Although he was completely against Tiberius Driver moving his family down to the Wildbank River and becoming his new neighbor at first, doing his best to keep to himself and not involving himself with the family next door. That didn't last too long, however, and being the person that he is, inevitably he gave them a helping hand finishing up their new home. It wasn't too long before relations between Black and the Driver family became warm, with Ray having dinner at the Drivers' nearly every night.
Things were certainly easier for Ray with them around, especially as Tiberius was quite the handy man. Using frequency electricity receivers, he removed Ray's age old cable wires, and also reduced the chance of something going wrong. The solar generator needed maintenance every few days, and again it was Tiberius who took care of the matter thanks to his previous experience. They caught twice as many fish, and Ray's plan to start a small farm of apple trees started to become a reality now that he had Tiberius helping him with his little project. The kids, Vince and Sandra, ran around all day, and the wife, Joelle, did the household chores. Life was good.
It happened during the evening, as the Drivers' and Ray gathered around the dinner table. What started out as a low murmur grew louder by the second, a rumbling that could only be man-made. Ray and Tiberius looked at each other, both knowing what the other was thinking. They had never said it, but both men had expected this day. Joelle, seeing the look in her husband's eyes, immediately got off the table, gathered the kids, and headed to their room. Before she slammed the door however, she came back outside carrying two automatic shotguns, handing one to each man, and giving her husband a light nod. Tiberius looked at Ray, and proceeded out the front door. At this point, the rumble had gotten loud, and was right outside the house. It was Jim Benstrike, with his pack of goons, in two all-purpose armored vehicles, parked outside of Ray's home. He began laughing as both men stepped out, weapons in their hands.
JB (Laughing menacingly): Boys, boys, boys! There you are! We missed ya in town Tiberius. You know I heard a rumor in town saying you had deserted us to join the cowboy, and I just HAD to see for myself. Where are your manners?! Leaving without a word?
TD: You have no business here, Benstrike.
JB: That is where you're wrong, Driver. I didn't drive down for hours because I don't have any business here. This here is my land, and I'm here to collect.
TD: I believe you're a far way from Frontier, and I recommend you head back. There is nothing for ya here.
Benstrike threw his cigarette on the ground, losing patience with the resistance Tiberius Driver was putting up, something he had rarely faced before. He signaled to his team to advance towards the men, but they didn't get far before a round of shots rang out, and Benstrike's men began falling one by one, very quickly.
RB (Holding his gun): I aimed for their legs. Let that be a warning. Pack your troops up and go, Benstrike. Don't come back here again.
Ray Black had fired at the men without warning, and blood was gushing out of their legs along with screams from their mouths. Benstrike took one look at his fallen men and hastily retreated back to his vehicle, calling out for the rest of them to carry the wounded back to their rides. Ray didn't flinch; he kept his gun aimed at them the entire time. They might have had weapons, but they did not have two Hardon 55 Automatic Shotguns capable of firing over 200 bullets per minute aimed at them, and they certainly were not expecting a gun fight. Benstrike was shook; his men, even more so. No one had ever dared fight back since he took over the town and declared it his property some 20 odd years back. All he could mutter was "This isn't over, cowboy!" as they drove away like dogs retreating, licking their wounds.
Watching the two vehicles drive away, Tiberius relaxed his aim and brought his shotgun down towards his waist. He turned his head towards Ray, staring at him dead in the eye without flinching.
TD (Agitated): You know I have a family in there. This could've went a lot worse.
RB: Don't think it could've gone any better. (Shifts his shotgun off his shoulder and hands it back to Tiberius.) Them boys won't be coming back anytime soon.
TD: You need to think of the consequences of your actions! Where the hell we gonna go to sell our products, to get things we need! Where -
RB (Shouting over Tiberius): Hey! I didn't ask ya to come here! I ain't bowin' down to no man anymore! That SOB Benstrike can go to hell for all I care. You don't like the way things are going down, I suggest you pack yourself up and leave, because if they come down here again, it's gonna get a whole lot uglier. I'm aimin' for heads next time!
TD (Shaking his head softly): Damn cowboys, never thinking past their nose. (Looks at Ray for a few seconds, then hands the shotgun back to him.) Well, what's done is done, and at least you're right about one thing - they ain't coming back anytime soon. But...they WILL be back sometime. (Starts walking back to his house.) I've heard about a small town that's supposed to be west of Frontier called Boulder. I'm going to try and pull up its coordinates on the computer I got with me - if it can locate it, I suggest we head over there first thing in the morning and buy ourselves some supplies. We'll take my motor, you can leave Rusty here munchin' on grass. Shouldn't be gone more than a few days, and after the stunt you just pulled off, can't risk leavin' the family here alone. They'll be coming with us.
RB: Alright then, I'll prepare myself.
Ray was not sure if what he had done to Benstrike's men would come back to bite him, but he was done playing his game. He had built up a home far away from "civilization" so that he could avoid the corruption and complete lack of morals and ethics that was so evident in men, only for the epitome of all he despised to come to his home and try to steal his peace away from him. He was not going to take it anymore, and when he shot at Benstrike's goons, it was more out of blind frustration than strategic thinking. He would rather not live another day if he had to put up with how things worked in towns like Frontier in his own home.
A few meters away, Tiberius was making sure his family was alright. It wasn't that he disagreed with Ray's actions, it was just that such recklessness could place his family's life in danger, and he was not willing to let anything do that. He had left Frontier because of threats to his wife, and he was not about to bring danger down to his new home. What Ray had done was brave, but he was not going to fool himself into thinking this situation was over. He knew Benstrike, and he knew that a criminal like that was not going to rest until he got his way. He had to stock up, and if what he heard was right, Boulder was going to be the place he did so. His solar powered motor would get them there in about a day's time of continuous driving. Boulder was most likely not going to be any friendlier than Frontier, so he made sure the motor had the two shotguns packed and loaded before the trip got started.
There didn't seem there was much to distinguish Boulder from Frontier, or any other dusty town that existed in the Great Barrens for that matter, at first, except for the paved road that served as the center of the place. Apparently, the formerly unpaved road was too rocky for the vehicles that came in through town and there were complaints, so the town decided to actually listen to them and paved the road with asphalt. Driving to the Boulder Motel, one of two inns/motels in town, the first thing noticed was the bustle and activity - people were coming and going, buying and selling, and although it didn't seem too much bigger than Frontier, it certainly was much more alive.
Ray and Tiberius had taken turns driving, so both were reasonably rested. It was the first time for them in Boulder, and for Tiberius' family, the first time they had seen a town other than their former home of Frontier. What was obvious was that whoever was in charge here was attempting to make the town a better place, for whatever reason. Both men, however, knew there had to be more to the story.
After checking in and making sure Tiberius' family was comfortable and safe, they headed down to the main, paved road in Tiberius' motor, packed with buckets of fish and apples. Both were delicacies that fetched pretty high prices, so they could barter supplies pretty easily with traders for them. While Ray was after certain tools to help him with this farm project, Tiberius was looking for more technological advanced gadgets to help him reconnect with the rest of the world. Both were silent about their respective goals and projects, although both knew what the other was up to. Truthfully, they made a good team, with one man in touch with the world around and a real blue collar type, while the other was a technological whiz who could pretty much figure how anything worked. What they both needed, however, was more ammunition, a perhaps another gun or two just in case.
After a reasonably successful few hours of trading and negotiating, they headed back to the Boulder Motel's bar to grab a quick drink before going upstairs to retire for the night. The bar itself was buzzing with people, and they could barely get in, having to bump through people just to reach the bar. It was uncomfortably full, and everyone seemed fixated on the blank plasma screen that hung over bar itself. Confused as to why people where staring a black screen, Tiberius asked the bartender.
TB: Hey, can you get us two beers, and make sure they're cold! Tell me, why is everyone looking at the plasma screen? Ain't nothing been on any television since the Great War.
Bartender: Guess you haven't heard then. We received a warp this mornin' sayin' that the Republic has recovered the frequency of an old satellite orbiting Haven and has promised to start broadcastin' today.
TB (Startled, and somewhat taken back): Wow, ain't that something.
Bartender: Yeah, people been in here since mornin', considering this is one of the only televisions available in town. We're still waitin' though - some folks have even started callin' it a lie.
TB: I doubt the Republic would go through the trouble of warpin' messages if they didn't have it all figured out. Anyway, how about them beers?
Bartender: Coming right up.
Listening intently to the conversation was Ray, and although he never publicly stated it, he wished for the today the Republic would be strong enough to force some law and order unto the lands. He was in the middle of his thoughts when the black screen turned white, and then a few seconds later, began broadcasting live from Janneh City.
Man on Plasma Screen: Welcome, brothers and sisters, and thank you for tuning in to Station One, the Republics' one and only network station. We are pleased to announce that starting today, we will be on this frequency twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The Great War may have destroyed our world, but it did not destroy our spirits, and slowly but surely, we will rebuild. It is only fitting that this momentous occasion be topped off by a speech from the Republic and YOUR President, His Excellency Hans Drake.
Hans Drake - the supposed right hand man of the champion of the rebellion, the deceased Mercen Stormwind. A lot of stories had circulated through the years as to what had transpired, but the end result was Drake stationed in a safety bunker in Janneh City while Stormwind died like the billions in Haven as the space missiles struck. After the end of the Great War, Drake named himself the President of the Haven Republic, although his influence did not reach outside of the Republic capital city.
Drake began talking about how this was an era in the history of Haven, and how, under his leadership, the human race to become united again. It was to be his guidance that will push them forward, he said, after which both Ray and Tiberius stopped paying attention. The latter's mind was spinning, however, as he thought to himself of what this could mean. If they had figured out how to get the frequency beamed up to the satellite to broadcast, that meant there was a way to collect data from the satellites and broadcast frequencies himself. All the former was thinking about was having another beer before going to his room to sleep.
The crowd that had assembled in the bar, however, was hypnotized by the plasma screen, and hearing their apparent President talk had made them very confused. A lot of people did not know the Republic still existed, let alone had a President who was talking about unity. The whole thing had begun to bore Ray, and he was ready to leave, both the bar, and Boulder. But something made him sit right back down before he had a chance to get up: a bullet right through the plasma screen.
The bullet zipped right through the projectile picture and hit the mainframe of the screen, disabling instantly. Shocked by the sudden events, a few people let out screams while the rest instinctually ducked their heads.
"The only government you all need to be listening to is ME!" screamed a voice from the back of the room. Ray looked back to see a bulky man, surrounded by four even bulkier, borderline scary men. "The Republic died when them Eartheners bombed the hell out of this planet, and we've been putting in work ever since tryin' to make this place a livable place for all of you. I demand your loyalty, and believe me, I WILL get it."
That must've been the sheriff of the town, Ray thought to himself, and he was not mistaken. Casey Farman had been in charge of Boulder since his father passed away nearly twelve years back, and although he was not the oppressive dictator that Jim Benstrike of Frontier was, he still kept his own version of a stranglehold on the town he controlled.
Ray watched him as the man and his companions made their way to the bar as people began returning to whatever it was they were doing before the "incident", secretly hoping that was all the drama for the night. Tiberius was already on his way out, and Ray was not going to be too far behind. Just a few minutes ago, Ray was a man who wished to see the Republic bestow some order onto a chaotic world; now, he wanted nothing to do with a central government led by Hans Drake. He was an old man, but he did not look it, and as far as Ray knew from stories of the Great War veterans, his corruption and greed knew no bounds. If he wanted to unite the world, it would not be because he cared about improving the livelihood on the broken people, it would be because he wanted to feed his thirst for power and currency. At this point, Ray just wanted to rest his head, get some sleep, and have the morning come as quickly as possible so he could get home.
TD (Tiberius Driver): Wake up, Ray! RAY!
RB (Awoken startled): What the hell is it?! You know better than to scream at a dreamin' man!
TD: Get it together, cowboy. I need you outside now!
RB (Gets out of bed and starts putting on his clothes): You're worryin' me, Tiberius. What the hell is goin' on?
TD (Already out the door): Just get out here, for heaven's sake!
Ray had barely finished putting on his boots before he stepped outside his front door, anxious about what Tiberius was up in arms about, and dreading what he might see. Was Benstrike back from Frontier? Maybe his horse was dead, savagely attacked by an carnivorous animal that laid waste to his carcass? His thoughts were running a mile a minute, but after blocking out the powerful sun shining directly in his eyes, he saw why Tiberius had awakened him the way he did.
In front of him stood eighteen people, six of the adults and the rest children of which the eldest looked about fifteen. Next to them were two wagons, each attached to two horses, no doubt their means of transportation. The wagons were something you would see out of the old Earthen western movies that were based on an ancient civilization called the United States and its wild western area. They had become popular in Haven after the Great War by the nomadic types because of the relative ease one could build one. They were used to protect the wanderers from dust storms, rain, and other weather inconveniences, and made quite the comfortable resting place as well.
Looking at each other, one of the male adults finally stepped forward and began talking:
BH (Bartlett Homestead): Greetings. I'm Bartlett Homestead and this here is my family. That's my wife Francetta, my brother Vick and his wife Caroline, and my two sisters, Janice and Pristine. These here are my brother's children and my children.
RB (Confused): Howdy. How can we help ya, Bartlett? Tryin' to find your way somewhere?
BH (Drawing out a long sigh): Actually, we found it. We are where we set out to be.
RB (Getting annoyed): Listen fella, let's stop with the idle chatter and the obnoxious vagueness. What are you doin' here and what is it that you want?
BH (Tensely signals to Ray to calm down with his hands): Easy now, cowboy. We're not here to make any trouble - quite the opposite. We heard rumors back in Boulder about a new settlement set up by the Wildbank River, so we headed south and then east once we hit the river. We've been out in the wild for a few days now.
RB (Getting more agitated): You didn't answer my question. WHAT are you doing here and WHAT do you want?
BH (Pauses for a few seconds while looking straight at Ray): We're here because we want to start a new life, and I would be very grateful indeed if you let my family and I become your neighbors. You know it's a rough place out there in the Barrens and-.
RB (Interrupting Bartlett): Excuse me? For the love of God, can't I just be left in peace!?
TD (Chuckles silently, then leans over to Ray and whispers): You know you don't have a choice in the matter, right?
RB: What the hell do you mean?
TD: Even if you turn them away, they're just gonna settle somewhere close. They can't go back to Boulder - they know it, and you know it. Besides, we could use some neighbors. You're quite borin', you know. And truth be told, I wouldn't mind if Joelle and the kids would get some company of their own kind. Most importantly, Ray, we would have strength in numbers. You know Benstrike and his goons aren't gonna be quiet about what happened, but if we got them boys over there with us, he would think twice about startin' any type of attack.
RB (Grunting, then sighing): I know you're right, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Does the generator have enough capacity to power more households?
TD (Smiling): Yes, and I'll fidget around with its capacitor and see if I can give it more juice.
RB (Shaking his head): Too damn early in the morning for this crap. You talk to them. I'm going back to sleep. (Walks back into his house and slams the door.)
TD (Smiling, then whispers to himself): You got a good heart, Ray. (Looks up to Bartlett and his family, still smiling and speaks up.) Welcome.