2013 8:02 AM

NUTLUCK


Looking down the road, wonder what they will do with Badger... I suppose Serenity could use a cabin boy.

Thursday, October 24, 2013 11:40 AM

AMDOBELL


I'm thinking that would lower the value of Mal's boat having Badger as a cabin boy, Nutluck. I'm sure our good Captain will come up with something though. Thanks for the shiny comment, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, October 26, 2013 10:12 PM

MALSDOXY


how, HOW has Badger lived this long, huh? Answer me that! I can't wrap my head around where this is going but I am LOVING the ride, AliD, as ever...more please, mashang :D

Sunday, October 27, 2013 12:20 PM

AMDOBELL


Badger is one of those slimey little pieces of *goushi buru* that always seems to end up in one piece no matter what is thrown at him, Malsdoxy. All sorts still to come, hang on and thanks for the shiny feedback! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, November 2, 2013 10:02 AM

EBFIDDLER


Oh my oh my. I'm glad to see the rescue going forward on that freighter, but...what has Badger done?!?! I like Wash's notion of how to get around the poisoned gift of an engine. And I hope Wilkinson finds himself hung high and dry. Another good chapter, the pace is certainly picking up.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 5:26 PM

AMDOBELL


Badger just could not help pressing buttons, flicking knobs and generally fiddling with things he didn't understand, Ebfiddler. Not exactly helping anyone. And yes, Wash's solution is going to be very shiny. As for Wilkinson he really is a nasty piece of work. Thank you for the shiny comments. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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