Author’s note: This story was written in 1994. It was accurate through that time, but the shows that were (and are) still in production have moved on, and it isn’t totally accurate any more—enjoy it for what it is….
(The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr./The X-Files/Misfits of Science)
Act I: "Next Time, Set the Alarm..."
"Are you sure this is going to work, Professor?"
"Well, no, actually. There is a definite element of risk involved."
Brisco County, Jr. looked dubiously at the long narrow box in front of him. It was disturbingly reminiscent of a coffin.
Professor Albert Wickwire puttered happily about the box, attaching wires to various projections around the edges.
"Explain to me one more time how this works."
"Well, it’s simple, really. The theory is that you can take a body’s temperature down to a certain level and the body will go into a sort of self-induced hibernation. ‘Suspended animation’, if you will. The tests I’ve performed with animal subjects have proven very successful, but—unfortunately—there is one major drawback. They are unable to give me any details, Brisco. I tried a parrot once, but he isn’t speaking to me....
"Anyway, I really need a human volunteer. I’d try it myself, but I have to run the machine."
Brisco pushed back his hat and frowned at the array of dials and switches on the small console beside the oblong box. "But why me, Professor? I’ve got to go to Santa Fe next week. They’ve spotted Pete Hutter in the area, and my sources say he may be meeting Bly—"
"But that’s perfect, Brisco! We could thaw you out on Friday and still have the weekend to document the results."
"I don’t know...."
Wickwire flashed Brisco an engaging grin. "It’s the coming thing—"
And Brisco was hooked.
Billy Hayes ran a hand through his unruly blond hair as he looked down at the object resting on a silver gurney in a side lab of the Human Investigation Team’s section of the Humanidyne Research Institute. "Frankly, El—I’m stumped. Why did somebody put this thing in a cave of all places? I mean, some cultures do have above ground burial rites—"
"—But most of them don’t chain in the bodies, right?" The tall, black man folded his 7’4" frame into a chair with a resignation born of long practice. "And what moaned when they moved it? I mean, look at this thing, Billy—the fittings are rusty, the wood is dry—this isn’t something that got put there recently."
"Yeah. I’d guess about seventy-five to a hundred years ago."
"So what moaned?"
"Well," said Hayes, picking up a pair of bolt cutters, "there’s only one way to find out."
"No, there are several ways to find out. We could run it through the X-ray scanner—"
"What about having Miss Conroy use her ESP?"
"She’s on her honeymoon."
"Oh, right. She and the invisible man should be very happy."
"Well, at least she knows where he is when he walks in a room. No, this really is the best way, El," Billy slipped the cutters under the edge of the chain.
"I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Billy."
"C’mon, El—where’s your thirst for knowledge? Your sense of adventure?"
"I think I left them in my other suit." Elvin Lincoln tried again to reason with his headstrong roommate. "Billy, you don’t know what’s in that thing. Please, at least wait until you’ve talked to Stetmeyer. It could be dangerous—"
"That’s why I have you to protect me, big guy." With one deft motion, Billy snapped the chain binding the wooden casket. "Here goes nothing."
Taking a deep breath, Billy threw open the lid of the box, and let out a low whistle. "I gotta make a phone call."
"Yo, Jon-Boy! Have I got a nut for you to crack!"
Jonathan MacKensie groaned and dropped his head into his hands. After almost ten years, you would think I’d be used to it by now, but the rousing cry of Benedek on the scent of a new story never fails to turn my stomach. Inevitably I will wind up cold, wet, miserable, or some combination of the three. He sighed and looked up, jaw dropping in shock. "What the—?"
Edgar Benedek grinned back at him. "You like it?"
"What are you wearing?"
"I own one," replied Benny defensively, smoothing the lapel of the tasteful charcoal gray suit, "I just don’t wear it much." After years of near blinding in the face of the neon-electric prints that Benedek favored, the suit was impressive.
"It looks very nice. I’m surprised. What’s the occasion?"
"For that you dressed up?" the anthropology professor scoffed, returning his attention to the paper he was grading. Then the reporter’s words sunk in. "Wait a minute. What ‘road trip’? We’re not on a case right now. I have finals next week."
"All covered. This is big, Jocko. About 6’ to be exact."
"What are you prattling about now?" Jonathan sighed, sweeping his sandy hair behind his ear distractedly.
"How’s this for a headline—‘Human Popsicle Found in Deep Freeze’?"
"We’re going to California."
"Plane leaves in an hour. Hope you’ve got your toothbrush."
Jonathan pushed back his chair reluctantly. He’d long ago learned to keep a packed overnight bag behind the recliner.
"You’ve come a long way, JJ," Benny grinned as Jonathan slung the bag over his shoulder.
"Just call me ‘boy scout.’"
Dana Scully typed in the last sentence of the transcription that she was making and turned off the tape recorder with a shake of her head. This latest X-File had been particularly weird, even for Mulder. Speaking of her partner, he had been conspicuously absent for the last two or three days—and it wasn’t like him not to call her if he had a new bee in his bonnet.
She stretched, working the kinks out of her back. She’d been sitting at the computer for hours, trying to make her field report halfway coherent. It was very difficult not to come off sounding like a feature story in the National Register.
The phone rang, and she picked it up. Here it comes...she thought. "Hello?"
"Scully? Grab your gear. We’re going to California."
The redhead stared at the phone. "Mulder, it’s the weekend. I’ve got plans...."
"Trust me, Scully. You won’t want to miss this one."
"Is it a new case?"
"Are we cleared for the expenses?"
"Call me when you get back." She started to hang up the phone.
"No, wait!" Fox cried, "Scully, please. As a favor to me. I’ll pay for the tickets. This is important to me."
"Look, a friend of mine called me from LA. He’s got a situation out there that bears looking into."
"What kind of situation?"
"I can’t tell you that right now."
"Because you won’t come...."
"Please, Scully. Trust me?"
There was something in his voice that told her how crucial this was to Fox. Her instincts said to stay home...but she found herself mentally packing her bag.
He’s done it to me again.
She sighed heavily. "Give me fifteen minutes."
"Yeah, well, I’d better at least get dinner out of this."
"You call it."
"Goodbye, Mulder." She hung up the phone with a shake of her head. Oh, well...it has been a while since my last trip to LA. And I have to admit—my curiosity is piqued.
She moved through the apartment, efficiently packing a small bag with necessities for the weekend. This really must be important to Mulder if he’s willing to pay for the trip...and maybe meeting one of his friends will help me understand the enigma that is my partner....
Brisco groaned, his eyes fluttering open. "What a nightmare." He raised a hand to his forehead. "Have I got a headache...and I’m starved! Professor, I—Professor?"
Slowly he pulled himself up until he was sitting in the box. That was right. That was expected.
What wasn’t expected was that the box was sitting in the middle of a stark, white room, empty except for the silver table on which the casket rested and some odd-looking machinery along one wall. "What the—?"
He rolled out of the box, coming up in a crouch, his gun in hand. Something isn’t right here. Where is the professor?
He glanced down at the newspaper lying inside the box—April 24, 1894. Yeah, that’s about right.
They’d put the newspaper in the box the day he went under, to be a control...then the professor was supposed to wake him up and prove the machine had worked by showing him a newspaper with a date three days later. Oh sure, those things could be faked, but the professor would never...Oh, boy.
His head was spinning. He grabbed the edge of the table for support as his knees buckled. Perhaps it would be better just to sit down for a minute.
"So, you’re awake," came a cheery voice from behind him, and Brisco spun, gun cocked.
"Time out!" cried the slight, blond man at the door, ducking his head. "Put that thing away!"
"Who are you? What am I doing here?"
"Just put away the gun and we’ll talk."
Brisco looked the man up and down. He was dressed in a white lab coat with the sleeves pushed up, a tee-shirt reading "Misfits of Science", and a pair of trousers made from...
"Is that denim?" asked Brisco eagerly.
The man glanced down at his pants. "Uh, you mean my jeans? Yeah.... Look, my name is Billy Hayes. I won’t hurt you, and I’m unarmed." He held his hands out in front of him to prove his claim. "I’d have a lot easier time talking to you if you’d just put away the gun."
Brisco looked at Billy, then nodded, resetting the hammer and putting the pistol into its holster.
Billy breathed an audible sigh of relief.
"Where am I? Where’s Professor Wickwire?"
"Uh, look...this is probably going to take a while to explain. There’s a lot we have to talk about. Listen, are you hungry?"
"I don’t doubt it. Come on, we’ll stick something in the microwave." Billy threw an arm around Brisco’s shoulders, and Brisco pulled back with a bemused frown.
"Sorry." Billy pointedly stepped away from Brisco’s side with a placating gesture.
"Look—I don’t know who you are, but I’m in no mood for games. Where’s Professor Wickwire? How did I get here? What’s—"
Billy opened the door.
"—Going on here...?" Words failed him as Brisco got his first glimpse of the world beyond the door.
The room was in a state of chaos. There were people everywhere, and they all seemed to be talking at once, sometimes to each other, and sometimes to themselves. There were strange machines around all the walls, and there was music blaring from some unseen source. If you could call it music....
"This is the Humanidyne Research Institute, specifically the Human Investigation Team. We specialize in...the unusual. That’s why you were brought here, Mr.—"
"County. Brisco County. Junior."
"Look. Only one man calls me ‘Bris,’ and I only tolerate it because he doesn't know any better.
"Sorry. Brisco it is. They found you in a cave in the desert. How did you get there?"
"Beats me. I was in a barn when I went to sleep. The professor said—Look, I need to get out of here. I have work to do."
"Uh, look, Brisco...we’ve got to talk about this. Do you have any idea what year it is?"
"Sure, it’s 1894."
"You’ve been asleep for a hundred years."
Act II: "Blast From The Past"
Billy sighed and tried again. He’d been at it for hours, but somehow, he just wasn’t getting through....
"I know this is a little hard to grasp, Brisco, but it really is 1994. This is Los Angeles—probably a little different than you remember...."
The bounty hunter leaned back in his chair. "You could say that again, Mister."
"That’s ‘Doctor’, actually...Doctor Hayes. But, please, call me Billy."
"Billy—can you run that by me again?"
"Okay, one more time. You were found in a cave in the desert in a kind of...coffin-thing. From what you’ve told me, you were there for a hundred years. Now, scientifically, that’s impossible, but—here you are."
"I was supposed to be in this ‘suspended animation’ thing of the professor’s for three days. How did I wind up here?"
"That’s what we need to find out. I’ve called a friend of mine in Washington." He glanced at his watch. "His plane should be landing right about...now. Just hang on until he gets here, and everything will be fine. It will be. It has to be."
"I hope you’re right."
Billy surreptitiously crossed his fingers behind his back. "Sure I’m right. You’ll see."
Finding a cab at LAX was always a hassle, and Jonathan moved his bag to the other shoulder. Benny whistled from the other side of the lobby, and Jonathan made his way over with a sigh.
"Lookee here, Jon-Boy—I found somebody I want you to meet. Jonathan MacKensie, I’d like you to meet my old buddy, Fox Mulder, and this is his partner—"
"Dana Scully." The slim redhead stuck out her hand and Jonathan took it with a flash of his patented smile. "FBI."
"FBI...? Benedek, what’s going on here?"
"Mulder and Dana are here for the same reason we are. You remember my FBI source? Well—here he is."
Fox nodded his head with a half-bow, and Dana gave him a look that Jonathan could well sympathize with.
"I see you’ve got one too," he murmured into her ear, pleased to see the ghost of a smile flit across her face.
"Well," Benny continued, rubbing his hands together. "It’s a whole lot easier to get one cab than two. After all, we’re all going to the same place—and I’d say we need to get there as soon as possible."
"Where are we going?" asked Jonathan. "You still haven’t told me what’s going on!"
"I’d like to be let in on it too," added Dana. "You two obviously know what’s happening here—and you’d better come clean, Mulder. I think I’ve given you enough leeway."
"Okay. Here it is. Two days ago, a casket was found in the middle of a desert. It was hidden in the rear of a cave on a tract of land that had been a private ranch until recently when it became government property. Normally, the casket would have just been buried, but as they were moving it, something inside groaned. The movers contacted the Humanidyne Research Institute, and the casket was given into the care of Doctor Billy Hayes. Billy was experimenting on the exterior of the casket until this morning, when he decided to open it...what he found inside convinced him to call in an expert. Being a friend of mine, Billy called me, and I called Benny. He’s expecting us."
"Then let’s get to it," Benny grinned, whistling down a cab. "Time’s a-wasting."
The cab was crowded with four in it, even though Benny sat in the front and turned back to talk to Fox. Jonathan found himself in very close proximity to Dana Scully and shrugged apologetically.
"Is he always like this too?" he whispered, and Dana smiled faintly.
"How does he fit in with the Bureau?"
"Not well. Most of the other agents call him ‘Spooky.’ They think he’s nuts."
"What about you?"
"I’ve come to wonder...."
"So have I." Jonathan shifted his bag to give her more room. "How long have you been working with Agent Mulder?"
"About nine months now. It has been fascinating."
"It’s been about eight years for me, and you wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve run into."
"Look, guys—" broke in Benny. "You can chit-chat later over a glass of Chianti. Right now, we’re here, and Hayes is expecting us. Let’s go!"
Reluctantly, Jonathan climbed out of the cab, helping Dana out, and letting his hand remain on hers a little longer than was absolutely necessary. She didn’t pull away, and he took that as an encouraging sign.
"Yo, Billy!" called Fox, waving at a slender blond man standing at the entry to a research building.
Beside him loomed a tall dark-haired man in Western garb—including a cowboy hat and a low-slung six-gun in a leather holster. The gunslinger’s arms were crossed over his chest, and he did not look amused.
"Isn’t it a bit early for Halloween?" Benny murmured to Jonathan. "Would you get a load of that gun?"
"Isn’t that a federal violation?" Scully whispered to Mulder.
"It isn’t concealed, is it?"
Billy ran down the steps to meet them, his companion following a bit more slowly.
"Mulder! You’ll never guess what was in the box—"
Fox and Benny stopped dead in their tracks and stared at the cowboy now that they had a better view, then turned to each other as one and cried out, "Brisco County, Jr.!"
Brisco pushed back his hat with a frown. "Do I know you?"
"No, sir," replied Fox, holding out his hand, "but we know you."
"Yeah," Benny added. "When we were kids, Mulder here and I used to spend two weeks every summer at my grandma’s in Brooklyn, and the Old West was one of our main topics of conversation in those days. We had every article and book we could find, and one of our favorite legends was the story of the fearless bounty hunter, Brisco County Jr., who simply vanished off the face of the Earth without a trace."
"But I didn’t vanish," protested Brisco. "Besides, the professor knew where I was...."
Jonathan saw a flash of dismay cross the man’s face and then disappear. "What happened to the professor?"
"Professor Albert Wickwire. He was conducting the experiment. He would never have just gone off and left me like that. Something must have happened to him!"
"Calm down, sir," soothed Scully gently. "I’m sure there is a logical explanation." Brisco turned his full attention on Dana, and Jonathan sighed. From the way her breath caught in her throat, he’d lost what little ground he had gained.
"Dana. Dana Scully."
"Miss Scully, I’m sure you know a thing or two, but I know Albert Wickwire. Oh, sure, he can be a little flighty, but when he starts a project, he doesn’t just abandon it. I—I’m afraid something happened to him."
"Why don’t we all go inside and sit down?" suggested Billy, taking Brisco’s arm and casting an anxious eye on the crowd of people who were starting to gather around. "Our guest here is a little hungry—"
"I’d say, after a hundred years, he’s entitled to be," Benny grinned, grabbing Brisco’s other arm.
Between the two of them, they managed to steer the bewildered bounty hunter into the building and down a corridor to a small break room with a table, chairs, and some vending machines.
"Here," said Billy, fishing in his pocket for some change, "get him a soda and something to eat. I’ll be right back."
Pulling out a chair for Dana, Jonathan took the change from Benny, who was arguing with Fox over whether to buy diet or regular, and pushed the button for a decaffeinated drink. The last thing they needed was to get the man nervous. Right now, he was taking things pretty well for a man who had supposedly been out-of-touch for a hundred years.
Watching Brisco examine the molded plastic table and chairs curiously, Jonathan wondered what it would be like to suddenly find oneself thrust into another time—and so much had happened in the last hundred years....
"So, tell me, Mr. County," Dana ventured—always the agent, Jonathan noted with amusement—"what is the last thing you remember?"
"Well..." Brisco sat back in his chair and took off his hat, twirling it idly in his hands. "It was a Tuesday evening, about sunset. The professor had finally convinced me that his plan could work, and I agreed to try it because he promised I’d be awake by Friday, and because—frankly—it was too great an opportunity to pass up. A chance to participate in something like this happens once in a lifetime—twice if you’re really lucky...but this—this is a development I never expected."
"That’s understandable," put in Fox. "The odds of something like this are—astronomical. Surviving a hundred years chained in a casket—"
"Did you say ‘chained’?" asked Brisco sharply.
"Why, yes. When they found the box, it was chained and padlocked and hidden in the back of a cave. They unchained the casket, and found you inside with—"
"—This," finished Billy, stepping into the room and holding out a slim column of what looked like blue glass tipped in gold.
"An orb rod," murmured Brisco, reaching out and taking the object. A bright blue lightning seemed to dance from his fingertips and down the tube. "That explains a lot of things."
Brisco felt a chill finger trace down his spine at the sight of the orb rod, and fragments of conversations replayed in his head: "It’s not your time to die...touch the orb." "You have abilities that you don’t even know you have." "It has powers...."
A touch of vertigo forced him to close his eyes and take a deep breath, and then he took the rod from Hayes.
The familiar ripple of energy surged through his fingers and out into the rod. "An orb rod. That explains a lot of things," he murmured, more to himself than to the others. If an orb was involved, the professor must have been hiding something from me...unless he didn’t know about it either. But how could that be?
With a gasp of alarm, Brisco almost dropped the rod as pictures began flooding into his mind. The professor puttering around his barn; the casket sitting on sawhorses in the light of a lantern; a figure in the shadows—dressed in black; the light of the lantern limning the golden hair and rough, angelic features of a demon.
"Bly..." Brisco whispered as he felt the blood rush from his face. Bly in the barn? What had happened to the professor?
"I’ve got to find that barn." He pushed to his feet.
"Whoa there, cowboy!" The man with the gray suit laid a restraining hand on his arm. "Correct me if I’m wrong, Billy, but there’s not a whole lot of a prayer that a barn would still be standing in this high-rent district. There’s been a lot of build-up in a hundred years."
"I don’t know..." Billy answered. "We found a Mayan tomb under Beverly Hills once...but it is unlikely."
"I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to know what happened to the professor."
"Perhaps the library would have some information," Dana offered. "I’m pretty good at research. I’d like to help."
Brisco looked down at her gratefully, with a single nod of his head. "You’re right. That makes a lot more sense. But what about the cave? Can I see that?"
"Billy...?" Fox shrugged.
"Well, it’s about an hour from here by car. It would be dark before we could get there tonight. Why don’t we all go over to the apartment until morning? That way we’ll all get some rest, and we’ll be able to see what we’re doing."
"Sounds like a plan," nodded Fox.
"Good. I’ll bring the van around front."
While Billy was gone, Brisco tried to assimilate all the new information he’d had hurled at him in the last few hours. This is the world I’ve been looking for all my life—the ‘coming thing’—he thought, absently sipping the liquid from the can he had been given.
He made a face and pushed it away. Like drinking straight sugar water. What I wouldn’t give for a sarsaparilla—or, better yet, a good old-fashioned shot of whiskey.
He glanced around the room again, fascinated by all the things these people took for granted—like those tubes of light in the ceiling...much more efficient than the electric lamps I saw back home.
And the machines that could keep these drinks of theirs cold—or hot, as attested to by the steaming cup of coffee in Dana’s hand. There was a little box called a ‘microwave oven’ where Benny had stuck a pastry and pulled it out with a warning of "Careful, it’s hot."
It’s so hard to absorb it all. This isn’t at all what I had in mind when I wanted to find that opportunity around the next horizon. For one thing, I never actually expected to catch up to it….
Billy came back into the room again. "The van is right outside." He led the way out of the building to an ice cream van badly in need of a paint job.
"It’s kind of the unofficial Misfits assault vehicle," he explained with a grin. "You’d be surprised how often a full-size freezer comes in handy. Besides," he pulled out a handful of frozen treats, "you’ve always got a snack with you." He passed out ice cream to anyone who would take it and climbed behind the wheel.
Brisco looked down at the frozen confection with a frown. It wasn’t like what considered ice cream...but why not, he shrugged, taking a tentative bite. At least it’s better than that soda they offered me.
He sat down on the freezer unit between Dana and Fox. Jonathan was up front with Billy, and Benny seemed perfectly happy on the floor of the van, bracing his feet against the freezer.
"So, Brisco," began Benedek, "what do you think of the place?"
"It isn’t like the Los Angeles I knew, that’s for sure."
"You get used to it," Billy called back over his shoulder.
The thought was sobering. The last thing I want to do is get used to the twentieth century. All I want is to go home.
They settled in at Billy and El’s tiny apartment with the minimum possible fuss, and Billy took Fox and Benny to the grocery store for supplies. Jonathan and El were having a discussion on Mayan burial ritual in the living room. And Dana suddenly realized that someone was missing.
She found him outside on the porch, leaning against the rail and staring up at the stars. Despite the reflected light of the city, it was a beautiful display.
"Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?" she asked softly.
"What?" Brisco looked down at her, eyes completely hidden by the shadow of his hat in the half-gloom.
"Whether there is something out there...I never even took the possibility seriously before I met Mulder. If I had met you last year, I would automatically have assumed that you were in need of psychiatric evaluation."
"Thanks," drawled Brisco. "That makes me feel so much better."
Dana felt the blood rush to her cheeks. "I didn’t mean that the way it sounds...it’s just that I would never have even considered the possibility that time-travel could occur...."
"I guess it didn’t really...I mean, I didn’t skip through time, I just slept through it."
"I can’t imagine what it must be like," she murmured.
"I wouldn’t recommend it," he replied dryly. "I climbed into that box expecting to be in Santa Fe by Wednesday, and I woke up 360 miles and 100 years away."
"If there’s a way back, Mulder will find it."
"What if there isn’t, Dana? What if I’m stuck here?"
"I guess we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."
He turned away, staring out over the starlit water. "I don’t think I have the toll."
"Tell you what," said Dana at breakfast the next morning, "why don’t I go ahead and go to the library while you go out to the cave. That way we kill two birds with one stone."
"That makes sense," Jonathan nodded. "Why don’t I come with you...?"
Brisco hid a smile behind a cough. The Englishman was even less subtle than Socrates Poole. The thought brought a sudden stab of pain. What had happened to Soc without him? When the lawyer had been coming along so nicely.... Did Iphigenia ever find a husband? Did Bowler get himself killed collecting some damn-fool bounty? And what about Dixie...?
His heart contracted at the thought of Dixie Cousins. They had gone through so much together...hell, he had even toyed with the idea of proposing to Dixie, but somehow he’d never gotten around to taking that final step....
"Uh, look. Do you have a piece of paper and a pencil?" he asked Dana.
"Of course." She pulled them out of the slim briefcase she carried.
"While you’re at the library, could you look up a few people for me?"
"It’s not that simple, Brisco—"
"Please..." He focused everything he had behind the smile, "...for me?"
She blushed and looked away, and from the bemused glance Fox threw Benny, this wasn’t a common reaction. "I’ll try."
"Thanks." He scrawled down the names of his closest friends on the piece of paper, suppressing a shiver at the realization that no matter what had become of them, they had all been gone a long time.
He passed her the paper. "Anything you can tell me...I’d be grateful."
He settled his hat and pushed back his chair with a sigh. "Well, I guess there’s no point in sitting around here any longer. Let’s get to it." He stood and turned, to find his path blocked by Billy and El.
"Brisco..." said Billy. "Look, you’ve spent some time with El here now, and you know he’s an okay guy—you can trust him. Heck, even I trust him."
"Thanks, Billy. I’ll remember that when the landlord calls," commented El dryly.
Billy grinned. "Anyway, I’d like you to let him hold on to that for you while we’re at the cave." Billy pointed to the pistol hanging at Brisco’s side, and Brisco automatically dropped a defensive hand to the grip. "You can get it back when we meet him at the Institute later."
"I don’t think so—" Brisco began.
"Look, Brisco," broke in Fox, "I know that you know how to handle yourself, but that gun is only asking for trouble. It isn’t necessary. People just don’t carry guns on the streets anymore—legally, that is."
"This isn’t just a gun to me...."
"I can sympathize with your concerns, sir," added El, "but it really would be safer to leave the pistol behind. I’ll take good care of it," the big black man promised, holding out his hand.
Reluctantly, Brisco unbuckled the worn gunbelt and handed it to the scientist, after slipping his sheathed belt knife into his pocket. "Let’s get this over with," he grumbled, adjusting his hat and striding for the door.
Benny, Billy, and Fox followed eagerly. Jonathan shrugged and held the door for Dana.
"So what makes it run?" Brisco asked Billy, as the harried driver tried to answer endless questions about the van and still keep his mind on the road. Now that Brisco had gotten a taste of automotive travel, he was ready to become an expert....
"It’s an internal combustion engine...I think. Uh, look, Brisco, I’m really no mechanic..."
Billy sighed. He really wished Brisco would let him drive in peace. The bounty hunter was almost as bad as Gloria had been when she first got her license....
"You know, I’d heard about automobiles, but last night was the first time I’d ever been in one." He stood beside Billy in the front of the ice cream van. "Could I try driving it?"
"Uh, sorry, big guy," Billy demurred, even the thought sending a shiver through him. "That would be against the law, and I think the last thing we need is to explain to the cops why you don’t have a license."
"Oh. Yes, that could be a problem. Is it much further to this cave?"
"Not too far—but I don’t know what you expect to find there."
"Neither do I. I just know that the professor wouldn’t have left me in the dark—"
"—Well, technically, that’s where you were," Benny commented.
Brisco turned to him. "But that couldn’t have been the professor’s doing. He is—was—absent-minded, and more than a little eccentric, but he wouldn’t have chained me up like that unless he had a really good reason. No, it sounds more like the work of someone else I know—"
"John Bly!" chorused Fox and Benny.
"You two are beginning to get scary," Brisco muttered, pushing back his hat. "How do you know so much about my life?"
"Most of it came from one book, a sort of biographical novel by a man named Socrates—"
"—Poole! Soc wrote a book about me?" A grin stole across Brisco’s face. "What do you know about that? I didn’t know he had it in him."
"It was really very well written," Benny added. "Had a major influence on my style."
"Did he write anything else?"
Benny and Fox exchanged a glance. Billy sensed this w as not going to be good....
"Well?" Brisco prompted.
"Uh, as I recall," Fox murmured, "he...died soon after the book was published. I’m sorry...."
Brisco sank down on the box that served as the front passenger seat. "Gee...I guess I’ve got to get used to the idea that everyone is dead...it’s—it’s just a little hard to accept. I mean, I just saw Socrates on Monday, and Dix—" He buried his face in his hands. "Hell."
The rest of the drive was silent. Billy felt the tension radiating from Brisco. The others were being uncharacteristically sensitive and staying quiet as the bounty hunter brooded.
"We’re here," announced Billy after a few minutes, pulling the van to a halt behind a towering rock formation out-of-sight of the road. A barricade in front of a gaping cavern warned that this was government property, and trespassers would be arrested.
"Good thing we brought our own G-man," Benny grinned, clapping Fox on the shoulder.
"Yeah, well remember my reputation," Fox countered, taking the large flashlight Billy passed him. "We’d be a whole lot better off not getting caught."
Brisco was already out of the van and standing before the cave, hat tilted back to see better. "I’ve been here before...."
"C’mon. Let’s get inside," Billy urged nervously. "We’re really not supposed to be here."
"I thought you said it was all right—"
"Yeah...well, I lied." Billy pushed Brisco into the cave, and the others followed.
The beams of the flashlights augmented the dim rays of the sun that managed to penetrate beyond the entrance of the cavern to illuminate its large, empty chamber. The cave was bare except for scattered piles of rock around the walls.
"It may have been used as a store house at some point," Billy commented, his voice echoing in the open room, "but if so, it’s been abandoned for a long time. The casket was over here." He led the way to the rear of the cavern, where a particularly large fall of rock had created a kind of alcove. "Some of this rock may have originally buried the casket," he explained, "but the last quake seems to have shifted it somewhat." He pointed the flashlight at a relatively clear spot in the rubble. "That’s where they found you."
Brisco went down on one knee and examined the area closely in the concentrated light of the flashes. A frown creased his forehead as he searched among the stones. What he wouldn’t give for Bowler’s tracking skills right now....
"What’s that?" asked Benny curiously, training his beam on a flat rectangular shape half-hidden by rock.
Brisco pulled out a small metal box, covered with rust, but still in one piece. Cautiously, he pried back the catch with his belt knife.
"Where did that come from?" Billy groaned. "Do you know the kind of trouble we could—"
Carefully, Brisco opened the lid of the box. Inside was an oilskin packet. He broke the wax seal on the packet and unfolded it. A single sheet of folded paper, brittle with age, lay inside.
"It’s addressed to you," commented Fox, leaning over Brisco’s shoulder.
"Right." Taking a deep breath, Brisco slowly unfolded the letter:
Congratulations—if you are reading this little missive, it means that you have managed to foil my plans yet again—you are, as ever, eminently resourceful. My only consolation lies in the hope that it will be too late to disrupt my grand scheme. You may ask why I did not simply open the casket and put a bullet through your brain as you lay helpless—well, where’s the poetry in that?
Being a scholar and a man of refinement, I have no doubt that you are familiar with the works of a Mr. Edgar Allan Poe? Specifically, "The Black Cat" and "The Premature Burial" come to mind—both tales of untimely interment. These were the inspirations that led me to simply chain the casket in the belief that either you will sleep for eternity, or, if I am lucky, you will waken screaming to find yourself helplessly entombed. Of course, as I say, in either of those scenarios, you will never read this letter. But, hey—knowing your blind luck—there is always a chance you will awaken to find yourself unfettered and alive. Anticipating that eventuality, I just wanted to let you know that I have made it my personal duty to insure that your friends will meet with unfortunate circumstances in your absence. I believe I will begin with the ever-charming Miss Cousins....
Think on that a while.
John Bly, Esquire
Brisco crumpled the note to dust.
Act III: "Friends in High Places"
Dana Scully sighed and flipped off the microfilm viewer, resting her forehead on her hand.
"What is it?" asked Jonathan anxiously.
"Another dead end. I can’t find anything about any of these people after the time that Brisco disappeared. It’s like they all vanished from the face of the Earth with him."
"But that’s impossible. From what Brisco told us, they were all important in their given fields—or at least well enough known to be missed. For example, if Socrates Poole was a lawyer, he had to be registered with the Bar—"
"And he was. Until 1894. Late in that year, he wrote a book about the exploits of Brisco County, Jr.—probably the one that Mulder and Benny are constantly talking about. And in December, he appears to have married a Myra Simon—better known as Dixie Cousins. Then they both vanished from the records. There’s no record of property, no children, not even a death certificate."
"Wasn’t there an earthquake in San Francisco in 1906? Perhaps that simply destroyed the records. It wouldn’t have been so unusual for the time."
"Maybe not, but I think it’s rather unusual that the Pooles left a trust fund account in a San Francisco bank that is now worth two million dollars. The principle is managed by an organization in Utah for orphaned children called "Lake House" which operates off the interest. There is a standing offer to turn over the principle to anyone who can prove they are descendants."
"You’d think somebody would be interested."
Jonathan stared. "I’ll say. That’s quite a hefty sum."
"It’s nothing compared to what Joe Echohawk, alias ‘Lord Bowler’ left his heirs. Apparently, he had a wife and a little girl."
"Brisco never mentioned them."
"I doubt he knew. They were estranged, but Bowler never severed the relationship. The wife was blind, and seems to have spent a great deal of her time in hospitals. Many of the bounties he collected went to pay the medical fees. However, he also managed to put a little away for a rainy day—today it’s worth about seven million dollars—but Bowler himself went out on the trail of a John Bly in mid-1894 and was never heard from again. Until that time, his exploits were every reporter’s dream—they made headlines in every paper from Montreal to Mexico City. After July, they just stopped. Again, there’s no death certificate—and apparently the family believed he was still alive, somewhere. His wife moved to Nevada to teach, but never remarried, and his daughter walked down the aisle at her wedding alone, refusing to let anyone else give her away."
"How did you find out all of this?"
"There was an article interviewing a descendant of Bowler’s in People magazine last year."
"What about this...Professor Wickwire?" Jonathan asked, glancing down at his notes.
"He was rather well known as a crackpot up and down the coast of California. Actually, many of his inventions were just ahead of his time—today they are common concepts. The man was a genius. And, in 1894, he also vanished, leaving behind one daughter and four ex-wives. His daughter searched for years, but never found a clue as to what had happened to him."
"What do you think happened to them?"
"That’s something I’d like to ask Brisco."
"Shall we go back to the Institute?"
"There’s one more thing I’d like to check...." Dana turned again to the viewer.
Jonathan settled back to wait.
The return trip to the Institute was silent. Brisco brooded about Bly’s letter, and the others didn’t appear inclined to disturb him. He couldn’t get Bly’s threat out of his head.
What hope did Dixie have against Bly without me? I should have been there! This is what comes of that stupid attraction to ‘the coming thing.’ Never satisfied with what I had, I always wanted more.... I never even gave her the one thing she needed most from me—commitment.
The van pulled up to the Institute. Standing on the steps were an agitated bespeckled man that Brisco had never seen before and an obviously placating Dana Scully. Jonathan leaned against the wall with El, and both looked upset. At the bottom of the steps stood two men in black suits, one of them speaking into a walkie-talkie.
"Billy—turn this van around. Now!" Fox murmured tightly.
"Everyone out of the van," ordered a harsh voice.
"Too late," Benny groaned.
"Let me handle this," urged Fox, stepping out of the van. "What seems to be the trouble here?"
"Agent Dobson, FBI."
"Fox Mulder, Washington bureau."
"We are aware of your identity, Agent Mulder—and that of your companions. Particularly Mr. County—"
"—If you are aware of my identity, then you should realize that this case falls under my jurisdiction. I don’t understand what’s going on here. How did you become aware of this situation anyway?"
"That is none of your concern. All that you need to know is that your presence is no longer required."
"You’re being relieved of the case, Agent Mulder. Mr. County is coming with us."
Brisco stepped out of the van. "And what makes you think I’ll do that?"
Dobson dropped his hand unobtrusively to his waist. The butt of a pistol peeked from beneath his coat.
Brisco’s left hand went automatically to his own gun—then he glowered at Fox and Billy.
"It would be much simpler for everyone if you just came quietly," Dobson continued, taking Brisco’s arm.
"Mulder—" Brisco began, feeling the panic begin to rise.
"Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of this," Benny promised. "I’ve got some powerful connections—"
"—Which will do you no good, Mr. Benedek, I assure you," broke in Dobson as he hustled Brisco toward a black limousine parked nearby.
Brisco glanced back over his shoulder as Dobson forced him into the car. His new friends clustered on the steps...he wondered if he would ever see them again.
"Where are you taking me?" Brisco demanded of the silent figure beside him as the big car pulled out onto the road.
There was no answer. "Fine, then you won’t mind if I leave."
He put his shoulder to the door of the limousine and prepared to leap from the vehicle. After all, I’ve dived from a runaway stagecoach...plenty of times. This shouldn’t be too hard.
Brisco flung the door open—and jerked back, heart pounding. The pavement seemed to fly beneath the wheels of the car as he fought to shut the door.
"I wouldn’t advise that, Mr. County."
"So," Brisco began, as he finally managed to slam and latch the door, "you decided to talk after all."
"Your cooperation is in your own best interest, Mr. County."
"Look, I don’t know who you are, or what you want, and I have no intention of cooperating with anyone until I do."
"We’re with the National Security division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Your presence here has been deemed a security risk."
"To whom? Look, I didn’t ask to come here, and all I want to do is go home. So if you’ll just pull this thing over—"
"That’s impossible, Mr. County. You are wanted in Washington."
"That’s three thousand miles away."
"Just over 2700, actually." Dobson glanced at the sleek band on his wrist. "We’ll be there by this afternoon."
"Yeah, right. If we could fly," Brisco scoffed. "You got a balloon stashed somewhere?"
The car pulled into a private airstrip where a small craft was waiting. "Oh, I think we can do better than that," answered his companion dryly.
The agent took Brisco’s arm and pulled him out of the car. "Come along."
"What is that thing?" asked Brisco dubiously as he was led toward the plane. "Hey, watch it...there’s no need to shove."
Dobson pushed Brisco up the gangway and into the plane. He forced the bounty hunter into a seat and reached across to fasten the seatbelt. Brisco fought against him as a mounting roar heralded the engines heating up.
"Let me out of here!"
Nodding his head at a second agent who had followed them from the limo, Dobson jerked down the left side of Brisco’s jacket.
"What the—?" Brisco protested, eyes widening at the sight of a syringe in the other’s hand. He fought harder to escape, then froze as a new sensation gathered beneath him. The craft was beginning to shake, and he glanced toward the window. The tarmac was beginning to slip past at an alarming rate, and even as he watched, the nose of the plane began to lift from the ground. "Oh...."
Brisco’s hands clutched the arms of the seat with white-knuckled tension as the plane rose into the air. He barely felt the prick as the syringe plunged into the side of his neck...then the world went black.
There was an immediate council of war in Billy’s tiny office. He swept all the junk on his desk to one side and perched on the edge. El offered his chair to Dana and Benny leaned on one side of the tall scientist’s pristine desk while Fox sat on the other corner. Jonathan stood behind Dana’s chair, while El leaned against the wall.
"The way I see it," began Billy, "we have a duty to rescue Brisco. I mean, after all—we’re partly responsible for him being in this mess. At least, El and I are, because we let him out—"
"You let him out, Billy. I told you it would be dangerous."
"He’s not a snake, El!"
"No, he’s just a prisoner of the FBI."
Billy held up a finger. "The operative word here is ‘prisoner.’ He was taken from here by force against his will. We can’t let them get away with that."
"So, what are you going to do, Billy?" asked El.
"I think a trip to Washington is in order," Benny murmured.
"Billy—don’t forget, the rent is due Monday."
"Don’t worry. We’ll charge it to the Institute," Benny grinned.
"What else is new?" grumbled Jonathan. "Benedek, I don’t think—"
"Hey, we’ll write him off as a consultant, JJ," Benny continued, clapping Billy on the shoulder.
"Works for me," Billy shrugged. A free trip to Washington suited him just fine.
"Great—so now you go gallivanting off to Washington just when Stetmeyer is screaming for a report on that analysis of Mr. Atlantis’ underwater breathing capacity."
"El, the man is in trouble here."
"If he’s been taken to Headquarters, we’d better hurry," broke in Fox, "people have been known to...conveniently disappear when the Big Brass gets the notion, and after all, Brisco isn’t even supposed to exist in this time-frame, so there’s no one to stop them but us."
"Mulder, you sound like a bad TV show. The FBI doesn’t go around making people disappear—" Dana muttered.
"Whatever," forestalled Billy, seeing the makings of a lengthy argument at hand. "I say we get moving. It’s better to be safe than sorry."
"Let’s move it," Benny agreed.
With a wave to El, Billy led the others out of the lab before the tall scientist could protest further. "By the way, Benny," Billy asked curiously, "you guys don’t need a consultant in Hawaii, by any chance, do you?"
"Dibs on the couch," Benny grinned, tossing his bag in the corner, "the bed in the guest room is a rack."
Billy Hayes murmured, "I really do appreciate this, Jonathan. The freedom to research at Humanidyne far outstrips the pay. But this consulting thing could grow on you...."
"Don’t get too used to it," Jonathan answered sourly.
"He’ll come around," Benny whispered to Billy with a grin.
"Look, you guys get settled. Scully and I are going to go down to Headquarters."
"Mulder—" began Dana.
"I know, I know...you get to do all the talking."
"Right." She smiled shyly at the others. "It’s been nice meeting you."
"We’ll be seeing more of each other," Jonathan smiled back. "Shall we meet back here later to compare notes?"
"Smooth talker. Mulder, Jon-Boy and I will take Billy and do a little research of our own. There may be something of use in the Register files. You and Dana be back here at 8:00—and bring Chinese."
They regrouped in the living room after the agents had left. "What’s our first move?" asked Billy.
"I’m sure Benedek will tell us," replied Jonathan wryly, looking at Benny expectantly."Frankly, I’m not sure. I’ll call Wick and see what he can come up with. The stuff Dana found at the library has me stumped. How could four fairly noteworthy people simply vanish?"
"It must be that there simply weren’t any records of their deaths—people don’t vanish."
"I’m calling the kid. Maybe he’ll be able to help. And call Randy too. She’s got access to every database in the country with that wonder toy of hers...including some she probably shouldn’t."
Benny dialed the Register automatically, and tapped the button to put the phone in speaker mode. The instrument had become an absolute necessity after a number of frustrating conversations in the early days of the Paranormal Investigations Team.
"National Register—you sight it, we’ll write it."
"Classy opening, Wicksey," laughed Benny.
Jonathan could almost see the young man on the other end of the line. Probably taking advantage of Benedek’s absence to lounge at the flamboyant reporter’s desk. "Oh, hi, Benny."
There was a muffled thud that sounded suspiciously like feet swinging from the desk to the floor.
"Look, kid. I need some information—"
"Before you say anything...the FBI was here. Jordy promised not to give you any files without their clearance."
Benny and Jonathan exchanged wide-eyed glances.
"What?" asked Billy.
"Jordy Kerner never backed off for anyone in his life. This is serious." Into the phone, Benny said casually. "Gotcha. Listen, Wick...do you remember that conversation we were having last week about the Old West?"
"You know...about scientific advances in the 1890’s?"
"We never...oh, right! The Old West. Now I remember."
Jonathan had to give the young reporter credit for quick pick up. He’d come a long way from the gangling kid that had called Carl Sagan for a quote on an Elvis sighting....
"You were telling me about that guy—what was his name, Benny?" Wick continued.
"Professor Albert Wickwire. That should be easy for you to remember. Could you look him up for me in the files—unofficially? No need to bother Jordy for authorization…but JJ and I have a bet riding on this one. Find something for me and I’ll split the pizza with you."
"Okay. I’ll see what I can do. Call ya later. Are you in New York?"
"Nah. We’re at Jon’s place. But we may be up there tomorrow."
"Okay. Be talking to you."
"Thanks, Wick. I owe you."
"I’ll add it to your bill. ‘Bye, Benny. ‘Bye, Jonathan."
"Goodbye, Wick," Jonathan answered.
There was a click and the sound of an open line. Benny was about to hang up their end when they heard a faint second click. He shot a grim look at Jonathan. "I don’t like the sound of that."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think someone was listening, Benny?" asked Billy.
"I think I’d be much happier if we went out for Chinese. Let’s go find Mulder and Dana."
"We can’t just waltz into FBI Headquarters!" Jonathan protested.
"So we’ll wait in the parking lot," Benny shrugged.
"Oh, yes. Brilliant plan," answered Jonathan sarcastically.
Benny grabbed his bag and pushed Jonathan toward the door. "Okay. You win. We’ll stay here. How ‘bout some TV?" He jerked his head toward the set as he manhandled Jonathan through the living room, and Billy vaulted the couch to turn it on.
"Yeah...there’s a Fright Night marathon on Channel 16 I’m dying to see. Thank God for cable," called out Hayes. "Got any popcorn?"
"I’ll make it in a sec. Got any beer, JJ?" Benny eased open the front door silently. The TV blared to an empty house as Billy slipped out the door behind them.
"Agent Scully, the matter is out of your hands. Good day."
"What will you do with Mr. County, sir?"
"He is being remanded to psychiatric care. Where is none of your concern. I’ve already told you more than you need to know."
"I appreciate that, sir. Will there be anything else?"
"No, Scully. That will be all."
She turned to the door.
The name froze her in her tracks. It wasn’t often that Assistant Director Skinner broke with formality. "Yes, sir?"
"Leave this one alone—for your own sake."
She opened the door, having to force herself not to slam it shut. In the hallway, Fox waited for her, leaning against the wall nonchalantly.
"Well?" he began eagerly, running to catch up with her as she strode past him. The tension in his voice belied the easy-going air he’d adopted.
"We’re off the case," she grated.
"Brisco is being transferred to a psychiatric care unit, and we have our next X-File assignment."
She turned her head toward him and mouthed the word "Outside," then continued aloud. "We leave for New York City in the morning."
Fox nodded to show that he’d gotten the message. "What are we dealing with?"
"It’s an interesting case...." She made up details for the mythical case as they continued outside. Fox nodded and commented as she talked.
Once they were clear of the building, and at the car, Dana allowed a little of her temper to flare. "Damn!" she swore, slamming her fist into the side of the car and wincing at the results.
"Careful there, sport. Insurance doesn’t cover that kind of damage," Fox teased. "How’s your hand?"
"I’ll live. Mulder—they are going to ship him off to some insane asylum and forget about him. Like he never existed. Totally sweep it under the rug."
"Well, what did you expect them to do? He’s 130 years old. You can’t let a guy who looks that good at his age run around loose, people will get ideas."
"Be serious! We’ve got to do something."
"Is this Dana Scully, the ‘if it isn’t in the Book, it doesn’t get done’ agent who was assigned my dead-end detail nine months ago, or are you a pod-person in disguise?"
"Let’s just say you’re rubbing off on me. A little. And I can’t stand to see an innocent man railroaded into a nut house for circumstances beyond his control."
"Are you saying that you believe Brisco’s telling the truth? That he’s not some lunatic with a fetish for the Old West?"
Dana felt her face grow hot. "What I believe isn’t that important. Keeping Brisco out of that hospital is."
"Why, Miss Dana—we’ll make a believer out of you yet."
She started to protest when a piercing whistle split the air. Glancing up, she caught sight of Benny and the others parked on the street across from the building. She pointed them out to Fox, and he nodded, waving at Benny.
Benny gestured down the street, and Dana nodded in turn, opening the car door. "Let’s go, Mulder. We’ve got work to do."
He straightened his hat with a self-conscious sigh, his hand falling instinctively to his side to adjust the gunbelt he no longer wore. Damn. I totally forgot about Dad’s pistol in the harried confusion at the Institute. Then there was the airplane—he still couldn’t get over the feeling of waking up and looking down on the ground from fifty thousand feet up. His stomach turned over reflexively. I rode in a hot-air balloon once in Boston...but it was nothing like that plane. And a trip that would have taken days to complete in 1894 was over in a matter of hours. The future definitely has its advantages....However, being locked up in this room isn’t one of them. He tried the door again, knowing that it wouldn’t open, but unwilling to sit idly by and do nothing. His keen ears heard something on the other side of the door, and he leapt to take a seat in his chair.
When the door opened, he was sitting tilted back on two legs of the chair with his boots on the table and his hat over his eyes. The newcomer cleared her throat, and Brisco pretended to wake up, pushing back his hat with a yawn. "What time is it?"
"It’s about 5:00 in the afternoon, Mr. County."
"Is that all? It feels much later."
"It’s the time difference between here and California."
"Honey, you don’t know the half of it," Brisco muttered. The young woman was pretty—she reminded him of somebody he knew, but the connection wouldn’t come....
"Never mind. Am I under arrest?"
"Then I’m free to go?"
"I’m afraid not."
"If I’m not under arrest, then you have no right to keep me here."
"I’m afraid it’s not that simple...."
"I’d like to contact a lawyer. I believe I have that right."
"Mr. County, I sympathize with your position, I really do." She shoved her blond hair out of her eyes impatiently. "I know how you must feel—"
"No. I don’t think you do. Unless you’ve been forced clear across the country, deprived of your rights, and held against your will, I don’t think you have a clue."
The young woman flushed and looked away. "You’re right. It was a stupid thing to say. It must be rather a shock to you to find yourself locked up like this."
"You could say that."
"It won’t be for long, I promise. Now, I’ve been delegated to ask you a few questions...."
"—But don’t expect answers."
She looked over at the mirror nervously. Brisco followed her glance. What is the attraction between a pretty girl and a mirror...?
"Mr. County, you appeared at the Humanidyne Research Institute under mysterious circumstances. Can you explain why you were chained in that casket?"
Brisco shook his head sympathetically. "They work you too hard, darlin’. No one can survive chained in a casket. I’d assume that’s why you chain one in the first place—to make sure whatever’s inside stays dead."
She tensed then visibly forced herself to relax, murmuring tightly, "Look, I don’t want to do this any more than you want me to. If you’ll answer my questions like a good little cowboy then maybe—just maybe—we’ll get through this and come out the other side. Now, how did you get in that casket and when?"
"I think it was after this New Year’s Eve party...."
"Mr. County—this is very serious." She looked at the mirror again, shoulders lifting in an almost imperceptible shrug.
Suddenly, something clicked. Wait a minute!
Brisco remembered standing with Bowler and Professor Wickwire in a California classroom and watching the Schwenke twins at work beyond one of the professor’s new inventions—a mirror with two-way glass....
Time to change tactics. He sat forward, leaning in to her confidentially. "Look, I don’t mean to be disagreeable," Brisco began, turning on the charm, "it’s just that I’m tired, hungry, and I could use a bath. When do I get out of here?"
"Soon, sir. They are making the arrangements now."
Brisco brought his chair upright with a crash. "Arrangements? What ‘arrangements’?"
"Don’t worry," she soothed, "everything will be fine."
She hesitated. "Smith. Anne Smith."
He sensed she was lying, but pretended to accept it. "Miss Smith, I’ve had a rather hard time of it in the last twenty-four hours, and I’m not thinking too clearly, but I do know enough to know that I have a right to free passage from this room unless you can give me a legitimate reason why I’m being held."
"It’s a matter of National Security, Mr. County."
Brisco’s jaw dropped. "Excuse me?"
"I can’t go into details. Suffice to say that the situation exists." She fussed with the file she held in her hands. "I-I’m sure they will fill you in later."
"Fill me in?"
"This isn’t the time, Mr. County." She stood up and pushed her chair in. "I must be going now."
"Please—" He put a hand on her arm. "What’s going on here?"
"I-I can’t tell you that. Don’t ask me to...please."
"Help me out of here," he urged softly.
"I can’t," she whispered, pulling free gently. "I’m sorry." She looked at the door and bit her lip. "I must be going now." She glanced over her shoulder at the mirror, and he frowned. "Good luck."
She slipped out the door, and he listened for the click of the lock. It didn’t come.
Brisco stared at the door, then glanced at the mirror. This might be his only chance. He opened the door and slipped out into the hallway. Anne was nowhere in sight.
He looked up and down the corridor. Which way was out? He didn’t really remember how he’d gotten here. The trip in from the airport was rather a blur.
"Heads or tails?" he murmured, then caught his breath as a flash of memory brought the picture of Socrates and Comet fighting over a stall in a Mexican barn.... I really loved that horse.
With a sigh, he hurried down the hall to the left.
Luck was with him in that he found an exit...unfortunately it was in the center of a busy lobby. Taking a deep breath, he pulled off his hat and jacket, draping the latter casually over his arm. He strode purposefully across the lobby, whistling tunelessly as he tried to look inconspicuous.
He made it to the doorway and was congratulating himself on his good fortune when he felt a hand at his elbow. Instinctively, he swung around, fist raised. There was a grim-faced man beside him.
Deciding that it was no time to be discreet, Brisco hauled back his fist and smashed it into the man’s jaw, hitting the door with his shoulder on the follow through. He was out on the steps at a run.
There were cries behind him, and he sped for freedom. Throwing a glance over his shoulder, he started across the street. A screech of brakes and the blast of a horn whipped his head around.
Brisco stopped dead, staring in disbelief as a Lincoln Towncar bumped lightly into his shin. Recovering his wits at the sound of approaching pursuit, he ran to the passenger side of the Towncar and tore open the door. He dived inside, slamming the door behind him.
Brisco waved the driver forward. "Go!"
The man glanced at the crowd of people pouring toward them down the steps. "Those men are FBI. Why shouldn’t I just sit here and let them come and get you?"
"Please, let’s just get the hell out of here. I’ll explain everything."
"I don’t know what kind of trouble you are in, but if it’s money you want...."
"I’m not a thief...all I want is to get away from here. Please. I’m just...in a little trouble, that’s all."
"I can believe that. That is FBI Headquarters you’re running from."
The driver looked over at the men hurrying toward them. One of the agents drew a bead on the car, and Brisco ducked as the bullet shattered the window behind him.
"They must want you pretty bad to be shooting on a public street!" the driver exclaimed, examining the damage. "Someone’s liable to get killed like that!"
"Yeah, and it probably will be me. Now, will you just drive? Please!"
"I’m going to regret this...." The man moved the car forward into traffic. "Look, Mister—"
"County. Brisco County."
The black man slammed on the brakes a second time and Brisco was thrown forward into the dash.
"What are you trying to pull?"
"Then you do recognize the name!"
"Should I?" hedged the driver, stepping on the gas and pulling ahead.
"I don’t know. You tell me."
"Look, County—stop beating around the bush—"
Brisco laughed; the first real laugh he’d had in days. "You sound just like him."
"How much do you know about your family history?"
"A great deal, as it so happens."
"You had an ancestor who called himself ‘Lord Bowler’, didn’t you?"
"Maybe I did."
Brisco chuckled. "You know, I never did know for sure which alias was his real name...but he was always there when I needed him."
"That was his real name. Joseph Mitchell Echohawk."
"You favor him, you know."
"So I’ve been told. Now, you want to tell me why you’re running from the FBI? And this better be good."
"It’s a long story."
"I’ve got time, and I love a good story—that’s why I’m I'm a newsman. Mitchell Baldwin, FYI."
"F what?" Brisco recoiled against the door.
"F Y I—For Your Information. It's a television program."
"Never mind. What’s your story?"
"Well, it all started in 1894...." Brisco told Mitchell the whole story.
"And you expect me to believe all this?"
Brisco shrugged. "It’s the truth."
"Sounds like something out of the National Register," scoffed Mitchell.
"People keep saying that...."
"No wonder. Look, I’m not saying that I believe all this...but supposing for the moment that I do—where will you go now? I’m surprised we don’t already have a police escort. I know they got my license number. We don’t have much time."
"You’re right," Brisco frowned. "But I don’t really know where to go next."
"These friends of yours—can you contact them?"
"I wasn’t expecting to get separated. I’m not sure where they are."
"We’ll start with the phonebook."
Mitchell pulled the car into a large parking garage under a multi-story office building. "This is where our production services are housed. We can use the phone in my office. And I’d better call my lawyer."
"I’m a lawyer—"
"Oh yeah? Read any good law books lately?"
"Oh...I guess there have been a few changes."
"Just a few." Mitchell led the way into the building. They stepped into the elevator, and Mitchell reached past Brisco to push the correct button.
"Hold on to your hat," Mitchell cautioned.
"I’ve been in elevators before," Brisco muttered, crossing his arms at his chest, "you guys all think we were—are—totally uncivilized!"
"My apologies." Mitchell pushed the button.
Brisco grabbed the waist-high hand rail as the floor seemed to fall out from under him. "What the—?"
"There’ve been a few improvements," Mitchell grinned.
Brisco continued to keep his grip on the hand rail until the car stopped and the door opened. He was the first one off the elevator, and he leaned up against the wall with a deep sigh.
"Don’t worry. It gets easier." Mitchell turned his key in the lock.
Once inside the suite, Brisco stood at the window, gazing out over the town as Mitchell tried to put through their calls.
"It’s amazing..." murmured Brisco softly.
"Where the world has gotten in the past hundred years. There have been so many advances—"
"Oh, I don’t know. Holographic entertainment—now there would be an advance. And it will happen. Has to. It’s the coming—"
"—Coming thing," Brisco finished his sentence with him. "I never knew how much I’d come to hate those four little words."
"What do you mean?"
"Never mind." Brisco wandered around the office admiring the decor. "You’ve done pretty well for yourself, Mitchell."
"A lot of the credit goes to Great-Grandpa Joe."
"Sure. He left my great-grandmother and my grandmother very well off when he disappeared."
"Yeah. In 1894. He went out after John Bly, and was never heard from again. They never found any evidence one way or the other about what had become of him."
Brisco felt a chill run down his spine. An image flashed through him of a hired gun dissolving into a million little pieces then disappearing. "Bly."
"At least he left them well-provided for. Great-Grandma Elizabeth couldn’t see, and my grandmother was about ten at the time."
"I never even knew he was married."
"Yeah? Well, apparently, there was a lot you didn’t know about him."
"I guess you’re right," Brisco replied sadly. "And the worst part is, he was one of my closest friends."
"There’s no answer at Mulder or Scully’s number, but I think you should listen to this." Mitchell redialed the phone and held it up so Brisco could hear.
After two rings, the phone picked up. "Hello...?" Brisco began tentatively.
"Shh—there’s no one there. Just listen."
Benny’s voice filtered through the phone. "Doctor Jack will soon be back. Don’t give up. We’re heading ‘em up and moving to the Metroplex for a few days. This means you, cowboy. Adios. Leave it at the beep." There was a musical tone, and Mitchell hung up the phone.
"Sounds like they’ve left town. Where would they go?"
"Benny mentioned something about Brooklyn...."
"New York City. That makes sense. The Register is based there. We’ve got to get you up there without getting caught." Mitchell looked Brisco up and down. "First thing is to get you out of those clothes. You’re too conspicuous."
Brisco dropped his eyes to his standard gear. He loved these clothes...all of his daily wear was blue and tan. In fact, there were those who thought he only had one outfit to his name. "I don’t have any others."
"That’s okay. I’ll find you something." Mitchell tapped a long forefinger to his lips. "Uh-huh. I think I’ve got just the thing." He ducked into a doorway behind the desk and emerged with a midnight blue cable sweater and a pair of blue jeans. "These may be a little big, but they’ll have to do. You can change in there." He pointed Brisco into the other room, and Brisco went.
When he came out a few minutes later, pushing up his sleeves, Mitchell was on the phone. "That’s right, Miles. I said I would be out of town overnight. Is that too much pressure? I thought I could count on you...." The smile on Mitchell’s face gave Brisco the definite impression that he was enjoying torturing whoever was on the other end of that line, and the bounty hunter was grateful he wasn’t the target. "Oh, and Miles...there’s an envelope in the bottom drawer of my desk. If I don’t get back to you by tomorrow night, hand it over to Murphy, will you? She’ll know what to do with it.
"I’ll be talking to you, Miles," concluded Mitchell, hanging up the phone with a chuckle. "He’s so easy to aggravate. So. That looks much better. I’ve borrowed Miles’ car and lent him the Towncar, so that ought to buy us time and him a headache. I’ve left a written statement detailing the whole situation in case anyone tries to get cute, and I spoke to my lawyer.
"They are warming up the jet for us now, so we need to get going. If we hurry, we ought to be able to clear town before they realize we’re leaving. Of course, it won’t take them long to figure out where we’ve gone, but New York City is a big place, and with luck, our head start will hold."
Brisco exhaled noisily. "Boy, you’ve got this all thought out," he marveled, reaching for his hat. "One would think you’d had practice at this."
"Guess it’s the Bowler in me. Uh...Brisco, I think you’d better leave the hat."
"No point in changing your clothes if you carry that calling card."
"I’m sorry, but it’s got to stay behind."
Brisco stared at the well-worn brown leather hat in dismay. First his horse, then his gun, now his hat. He was losing his identity piece by piece. If he stayed here too much longer, he’d be another person all together....
Mitchell took one look at his woebegone face and relented. "Tell you what. I’ll take along your jacket and hat for you. Before you leave, I’ll give them back to you. Fair enough?"
Brisco sighed gratefully and nodded his head. "Fair enough. But...take care of it, will you? It’s got a lot of good wear left."
"I promise." Mitchell swept up the hat and jacket, throwing his own overcoat over his arm to screen them, and motioned Brisco ahead of him. "Let’s get going."
Brisco led Mitchell from the room with a last longing glance at his hat. "Can’t I just wear it on the plane...?"
"No," answered Mitchell emphatically, shutting the door behind them.
Act IV: "This Bud’s For You"
In New York City, Jonathan threw his bag down on Benny’s couch. "At least I have a guest room," he groused. "Whatever happens, I’m not sleeping on the floor again."
"Chill out, Jocko. We’ll work it out later. Right now, we’ve got to—"
The phone shrilled, and Benny reached to answer it. "Yeah? Talk to me." He hit the speaker button.
"Benny, it’s Mulder. Brisco’s missing."
"Missing! What do you mean missing?"
"As in gone—disappeared—vanished. Someone left a door unlocked, and he bolted. He broke three teeth on a Security Agent on his way out the door. He’s not a popular guy around here."
"That’s just great, Mulder."
"Don’t you think I know that, Benedek? He was seen getting into the car of one Mitchell Baldwin—network VP in charge of a national news show called FYI—"
"The one with Murphy Brown?" Jonathan gasped.
"That’s the one. And get this...Scully says the only surviving heir to one Joe Echohawk aka ‘Lord Bowler’ is—"
"—Mitchell Baldwin...." Benny ventured.
"Exactly. My guess is they will be headed your way. We may be able to slip up there later, but right now I’ve got two cars on my house and there’s a guy outside this phone booth who isn’t looking for a place to change his clothes."
"Gotcha. We’ll be on the alert. And Mulder…thanks."
"Any time, Benny. I still owe you for Gramercy Park." There was a click, and the buzz of a dead line.
"Why would they come to New York?" Jonathan asked his partner.
"Well, I’d say the message we left on your answering machine might be motivation...besides, all roads lead to NYC, Jon-Boy. Don’t you know that by now?"
"Right." The chill in Jonathan’s voice would have frozen lava.
"Ouch. Anyway, I think you should check in with Randy. Billy and I will try and figure out our next move."
Jonathan reached for the phone, and Benny stopped him. "Here." The reporter handed him a fistful of change. "There’s a pay phone on the corner. Call from there."
"Haven’t I taught you anything in all these years, Professor? Unless you want the FBI to knock on Randy’s door five minutes into the phone call, I’d suggest you use a public line. And Jonathan, watch your back." There was a note of seriousness in Benny’s tone that Jonathan had come to recognize as meaning that the situation was indeed desperate.
He gulped. "Right." Taking the change, he slipped out the front door of the apartment, nervously checking both directions in the corridor. No one was in sight, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He moved purposefully out of the building, never noticing the man who followed him out of the lobby.
The plane touched down smoothly, and Brisco turned to his companion with a grin. "I could get used to this."
"You might as well. You’re stuck with it. I don’t know how you got here, but I don’t think you are going back."
The thought was sobering. "I hope you’re wrong about that."
"I hope so too, Brisco.... You know, all my life I’ve heard stories about the resourcefulness of Brisco County. You’re not going to let me down and give up, are you?"
"Why not? You don’t really believe me anyway, do you?"
"Don’t ask me to answer that, Brisco."
"And besides, Mitchell...there’s something that bothers me."
"You said Bowler disappeared in 1894. It had to be after I was locked in the casket, because I’d spoken to him the week before. If I go back there and stop that disappearance—what happens to everybody here?"
Mitchell’s face grew grim. "I don’t know, Brisco. I just can’t get my mind wrapped around this time travel thing...but if I think about that, I’m not going to be able to justify helping you out. That may be selfish of me, but it’s true. If I think about how sending you back may alter my life...I’ll convince myself I’d rather turn you over to the FBI."
"I understand," Brisco sighed. "There’s got to be a way this all works out. If I could just think of it...."
"Well, we’re here now. Any idea what to do next?"
"We’ve got to contact Benny. That’s the first thing."
"Fine." Mitchell reached for the sky phone beside him. "I don’t think they had time to bug this line. We’ll call him now. Know his number?"
Mitchell rolled his eyes and dialed information. Nodding his head, he hung up and punched in another number. "Hello? Mr. Edgar Benedek, please—this is Miles Silverberg calling. I have a package to deliver to you. It’s from the offices of the Time Share Condominium Corporation. Apparently, you’ve won a rather large timepiece. A real antique." He listened for a moment to the speaker on the other end of the line. "I understand. Yes, that would be fine."
Brisco listened to Mitchell’s responses in a fever of impatience. "Well?" he whispered when Mitchell seemed in no hurry to talk to him.
Mitchell gestured impatiently for him to be quiet. "Uh-huh. All right. I’ll make sure to deliver your package safely. Good day." He hung up the phone and turned to Brisco.
"Well?" repeated the bounty hunter.
"They’re waiting for Dr. MacKensie to get back from making a phone call, but he’s already been gone longer than expected. Benedek didn’t say too much because he didn’t trust the line. He did say we should meet them in half-an-hour to plan our next move."
"That isn’t much time. Shouldn’t we be going?"
"Before we do, Brisco...I just wanted to say, if there’s a chance that you can save my great-grandfather, take it. Don’t worry about the future. We’ll take care of ourselves."
"First, I’ve got to find a way back," Brisco replied soberly.
"I see...fascinating. You’re sure, Randy?"
"Of course, I’m sure, Jonathan! I’ve checked all my facts three times, just like you taught me. This artifact definitely holds the key, and it goes on display at the Museum of Natural History on Friday."
"Where did it come from?"
"It’s owned by a man here in New York. Apparently it’s been in his family for generations. And Jonathan—it’s broken."
"What do you mean ‘broken’?"
"There’s a piece missing...from what you told me in Washington—it could be Mr. County’s rod."
Jonathan felt a shiver run through him. "If this orb thing is as powerful as Brisco says it is, how did the government allow it to stay in private hands? And will they actually permit it to be displayed?"
"Without the missing rod, it’s just another chunk of fascinating debris. I don’t think they fully realize the potential. But they do realize that the rod is the key, and that rod—and Brisco—are considered major threats to National Security. I’m afraid they might shoot first and ask questions much later."
Jonathan sighed heavily. "I see." He thought of the blue rod tucked safely into his overnight bag in Benny’s apartment—right next to a revolver with a hand-carved grip.... "I’ll tell Benny. Do you know where the orb can be found?"
"Yeah. It’s in the possession of a man named Buddy Ryan—no relation. His address is 555 W. 28th Street, the Bronx."
"555 28. Got it. I’ll call you as soon as we get back to Washington. ‘Bye, Randy."
"Be careful." There was a click and he hung up the phone slowly. A threat to National Security? How? Is the orb a weapon? Has Brisco been lying to us? We have only his word as to his identity. Perhaps his whole story really is as far-fetched as it seems, and he is really a foreign spy.
He shook his head with a self-deprecating grin. No...I don’t really believe Brisco is a spy—a lunatic maybe—but no spy.
Stepping out of the phone booth, he started back toward the apartment. Before he had gone more than a few steps, he found himself hemmed in by large men in dark suits and sunglasses, one of whom took his elbow firmly. "What’s going on here?" he protested, trying to pull away.
"Come quietly, Dr. MacKensie—it’s for your own good."
Swallowing hard, Jonathan allowed himself to be led away.
Brisco nursed a whiskey in the shadows of the dimly lit bar in which they waited. He was grateful for the drink—and very impressed with the smoothness. Some modern advances I like more than others.
The bar was a little on the run-down side, but there were no other patrons at this hour and only one entrance to watch. The fire exit at the end of the hall was half-blocked by crates of empty beer bottles. It would be very hard for anyone to sneak up on them here, and he was sure that Benny had had that in mind when he sited it as a rendezvous.
"An antique clock?" he repeated for the third time since Mitchell’s phone conversation.
"Hey, what do you want from me? Spontaneity was never my big thing. Besides, anything over a hundred years old is an antique."
Brisco took a gulp of his whiskey. "I just wish they’d get here so we can get on with this...whatever it is we have to do next."
He threw another look up at the strange box mounted above the bar. He’d heard of the fledgling "motion picture" industry where film images could be projected onto a screen, but apparently things had come a long way in this area too. There was a cacophony of sound mixed with an explosion of color and movement emanating from the "television" as Mitchell had dubbed the box. It was called a "movie", the executive had explained, the nickname that had sprung up for motion picture in this quick-paced world of the twentieth century.
A rather low-budget horror film. Brisco watched with disgusted fascination as the handsome protagonist revved up a mechanical saw and sliced off his own hand.
"Who watches this junk?" he asked Mitchell.
"I don’t know," shrugged the other, "but they made a sequel...."
Just then, the front door opened, spilling a bright wedge of late-afternoon sunshine into the gloomy interior. Brisco shaded his eyes with his hand, trying to see past the glare. Friend or foe...?
The door shut, and two figures came toward their table. Brisco tensed, ready to go out fighting if necessary.
"Yo, Brisco—am I glad to see you!" There was no mistaking the greeting, and Brisco allowed himself to relax a little.
"Not half as glad as I am to see you, Benny. What have you found out?"
"It doesn’t look good. Jonathan never came back from making his phone call. Which reminds me...I’d better make a little call of my own. Be right back."
Benny wove his way through the tables with the expertise born of long practice, and Brisco introduced Billy to Mitchell. "Let’s sit down," he said, suiting actions to words. "I could use another drink."
Mitchell frowned. "Do you really think that’s wise?"
"Pal, after a hundred years, two whiskeys won’t hurt me." He raised his glass to the bartender, and the man sauntered over with the bottle in hand.
"What’ll it be?" he asked Billy as he poured Brisco’s drink.
"Uh...diet soda, please."
"And I’ll have another lemon tonic," Mitchell added.
"Wimps," sneered the bartender with a shake of his head.
"Give me a beer, barkeep," Benny called as he returned from the phone. The man set their drinks on the table and went back to his counter.
"Here’s the deal," Benny continued, leaning over the table confidentially, "Jon-Boy talked to Randy. She gave him certain vital information, and then he vanished. My guess is that he’s been abducted by aliens—or the FBI, which is almost the same thing."
"Aren’t you at all worried about him?" Billy asked curiously.
"Nah, he’ll be okay. So, listen, Hayes—"
Brisco stared at Billy speculatively, suddenly struck by a thought. "Hayes...you wouldn’t by any chance have relatives in Kansas, would you?"
Billy bristled visibly. "Hey, that was a long time ago. Besides...he got that pardon. Look, can we get down to brass tacks here? We should plan for the possibility that what happened in California could happen again, you know. Those guys won’t be too far behind us...and the FBI is more bureaucracy than brains. With a few notable exceptions," he hastened to add.
"What do we do now?"
"We pay a visit to a Mr. Buddy Ryan. He appears to hold the key. And we’d better get there fast, because Jonathan never was one to stand up to interrogation. He’ll be telling them your life story by the time they’re through with him."
"Let’s go then."
"By the way, Brisco—what became of that rod of yours?"
Brisco’s face paled. With all the confusion in California, he had failed to take that item into account as well.... "I don’t know," he replied bleakly.
"You mean this?" asked Billy, pulling the rod out of his windbreaker pocket. "Jonathan had it in his overnight bag. I knew El would make sure it came with us, and Dana and Jonathan were the only ones who stayed behind when we went to the cave, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to check."
"Thank you, El!" Benny crowed. "I have a feeling we’re going to need that."
Brisco took the rod from Billy, and there was a brief flicker of energy. He stuck it in the belt loop of his jeans, and pulled the sweater down over it. "Not too obvious, is it?"
"Hey, if the Highlander can conceal a sword in his raincoat...." Benny shrugged eloquently.
"I don’t suppose Jonathan had anything else with him?" asked Brisco wistfully.
"You mean, like this?" Billy pulled back the flap of his pocket to reveal a glimpse of bone handle.
Brisco’s face lit up. "Give it to me."
"I think I’ll hang on to it for the moment," Billy demurred, shaking his head. "It’s safe."
"C’mon, guys. Let’s go! There’s no time for all this—"
The front door opened, and men started to come into the bar. Lots of men. In suits.
"This way!" Benny hissed, ducking and running for the rear of the bar, the others at his heels.
"I thought there was only one way out of here," Mitchell commented.
"There is," Benny called over his shoulder, yanking open a door. "But there’s a sort of emergency exit."
They found themselves in a bathroom with a window overlooking an alleyway. "Hurry up. They’ll be around here any second." Benny jerked his head toward the window.
Billy opened it and quickly scrambled through. Mitchell hesitated.
"For this I attended Harvard," he mourned.
"Really?" Brisco pushed him up on the windowsill. "Me too." He dove through the window as Benny locked the door and came up behind him.
"You certainly live a full life, County," Benny muttered as they heard the sounds of battering against the doorway behind them.
"Never a dull moment," Brisco replied, following Billy down the alley at a run.
The airport shuttle pulled up to the terminal with a hiss of brakes. Dana Scully picked up her bag and nudged Fox. "We’re here."
His eyes fluttered open. "Finally."
"I don’t know how you can sleep like that at the drop of a hat."
"Practice." He stretched and grabbed his own bag. "Shall we?"
They’d taken three different cabs from Headquarters before they caught the shuttle, playing "dodge the tail" all over town.
Now, as Fox went to buy two plane tickets to LA, Dana went to the Hertz window. "I’d like a car, please." She handed the woman her American Express card. They’d have to ditch the car before they met up with the others; it was too risky to assume the red herring of the plane tickets would work.
"I’m sorry, Ms. Scully...there seems to be a problem with your card."
"Oh, I’m sorry. Here. Try this one." Dana handed over her Visa card, feeling the first ticks of pressure in her forehead.
"This one is showing invalid as well," the woman murmured. "I’m afraid we won’t be able to help you."
Dana felt a cold dash of fear wash over her. God. She’d never really thought about how powerful "They" were before. "I understand. Sorry for the inconvenience." She backed away from the counter, turning quickly and slamming into Fox. "Let’s get out of here," she muttered under her breath.
"Go." She pushed him back the way he had come.
"Dana, what is it?" She could tell he was really concerned...it was the only time he’d slip and call her Dana.
"We’ve got to get to New York, and fast."
"Yeah. That’s why you were renting the car...."
"They’ve fixed my credit cards, Mulder. I couldn’t get a car. What won’t they do to get Brisco back?"
"Relax," he murmured grimly. "I’ll get us a car. It might not be much, but we’ll get there."
"But will it be in time?"
"I promise, nothing will happen to him. C’mon." He took her arm and steered her out of the terminal. "Taxi!"
A cab pulled up to the curb, and Fox got her into it. He gave the driver instructions as she fought to bring her emotions back to her normal state of control.
The cab started off, and Fox reached over and gently took her hand. "Scully—"
"I’ll be okay. I guess it just hit me kind of hard. Mulder, all I ever wanted was to help people. That’s why I became a doctor. And then I joined the Bureau—"
"—And they stuck you with me. I’m really sorry, Dana."
She sighed. "It’s not your fault, Fox...but I don’t see a happy ending here."
"Let’s take it one step at a time. Right now, we’ve got to get to New York and find out what’s going on."
"I guess you’re right," she sighed, letting her head fall back onto the seat. "Where is this all going to end, Mulder? How are we going to get our lives back?"
"Just put yourself in Brisco’s place. His life was interrupted a hundred years ago. All his friends have been dead for decades...we assume. There’s not even a guarantee of that, since they all disappeared."
"Oh, come on, Mulder. Those disappearances were also a hundred years ago. Of course they’re dead."
"If you say so."
"I’m not going to argue with you, Scully."
That in itself was enough to worry her.
"I’ve already told you," Jonathan repeated wearily, "I’ve no idea what you are talking about."
"Doctor MacKensie, your obstinacy is getting us nowhere." The large, heavyset man had been interrogating him for over an hour. Now he threw a packet of photographs onto the table. "Let’s put our cards on the table. We have photographs of you with a Mr. Brisco County, who has been rated a risk to National Security. We have tapes of phone conversations where you are discussing matters that could threaten the very fiber of our nation. We have records of computer access to clearance level files by unauthorized persons in your service—if you would rather we traced those occurrences back to their source and prosecuted their perpetrators, it can be arranged...."
"This is ridiculous," Jonathan scoffed. "None of this ‘evidence’ of yours proves anything. You have no right to hold me here."
"We’re the FBI."
"That doesn’t preclude the Constitution. I am entitled to have access to all of the evidence against me."
"Oh? Are you a lawyer now?"
"No, but perhaps I should call one."
"That won’t be necessary—"
"Oh, I think it is. I have nothing further to say without a lawyer present." He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.
"All right, have it your way, Doctor MacKensie. You might as well get comfortable. It’s going to be a long night."
"Hold on—" panted Brisco, leaning against a wall. "I’ve got to rest a minute." He dropped his head, trying to catch his breath. Boy, you sure can get out-of-shape in a hundred years....
Benny looked back down the street. "I think we lost them...for now."
"It won’t be for long," said Billy. "Look, I’ve got an idea. Do you think any of them got a good look at us in the bar?" he asked, slipping out of his windbreaker.
"It was pretty dark in there, and we split before they could have gotten much more than a glimpse," replied Benny.
"That’s what I think. What’s Brisco’s most distinctive characteristic if you’ve just seen him from a distance?"
"His height?" ventured Mitchell.
"Besides that." Billy muttered, looking up at Brisco. "It’s his clothes, isn’t it?" he continued, handing Mitchell his windbreaker and taking Brisco’s hat and jacket instead.
"Hey!" protested Brisco, "I paid twenty dollars for that jacket—"
"I’ll write you a check." Billy shrugged into the jacket and jammed the hat down over his eyes. "What do you think?"
"It might work," agreed Benny, "if they are near-sighted and short."
"Look, we don’t have a lot of choice. Brisco can’t run any further. I’m going to go back the way we came and draw them off. You guys go ahead to this Buddy’s place and get Brisco home."
"Billy, you can’t take on the whole of the FBI by yourself," objected Brisco.
"I’ll be fine. I mean, after all, they wouldn’t be able to charge me with anything, now would they? Go on."
Benny glanced around him to get his bearings. "Okay. We’re not too far from where we need to be. It’s this way." He pointed left. "Good luck, Billy."
"Thanks." Hayes sprinted off the way they had come.
"You know, he just might pull that off," murmured Brisco. There’s a lot of his great-grandfather in Hayes too.
"Are you sure you know where you’re going?" growled Mitchell dubiously as they followed Benny through a seemingly random maze of streets.
"If Jonathan is as easy to crack as you say," Brisco began, "won’t they just beat us there?"
"I think we’ve got a little head start at least," Benny replied, gesturing to an apartment building.
Brisco looked up at the building. And up...and up. "Wow."
"Kinda impressive, isn’t it?"
"I’ll say." Brisco reached for his hat out of force of habit, bringing his hand down self-consciously when he remembered where it was.
"Shall we?" Benny waved the others forward, and they entered the building. "It’s on the seventh floor."
This wasn’t nearly as bad now that he knew what to expect, Brisco thought, letting his knees give with the rise of the elevator. They followed Benny to a door halfway down the hallway, and the reporter knocked lightly.
"Yes?" came a voice from inside the apartment.
"Mr. Ryan? Edgar Benedek. I believe my associate called?"
"Oh, yes!" The door opened, and Brisco gasped.
"You must be Mr. County. Come in, come in...."
Brisco entered the apartment in a daze. "How did you—?"
"You need to sit down. You look like you’re about to faint."
"This is impossible," Brisco muttered, sinking into the nearest seat.
"No. Not impossible. Genetically unlikely perhaps, but descendants often grow to resemble their ancestors. Take this gentleman here—" He pointed at Mitchell. "He couldn’t be descended from anybody but Lord Bowler."
The odd little man moved to a nearby bookcase and started rummaging amid the clutter on top of it. "Oh, by the way—my name is Albert Ryan—but you can call me Buddy. Everyone does. Ah, here it is!" he exclaimed triumphantly bringing over a well-worn scrapbook with a faded velvet cover. "I think you should see this."
He opened the book to a sepia tone photograph, and Brisco drew in his breath with a hiss. "Is that—?"
"Taken on their wedding day."
The photograph was formally posed, but the subjects were as familiar as his name. Socrates sat stiffly in a large-backed armchair and Dixie stood behind the chair, her hand on his shoulder. On the other side of the chair stood Bowler, the scowl on his face less pronounced than usual—almost a smile.
"My grandfather took that picture. Nice, isn’t it?"
"Dixie married Soc?" Brisco asked in disbelief.
"You mean you didn’t know? I’m sorry. Is that bad?"
"No...unexpected, but kinda nice. After all, I’m not...I wasn’t...she didn’t have any reason to wait for me."
"It was only a few days later that they disappeared. Bowler about a week after that, and finally Grandfather."
Buddy glared at Benny sharply. "Didn’t you say you knew all this?"
"I said we knew all this," Benny replied with a sigh. "I never exactly said he knew any of it."
"Why didn’t you tell me?" Brisco exploded, leaping from the chair. "I’ve got to stop it!"
"Stop what?" Benny argued. "Do you even know? We have nothing to go on. Nothing. They disappeared without a trace a hundred years ago—"
"Excuse me," broke in Buddy. "If you two are finished—"
"Sorry," sighed Brisco, sinking back into his chair.
"Now, this is a puzzle I’ve been playing with all my life," Buddy continued closing the scrapbook and setting it back on the shelf. "I have a theory about what happened...but it’s a little strange—"
"—And the rest of this isn’t?" Brisco groaned. "Can you tell me one thing? How did I wind up chained in that casket? I wouldn’t have thought the professor would go off and leave me like that—"
"He didn’t. Well, not exactly. You see, according to his last journal, the experiment was proceeding as planned. Thursday evening, just hours before he was due to awaken you, John Bly came to the barn. Grandfather never could figure out how Bly got wind of the experiment, but somehow he did. He knew you were in the casket, and he was making all sorts of grand claims about what he would do—Grandfather tried to interfere, and Bly knocked him out. When he came to, the casket was gone, and so was Bly.
"Grandfather contacted Socrates Poole at once, and Socrates called in Bowler. They started a search immediately, but never found any trace of the casket, and Bly seemed to have vanished into thin air. None of them were willing to believe that you were gone...but after about six weeks, they finally decided you weren’t coming back, and it was time to get on with things.
"That’s when Socrates proposed marriage to Miss Cousins, and she accepted. I think he realized that she still loved you, but he just wanted to try and ease her pain."
"That sounds like Soc. But I can’t see Dix accepting...."
"Maybe she was lonelier than she let on. Anyway, marrying someone who loves you and you are fond of might beat waiting for the handsome drifter who may never come back."
"Okay, okay already! I’ve got it. Can we get on with it?"
"On with what?"
"Whatever we have to do to make it right."
"Just what do you propose that is, Brisco?" asked Mitchell.
"I—I don’t know—going back, stopping Bly, saving my friends—"
"But, Brisco," interrupted Benny gently, "it happened. It’s historical fact. You can’t change it, or you’ll disrupt the fabric of time."
Brisco opened his mouth to protest, then stopped as all the implications of the statement hit home. If I do change things, then this future will never exist...but how can I just let things stand? Everyone I love was plucked out of history within weeks of my disappearance. It isn’t natural—and it isn’t fair!
"There’s got to be something I can do," he continued grimly.
"If we can get you home, we will—" Benny promised.
"But you don’t really think you can, do you?" He turned to Buddy. "Is there someplace I can be alone for a few minutes?"
"Sure...through that door."
Brisco nodded his thanks and went into the bedroom, throwing himself down on the bed with his arm across his eyes. His brain whirled, trying to grasp all the possibilities and consequences of his predicament. If I don’t go back, my friends will have vanished without at trace. Their families will be left behind with no idea what became of them.... But if I do go back, I could destroy this world.... Either way, someone is likely to lose. Do I have the right to choose?
It hadn’t been easy, but he should be far enough away by now for the others to have gotten to their destination. There was no sign of the pursuers...fair enough. He could use a break. Maybe he’d slip down to the subway for a few minutes. A chance to catch his breath.
He turned around, and ran smack into the chest of a very large man in a dull black suit. "Excuse me," he muttered, trying to step around him.
The man clapped a hand on his shoulder. "I don’t think you’re going anywhere, Mr. County."
Billy ducked his head, letting the brim of the hat shield as much of his face as possible and trying his best to look taller. "I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else," he said gruffly, moving to the side.
"I don’t think so," replied a second agent, coming up behind him and slipping a pair of handcuffs over his wrists. "Brisco County, you are coming with us."
The first agent pulled the hat away, and Billy grinned up at him.
"Like I said, I think you've mistaken me for someone else."
There was a soft knock, and Brisco glanced up as Benny poked his head around the door. "Can I come in?"
"Could I stop you?"
Benny came in and sat down on a small trunk near the bed. "Brisco...I know how hard this is for you...."
"Do you, really?"
"Let me tell you a little story. About seven years ago, there was a girl...she came back in time to make sure that something terrible would never happen in her future. She made a real difference in our lives. I think Jonathan was ready to propose to her. But, she did what she came here to do, and then she had to leave. And she did it knowing that she had nowhere left to go...her future no longer existed. There are consequences when you change time...I won’t lie to you—no one really knows what all those consequences are, because one of them is that you never come back to the same place in time to tell those you left behind. My personal theory is that any change you make will simply split the stream of time, like a new channel on a river, and your future will continue from there...but we will always have had this bit of time, because if we didn’t, you would never be going back in the first place. Does that make sense?"
"Sort of...." Brisco answered thoughtfully, rising up on one elbow. "But how do you know?"
"How do you know she never got back to her own time? Did she come back and tell you? No. Actually, you have no idea what happened, do you?"
"I guess not...."
"So, you really can’t help me figure this out...can you?"
"Too bad Jonathan isn’t here," sighed Benny. "He’s got a cousin who’s something of an expert on time travel. She could help us figure out the ramifications of this thing."
"Speaking of Jonathan," murmured Brisco, "shouldn’t we do something about that?"
"Oh, he’ll be all right. He doesn’t know anything. They’ll give up and let him go eventually. He’s too well-known just to disappear," Benny grinned.
"I wouldn’t bet on that," Brisco muttered darkly, and the reporter sobered instantly.
"Geez...I guess you’re right."
There was a knock on the outer door of the apartment, and Benny and Brisco shot each other a look, rising and moving back into the living room.
"Mr. Ryan?" called a voice from the hallway.
"Mulder! Maybe they’ve got some answers." Benny moved to open the door, and Fox and Dana came in.
"We’d be better off finishing this little gathering at an alternate location," Fox announced. "I think we shook our tail, but they’ll be back."
"It’s a long story, but suffice to say that I’m not counting on a Christmas bonus." Fox turned to Buddy and held out his hand. "Fox Mulder, FBI—sort of."
"Dana Scully, Mr. Ryan. We spoke on the phone?"
"Ah, yes. Well, it sounds like we haven’t got much time for getting to know each other, so I guess we’d better go ahead and see what happens. Brisco, come with me."
"I have something to show you. In private."
Mystified, Brisco followed Buddy back into the bedroom. The man kneeled beside the small trunk Benny had been using as a seat. "I believe you know what this is," he commented, unlocking the trunk and flinging back the lid.
A familiar golden object rested in the bottom of the trunk.
"An orb!" Brisco breathed.
"Uh-huh. You’ll notice it’s missing a rod...."
Brisco’s hand went automatically to the handle beneath his sweater.
"Ah," grinned Buddy. "I thought so. Now, my family has studied this thing for generations, as I guess you’ll recall—"
Brisco thought back to the time when Bly had "persuaded" Professor Wickwire to examine his orb.... "Yeah, I remember."
"Well, the best conclusion we’ve come up with is that it’s some sort of portal. Each rod is the key to a different aspect of space and time. If your key fits, you go where you wanted to go. If it doesn’t...." he shrugged.
"—If it doesn’t—?" Brisco prompted, a chill running through him once more as he flashed on the image of Bly’s henchman, Loco Bob, disintegrating before their eyes.
"—You wind up where it wants you to go. And we have no way of telling if a key works more than once." He met Brisco’s eye squarely. "Once you insert the rod, there’s no second chance."
Brisco gulped. "I guess I really don’t have much choice." He pulled the rod from his belt and stared at it. A flicker of energy ran down it and died out.
"Don’t you at least want to say goodbye?"
"Oh...yeah. I guess I should." Brisco replaced the rod with a sigh of relief. "After all, we’ve been through a lot together."
"It’s all right to be scared."
Act V: "Have Orb, Will Travel"
Dana glanced up as Brisco and Buddy came into the room. The bounty hunter looked like he’d seem a ghost—he was pale and withdrawn, and Buddy looked very solemn.
"What is it?" she asked anxiously.
"An orb," Brisco answered, throwing himself into a chair.
"What’s that?" Her question was topped by Fox’s excited, "You mean Buddy’s got an orb?"
"Yeah, that’s right. Buddy’s got an orb and I’ve got the missing rod. Isn’t that amazing?" he finished with a sarcastic drawl.
"Not really," answered Buddy, his good-natured smile reappearing. "It makes perfect sense, actually. Brisco, your destiny is so entwined with the orbs that there’s no way you could have avoided this moment. You were meant to be here."
"I wish people would stop sounding like Jules Verne! All this talk of ‘destiny’ and ‘abilities’...seeing Dad’s ghost...surviving Bly’s bullet—I’m starting to feel like my whole life is a dime novel!"
Dana nodded sympathetically. "I know how you feel, Brisco. And it seems that once you step foot into the paranormal, your whole life does become unreal. Your beliefs get turned upside down, and you become something both greater and lesser than you were before...."
"Uh, look guys...I hate to break up this lovely philosophy session," interjected Benny, "but we may have visitors any minute. They won’t stand for you getting away again, Brisco—especially if they caught up with Billy—and now they’d have access to an orb, too. I think you’d better go while the going is good—"
"—But if he does go back to 1894, what will that do to our continuum?" asked Dana. "After all, in our world everyone from Bly to Bowler and all those in-between vanished after Brisco’s disappearance. If he goes back and changes history, what does that do to our present?"
"What does that do to me?" added Mitchell. "Or Buddy here? Our families will have completely different dynamics...we might never even have been born."
Brisco frowned. "I can’t be responsible for that...."
"On the other hand," shrugged Buddy, "it could be that you’ve already gone back, and if you don’t history will never have been made."
"But if I’d gone back, I would have stopped everyone from disappearing. Wouldn’t I have?"
"Unless you caused the disappearances in the first place," said Benny thoughtfully.
"Think about it. You know they disappeared, and there’s no evidence why or how they disappeared...perhaps they simply relocated...changed their names—"
"—Abandoned their families? I don’t think so."
"Even if they knew they had no choice? History says they disappeared," Fox continued, "so for time to remain unchanged, they have to disappear—whether or not you go back. At least if you go back, the disappearances can be voluntary."
"I’m confused," murmured Mitchell.
"Join the club," agreed Benny. "Time travel is a dangerous business. One little misstep and the world as we know it can cease to exist."
"Thanks," groaned Brisco. "Maybe I should stay here."
"Nope." Fox shook his head. "That’s no good either. If Bly remained unchecked, the world would change too. Somebody stopped him. And I bet that somebody was you, Brisco. Think about it. That cave contained a casket with you, Bly’s note, and one other thing—"
"—The orb rod," Brisco breathed.
"If you don’t go back, Bly might get hold of that rod instead...and this time he’s got a fifty-fifty chance he’s got the right orb."
"You know, now that you mention it, something just doesn’t make sense.... Why would Bly chain up that casket and leave the orb rod? If I was unconscious, he could have taken it any time he wanted to."
Fox warmed to his subject. "Bly didn’t chain up the casket. I doubt he even wrote the note...."
"Then who did?" asked Brisco dubiously.
Brisco stared at Fox. "What?"
"It’s the only thing that makes sense. You knew you had to survive that stasis until 1994 because you’re here now. So, when you go back, you have to make sure that you do. That means hiding the casket somewhere safe and using the rod to create a stasis field. The professor’s machine wasn’t there. The rod kept you alive. I don’t know how, but somehow you are connected to that orb."
"This is ridiculous," Brisco muttered. "What about the note? Explain that."
"You mean this one?" Benny grinned, putting his pen back into his pocket with a flourish. "I think I got it all." He handed over a piece of paper.
Brisco glanced over the note. "How did you—?"
"Something had to get you mad enough to get this far," Fox nodded thoughtfully, "and it was the note that kind of broke you out of the disbelief...yeah. It makes sense."
"But how come I didn’t know that the note was a fake if I put it there in the first place?"
"Because you haven’t done it yet," Fox laughed.
Brisco dropped his face into his hands. "I’m getting a headache."
"Could someone please tell me what’s going on here," added Dana, "because I haven’t got a clue."
"I hate to mention it, Brisco," Buddy said softly, "but we’re running out of time."
"I’ll say—" commented Mitchell, glancing out the window. "They just pulled up."
Brisco rose to his feet and pulled out the rod. With a heavy sigh, he looked around the circle of faces. "I guess this is it," he murmured. "I don’t know what to say...."
"It’s been a privilege meeting you, Brisco," Mitchell smiled, reaching into the pocket of Billy’s windbreaker and holding out the revolver. "I guess you’ll be needing this."
"Thanks." Brisco slipped the gun into his waistband with relish. At least he hadn’t lost that too, though he had to admit, the hat had gone for a good cause....
"Goodbye...." Dana hesitated. "Oh, what the hell." She flung her arms around a startled Brisco.
"You’ve sure made an impression," grinned Fox. "Come on, Scully. The man’s got to go."
Dana broke away, her cheeks flushed. "I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me...."
"Don’t forget this," Benny cautioned, handing Brisco the note. "You don’t know what this has meant to me, Brisco."
"Ditto," added Fox. "Look, you’d better get going."
"Right." Brisco raised a hand in final salute and followed Buddy into the other room.
"One more thing—" Buddy commented, shutting the bedroom door, "no one really knows what might happen if a time traveler were to meet himself...there’ve been lots of theories...and none of them are very pleasant. Make sure not to contact yourself directly—or it could be ‘boom.’"
"Boom." Buddy nodded. "Just keep it in mind. Goodbye, Brisco." He lifted the orb onto a table and stepped back. "And good luck."
Taking a deep breath, Brisco plunged the rod into the empty chamber of the orb.
"I hope he makes it," Dana said softly.
"Oh, he did," answered Buddy, coming into the room in time to catch her comment.
"How do you know?" asked Fox.
"I’ll show you." Buddy moved to the bookcase and pulled out the velvet scrapbook. He flipped to a photograph and turned it so everyone could see. It was another photo from the Poole wedding. This one showed the bride and groom posed before the preacher. Despite the slicked back hair and beard, the minister’s grin was unmistakable.
"Is anybody there?" called a plaintive voice from a locked room in an empty building. "You can’t keep me here forever, you know...."
"Doctor Hayes," called a voice from outside the cell.
Billy glanced up. "Yeah?"
"You are entitled to one phone call. Would you like to place it now?"
He sighed heavily and rose to his feet. "Might as well. It won’t get any easier."
"Tell me something," asked his jailor curiously as Billy passed him. "Was it worth it?"
Billy looked down at the hat in his hands.
He thought about what El was going to say about having to spend at least half the rent money to bail him out. He pictured Richard Stetmeyer’s face when he found out that one of his research scientists had wound up behind bars—again. He imagined what his mother would have to say about this escapade. Then he placed the worn leather hat on his head at a jaunty angle. "Yeah. It was worth it."
Lantern light gleamed from the doorway of an old barn. The spring night was filled with the sound of crickets as a figure in black crept silently around the edge of the doorway, gun drawn.
As the gunman disappeared into the barn, a second figure followed.
"Professor Wickwire," drawled the gunman, "we meet again."
"Bly!" Wickwire cried, spinning around at the sound of the voice.
"In the flesh. I hear you’re running a little experiment here...I’d like to see."
Wickwire backed up to stand protectively in front of the casket. "I don’t think so."
"I’m sorry, Professor—I don’t think you have a choice." Bly struck out with his pistol butt, and Professor Wickwire crumpled across the casket.
"Why don’t you pick on someone your own age?" growled Brisco, slamming his fist into Bly’s jaw and knocking him to the ground. The bounty hunter hauled the groggy renegade to his feet by the collar. "I’ve been wanting to do that for a very long time," Brisco muttered with a satisfied grin.
"County—" gasped Bly. "But you’re supposed to be—"
"I guess you were misinformed."
Bly passed out. Brisco quickly bound and gagged him then moved to the professor.
"Professor! Are you all right?"
"I’m fine. I—Brisco! What are you doing up?"
"It’s a very long story, Professor."
Brisco moved to the casket and opened the lid. A shiver ran through him as he looked down at his own peacefully sleeping face. With a regretful sigh, he ran a wistful finger around the brim of the worn leather hat resting on his chest. Pulling the orb rod from his belt loop, he tucked it into the casket, keeping in mind Buddy’s warning and taking care not to actually come in contact with his sleeping self directly. Lord knew what would happen if he did....
The professor came to stand beside him. "An orb rod! Where did you get that?"
"It was found in the casket when it gets opened in 1994."
"But you just put it there."
"So where did it come from?"
Brisco opened his mouth to reply then shut it with a snap. Eyes wide, he stared at the professor for a long moment. "Maybe it’s better not to ask."
"Have you got a chain?"
"Sure," the professor answered. "What for?" He retrieved a length of chain and handed it to Brisco.
"Have you ever thought of relocating, Professor?" Brisco asked as he bound the casket with the chain.
"The Schwenke twins and I have been thinking of going back to No Man’s Land...I have this idea—uh, Brisco...."
"What are you doing?"
"Making sure that history repeats itself."
"Oh. Nice clothes."
"Thanks. Can you give me a hand here?" He picked up one end of the casket.
The professor picked up the other end, and they lifted it off the sawhorses. "I gotta lose weight," Brisco puffed.
They carried the casket outside to a waiting cart. Brisco shoved it into the bed of the cart.
"Now what?" asked Wickwire curiously as Brisco returned to the barn and dragged Bly out, throwing him into the rear of the cart beside the casket.
"I’m taking Bly to Sheriff Cavendish for safe-keeping. I don’t think anybody is going to have to worry about him again," answered Brisco grimly.
"I don’t understand, Brisco."
"Look, I’ll explain everything when I get back. If anyone asks, you were knocked unconscious and when you came to, the casket was gone. That’s all you tell anybody, and what you tell everybody who asks." Brisco climbed over into the seat of the cart. "Take care of Comet until I get back.
"Whatever you say, Brisco."
"I need you to do something for me while I’m gone, Professor."
"Send out telegrams to Socrates, Dixie, and Bowler—tell them to meet you here in three days. I’ll be back by then. We’ve got a lot to talk about." He flicked the reins and the wagon started off. "Oh, and Professor—" he called back over his shoulder, "could you pick me up a new hat?"
Dana Scully sat in the deserted bleachers of the stadium where Mulder came to run the track. She didn’t have much to do these days, being under suspension as they were, so when Fox had called and asked her to meet him here, she’d had no objections. She could see him now, on the other side of the track circle. He was fast. And he ran like he was trying to catch yesterday...or tomorrow.
All at once, a figure in a gray suit appeared on the opposite side of the stadium, near Mulder. She could swear that he hadn’t been there a minute ago.... Instinctively, she started toward her partner, and Mulder waved for her to hurry. A sudden burst of fear lent her speed as she sprinted for the pair.
As she drew up beside Fox, she could see that he wasn’t worried—indeed, he seemed more relaxed than he’d been since Brisco left three days ago. "Dana Scully, this is—I’m sorry, I just realized that I don’t know your name—" prompted Fox.
"Yes, Agent Mulder. And I intend to keep it that way. A pleasure, Doctor Scully."
"I never said she was a doctor."
"Let’s not play games, Agent Mulder. I think I know why you contacted me."
"Like you said, let’s not play games. Can They do something?"
"What, for instance?"
"Can They get us back to where we were?"
"They can get you reinstated, if that’s what you want, but no one is going to forget the incident entirely. They won’t wipe out what happened, but They can alter the consequences...however, it will cost you."
"Quiet, Scully. What will it cost?"
"I think They prefer to keep that close to the vest at this time. When the time comes, I will let you know the price."
"Anything you want...as long as we are fully reinstated, and there are no further repercussions from the incident."
"That’s a tall order, Agent Mulder."
"They can do it."
"Yes, They can. And They will."
"I’ll owe you one."
"Oh, yes, Agent Mulder. I’d say you’ll owe me quite a big one."
"Yo, Jon-Boy—I’ve got something to show you!"
"Now what?" Jonathan groaned, up to his elbows in term papers as Benny breezed into his office with his usual sartorial flare. "As if I hadn’t had enough trouble this semester, now you want to start everything up again, don’t you? What is it this time? Aliens in Atlanta? Vampires in Vermont?"
"How about a letter from Lincoln?"
"This arrived by messenger last night. I read it then drove straight down."
"What, no plane ride on the Institute?"
"I wanted time to think...besides, I knew you’d kill me if I called from the airport at 3:00 a.m. again. Look at this."
Jonathan reached up and took a piece of yellowed writing paper from the reporter, who perched on the corner of the desk to watch him read it.
"It was mailed to a law firm in New York in 1900, and they’ve held it in their vaults until now, with orders to deliver it to me on yesterday’s date."
"Sounds like something I watched on television once."
"Yeah, but the guy who sent this never saw any. Unless you count Evil Dead II. Look at the signature."
"Read it, JJ."
And Jonathan did:
December 31, 1899
As I write this, we stand on the brink of a new century—your century—and at the close of mine. I felt there was no more fitting way to mark that occasion than to try and let you know the rest of the story. If you receive this letter, I guess you’ll know for sure that I got home all right and our time-streams still flow along the same channel.…
I thought the gang might like to know a few details about
how it all worked out.
First of all, ask Mitchell if he remembers hearing about his great-grandmother’s move to Nevada to teach at a blind school after Bowler disappeared? Well, she moved to Nevada all right, but it wasn’t to teach, and it wasn’t alone. Joe Echohawk, aka Lord Bowler, may have disappeared in 1894, but Marshall Coyote (don’t ask me where he gets these names) is a respectable saloon owner in Nevada. Apparently, he didn’t leave all his money to his daughter. He and Elizabeth were very happy last time I visited. It’s the first real time they’ve spent together in years.
As for Socrates—he enjoyed writing my biography so much that he moved to Salt Lake City with Iphigenia and began writing more books under the pseudonym "Aristotle Lake" (hey, for Socrates, that was original!) Last year, he met a really sweet girl, and they were married in June. I was best man.
Professor Wickwire traveled to London and made the acquaintance of a Professor Challenger. You should have seen them go at it. They continued the professor’s experiments with the orb...and the last anyone ever saw of them was a flash of blue light from the barn.... The orb was found where they had left it. I had it put in a box and shipped to his daughter Amanda with strict orders to make sure that it stayed in the family, no matter what. I guess it did....
I took Bly to Bob Cavendish and delivered him into custody, along with the casket, which we stashed in a cave where Annie and I played as kids—no wonder it was familiar. What happened to Bly after I delivered him, I can’t say for sure, but I do know Bob held a grudge for my father’s death....
As for me, with Bly gone, I decided that I’d had enough of being a bounty hunter, and I wanted to settle down. I finally managed to convince one Myra Simon that I was serious (no easy task, mind you), and Dixie and I are living now in Nebraska. We have a big spread and—believe it or not—two beautiful kids. Edgar William sings like his mother, and Dana Michelle is a tomboy who gives her poor dad a real run for his money. Being kind of partial to the sound of Mulder myself, my ranch is filed under the name of Jonathan Mulder.
Well, that’s the story. You know, even now I find the whole thing kind of hard to believe, but there’s a cave in California that says differently.... I told my friend Herbert all about it one night in `94 over a good bottle of brandy. I guess it stuck with him....
It’s almost midnight, so I guess I’d better close this. Dixie and I want to bring the new century in right. I’ll never forget any of you. I’m eternally grateful to you all for getting me back to Dixie, where I belong.
Brisco County, Jr.
ps: I hope Billy is taking good care of my hat. After all...it’s a genuine antique....
© Rie Sheridan (website: http://www.riewriter.com/). The contents of this page may not be copied or reproduced without the author's express written permission. This work is not intended to infringe upon the rights of any existing lawful copyright holders.
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