THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 66. "Wild Card"
Friday, October 10, 2014

Before the Captain could finish his sentence there was a soft hiss and the sealed hatched popped up and slid open. Mal and Jayne took a hasty step back, startled by the unexpected movement. Zoe stepped passed them and peered through the opening.


TITLE: "WILD CARD" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 66. Sequel to "TROJAN" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Inara/Simon RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The escape pod presents the crew of Serenity with a dilemma. Meanwhile Badger finds that hiding is not as easy or as clever an idea as he thought."

"WILD CARD" A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Word spread like a verbal tsunami throughout the ship. What the Captain had wanted to keep under wraps until he knew what they were dealing with was blown to *diyu*. Seemed every pair of ears on his boat had heard about the gorram escape pod found drifting in their corner of the Black and the fact that the Captain had brought it aboard Serenity. Made him all kinds of uneasy truth be told. Inara could see how tense he was but for once did not call him on it. She could see the rising stir of interest and knew it would be near impossible to control people's curiosity.

"Donnie, need you an' the boys to keep folk back, *dong ma*? We're gonna open the escape pod, not sure what we'll find."

The Browncoat frowned. "Expectin' trouble, Sarge?"

"Always am when the unexpected comes callin'."

Donnie nodded and moved among the other Browncoats, it was a quiet efficiently done thing. The men moved seemingly within their own orbits but making a cohesive whole quickly forming a polite ring keeping the curious and the nosy far enough back for Mal, Jayne and Zoe to take a closer look at the escape pod without everyone crowding in on them. Billy Parker felt a mite frustrated but realised it was probably for the best. Simon tried to press through a gap but found it seamless as soon as he got to it. He did not appreciate being denied access but Donnie moved close to him and told him he would be sent through as soon as Mal gave the word that it was safe which seemed to calm him some. Looking up Simon caught Inara's eye up on the catwalk and wondered where his sister was.

Zoe walked slowly around the pod while Jayne cradled Vera and tried to see how the gorram thing opened. The Captain viewed the tiny vessel with a critical eye. "No score marks so don't seem to have been in a firefight."

Jayne snorted. "*Shenme*? This itty bitty thing? It ain't armed, Cap."

"Don't mean it wasn't runnin' from somethin'."

"Ya think whatever was after the pod'll be after us?"


The mercenary felt irritated not to have the Captain spell it out. "On what?"

"Best we crack her open an'..."

Before the Captain could finish his sentence there was a soft hiss and the sealed hatch popped up and slid open. Mal and Jayne took a hasty step back, startled by the unexpected movement. Zoe stepped passed them and peered through the opening. Leaning out she glanced at her Captain and friend.

"Think we should let Simon take a look, sir."

"What is it?"

"A girl, looks to be unconscious. Doesn't appear to be *shoushang le*."

The Captain turned and gave Donnie a nod to let Simon through. Jayne craned his neck to peer over Zoe's shoulder the better to look inside the tiny craft. "Huh! She ain't dead is she?"

* * * * *

It was maddening. While Badger appreciated the diversion caused by the escape pod there was no way he could get off the ship and escape. He could take the spare shuttle but knew Wash would be alerted up on the bridge and inform the Captain, not to mention it was a short range vessel for ferrying people to and from the ship to a planet surface, a planet they were not actually in orbit of at this point. He would be able to go nowhere, just hang out there in the Black until Reynolds either came to get him or left him until his air ran out.

With a twist of the lips it occurred to the little King Pin that slipping away from the infirmary had not been his best plan ever. At least had he stayed put he would be relatively safe. Sneaking off just painted an even bigger target on his back as if he needed one.

"You can run but you can't hide."

Badger jumped and hit his head inside the storage compartment. As a hidey hole it should have been safe enough but somehow River Tam had found him. He tried not answering but the girl would not go away, instead she crouched down so that she was almost eye level with him. Even though he could not see her he could sense how close she was. Just the other side of the gorram storage panel.

"A braver man would stand and take his medicine. Admit what he had done."

"Well I ain't no *ben dan* am I?" Badger cursed as the retort left his lips. So much for keeping quiet and hoping the girl would get bored and go away.

"*Cuode huida*. You're worse than that. You bite the hand that feeds you, betray those who have done you no harm."

"*Ni bu dong*. Had no choice, see?"

"*Shouhuangzhe*. There's always a choice."

"It was a bomb, could'a blown me to bits."

"Would have been an improvement."

Badger paused, not liking the judgement even if it was fitting. Girl was touched in the head, didn't understand. Why was he wasting his breath on her?

"Simon removed the bomb but he couldn't heal the sickness."

Badger's heart missed a beat. *Bing*? What sickness? "What the bloody *diyu* you talkin' about?"

"The sickness inside you. You trick, you scheme, you lie. Can't be trusted." River paused. Badger listened, waiting to see what she would do or say next. He got the impression someone else was there. Was that whispering he could hear? Were they coming for him? "Who's there? Who you talkin' to?"

"Nobody you know. Have to go now."

All of a sudden he didn't want to be left alone. Hiding in the cramped darkness, wondering what was happening but the rattle of boots on deck plates quickly faded leaving him in silence. Perspiration pooled on his forehead, made his hands and back sweat with trepidation. What was he going to do and how in the nine hells was he going to turn things round to his gorram advantage?

* * * * *

The Chancellor listened to the report. The latest projections were eye watering but what was money anyway when it came from other people's pockets? That was what government was all about. It would take years before the new site was able to produce the quantity of Dust that they needed though he privately doubted they would ever be able to accomplish their ultimate goal of turning a weapon of mass destruction into a controllable precision instrument. That dream would elude them for some time to come. Still. Even in its' broadest unrefined application it would be a truly awesome and terrifying weapon.

Carefully he ensured the latest communication was destroyed. No notes, no digital trail for others to find or follow. He did not even know the location of the planet only that it was uninhabited and well away from any trading routes. A rumour of Reavers was quickly ridiculed and squashed but not before it had come to his own curious ears. Interesting. Reavers were not supposed to exist, it was the official Alliance stand on the subject but he knew the secret of the PAX. If they did not officially exist it meant that if the Reavers suddenly vanished no one would miss them. Hmm, to paraphrase the Chinese, they were living in interesting times.

* * * * *

"This is *shenjingbing, bao bei*. The girl hasn't done anythin' wrong."

Zoe looked far too serious for Wash's liking. This was a child they were talking about, it was not as if they were kidnappers. At least, they never used to be. Is that what the Captain was turning them into? Zoe glanced out into the Black, her thoughts projecting into the kind of places Wash had never been and hoped never to visit. He knew some of his wife's past but there were things that had happened to her and Mal in the War that he would never be privy to. It used to upset him, as if he was somehow being deliberately excluded. Now he considered it a kind of compensation protecting him from the uglier things in the 'verse.

"You do see that don't you, Zoe? She's just a child."

"If that was all she was we'd have nothin' to worry about, *zhangfu*."

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

Serenity's first mate rose to her feet and started to walk off the bridge. Zoe paused in the doorway and looked back at him. "Cap'n's just bein' careful, *xin gan*."

"*Wo bu dong*. How is a child any threat to us?"

"That's what I aim to find out."

He wanted to ask how she meant to do that. Wash hoped it wouldn't involve torture but his wife was already gone and he was left with the uncomfortable feeling that there were some things he did not want to know. Turning back to his console he looked at his dinosaurs while checking there were no other surprises drifting in the atmo. "You want my advice, don't have children. A spaceship is no place to bring little ones into the 'verse."

* * * * *

The voices were an overlap of opposing positions, each reaching tentatively for the high ground in a conversation that made little sense but she knew the why of it. Understood that some wanted to accept what they saw as reality while others remained wary, suspicious. Rosalie had intended to continue to feign sleep while leaving her sharp intuitive mind wide awake. It would be the only edge she would need but something was wrong. Not going according to plan. Her mind, the one brilliant thing that made her life beyond unique, was sluggish and not responding as it should. Rosalie was confused, something that happened so rarely that for a minute or two she could not grasp what had happened and by the time she did it was too late.

The others had complained to River after that first sighting of the girl in the pod. Lucy had been first to vocalise her frustration. "I can't pick up anythin'."

Suzie and Davie shook their heads, baffled looks on their young faces. "Neither can we. How can we be blocked when she's sleepin'? It's *bu keneng*."

River had not taken her eyes off the newcomer. "I can do it."

The other children stared at her but River remained focused on the girl in the pod. The one Simon was now checking for injuries that he would not find. Simon wanted them to leave, to get the girl to the infirmary. River nodded.

"She needs to sleep."

"She's already sleeping, *mei mei*."

That was when River looked at her brother. "*Ni bu dong*, Simon. A light sedative."

Shocked, Serenity's doctor tried to reason with his sister. "She's already asleep."

"Consciously asleep." River corrected.

They had forgotten the presence of the Captain until he spoke up. "What exactly does that even mean?"

River turned to him. "It means she chooses to sleep but not deeply, to appear vulnerable so we do not think she is any threat."

Jayne pushed passed Davie and Suzie, glared down at the girl in the pod then looked at the Captain. "So? Just vent her into the atmo.

The Captain could feel a headache coming on. "Not helpin', Jayne."

River turned her attention back to the girl. "She's blocking us."

Simon had finished his initial exam and was getting to his feet. "That's ridiculous, River. She's asleep."

River leans in close to Simon and the Captain. "She put herselt into that state which means she can wake at a time of her choosing." She paused, wanting her words to have weight. "You need to put her to sleep, medically Simon."

"*Weishenme, mei mei*?"

"When she wakes up it will be slowly, her reactions temporarily dulled by the medication. It will be the only time she will be vulnerable."

Simon looked alarmed. "River, she's vulnerable now."

"*Bushi*. Smoke and mirrors Simon, you mustn't be deceived. She's still in control."

It was hard for Simon Tam to think of such a scenario. He glanced around at all the people in the cargo bay and up on the catwalk. He had never seen so many people on Serenity before. How could one small child be a danger to any of them? He tuned back into the conversation as the Captain spoke.

"Think you'd better be explainin'."

"Captain Dummy talk?"

Mal nodded. "*Qing*."

"I'm a Reader so are Lucy, Suzie and Davie but none of us can read her, *dong ma*? They don't know why but I do. She's blocking us."

Zoe caught the last part of the conversation as she joined them. "How do you know if she's sleepin', River?"

"Because I can do it. If Simon puts her to sleep medically she has no control over that, it lowers her ability to block. Makes the brain sluggish."

The Captain exchanged a glance with his second in command. Both of them on the same page. "An' when she wakes what can we expect then?"

"Initial disorientation. It will be shorter than for most people, her recovery will be rapid so we'll have to work fast."

Simon tried to marry what his sister was saying with what he was seeing. "Work fast?"

"We have to be there when she wakes so as consciousness begins to return we can read her. Find out why she's here."

"An' her purpose?" Added the Captain.

River nodded. The Captain straightened, decision made.

"Let's do it. Clocks a-tickin'. Jayne, best carry the girl. Donnie, lock up the escape pod and make sure no one tampers with it, *dong ma*? Don't want any nasty surprises."

Jayne lifted the girl in his arms, such a slight little thing. He frowned at the Captain's words as they set off for the infirmary. "Think it's booby trapped?"

"Right now, Jayne, I don't know what I gorram think."

Simon stayed close to Jayne, one eye on his newest patient. "I have to say I feel *bushufu* about this."

"*Fang xin*," Zoe cut in "you won't have to. I can give a sedative, Simon."

"No, no, I'm not saying I won['t do it just that I'm not happy about it."

Zoe and Mal exchanged a look then the Captain made a sign that they should hurry this along. "Noted now best we get on with it, *mashang*."

* * * * *

He could not stand it. Badger had never been claustrophobic before but stuck in the storage space with limited air and hardly room to fold himself into the space struck him as not being his best plan ever. By now Reynolds should have stopped at a planet, if only to let those inbred friends of his from Jerrod Perkins' crew get off. That meant Lilac. How far they were from the planet he had no way of knowing but the need to know was eating into him. Plus, the crazy girl knew his hideout which meant soon the rest of them would know as well. Whether he wanted to or not, it was time to find another hiding place. A little voice in the back of his brainpan suggested he just give up the whole hiding idea, it was stupid anyway, but Badger was nothing if not stubborn. While he did not think Reynolds would deliberately space him he could not be sure about the others.

Carefully, Badger eased the cover off and stuck his head out. All clear. Not knowing how long that would last he awkwardly half climbed and half fell out of the compartment, cursed then put the cover back in place. Which way to go?

* * * * *

"Want you to do a full medical exam, Simon."

Serenity's doctor gave a distracted nod, setting up the monitoring equipment while the Captain talked. "*Dang ran*."

The Captain moved into Simon's personal space causing the young man to look up, part irritated, part puzzled. "Not sure you take my meanin'."

"Which would be?"

"Don't want no surprises, *dong ma*?"

Simon found it hard to hide his exasperation. "Captain, against my better judgement I have administered a sedative to someone already unconscious."

"Just don't want nothin' blowin' up in our gorram faces."

Simon blinked and immediately calmed down, the healing ruins of the Captain's epidermal layer testimony to what could go wrong if they did not take adequate precautions. After all, no one could have known the bomb Badger had been carrying would go off in the Captain's face. Who was to say that the girl had not been set adrift with a similar arrangement just waiting for some *shenjingbing baichi* to set it off? "You think she may be carrying a bomb?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* which is why I don't want to be takin' any chances."

The doctor nodded. "I will be very thorough and very careful."

"That's all I'm askin'."

"Which is why you should all leave now. If something does go wrong the less people at risk the better."

Malcolm Reynolds shook his head. "Not exactly what I had in mind."

Simon opened his mouth to object when the Captain turned to speak to Zoe. "Where'd Jayne go?"

As if materialising out of thin air at the mention of his name, Jayne Cobb pressed his way into the infirmary, a large metal plate in his hands. Simon's eyes widened.

"You can't bring that in here, it isn't sterile!"

"Huh? You sterilise the Cap'n an' Zoe?"

Simon blinked. "Um no, but..."

Jayne grinned and looked at the Captain. "Made a viewin' window just like you asked. Don't know if it's blast proof."

Really, Simon was stunned. The Captain beamed at Jayne as he looked over the man's handywork. "Good job, Jayne. Now we need everyone who ain't the doc to leave the infirmary."

"That includes you Captain."

River sidled in next to the Captain. "I'm staying too."

"*Mei mei*, it's just a precaution."

"You'll be examinin' the girl. Who's gonna hold this here plate in place? Only got two pairs of hands last time I looked, Simon."

Serenity's doctor stared at the Captain. Really. Could this get more surreal?

"Jayne made a viewin' window so you'll have maximum protection."

"And what protection will you have?"

"The Captain grinned, it was a somewhat unsettling sight at the best of times. "You do your job I'll do mine. Sooner you get started..."

Simon sighed knowing that he would not be able to talk the Captain out of his ridiculous plan but also oddly touched that the man wanted to protect him from injury. ~The Captain could have just left the infirmary leaving the doctor to take his chances. A mercurial man at best but with a stubborn streak of nobility. River tilted her head, something in the intensity of her look catching the Captain's attention.

"You pickin' anythin' up, little one?" He said softly.

"Ssshh, working."

Mal glanced at Simon but he just shrugged. "Don't look at me, I'm just the brother."

With a huff, the Captain indicated for Zoe to come in and lock the door behind her, then with each of them holding one end of the steel sheet they angled it so that Simon could look through the viewing window yet remain protected behind the cumbersome piece of steel.

* * * * *

Shepherd Book smiled. He enjoyed circulating with Donnie and the rest of the Browncoats. Those still nursing injuries were healing well and the stories they told from the War were most enlightening. He could not say the same for Jerrod's crew. The men seemed ill at ease and fragmented as if they were out of sorts with each other. Given the way in which their loyalties had been split by Jerrod's betrayal that was understandable but they should have gotten over that by now or was he missing something?

Deciding to get himself a cup of tea, the Shepherd made his way to the commons room. Badger quickly stepped back into a recess until the man had passed. That was close. He needed to find somewhere safe but there were people all over the bloody ship. Everywhere he turned. Place was a gorram nightmare. Sliding off in the opposite direction Badger felt his throat contract with fear as a big meaty hand grabbed the back of his neck and lifted him off his feet.

"Well lookie here, what the good gorram have we got sneakin' around?"

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *diyu* = hell *dong ma* = understand? *shenme* = what *shoushang le* = injured *ben dan* = moron *cuode huida* = wrong answer *ni bu dong* = you don't understand *shouhuangzhe* = liar *bing* = sick *shenjingbing* = crazy *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *xin gan* = sweetheart *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bu keneng* = impossible *mei mei* = little sister *weishenme* = why *qing* = please *bushi* = not so *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *baichi* = idiot *dang ran* = of course *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *bushufu* = uncomfortable


Friday, October 10, 2014 7:26 PM


Thanx! You were just in time, I needed a chapter of "Devil's cradle" right now, and it hit the spot as usual.

Saturday, October 11, 2014 6:09 AM


Happy to help, thank you for the feedback, Buckshotpilot. It is always appreciated. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, October 11, 2014 9:00 PM


ok ok I'm completely lost now, all manner of things runnin;' through my head...I just really REALLY need the next episode, please, excellent as always....oh, and the "Don't look at me, I'm just the brother." LOL such a Simon-ism LOL xiexie AliD

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 5:42 PM


Things will start to make more sense soon, Malsdoxy. I also hope the have the next part up sooner than last time, trouble is Real Life keeps getting in the gorram way! Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


You must log in to post comments.



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.