Part V - Chapter 24 - Cobb's Cochran Cell

It only took two detours to reach Brisco this time. The first jump brought him to Brisco County Sr.’s grave and the second brought Pete to the front lawn of a small house in a tiny town with a young boy and his mother. The woman, Annie, confirmed that Pete had still not arrived in the same vicinity as Brisco County Jr. and Pete pushed the buttons on his wristwear again. But just before the light made it difficult to see, Pete noted that the young boy, maybe 9 or 10, seemed to be a bit familiar. But then they were gone and Pete found himself in a jail cell with Brisco and Doc.

After the familiar light, noise, and pain had faded Pete stood looking at the two shocked prisoners before Pete picked up Doc. He slammed Doc against the brick wall away from the cell door.

“Tell me who you work for! How do you know Charles? Did you kidnap me?”

Brisco quickly recovered from the shock of Pete’s arrival and the attack on Doc in order to attempt to pull them apart.

“Knock it off! I said knock it off!” shouted Brisco.

As Pete pinned Doc against the wall utilizing his forearm, Doc managed to get a peek at the bracelet as he was struggling for air. He did manage to get out the question of, “Where did you get the bracelet?” but Pete ignored the question and continued his inquest.

“I was locked up for who knows how long in a tiny cage and when I escape this man comes running towards me and then poof I’m here!” At the abbreviated tale’s finish, Pete lifted Doc off his toes as he continued to sneer at Doc.

“Pete, will you let up?” Brisco said as he tried to force himself between Pete and Doc. “Just tell us what’s going on here.”

“So, now you want my story.” Pete released Doc as he slowly turned towards Brisco. As Pete’s focus shifted away, Doc slid to the ground and allowed himself to shake in shock at the story. “Charles had created his own PTT? And he had a man locked in a cage? I’d heard that he had secrets but how did I not know this side of Charles? How is that man allowed to even have a lab?”

By now, Pete had moved across the cell and was pointing a finger in Brisco’s face. “I attempted to tell you what was going on but you couldn’t be bothered. You’ve never treated me like a peer. In fact, you’ve been treating my like a funny sidekick or cheesy henchman for years but you’ve never approached me like an equal. By this point Pete was almost shouting at Brisco, Doc was in shock, and Brisco was mildly amused by the ludicrous situation. A criminal using a teleport device to get into a jail cell while a man from the future has no idea what is going on. The whole situation seemed so surreal that Brisco cracked a smile which only angered Pete more.

Instead of raising his voice louder, Pete’s angered voice became so low that it was almost difficult to hear him as he continued, “Of course, you can laugh. Everything comes so easy for you. Daddy was a lawman. Harvard educated. I’ve been busting my ass for twenty years and nothing was ever handed to me.”

“Quit all that arguin’” came a voice. Brisco turned to see that the large man from the wagon, a deputy Brisco assumed, had joined the room to see what all of the commotion was about. He had an apple in one hand and a knife in the other which he used to whittle bite size pieces from.

At the sound of his voice, Pete slowly turned around before rushing to the bars. “Jayne! Jayne Cobb is that you? How the hell did you get here?”

A look of confusion passed over Jayne as he dropped the apple wedge that he was about to eat. “Listen you, I ain’t never seen you before! And not that it’s your business but I have been in this town for years and with my crew for even longer. Plus, I don’t know any crazy fool who breaks into a jail cell. But if it were up to me, I would keep you there as punishment for trying to break in.”

“You think a cell designed by Lemley is really a decent institute for correction?”

Cochran designed this one,” came Jayne’s grumbled reply.

“Does it really matter who designed the jail?” asked Brisco.

Pete turned his back on Jayne to glare at Brisco before addressing the question.“With being a bounty hunter you rarely needed to think about an institute of incarceration beyond collecting the bounty. You leave them here and ride off to collect your next reward with no thought of what happens to those individuals once you leave them. You live in a state of willing ignorance believing that a community is measured by its courthouses and churches. But the harsh reality is that jails are not only the more accurate historical record of a town but the best evidence for judging that society’s character and humanity. Cryptic initials or phrases of defiance scratched into the walls with crude tools or bleeding fingernails are more than forgotten men but witnesses to an unseen judge of what occurs when the seemingly upright choose naivety. This foundation is stronger than Atlas as it carries the weight of agonies, humiliations, hopelessness, and lost dreams from every captive who has ever existed in this site, living and dead. The cold bars are installed to not only keep a body inside a box but to beat a soul into dust. With this being the more apt measure of a society, the architect is not your average city planner but the true basis to determine how you will be treated during incarceration.”

The room stared in silence at Pete, his eyes dark and distant now seemed to look through Brisco. It was as though he was momentarily reliving through inhumane situations that the others could not fathom. It was clear that it was not just the presence of the scientist that had triggered Pete’s anger but the cell itself seemed to trigger memories of a recent trauma.

After a few moments of awkward stillness, Jayne decided that it was all a bit much for him when he realized that his mouth was hanging open and the apple wedge was still pierced on his knife, momentarily forgotten. He shoved the apple wedge into his mouth with a grunt, shook off the weird air in the jail, and left the door frame. But before he went down the hall, he did a short double take to confirm if the strange 3rd man was still in the cell. It was clear that he was going to find someone else to review how many prisoners they had originally arrested and if there might be a bounty on the 3rd man. If Jayne couldn’t claim arrest money for Pete, then the cosmos should provide Jayne a finder’s fee or bounty for his trouble.

With the scurry of movement from Jayne breaking the silent spell, Brisco took the opportunity to help the shaking scientist into a chair before attempting some humor to break the tension. “Doc, welcome to the musings and existential philosophy of Pete Hutter. Any thoughts to add?”

Pete turned his gaze back to Brisco before arching an eyebrow and moving to a corner of the cell where he could keep an eye on both the door to their cell and the other two men. He elected to remain standing but continued his silent glare at the two other captives.

“Change of subject,” stated Brisco as he cleared his throat. He was uncomfortable playing mediator but it seemed the only role available and attempted to appease Pete’s anger a bit. “You’re right Pete. I ignored you in Los Angeles. I’m sorry. Now how about you fill me in?”

“How do you know that man?” came the timid voice from Doc.

“As if you didn’t know,” retorted Pete.

“Hey, hey. Enough of that, for now. Let’s start at the beginning,” commanded Brisco.

“You will only be told my narrative as recompense for sharing yours!” muttered Pete through gritted teeth

“Agreed,” came Doc’s quiet voice. The group turned to look at the meek scientist who had mustered up the courage to voice an affirmation in such a hostile environment. It wasn’t much but it was still a small step towards a peaceful exchange of information.

So, the small party settled in for each of their long stories.

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

At the end of Pete’s story, Brisco and Doc stared at Pete dumbfounded. Pete did his best to keep his admission of any criminal activities to a minimum but it seemed that his listeners had been following the same initial paper trail that Charles had followed.

After a long pause, Doc cleared his throat to say, “I had no idea what Charles had been doing. Honestly, he kept to himself and seemed to only moderately be interested in my experiments. Despite encouragement to conglomerate, most scientists prefer to work alone. It’s how were bred.”

“Bred?” asked Brisco in disgust but Doc continued without acknowledging the question.

“Based on the excessive amount of jumps that you’ve completed, how are you not in severe pain or dying?”

“You mean everyone knows about the risks of time travel?”

“Honestly, we took it as a sign that our bodies are not meant to travel throughout time. Some believe that it’s the work of a higher power preventing paradoxes or blurring the lines between multiverses. Whatever the reason our solution is, the average human can only with stand one, maybe two jumps in their life. Only a few individuals can travel a handful of times before retiring from time travel, or in your experience, dying from time travel-“ Doc’s voice trailed off as he became sullen and lost in thought.

“Go back for a second, are you talking like a higher power or God prevents us from going back?” asked an incredulous Brisco, tired of playing the mediator attempting to diffuse a multitude of bombs.

“All I am saying is that the average human body cannot withstand multiple trips. You are moving at speeds beyond your current comprehension. There is only so many trips before a body just breaks down or falls apart. To see Pete standing here is beyond understanding.”

“To be fair,” mused Brisco, “Pete has always been impervious to injury.”

“How so?” inquired Doc, intrigued at the statement.

“Shot in the gut, Chinese death star, a pitchfork stabbing –“ listed Brisco.

“Rumors of my demise have always been grossly overstated.”

“Motorcycle accidents, massive boulders rolling over you-“

“I am losing interest in this enumeration, County,” came the impatient gruff of Pete.

“I would love a blood sample-“ Doc said, all too enthusiastically. Pete immediately recoiled and the sudden movement caused Doc to flinch.

“Is it possible that you future folk are vampires? You seem obsessed with taking blood or injecting people with things!” exclaimed Pete as he moved towards the cell door.

Brisco sighed in exasperation as he looked over at Doc. However, Doc face had gone pale and tense with fear.

“We have had an audience member!” whispered Doc.

The group turned to see the sheriff leaning on the door frame. He had a smirk on his face as though he now had something to hold over the group. Pete held up his arm ready to hit the buttons for escape but Doc held up his hands to plead him to stay.

“Mr. Hutter. I cannot force you to stay and with the bracelet you are practically invincible-“ whispered Doc in a low voice that the sheriff could not hear. As Doc paused for a moment, Brisco whistled a descending tune to express his feeling of inevitable doom at the thought of Pete being invincible. “However, we need to preserve this timeline as much as possible and not disappear until we know what they know.”

Pete looked doubtful but as he looked at his wrist, he seemed to calculate the risks and decided that he had the upper hand. Pete nodded in agreement and the three prisoners looked at the sheriff to see what came next.

“Oh good, you have time for me now,” Mal stated in a sarcastic tone. “Have you agreed on a story to tell?” When no one responded, he stood from the doorframe that he’d been leaning on and walked into the room, followed closely by Zoe and Jayne.

“You seem to know Jayne Cobb a deputy,” to which he pointed at the man Pete recognized earlier. “That’s Zoe, my right hand man,” the sheriff pointed at the woman who had taken down Brisco and Doc earlier in the day. “And I’m Sheriff Mal. We’re about to escort you to River.”

“Don’t you mean ‘the river’?” came Doc’s smart-ass reply.

“I mean River,” Mal began. “And I don’t take kindly to grammar corrections,” he stated in annoyance. “River’s the town’s oracle.”

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