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AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 29. "Descent Into Hell"
Saturday, June 5, 2004

"Inara faces up to the consequences of her actions. Pepper Rawlings discovers the true level of the Independents' betrayal. River finds a way to reconnect with Mal while his crew try to find a way to bring him home."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2385    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "DESCENT INTO HELL" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: RIVER/MAL. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "REANIMATION". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "Inara faces up to the consequences of her actions. Pepper Rawlings discovers the true level of the Independents' betrayal. River finds a way to reconnect with Mal while his crew try to find a way to bring him home." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"DESCENT INTO HELL"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Inara Serra had dreaded this moment. This possibility lurking like the king of horrors in her mind. She did not want to do it. To be the one to cause that much pain to an innocent. They seemed to laugh at her, not openly but in the implaccable shadows of their dull unfeeling eyes. Blue hands made incongruously graceful movements as they spoke, first one then the other, reminding her of how they were bound. Of all she owed them and what this single act would accomplish.

"Consider it an act of compassion." Said one.

"It will end his misery." Said the other.

"And in turn, end ours."

So she had done as they asked. The hope that the Alliance ships could come in time to catch the rebels still on the ground had been partly realised but Malcolm Reynolds had obviously tried to cover that contingency, the ships taking off and breaking away from each other scattering in all directions. Forcing the Alliance net to fragment in a frantic bid to grab as many as it could within its' greedy maw.

"If we cannot annihilate them all in one stroke we will incapacite them. Cut off the head and they will flounder without direction. The threat will be neutralised."

The second one agreed. "Do it, Inara Serra. Do it now."

Closing her eyes she opened her mind and sought him out. The one prepared for her. The one whose mind could not resist nor detect her presence but could only obey. He was not talking at the time which was a bonus, it gave her seconds to act which would go undetected. She angled him closer to his brother, the others deep in conversation as ordnance peppered the sky and impacted on their ship's hull. Answering fire cracked back. When he was in place she sent the final command that would wake the sleeper to his destiny. She felt his hand on the gun, swayed with him as the ship pitched and rolled in the dogfight unfolding around them. All his attention on his brother, Davy raised the gun and fired. Point blank range. He couldn't miss. Inara could not cry, could feel nothing beyond a growing emptiness opening up inside her even as the ship continured to dip and shudder under more accurate enemy fire. The deck lurched throwing Davy off his aim. Though it went wide the bullet smashed into Mal's left knee, deep into the kneecap before shattering as the bullet exploded inside.

The interior of Inara's mind flowered a dark but vivid red. She could smell and taste it as Davy sensed and savoured the blood in Mal's mouth where he had bitten his tongue. Like a mirror reflecting a mirror on and on into infinity, what Mal felt Davy felt, and what Davy felt swamped Inara's senses making her feel sick. The nausea a restless bile within that had no path of release but one and that she could not allow. They were watching her with quiet intensity. Monitoring her progress. It was all about control and the Queen of Assassins was nothing if not an expert. Mal was going into shock, she could feel it. Davy was rooted to the spot, a kind of dark madness sweeping through him until with a mental snap the iron grip of control on what little remained of his mind was suddenly released. Memories rushed in, swamping his senses with hideous revelation. Memories from another lifetime, tears wept on the inside because he had no outlet on the outside. No way of forgiving himself for what he had done. Horror mounting on horror with every twisted heartbeat, a ragged staccato of accusation rising like heat in his veins. His mind screamed in anguish and dispair, hands unable to do anything but open and drop the weapon as if he knew not how it had come to be in his shaking hand.

So much blood. There was an odd pregnant pause while battle raged outside. An agonised scream from a man more contained than even she was. It cut through her, wounding viscerally while leaving no physical scar. Panic, anger, disbelief, horror, suspicion, a whole myriad of competing emotions thickened the thoughts of the men crowded on to the ship in air that vibrated with the aftershock of the discharge. Many hands caught the swaying body. Gentle in their austere duty, considerate in their caring of him, distraught at what had happened. An enemy within not without. They laid him down with care, gentle but efficient hands moving over him while his life became an ebbing tide blurred by agony. Almost she could reach out and touch him but something else guarded his mind. The walls of that sanctuary had relaxed but not crumbled. A gatekeeper of such fierce persuasian suddenly turned its' attention from the fallen to the one who watched and waited. A sudden piercing intrusion hit her like an electrical discharge. Biofeedback with one hell of a kick. Inara staggered back. A shocked cry torn from startled lips and tinged with an old emotion not felt in ages past. Fear.

The blue handed men stared at her then stepped forward. Not hesitant to help but curious. Waiting for her to find the words of explanation that would make sense of a 'verse that suddenly made no sense at all. She sank to her knees, tears of blood falling from stunned eyes. It should not have been possible. But it was. Inara swallowed back the thick greasy taste of her own blood, blinked until her tears ran clear then carefully cleared her throat.

"What happened?"

She did not reply immediately. Using every ounce of her training to regain control behind a steel will as she rose back to her feet. Spine straight, head raised, a Queen once more albeit a shaken one. "It is done."

"He is dead?"

"No, but his life signs are erratic. The others are in a state of total panic."

The second one wanted to be sure. "Perhaps another will take his place?"

Inara Serra shook her head slowly and knew she was looking straight into the eyes of the Devil's most skilled servants. She knew because she had become one of them. The imprint of her every action bore their mark. "*Bu qu*. They picked him, chose him to be their leader. This rebellion is over. More than half of their ships have been reduced to solar dust. Those that escaped are damaged and scattered. The will to fight has been taken from them."

"What of Malcolm Reynolds?"

"He is no longer of consequence. Even if he could raise an army he could no longer lead it."

A pause. "Can he raise an army?"

She was more confident now. Her words carrying the unequivocal ring of certainty. "No. They have been crushed. The will of the tattered remnant is broken and they lack the leadership or knowledge to rebuild it."

They nodded slowly. Satisfied at last. "You have done well."

Only then did they seem aware of her weakness. "Rest. Rest Inara Serra until we need you again."

Though she was tired she could not leave it there. They had promised. "*Jia*."

"We are your home."

"Sihnon." She corrected in a whisper wrung from traumatised lips, still seeking solace in a calm that had now deserted her.

"Rest first." Said the second one.

The first one graced her with a cold smile. "Then we shall see."

Inara Serra said nothing but watched them leave. All emotion wrung out of her. What did she expect for paying lip service to the Devil? What indeed.

* * * * *

Simon did not know what to do. River was in a state, her eyes wide and tormented, her lips moving rapidly but no sense coming out of her mouth. He was not even sure she was aware of him let alone where she was. Something had obviously happened. Something so terrible that it had traumatised his sister. The only thing he could think of was the Captain. His heart missed a beat. "River, what is it? What has happened?"

She tried to push him away but his grip tightened, arms folding round her like bindings she could not get free of. He wanted to protect and comfort her but he did not understand. Tears bedimmed her eyes, she was frantic, almost mindless with distress. Needing to get to him. For Simon to let her go.

"*Rongyi, mei mei*. Tell me what's wrong."

As if from far away she seemed to hear him. With an effort she homed in on the familiar voice, trying to place the name that she knew as well as her own. "Simon?"

He felt a rush of relief. "I'm here, *mei mei*. What is it? What's happened?"

Her eyes were wide, fearful and pained. Tears rolled down her cheeks but she was oblivious her mind seeing horrors he could not even imagine. "He's hurt Simon! Tried to kill him..."

Kaylee gasped and left Yen Mah to stand next to Simon, face pale and anxious. None of them paying Shepherd Book any mind. Although he listened he did not seem surprised by what he was hearing.

"*Shei*, River? Who's hurt?"

More tears, she was sobbing now. The words catching in her throat. "Mal. He would have escaped but she stopped him."

Kaylee reached out a trembling hand to her friend. Cradled in Simon's arms River hardly noticed her friend's tentative touch on her shoulder. "River, where's the Cap'n? What happened?"

For a moment all the crashing images and piercing wail of emotions stilled in her mind. With creepifying clarity River suddenly stared at Kaylee, as sane as anyone who lived and breathed. "He was betrayed. Set up."

"Who set him up, *mei mei*? Do you know who it was?" Asked Simon anxiously.

She nodded, her pale face solemn and filled with a deep abiding sorrow. Her mood seguing from one to another in a seamless flow of emotions that reflected with utter poignancy on her face. "His brother."

Simon and Kaylee both gasped in shock. Simon recovering his ability to speak first. "Davy?"

River looked at him, her mood changing yet again. This time the pain and sorrow solidifying into a deep cold anger. "He pulled the trigger but she fired the bullet."

* * * * *

Ty was feeling much better. The rest, good food and doctoring were paying off but it did not deter him from his mission. "There's no time for this, Sheriff. Either you trust me an' help or step aside."

Sheriff Bowman had no intention of stepping aside nor of letting this brave young man go racing into danger all alone. "I believe ya though how this is all possible is a mystery to me."

"Then you'll help me?" Said Ty, his voice faint with relief.

The Sheriff smiled and patted his shoulder. It was the one place on the boy's body that carried no ache. "I'll do better than that son, I'm comin' with ya."

If Cassie Mary Bowman was surprised she did not show it. Tyrone Garvin watched the Sheriff explain to his wife that they might be gone a few weeks. To Ty's surprise she did not try to talk him out of it but gave him a gentle smile and kissed his cheek. "You just be careful Martin an' see that you bring that boy home safe."

"I'll be alright, Mrs Bowman," Ty rushed to assure her.

The Sheriff smiled with amusement. "She wasn't meanin' ya son, but I reckon she means ya too."

It occurred to him they were talking about Malcolm Reynolds. Intrigued he hoped he would get to hear just how Mal had come to earn the support of the law on a backwater world like Porchester. Well, not backwater so much as remote. Off the beaten track. So near the rim as to make no never mind. He gave the Sheriff a thoughtful smile. "We ought to go sooner rather than later."

Martin Bowman smiled. Behind him his wife was packing two rucksacks with food, blankets, flashlights and warm clothing as if this was something she did every day. "All in hand, son."

Just then a knock came on the door. Ty stiffened but the Sheriff went straight to it and flung the door open. Deputy Crowther stood on the step with half a dozen officers in tow. Ty felt his heart sink, sure that something had gone wrong and the power of the Sheriff to protect him had just ended. It was with a sense of shock that he realised it was nothing of the sort.

"'Bout time ya turned up. I was beginnin' to think I'd have to do this my own self."

Deputy Crowther grinned at the Sheriff, affection mixed in with respect. Ty liked the combination. "Had to rustle up the transport first."

"Took some mighty fine dancin' we can tell ya, Sheriff." Added Deputy Peter Bailey.

"What ya tell 'em, boys?"

Deputy Bailey cut a sideways look at Deputy Crowther. "Best ya tell him, Andy, was your *shenjingbing* idea after all."

"We got us an old prison transport, Sheriff. Took a bit of cleanin' up and don't smell too shiny but it flies an' best off it has working guns."

Tyrone Garvin's eyes widened in pure disbelief. "You went an' got a GUNSHIP?"

"Alliance Prison transport." Corrected Peter Bailey with a smug smile.

The Sheriff laughed at the stunned expression on Ty's face. *Oh good gorram, they're gonna get us all killed*.

It was the Sheriff's brisk efficient voice that brought him back to the task at hand. That and the heavy rucksack now shoved in his hands. "Okay boys, lets strip what ammo we can get away with from our post. Do the others know to play their part?"

Paul Burnett nodded by the door. "Yes, sir, an' they'll cover for us. As far as anyone'll know we're transportin' some mean assed prisoners to the Argon Penal Colony."

Ty spoke without thinking. "But that's nowhere near Shadow."

"So we're takin' the scenic route. Prison ship often has to take the long way round to pick up all the scum an' villainy the Alliance don't wanna soil it's lily white gorram hands with. Gotta problem with that son?"

He shook his head. These men were *shenjingbing* but then so was he.

"Okay then, what we waitin' for? We got some ruttin' *chunren* of a browncoat needs savin'."

* * * * *

Zoe, Wash and Jayne were not sure what the good gorram to say. Max paced back and forth for a minute or two, as if the repetitive movement helped him think. Zoe knew he was worried, probably fearing the worst. *Diyu*. It should come as no surprise seeing as she was doing the same thing. It was Jayne who broke the silence. "So what we gonna do?"

Max sucked a deep breath. "Not nothin' we can do. If Mal's with Davy he's already in too deep an' we ain't got a chance in hell of doin' a thing about it."

"We could warn him." Said Wash.

Max snorted. Jayne noticed Clem was back on the catwalk but at least his weapon was in its' holster and not aimed at them. "Can't do that. Com traffic would be picked up by the Alliance. Not only would we get nowhere near 'em, ruttin' Alliance would have other ships out after us."

"So we do nothin'?" Zoe bit out angrily.

"Look, this mess ain't my mess, *dong ma*? I ain't opposed to helpin' all I can, I know my debt an' I'm all aware what ya done for Tracey but this is somethin' else. Somethin' on this scale would be beyond any help I could give."

Jayne was looking at the vast store of treasures, many of them retrieved from gun emplacements after the war. An idea was beginnin' to form in the back of his mind. "What about supplies?"

Max blinked. Above them Clem leaned on the catwalk but said nothing. "What kind'a suppplies?"

The mercenary's face broke out into a reckless grin, the kind they hadn't seen since the Captain had left. "The kind that goes *boom*!"

Wash stared at him. "You fixin' to start a war, Jayne?"

"Nope." He said as smug as you please. "Just end one."

* * * * *

They could not believe their rutting eyes. The journey to Shadow was not that far especially as any stopping over they intended to do *after* they got here. The Sheriff had the engines set to idle in geostationary orbit while they all took in the sight that greeted their eyes. Bits of ships rolled and floated by in slow outward rotations, debris in every gorram direction they looked. None of the pieces big enough to stand on let alone hold life. Ty's eyes pricked with tears, the pain in his heart constricting the beat of it so all that was left was the sorrow of it all. *Merciful Buddha*. He hung his head as if it was his fault. "Too late," He whispered through a chain of tears. "We came too ruttin' late."

* * * * *

Davy Reynolds stared in stunned stupefication, shaking his head to clear the trickle of blood from his eyes. He was lying with his hands bound before him and his feet tied together. Dazed and a little out of it he took a moment or two to get his bearings. Everybody seemed to be crowded around a body on the floor. He rolled himself on to his stomach and managed to push himself up on to his knees unnoticed, his mind starting to clear. The pain in his gut where Pepper had kicked and stamped on him not even registering. All he could see and take in was his brother's blood soaked body lying on the cold deck. The men fussing over him in the kind of hush reserved for death bed confessions. It hurt to have the memories cascading back through his mind, perfect recall of the last moments playing over and over again inside his head. *Wode tiana, what have I done?* His heart quailed. Blinded by tears he looked down at the deck and for a moment did not recognise the object laying discarded and forgotten not inches from his bound feet.

The noise was small and slight but it drew Pepper's attention, perhaps because it seemed such a stealthy sound and therefore out of place. By the time he looked up it was already too late. His eyes glassy with tears Davy Reynolds had managed to pick up the gun and turn it between his tied hands until he could reach the trigger. Pepper saw him put the barrel of the gun under his chin and pull the gorram trigger. His words of apology to his brother drowned out by the sudden loud retort of the gun. His words sprayed out with the blood and gore as it took the top and back of his head off and was carried in the agonised echo of Pepper's strained and horrified voice as the man lurched to his feet. "NO!"

* * * * *

Tristan Bowman rumaged through drawers and cupboards, a little frown appearing on his comely face. 19 years old and as lean and lanky as his father was stocky. His mother heard him banging drawers and cupboards with frustration and stuck her flour smeared face around the kitchen door to see what in the nine hells was going on. "Tristan Bowman, what in *diyu* are ya makin' all that racket for? You'll wake Sam."

The boy flushed a little and scowled. "Sorry, ma, can't find my shirt nor my lined jacket. Could swear it was here yesterday."

She smiled, patted the flour off her hands on to her apron and joined him. "They aren't there, son, another had more use for 'em."

He gave her a steady look, his irritation fading. "That man?"

"Ty was in a powerful sorry state son, as you may recall."

He nodded. "He gonna be alright, ma?"

Mary Bowman smiled and ran a hand through his shock of sandy hair. "Well now, he's with your father so anythin' is like to happen."

Tristan chuckled and hugged her.

"An' don't think I don't know you're tryin' to get round me to sneak a cake or two while your brothers are still sleepin'."

"But ma..."

She kissed the top of his head fondly then tried to paste a frown on her face. "No early risin' for you less you're offerin' to chop wood an' do your brothers' chores, *dong ma*?"

"I think I'm still a bit sleepy, ma."

She smiled and hugged him then shoved him towards the door. "Now go on, away with you an' don't show your face for another hour or so. Next time I see it if it isn't pink with scrubbin' I'll wash it myself!"

* * * * *

He had no idea where he was other than a world of pain. Oblivious to the sway and motion of the ship, insensate to the thrum of the engine to get to some place with medical facilities, he drifted and spun like candyfloss being strung out between the stars where the only thing solid in it was agony. He had no notion of time, nor could he pin point the moment when the demons that ruled him were pushed back by angels. Well. One gorram angel in particular.

*Ai ren, ai ren, can you hear me?*

That voice. He 'knew' that voice. Loved it, breathed it, would die to hear it again. *River?*

He felt more than heard her tears of joy. Love washing back to adorn him with something that was 'not' pain. The wonder of it made him want to cry. *Where the good gorram am I, xin gan? This hell?*

*No, ai ren, though it may feel like it*

*Huh, everybody wants to be a ruttin' comedian*

*Can you remember what happened, Mal?*

He tried to think but all the images were fuzzy. *I remember a battle... We were leavin' Shadow, the Alliance hundan were comin'. More ships than stars, xin gan*

*How did you get hurt?*

*Not rightly sure, think I was shot*

*Who by?*

He sensed she was holding something back but was struggling too much to answer her questions to tell what it was. If he needed to know she would tell him. *Didn't see. Must'a been usin' armour piercin' bullets*

River didn't reply in words, instead she flooded him with her feelings. Her love, her desire for him, the need to hold and comfort him the only thing in her mind. He was so rutting tired. *Don't go to sleep, ai ren*

The panic in her thoughts disturbed him. Made him feel guilty. *Ain't gonna leave you, you're *wode xinzang* - I ever tell you that?*

*Bu qu* River paused, willing with her heart and mind for him to stay conscious for as long as possible. Trying to discover how badly he was hurt and where he was now. They had to get to him and quickly. She could feel him growing weaker and it was getting harder and harder to keep the panic out of her thoughts.

Simon resisted the urge to shake her, looking at her with such worried intensity that Kaylee held her breath. With an effort, River spoke out loud for their benefit. "Hurry Simon, he's very weak."

"Where is he hurt?"

She asked him, he answered her in graphic pictures accompanied by a sharing of the pain. It had been unwitting, an automatic response to the urgency of her request. Her gasp of pain made Simon panic, but she quickly reassured him she was alright and opened her eyes. "Davy shot him in the leg, Simon."

"That's not so bad," He said, trying to reassure her that it could have been much worse.

She shook her head. "*Bu qu*, exploding bullet."

Kaylee thought she was hearing things. "What the ruttin' *diyu* is that?"

"It enters the body then explodes, designed for maximum damage." River explained.

Kaylee's eyes widened in horror. "*Wode ma*, Davy did that?"

River nodded then spoke urgently to her brother. Her face contorting in the agony of another. "Too much blood loss, Simon. Hurry!"

"Where is he? River, you have to tell me where Mal is."

Her eyes fluttered, the backwash of pain coming too quick and fast for her to adjust in time. As Malcolm Reynolds lost consciousness, River - determined not to let go - was drawn into the Black with him.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *jia* = home/family *rongyi* = easy *mei mei* = little sister *shei* = who *shenjingbing* = crazy *chunren* = fool/jerk *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell *wode tiana* = dear God in Heaven *ai ren*/*xin gan* = sweetheart *wode xinzang* = my heart *wode ma* = mother of God

COMMENTS

Saturday, June 5, 2004 11:03 AM

JEBBYPAL


Shiny! All the pieces coming together and lining up for spectacular ending.

Sunday, June 6, 2004 7:17 AM

ARTSHIPS


Huh. Looks like you're saying Wash abandoned Zoe to get Simon to Mal. Your stories are always unpredictable, and very entertaining, Alison. Thanks!

Sunday, June 6, 2004 12:01 PM

AMDOBELL


No, artships, I am not saying Wash abandoned Zoe to get Simon to Mal - not sure where you got that impression from. All sorts still to come so hang on tight now. Thanks for your feedback also jebbypal, knowing the stories are appreciated urges me to keep writing. Shiny! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, June 7, 2004 12:17 AM

KISPEXI2


Argh! So much pain and agony. Glad to see there's another chapter ready already.

Loved the imagery of:
" he drifted and spun like candyfloss being strung out between the stars where the only thing solid in it was agony."

maybe because of the startling juxtaposition of candyfloss and stars with agony.


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