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.

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