Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapter Fifteen
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mal and Simon continue to evade Feds. Not slash. This chapter: Get oooout of the hooouuse.


Back to Chapter Fourteen --------------------------------------------

Mal cursed under his breath and Simon knew he heard it, too.

Voices. Somewhere outside there were voices in conversation.

Simon bowed his head. He had hoped, shàng dì, he had just hoped they could survive undiscovered, just a few more hours, long enough to be rescued.

He tightened his grip on his pistol as the indistinguishable patter grew louder. Clearly surprise was not part of the plan. He stood carefully, placing one hand against a dirty wall, leaning toward the hallway as he strained for sound. A raucous laugh jerked him back, nerves jumping as though the joker were right beside him. The sound, however, placed its owner at the front of the house.

“Go,” Mal rasped, indicating the back door. “Go now!”

Simon shook his head.

“Gorramit, Simon, go!”

Hey!” A bellow from outside ended that argument. Simon scuttled into a crouch on Mal’s side of the hover. What kind of arrest was this? He looked at the captain, aware that he probably appeared more panicked than quizzical.

Hey!” The voice was loud but loose, and decidedly lacking in official tone. “Ames, you scum bastard! Bring your worthless Rim ass out here so we can shoot you already!”

More laughter, and a second voice.

“Getting tired of being sent out here to slap your wrist every gorram time you take a pot-shot at some shadows, you piss-ant!”

“Half-assed saboteur!”

“Sod-sucking…bad shot…xi shun- she ji!…” The insults trailed away into cackles.

Simon blinked as he registered what their words meant. Ames. He must have been the man who lived here, the man Mal had shot. The men outside were Alliance, but they were here for Ames, not to collect fugitives. Which meant the flyover hadn’t detected two of them, or perhaps neither. Which meant --- they didn’t know they were there! Simon turned to share this discovery with Mal, but the captain deflected his nascent celebration with a barely perceptible shake of the head.

“But, they don’t want us,” Simon whispered, in case Mal had missed that point. He was grinning, he couldn’t help it. “They’re not looking for us.”

“Ames! Gou chui niu. Ames!” There was a thud and the distinctive sound of glass smashing against the house. “Ames!” The voice grew uglier, and suddenly Simon understood why Mal didn’t share his relief.

“They’re drunk!”

“Makes ’em twice as dangerous,” Mal muttered.

“Hey, Ames!”

The hollering sounded now from the side of the house. No. Oh no, don’t come around the back. Simon tracked the voice as it moved, wildly weighing images of flight and fight.

“Tired a coming out to this godforsaken corner a nowhere at all hours because of you, you hun dan! You crawl out from whatever rock you’re hiding under and show yourself!”

“When you run,” Mal was leaning toward him, resting on his gun arm, “if they ain’t seen you, head straight ‘cross the yard. …Ground slopes up. Could be shelter. If not… still woods beyond.”

“And if they see us?” Simon had no intention of leaving Mal behind, and could not conceive of a way he and the wounded man could flee unpursued.

“Ames!” Something heavy collided with the side of the house.

“Plan B.” Mal’s half-laugh turned into a cough. “Listen---”

A spate of harsh coughing again cut him off. Simon watched Mal try to stifle the sound with his remaining shirtsleeve, yet even as he cringed in empathy, he couldn’t suppress his desperate wish for it to stop, stop by any means. To his shame, he knew that he was driven more by the terrible fear of being discovered than by concern for his patient.

Outside, however, the sport seemed to have turned to throwing objects - rocks, from the sound of it - through any glass left in the upstairs windows. The clashes and accompanying profanities neatly covered the muffled hacking.

“Listen,” Mal repeated when he had caught his breath. His voice was a wheezy whisper. “Don’t shoo’ ‘f you don’ have to. Like you said. They don’ know we’re here. ‘s a chance you can slip away.”

“Mal, I --- ai ya!” Simon leaned to cover Mal, protecting his own head with his arm as the window above them shattered and a rock bounced off the hover with a clang. Not the biggest chance.

“We’re coming in, Ames!”

Oh God. Make that no chance.

“Ok Doc.” Mal’s eyes were bright with the last vestiges of adrenaline. And perhaps the onset of fever. “Can’t seem t’ quite sit up. Gonna have t’ cover… bes’ I can from here. Y’already proved you can shoot.” He thumbed his revolver to produce the familiar cocking sound. “Now just show me it weren’t a fluke.”

Simon nodded. His heart was racing but his mind was inexplicably calm as he followed Mal’s instruction, taking up position behind the hover and aiming at the back door. “Only hearin’ two voices. Shoul’ be easy ‘nough. You got 15 shots, ‘s plen’y. Keep your head. ‘n we can see better ‘n ‘em.”

Good, the element of surprise. Just like when I shot the captain. I am a regular killer of men.

He crouched on one knee, hoping the support of the hover would quiet the trembling in his arms. “Wo bú shì!” The indignation of an inebriated tete-a- tete floated in from the back porch. “You go in and riddle the bastard, I’ll cover you from here.”

“I’m not risking my pretty neck in that rat-trap. Full of vermin.”

“And that’s just the sod sucker!”

“Still, be nice to be rid of the bastard once and all.”

Sweat was sliding down Simon’s nose, but he didn’t dare release a hand from his pistol to wipe it away.

“Pin a medal on us for that.”

“So go ahead in.”

A form swam up, distorted against the glass of the remaining intact window. Simon ducked behind the hover, resting his head on the hull, until the shadow retreated.

“Can’t see anything!”

“Didn’t look too hard.”

“So. I got a better idea. Back up.”

Both men stomped off the porch, and before Simon could place the metallic sound that followed, he was jerked backwards off his feet, landing painfully on his side just before a burst of rifle fire tore through the small room. He flattened himself chest-down against the floor as the second strafe passed, fully expecting to feel the tear of bullets.

The soldiers were guffawing.

“That’ll fix the SOB.”

“If he’s in there.”

Wàng jì.” Let the day shift figure that out. We been here long enough.”

“Tired as hell of bein’ sent out to this ass-end a the rock.”

The voices moved away. Their transport, Simon realized, was parked in the front. They were leaving. He turned his head to where Mal lay next to him. “You all right?” Simon whispered. Mal nodded, and Simon did the same. No new wounds was something to appreciate.

From the front they heard a transport engine catch, then idle. Heard once again the indistinct conversation, and more laughs. Another crash as something flew through the front windows, followed by an approving yell.

“I can beat that!” Another whoop, another crash. “Let’s do ‘em all – you got enough?”

Simon listened with growing irritability at a more distant splintering of glass in what must have been the outbuildings. Alliance’s finest drunken pranksters. Couldn’t they give it up and go home? He closed his eyes as he waited them out. If he had to tolerate one more minute of the smell, the house, this night, he would go mad. The stench of the floor muck was going to make him ill. This close to his face, it seemed thicker, more acrid. Either that, or the hours spent breathing it in had finally dulled his olfactory sense to the point where he couldn’t distinguish things that had rotted from things that had burned. But that wasn’t right...

More smashing noises, and then something else registered, closer by. Popping. Crackling. A rushing sound… Tsao gao! He leapt to his feet. Fingers of smoke wavered in the retreating moonlight, curling in from the hall.


“I hear it,” Mal had holstered his gun. He reached an arm out and Simon hauled him to sitting, not wasting the time to be gentle, gripping him as he swayed and nearly passed out.

“We have to run!”

“Get everythin’ …in the hover.”

There was another hoot from the yard as something detonated. Smoke was now filling the room, entering in gentle, deadly rolls. The sound above and out front had progressed to a steady rush. Simon propped Mal against the hover, then grabbed the flashlight and the curtain that had cushioned Mal’s head and tossed them into the storage. The bottle of whiskey was already there. He darted to the back door, the smoke now stinging his eyes. Mal coughed ceaselessly.

Fire raged in the outbuildings, and burning pieces of shingle and timber rained from the house he was standing in. It was impossible to tell if people were moving among the smoke and shadows. Impossible to tell. Impossible to stay. Behind him, the kitchen had become a furnace, Mal and the hover veiled by the increasingly thick smoke. He reached out an arm to guide his few steps back.

“Start it.”

Simon felt for the controls and whipped the ident card from his pocket. He praised any deity within hearing as the engine caught and the hover rose, nearly knocking Mal over. The captain gripped the console bar, attempting to hoist himself up onto the seat. Simon reached around his waist to pull him upright, and Mal pitched awkwardly forward, crying out at the jarring impact. Simon helped him grasp the small hold bar above the Cortex screen with his right hand. It was hardly a secure position. “Get your leg over!”

In the hallway, a section of ceiling collapsed to the floor.

“Jus’ go,” Mal managed.

“Can you hold on?”

“Go!” he coughed, flames now rolling across the ceiling and the wall behind him.

Grabbing the handlebars from the front, Simon backed across the room, towing his load. With a mental “here goes” he kicked the door open. The flames around them exploded and Simon yanked the vehicle through. Mal slammed against the doorjamb as they just made clearance, edges scraping and, for one heart-stopping moment, nearly hanging up and becoming stuck entirely.

The scene outside could hardly be distinguished from that within. The porch roof was fully aflame and Simon felt the hair singe on his arms and neck as they passed beneath it. Smoke obscured his view save for what was a foot in front of him: the ground littered with burning debris while more blew through the air, embers red as a procession of New Year lanterns. They could have been surrounded by every Federal agent on the planet and he wouldn’t have known. And would hardly have cared. All that mattered was escaping the inferno.

Flames roared now as they consumed the old house. Blasts from other buildings reported their simultaneous demise. Some of the smaller shrubs and trees had caught fire, painting blazing paths on either side of them. Stretching his arms to steer without bumping into Mal, Simon moved in what he hoped was the direction of the wood line. Across the yard. Across the yard, maybe a shelter, maybe safety. He broke into a run and gunned the hover forward, not bothering to shield himself against the vortex of ash that pelted his face. Across the yard.

It was just as they passed beyond the reach of the flames that Mal fell.

On to Chapter Sixteen.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008 1:14 PM


Holy crap! Can't they get a break? This was fabulous and very exciting. I loved the fact that as afraid as Simon was he wouldnt' abandon Mal though my heart just about stopped when the Captain fell off the hover. Hope to good gorram that those drunks have either left or were on the other side and didn't see or hear them. And where in the nine hells is the Big Damn Rescue? Really appreciate you updating again so soon, longs waits are always very traumatic. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 2:21 PM


Wow! How exciting was this chapter!? My heart was thumping away with Simon's! And where the hell is the big damn rescue already!?!?!?

Of course, they can't get a break so Mal fell off the hover - damaging himself even worse, probably!

Zoe's gonna do some damage to Simon for hurting Mal. But - Maybe Kkaylee can soothe the pain . . . LOL!

Thanks for posting quickly! Looking forward to the rest:)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 4:18 PM


Aw, you guys are so nice. Nope, no one's catching any breaks. It's so much more fun when they don't.

I really appreciate your continuing to read this and to comment. Doing my best to finish it up, soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 5:20 PM


Good stuff! Isn't that just like our crew's luck - they dodge the local law enforcement but run into drunk soldiers being goons. And, oddly, I really feel bad for Ames. This poor guy got his house flooded out and then the folks who should be protecting him have clearly done nothing but harrass him. They even go and burn his house down! That's not nice at all.

It really is the details. The environment you've built here has all kinds of statements built into it. In a subtle way. Very nice.

Of course, the action is great, and the role reversal of Simon having to act and take care of Mal. And poor Mal! Oh no!

And most of all I LOVE the quick posting schedule LOL!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:47 PM


Thanks, mal4prez, for insightful comments as always. It delights me that you feel for Ames. I do too, and by extension, for Mal, who really didn't want to hurt him. Ames (and his troubles) was inspired by local issues with eminent domain. I needed to vent somewhere. And the boys needed a place to hide.
Thanks again, and glad you're enjoying the posting schedule. :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 10:57 PM


Very tense, and wonderfully described. Can't wait for more!

Thursday, January 17, 2008 3:25 AM


Awesome action scene! What a way to get your heart going! I didn't catch it before that Mal killed the engineer responsible for the flooding for Ames, then put Ames out of his misery, and now has the Alliance to cover up their presence in the house. Very tidy plot lines, as always.

My favorite realization was that Simon discovered he was human enough to be afraid for his own safety first, be ashamed by it, and STILL not once leave Mal to die alone. It shows Simon's true character to be as steely as Mal's, in spite of his self doubts (which you underscored brilliantly, by the way), and he didn't have to go to war to prove his loyalty.

I'm sooo glaad they're out of the house, so that means out of the frying pan, out of the fire, right? Or not, right? Either way, can hardly wait for more!

Sunday, June 22, 2008 1:31 PM


What an escape! Or near escape. Guess we'll see, eh? I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to catch up. I'll avoid all the usual excuses.

Excellent chapter. I plan on reading on...

Rob O.


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