Part V - Chapter 25 - Prophecies of Coming Things

Hard Rock, CA

James and Rachel had been in Hard Rock for roughly 24 hours. It was early evening again and Rachel was still asleep in the upstairs bed. The doctor was planning to check in on her again in the morning but he said that she seemed to be progressing well with her recovery. Over the course of the 24 hour period, Lenore and James spent the time catching up. He had discussed his adventures through various points in time and the joy of being able to catch up with Gus and Shaun. The phone line was still out of order but Lenore wasn't ready to head into town or to share James again, not yet anyway. The day passed quickly and found the mother and son sitting at the dining room table having just finished dinner. As Lenore began to clear the plates, she caught James looked at the door to his father's old office. James seemed lost in his own world. Lenore placed the plates back down and stretched her hands across the table to squeeze James' hands in an attempt to bring him back to the present.

"I'm so glad that you are here," she said while smiling.

James broke his stare of the door to turn and look at his mother. "I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner."

"Baby, you didn't know-"

"But that's the thing, isn't it? I could have said 'home' at any time and the bracelet would have brought me here. That Doc fella said that I have a unique connection to the bracelet. It would have responded to anything that I told it to do but I didn't."

"Don't be so hard on yourself."

"You aren't understanding. This doesn't feel like home anymore. Hard Rock doesn't feel like home anymore. With Pa gone, nothing feels like home anymore. It's like when we buried him, part of me was laid to rest with him." As James explained, his eyes filled with tears but he wiped them away before they could fully form.

"Honey, part of us did die with your Pa."

At James' hurt face, she continued, "Nothing will be the same without your father. And as we move on with our lives, we will be reframed and find a new purpose. But part of our souls will always be buried with him. And it's okay to feel that pain and to grieve his absence," cried Lenore. It was so hard to see her son in pain.

"And even if you move on to other adventures in life, know that you are always welcome here," she smiled and gave his hands another squeeze. "And know that home is not a house or the absence of your father, but it is anywhere that people love you."

James stood to give his mother a hug but the sweet moment was cut short. Rachel began to scream. Lenore and James ran upstairs and burst through the door. Rachel was still asleep but she was screaming and seemed to be fighting an invisible force.

"Wake up, dear! Wake up!" commanded Lenore as she shook Rachel awake.

Rachel awoke with a start and began to take deep breaths as she looked around the room. When she locked eyes with James, she ran to him and wrapped him in a hug. "Don't go!" she whispered intensely.

James tried to laugh at the strange worry in her voice and said, "Don't worry, girl. I'm not planning on going anywhere. You just had a bad dream."

"No," she whispered and looked up at him. All of the color had drained out of her face as she began to cry. "It's not a dream. James, I saw you!"

"Saw him where, honey?" Lenore said as she gently took Rachel and guided her back to bed. It may be commonplace for actresses to run around in their nightgowns but under Lenore's roof it was improper for a single woman to hug a young man who is not her husband while wearing only a nightgown.

"It was awful," Rachel explained to Lenore as she allowed herself to be guided. It was a giant mansion full of ghosts and an army of skeletons. They took him, Lenore, and they wouldn't let him go home!"

"Shhhh, it's just a dream, Rachel. Go back to sleep," Lenore sat at Rachel's bed and gently hushed her back to sleep. Lenore noticed that James had seemed to disappear shortly after she got Rachel to bed and assumed it was his manners that had convinced him to give the girl her privacy. Lenore inwardly praised her son for his etiquette before continuing to hum over Rachel. When Rachel had finally gone to sleep, Lenore began to look around the house for James. After a quick search in every room, she could not find James.

Where did James go?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

In Serenity, the small group of prisoners were escorted into the town's tiny hospital. It was a one floor building holding roughly 6 beds and all were empty. The small group of prisoners, Zoe, Jayne, and Mal passed Doctor Simon sitting at his desk filling out paperwork and moved beyond the beds to a small room in the back of the hospital. The room looked barely bigger than a closet and a petite young woman with long dark hair was sitting at a small table while flipping Tarot cards in front of her. As the group filled the small room, she continued to flip cards and did not look up to acknowledge their presence.

After a few minutes with only the sound of flipping cards Doc attempted to break the silence. "Ahem. So, why are we here-"

"Shhhh!" snapped Zoe.

"The tall one is from a different world and his innocence will not save him," the words chilled Doc to the bone.

"I see the man called 'County,'" she said of Brisco, still without looking at anyone in the room. "You are the hero that you have always been and 'The Coming Thing' that you have sought will soon be revealed to you." Brisco did his best to stay calm but could feel his heart beating in his throat with excitement.

"The bearded man knows Jayne from a previous life and a life yet to be. He will not be labeled nor will he label. The world and nothing are in his hands."

"Divinations always seem to be vague and full of riddles," scoffed Pete.

At Pete's mocking response, River actually looked up and directly into Pete's eyes. Her dark and piercing eyes took him aback as she stated, "Chucky has not forgotten you." At those words, Pete felt a piercing ice of fear slide down his back.

"That may be helpful to this lot but I need to know, are they on our side or are they Realtors?" demanded Mal.

River closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It felt as though the world had stopped as all waited for her assessment based on an unseen judicial scale. She finally gave a small and far away smile before responding that they were indeed not realtors. The sheriff and deputies sighed with relief before the group was escorted out of the room.

Mal and Brisco were the last to leave as River sang, "Two by Two, Hands of Blue. Two by Two, Hands of Blue."

At her song, Brisco saw Mal tense up before responding, "They're coming for us."

"Who is coming?" Brisco asked curiously.


Part V - Chapter 23 - Nosey Norm

San Francisco, CA

The next couple hours were quiet at the bar. Jack and Clara had ordered a few bottles of liquor before disappearing to a nearby hotel. Norm continued to drink and read a morning paper.

“Does that man ever work?” asked Pete.

Ellie shrugged before stating, “He’s always got money to pay so I never ask. Speaking of money,” Ellie turned to look at Pete, “what’s with all of the treasure you have all over the floor in your room?”

Pete merely shrugged as he began to review more of Ellie’s notes on the bracelet. Ellie continued, “I’m not asking where it came from, merely suggesting that you should find a better place for it. Aside from all of the floor of one of my rooms for rent.”

“Ellie, I’ll address it later,” Pete responded before changing the subject, “What are we going to do about Socrates when he wakes up.”

Ellie waved her hand at the thought, “I can handle Socrates. Right now, we have got a misplaced scientist to investigate and you’ll need to be as good or better with that technology to keep one step ahead of him.”

At that moment, Norm hollered, “What’s up Doc?”

Ellie and Pete looked towards Ellie’s room and were shocked to see a scowling Socrates. He looked around the room as he slowly inched into the room.

“Soc to Brisco. Socrates to my friends. You can call me Mr. Poole.” responded Socrates in an unamused voice as he continued to look around the room.

“Soc. Doc. What’s the difference?” asked Norm.

“Has that couple left?” Socrates inquired cautiously.

“Yep, they’ve moved on,” Ellie stated in an overly mothering tone.

Socrates looked even more unamused by the tone but kept his voice even keeled, “May I have some coffee?”

Ellie paused recalling the mania from the morning and asked, “How about some breakfast with it?”

“Or lunch- whatever meal is appropriate for this time of day,” responded Socrates as he moved back to his table. He picked up his glasses and began to reshuffle the piles of newspapers and notes that Ellie had organized. Pete gave a mocking shiver to Norm and Ellie but neither looked amused by the joke so Pete went back to review notes about the bracelet.

“I suppose I should thank you for allowing me to sleep in your room instead of on the floor,” Socrates stated without looking up. The room remained in icy silence with Pete reviewing Ellie’s notes on the bracelet and Socrates reviewing the newspapers, unknowingly searching for Pete.

Norm seemed unable to handle the silence and broke the silence with a slurred question to Socrates, “Have you found your longhaired bearded bank robber who appears and vanishes from impenetrable vaults without a trace?”

“Not yet,” sighed Socrates as he let a few papers fall to the ground. Ellie brought Socrates a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Socrates seemed to soften as he bit into the sandwich and decided to relieve the tension in the room that he had caused.

“You know, I thought of another ‘coming thing’ while I was waking up a little while ago. What if all of the newspapers could be stored in one place, maybe a giant machine and it could filter out the key words that someone is looking for. Phrases like ‘robber,’ ‘longhaired and bearded man,’ ‘appearing and disappearing without a trace.’ I could not only save time but prevent my friends feeling the need to knock me out.” He smiled at Ellie but the joke seemed to fall flat. Socrates shrugged his shoulders before slipping back into his world of research, oblivious to the world around him.

Still unable to stand the silence, Norm tried again, “Well, Pete here is a robber-“

“Alleged misappropriation specialist,” corrected Pete.

Norm, unphased, continued, “Pete is a robber, he’s got long hair, he’s got a beard, and he’s disappeared.”

Ellie and Pete exchanged glances. They had both assumed that Norm was too drunk to have noticed what they had been up to and only now did both individuals began to think, “What if…”

“Really?” said an unmoved Socrates who seemed to have responded without truly comprehending.

“Really,” replied Norm.

Socrates took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment. “Norm, Brisco is back out in the field with a Hollywood actress and a scientist while looking for the son of Bowler. I appreciate your suggestion but I truly need to find a mastermind thief.”

“Tell me about this scientist” asked Pete as he tried to play it nonchalantly. “Is Brisco working with Professor Wickwire again?”

“Oh, just some young guy. Just seems a bit more socially awkward than I was at his age.”

“Is that even possible?” jibed Norm.

“What’s your gut feeling on this guy,” asked Ellie, knowing what information Pete was trying to get.

“Young kid but a good guy, I guess. Just seems to be experiencing more adventure than he wanted. But overall, he’s intelligent enough.” Socrates paused for a moment and looked at the three individuals at the bar. “I do appreciate the concern for both Brisco and myself but we’re both alright. And while I don’t mean to be rude but after losing a couple hours to sleep, I really have to get back to finding this criminal.”

Ellie sat next to Pete and they began quietly planning their next move. Unfortunately, they failed to notice that Norm had stood from the bar and was moving towards the lawyer. The bar fly then picked up the unsuspecting Socrates by the back of his wrinkled shirt and dragged him over to Pete.

“I’m telling you,” slurred Norm. “They don’t think I know but Pete pushes on his bracelet,” Norm lifted Pete’s sleeve to show the bracelet before continuing, “and then he disappears. He has a room full of loot.”

“How do you know that?” asked a shocked Socrates.

“I passed out in there once,” confessed Norm. However, at Pete’s glare, he continued. “Alright, you dragged it out of me. I may have slept in your room a couple times because I just couldn’t go home to Vera.”

A shocked Socrates looked between the bracelet, Pete, and finally, Ellie. The betrayal was etched across his face as he looked at her. Before Socrates could respond, Pete managed to push Norm away. He straightened himself up, tipped his hat at Ellie before saying, “No time like the present, I guess.” At that, Pete held up his arm and commanded, “Take me to Brisco County now.”

With a burst of light and a loud noise, Pete disappeared before an open-mouthed Socrates Poole. Ellie went back to cleaning the bar as if nothing had happened, while discretely tucking away the notes and journal out of sight.

Norm looked at Socrates and beamed before bragging, “I told you Pete was the man you were looking for!”

Part IV - Chapter 16 - Time Traveling Thief

Year 2170

Pete ensured that he arrived at the laboratory at night. No one was around and the lab felt darker than Pete remembered. Pete passed the cages that once held captives and found that Jayne's body had been removed. As Pete approached the center of the room, he noticed that it had been tidied. He began opening up various drawers, beginning with the one that contained the journal when Pete last searched for items of value in the lab. But the journal was nowhere to be found. In fact, there were not any papers anywhere. It looked like someone had cleaned out every scrap of paper from the entire lab. What is going on?

Then Pete noticed an all-white board nearby with words scribbled in the center. The wording was so small that Pete had to walk towards it until his face was only inches away from the board before he could finally read the words: GOT YOU.

Just as he read the words a chill went down Pete's spine and the lights went on in the lab. Pete turned to see the scientist in front of the door. His hair looked more frazzled than normal and his eyes were red from sleepless nights but what Pete was most interested in was the journal in the scientist's hands.

"Looking for this?" mocked Charles as he held the leather-bound book up so Pete could take in the scene.

Pete didn't say anything but simply stared at Charles as he tried to figure out how to resolve the situation. The plan of sneaking in and out with the journal and escaping without detection had been destroyed.

"You can only understand so much of the POS, without a teacher or instructions. Mind you, it looks as though it has ingratiated itself to your biology which it has not done with individuals in the past. While I am not surprised that it reacted differently to you, I had not anticipated it to so quickly bend to your will."

"How am I different?" Pete asked cautiously.

"The POS had to be turned on when I placed it on a lowlife's wrist and would only activate it when I set the coordinates or called it back. I have tried utilizing my computers and even implemented an associate's notes but nothing has worked to bring you back. I won't say that the bracelet has a soul but it certainly seems to be connected to you on a level beyond my ingenuity."

"So-you can't bring me back here?" inquired Pete.

"Not yet," he said smirking. "But I will find a way soon enough."

With that Pete decided that stealing the journal of notes could wait for a different day, if it was even needed now. He knew that he was safe and that he had a bracelet that could enable him to travel in time and space.

Pete turned his gaze from the scientist to the bracelet, "Oh the places we'll go!" Pete winked at the scientist before saying, "Home."

Charles smiled to himself before sitting back down at his computer. Pete would be back soon enough, Charles would make certain of that.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

1913 - San Francisco

With Pete's newly found freedom, he decided to test his limits and then to take advantage of this situation. Afterall, who knew how long he would have to travel before Charles solved the puzzle of bringing him back to the future? Might as well live life fully. Unfortunately, Pete seemed locked into the United States as a geographic area and his options to travel were the previous 5 years or and the only future time available was the time of his kidnapping. Unfortunately, he seemed unable to travel back to prevent his abduction or to give aid to the Pete of yesterday in the future. The future seemed to be locked in its time stream and Pete could not move ahead or behind that timeline.

While it was a minor frustration to learn that Pete would not be able to steal from European kings and queens, Pete was still able to make the most of his limitations. He would travel geographically to different parts of the country to learn about bank movements and then would go back in time to complete a robbery. It was amazing how free flowing the words would come from guards imbibed with enough alcohol, especially if the mission was over and secrecy no longer seemed to matter. Soon, Pete had amassed a fortune. He transitioned to use the same skill of growing his wealth to obtaining women out of his league. Pete was enjoying his new life and almost forgetting about the dystopian future he had escaped. And then it happened.

Pete was sound asleep after completing another successful raid when a bright light began to shine around him. The difference being, he had not told his bracelet where or when he wanted to go. Additionally, this time a pain started to move up his body. Not unbearable but certainly uncomfortable. He had just touched his toes to the ground and realized that he was back in the lab staring at the smug grin of Charles. Before Charles could do anything, Pete shouted, "Home!" Within moments the bracelet transported him back, this travel experience also contained the pins and needles feeling.

As soon as he landed back in his room, he grabbed his gun and hat before running downstairs to the bar. The bar was practically empty but Ellie was there cleaning up glasses, wrapping up for the night. "Ellie!" he managed to shout before running to the bar.

"The coming thing is trying to take me away!" he shouted.

"Pete, it was just a nightmare. Just sleep it off! You'll be fine in the morning!" she called over her shoulder, completely unphased by the panic in Pete's voice. However, just as the words left her lips, the light began to start again and the pins feeling started moving up from his toes. Within moments, Ellie was alone in the bar with her mouth open.

Year 2170

Pete appeared in the lab when he felt the jab of a stick being jammed into his stomach before a range of electricity began to overtake him. The shock sent Pete to the floor and Charles momentarily stopped the electricity to survey Pete, just long enough to say, "Thanks for making it easy for me to find you. People tend to notice thieves who appear and disappear out of thin air, especially if it's considered the greatest crime mystery of any time or any place."

As Pete caught his breath and looked up at the scientist, Pete noticed dark circles under his eyes and his hair had receded a lot, indicating that time had not been so kind to Charles since their last conversation. "You have become my new life's mission. I own your life and you will be part of my plan!"

Charles attempted to hit a button on the taser to continue to inflict pain on Pete but the button didn't work which gave Pete enough time to kick the feet out from under Charles. Within seconds Charles was on the floor with Pete but waving the taser around wildly with electricity sparks flying through the air. Pete had to get the taser away from Charles and he raised his gun to shoot Charles but heard the click of an empty pistol. Pete aimed again but his heart sank further as another click occurred without any help of a bullet.

Charles slowly stood back to his feet while laughing at Pete's misfortune. Desperate, Pete slid further away from Charles. As Pete moved backwards, he threw off his hat to better survey his location and to find anything that could assist him. He realized that he was near Livi's play corner as there were a variety of rags that had been gently placed around a circle drawn onto the ground - almost like a group of dolls at a tea party. Pete grabbed one of the rags and found that there were tiny stones hidden inside to give the rags a round and head-like shape. In a David vs. Goliath desperation, Pete threw the first rock which missed the scientist but managed to impale a screen.

Charles let out a vehement scream with eyes bulging, he began spewing every foul word that he could think of or create. During the barrage of words about the scientist's tenure and reputation, not to mention his work, Pete began to form a plan. Pete scooped up the rest of the rags and expertly threw the rocks at various pieces of machinery. In an effort to protect his computers, the scientist absently lowered the taser and hurried over to his precious data. The scientist only needed to turn his back for a second to enable Pete to rush up behind the scientist, yank the taser of Charles' grasp, before electrocuting Charles. Unfortunately, it only lasted a couple seconds, enough to knock Charles out but not enough to do any permanent damage. The taser must have been used once too often or maybe it had been scavenged for parts because it would not start again no matter how often or hard the button was pushed. The scientist seemed down for the count but Pete gave the man an extra kicks to the head and stomach to ensure that his enemy would stay down.

Pete did not have the time to do a detailed survey of the room but Pete's gut said that the scientist was probably in trouble with the bureaucrats as he was out of convicts to test on and Charles did not have a suitable traveler to go back into time on his behalf. Assuming that Pete would only have few moments of isolation and safety, Pete took advantage of the moment to turn his attention to the desk. He began throwing anything that looked like machinery onto the floor and stomping on them to ensure that they would need serious repair. Once he felt that enough damage was completed, he began to rummage through the desk drawers, again finding nothing. Panic began to fill Pete and he felt the sweat begin to slide down his back as he could feel the seconds march on. A scientist would have to keep a record or document of his work and experiments, wouldn't he?

Pete began to move around the room flipping over chairs, opening every drawer, and throwing everything that came up empty across the room. The scientist began to stir. Where would a sadist keep his documents? And then the realization came over Pete like a cold bucket of water. Pete slowly entered Jane's cell. He tossed the mattress onto the floor and found the journal with a couple folders of papers. Pete scooped up the papers before running back to his piece and hat. The scientist began moaning as he was starting to regain consciousness. Pete kicked the scientist in his lower back as a going away present. Looking at everything in his arms, Pete looked down at the bracelet and stated, "Ellie's bar." The pain was still uncomfortable and a little numbing and Pete recognized that he still had a few more jumps before the pain would begin to set in.

1913 - San Francisco

Pete arrived back at the bar in a flurry of light, sound, and loose papers flying around him. Many papers caught on fire as they had moved through time so Pete quickly began stomping the flames out in an attempt to keep as much of the data available as possible. Once Pete was certain that all of the flames were out, he took a deep breath but jumped at the sound of Ellie's voice.

"Pete, what the hell did you do?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pete caught Ellie up on everything related to the future dystopia and what he understood about the bracelet thus far. He also detailed his conversation with Brisco which had lacked any helpful tips. However, Pete was careful to not disclose his recent crime wave of theft or female conquests. As the two talked, they took shots of whiskey and spread the papers and journal across the bar to review.

Ellie was the one who figured out how to release the bracelet. Based on notes in the journal, it was a simple process of holding down two buttons for 30 seconds and the bracelet would unlatch and slide off Pete's wrist. As it slid off, it felt as though part of his arm was being amputated. Not the pain of amputation just that the bracelet had made him feel whole, even more than his piece ever had. The reality that he could be attached to anything more than his piece caused Pete to shudder. Instead of putting it back on, he left it lying on the bar for the rest of the conversation. He would occasionally eye the tiny yet powerful piece of technology. After reviewing the notes for over an hour, Ellie made an odd face as she threw one empty bottle away and began to open the next.

"What's that face for?"

"Just thinking what our next step should be," responded Ellie.

"Our next step?" Pete asked while incredulously folding his arms across his chest.

"Yes, ours. I can help you with the science aspect of the bracelet," Ellie responded as she poured out the next batch of drinks.

At Pete's unconvinced gaze, Ellie continued, "You knew that Professor Wickwire let me attend his science classes over the years in exchange for wholesale alcohol-"

"That never really made sense to me," recalled Pete.

"Because I'm a woman or because I'm a bartender?" asked Ellie.

Pete shook his head while muttering, "Just felt like a forced plot device."

Ellie elected to ignore him and pressed on, "I know how people work but it's never fascinated me as much as what I'd learned from Wickwire. My knowledge and background could be an asset to you."

Pete processed her offer and debated giving her the journal or papers but decided against it. While he trusted Ellie more than anyone else in his life, he wasn't really open to allowing anyone to have more power than him. Especially after all that he had lived through recently. He began gathering up all of the papers and the journal and did his best to ignore the disappointment in Ellie's face.

"How do you fight someone in the future without allies?" pressed Ellie.

Pete ran a hand through his hair before shrugging. "It's not like I can enlist in the military without some kind of record going on file for the future scientist to find or be inducted into an underground spy ring to get training on how to build a network or fight an unseen force."

"Why can't you?" asked Ellie.

Pete laughed but stopped after a few moments when he saw Ellie's sincerity. "You're serious? Who is going to give me a recommendation? Pete Hutter, thief, gambler, and associate of many criminals, including John Bly."

"Former deputy and colleague to Brisco and Bowler..." countered Ellie.

Pete rolled his eyes as he stood up. "Ellie, there's no way that it would work." As Ellie opened her mouth to continue her argument he held up his hand to signal that he was done with the discussion for the night. He finished his last shot, tipped his hat goodnight and began moving towards the stairs.

In a final attempt, Ellie called after him, "Pete, did Bowler ever talk to you about spies?"

Pete turned to give her an incredulous stare. "No, why would Bowler talk to me about spies?" Pete began moving towards the stairs but after a couple steps he turned back to look at Ellie. "Actually, Bowler told me that Brisco was working with a guy east of here, Oklahoma, I think. I don't know a lot about it because that's not something people generally share with their deputies. Are you planning on sending him a reference on my behalf?"

Pete shrugged and was out of sight and up the stairs in a matter of moments. Ellie was left alone at the bar to begin to create a plan of her own.

Part IV - Chapter 15 - The Bar Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Year 1913 - San Francisco

Pete woke up like Ebenezer Scrooge in the Christmas Carol, patting himself to confirm that he was alive. As he looked around the room, he was able to confirm that he was back in his room in San Francisco, everything just as he had left it. For a moment he felt like dropping to his knees and singing Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus but then realized that it wasn't quite in his repertoire as the only word he knew was, well, "Hallelujah." Come to think of it, that might be the only word needed to sing the chorus but by the time the realization hit him, the fancy had left him.

Pete needed to figure out what the hell to do next, he looked for the paper that Jayne had tossed him but the writing still looked blurred and the back side looked unimportant so Pete tossed it into a desk drawer and forgot about it. Pete quickly changed his clothes to something more familiar but could not remove the bracelet. Pete tried yanking it off, utilizing his lock pick set, and even prying it off with pliers from an old bank job. Nothing worked. Frustrated, Pete walked over to his bed to find his gun, or Pete's piece as he affectionately called it. His piece rested on a silk pillow on his bed where she usually slept at night. In his hurry to pack before being kidnapped, Pete had left her to catch a bit more beauty sleep and had planned to pack her last. Pete held the gun a few inches away from his wrist and shut his eyes. It might be worth the loss of a hand to ensure that he would never have to go back to the lab again. Pete pulled the trigger but instead of the bullet going through the bracelet and wrist, it went ricocheting around the room before embedding itself in a wall.

"Why you spiteful piece of technological wristwear! How do I quit you?" Pete exclaimed in frustration.

With the inability to remove the bracelet and unsure how long it would take for Charles to fix his tablet and bring Pete back to the future, he wanted to leave the room as quickly as possible. He escaped his room and flew downstairs. One of the most attractive features of where Pete lived is that his small apartment was located above his favorite bar. It was night and most of the patrons had left for the day which put Pete more at ease. If he got drunk and accidentally spilled the beans about his trip to the future, he would rather do it with as few of witnesses as possible.

As Pete moved towards his bar stool, he felt a calm start to come over him. There is something to be said about having a place where everyone knows your name, it's enough to make anyone say, "Cheers." Even in this moment of anxiety, at least someone would know that he disappeared if he left in front of his small acquaintance circle. However, even this safe space and copious amounts of alcohol would not be enough to drown out his recent hell. Pete could write it off as a bad dream if not for the bracelet on his arm as living proof of the harrowing nightmare.

Pete passed a bar regular, a large man named Norm, as he took his seat. Pete motioned to Ellie, long time bartender and now proprietor of her own bar, that he would like a drink. Based on the pencil and clipboard, it was clear that she had been taking inventory for the evening before closing up but upon seeing Pete, she moved to the end of the bar and poured him a drink.

"Not to say you aren't welcome but didn't I hear that you were crushed by a hundred pound crab pot while king crab fishing in the Seattle area?"

"Oh that," Pete responded. "I guess that was a recent event for you, for me it feels like years ago. Besides, it simply resulted in adjusting my spine into place which was beneficial for my back alignment after years of equestrian transportation and allegedly acquiescing cargo from trains. I would prescribe the experience to anyone as it was the best feeling in the world afterwards."

"After, they got the crab pot off of you and assuming you live through the experience? Pete, you seem to continually be impervious to injury," Ellie replied amused but her expression studying Pete a bit more closely. It was clear that for all of Pete's humor, he seemed more shaken and his humor hollow. "I have to say, I've never seen you like this before. If I didn't know better, I would say that you look like you've seen a ghost."

"I have yet to see an apparition. Unless you count my Aunt Susie who visited me while I was recovering from water torture."

For a moment Ellie looked surprised but then remembered who she was talking to before chuckling and shrugging her shoulders. She poured a drink and as she passed it to Norm, she called over her shoulder, "You should write a book, Pete."

"'The Life and Times of Pete Hutter?' No thank you. Why would anyone divert energy and time on something so vain?"

"You're not the poster boy for humility, Pete."

"Just as long as you don't call me the 'father of empathicalism.'"

"Pete, I don't associate you with the words 'empathy' or 'father.'"

"Judging my parenting skills?"

"No, I just feel like your life would be the type of story where you would be kidnapped by some evil witch who would imprison you in an enchanted village, forcing your son to raise himself."

"Oddly tragic and specific but I can see what you mean." Pete finished his second drink as Ellie poured him his next.

"Haven't seen you since the funeral for Bowler."

"That also feels like a millennia ago," Pete paused before muttering to himself, "Maybe it was a millennia ago."

"Well, then you look pretty damn good for a man of your age."

"I do try," Pete said with a smirk.

"So, what has you down Pete?"

Pete took off his hat for a moment and ran his hands through his hair before putting his hat back on. "Ellie, if I had any inkling of where to embark on my recent history, as my bartender, you'd be the first to know."

"And why does my profession grant me that level of trust?"

"Best two people in the world is your bartender at night and the coffee maker the next morning. They're the keeper of secrets and the best lookin' people when you're needing spirited libation or treatment for a hangover."

Ellie smirked at him before pulling up a bar stool and sitting across from Pete. She poured herself a drink before beginning again. "Let's start with the basics. Who has you rattled?"

"A scientist devoted to lunacy and envisions me as some type of savior."

"Leaving the savior complex to the side for a moment, what does he want from you?"

"You mean what is his plan for world domination? He's not quite as simple as Bly. Bly kept his thoughts to 150 characters or less so we could all easily comprehend his plan. It was as simple as one rat asking 'What are we doing today?' And our brain Bly would answer, 'Same thing we do every day, try to take over the world.' It almost had a song to it. Meanwhile this mastermind is complicated. His delusions have delusions. There's no simplicity to it. If it was a melody, a songbird would pass out trying to tweet it to the world."

"He must be pure evil for you to hate him so much to compare him to Bly, birds, and rats. In fact, you typically have an angle to win with all individuals. For you to not have an angle is rare."

"Right now, my only goal is to find a way to permanently escape him, his lunacy, and his bizarre expectations. I just want to live my life and to live it for me."

"Regarding manipulative evil genius men and overcoming them, there's only one person that I can think of who could help. In fact, it's the same person that I have seen consistently look to the future and attempt to lasso it for positive use..."

"Professor Wickwire?"

"Brisco County Jr."

Pete looked at Ellie amused before commenting, "I should have guessed. Of course that's who you'd recommend," he paused before changing subjects. "Of all the women that I have met, you seemed to pair the best with him."

"Not Dixie?"

"Great singer and easy on the eyes but not the right partner, at least that's my opinion."

"Well, I'm not going to spend my life waiting on a man who never saw what he had in front of him."

Pete smiled into his glass as he finished his drink. When he set the glass down, Ellie was waving goodnight to Norm which enabled Pete to turn his thoughts to the man of conversation. As he mulled over what Ellie had suggested, Pete absentmindedly said "Brisco County Jr." aloud. At that, the familiar bright light and noise enveloped Pete.

When Ellie turned around, she noticed the bar was empty and assumed that Pete had simply returned to bed. While the exit seemed a bit rude, Ellie let the feeling go as Pete seemed a bit more tired and shaken then normal. She locked the door hoping that Pete would wake up in a better mood tomorrow.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -


Pete found himself in the middle of a Hollywood set as Brisco brushed past Pete. Pete looked around, surprised to find himself transported to not only a different part of the state but also to the following afternoon. Pete looked down at the bracelet on his arm, knowing it was somehow responsible. Suddenly, Pete was pushed by a figure running into him. Pete caught his balance and looked up to see a shocked Socrates. Socrates did a double take before rushing after Brisco.

As Pete watched Socrates and Brisco exit, he heard a female voice behind him, "Pete Hutter?"

Pete turned to see Lenore standing behind him. "Lenore Lonefeather," he responded in a shock. At that Lenore's eyes filled with tears as she fell into Pete's arms. Awkward and unsure how to comfort his former employer's grieving widow, especially as she seemed much more in control of herself at the funeral. All Pete could think to do was awkwardly pat her shoulder and awkwardly offer, "There, there."

Socrates slowly walked back and upon seeing Lenore crying, assumed Pete had caused the rush of tears. As he got close, Socrates demanded, "What did you do now Pete?"

"Lately, I have been the subject of a mad scientist's interpretation of an H.G. Wells' novel. But instead of having children of light and people living underground, he has the world trapped in boxes made of dreams and a single child of light," Pete answered truthfully.

Socrates gave Pete a puzzled expression before rolling his eyes and snorting, "Pete, you are drunk, partaking in opium, or you have finally become the craziest individual that I have ever met!"

Lack of sleep, recent trauma, escape from a dystopian society, and now Socrates' unwelcome condemnation, caused an anger to rise up in Pete. "Acting holier than thou might have been acceptable treatment years ago," he hissed, "But I was appointed a deputy and become a mostly law-abiding citizen over the years. Not to mention, I helped Brisco escape when you stood by to watch him die by firing squad, Poole."

At Pete's words, Socrates began to turn red with anger but before he could respond, Lenore took his arm in an effort to separate the two men's egos. "Where did Brisco go?"

"To a nearby bar that he frequents in search of 'the perfect drink'" sighed an exasperated Socrates. He looked at Lenore and seemed to decide that a change of subject was necessary for her sake so Socrates curtly asked, "Didn't I hear that you were back East working at some kind of tool and dye factory?"

"It got too boring for me."

"I have heard that machine work can be meticulous and monotonous," Lenore responded in an attempt to be supportive.

"No, I meant literally boring. I was the safety officer which meant that I was often the victim of metal fragments boring into my skin. I left after there was an increase in union riots and bombs at the factories I inspected."

Pete's response managed to silence Socrates for a moment which enabled Pete to ask, "What's the name of the bar?"

"O'Malley's on 14th," responded Socrates while still glaring at Pete. For a moment he turned to Lenore and tried to force a smile before continuing, "If you wait a moment, I should be able to hire a cab and we can catch up with Brisco together." It was clear that he did not want Pete to join the two which was actually preferable for Pete. He wanted to talk with Brisco without Socrates and his judgmental personality in earshot.

"I'll find my own way," responded Pete. He tipped his hat at Lenore in sincere respect before winking at Socrates mischievously. Pete went around behind a nearby building. Maybe all he had to do was think of a building or person and he could appear at that location. Pete closed his eyes and thought O'Malley's on 14th. Nothing happened. Pete rolled his eyes and then looked at his bracelet. "What is it going to take in order to get me to the bar?" Pete muttered in frustration.

A moment later, Pete appeared at the nearest bar on set. Pete took a look around and marveled at the speed of the transport. He turned his wrist over before saying, "Maybe you prefer me to audibly communicate to you in order to transverse across a geographic area?"

"Talk to who?" queried a nearby manicured man with perfect teeth in a 10 gallon hat who had clearly never seen a hard day's work in his life.

Pete looked up with irritation before saying, "Does it look like I am talking to you?"

The confused man looked at Pete with surprise before taking a step back but not so far as to stop staring at Pete.

Pete sighed before saying aloud, "O'Malley's bar on 14th." A moment later, he was outside said bar. Pete shook the feeling of awe and surprise off before walking inside. Sure enough, Brisco was sitting at the bar, drink in hand. Pete slowly moved to the bar and sat beside Brisco but he did not look up. It was clear that Brisco was lost in his thoughts.

Finally, after being ignored or unseen, Pete decided to see if he could get his attention. "Brisco County Jr." he said as melodically as he could muster.

Without looking up, Brisco responded with a resigned, "Hello Pete."

"You wouldn't still be searching for 'the coming thing?'" began Pete.

At Pete's question, Brisco flinched. As his shoulders relaxed he finished his whiskey and motioned for the bartender to start pouring the next. "Nope. I got out of that business years ago."

Pete was somewhat deflated as this was not the answer that he was looking for. It is not like he could share his experience with anyone on the street and it is not like he could travel back and ask the inventor to explain what was going on. How could Pete control this power? Beyond that, how could he ensure that he never went back to the awful doctor's lab?

Pete decided to start again, "I have something unique that I stumbled on-"

An easily angered Brisco cut Pete off, "While I would love to listen to another one of your rambling monologues about the universe or your odd opinions about art before having you screw me over for your personal interest or somehow leave me in the lurch, I'm not interested. Not now. Not anymore. I've been the hero, I've been the champion of the people, and what has it got me? Nothing. So, either sit here and drink or get the hell out of here!"

Pete opened his mouth to say something but instead looked down at his feet. It was clear that Brisco was more broken by the loss of Bowler than he was willing to admit. Brisco would clearly not be of any help; Pete was on his own. He thought about leaving right away but instead decided to stay for just one drink. Bowler was an exceptional individual; despite their professions as outlaw and bounty hunter, Bowler had given Pete a chance to be a deputy. Of course, both of the men knew it was because of Lenore's influence saying the Bowler owed Pete after helping to save Bowler's life. Pete was no saint but he did not cross the line of the law during that time and when Pete moved on, there was no animosity between the two.

"I was sorry to hear about Lord Bowler," before nodding to the bartender to pour three more whiskeys. To honor his former boss and Brisco's old friend, Pete lifted his glass.

"To lost friends," Pete said as the two clinked glasses, toasted the third glass, and downed the shots of whiskey. At that Pete left cash on the bar to pay for the drinks, tipped his hat, and left the bar. Pete left the building and had just enough time to duck out of sight before Poole arrived by hired car and quickly walked inside the bar. After watching Poole enter the bar, Pete took a moment to determine his next step and realized that his only option was to go back to where it all began.

He lifted his wrist and commanded the bracelet, "Take me back to Dr. Charles Sheppard."

Part V - Chapter 22 - The Other Western Themed Science Fiction Story Ended Too Soon

On the Road

Brisco and Doc left all too early in the morning the following day. Determined to get to Hard Rock as quickly as possible, Doc was heavy footed on the gas pedal of Brisco’s new car while Brisco slept off his hangover. The drinks and reminiscing of old missions ended up going on a bit longer than Brisco had originally intended which meant that Brisco barely stumbled out of bed and into the car before slumping back to sleep. Brisco only slightly remembered saying goodbye to Michael and his family before the car started moving away from the cabin and Brisco passed out.

Brisco woke up to the sun shining in his face before groggily looking over at Doc driving the car. It seemed unfair that the person to drive his car first was Doc so Brisco called gruffly over the engine, “I’m awake so you can pull over now.”

“Gladly,” smiled Doc. He pulled off the highway and walked around the car as Brisco slid across the seats. He had to adjust the seat but as he admired the car, he had to admit that Michael did a great job with restoring the car.

Doc had barely sat down in the passenger side before sighing, “Thank God, that’s over.”

“What? Driving?”

“That… and spying… It’ll be nice to go home soon.”

“I never thought to ask but do people drive in the future?” Brisco asked as he put the car into gear and began driving down the highway.

Doc hesitated as if worried that he might destroy all of time by replying but he finally stated, “Most people stay inside but I found a way as I was always fascinated by this era.”

“And now that you have had the chance to actually live in this era?”

Doc paused before responding, “Everything feels, smells, and tastes different than I imagined.”

Brisco took a moment to stop staring at the road to give a sideways glance to the scientist. “How so?”

“It’s hotter than I expected, the roads are bumpier than expected, and it’s not the non-stop adventure like I had assumed it would be.” The man out of time laughed to himself as though he remembered a private joke.

“In my experience when I worked for the president and when I was a bounty hunter, life was 90% riding your horse from town to town and trying to keep from being bored. Only 10% was actually filled with excitement and terror,” observed Brisco. After a few moments he turned to Doc and asked, “Who said that life was a non-stop adventure anyway?”

The question had meant to be rhetorical but Doc grinned from ear to ear before he replied, “Hollywood, of course!”

The response caught Brisco off guard and he laughed harder than he had in years. “I’m in Hollywood, Doc. You should know to never believe us!”

“Hollywood Doc, has a nice ring to it,” commented Doc.

“Or Doc Hollywood,” agreed Brisco. “If we ever make this into a movie, how about your character is named ‘Doc Hollywood’ instead of just ‘Doc?’”

“I should say, ‘keep me out of anything recorded like journals or movies,’ but I kinda like the sound of ‘Doc Hollywood.’” Brisco had to laugh at the grin that was now ear to ear on the scientist. After a few moments of thought, Doc changed the subject with, “So now that you have a car, what will you name it? The Comet II?”

Brisco thought for a moment before responding, “Nah. Comet was a one-of-a-kind horse and I can’t insult his memory by naming a car after him.”

“I look at this car and think Herbie.”

“As in Herbie rides again? No thank you. That sounds like something you call a pet.”

“Or a love bug,” agreed Doc.

“Well, since we are ‘zeroing in’ on the end of a mission, I think that I should call it Focus.”

“A Ford Focus. Kinda has a ring to it.”

“Well, now that you say it, I’ve decided that I’m not a fan,” continued the banter. After a couple minutes silence while driving, Brisco began, “Actually, I think I have it – Charger.”

“The Charger of Dodge City from Michael Weston, Could work I guess…” mused Doc.

“You still prefer Herbie don’t you?” asked Brisco with mild amusement. And when Doc began to ardently nod his head, Brisco had to laugh.

The two continued down the road as Brisco shared the various games that he would play on the road with Bowler to keep the boredom at bay. Questions like “Who was the ugliest cowboy in history?” “Who was the most intelligent?” “What’s the first thing that they’ll eat at the next town?” Despite coming from a different point in time, Doc was able to chime in with various Marshalls, Bounty Hunters, and Cowboys that he had studied. While not all of the information was accurate, Brisco didn’t have the heart to correct the scientist. It was the most enjoyment that Brisco had experienced in years and being on the road felt like old times.

After a few hours of not passing through any towns, Brisco asked Doc to locate a town on the map that Michael had left in the car. The scientist took several minutes attempting to read it which baffled Brisco. How could a man of science have issues reading a simple map? After several minutes, Doc pointed to their location on the map. Unsure if he was correct, Brisco momentarily took his eyes off the road to look at where Doc was pointing. Despite the time that it had taken, Doc had accurately determined their location.

Brisco nodded and then turned his attention back to the road. “So, what’s the next town?” he called over to Doc.

“Looks like it’s a town called Serenity.”

“About how far away is it?”

“We should be coming up on it shortly,” replied Doc.

“That’ll give us a chance to fill up on gasoline.”

“Actually, I had an idea. If they have a telegraph or telephone, maybe we can try contact Lenore again and I can help them remove the-“

“Shhh!” Brisco interrupted before pulling the car to a stop. In front of them, a wagon was set motionless in the middle of the road. Brisco slowly got out of the car and motioned to Doc to keep the engine running. Brisco approached the wagon with his gun at the ready in case of trouble. As he neared the wagon, he noticed a man with a giant hat and a large woman wearing a dress and matching bonnet, both of their hats were positioned low and obscured their faces.

“Good afternoon. Is there a problem here?” called Brisco, suspiciously.

“Well isn’t that kind of you, young man,” the man grunted in a deep and low voice. “I think the horses are plum tired and we need help getting to the nearest town.”

“Well, we would be happy to help y’all. Maybe we can give you a lift in our car,” called an enthusiastic and all too trusting Doc.

“Gettin’ into a car with strangers for a lift to a nearby town, that just sounds crazy,” the man replied, still not looking up at Brisco or Doc.

“Well, we’ve got canteens of water if you’re thirsty and I’d be happy to keep you company with friendly conversation on the ride over,” Doc called over.

“Well, all my stars, that does sound mighty kind,” came the man’s voice, “But I’d hate to leave our belongings all alone.”

The scene, while oddly humorous to Brisco for some reason, was starting to put him on edge. Something about the woman’s build, silence, and the need for both individuals to hide their faces made Brisco wary that this might be a trap.

“The map says we’re not too far from a town. I’d be happy to help your lovely wife down and any additional family that you have in order to take them into town and come back for you with help from the town. Get your wife and family out of this scorching heat,” offered Brisco as he slowly approached the wagon. Brisco gave his most charming smile while surreptitiously and slowly cocking his gun behind his back.

“Well, I think you might want to reconsider that last part. See, I married me a powerfully ugly creature.”

“How can you say that?” huffed the woman in a voice that sounded more like a man’s than a woman’s. “How can you shame me in front of these kind folk?”

“If I could make you prettier I would,” snorted the man to his wife.

“You are not the same man that I met a year ago,” she-he responded indignantly.

In the confusing argument before him, Brisco had not heard someone sneak up behind him until he heard the click of the gun cocking behind him.

“Drop your gun and its belt to the ground,” came a female voice behind Brisco.

Brisco held his hands in the air but did not surrender his weapon. He stole a quick look at his female captor, a tall black woman with long curly hair tied in the back. She held the gun as though she had been trained by the military rather than an inexperienced novice. As Brisco turned back to look at the couple, both of them were holding rifles. The woman had indeed been a man. His “husband” was jumping off the rig and moving towards Doc who sat quietly with his hands up in surrender.

“Now we ain’t got use for troublemakers like y’all coming into our town to take advantage of our people anymore,” the dress wearing man said as he stood up and displayed his sheriff’s badge.

“Clearly, you’ve got the wrong guys,” Brisco said in an attempt to defend himself and Doc.

“You have two options as I see it,” began the oddly dressed sheriff. “You can either luxuriate in a nice jail cell or you can attempt to flee or fight. If you choose the latter, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I’ll end you.”

Brisco studied the determination in the sheriff’s face, noted that he were outnumbered, and calculated that he would have a better shot of arguing his case in the nearest town with a judge than in the middle of the highway baking under the hot sun. Compelled by this logic, Brisco finally relinquished his gun. The woman motioned for Brisco to move toward the wagon and sheriff, which Brisco obeyed. The man moved Doc to the driver’s side and pointed his gun at Doc the whole drive to town.

As Brisco was loaded into the wagon and the woman handcuffed Brisco’s hands together, Brisco couldn’t help but ask, “And why wasn’t the woman in the dress?”

“Tactics,” replied the sheriff, “I needed Zoe behind you to catch you off guard. She’s my best shot. Besides, there’s a better breeze in a dress than in pants.”

It was not long before the small party arrived in town. While the buildings looked quite dilapidated, the land itself was beautiful. Brisco had never seen such a perfect landscape of hills overlooking a lake. It was every bit as beautiful as the phrase “Heaven on Earth.” As they moved towards the town square, the city hall had a giant banner spread across its antiquated balcony, saying “Welcome to Serenity – Home of Fireflies.” The whole scene felt ironic to Brisco as he looked down at the cuffs that the woman had placed on Brisco’s hands Brisco felt anything but serenity.

As Brisco and Doc were pushed into a cell, the man named Jayne called over his shoulder, “Sheriff Mal, if these folks get too nosey, can we shoot them?”

“Shoot them?” responded Mal.

“You know, politely?”

“As in, politely shoot me in the head?” asked Doc in genuine shock.

When no one responded, Brisco whistled as he sat down on the edge of a bed in the cell. “Looks like we’ve run into the one person in the universe more trigger happy than Fiona.”

Part V - Chapter 28 - No Time to Recuperate

Brisco woke up in an unfamiliar bed. He could not recall what happened after Doc died or how he ended up in this room. He slowly pulled himself out of bed. He looked down to see that he was wearing an enormous and unflattering night shirt and that his clothes were sitting at the end of the bed, cleaned and pressed. He quickly dressed before leaving the room, only to stumble into Inora.

"I'm sorry," she laughed nervously. "I was actually just about to wake you for breakfast."

"Where am I?"

"You're in Mal's and my house."

"I don't recall getting here."

"You had a long day and lost two friends. It's no wonder. And, to be honest, there is not much to remember."

Brisco followed Inora to the breakfast table where Mal was in the process of reviewing blueprints for reconstruction. There was a silence except for the sound of silverware as the trio ate.

Finally, Mal cleared his throat to say, "Did Doc have kin?"

Brisco winced before replying, "Not in - Not in country."

"Does he have a home?"

Brisco gave Mal a funny look forcing Mal to explain. "There's no rush or anythin'. We just know that you were in a hurry to get to Hard Rock so we wanted to be prepared to help."

"Help with what?"

"The body," came the simple reply from Mal.

"What he means is the funeral arrangements. He is more than welcome here or we can ensure that we help you deliver him to kin or his home. He saved our town and we've all chipped in to help him go right, explained Inora. It seemed the she was used to softening Mal's direct approach in potentially emotional situations."

"Regarding Pete, Jayne has taken the liberty of setting up a memorial. He said that since there wasn't a body, he was going to have Booker give him a service and memorial here," Mal continued. After a few moments he added, "Jayne is uncomfortable owing anyone anything."

Brisco took a moment to think about it. "You know, I think that makes sense. Let's have a joint funeral for both of them. Can we do it today? I don't mean to be disrespectful but I gotta check on my friend's boy in Hard Rock."

"We'll make it work," affirmed Inora.

"One technicality," began Mal. "I only knew the man as 'Doc.' Doctor Who?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

The funeral was simple and a light rain had sprinkled over the group. Brisco buried all emotions and redirected his focus and energy on traveling to Hard Rock. Just as he was shaking hands with Mal and Inara to leave town, Wash came running out of his house.

"Mr. County the phone lines are up!"

"Congratulations?" Brisco said unsure why that fact was relevant to him.

"There is a man on the phone. A Sophocles or Euripedes?"


"That's it! He said that it's urgent."

Brisco followed Wash inside and picked up the receiver. "Hiya Brisco!" came an all too cheery greeting from Socrates.

"I'm not sure who can hear us," he began meaningfully, "But I wanted to let you know that our mutual long haired and bearded friend arrived."

"Glad to hear it," came Brisco's guarded reply.

"He was a little toasty but he seems to be progressing quickly."

So, Pete was burned pretty badly but healing. Maybe he does have some kind of immortality or impervious skin.

"Be sure to let me know where he should meet you."

"Sounds good. I'll call you from Hard Rock and we'll make plans from there."

The two said their goodbyes and Brisco tipped his hat to politely leave Wash's house and start the trek to Hard Rock. However, Brisco had barely reached the door frame when the phone rang again. Something told Brisco that the call would be for him.

Sure enough, the call was from Lenore.

"Hello Brisco?" came Lenore's voice.

"Lenore, did you get the telegram last night?"

When Lenore didn't immediately respond, Brisco had a bad feeling build in his gut.

"Lenore what happened?"

"James disappeared again and I have a terrible feeling. I think that he's gone to a nightmarish place."

"Lenore, we don't know that for sure-" Brisco stated, hoping to convince both Lenore and himself.

"Brisco, Rachel woke up from a nightmare screaming last night. She said a premonition that James was lost to a haunted mansion.

Brisco's heart sank to his stomach. He was too late. James had already been transported to the Winchester Mansion before they could remove the bracelet.

Part V - Chapter 27 - The Bootstrap Paradox

Pete woke up in his bed. The pain that had radiated throughout his body had dwindled to a mild ache in his arms and legs. As Pete flung the blanket away in preparation of getting up, he noticed that his arms appeared to be a light pink and without hair.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," Socrates said while sitting in a chair across the room.

Pete groaned as the dull pain increased slightly in protest to moving to a sitting position. Ellie came into the room carrying breakfast on a tray with the journal tucked into an apron pocket.

"Good Morning, Sunshine," she beamed as she placed the tray on the bed beside Pete. "Not only have you survived a new injury but it looks like you have found a way to reverse aging."

"Why would anyone want to reverse aging?" grumbled Pete. All of this cheerfulness and sunshine, it only increased his headache.

"You know, I don't know if I would recognize you without your beard," chimed Socrates.

"You didn't!" exclaimed Pete as he began to pat his face. To his relief, his beard was there and fully intact. But when the other two laughed at Pete's vanity, the thief pouted as he picked at the breakfast next to him.

"So why didn't the bracelet protect me from fire? Bullets ricochet off of me and no one can cut off my arm to escape with the bracelet, but what makes fire my Achilles' heel?"

"The book didn't explain, it just said that it doesn't prevent against fire. But looks like you are able to recover from flames so it seems that you two continue to be the perfect pair."

"Don't say that so loud around my piece!" scolded Pete. He turned to look at the gun on its silk pillow before commenting, "Don't listen to them, Baby. I still love you best."

"Did you find out anything about Doc?" asked Ellie. Pete filled them in on his visit and Doc's claims that he did not know that Charles had been holding him hostage. Pete also told them about the battle that had occurred before he left. "It must have been weeks or months ago, based on all of the healing."

"Pete you seem to be healing faster."

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, you got here last night and now you've almost fully recovered." Pete whistled as he looked at himself in amazement but then he thought about Jayne and his sacrifice.

"Still so odd to see Jayne alive, knowing that Charles is going to kidnap him, and he's going to die in the future."

"If it were me, I would have found a way to say something," scoffed Socrates.

"But if he did that, he'd mess up the time stream," scolded Ellie. "Besides, they were in a battle. It's not like they had time to have a heart to heart."

"Well not a heart to heart," began Pete. Upon her narrowed gaze, Pete explained about tearing a page from the hymnal to give Jayne a note. Upon hearing the story, Ellie anxiously got up and began rummaging through the desk.

"I saw it here somewhere," she muttered to herself.

"What?" asked Pete. As Pete looked around the room, he noticed that all of his loot was no longer littering the floor.

"Ellie, what the hell did you do with-"

"It's safe Pete," she responded in a sing song voice. Almost mocking the melodious greeting that Pete often used.

"If I know what you're looking for, maybe I can help?" offered Socrates.

"Just a second..." Ellie muttered as she began to take things out of Pete's drawers and begin dropping them onto the floor.

"Please, make yourself at home," Pete stated sarcastically before reaching for a yogurt on his tray.

"There it is!" she exclaimed after picking up a tiny piece of paper off the floor. She examined it for a moment and said, "I think this is the piece of paper that you said burned when you arrived from the future."

Pete took it before confirming, "Yes. But I could never read the writing. It was smeared before he gave it to me."

"Pete, look at the back of it," she explained while pointing on the side without the handwritten words. As Pete inspected it, it was clear that it was the tiny words of a hymn. Pete flipped it back to the front and made out the words "life for." What shocked Pete was not necessarily the words but the fact that it was his own handwriting.

"Pete, don't you see what this means? Jayne didn't give you that sheet as a code to get out of the cell. The gizmo was the key to the cell. The note was his way to protect you; he gave you back your message."

"Why would he give this back to me?" asked a shocked Pete.

"From his angle, it probably looked like you saved his life. Like you, he didn't like owing another person his life," Ellie explained. As the words dawned on Pete, a question began to build in Pete's mind.

"So, if he died for me because I looked like I died for him. Who really died for whom first? Who had the idea or the burden first?"

"Don't do that!" commanded Socrates. "I've hit my limit with all of this time travel and time stream craziness. You're making my head hurt!"

Part V - Chapter 26 - War in Serenity

Within moments of River's song, bells had been rung and the entire town had been called into the tiny town hall. Doc were surprised to see how small the town truly was. There was Sheriff Mal, Deputy Jayne, Deputy Zoe and her husband Mayor Wash, the Pastor Booker, the town Doctor and his wife Kaylee, and a parlor house owner Inara. While there were a handful of other people, the most vocal and senior leadership seemed to be this small band of people.

As Zoe and Mal shared River's prophecy, the room become a sea of confusion and conversation. Everyone was talking over each other and there seemed to be a growing fear and chaos within the town's residents.

"Could everyone be quiet?" ordered Mayor Wash. The small red headed man seemed to pilot the group back into a calm state to formulate a more orderly plan.

"Kayley, what's the news?" asked Mal.

"We don't have much, Sheriff," the small woman replied. She was a short woman with a round face, long curly hair, and an innocent face that made everyone want to adopt her as a younger sister.

"Not much is enough," stated the town Doctor as he placed an arm around her. He was a tall and thin man who was impeccably dressed as though he had grown up in a rich household. Despite the confidence in the town doctor's voice, no one else seemed to agree with the man and wrote off the comment as merely a husband placating his wife.

"Sheriff, I don't like this spot. What's more is that we seem to always be out of luck!" came the gruff voice of Jayne in protest.

"And that's what makes us special," quipped Mal. "Here's the plan folks, win."

"Good plan, sir," stated Zoe as she rose and stood next to Mal. It was clear that his second of command knew how to help raise the morale of the town.

"I know that when the rest of the town pulled up stakes, they thought that we were whimsical in the brain pan for stayin'. But we knew that what we had here is worth fightin' for."

"But is it worth dying for?" asked a mother from the back of the room.

"We are not going to die - we're just too goddamn pretty," quipped Mal.

"Some are prettier than others sir," added Zoe. The humor did not bring laughs but did manage to further alleviate the tension in the room.

"Besides, at the end of the day how you get got is most important in life. Do you want it to be fightin' for your home or lyin' homeless in a strange town in your old age?" The small crowd processed his words and seemed to mildly agree.

"Bein' a sheriff in this town has been the best experience of my life," continued Mal. "In fact, it's so fun that I would easily do it for free."

"Sir, can I have your share?" asked Zoe in a deadpan voice.

"No, of course not, I wasn't being literal!" huffed Mal as he rolled his eyes at Zoe feeling like she was starting to undermine the progress that they had made in front of the town.

"If you die can I have your share?" pressed Zoe, still in a deadpan voice.

"Yes, alright, yes!" exclaimed Mal in a loud whisper to Zoe. As irritated as he seemed to be, it was the final push the room needed to let go of the fear and to focus on the fight ahead.

"We're going to win today and we will rebuild our homes," declared Mal. "And what does that make us?"

"Big damn heroes, sir," responded Zoe.

"Damn straight!"

Pete watched the group break apart and move their separate ways with keen interest. Knowing Jayne as a master thief, he was not surprised as the rest of his group moved more as a smuggling ring rather than a group of bureaucrats. The way that they went into motion quickly, each with their own specialty.

"Remind me how you know Jayne again?" whispered Brisco.

"We met while interned before he absconded a key and aided escape."

"Makes sense," Brisco said with a half-smile. "They seem more like a criminal gang getting ready for a big score rather than your average town council smoking cigars with bloated bellies trying to combat a few realtors with red tape."

"I was just making the same mental assessment," agreed Pete.

At that moment, Inara joined the small group batting her eyes and waving a fan. "So, I hear that you're the famous Brisco County Jr." She was thin with tanned skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. She was dressed in the latest fashions while still wearing a neckline lower than most.

"That's the rumor," Brisco responded while tipping his hat.

"I worked with an old girlfriend of yours, Dixie Cousins?" She paused for Brisco to nod in agreement before continuing, "We were both raised at the same monastery before she joined her sister in a duo act. When the two of them butted heads once too often, she worked at my parlor before moving on to live with Big."

While the mention of Dixie caught Brisco by surprise, her history and acquaintance did not. She was always talented on stage or in bed and her trail of broken hearts was longer than Brisco's. While they had loved each other once, they lost touch shortly after her move to China. But then somehow Brisco knew that a future was not possible for the two of them.

"How's the little lady doin'?" asked Pete.

"She is doing pretty well. She married the American Ambassador in China and they have 2 or 3 little ones, I can never remember how many."

"She always wanted to be a woman of leisure and to be renown. It's good to see that some people can have it all," commented Brisco.

"Excuse me," interjected Doc. "I don't mean to be rude but I don't understand what is so bad about realtors? Don't most people like realtors?"

"Not this kind of realtors," interjected Zoe as she loaded her gun nearby. "They kick all of the residents out of a town, sell off a location, strip off everything valuable for the town and land, and then build up exclusive resorts that only the elitist of elite can access. And if we're lucky, they'll do it in that order."

At that moment, the townspeople began emptying out into the streets each heading toward the various assignments. Mal walked up to the group and handed them the keys to the car. "This ain't your fight. You're free to go," he said simply and walked away.

"Now hang on a minute," interjected Brisco. "You brought us into this fight, and we're not about to abandon you."

"While I appreciate it, we are going to fight this battle on our own," Mal replied with a cold sternness.

"Honestly, it looks like you could use all the help you can get. You have almost no one here so it's best if we stay and help."

Mal sighed in exasperation. It was clear that the newcomers were determined to stay and every moment arguing was less time that he had to prepare.

"Do what you can but don't slow us down."

At those words, Pete and Doc walked towards the tiny hospital where the doctor, his wife, and Jayne had gone. Mal had picked up speed as he hurried to catch up with Zoe. Brisco was on their heels and quickly realized that they were walking towards the trap initially set for Brisco and Doc. When the trio arrived at the crossroad and reset the scene, Mal quickly adjusted the plan. This time, Brisco would be the man in the wagon while Mal and Zoe hid in the trees to set a trap for the realtors. As Mal and Brisco ensured the wagon was filled with weapons, Brisco had the opportunity to ask a few more questions.

"So how does a wanted man get to be sheriff?"

Mal smiled at Brisco with his most charming smile. "I had wondered if you had seen my wanted poster. I think they did a great job capturing my looks. I really am ruggedly handsome."

"Actually, I just took a guess. Based on the way that your core group works together, you seem more like a gang rather than your average neighborhood leaders."

Mal chuckled before explaining, "Well, the original plan was to hide out here between the jobs. Zoe, Jayne, and I were the main group that would complete a robbery. Kaylee was our engineer, that girl can create the most amazing toys and explosives to pull of heists. Wash was our getaway driver. We stumbled over the doctor as he busted his sister out of an asylum and they tagged along with us as a doctor and oracle. But Pastor Booker convinced us to stay in Serenity."

"Was the town always this small?"

"Actually, we had quite a big group of people until the realtors started coming around. They started harassing townspeople, getting banks to foreclose on properties that were payin' on time, setting places on fire durin' the night, and other mischief. This place is home to a lot of good folk. Most of them are in hidin' for the time being because they got kin that are depending on them. We stayed to protect the town from them realtors. If we can finally get rid of them, the rest of the folks will come back"

At that moment the most atrocious engine sound could be heard in the distance. Mal signaled Zoe to get into position before hiding in the brush on the other side of the road. Brisco was left in the middle of the road to face the realtors by himself. He tried to make himself look as haggard as possible as he sat waiting in the wagon. As time began to move slower with anticipation, he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck start to go up.

"Something wicked this way comes..."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pete had no desire to play hero. In fact, his plan was to use the bracelet and get out of town before any actual fighting began. But seeing the opportunity to talk with Jayne was too good to let up. There was an unsettling feeling in Pete's gut, like he somehow owed Jayne and the feeling made him uncomfortable. Why would a decent thief, like myself, give up his life just to pass me a note and a key for escape? Especially if the key didn't lead to his own freedom and the message was useless as it was smeared when Pete attempted to read it. To Pete, the whole situation felt like a waste.

Pete was only mildly aware of the town doctor preparing the hospital to treat an upcoming disaster. As Pete moved through the hospital looking for Jayne, Pete caught bits of Future Doc's plans with Kaylee to utilize one of the town doctor's chemicals for homemade bombs that they were rigging up. It seemed a waste to Pete to utilize traps and to explode dilapidated buildings in an attempt to thwart a group of realtors visiting a town, but then Pete had not investment in the town or their story to comment on his observations.

At last Pete found Jayne. He was sitting on the small porch in front of the hospital going through ammunition and guns. Looking at Jayne's gun collection and large supply of ammunition, he could feel himself inexplicably liking Jayne. After a few moments of watching Jayne contentedly take inventory of his guns, Pete broke the silence.

"I understand why the rest of the group is fighting this battle but why are you here?"

"I'm getting paid. My skills ain't cheap but the money is going to be pretty good. Otherwise, you're right. I would have hit the road by now," exclaimed Jayne.

At that, Jayne placed the cigar back into his mouth and gathered up his guns and ammunition. Pete picked up a shotgun and followed Jayne up the stairs of the small chapel to hide in the bell tower. After Jayne was settled in his perch with the various guns loaded and within reach, Jayne handed Pete a cigar and the two smoked in silence watching the town scurry about like ants below.

"Can I ask you something?" asked Jayne in his gruff voice.

"I suppose-"began Pete. He truly did not plan on sticking around much longer. It was clear that he was not going to get any information from Jayne that would be of any use or explain why Jayne worked so hard to free Pete.

"How do we know each other? I don't recall meeting you."

"To be honest, I don't remember a lot of the details myself," responded Pete.

"We were plastered, huh? Drunk in a cell together?" chuckled Jayne.

"In a way-"responded Pete. He thought about Doc's warning about not messing with time streams. However, the feeling of owing something as big as his life and escape from Charles' hell bothered Pete. So, Pete asked Jayne to wait a moment to which Jayne shrugged as if to mime, Where would I go?

Pete ran downstairs and found a hymnal sitting on the pew nearest to the bell tower. Pete looked around but Preacher was not around, or at least not in sight. Pete ripped out a page and found a pencil up at the pulpit. He hurriedly scribbled a note that simply read, "Don't give your life for anyone else." Pete reread it for a moment to decide if he needed to add anything else. In writing the note, he was not technically telling Jayne anything. The note was intentionally vague but it would hopefully be enough to get future Jayne off of his ass to and escape with Pete instead of dying on the floor. Pete folded the note up before hurrying back up to Jayne in the bell tower. As Jayne scanned the horizon, Pete snuck the small, folded paper into Jayne's bag of guns and ammunition.

Just as Pete looked down at this bracelet to press the buttons to head back home, Jayne shouted, "What the hell?"

Pete looked up in enough time to see a ball of fire come swirling towards the bell tower. Pete had to step closer toward the wooden tower railing to get a better view but the action proved fatal. In a span of seconds, it hit him full in the chest and the fire quickly spread throughout his shirt. The pain was what caught Pete off guard the most and he doubled over in shock. Unfortunately, the speed of bending over made Pete lose his balance and he broke through the wooden railing and fell to the ground from the bell tower before erupting in flames. When Pete hit the ground, he managed to hit the few buttons to disappear to San Francisco.

Jayne watched the event in what felt like slow motion. From Jayne's perspective, Pete had taken the full force of the ball of flames in an effort to save Jayne. If the fire hadn't killed him, the fall certainly did. Overwhelmed with rage, Jayne got back into position and looked through his homemade rifle scope. When he found the person holding the futuristic flame gun, Jayne shot the man down. But taking out the flamethrower didn't satiate Jayne's need for vengeance which caused Jayne to rain down bullets on his enemies below with deadly accuracy.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brisco heard a large boom and saw a flame of light go shooting across the sky. For a moment, it drew his attention away from the road but when he looked back the car was suddenly just in front of him with two women facing him. They did not descend from the car but rather seemed to float out. They wore matching pink dresses with blue hats and blue veils that covered their faces. Their hands hidden inside of blue gloves commanded Brisco's attention the most. While the stitching of their dresses and hats exuded wealth and prominence, the blue gloves looked odd. They did not look to be made of material but almost a rubber like consistency. While they clasped their hands in front of them like a lady of polite society ought to, he could just make out the fingertips of the gloves which were black as though burned somehow.

"Is there a problem?" they asked in whispered voice union.

Between their appearance, gloves, and voices, Brisco momentarily lost all concept of the plan that Mal had told him. "Ah, yeah. Yes, I mean, yes, I have a problem," he stuttered. "My name is Brisco and I have a problem."

"Hi Brisco, what is your problem?" came their whispered reply.

"My name is Brisco and I have a problem with alcohol," he repeated. The response was not the planned response but he couldn't recall his lines. Wasn't it something about the horses? The women were just too weird. "I'm getting a better picture of why the whole town is hiding from these women."

"Can't you drink off the road?" their whispered question hissed.

"Well, that's the problem. I can't seem to get the horses off the road in my condition."

At that moment, guns started blasting from the bell tower. Each shot reverberated with the bell behind Jayne which made Brisco question the wisdom of placing a sniper in the first place people would look for a lone gunman. Luckily, Brisco was saved a moment later as Mal and Zoe came out from behind the bushes.

"Call your men off!" demanded Mal, forcing the women to turn and look the surprise attack.

"We will not surrender so easily and you would be stupid to fire on-"

Zoe shot one of the women in mid-sentence. "I have little patience for speeches. Do as the man says and surrender."

Instead of the victim falling over dead, both of the figures remained vertical before here a howl and a wind washed over the small group and the women changed into a shrouded figures. One of the figures looked between Mal, Zoe, and Brisco before floating into Brisco's face. There was not a face behind the hood, just an emptiness. It seemed to take a strong whiff of Brisco's scent before it cocked its head to one side. Even though there was not a face, Brisco could feel a dark smile piercing through as though plotting some evil scheme.

"We'll meet you at the mansion. The widow cannot save you from our lord and master when he awakes."

And then both haunting figures were gone, leaving an odd chill down Brisco's spine.

He called over to Mal and Zoe, "The hell was that? You call that a realtor?"

But the two had disappeared back into the brush moving on to their next targets. Brisco took a deep breath and shook off the unearthly experience before Brisco moved to the back of the wagon to hide in the covering. It had been the correct move as several minutes later another car drove up. This car held four men all dressed in suits and several wearing tall hats. As the car slowed to a stop in front of the wagon, Brisco hollered out, "Stop right there!"

"We demand that you get out of our way, hollered the man in the passenger seat. Brisco aimed and fired knocking the tall hat off of the man in the passenger seat. Upon seeing how close the shot had come to his head, the man sat back down. The driver cautiously stepped out of the car and pulled out a case from behind his seat.

"We are only hear to negotiate terms-" began the driver.

"Looks like you made a deal with the devil," hollered Brisco. "How much did it cost you?"

"More than the land is worth," whined one of the men cowering in the back seat.

"Well, ain't that somethin'?" asked Mal. He came out from behind the car on the driver's side while Zoe approached from the other. Mal shoved the driver towards Brisco who came out of hiding and jumped off the wagon.

"Let's take a look at this contract," Brisco stated as he picked up the case and pulled out the lengthy document.

"It might be too long for a man such as yourself," the driver quickly stated. "If you like, I can offer my services as legal counsel in order to advise you on how to move forward with the land sale."

"On the contrary, I have a background in law," smirked Brisco.

"And we ain't sellin' the land," added Mal as he handcuffed the driver's hands behind his back. Within moments, the rest of the group was handcuffed. Before the driver was gagged, gave one last warning, "It's too late! The deal has been made and they're out for blood!"

At that moment, an explosion occurred and the trembling of a building collapsing down caused the small man to lose his balance. Mal gruffly picked the driver up and pushed the man towards his colleagues before stating, "So are we!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pete opened his eyes as he laid on the floor of his apartment. Somehow the flames had travelled with him so Pete began to frantically roll around in an attempt to put out the fire. Whether it was the sound of the arrival or the sound of his shouts, Ellie and Socrates were suddenly in the room.

"Oh my God," Socrates let out in shock at Pete's appearance.

Ellie rushed in and helped Pete put the fire out. With Socrates help, they were able to help Pete pull off the burned clothes and onto the bed so that Ellie could assess the wounds. As they surveyed the blackened skin covering Pete, she looked at Socrates with tears in her eyes.

"He's never been injured like this before."

"He's survived worse," Socrates stated in an attempt to comfort her while believing the opposite.

"I don't understand it," Ellie sighed. "Why didn't the bracelet protect him from the fire?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

The rest of the battle for Serenity went as expected. Perhaps because Jayne was an excellent shot. Perhaps because the exploded houses were able to dissuade the bureaucratic realtors from attempting to possess the properties. Perhaps because the rest of the enemy forces were truly human and not some sort of apparition like their leaders, despite the evil that the driver had claimed would occur. At the end of the day, Serenity looked like every other Post-Civil War land dispute. Lines in the sand were drawn, criminals became peacekeepers, and blood was shed. If not for the odd experience on the road, one might liken the battle to the Hatfields & McCoys or the Lincoln County War.

Within minutes, Brisco was able to tear up the contract before the realtors' eyes. The mercenaries employed by the realtors in order to take the town were either arrested, maimed, or had fled in fear. And for an added injury, Mal had the realtors remove their shoes and walk into town to surrender in front of the entire town council. The realtors' were truly emasculated and whatever they had aligned themselves with had abandoned the realtors, presumably in search of a better alliance.

Following the surrender, the entire town seemed to take a relieved sigh of relief. From this moment on, it could begin to pick itself back up and to rebuild. Doctor Simon reported that were several injuries within the town's informal army but the only deaths were from the realtors' side. However, most people in the town felt that realtors and their allies should be mourned as lawyers, as in forgotten as quickly as possible. The telegram was up and running which enabled Mayor Wash quickly sent a telegram to those in hiding that it was safe to return home. The townspeople who had stayed and fought now celebrated, knowing that tomorrow would begin the work of rebuilding. Brisco informed Mayor Wash that when Doc reported back to the center of the town that the scientist might want to send a telegram as well. Wash agreed that he would send Doc to the telegram office if he happened to run into the scientist. Wash only stopped for a moment before hurrying away to find Kaylee so that the two could better assessment the property damage.

As Brisco passed through the town, he noticed that the target explosions had cleared out the broken down houses. As Brisco looked beyond the rubble and debris, he could see a lake in the near distance. Brisco paused to see the sun begin to touch down across the waters of the lake. Even though Brisco was not a town resident, he could still feel the sense of excitement in the air. The residents' feeling of freedom and hope for the future was contagious. Brisco smiled to himself as he continued towards the hospital.

Once Brisco arrived, exhaustion overwhelmed him and he climbed into an empty hospital bed to pass out. Aside from the handful of injuries that Doctor Simon was treating, the noise was practically non-existent. Between a handful of drunken hours of slumber last night, the worry of Bowler's son, the espionage mission, and now a land skirmish, Brisco couldn't tell if he even hit the pillow when his eyes closed.

It might have been minutes or hours but Brisco sleep was cut short to the sound of a woman's scream. It was Kaylee. For a moment Brisco tried to ignore it before he remembered that Doc was with Kaylee. Brisco bolted upright to look at the group. The doctor was in the process of grabbing his medical bag and running out the door. Brisco shook the drowsiness from his eyes and the heaviness of his head before chasing after the town doctor.

As Simon and Brisco followed Kaylee, she explained through tears that one of the dilapidated buildings was scheduled to explode when they noticed that Pastor Booker and another man had been trapped by a fallen beam. Doc ran through the town as it was ripped apart by bullets and managed to get both men free. Unfortunately, a stray bullet triggered the explosion before Doc could clear the building. Now, he was trapped under debris and seemed to have lost a lot of blood.

The group arrived to find Jayne, Booker, and Mal in the process of trying to move the debris. Simon ordered the men to stop as he assessed the situation. Unfortunately, when the town doctor took a deep sigh and shook his head to the men, the prognosis was clear. In response to the Doctor's unspoken prognosis, most of the town stook back to give Simon, Doc and Brisco a bit more privacy.

In the silence, Brisco was able to clear hear Jayne's whisper to Mal. "Pete dies in a fiery ball and then Doc gets stuck under a building. This must be a shitty day for him."

The thought of Pete dying left Brisco with an unexpected emptiness. While Pete was not necessarily a close friend, he had been a constant in Brisco's life. It felt odd to know that the world would still turn without Pete. Brisco watched as Simon injected morphine into Doc's free arm in an attempt to dull the young man's pain before quietly taking Brisco aside.

"Doc is in a bad way."

"What does that mean?" Brisco asked, hoping that he had misunderstood the doctor's meaning.

"He is going to bleed out within minutes if we move the debris. By leaving him as he is for now, you two have a bit more time."

As Brisco stared at Simon in shock, Simon put a hand on Brisco's arm in an attempt to bring him back to the present. "Brisco, you need to say your goodbyes and give him a friend to talk to. Make sure that he doesn't die alone."

Brisco moved to sit beside Doc's head. Doc moved his head to look at Brisco before smiling to say, "You look like you got some bad news. Did you read WebMD before coming over?"

"Can I do anything for you?" Brisco asked trying to change the subject and ignoring whatever the hell 'WebMD is.'

Doc smiled before replying, "Actually, I can't feel a thing, so nothing comes to mind. Except..." a shadow seemed to fall across Doc as a thought crossed his mind, "Brisco, can you give my love to my husband?" A sad smile fell across his face, "Let him know that he was the love of my life and better than any adventure I have imagined here."

Brisco didn't want to think of Doc's death and changed the subject by commenting, "I thought that Pete said relationships don't exist in the future."

Doc smiled before saying, "Well, I can't tell you all my secrets." A look of fear spread across Doc's face, "The bracelet is scheduled to go to Winchester Mansion as its last stop before transporting back to the future. Don't let James go to either place!"

"I understand not going to the future but why is a mansion so bad?"

"Just don't let him go!"

"I'll do my best."

"Find Pete again, he knows how to work the PTT. He can get the bracelet to release. He HAS to protect James!"

"He's dead. Watched him die in a fire," grumbled Jayne.

"Shut your mouth," whispered Mal to Jayne.

Doc groaned, "The one thing that the PTT can't protect its carrier against is fire. I could never figure out why. My theory is that the heat of the fire is a similar heat level created in the friction of moving across time and space. But I never had a reason to test it thoroughly. The PTT should survive though and maybe that Ellie woman he mentioned could help you."

"Doc, save your strength. James is safe at home right now and we'll keep him safe."

Doc seemed to calm back down and after a couple moments an impish grin spread across his face, "Then again, Pete might surprise you."

Brisco couldn't find a way to smile or laugh in response.

Sensing that Brisco was running out of things to say, Inara sat down with the two of them and lifted the scientist's head into her lap. She brushed his curly hair away from the dying man's eyes before softly asking, "So, tell me about this man of yours."

Doc smiled at the thought but instead of replying, he struggled to take a breath and began coughing up blood. Simon gave Doc another shot of morphine and mouthed, "Not long now" to Brisco.

"Brisco," came Doc's now raspy voice. "I have been thinking about Pete. If he's impervious like you said and he has continued to survive the PTT jumps, he may be conditionally immortal."

"Conditionally immortal?"

"There is a legend in my time that there is a man who exists who will decide his own death. That he will live until the day and time that he chooses to die. Maybe Pete is that legend."

"Do you believe in legends?" laughed Brisco.

"Of course. I believed in you and you turned out to be everything the legends say you are."

Doc's words caught Brisco off guard but Brisco still wasn't ready to say goodbye. Instead, he attempted to lighten the mood by replying, "Well, I'm not all great. For instance, can't sing a note."

As if on cue, River sat down on the other side of Doc and Inara. She picked up a hand and began to sing "Amazing Grace." The rest of the group joined in with the words that they knew and Brisco found himself holding Doc's other hand as the soul of Doc slipped away into the night.

Part V - Chapter 21 - The Erratic Attorney

San Francisco, CA

After a full night of reviewing the journal, Ellie and Pete were having coffee at the bar. At first Pete was terrified about staying at the hotel as he had already been abducted once from his room and the bracelet had transported him from the bar. Ellie pulled out a news paper with a story about how Pete and Ellie had a public fight, as witnessed by Norm, and had been thrown out. The article ended by stating, "Mr. Hutter was last seen leaving town with all of his belongings. We don't know where he's headed but we can certainly say, 'Good riddance!'"

Pete was not happy by the 'good riddance' bit, but Ellie had insisted that she had purposefully pressed the journalist to publish that note. She had felt that it would further hide Pete's presence in San Francisco from the future Charles. While Pete appreciated her argument, he still felt the ending was too harsh.

Pete was stretching his shoulders when Norm wandered in to sit at his normal stool and order his morning beer. What surprised Pete was the figure who stumbled in behind Norm. It was none other than Socrates Poole. Pete stifled a smile while musing, "The poster boy for stoic behavior and clean living was now imbibing beer with the dawn? How far the mighty have fallen! "

Pete's glee at Socrates' misfortune was short lived as Pete noticed the stack of newspapers that the lawyer was carrying in. Pete noticed that the papers looked a crumpled mess as though they had already been opened, read, and haphazardly refolded. Socrates took a table in the center of the room with his back to the bar and began spreading out the newspapers. Ellie approached Socrates with a cup of coffee as Pete slid the journal and papers behind the bar and out of sight from Socrates. Pete kept his head low and his shoulders hunched in case Socrates were to put two-and-two together.

"Hey-a Socrates," began Ellie. "Don't you have an office that you can use for, well, whatever this is?"

"Listen, there is something about being in a place that smells of coffee that gets the creative process going," Socrates rushed to explain. He seemed to be in a manic state or that he had already had a pot of coffee too many as he sped out the words. And then without warning, Socrates stopped and looked around the bar with an odd euphoric glaze. "Maybe this is my coming thing. A place to break out of my stuffy environment to engage in a caffeinated world full of like-minded and free willed people. Almost like a Paris café yet more snooty with tattooed college students serving hot beverages while wearing fisherman caps and saying nonsensical Italian words like 'Venti' or 'Grande.'"

Pete tried to hide his laughter at the clearly sleep deprived Socrates and in a quiet voice that only Norm could hear muttered, "Truly a surprising epiphany of a stuffed shirt that has clearly lost its mind."

Norm and Pete's chuckles were getting hard to contain as they listened to Socrates' continued ravings. Ellie shot them her most deadly look before placing the coffee cup in front of Socrates. However, after several minutes of hearing the poor lawyer's mutterings and watching more disheveled newspapers fall to the floor, she switched to pouring milk into his cup instead of coffee. Surprisingly, Socrates continued to sip from the cup while failing to notice the change in beverage as he was too engrossed in his work.

When Ellie joined Pete and Norm back at the bar, Pete whispered, 'What the hell is he doing?"

"Looking for you," Ellie whispered back.

"If only he looked up," laughed Pete.

"Pete, that's not funny! I'm worried about him!" exclaimed Ellie, her voice barely above a whisper.

At that moment, a man in his late 30s arrived with a beautiful woman on his arm.

"Jack! Clara!" called Ellie as she momentarily forgot all about Socrates and ran to the couple to throw her arms around them.

"Ellie, my favorite bartending girl," smiled the man. He was average height with a strong chin and dark unkept hair. The woman on his arm was by no means thin but she wore her clothes and walked in a way that ensured all could admire her best curves.

Ellie led the couple further into the bar but Jack paused by Norm. He shook the bar fly's hand as he exclaimed, "Norm! Have you moved an inch since I left San Francisco?"

"Hello, Jack," laughed Norm, unphased by the comment. "What brings you back? I thought you were all settled into your ranch. What was it called, Wolves?"

"Wolf House," correct Clara.

"You know, me and Clara! We can't stay still for too long," but Jack's laughter caught in his throat as he watched the manic Socrates continue his display of research and muttering to himself. Jack leaned his back against the bar and stared at Socrates. The only person not entranced by Socrates was Clara who sat at the bar and watched Ellie curiously instead of Socrates.

When Socrates failed to notice that most of the bar was silently staring at him, Jack whispered over his shoulder to Ellie, "Hey, what's he on?"

Ellie had moved around the bar and started pouring coffee cups for the new arrivals. "He's not on anything," she whispered. "Just lack of sleep."

"Well, we can't have that," Jack stated as he straightened up. He walked over to Socrates and held out his hand, "Excuse me, do you mind removing your glasses?"

Socrates looked up in a hazy confusion at the man in front of him. He seemed about to question the relevancy of a stranger asking him to remove his glasses but he acquiesced out of mental exhaustion or confusion. And held them out to Jack.

"Thank you," Jack stated as he gave a slight bow and placed the glasses on the table. Socrates watched his glasses now sitting on the table with fascination and failed to notice that Jack had quietly moved around the lawyer and moments later had the man in a choke hold.

"Stop! You'll strangle him!" screamed Ellie.

Jack laughed and said, "Relax Ellie! I know what I'm doing. I'm not going to strangle him. Just help him pass out."

Within moments, Socrates had slumped back against Jack's chest. "Excuse me, could you help me?" Jack called to Pete. Within moments the two had picked up Socrates and began to move haphazardly towards the bar without any final destination in mind.

"You can put him in my room," called Ellie.

"It's over here," grunted Pete as he started to move backwards into the direction of Ellie's room.

"How scandalous!" giggled Clara as she eyed Ellie meaningfully.

"Not like that," Ellie responded while rolling her eyes and moving from around the bar to pick up Socrates' papers and organize them into piles on the table for when he woke back up. Clara gave her an unconvinced stare before insisting, "Maybe not him but someone's serviced you recently."

Just as Pete and Jack turned the corner towards Ellie's room, he caught Ellie's face turn bright red. The men left the unconscious Socrates, shoes and all, to sleep off the exhausted mania. As they left the room, Pete asked, "Why did you ask him to remove his glasses?"

"I can't hit a man with glasses on. That just seems unfair."

They had just turned the corner and were approaching the bar when Jack turned to Pete good naturedly and held out his hand, "Thank you much! I don't believe that we were introduced. The name is Jack London. I don't think that I caught your name?"

Pete shook Jack's hand but recognized the name as a journalist and novelist. Pete looked past Jack and smiled at Ellie before answering, "Depends on who you ask, some people folks refer to me as Wild Joe. The given name is Joe."

"Well, thank you, Joe," Jack said as he slapped Pete on the back and called over to Ellie, "How about two beers for Joe and myself?"

"Jack, isn't it a bit early for beer?" Clara asked impishly.

"Float a cornflake in it," called out Norm. "Breakfast of champions!"

Ellie rolled her eyes but poured beers for each member of the bar's occupants, including herself.

Part V - Chapter 20 - The Interrupted Family Reunion

Hard Rock, CA

James and Rachel arrived in Hard Rock in a flash of light and an overwhelming sound. For the first time James noticed a bit of discomfort during the journey but assumed it was more to do with carrying a person from one geographic location to another. He landed just outside the house and his feet had barely touched ground before Lenore came rushing out to James with tears streaming down her face. Within moments her sense of relief changed to panic as she noticed all the blood covering both Rachel and James.

"It's not mine, Ma. It's Rachel's. We gotta get a doctor right away!"

At that moment, the local preacher came out of the house in shock with all of the noise, lights, and the sudden appearance of James with a bloodied heap of petticoats in his arms.

"Go for a doctor," Lenore called. She kept her voice as steady as she buried the multitude of emotions that she was feeling to move into command mode. One learns how to keep a cool head in crises by being a mayor, a restaurant owner, and sheriff's wife.

However, the preacher was not switching from town planning to emergency mode and Lenore did not have time to ease him into the change of pace or prioritization.

To snap the older man to the matter at hand, Lenore had to yell out, "Preacher! Go! Now!" She had commanded him with such a force that the preacher blinked out of his shocked state and moved quickly to retrieve his horse to get the local doctor. Lenore and James carried the barely conscious Rachel into the dining room. Within moments, everything that had been on the table was brushed off and onto the floor.

"James, I need you to boil some water and I need you grab the linens in the family room where we were sorting your daddy's things. I know that those linens were to cover furniture pieces that we would give away or sell but right now that's the closest thing and every second counts."

James quickly moved from room to room to carrying out her instructions. Luckily, Lenore had a doctor's kit in the dining room. She had been talking with the town council about placing medical kits in various locations about town so that more people could receive medical attention quickly in a time of natural disaster or unexpected accident. In a moment of disassociation which occurs in traumatic moments, she made a note about how her plan might actually help to save this poor girl's life and should be emphasized during the next council meeting.

James arrived back in the room with the linens and handed her an apron. Rachel began to howl in pain as she moved in and out of consciousness. The kettle blew signaling that the water was ready. As James moved towards the kitchen, Lenore hollered, "Grab some brandy too. She's gonna need it!"

Lenore tied the apron around her waist and gently moved the hair out of Rachel's eyes. "Alright, young lady. This is going to be painful. But I need you to fight. I am going to need you to stay strong, ok? You holler as much as you like but you need to fight!" She held Rachel's hands and squeezed them in an attempt to pass courage to the tiny form on the table. "Oh my God! This girl can't be over 18 years old. She's too young to die!" thought Lenore.

As James came back into the room, Lenore pushed the observations of Rachel's youth down and tried to ignore all of the blood. It would not serve Rachel well if Lenore believed that she was too far gone before their work had even started. The hot water had been poured into a large bowl and Lenore dumped the medical equipment into the pot to help clean the items. Something in her said, or maybe she had read it somewhere, that the instruments needed to be cleaned before use. Maybe it was just a superstition, either way Lenore was determined to take any precaution. Without being asked, James quickly tore up a few of the linens as he knew they would be needed to stop the bleeding.

"James, I need you to help me turn her over. I need to see if the bullet went through."

As James turned her over, Lenore noted that there was not an exit wound on Rachel's back. As Lenore directed, James alternated between imbibing Rachel with the brandy, holding her down, and consoling her through the pain. Lenore used a small knife to open the wound a bit more before utilizing the forceps to pull out the bullet. Tears fell down Rachel's face and she winced in pain but followed Lenore's instructions to stay strong as she held in any attempt to holler or cuss aloud, though it would have been acceptable considering her injury.

After the bullet was removed, Lenore had barely thread the needle when the doctor and his nurse finally arrived to take over the process of care. Lenore was suddenly too tired to see if the doctor needed to correct her work. Rachel seemed to be in good hands now and Lenore took it as her moment.

Lenore walked outside and took a deep breath. Based on how low the sun was without touching the horizon, the day must be almost over and sunset would occur shortly. As the colors in the sky began to change, all of the emotions hit Lenore at once. She felt the worry about her son's disappearance, the joy in his return, the fear that it was too late because of all the blood, and then needing to pack it away to help save the life of Rachel. Within moments, she felt her body sink to the ground and she allowed herself to feel everything resulting in a half weep and half laugh mess. Suddenly, she felt two strong arms lift her up and wrap her in a large hug.

"It's okay, Mama. I'm home."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Miami, OK

Fiona and Madeline had calmed down enough to sit down to lunch, although by the time everyone sat down, it was dark and the food had gone cold. Based on the sour mood that everyone felt, cold food seemed to fit the environment.

In an effort to brighten the heaviness at the table, Doc ventured to make observations about the day's successes. "So Fiona, why did you decide to use a car to crash through the wall?" asked Doc. "I know that I am not a spy but it seemed a bit extreme."

"It was a shame to let you all have all of the fun," smiled Fiona.

"And using liquor to cause additional explosions?" asked Doc.

"The goal was to disarm the Irish gang, correct?" Fiona barely allowed Doc to nod his head before she continued, "So, I distracted and Michael disarmed," she stated in matter-of-fact voice as she took another bite of the food. Brisco couldn't help but smile. Fiona would always remain a force to be reckoned with.

Just then the phone rang which caused Doc to practically jump out of his skin. Madeline answered the phone before calling Brisco over to it.

"Hello? Who is this?" Brisco demanded into the receiver.

"Brisco? It's Lenore! James made it home!" her voice was muffled but there was a contagious excitement in her voice.

"It worked!" Brisco shouted over to the group who stared back at him with puzzled expressions. "What about Rachel? Did she make it? Is she ok?"

"Yes, she made it. The doctor was able to dress her wound. She's asleep now but they're both fine!"

"Thank God," breathed Brisco. A sense of relief washed over him. Rachel and James were safe with Lenore in Hard Rock.

"I've got Doc with me and we'll head over there-"

But the line went dead. Brisco called Madeline and Michael over but neither of them could fix the phone. For whatever reason, the line was dead. Brisco told the group that Rachel and James had made it back to Lenore in Hard Rock and that Rachel had survived the gunshot. The news was just what the group needed to hear.

While it was still discouraging that Franz and O'Banion would not be publicly punished for their conspiracies and treason, they had been identified. From now on, any attempt to undermine the American government, to destroy commerce, or to cause public fear to rise due to senseless bombings would be nearly impossible to accomplish. For all intents and purposes, these two men, and anyone that they associate with, were now burned spies.

For Brisco and Doc, the more important victory was James' return home. The young man was now done bouncing across the States. As soon as Brisco could find a working phone line or arrive in Hard Rock with Doc, James would be released from the bracelet and Doc would be sent back to the future. With Michael and his team moving to D.C. and Brisco about to wrap up his debt to Bowler, there was much to celebrate. The atmosphere changed in the cabin for everyone and no one was ready to end the festivities right away. Brisco and Doc decided to stay for a glass of champagne

Which turned into two glasses...

And then a bottle...

Soon, it was morning and the hangover was truly miserable.