The folks in Frontier were surprised to see Ray back, and so soon. It took him a few days to get down to the Wildbank River from Frontier, but the way back was much simpler now that he knew how to guide himself. The trip took 2 days on horseback, with very little time given for rest. He figured he would check into the small inn on the corner of the town's main road in exchange for some of the apples he brought with him. He had come into town dragging buckets of apples and fish along with him, ready to do business with the traders of the town. Food was a valuable commodity, especially rare meat like fish and tasty fruits like the apples he had on him.
By the time he finished checking into his room at the inn, word had spread around town that the cowboy was back, and had brought with him some pretty sought after goods. It didn't take long for Jim Benstrike, leader of the gang that ran Frontier and its so-called sheriff, popped by for a small visit. Ray hadn't paid his visiting tax yet, and by the looks of it, it seemed he would have to put up more than the required amount. Ray knew the name of the game, so it was not a surprise to him hearing a knock on the door, with a voice behind it shouting, "Open up, cowboy! Sheriff's here to collect!"
About 15 minutes later, Benstrike walked out of Ray's room with a small bucket of fish and apples, satisfied at the "token of appreciation" given to him by the visitor. It did not take long for him to follow the sheriff out, ready to do a bit of his own business. He wanted to get done with it as soon as possible, disgusted by the blatant disrespect and corruption that reeked throughout the town. He had come for that solar generator and some electrical cables and tools to power his new home; as soon as he had acquired that, he was not going to spend another minute in this god-forsaken place.
The old generator was just outside of town, being sold by the same man who had the electrical supplies on offer. The man did not know much about the products he was selling; all he knew at that point, however, was that Ray was being extremely generous with the offer presented to him. Buckets of fish and apples for some cables, lights, sockets, and a beat up generator he had no idea how to work seemed like a fine deal to him - especially as he could head into town and turn those produces for even more profit. He was curious, however, as to what this cowboy wanted with these electrical supplies.
"What is it you need them for?"
"I would have guessed them apples and fish would also make it so no questions came my way, old man."
"Hey, what you do is none of my business. Just asking out of curiousity."
"Ain't nothing to be curious about. Just need these supplies for a little project of mine."
It would take Ray a while to load the generator on the small trailer he had bought in town, and the way back was certainly going to be rough on Rusty, so he figured he'd stock up for at least a week just in case things got rougher than expected. After a little bit of sleep, he checked out of the inn, and headed south. On the way out of the town, however, Benstrike rode up next to him with a few of his goons and singled for Ray to stop. By the looks of it, he didn't like the idea of Ray shipping out of a town with a bulky generator.
JB: "So where you headed then, cowboy?"
RB: "Oh, down to the next town, you know."
JB: "That's some item you got carrying on you. Wouldn't want you stirring up any trouble."
RB: "No trouble at all, sheriff. Just an old man who was talking about this very type of generator in the next town. Going to turn me a small profit."
JB: "There ain't no town after this one, cowboy. We ain't called Frontier for nothing."
RB: "New settlement, sheriff. Don't even have a name yet. If you'd allow me, I'd like to get my trip started. Have a long way to go."
The frustration in Ray's voice had become obvious, but the last thing he needed was this old fool to cause him some problems. Surprisingly, the "sheriff" nodded his head and stepped aside, averting what could of turned out to be a messy situation. Ray's shotgun was in the bag, away from hidden sight, and he was not looking forward to using it now. He had a home to get back to, and some more fish to catch.
The sight of Ray's shack still standing was a good of a welcome as any, especially after a few difficult days under the harsh desert sun. Even more welcoming was the fresh water from the river that was gulped down by both Ray and his horse. Poor Rusty bore the brunt of the difficulty of the trip, having dragged the trailer holding the solar powered generator along with some primitive electrical supplies, probably the type used in the 21st or 22nd century by humans when they were still confined to Earth. Given the destruction of the Great War, however, he would not have been surprised if those very humans were considered more technologically advanced than the humans of modern day Haven.
Back in his early teenage years, Ray spent a couple of years in Blessing, the coastal settlement where he learned how to fish. The settlement was the largest he had seen after the war, and it was filled with educated residents of all fields. It was an engineer called Henry Hayes who taught him about electricity and how to get it working, showing him the works of how the large solar generator powered the entire town. Ray became like an apprentice to Hayes, and it was the death of his mentor that led him to abandon Blessing and travel into the Great Barrens. Having set the generator about 10 meters away from his shack, he began wiring it to the house, where he would install light bulbs and sockets.
The process took him nearly 4 hours, and by the time he was done, the sun was starting to set. Rusty, resting near the river, looked on lazily, not knowing quite what was going on, but happy he had gotten that huge machine off of his back, figuratively. Given that the generator was pretty much under the sun for the past 5 days, Ray figured it would have enough charge in it to work throughout the night. Hoping for the best, he turned the red button and waited for the rumbling of the generator.
It did not come quick, but after about 30 seconds of choking and gasping, the machine started operating the way it was intended to work, and with another switch in the small electrical board he had built in the shack, the lights came on inside. It had been a rough week or so, but as he relaxed just outside his shack and watched the sun set, Ray knew it was all worth it. For the first time, he had an actual home. There was supposedly a central government that was apparently still operational, although their influence did not stretch out any further than borders of Janneh City, the capital of the old Haven Republic, situated on the coast south of where Blessing was. Ray had never been there, but he had heard stories about how the Haven Republic government had appointed a new president who intended to reunite Haven the way it was before the war. If there was an operational government, Ray thought to himself, he would like to at least get a land deed to legally claim the land he now called his own. Frontier had a small tech-store next to the inn that would have all the information he needed, so he figured the next trip back into town, he would send his claim through the electronic warp (a machine of relatively old technology that uses plasma sensor to register recorded information at another location. Paper had become obsolete a long time ago - instead, electronic records were used.) From what he had heard, a small payment was enough to get the legal claim he was after, not that the government cared - they would probably never step foot anywhere near the land.
A few weeks went by before Ray began preparing to head back to Frontier. By this point, the solar generator was running smoothly, his shack was lit up, and he had begun taking the apple seeds from the fruits and planting them in the soil, hoping they would bear fruit (no pun intended), making him the caretaker of a small apple tree farm. The fish in the Wildbank River were plentiful, although there seemed to be only one type of fish, thoughtfully called by Ray the Wildbank Trout. Good old Rusty was enjoying his days by the river, munching on grass and just generally being lazy. Sometimes, they would go for a walk down the river, and they always seemed to run into the same herd of wild cows. They always made Rusty uncomfortable, and it was generally then they would turn around and walk back to their home. Ray could not imagine a better way to live - he was already dreading the next trip north to Frontier.
The dusty town seemed to be trapped in a time warp - nothing had changed, even though the first time Ray came through the town was years ago. No new building, no new technology, no new people, nothing. It was just as depressing as it ever was, and the self proclaimed sheriff, Jim Benstrike, wanted it to keep it that way, under his control and oppressed. Ray had not even been one hour in Frontier before Benstrike came looking for him, chasing after the "tax" levied on visitors. He did not like Black, and the feeling was mutual. Still, Benstrike figured he was getting currency every couple of weeks from him, so he was of better use alive than dead. He found him in the same inn room as his last trip.
JB: "Back so soon, cowboy? I figured you were gone."
RB: "What can I say, great little town you got here, sheriff."
JB: "Dont mock me, boy, or I'll make sure your tongue gets cut off so you can't say another word for the rest of your life."
RB (Shrugging, keeping his hand close to his bag which was carrying his plasma shotgun): "Didn't mean no disrespect, sheriff. Think this is a mighty fine town you got yourself here." (He reached down into his pocket and took out about 250 Currency Notes (or CN), handing them over to Benstrike, who just eyed him menacingly before finally speaking up.)
JB: "This time, it is 250, but next time, you better find a way to fork over 100 more. You're comin' over an awful lot, I think that warrants a higher token of appreciation."
RB: "No worries, sheriff. You got it."
Ray was in no mood for a fight, but Benstrike seemed to want one. The sheriff took the CNs from Black, spat on the floor, and walked out of the room. He sighed and shook his head, reminded of why he hated these little towns and why he had started to cherish his lonely abode next to the river. He had a feeling that it was not the end of his troubles for the day, however...
Walking down the main road of Frontier was like something out of an old movie they used to show about a place on Earth called the "Wild West." The usual businesses could be found - couple of bars, brothel, cinema, and a few stores selling objects that has use before the Great War but probably no one knew how to use anymore. Things like shadescreen computers, ray televisions, frequency electricity receivers, plasma and carbon guns, and the like. Ray always had an interest in technology and such, but it was not anything he could afford, so he would walk by rather not looking at them. No use in wishing about something you cannot have, he though, continuing down to the tech-store to process his claim through the electronic warp.
The tech-store is what they called a place with computers, sort of a business center that people without access to the Internet 5G could go to get stuff done. Nowadays, that was nearly everyone. The tech-store in Frontier was owned by Tiberius Driver, a man of about 50 years old who had a wife and 2 young kids. He was not a big man by any means, but he was quite stocky, and also a veteran of the Great War, when he fought with the Haven Republic forces against the Earthen Alliance. He was part of the battalion that drove the alliance out of Liberty City, which at the time was their last stronghold in Haven. He had met his wife there, after staying as part of the occupying force while the alliance retreated their people from the city, and it was there they took cover in the bunker of the former Parliamentary Palace from the space missiles that destroyed Haven. Although they were married for several years, they did not add to their family until they settled in Frontier a few years ago, when both were in their early 40s.
Ray always wondered how a good man like Driver could put up with the corruption that ran rampant in Frontier, but then again, it was not like anywhere else was better. Driver had made a decent amount of currency after opening up the tech-store in Frontier, and had even gotten official confirmation from the Haven Republic government in Janneh City as a representative office for all legal matters of state, such as the one Ray was coming to him for today. He smiled as Black entered the tech-store.
TD: Well howdy, cowboy. Back again so soon?
RB: Yep, just need to handle some legal business and be on my way.
TD: Alrighty then, straight to the point. How can I help ya?
RB: I need to apply a claim for a land I've settled on. You know, make my settlement legal.
TD (looking puzzled): Hmmm, never had a request like that before. A land claim? Let me see, here. (Pulls out a book and starts looking through it.) Ok, here we are. Says here you gotta present the exact coordinates of the land, and then fill out the application form, and finally, pay an administrative fee. Ofcourse, you also have to transfer over the amount to the owner of the land of which you agreed.
RB (Smiling): I doubt it has one. Anyway, I have an old location grapher which stored the coordinates for me. As for the application form, you give me the form and I'll fill it out. And finally, you let me know what the application fee is, and let's get in contact with our so-called government and figure out how much extra I gotta pay.
TD: Alright, let me pull up the contact information, and we can talk to them through the plasma feed.
About 15 minutes later, Ray received an official land deed from Janneh City confirming that he was the owner of the said land. The contact was just as puzzled as Tiberius was, never having heard of such a request since before the Great War, and gladly told Ray that if he can cough up the application fee, then the land was his for free. That suited Ray just fine, storing the land deed on his hard drive device. Before he gave leave to the tech-store however, Tiberius, who had been quiet and observing him the entire time, grabbed him by the arm.
TD: Cowboy...this land of yours...well, this is the second time you come into town carrying a whole lot of fish and fruits. You living by yourself?
RB (Taken back and cautious): Hey now Driver, I don't ask you about your business. Let's leave mine alone. Good day to you, sir.
TD (Still holding Ray's arm tight): Listen, I didn't mean to offend ya. Truth is, I don't know how much of Benstrike I can take. They came in the other night, drunk as usual, telling me they wanted my wife for the night as "token of appreciation." They got called in to go rough up some poor fool who was not paying up, but I've had enough.
RB (Sighing): The river's stretches for miles, Driver. Make your way down there and do what I did, I don't care. Just don't go about announcing this to anyone else.
TD: Cowboy, I want to go with you, and I want to build my home near yours. You're a good person, and we could use each other. I already know you've acquired yourself a solar generator.
RB: You coming in to take my property now? You tryin' to be like Benstrike? Cause I got a rifle that says you should stay put.
TD: Easy now, Ray. I'll pay half of whatever you paid for that thi - you know what, I'll give you the full amount of whatever you paid. There isn't another one in town, and I don't have any idea where I can buy one. Everyone who has one is making money renting out electricity to other people - no one is going to sell. All I want is to share it, and I know it has got enough capacity to support to houses.
RB (Quiet for a few seconds, then looks at Tiberius): I don't want your money, and I ain't gonna be taxin' anyone. Give me half, and if you make your way down there, you can the generator as well.
TD (Smiling): Well, alright then.