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Squatter's Rights (Charley's Story, Chapter 30)


gregaaz

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As it happened, it was Jake who found me, and not vice versa. He was just outside the gate, scrutinizing the sign by the trading post. 

 

"Disrobe completely, huh?" he asked, "Sounds like you've got an interesting place running here."

 

I shrugged, "if you're curious, come on in - I'll introduce you to everyone."

 

"No, no, I think my love handles need some work before I go skinny dipping. But listen, Charley, have you been up to the radio tower since we cleared out Concord?"

 

I shook my head. "No, some things came up here. I was planning to head up there this afternoon."

 

"Yeah, well, you better follow me now then. Got a small matter that I think you need a voice in."

 

Tempted as I was to grill Jake further, I could hear the urgency in his voice, and so I followed him without further discussion. When I arrived at the tower - and the shack that Jake had put together on our first visit - I could see the problem immediately.

 

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"Hello," I told the stranger who'd hopped down from the rough Adirondack chair in front of the shack. "I take it you're the friend this man told me about?"

 

"I am," I said, "call me Charley. And who are you?"

 

"Bartholomew Cole," he said, extending a hand. I med him in the gesture, considering him. 

 

"Good to meet you Bartholomew. You prefer the ten dollar version or should I call you Bart?"

 

"Bart's fine amongst friends, so... if you're a friend, I'll leave it up to you. Are you a friend?"

 

"Well," I said slowly, "I think that depends on the conversation we're about to have. I saw you found the house my friend built, and made yourself at home. You claim this place as you own?"

 

Bart shrugged. "Squatter's rights, you know. Were you planning on moving in?"

 

"I wasn't, but I'm the... well, I'm the mayor of the town down there in the valley, and we were setting this place up to maintain our radio transmitter. I imagine you found this place after you heard our signal, right?"

 

He nodded in confirmation.

 

"Well, if you heard the signal, you know we're looking for people. And I've seen a beret like that not long ago, on the head of a guard late of Wolfburg. Are you from around those ways? You have experience as a guard?"

 

Bart nodded again. "Yes and yes. Sounds like you're trying to recruit me."

 

I shrugged. "Was I that obvious? Here's my offer. For now, the house is yours in exchange for you watching over the radio tower. If it breaks, and you can't fix it up, come down to the town and we'll send a mechanic up to help you. Eventually, we'll fold this ridge into the town proper, and I'll guarantee you keep your rights to the property and a voice in the settlement. However, until then, it'll be your responsibility to provide for yourself. Hunt, scavenge, whatever as long as it doesn't hurt our town. Is that fair?"

 

Jake was kind of nodding along, his opinion leaking out rather transparently. Bart considered what I said, then added, "If I take your deal, while I'm on my own here if more folks show up, following your beacon, I want the authority to organize them, set them on tasks and keep them employed. Otherwise, it'll be a madhouse as soon as one or two folks show up. And I want you to back me up if someone gets rowdy."

 

"I'll agree to that," I conceded, "as long as you run a fair shop. If I get word that you're acting like a raider boss, the deal's off."

 

"Agreed. Well, Charley, I'm looking forward to working with you."

 

Once Bart left us, Jake visibly relaxed a little. "Whew, you handled that guy well. I gotta say, I was worried we were going to be getting into a gunfight over the damn shack. But in any event, that's not even what I wanted to show you at first. Let me show you what you can do with these ASAM sensors. Come on, over here," he pointed to some flat ground nearby.

 

"Now, place down this sensor. See how I switched over these knobs? This one's for food production."

 

"Okay, perfect, I guess Bart won't have as much trouble with finding food as I thought."

 

Jake shrugged, "'long as he's willing to work, at least. Farming isn't a walk in the park." 

 

Like last time, shortly after we planted the sensor, it scanned the area and started outputting information. More wooden planks, some metal pots, and perhaps most relevantly, wild tatos. All with headings and distances to find them. After explaining to Bart what we were up to, he helped us gather what we needed and soon we had it all piled up on the plot.

 

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"I just want to show you how easy this is," Jake said, clearly enjoying being the center of attention. "Now that we have everything we need, all you have to do is follow these instructions step by step."

 

The a voice interrupted us. "Baaaart, what are you up to?" 

 

The voice was female, and a bit cautious. 

 

"Who are those people?"

 

Bart looked to me and shrugged. "Sorry I didn't introduce her earlier... felt I needed to keep my cards close to my vest until we had an understanding. That's my wife Ellie. She's, ah, a package deal with me, so I hope that's alright."

 

I admit I was a little annoyed he'd concealed that from me, but I could understand why. "No problem, Bart, but the deal's the same as before. One person or two, you're responsible for your own food and upkeep."

 

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While we worked, Jake periodically pointed out a feature here or there. The big one, in my mind, was that the ASAM sensor would prompt Bart and Ellie when to plan and when to harvest. And judging by Ellie's comment that followed, about her lack of a green thumb, that feature was going to save these two a lot of frustration.

 

"OKaaaaay," Jake said at last, "almost done. So, what do you think?"

 

The 'farm' wasn't anything amazing, just a tilled dirt patch with growing stakes for the vines, but I supposed that was the point. Just like the house, it had only used nearby resources and required minimal complicated work. 

 

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"Now there's another setting, too," he said as he twisted a knob and handed me another sensor. "This one's for, well, for work. Here, put it down over here and let's see what it comes up with."

 

We picked out a fairly open spot near the farm plot and started the sensor up once more. After it did its scan, Jake took a look at the window and then beckoned me over to see it.

 

"Looks like the sensor's preselected a storage unit. That'll be handy for scavenging."

 

Once more we worked with the Coles to put up the structure. It wasn't anything elaborate - a simple lean-to with dividers in it for separating materials, but I could understand the utility. 

 

"That's good," Bart said, "gives us a place to store wood, metal scrap, maybe even some asbestos for insulation. These sensors of yours are something else, stranger."

 

"Jake," Jake corrected.

 

"Alright, Jake, well those sensors of yours are something else."

 

"Agreed," I added. 

 

Then yet another voice interrupted. "Excuse me, there. Oh, hold on, don't shoot." 

 

The speaker was an old man, balding but still sporting a neatly trimmed and rather elaborate moustache. 

 

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"What are you young 'ums up to out here? Fixing up these old buildings? If you don't mind me asking, that is."

 

"Something like that," I said. "What brings you out here?"

 

"Well, I heard all the commotion and my curiosity just compelled me to visit. You four looking to settle down here?"

 

Jake shook his head, "No, this settlement belongs to my friend here." He gestured towards me, then continued, "I was just demonstrating some construction techniques."

 

"Oh, so you built these all by yourself?" the man prodded.

 

"Walls, ceiling, and foundation, all from materials we found nearby." Jake confirmed.

 

The old man laughed. "That sounds like a load of brahmin dung to me. I've never known building to be easy, especially not putting up buildings in an afternoon."

 

"It was easy," I doubled down.

 

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"Hey, I've got an idea," Jake said. "Why not offer the old-timer residence here? Show him first hand how we do things. Build him a nice house."

 

"What do you think, Bart?" I asked, "you're the boss here. You want a neighbor already?"

 

"I don't know," Bart said, pensive. "What's your name? You from around here?"

 

"Everyone just calls me Old Paul," he said. "Used to live with a friend of mine a ways west of here, but I've been thinking of heading up towards Wolfburg."

 

Bart shook his head slowly. "You don't want to head to Wolfburg, friend. Nothing there but raiders and misery now. But I'll tell you what, my wife and I could use some company. Jake's got the right of it - let us show you how easy it is to build up a home for you."

 

"Well... I'll admit, you've piqued my curiosity a little," Old Paul said. "Ah, Okay then, you've got yourself a deal. And I see you've got a scavvin' shed set up already. Maybe this old scavver can show you kids a few tricks."

 

"And look at that," Jake cut in, "those sensors have already attracted your first resident. Why don't you and Bart help him get settled in... you'll have to excuse me, though, I need to finish cleaning up my place in Concord. Main street's quite a mess, and if I don't haul off those raiders soon its gonna stink to high heavens."

 

We parted ways then, Jake heading back to Concord and me spending the rest of the afternoon helping the Coles and Old Paul set up. In the course of that afternoon, we had a few more newcomers appear and when I finally headed back to Sanctuary there were half a dozen buildings under construction on that ridge.

 

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On the walk back to Sanctuary, I wrestled with some unwelcome thoughts. In building this settlement on the rocky outcropping, I was going to complete a number of my objectives - protecting the radio tower, guard against the raiders coming back to this location, and even establish a backup food supply. However, I wondered about the relationship I'd forged with Bart Cole. Was I planting the seeds for a feudal system, with settlement bosses pledging allegiance to Sanctuary and their citizens pledging allegiance to the settlement boss? Would Bart Cole be the first Baron in the realm of Queen Charley? I'm not sure I liked the way that sounded. 

 

While I knew I didn't have the resources or the reach to do it yet, I resolved to incorporate the ridge settlement into Sanctuary proper as soon as it was feasible. For now I'd have to trust Bart to manage things up here, and I expected if he succeeded at this task that he'd continue to be an influential voice in my community, but I'd have these folks vault-suited and brought into the fold as soon as I could reasonably accomplish it. 

 

Just before I reached the west gate of Sanctuary, I ran into another three people, hiking through the woods. Coming up short, I greeted them and asked if I could help them.

 

"Uh, hey..." the young woman in their company said, "are you the one who put out the radio message?"

 

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I nodded in affirmation. "I'm Charley, the mayor of the settlement you just passed. We're starting a new settlement up the way you're headed. You'll want to check in with Bartholomew Cole, he's my representative up there."

 

"I saw your settlement - it looks very nice. We... we had to leave ours. Everyone was getting sick. So... if you'll let us, we'd like to live here."

 

"Hmm, well, we're definitely looking for more people. But tell me about this sickness."

 

"Don't worry!" she assured me, "none of us are sick. That's why we left - so we didn't catch it."

 

I thought on that for a moment. Other than being filthy, the three seemed to be in good health, but I also couldn't use an epidemic going through this new settlement just as it was getting on its feet. 

 

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I asked her to tell me more about the illness, and she obliged, going into a lot of detail about the symptoms and progression through the community. It sounded like dysentery to me, and I was pretty confident that was a hygiene disease.

 

"Sounds like bad water to me. Tell you what, you find Bartholomew and explain to him that I think you're probably safe as long as you quarantine for a few days. If none of you get sick by then, you've got my blessing - but he has the final say. Fair?"

 

"Oh, thank you. That's more than fair. Is he the way you came?" She said.

 

I nodded at that. "Yes, but just follow me. If more people are moving in, I need to make a few more preparations... and I need to turn off that radio beacon before he's drowning in settlers."

 

And I meant it, the beacon had drawn far more folks than I expected, and the only thing I disliked more than having the ridge become a permanent vassal state of second class citizens was the idea of the ridge outnumbering Sanctuary and ending up with us as their vassals.

 

I could practically feel this whole situation running away out from under me, and I was hard pressed to know if I should thank Jake for his sensors, or curse him. 

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