THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 73. "Beyond the Cradle"
Saturday, December 20, 2014

Inwardly she shuddered, suddenly wondering whether she had made the right decision after all but then survival had not been her idea or even in her power to choose.


TITLE: "BEYOND THE CRADLE" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 73. Sequel to "THE 'VERSE IN A GRAIN OF SAND" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" **SERIES CONCLUSION** AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The secret base is finally destroyed but leaves unanswered questions. With the Browncoats gone and their food stores depleted it is up to the Captain to look for a job." "BEYOND THE CRADLE"

A "Firefly" Story Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Stunned. The conflagration below was beyond anything any of them had ever seen and they had seen some mighty strange and oft times frightening things. No one spoke as in the final act the very planet itself became self devouring, crumpling in on itself over and over until whatever microscopic fragments of dust were left dissolved into the atmo. Wash turned eyes as round as saucers on his wife as the fine cloud of dust particles extinguished itself into the Black.

"Wow! Tell me you saw that too, *bao bei*?"

Zoe's response was soft, dead pan. "I saw it but don't believe it,. *zhangfu*."

Behind them Jayne whooped with glee. The Captain looked at his mercenary but said nothing, for once words were beyond him. Who could blame Jayne for thinking it was all over and wanting to celebrate? All Malcolm Reynolds could think about was the stick thin girl who have given her life to ensure others like her kept theirs. Gradually the bridge began to clear until only Wash, Zoe and the Captain remained. Mal turned bleak eyes away from the scene and made to leave, pausing in the doorway.

"Wash, set a course for Boros."

His pilot looked surprised. "We have a job, Cap'n?"

"Takin' Donnie an' the others home, *dong ma*?"

Wash caught the Captain's mood and began to input the co-ordinates. Zoe didn't like the look in the Captain's eyes. As if the light in them had been taken away leaving them flat and kind of empty. She knew that look. Hated it then, hated it more now. Memories of the gorram past did not make good bedfellows. "Wasn't your fault, sir. Girl made her own decision."

His lips tight the Captain couldn't bring himself to be comforted. "Still ain't right, Zoe."

They watched him go then Wash snaked a hand around his wife's waist and drew her close. "It is over, *dui*?"

"Yes, Wash, it's *zai waimian*."

Wash wrinkled his nose as a thought occurred to him. "Does this mean we're back to takin' jobs off Badger?"

* * * * *

The stealth vessel hung like an ink blot merging with the Black. Only a very keen eye would have noted that one or two stars seemed to be missing from their orbits, only revealed when the cloaked ship at last moved on. Inside the pilot adjusted his instruments, taking care that everything had been properly calibrated before completing the last phase of the procedure.

"You cut it way too close."

The pilot did not smile, his cheeks drawn as if he had sucked on something sour and could not breathe out again. His eyes were solemn black pools. "Be grateful you live."

Inwardly she shuddered, suddenly wondering whether she had made the right decision after all but then survival had not been her idea or even in her power to choose. Other forces pulled the strings, she was merely the puppet. Fortunately on this occasion their objective had dove tailed in a most unexpected way.

* * * * *

Now that all the excitement was over Jayne was hungry enough to eat a steer off the hoof. Gorramit, when were they gonna see some real food? Protein bars and dry mixes were all well and good even with the Shepherd's herbs and spices, and he wasn't stupid enough to pass any kind of food up when he had the chance, but at times he longed for something he could sink his teeth into. Something he could actually chew.

"Wouldn't help. You've always had eyes bigger than your belly."

Jayne spun round, intending to give the crazy girl a piece of his mind but River had already danced out of reach, her bare feet making no sound on the deck plates. She laughed at the sour expression on his face just as Kaylee and Simon came into the commons room, the mechanic's bright chatter filling everywhere she walked with sunshine. River could hear the relief in it as well as the happiness bubbling back to the surface, a joy that had been constrained by dark times which were now a lot brighter. River could have told her. There were no bright, sunny times in the Black but why spoil Kaylee's gift for celebration?

The clatter of pans from the kitchen area drew every eye, Jayne grinning when he spotted the Shepherd. For a horrible moment he had feared it was Simon's turn to cook. Boy was a gifted doc, could save most anyone with breath left in 'em, but his cooking was like to take that last breath away. How could someone so smart be such a terrible cook?

* * * * *

Hours later, the Captain finally made his way to Inara's shuttle. Not that he thought he would be able to sleep but he was finding himself in need of Inara's serene presence. Around him the ship murmured with softened conversations as crew and Browncoats drifted off to their bunks. Wash checked all was well on the bridge before dragging Zoe off to their bunk, not noticing River Tam slip up onto the bridge once they had left it. She took the co-pilot's chair and folded her legs under her.

Inara Serra had finished bathing and had dried herself off when she sensed she was no longer alone. Not turning her head she slipped on her silk robe and waited for Mal to make the first move, knowing that he could be skittish even after months of being in a relationship with her. Were they a couple or just two people scratching each other's itches as and when the need arose? And yet they cared for each other, loved one another in that prickly oft times self immolating fire of passion that bound them beyond a casual intimacy. Did she want more? Did he? Would either of them survive the commitment? Inara was startled out of her reverie when the Captain spoke, surprised that he had closed the hatch and was now standing beside her.

"Not nobody that young should have to sacrifice herself."

"It was her choice, Mal, and I don't think Rosalie intended anyone to know what she had in mind so no one could stop her."

His eyes had everything but tears in them. Inara could have drowned in the emotion he tried to hold back. "*Weishenme*? It don't make sense."

Inara reached out and gently touched the side of his face, his cheek was cold. "Maybe it isn't about making sense, *bao bei*."

"*Ni zhide shi shenme*?"

Gently Inara began undressing him, her movements slow and graceful, his attention on her words not her actions. It was as if he was far away and only her words could ground him. "You said she lost her brother?"

"A mighty fine Browncoat, Ryan McFarlane."

"What about her parents?"

The Captain blinked. "Parents?"

"Does she have parents, Mal?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* an' I never thought to ask."

"I wasn't criticising..."

"No, I should'a thought..."

Inara's hands paused. "Mal, you can't think of everything."

"I'm the Cap'n."

"*Qu*, you are the Captain not God."

"You mockin' me, woman?"

A smile teased Inara's lips, glad to see the darkness in him lighten up even a little. "Come to bed, *xin gan*."

"Inara, I ain't tired."

It was a full blown smile now, her eyes merry with amusement. "If you were tired you wouldn't be a lot of use to me now would you?"

The Captain blinked, realised he was almost naked. When did that happen? "You usin' wiles on me?"

Inara moved closer and let her silk robe fall to the ground, her naked body sidling up to his own. "Are they working?"

"Woman," he said, in a voice suddenly husky and sounding like rusty nails "you'll be the gorram death of me."

* * * * *

The new day broke without anyone noticing beyond the gradual stir of folk rising from their beds. Wash started to lose himself in a quick kiss which deepened into something more promising, stirring parts of him that he had thought worn into a coma from their earlier exertions. Zoe eased back just enough to see his flushed face. "I thought you were gettin' up, *zhangfu*?"

Wash gave her a teasing smile and peeked under the cover, his look saying everything. "I thought that's what I was doin', *bao bei*. Looks pretty UP to me."

Her throaty laugh was another turn on he could not resist but Zoe was already throwing the covers back, her long shapely legs swinging out of the bed as she got to her feet. The look of loss on his face gave her pause, a fondness on her usually stern face letting the love shine through. "We don't have time for this, Wash."

Wash reached for her but somehow his arms must have shrunk because he couldn't quite reach. "Isn't that why we got married, *fengmi*?"

Zoe chuckled, leaned down and planted a quick kiss on his upturned face, moving back out of reach as she started to dress. "No Wash, we got married because we were in love."

"Were? What's with the past tense?"

"My mistake, we are still in love but that doesn't mean we stop doin' our jobs."

"Bein' a husband is my job."

"Then who's goin' to fly the ship?"

Wash beamed at her and pointed to himself. "Me, I can multi-task."

Zoe left their bunk to go and find the Captain. Wash muttered and grumbled good naturedly to himself as he dressed then made his way to the bridge, not surprised to see River Tam already ensconced in the co-pilot's chair.

"Tell me you didn't spend all night here."

"I didn't spend all night here."

Wash checked their position and took over control of the ship, happy to see they were still on course and only hours out from Boros. "Are you lyin' to me?"

"I just told you what you told me to say. Is that a lie?"

"River, you do have a bed."

"*Wo zhidao*. I like it here. Serenity speaks to me."

"Yeah well I don't think Simon would approve."

"You don't sleep in your bed either."

Wash stared at her. River laughed, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "River, what goes on between a husband an' his wife..."

"Is what? Lovin'? Kindly? Creepifyin'?"

Wash rolled his eyes as the Captain entered the bridge closely followed by his best beloved. "Marriage is a sacred thing, Cap'n. Don't mock."

"An' so is flyin' my boat so it don't crash an' burn, *dong ma*?"

* * * * *

Jayne Cobb had been mulling a few things over in his mind. Donnie's words kept coming back to him even though he didn't believe they could possibly be right. Book was his friend, a good man. Why would the Browncoat say he wasn't a Preacher? Did he know Book? Jayne finished his set of reps and wiped the sweat off his face with a hand towel. The Browncoats would be gone soon and as far as he was concerned they couldn't be gone soon enough.

A couple of hours later Wash announced they were coming in to land on Boros. Jayne glanced around at the gathering Browncoats, no possessions to speak of but looking a whole lot healthier than they had on that gorram slave ship. Everybody had come to see them off as Serenity gently settled on the planet surface.

The Captain looked a mite anxious but was trying manfully to hide it. "You sure this is where you wanna get off?"

Donnie grinned. "It's home now, Sarge. Some of us got wives an' kids here."

"What about you?"

"Nah, not hog tied yet."

The men teased Donnie then all too soon hands were being shaken, backs slapped and more than one Browncoat caught the Captain up in a quick but fierce embrace of farewell, as if they never expected their paths to cross again. Maybehaps they were right. "You take care, Sarge."

"You too Micky. Keep Donnie outta trouble, *dong ma*?"

"Not nobody in the wide 'verse can do that, Sarge."

They laughed, then the men were thanking Simon. Shaking his hand all formal-like, respect tinging their voices as they left knowing the doctor's skill had saved more than a few of them. Once the last man was gone, Jayne punched the button to raise the ramp and lock the cargo bay door. As the crew drifted off, Jayne noticed the Shepherd was the only one who had not made an appearance. Frowning he almost jumped when River spoke up behind him. Girl was a crazy freak of a jack-in-the-box popping up unannounced usually where she wasn't supposed to be.

"Everyone has to be somewhere."

"Yeah, well you should be seen an' not heard."

River danced around him then stopped in front of the big man and tilted her head, her look thoughtful as if considering something. "You want to know but are afraid to ask."

"Outta my way, I got things to do *dong ma*?"

"You think he's a holy man but he isn't."

A slither of ice ran down Jayne's spine. "What ya talkin' about?"

"I fixed his bible but he liked it broken."

Huh. It figured that just when the crazy Reader could have made things clearer she would go all nutty on him.

"Not *shenjingbing*."

"Like I'm gonna take the word of the loony who escaped from the asylum."

"It wasn't an asylum, Jayne."

"You're still a nut job."

River watched him go with wide sad eyes, her pale face reflecting a deeper sorrow than his parting words could conjure. An eidetic memory was not always a comforting thing. Without turning her head River spoke to the deepest of shadows while beneath her bare feet she luxuriated in the feel of Serenity humming beneath her. "I know you're there."

Shepherd Book stepped into the light, his expression calm and kindly seeming. Like anyone's favourite Grandpa only that was another illusion though more benign than the one she was unravelling. "You shouldn't mess with Jayne, he doesn't like it."

"You mess with him all the time. Mess with us too."

"You're mistaken, child."

"Not a child." River paused. "When you build a house of cards it eventually falls."

"Perhaps I should speak to Simon about your current medication?"

"You don't like what you hear, want to silence the messenger but I'm not the one you need to watch."

Book felt his instincts sharpen, all alert now though he managed to project an outward calm. "*Ni zhide shi shemne*?"

"*Ni zhidao* even when you pretend not to. The flames you play with will hurt you too."

The Shepherd watched River half dance and half glide away like some ethereal being, a dryad from the legends of Earth-that-was. How much did the girl intuit and more importantly, how much did she actually know? As Book left the cargo bay Inara stood up on the catwalk and wondered what it all meant. Was it just more of River's cryptic nonsense or something deeper, more important?

* * * * *

With Serenity headed back into the Black Zoe wanted to know where they were going. Wash didn't say anything, knowing that if anyone could get information out of the Captain it was his beautiful but deadly wife. For some reason Malcolm Reynolds had been a mite introspective since they dropped off the Browncoats. Or maybehaps he was just missing them?

"Best head for Persephone, Wash. Badger may have somethin' for us."

"Sir, we sure we wanna trust that piece of *goushi*?"

"Trust don't come into it, Zoe, this is business."

"It's business on our end, not sure what to call it on Badger's sir."

"He's a middleman Zoe an' not nobody is like to find work without goin' through one. I don't like him any more than you do but we know him an' that has to count for somethin'."

"Yeah," drawled Wash "it means we know he's gonna screw us three ways from Sunday."

"We'll deal with Badger until we can find better, *dong ma*? Now why we still talkin' about this?"

The Captain left the bridge with Zoe dogging his steps. He could tell she had something on her mind, something he did not relish having to drag out of her. "You got somethin' to say spit it out."

"It's about the girl."

He paused mid step and turned to face her. "The girl?"

"Rosalie. If that is even her name, sir."

The Captian raised his eyebrows. "You thinkin' it ain't?"

"Just wonderin' why she lied to us is all. Ryan didn't have a sister."

"*Wo zhidao*."

"Why didn't you say anythin', call her on it?"

The Captain leaned on the handrail. "You ever been fishin'? Then you know sometimes you gotta play out the line to get a bite."

Zoe moved to lean on the rail next to him, her voice lowering to match his. Their voices meant for each other and no one else. "An' you discovered what?"

"She didn't die, Zoe, which means that ship I spoke of? The one that might'a been cloaked? It was there, waitin', an' it picked her up just before the base blew."

"How do you know, sir? I was standin' right there, I just saw the escape pod descend into the maw of the fire. Within seconds it all went to *diyu*."

"Except she wasn't on it no more."

"*Duibuqi*, sir, but that's not possible."

"It is if you got transporter technology."

Zoe stared at her Captain as if he had taken leave of his senses. "There's no such thing."

"Not that anyone's admittin' to but who do you know that has the kind'a tech that would give the gorram Devil nightmares?"

Zoe felt her heart falter, her blood running cold. "Blue Sun."

"The very same."

"What I don't get is if that's the case why didn't they try to make a grab for River?"

"I'm thinkin' Rosalie, or whatever her gorram name is, is the next step. What River would have become if she hadn't been broken out of that gorram place by her brother."

Zoe did not like the direction of her friend's thoughts. "If true that would mean..."

"They ain't finished."

For a moment neither spoke, both lost in thoughts too dark to share but too scary not to need company. "What do you think they're up to?"

"Gorramit if I know but whatever it is ain't good."

"You think they have another base somewhere, a back up?"

The Captain shook his head. "*Bu qu*, I think they've got somethin' different."

"Like what?"

"*Wo bu zhidao* but this little exercise was terrifyin' enough. Don't like to think what more they might be plannin'."

"Are we safe, sir?"

The Captain straightened. "As a body can be. We're always on the move an' it's harder to hit a movin' target."

"Just wish I knew what they were up to, sir."

"Whatever it is we won't get anywhere worryin' about it. Best we carry on, find a job, keep flyin'."

"An' then?"

"We'll see. Just keep our eyes peeled, stay sharp *dong ma*?"

"Are you gonna tell the others?"

"Tell 'em what? We don't know anythin', Zoe. It's all conjecture an' some such."

* * * * *

No one ever asked why she did what she did. If she wanted something her needs were always met whether by fair means or foul. As for the Lady's latest venture, it had one purpose above all others. A purpose unknown to both the Alliance and Blue Sun Corporation. Let them blame each other in secret while pretending they knew nothing and that their hands were clean. The Lady knew better. It was the Trial By Fire and destroying their secret little project had not been the end of anything but the beginning of something else.

Her smile was cold, eyes glittering with satisfaction not malice. Many were called but few were chosen, her job was simply to weed out the possibilities. The Lady watched his face. Her husband was pleased with her, something that happened so rarely it was to be treasured though she would never let that fact be known. To show such a weakness was worse than death. Detachment protected her from his flashes of excess, the temperament of a keen but twisted mind. Light flashed off his glasses as he tilted his head back, soaking up the pleasure of a task well done.

"I think," he said with a slow calculating smile "we have found someone to take on my next job, yes? Most exciting."

The Lady gave her *zhangfu* a nod then left him to his reverie. Returning to his work room he smiled at the mountain of a man who guarded all his possessions as fiercely as if they were his own. A look as close to affection adding to the lines on his master's face as he smiled. Yes. This would be most exciting.

Meanwhile, out in the Black, Serenity sailed on. Her future not so solid.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin) *bao bei* = precious/treasure *zhangfu* = husband *dong ma* = understand? *dui* = correct *zai waimian* = over *weishenme* = why *ni zhide shi shenme* = what do you mean? *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *qu* = yes (lit. go) *xin gan* = sweetheart *fengmi* = honey *wo zhidao* = I know *shenjingbing* = crazy *ni zhidao* = you know *goushi* = crap/dog shit *diyu* = hell *duibuqi* = sorry *bu qu* = no (lit. no go)


Saturday, December 20, 2014 4:05 PM


I was determined to get the conclusion posted before Christmas, I do hope you have enjoyed the journey. Those of you who have read my other stories will recognise the Lady cropping up in a couple of them, and while there were very subtle hints as to her true identity in those stories this is the first time you find out exactly who she is. Not all your questions will be answered and that is deliberate, it gives me threads to pick up in future tales should I choose to do so. The next story is going to be something totally different and will not follow on from this one. It only remains for me to wish you all a "Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!" Keep Flyin', Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, December 20, 2014 5:18 PM


and a Merry Wooley to you, too, AliD...excellent series and I'm a bit fretful of you-know-who and what's in store for our intrepid Captain and crew...I know the next series will be just as entertaining! Have a lovely holiday and Keep Flyin'

Xie Xie for everything you do for the fandom

Saturday, December 20, 2014 6:27 PM


I loved it! Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 20, 2014 7:21 PM


I did smile at you being fretful, Malsdoxy, and given what we know from the series you have every right to be. Do have a fabulous festive season and thanks for the shiny bauble of feedback! So happy you loved it, Buckshotpilot. I do appreciate the feedback and wish you a Merry Christmas too! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, December 22, 2014 4:21 AM


That was on purpose, Chillman. Think who might be working hand in glove with who - wheels within wheels. Happy you enjoyed the story and thanks for the 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.