Down the Rabbit Hole - Chapter Four
Thursday, January 4, 2007

Mal and Simon continue to evade the Feds. Not slash. This chapter: Simon thinks a lot. And then, unfortunately, speaks.


Back to Chapter Three

* * *

Simon stood silently, counting the lights and patterns on the control panel and wall map, clenching and unclenching his fists, breathing deliberately in through his nose, out through his mouth. In.

They had just killed a man.


They were only trying to pick up medical supplies on a fairly remote planet.


That turned out to have more Alliance than they expected.


And a complex flood control system.


Serenity had gotten away.


Serenity was gone.


They were in a hole with a dead man.


There was no out.

He closed his eyes, opened them again to count the overhead lights. Four. Avoided the closed manhole. Looked toward the darkening grate and the outline of Mal, squatting on his haunches. Looked at the iris door, trying not to think of the body cooling behind it. Thought instead of Leif Talverston.

Polo teammate. School chum from the age of nine. Had been so proud when he had been accepted to the Alliance Corps of Engineers. Had shown that uniform, the engraved silver buttons decorating the bias flap.

The dead man, the man who had wanted to leave work early, might have known Leif Talverston. It was entirely possible that Leif was right here with this detachment. Could have been on the shift before, or the shift after. But for the happenstance of scheduling, it could have been Leif who Simon had seen shot tonight, reaching to broadcast their whereabouts. Leif whose lifeless feet Simon had deposited in a tunnel. It wouldn’t have mattered to Mal if the Fed had been Simon’s friend.

And maybe it wouldn’t have mattered to Leif.

Maybe those boyhood blue eyes would have see Simon Tam only as a fugitive, and his arm would have reached for the com, or for his gun, just as easily as this man’s had.


Simon looked again at Mal, who had neither spoken nor moved from his position near the grate. He gave one more glance to the door, then moved down the tunnel to stand beside the captain.

“What’s out there?” he asked softly, coming to a stop a few feet behind the other man.

“Few buildings,” Mal answered without turning. “House. Barn. Damaged. Looks to be abandoned.”

“Do you think anyone heard the gunshot?”

“I’m guessing, since we ain’t been swarmed by armed troops, no. And no movement on this homestead.”

“Lucky, then,” Simon ventured.

“You have a very queer notion of luck, Doc.”

Simon swallowed his retort. Mal was a hun dan, but he was the hun dan Simon was going to need to get back to Serenity, and back to River. “When it gets dark, then what?”

“We’ll move out, see where we are, maybe where we can get to. Can’t stay here...” he jerked a thumb back at the tunnel “...our boy’ll be missed come morning.”

Simon tried.

He did.

He knew, he knew not to ignite the newly kindled conversation into a conflagration. But the casually belittling tone with which the captain referred to a man who, moments ago, had been a soul with a past and a future, overrode his common sense.

“ ‘Our boy’? You mean our dead, used-to-be-alive boy? Mr. Wrong-Place-Wrong Time? Or, does he only get a number instead of a name?”

“Don’t start, Doc.”

“Start?” It was Simon’s turn for incredulous. “I think the murder put us past ‘start’. I realize we’re in a predicament. I realize we’ve been shot at.” His blood was pounding in his ears. “But what I fail to understand is why some kùn ku kui we just stumbled into had to end up another notch on your very well-worn belt!”

Mal remained squatting, still not looking at Simon.

“I’m thinking it’d be better if you were quiet now,” he said evenly. “Much more yap is guaranteed to push me over that very thin line into collecting the bounty on you myself.”

“But you didn’t have to kill him! You could’ve just wounded him!”

The words hung and this time Mal did move, running a hand through his hair and slowly standing. He was silent for so long, Simon thought perhaps he had elected not to answer. He was ready to congratulate himself on winning a round when Mal gave a humorless chuckle.

“Must be nice for you, Doc,” he said, his voice dangerously conversational, “holdin’ the deed on that high moral ground what enables you to disapprove a so much. Shakin’ your head at the barbarism as you stitch someone up, or see another corpse buried.”

He did turn then, turned and stood so close that Simon had to fight the urge to step backwards.

“That’s a fine comfort,” Mal continued, “a regular birthright for the Core-bred boy. See, I ain’t got that luxury. Don’t got the time. Someone aimin’ to harm me or mine, I take ‘em out without blinkin’. The time you stop and think, is the time your face ends up kissin’ dirt. Or the time you find yourself trapped and surrounded by Alliance troops. Maybe even the time you find your crew short one doctor.”

Simon held his ground. Force, that’s what the man was all about. Bullying. And, lao tien ya, he’d managed to rationalize killing as his right, as his responsibility.

“Judging that now?” The captain read him easily. “Go ahead.” An odd smirk crossed his face. “Judge me a remorseless biao zi de er zi. Could be I should’ve shown more restraint. Same as I should’ve waited when that Fed, Dobson, had a gun to your sister’s head and Reavers was arrivin’ for lunch. Maybe I should have been more sensitive and not flashed so much iron at the nice lynch mob when they was throwin’ you and River a personal barbeque back on Jiangyin. And,” he paused to smile sardonically, “I’m sorry, would you have rathered I didn’t space the bounty hunter after he shot you and tried to take your sister to see the stars? Was her idea, you know. She lured him out there, set the trap. I just sprung it. She understands, your little sis.”

He pulled out the sidearm he had taken off the engineer. “It’s the way it is, Doc.” He turned the gun over in his hands, examining it. “It’s what we got out here, where everyone’s fightin’ over the table scraps and some fight dirtier ‘n others. Man’s gotta have a gun...” he pulled out the clip and slammed it back in “...not be afraid to use it.”

He looked back at Simon, and his voice dropped to a growl. “You wanna part ways, you dislikin’ my methods so much, that’s fine. But you take this.” He shoved the pistol into Simon’s hands. “And you use it. I won’t have everyone on my boat blamin’ me cause you was defenseless when the purplebellies dragged you off.”

On to Chapter Five


Thursday, January 4, 2007 12:49 PM


It's not often I hand out a 10. That's all I have to say.

Rob O.

Thursday, January 4, 2007 3:47 PM


Excellent and I hope Simon takes note. He may not like the Captain but he has kept Simon and his sister safe with little in the way of thanks. At least River understands. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, January 4, 2007 4:51 PM


What an incredible bit of writing! Your imagery was so real I could almost believe I was there with them. You are an amazingly gifted writer.

Friday, January 5, 2007 4:30 AM


The excellence continues! Intense Mal giving Simon a talking to... absolutely love it. The kicker is that both of them are right, given their backgrounds, but they can't hardly reconcile. You've shown both sides while keeping it all in Simon's POV. Well done!

I agree with Rob O - Completely a 10.

Friday, January 5, 2007 6:06 AM


Mal's comparison with River was particularly excellent. He's not always good at explaining himself, perfering just to be obeyed (with Simon when the Alliance are boarding in Bushwacked, with Tracey and Book's plan in The Message).

It's not that Mal's wrong - he usually isn't. But as he's pointed out, their lives have been so different - both in general background and in particular, career choice, that Simon can't just put himself in Mal's shoes. Choices like those have to be explained or experinenced to even have a hope of understanding them.

Sunday, January 7, 2007 2:44 PM


Brillaint piece of work here, homespun! I totally was able to picture Mal/Nathan and Simon/Sean crouching down in darkened sewer tunnel set, stage whispering these amazing lines at one another. Could even picture how the final part of the scene with Mal inspecting the gun as he lays into Simon before handing it over would be lit because of your words:D



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