Part III - Chapter 11 - Pete Hutter... In the Lab... With a Tablet

Year 2169

"From the ashes, through the bridge, the shepherd will rise," came a whispered voice through the darkness.

Unsettled by the words still echoing in his ears and annoyed by an incessant tapping on his face, Pete awoke to find a light being moved back and forth in front of his eyes. In an effort to protect his eyesight, Pete slowly blinked to block out any pain but it made the world around him look like a blur. As he began to feel the drowsiness drain away, he worked on focusing past the light. It turned out there was a round faced man with dark eyes and a stubbled face who was shining a tiny yet blinding light back and forth in front of Pete's eyes. Pete attempted to demand the light be shut off but as he tried to speak, he realized that there was something in his throat. It felt like a tube of some kind and it hurt as he tried to speak. Pete began to struggle but found that his arms were tied down.

"Stop struggling or you will injure yourself," came the low-voiced command from the captor. The man turned off the light and sat back to study Pete before speaking again. "Pete Hutter. You have no idea how long I have been waiting and looking for you. It was lucky that I finally found you when I did."

Pete stopped fighting the binds and began to look around the room to get his bearings and to figure out a way to free himself. The room was a large rectangle. As Pete tried to look down towards his toes, he found that he was strapped to some kind of hospital bed that was higher off the ground than he was used to. The man before him was wearing a white lab coat over a dark suit, wearing blue gloves, and tapping on a flat rectangle in front of him. As Pete studied his captor, the stranger seemed to constantly be moving from checking the various tubes running into Pete's arms, tapping on the flat screened device, checking a beeping device that seemed to be measuring some type of sound or radio wave, to studying a larger flat screen that was sitting on the desk. Pete turned his attention to the wires running out of his arms and noticed that there seemed to be several attached up and down his torso as well. Pete tried to follow the cords' destination or source of connection but they ran off the bed and out of sight. Pete could only deduce that they were somehow connected to the screens by the bed but from this angle, he could not determine how. Watching his captor expertly transition between screens while monitoring Pete's health felt overwhelming. This was all beyond his imagination or understanding and much more up County's alley of "The Coming Thing."

"You don't seem to have enough color in your cheeks," the strange man muttered, more to himself than to Pete. He then began patting Pete on the cheeks as if to bring life back into him; for a moment, it reminded Pete of a spinster aunt determined to pinch color into a child's face. The captor sighed before digging into his pocket for some kind of chocolate bar that had a smell Pete couldn't place. As he devoured it between scribbling notes with his finger onto the small flat screen he caught Pete's curious gaze and responded, "Protein bar. Need to keep my blood sugar under control so that I can enter data into the tablet as quickly as possible."

Pete took the opportunity to look beyond the lab coat, wires, and screens and attempted to study the room a bit more. It was clear that he was in the center of the room and he could just barely see the back wall if he pushed his chin as high as it could go. If he looked past his toes and to the right corner there was a door and past his left most toe there were 3 cells. The furthest cage to the right was empty with just a tiny bench and a pot to leave little to the imagination about living conditions for the life ahead for Pete. The center cage was occupied by a body crumpled on the floor but it was difficult to really study the center cage's occupant as it looked more like a pile of clothes rather than a human. What drew Pete's attention was the 3rd cage's occupant, a tall well-built man with grey hair. His hair looked unkempt as if he had been a prisoner for awhile but even from here Pete could see that he had an oval face with a chin that could break fists. If Pete was a betting man, he would gamble that this man was former military or something requiring brute strength. The man was leaning against the back wall of his cell as if he had little interest in the spectacle at the center of the room.

Just then, the nearby chair protested the movement of its occupant which caused Pete's eyes to dart back to the scientist. To Pete's horror, the man pulled a syringe from a nearby table injected it into one of the many tubes connected to Pete.

"That's enough excitement for now, Mr. Hutter. Time to go back to sleep. Can't have you in too much shock all at once. Your immune system needs time to build a tolerance to our mutated strains of viruses that you have not been exposed to before."

Suddenly, Pete's eyelids were extremely heavy and with every blink it became more and more difficult to keep his eyes open. And then the world slipped away, back into darkness.

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

Pete opened his eyes and found himself in the sheriff's office in Hard Rock. Sheriff Bowler was in the other room talking to his wife and town mayor, Lenore.

"Bowler that man helped bring you home to me! He was part of the rescue mission to enable you to escape a firing squad," came Lenore's commanding voice.

Pete could hear a lower voice in the other room so he knew that Bowler was responding and objecting to Pete's request to be a deputy. However, as much as Pete strained to hear Bowler, he could not make out the words.

"People can change. Wyatt Earp worked security for his wife's brothel, Doc Holiday was a prolific gambler and shot several people following card games that didn't go his way. Hell! Whip Morgan has spent his youth in and out of jail. Why is Pete different?"

As the conversation continued, Pete looked around the room again. "Wait!" he thought. "I have been here before. In a few moments, Bowler and Lenore are going to give me a trial period of 3 weeks before officially deputizing me." The door opened and just as Pete turned to make his case, the figures of Bowler and Lenore were blurred. Pete tried to strain his eyes to get a glimpse of his old employers but the room began to fade away.

And then Pete woke up.

In his bleary eyed state all Pete could think was, "Damn! Sometimes the worst dreams aren't nightmares but memories that you would rather keep buried."

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

Due to his drugged state, Pete could not keep track of time but it was the same situation over and over again. The rude awakening, the scientist snacking while writing in his "tablet," the opportunity to take a gander around the lab, the silent co-prisoners, and then back to sleep. Time was impossible to track as it could have been days or weeks. Since the scientist seemed to always be perfectly groomed, the only clues that Pete could glean were from the co-prisoners. The crumpled prisoner seemed to always be curled up so it was hard to see his state but he seemed to be in different parts of the cage every time Pete awoke and looked over. The man was not coping well with the treatment or life in the laboratory but the man did have small signs of life. The more fascinating prisoner gave a bit more evidence of the passing of time. His hair seemed to grow to a certain point before it was shaved off which meant that this was occurring over a longer period than just a few hours.

The room around them also never changed and there were never any other people aside from his captor and co-prisoners. The room was practically silent except for the captor who rarely talked but to himself. Meanwhile, Pete and the crumpled prisoner were unable to talk and the fourth man just seemed to lean against the back wall or lounge on his bed. The fourth man seemed to radiate silent rebellion to the situation at hand and he remained apathetic to his surroundings. It was clear that he was a man who had never met a cage that could keep him jailed for long.

Pete did his best to study the co-prisoners to determine if they would be allies in an escape and to study the room for signs of why he might be a captive and how he might find freedom. In fact, Pete did his best to keep his mind as filled and distracted as possible since the hardest part of the experience were the dreams. It felt as though every dream forced Pete to relive a past experience. To make matters worse, Bowler's recent passing seemed to make all of Pete's dreams centered around the Lonefeather family.

While Pete was not a fully changed man, he did honor the agreement and upheld the letter of the law while under the employ of Bowler, but definitely not the spirit of the law. Ten dollars per arrest was decent income but sometimes, Pete needed to spread his wings for additional income opportunities of the creative variety. While his financial schemes during that time in Hard Rock weren't illegal, they were not rarely ethical. Pete had heard about Frank James selling stones off of his brother Jesse James' grave in order to create extra income so Pete did a similar routine. Bly didn't have a grave per se, so why not set up a gravesite near Hard Rock? A piece of history from Bly's "grave" for only $2 was a steal in most history hunters' minds and Pete made a decent sum of money over time. And the beauty of the scheme was that all Pete had to do was add more rocks to the gravesite a couple times a week.

Pete's second scheme was actually based on lawman Bat Masterson's habit of carrying antique guns and selling it for $20 to young buff's wanting to carry "the gun that tamed Dodge City." When people would come to town and beg for Bowler's shotgun at the sheriff's office, Pete would escort them out, per Bowler's request. As soon as they were out of earshot, Pete would empathize with the disappointed history seeker. Pete would weave a tale about how he had tracked down Wyatt Earp, Brisco County Jr., or Bill Hickock, whichever hero seemed to resonate most with the sucker. Pete would lament how much time it took to convince the individual to part with their gun but now Pete was able to carry a weapon that helped to "tame the west" and how much courage it gave him as a deputy. Of course, he was always willing to part with it for say, $20. The individual would ride out of town believing they had achieved their goal of leaving town with a historic gun and Pete would go to the local pawn shop and buy another gun. If Bat Masterson did it, it couldn't be that unethical, right?

Pete's favorite financial scheme was a miracle elixir business. Pete convinced 10 people to not only buy the elixirs but to "become their own employers" and get 10 people of their own to buy and sell elixirs. The business went on and on to ensure that Pete was at the top of this, well, triangle-shape. Most of the money was made from all of the people in the lower tiers. While Pete ensured that all of his schemes were never illegal, he had a feeling that Bowler and Lenore might not approve so he kept his name off of all financial records for the gravesite and for the miracle elixir business.

A movement from the scientist sitting next to Pete stirred Pete back to the present. The scientist was pulling out another syringe. Pete heard his own exasperated sigh before feeling the prick of the needle.

"Don't worry, Mr. Hutter. We're almost finished with this stage."

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

Pete was walking out of the church for Bowler's funeral. Between family, friends, lawmen, bounty hunters, and politicians that the family met over the years, Pete could only find a space to stand at the back. While he had originally planned to pay respects to the family, being in a church filled with lawmen and judges did make Pete uneasy which prompted him to slip out the back before the service ended. Pete had just approached his motorcycle to head back to San Francisco when he heard a familiar female voice.

"Pete, are you really trying to sneak out without saying 'hello?'

Pete turned and gave his most mischievous smile and he raised his hands in surrender. "Why Madame Mayor! I would never exit without your dismissal. I just remembered that this was a potluck event and that I forgot my Aunt Susy's potatoes for the afternoon buffet. As a former deputy, I can't let down the mayor or town."

"Come here and give a widow a hug," Lenore ordered. Pete complied before standing back to say, "Seriously, how are you doing?"

She arched her eyebrow and placed her hands on her hips before replying, "Pete, I may have adopted you into my family while you were here, but we avoided all serious conversations over the years, including your miracle elixirs."

"You were aware of that financial venture?" Pete asked bashfully.

"Just because I turned a blind eye, doesn't mean that I didn't know. Besides, my goal was to never change you or force you to walk the straight and narrow but to give you a sense of home."

Pete smiled and admitted, "It's the closest that I came to a family that I recall."

"Speaking of which did you see James? My boy is all grown up."

"I only got to see him from the back of the church and he wasn't facing me so I didn't get a good look at him."

"Maybe next time then," Lenore replied with a weak smile. She looked at Pete's motorcycle before asking, "I thought that I heard that you were motorcycling across the country, doing something in Picture Palaces?"

"Towns need someone to run the cinema reels and driving from town to town on a motorcycle seems to fit my restless personality. Although the films have been a little more focused on the art of camera work instead of the storyline for my taste. Personally, I feel that Charlie Chaplin has a better mastery of camera use while still being able to tell a believable story-"

"I thought I heard you were in a terrible motorcycle accident," interrupted Lenore.

"Oh that," Pete began, debating how to continue. Deciding to downplay the event, Pete continued while avoiding Lenore's gaze, "Well, I was driving through a town and a car came out of nowhere and blind-sided my motorcycle. I turned at the last second but the motorcycle jerked too hard and fell over, dragging me on the street."

"How awful!"

"Road rash only takes a couple weeks to recover from. I healed and the road seems to have exfoliated my pores so my skin is clearer than ever," Pete said as he shrugged off Lenore's concern.

"I know a lot of women who would be happy to risk death in order to exfoliate skin to that level of smoothness," Lenore commented while studying his face. The doors to the church swung open and a funeral procession was starting to spill out and towards Pete and Lenore. "I have to get back and I won't make you stay here. I just wanted to say thank you for coming before you drove back home. It means a lot to see you here and I wanted to tell you that Bowler appreciated your letters. They consoled him in his final days but he burned them before I could read them, much less return them to you. Bowler may not have agreed with your lifestyle but in his own way, he seemed to respect you."

At that, she gave Pete's arm a gentle squeeze before turning back to the funeral parishioners. Leaving a confused Pete standing next to his motorcycle wondering, "Who the hell would pose as me and send letters to Bowler? What did those letters say? And why would Bowler burn letters from a person pretending to be me?"

As dreams often do, the scene blurred and he was no longer in Hard Rock but in his apartment in San Francisco. The thought that someone was posing as Pete and sending letters to Bowler, spooked Pete and he haphazardly threw items into his bag. Clearly, Pete was not going to be safe in his apartment. Pete looked outside his apartment window to see a black Ford had parked in front of the building. Just as he realized that the car had been following him through San Francisco, he noticed an odd smell in his room. Pete turned to see that a gas was seeping through the keyhole of the room. Pete scrambled back to the window and tried to open the window to let fresh air in and potentially escape but he was too late. The people and vehicles outside were becoming distorted and blurry.

Add comment