Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapter Ten
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Mal and Simon continue to evade the Feds. Not slash. This chapter: Stuff Simon learned at Medicad. And stuff he is learning now. Thanks to HeWhoKicksAlot and Mal4Prez for checking in. :) Roll over Mandarin for translation.


Back to Chapter Nine ------------------------------------------------

Simon re-entered the kitchen to the sound of soft curses. Mal had switched on the red flashlight and was intently loading his revolver with one hand, the gun propped against his bent right leg to keep it from falling. He raised his head stiffly as Simon guided the hover into the room.

“Nice job. No trouble aside from the flyovers?”

“None.” Simon pulled the vehicle close to the captain’s position. The hull reflected the red glow of the flashlight, bathing the corner of the room in crimson. It was enough light for Simon to see that blood had seeped through the outermost bandages on Mal’s leg.

“Shiny.” Mal returned to his task. “Leave the Cortex on standby. Zoe oughta be waving us soon enough. You didn’t fire any more shots?”

“No,” Simon said quickly. No. He’d done enough damage with the one. Enough, you would think, to keep a rational man from dragging himself around a room. But then reason was never one of the captain’s defining characteristics.

“Good.” Mal reached for the pouch on his belt. “In no position to waste ammo--- tzao gao.”

“I’ll get it.”

Simon crouched, wrinkling his nose at the feel of slime under his fingers, and patted the floor in the half dark until he located the cartridge that had been allowed to skitter into the muck. Grime burrowed beneath his fingernails as he scooped it up, and he reflexively wiped his fingers on his increasingly filthy shirt. After a second of hesitation he wiped the metal clean as well, and stood to hand it back. Something hard registered under his shoe. Slowly lifting his foot, he noted with surprise two more cartridges that had escaped the captain’s grasp. He cleaned them in the same fashion as the first, and Mal accepted the ammunition without comment, slotting them with a business-as-usual air that deflected any discussion of how they had gone astray.

“So.” Simon surreptitiously moved his feet as he spoke, feeling for any additional wandering weaponry. “Do you think they had heat sensors on those search flights?”

“Couldn’t say,” Mal focused on his gun. “Like to think not. Best we can do is stay ready.” He struggled to close the chamber.

“Let me---”

“I got it.” Mal snapped the gun shut and briefly displayed it for inspection.

“So we stay here, be ready, and wait for Zoe.”

“Best plan I got, given the present state of affairs.” Mal straightened his leg and slid his gun into its holster.

“Then that gives us some time.”

“Time for what?”

Simon gathered the remaining strips he had torn from the curtains. Time to address your injuries. Time to see just how bad it is and how well I can fix it. Time for you to emphasize ad nauseum that I shot you, along with all the other insults you want to add. “Your shoulder.”

“It’s not so bad.”

Simon nearly laughed at the predictable answer. “No,” he rejoined, “I imagine it’s not, so long as you don’t move. Or breathe deeply. Let alone stand, draw, shoot, or run. ”

“I can man---”

“Manage. Yes, I saw. You were astonishingly spry.” He placed the bulk of the material on the hover console, and squatted down, keeping a few strips on his lap. “Let me at least examine it. It is what you pay me for.”

Mal twisted slightly in an effort to inspect his shoulder. Simon noticed with some concern how the captain’s right hand hovered over the bloodied shirt but refrained from making contact. Too tender even for him to touch it.

“Let me look,” he pushed. “I promise,” he held his palms up as Mal started to speak, “if a need should arise for shooting or fetching, I’ll stop immediately.”

Mal discarded whatever comment he had prepared and grudgingly moved his hand away. “Fine.”

Setting the flashlight in closer, Simon peeled fabric away from the injured area, ignoring Mal’s protests as he tore the shirt to expose the shoulder. Carefully lifting the cloth that covered the bullet wound, he was relieved to find that a clot had already formed. A clot adhering to a very unclean bandage, but a clot. Something, at last, in their favor. Followed, naturally, by something that wasn’t. Mere centimeters above the point of entry, the split clavicle rose up like a tent pole, contorting the skin into a small pyramid. Simon ghosted his fingers along the bone, feeling for fragments. Again, a piece of luck in that the ends hadn’t broken through. But the visible swelling and discoloration told him the jagged edges were clearly damaging the surrounding tissue. With any movement they could threaten to accomplish what the bullet had not: severe damage to a blood vessel.

Simon sat back on his heels, glancing at the sodden wrapping on Mal’s leg. No supplies. No fluid. Most likely hours before they were rescued. More bleeding would not be ideal.

“So, how’d you do?”

Shen me?

“Night shot, fair distance. How’d you do?”

“Oh.” It took him a moment to realize that Mal was not speaking with sarcasm nor baiting him, but was asking for Simon’s assessment. Just…in a disturbing manner. “The bullet missed the lungs and the major arteries, which is, obviously, very good news. But I… it did break your collarbone.”

“Yeah,” Mal’s hand was hovering over his shoulder again, “recognized that. Broke it when I was a kid. Don’t remember it packing such a sting, though.”

“Well,” Simon sorted through the cloth strips, thinking to place the cleanest one first even as he acknowledged there was no cleanest one, “that’s to be expected, given the age difference…there’s less elasticity and the bones break differently. This appears to be more of a break with long splinters. That promotes a greater incidence of friction which would increase your discomfort.” He tore a strip into smaller pieces, conscious of speaking too quickly, of addressing the faded scraps in his hands instead of Mal. “And of course there’s the added fact that you were shot, which, I imagine, increases the pain considerably…”

Ni shè xi---

Mal’s complaint was interrupted by coughing, and Simon winced as he watched the bone move. Coughing was not a sound he wanted to hear. “Ni shè xiang?” Mal finished when he had caught his breath, his face suddenly pale in the odd light.

Simon felt a stab of defensiveness. “A broken clavicle is a common injury. The bone is very vulnerable.”

“Everything’s vulnerable if you shoot it.”

“Yes. You’ve proven that many times.”

“And now you have, too.”

Simon bowed his head, deliberately rolling a bandage and neatly tucking in the end as he absorbed the blow of words. This was not the time to spar. This was not the time to trade blame and hurl accusations. “Origin of injury aside, I need to set the bone.”

“It can wait.”

“Actually, it can’t. Unless you have a pressing engagement in the next 30 minutes.”

“These ain’t exactly optimal conditions to pull a reduction.”

A reduction. If he knew the terminology then he knew what had to be done. Possibly had even done it himself.

“Not optimal, no,” Simon agreed. He never thought he’d have cause to miss the rudimentary ship infirmary. Even the hospital shack on Jiangyin had had clean water and bandages. “But it’s necessary, and I can do it quickly.”

“Not doubting your abilities.”

“And yet, you don’t want me to do it.”

“It can wait ‘til we’re back on Serenity.”

Simon shook his head. “Getting back on Serenity means you walking. You walking means that bone moving. In addition to making you very uncomfortable, that bone has the potential to slice through a major vein or artery.”

Mal didn’t argue that point, and Simon knew he understood the risk. So where was this latest round of wrong-headed anti- logic coming from? Didn’t matter. This had to be done. “You’ve seen similar injuries,” he pursued. “You must know what I’m saying is correct.”

“Just fix me a sling.”

Simon stared hard at Mal, unable to fathom the refusal of sound medical advice that was completely appropriate, completely vital to their situation. The captain had closed his eyes after his last command, signaling the end of the debate.

“Just fix me a sling.”

Jian ta de gui. They weren’t in the middle of some battle. And were they to get into one… They wouldn’t, but it would be smarter to have the shoulder bound. They had the time. Hell, they had nothing to do but treat Mal’s shoulder.

He rolled another bandage. Was it about pain? Simon wouldn’t say he knew the captain well, but he’d treated him too many times to believe his reluctance could be motivated by that fear. Although God knew a reduction wasn’t pleasant. Simon measured out the cloth in his hands. Enough for a figure eight brace and an arm sling. In a process that would take no more than a few minutes. If only he could get Mal to agree. He certainly couldn’t force the treatment. He recalled the one occasion on which he had followed such orders, resulting in a large and agitated man involuntarily knocking an intern unconscious as hospital staff wrestled to reset his shoulder. It had taken four of them to finish the reduction. Of course, that task had been made immeasurably easier once the man had passed out…

A ya.

Simon’s breath caught. That patient had passed out, mid-procedure. He looked to where Mal sat against the wall.

Kàn dào yi ming nán zi chi gin mi; Zhè shì ta zui hài pà shi qù.

The captain had remained nearly motionless and Simon had supposed him simply to be resting, trying to conserve his strength. He saw now that the man was anything but relaxed. He was regulating his respiration, drawing in slow, deep breaths. Grimaces crossed his face at intervals, and his knuckles tightened and relaxed on his gunbelt. He was readying for a fight in which his goal was to stay upright. Simon’s plan had the potential to topple him early.

Simon wavered between respect for Mal’s conviction, and astonishment at his idiocy. The captain’s fortitude might have come in handy when leading troops into battle. But they weren’t marching and fighting. They were sitting and waiting for Zoe, and it made no sense to suffer unneccessarily when Simon could prevent it. Not when the alternative held so much peril. “The greatest risk of your losing consciousness is from the blood loss and shock when that artery is compromised.”

Mal opened his eyes. “It is truly chilling how much that sounded like your lil’ sister. You tryin’ to lighten the atmosphere?”

“No, I’m trying to get you to agree to treatment. And if it takes a graphic description to make that happen, then so be it.”

“Doc, I already told you leave it.”

“And I am telling you, Captain, that if I don’t reduce and immobilize this bone now, it is likely to puncture your skin when you move. Which you will, no matter how many times I tell you not to, because I do not have the drugs with me to stop you. While the bone is busy tunneling out the top of your shoulder, it may also damage muscle, nerves and the aforementioned blood vessels, which taken in tandem with the already significant blood loss from your leg wound, will severely limit your chance of seeing Serenity again, much less being treated aboard her.”

Simon paused, surprised at the force of his tone, and reeled himself in. “It will be painful. But I can see you through that. I can’t promise the same were there to be more trauma. If you’re going to have a decent chance at moving out of here… ” - he’d angle on Mal’s train of thought now - “if you think there’s any possibility we’ll have to fight or run, you know I need to do this.”

He wondered whether the play of red light and shadows was painting his face with the same fierce-looking mask as decorated the captain’s. And whether it was a trick of that light that made him imagine the mask twist briefly an appreciative half-smile.

“You ain’t wrong.” Mal surveyed their hideout. “Much as I’d like to picture us sittin’ cozy in this lap of luxury ‘til our ride comes, the nature of the verse does tend to have a more perverse sense a humor. Like as not will necessitate our movin’ about.” He returned to Simon. “Make it quick. Way this night’s gone, some sumbitch’ll show right as you’re snapping the pieces back together.”

“I will.” Simon was already on his feet, aware of how easily this window of opportunity could slam shut. He slid the hovercraft closer, bringing the rear sidebar grip within Mal’s reach. “Hang on to that,” he instructed. “With luck it will distract you from reaching for your holster.” He positioned the flashlight on the seat to illuminate the area of operation. Kneeling, he arranged the bandages within reach and wished once again that they had water. He removed the suspender, surprisingly still intact, from Mal’s shoulder, hating his immediate thought that it could serve as a tourniquet if necessary.


Simon’s first instinct was to listen for whatever he was sure Mal had heard. “What is it?” he whispered. “Is someone coming?”

“No.” Mal patted the hover with his right hand. “In the console. There’s that bottle of whiskey.”

“Whiskey?” Simon repeated the word stupidly before remembering the engineer’s stash. “I can’t irrigate with whiskey. It destroys the tissue.”

“Wasn’t thinking ‘bout you.”

“For you? No. Absolutely not. Whiskey is contraindicated for someone in your condition.”

“Strange. I’m thinking it will make me feel a whole lot better ‘bout my condition.”

“Mal, I can’t.” And he couldn’t. This didn’t even bear arguing. “You’re already becoming dehydrated. Administering alcohol to you violates every aspect of my medical training.”

“So does shootin’ me.” Mal set his hand on Simon’s shoulder. His face was calm but his eyes glittered with the effort of suppressing pain.

“Give me the whiskey, Doc. And let’s get on with this.”

------------------------------------------- On to Chapter Eleven


Thursday, March 1, 2007 8:31 AM


A ha! First to comment. That makes me feel good all over.

I've had several very similar conversations with patients over the years, attempting to convince them that what I'm doing, or going to do, is in their best interest. I can fully sympathize with Simon, here.

Excellent dialogue. Loved the wordplay.

Keep up the excellent work. I look forward to your next post.

Rob O.

Thursday, March 1, 2007 8:36 AM


Ohh, nice chapter. I love the interaction between Mal and Simon. Very nicely done.

Thursday, March 1, 2007 1:43 PM


Absolutely adore this as I do the whole series so far, just find it all manner of frustrating having to wait between posts! Take pity please and write FASTER, *dong ma*? Very shiny. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, March 1, 2007 2:05 PM


Your one of the few that can actually make me hear the voices in my head...that is a good thing I swear ;) hearing voices!

I am in love with this story!!!! Not enough stories like this which makes it so unique, thanks again for writing this and please hurry up ;) love it!

Thursday, March 1, 2007 2:37 PM


Ooh...definitely a beautiful bit of writing you've done here, homespun! Especially Mal's stubborn refusal being met with Simon's morbid fact flinging about needing to fix the shoulder;D


Friday, March 2, 2007 6:04 AM


Good for Simon seeing through Mal's stubbornness. And poor Mal - I just cringe thinking about the broken bone, which you describe so painfully well. That's gotta hurt!

Sunday, April 22, 2007 9:21 PM


I'm really enjoying this story, and I hope for more soon!

I'm with mal4prez.....ouch! Poor Mal :(


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