The unruly wind played in gusts along the empty street, shutters rattled noisily at the windows and somewhere a horse neighed uneasily and stamped a foreleg, spooked by the unsettling touch of the breeze. A lone tumbleweed was whipped along the ground and the dust from the dry earth filled the air with a gritty haze. At one end of the street a cloud of dust began to take on a new form, gradually coalescing and changing; slowly, the form of an avatar emerged.
The crunch of the newcomer’s boots and the jingle of spurs formed a desolate and menacing sound as she made her way down the road – trouble had come to town.
As she neared the saloon, the strains of a honky tonk piano and shouts of raucous laughter drifted towards her. Grimly, she frowned and her hand felt for the reassuring bulk of her Colt. As she climbed the wooden steps towards the saloon entrance, her footsteps rang out like the hammering of coffin nails; she paused, resting her palm on the half-doors then, pushing them wide, stepped into the saloon.
It took a moment for her presence to register, gradually the room quietened as card games came to a halt and conversations died. She was acutely aware that every eye in the room was watching her as she walked slowly to the bar.
She leaned back against the bar, surveying the room as the bartender hastily poured her a slug. Her gaze fastened upon a table in the corner of the room – a poker game, presided over by a grizzled cowboy, clad in black. Unnerved by her stare, the dancing girl at his side drifted into the background… slowly, he raised his head, his eyes dark and piercing beneath the brim of his stetson.
“Well, lookee here boys, we got ourselves a stranger in town and ahm a-thinking that’s she’s not here fer the entertainment. Now then, little lady, why doncha jest drink up, turn around and take yer purdy little tushy right back outta here… this ain’t no place fer no ladies, ya hear?”
The bartender nervously sidled up behind the stranger; “Please miss, why doncha just do as he says? I don’t want no trouble here”.
“Brett Starspear”, she exclaimed loudly, “i’ve been hearing some real bad stories about you and your boys. Folks round these parts are saying you been a-griefing again – there wouldn’t be a grain o’ truth in them stories now, would there?”
The man in black laughed, “well, it’s funny you should say so. Y’know, old Sheriff Linden was making them self-same accersations right before he kinda ‘left town’ all of a sudden. Hey boys, any of you know what happened to the ol’ sheriff? I ain’t heard from him fer a bit?”
At this, a guffaw erupted from those assembled around the table and one of the cowboy’s companions, a weasel-faced guy with a livid scar from his eye to his chin spoke up; “Well boss, I kinda heard he had an accident of sorts up at Boot Hill… ‘pparently he was cleaning his gun and it kinda went off… a few times. That’s what I heard, anyways”.
Another roar of laughter, and the stranger drained her glass.
“That ain’t what i heard, Brett. Way i heard it, was he got murdered in cold blood.”
The cowboy leaned back in his chair and carefully removed his stetson, placing it gently on the table in front of him. “Well, ain’t that jest a cryin’ shame? Who d’ya think would do such a thing? More to the point, who d’ya think is gonna do anythin’ about it?”
The girl considered the man in black, turned her head to the side and spat on the floor before looking back in his direction.
“That wouldn’t be a game of poker you’re running over there, would it?”
“What’s it to you?”
“Well, y’know, i could’a sworn that TOS says gambling ain’t allowed…”
The cowboy eased himself out of his chair and casually began to walk towards the bar. A dancing girl stifled a scream and huddled into a corner with the other girls. The bartender started grabbing bottles and stowing them beneath the bar and the tables between the two protagonists quickly became vacant, before being rezzed out of harm’s way.
Brett spoke: “And what, exactly, are you gonna do about it?”
The girl just smiled and reached, once more, for the whiskey bottle. Almost instantly, Brett’s hand was on his gun and, before you could say ‘darn tooting’, he’d let off six rounds at the stranger, at point blank range.
The girl smiled again and poured her drink, as the air around them filled with error messages… ‘Unable to rez object: Bullet. You do not have permission to build here.’ Brett’s eye’s were frantic as the girl turned to face him; “What’s the matter, Brett? Can’t find that stolen rifle, you’ve been keeping to hand? Fact is Brett, you ain’t gonna find anything stolen left in your inventory… it’s all gone… and, very shortly, so will you be!”
The girl knocked back her glass and turned to address the shocked faces filling the saloon.
“Fact is folks, things are gonna change around here real soon. It’s time this darn place stopped being a frontier town and started to be a bit more civilised. i own this place now… hell, i own all of you! So’s this is how it’s gonna be.” – she pointed to the top of the screen – “See anything different? Yup, that’s right, you ain’t got ‘damage enabled’ no more, so’s folks can go about their business without worrying they’re gonna be blasted every time they set foot outta the door! As fer you girls…”, she turned to address the cancan dancers cowering in the corner, “have you no sense of decency? We don’t want your sorts around these parts – this is PG Sim and you ain’t welcome. So’s you can jest wave goodbye to yer friends here and say a big ‘hello’ to the adult hub!”
The dancers poofed as she ejected them and now she turned back to Brett.
“i ain’t finished with you. You, and all yer gang are going on the banned list, and what’s more, yer accounts are suspended until you prove you can behave yerselves. When they let you back in, yer gonna find a few changes and i expect you all to toe the line or yer gonna find yerselves all up on Boot Hill sharing a plot with ol’ Sheriff Linden. Yer hear me?”
Protesting and shouting, Brett and his gang were ejected. ‘Brett Starspear is offline’.
“Now listen up, and listen good. There’s a new gal in town and she’s gonna clear this place up… so’s you’d better remember her name – it’s Haven, Calamity Haven!”
Grandpa closed the Big Book of Virtual History and looked down at his granddaughter with a smile: “And that my dear is the story of how Second Life started to lose its frontier feeling and became a safe environment, where teenagers could play in the streets and vampires can roam freely without fear of persecution.”
The little girl looked into Grandpa’s eyes and sleepily asked, “What happened to Frontier Town?”
“They built a great big mall over it and now it’s gone forever. Now, off you go to sleep!”
Grandpa placed the book on the bedside cabinet before gently tucking his granddaughter in. Pausing at the door, his hand on the light switch, he looked back towards the book where it lay, and sighed.
“Ah yes, those were the good ol’ days”, he whispered as he turned out the light.
A sleepy voice spoke quietly from the pillows: “Goodnight, Grandpa Brett.”
I am just a cowboy lonesome on the trail
A starry night, a campfire light
The coyote call, the howling winds wail
So I ride out to the old sundown
Thin Lizzy – Cowboy Song