The USA today is a proud nation of sweeping plains and rolling sandy deserts, around the perimeter of which cluster gleaming skyscraper cities. True, the drastic climatic changes of the last three decades have forced its citizens to leave its once-golden heartland to the elements, but in 1995 the United States are as civilised and progressive a nation as anywhere on earth.
Population: 232 million
Pop. Density: 25 per sq.km
Capital: Washington (see note on Independent States)
Principal Cities: New York – 16 million, Los Angeles – 12 million, Chicago – 8 million
Currency: Dollar (Yen also legal tender in some states)
Trade Balance (Official State Department figures for 1994): $6 billion surplus
Average Annual Wage: $84,200
Typical prices: bread (loaf) – $12, bottle of beer – $16, gallon of gasoline – $4
Major Exports: Technology, computers, weaponry, manufactured goods
Major Imports: Food, fuel oil, other fuels, raw materials
The desertification and pollution of mid-west and central North America has taken its toll of the Great Lakes, shrinking them into shallow waterways bounded by vast salt plains, and turning the world-famous Niagara Falls into little more than a muddy trickle.
The drastic rise in sea-level since WWII was countered on the east coast by the construction of an immense barrage joining Long Island to the mainland at its western end, and the building of vast concrete sea wall defences along the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
On the eastern seaboard, however, the rising Atlantic has eaten away into low-lying parts, flooding many hundreds of square miles and causing untold problems in relocating settlements and farmland.
Once the mightiest waterways in North America, the Mississippi and Missouri have dwindled away almost to nothing, clogged with refuse and polluted and poisoned by the factories of Kansas, Minneapolis and Chicago.
The endless rolling prairies of mid-west America have been superseded by an interminable sand and dust desert. It has been created over several decades by a series of ecological and natural disasters, notably the fact that the coastal waters of the Pacific are now so thick with pollution, the water is unable to evaporate to form the rain which once watered America's prime agricultural areas. At its worst, in Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska, the wilderness known officially as the Great Central Desert, is one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. It is said to be advancing at around 1 km a month. Miami Beach will soon stretch all the way to Sausalito.
Watered by chilling rain from the Pacific, the rocky plateaux of Utah, Nevada and Arizona have developed into one huge cool wilderness comparable to the Atacama of South America. Las Vegas has become the last oasis on the edge of the desert, a rebel town harking back to the days of the first settlers. While along the Gulf of Mexico, the rising waters have turned New Orleans into a new Venice; its streets replaced by punt-thronged canals and all new buildings constructed on piles and stilts raising them above the water.
One of the scarcest commodities in the US, especially in central and western regions, is drinkable water. A mixture of climactic change and unbelievable pollution has silted up many rivers altogether and spoiled many more. Expensive bottles are for many people the only supply of fresh drinking water; for others, in isolated communities sandside and the rougher parts of urban NoGo, even this option is not available.
The US is still nominally governed from the White House in Washington, but power resides with the corporations.
Some states, notably Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky & Tennessee, have assumed greater powers of self government, and are informally known as the Independent States (though none have officially seceded from the Union). They enforce state-line tariffs and other legal hazards, unwittingly creating a large smuggling industry.
The Sanctioned Operative is a new breed of law enforcer. A blend of bounty hunter, hired gun and old-style fighter pilot.
In the vast tracts of lawlessness outside the Policed Zones (PeeZees) of the great cities, motorised gangs reign supreme. They terrorise the scattered communities along the Interstates, and war constantly among themselves for territory and prestige. The roads have become a battle zone, where the slow and the weak soon die.
The Enderby Amendment of 1985 opened up the field of law enforcement to private individuals and organisations. The Sanctioned Op was born.
Some Ops can call on the resources of an agency, while others work alone. They cruise the Interstates in their heavily-armed Interceptors on a perpetual seek-and-destroy mission. Sometimes they're chasing bounties put up by the authorities. Sometimes they're hired by a community to defend it from predatory gangs. It's all money.
It's a dangerous business, and one that attracts all kinds. There are hard-bitten professional killers, self-styled knights in armour, veterans looking for the old thrills, ace racing drivers looking for a little more – the list is endless. Some like the money, some like the danger, some just like killing.
North America, 1995. The glorious United States of America. God's own country. Honest.
Life here is not good. It's fast and it's cheap, and it has a tendency to turn real dangerous when you least expect it. But for the right people the rewards are immense. Think about it. Someone, somewhere, must be profiting from all the chaos.
It is a time of heroes and anti-heroes, of upholders of the law and renegades from it. On the highways, Sanctioned Operatives pursue renegades from the new privatised justice. In the company boardrooms, computer jockeys and market terrorists plot takeovers and financial killings. In the shattered filth of the NoGo areas, black marketeers sell dreams and temporary freedom – for a price. The pleasures they sell are manufactured by the corporations, surreptitiously passed down the line from their secure Policed Zone factories. The addicted streetscum buyer feels he is in control. The black marketeer with the tell-tale bulge in his coat believes he is in control. The middleman with the nervous tic is certain he is in control.
The corporations rule the world, throttling it with terrorist trade tactics, a stranglehold of computer datanets and useless but addictive products. Ruthless business strategy coupled with the all-pervading amorality that is the hall mark of the times, has created the ultimate exploitation machine slowly to but surely squeeze the planet dry.
Not that that would take much doing. Rapacious over-exploitation of the earth has had drastic effects on the climate and sea-level. Tokyo has walled itself in behind the Tokaido Bay Wall; London is on permanent flood alert; New Orleans has canals where streets used to flow; Houston is simply disappearing underwater a street a year. In the heartlands of America dust and bones are the only crops now.
On the mean streets of Denver, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis life is a cruel joke, but no-one's laughing. Laughter would only draw attention, and no-one wants to do that any more. Too many people lurk in the tower-blocks with stolen IR sights and an itchy trigger. If you are lucky, the local brotherhood will watch over you in exchange for bleeding you dry. Italian mob, Jap yakuza, Hispanic bloods, it's all the same: it's still your blood that they're sucking. You've been abandoned to your fate by the stinking rich, who lurk in their PZs behind electrified fences, not realising their hired security are screwing them too. What else is left but rebellion and a brief stab at notorious glory? Nothing.
In the City
- "Name? Social security code? Occupation?, Nature of business in Los Angeles Central Policed Zone IV? Permission to enter granted. The computer says you're clear, but be out again by 22:00 or you'll be going back to your San Bernadino sleaze-pit In an ash-tray. Next!"
- —Duty Patrolman Hogan Jenkins, Legal Eagles Security westside filter zone, LA Central IV.
Society has always been divided between the haves and the have-nots, but by 1995 events have made such divisions directly obvious. Across all of North America the once-gleaming skyscraper cities have been physically divided into Policed Zones (PZs) and Non-Policed Zones (more commonly known simply as NoGo). Such a division happened rapidly after the introduction of the Deregulation of Law Enforcement Act of 1985. In the rich enclaves the police continue to patrol as before, employed by the wealthy citizens as always. But as policing declined in the poorer and more remote areas, physical barriers started to be erected to keep out 'undesirables'. Wire fences developed into electrified grids, and then into solid steel-reinforced walls honeycombed with the latest intruder detection and laser repulsion systems. Intruders are now less frequent than they used to be.
The citizens of the PZs tend to be either public servants (doctors, teachers, bureaucrats) or employes of vast, multi-national corporations. Not that the age-old American tradition of free enterprise is completely dead, but the corporations have been very thorough in their attempts to secure their positions. The political, economic, and even cultural spheres of American life are all, to a greater or lesser degree, controlled and directed by the all-persuading influence of these multi-billion dollar and yen operations. The greatest exports from North America are currently weapons and defense systems, but the corporations have their fingers in so many pies it is often difficult to narrow down what each one does or doesn't actually manufacture. Many American corporations are owned or part-owned by overseas concerns, including the Japanese, Germans and members of the Pan Istamic Congress. Indeed these are fast approaching total ownership of many sectors of American industry without most people realising (foreign ownership usually being hidden behind intermediary companies).
As corporate employees, the citizens of the PeeZees enjoy many benefits in terms of security, housing and facilities for themselves and their families. However, the corporations demand feudal-style loyalty in exchange for such· benefits, and corporate employees are often little more than modern-day bonded serfs living in luxurious imprisonment.
- "Oh, hi! What? You want to ask me some questions? Sure, but hey! That's way too much of a truly ga-ga jacket, darling, so street, so renegade! You simply must tell me where you got it! I'm sorry, what was it you wanted?"
- —F John Horowitz-DuCasse Jr, socialite, LA Central IV.
Given a captive population of wealthy increased-leisure citizens, some parts of the city PZs have developed into decadent playgrounds where the only passport required is money and the only limit on pleasure is stamina and the strength of one's stomach. The young, rich trendsetters live in a permanent whirl of all-night clubs and gala openings, covered with glee by news-starved tabloid scandal-sheets who feed the wannabe company kids. The real rich kids are most likely to be the offspring of high-level executives or media people, a new aristocracy of blasé spoilt brats grown old before their time on wild living and severe overdoses of privilege.
For the corporate workers, life isn't one large party, but luxury is still plentiful and gratification instantly available. The rise in violent sports, especially motor duels in NoGo areas, has been met by a technically sophisticated but morally bankrupt TV service, which continually broadcasts such bloodthirsty spectacles to an increasingly jaded audience.
The expanding American economy is supported by great reliance on ultra-high technology and its successful application to even quite sophisticated tasks. The hard work of manufacturing the goods is done by industrial robots on computer-controlled production lines. Corporate workers are more likely to be supervisory or service personnel than production-line slaves. Many work in computer design and operation, governing the product lines, and more still work in advertising, marketing and media, selling the new products to the consumers.
Within a PZ, the bigger corporations may well have their' own compounds holding luxury high-rise apartments as well as the scrupulously sterile robot production lines and marketing and design offices. It is not.unknown for corporate children to be born in the company medi-centre, learn in the company school with all the other corporate kids, shop in the company shop, watch the company TV channel – and respond with destructive teenage rebellion the first opportunity they get. Corporate kids soon find other things to sing than the company song.
- "When you're driving in NoGo, slow down if you have to but don't stop, not for anything!"
- — Friendly advice for PZ dwellers courtesy of the Trans-Am Corporation of Cleveland
Outside the relative safety of the corporate compounds, the PZs, Safe Towns and commercial zones, outside the jurisdiction of the company cops and the federal enforcement agencies, there is only NoGo. Its terse name says it all, and has come to stand for a whole way of life fundamentally at odds with the cosier existence inside the wire fences that separate it from the PZs.
NoGo is home to those who don't count, who can't cope, who don't want to be corporation servants, who want easy victims and easy profits. The poor, the rebellious, the individual and the criminal all make their home, whether by misfortune or design, in the decaying suburbs and abandoned city centres. More huddle together in cardboard shanties, industrial warehouses, abandoned cars and storm drains. Further out of town, on the fringes of open country away from the police-patrolled freeways, yet more band together in small communities united by a frontier-town mentality and a very real fear of the roving bands of motorised bandits who prey on them.
There have always been parts of a town or city where respectable people just didn't go. After the privatisation of law enforcement and the rapid bankruptcy of inner city government the rich grouped together and fenced themselves in, and such areas grew to cover all land outside the wire. The withdrawal of federal policing didn't seem to affect the poorest areas, especially when private concerns took over the responsibility. But an effective service costs money, and in many areas the so-called guardians of the law took to extorting their fee from the unwilling citizens, while in others policing simply ceased and many streets were left to the first gun-toting punk to stake his claim. Some 'service status' areas, especially alongside the patrolled freeways, manage to support policing of a sort; others are under the jurisdiction of units employed by the local hoods from one mob or another; most have been totally abandoned.
Of course, there are still a few (albeit a declining minority) independent towns and communities which somehow manage to maintain a largely peaceful existence outside the suffocating 'protection' of the corporations. But whether it's a shanty town hide out for no good desperadoes, or a haven for the standards of a by-gone era, it's still NoGo – where outsiders who aren't either looking for trouble or running from it are a rare sight indeed.
You Want It? We Got It!
In some parts of NoGo you can find anything you want – if you look hard enough, and can afford it when you find it. Hi-tech software, drugs, fuel oils, electronics, live animals, body parts, uncontaminated water, cybernetics, antiques, anything that can command money or be swapped for something else. Black-market shopping centres organised by mob-funded gangs or independent entrepreneurs set up at night in the dilapidated shopping malls, slipping away again at dawn before the security patrols arrive. Customers come from everywhere, including from inside the PZs, looking for rare or illegal items.
Territory and street-status are all-important in the seedier NoGo areas. Whether you make your pad in a cardboard hut on the outskirts of EI Paso or have your own steel-doored retreat on the thirtieth floor of a building off Time Square, that place is yours and no creep's going to take it off you without a fight. To make sure of this, many citizens band together into some form of ad hoc community, organisation or street-gang.
For the young, gang membership means an impromptu uniform, secret slang and symbols, initiations and territory. Life is a full-scale war in which the only enemies are the rival gangs of like-minded kids. Pleasure is provided by increasingly intense music, watching the duels on the TV and occasional pleasure raids inside the PZs, financed by extortion and mugging and more exotic crimes.
Some of the more organised NoGo communities are able to employ their own security or police units, but keeping out their less respectful neighbours is always a problem, especially when they have their own security. Mob affiliation is high, with many citizens throwing their lot in with the yakuza, mafia or blood. Of course, some citizens have no choice about joining – in many areas membership is compulsory. Some citizens, though, won't join. These loners, if they are strong or skilled enough to survive, are the most dangerous of all.
Despite the glamour of street life, so many NoGo dwellers would rather not live there. Dreams of scraping enough money together to move inside the wire to safety rarely come true. With all the pressures on their money, from the extortionate bills of the privatised water and electricity companies, the security fees and gang insurance, few make it.
On the Road
The cities are crumbling, falling prey to their own acid pollution and ruthless overcrowding and exploitation. The relatively secure PZs are patrolled by uniformed psychos who uphold the rich man's law. You don't stop in a PZ, because there's always some upstart with a badge and a taser moving you on. NoGo shivers by day, burns by night, a jungle of concrete and steel. There's always someone skulking around the next corner with first-degree murder and car-theft on their mind. You don't stop in NoGo, period. Where else is there but the open road?
The streets of a city like Dallas, Denver or Boston can vary between quietly safe and horrifyingly dangerous, depending upon where you are and what time of day it is. In the protected PZs, regular police and other security patrols keep disorder to a minimum. After all, that's what the citizens pay so much of their incomes for. Streets are often in good repair, and the vehicles likewise. Wealth has a habit of making itself visible in the PZs, and a flash new gull-wing is just another of this season's accessories, to complete an outfit along with the latest LCD-imaging datanet-linked mirror shades and new Korean DI-ed sensi-chip implants.
Urban vehicles don't usually carry weapons as a rule. Most PZs still retain laws prohibiting the display of weapons in public – except for law enforcers – and out-of-town vehicles are required to strip down before being allowed access, if they are let in at all. Most vehicles are constructed with the necessary ports and couplings to take weapons if the owner finds them necessary. The AAC currently run campaigns insisting that all members fit something high-calibre and belt-fed before venturing beyond the limits of a PZ.
Driving in, or more likely, through, NoGo is a very different matter. Most major route-ways to the PZs are fenced off from the poorer areas they unfortunately have to pass through, but of course fences can be climbed over, broken through or tunnelled under. Unseen Highway Killers isn't just the name of a popular teenage pop group; it's also another danger for those who drive through NoGo. Particular favourites of the unknown snipers are the buses which run passengers to and from airports built on the edge of town. Really busy highways tend to be monitored by video and helicopter, and dotted with small fortified surveillance and emergency towers to reduce the risk of violence.
The actual streets of NoGo areas can vary greatly from wide, clean highways (occasionally) to buckled, cratered dirt-tracks (often). Road repair is not usually the highest priority of your average NoGo dweller. However, since a successful black market operation requires truck access, some of the more organised mobs will pay for the upkeep of key roads into and out of their trading areas. In neighbourhoods completely controlled by the yakuza or the mafia it is not at all surprising to find the perfect streets swept and washed daily. The black-windowed stretch limousines which cruise these streets carry hidden weaponry to get out of all those tricky little spots major-league gangsters tend to get caught up in.
An expensive or fashionable vehicle tends not to be the status symbol it is in a PZ area. Unless you have the sort of serious reputation that guarantees no two-bit street slime will rip off your prize sleaze-mobile every time your back is turned, it is far too risky to own a flash vehicle in NoGo. The money involved first in purchasing one, and then in keeping it in fuel, tends to be very prohibitive anyway. Everyday vehicles in NoGo tend to be functional rather than impressive; clanking conglomerations of cannibalised parts ripped off from other drivers and often held together by little more than prayer. Weaponry tends to be openly flaunted, despite the ineffectual threat of the law. It's always better to warn someone off sooner than have to shoot them later. It's not smart to get involved when driving in NoGo.
Also known variously as Influx, In/Out and StopGo, filter is a term for the border areas on the edge of the PZs through which traffic enters or leaves the area. Depending on the area, barriers range from raisable poles to switchable laser-curtains. No PZ has a completely open gateway. More importantly, perhaps, filter is also where the incoming trucks stop to unload their containers and pick up a new load for the return journey. Truck parks are very well fortified, usually guarded by electrified fences, armed guards and IR-enhanced German Shepherds; they form strong points along the perimeter of the PZs.
Desert Roads & Dirt Tracks
Beyond the cities the roads run forever, slicing up the dusty, lifeless land of the new Wild West, the Second Frontier. As the sand creeps ever onward, the land becomes more and more deserted, the roads open and free! Well, sporadically. As the desert gradually encroached on the more populated areas, some Americans saw the ecological catastrophe as the beginning of a new frontier spirit. They stayed where they were, and others moved from the overcrowded cities to join them in their rickety settlements. The roads link them together, running like asphalt spiderwebs through the cruel terrain. The settlements operate under no-one's jurisdiction but their own; 'sandside justice', as it has come to be known, is to be avoided at all costs. It usually involves a lynching, and is not to be recommended.
Elsewhere, ranches cluster wherever there is a permanent source of clean water. Situated well outside the patrol areas of the state security police, many ranch houses are built like small fortified castles, surrounded by yet more electrified fences and automatic intruder alarms.
The sandside (common term for the desert) roads can be clear for kilometre after kilometre, often lulling inexperienced drivers into a false sense of security. This is Outlaw Country. You meet someone on the road, all he wants to do is kill you and take everything you have. Unless you manage to kill him first. On two wheels or four, the biker gangs and crazed loners patrol their territory, stalking their prey like wolves. Stalking them, of course, are the Ops and the bounty hunters. It's war out there.
State authorities, their powers stripped by government privatisation and ecological collapse, have in many areas licensed out road ownership to private companies. Toll roads have an obvious disadvantage in that it costs money to travel on them (or at least to join them via the toll-gates), but this is counter-balanced by better road surfaces, and aerial and land-based security patrols. Problems come because many of the vehicles who use such roads are driven by inexperienced city-dwellers who seem to believe that they are now perfectly safe from attack. This attitude just leads to trouble, with the more organised gangs launching full-scale assaults on the highways in expectation of easy pickings. It isn't so easy to have a serious man-to-man duel on a privately-owned highway, however, without also bringing along the rest of one's gang to ride shotgun and keep off the lawmen while you finish your business.
Minor routes are theoretically under the protection of the state or county authorities. In other words, no protection at all. Sandside is littered with signs declaring this road or that to be the righteous property of one gang of cut-throat psychos or another.
Most legitimate road users crossing the wilder parts of the central USA do so at very great risk unless they travel in convoys. In the regions close to populated zones there is usually enough security coverage to dissuade all but the most careful small-time bandits from practising their trade, but further out the gangs run wild. Furthermore, because of the potentially rough conditions, trans-continental vehicles have to be very rugged in construction, prepared for assault both from the harsh elements and other road users.
Convoys are getting increasingly larger, because the gangs are becoming more and more daring. The largest corporations run immense trains of armoured lorries patrolled by fast jetcopters which can take off and land from flat-backed trailers while the convoy keeps moving. Further afield, affiliated Ops patrol the backwoods on the look-out for potential trouble. The huge armoured trucks now in use are quite capable of taking out just about anything in their path, and let nothing stand in their way (occasionally a problem when the thing in their way is a police roadblock or a car pile-up!).
However, the larger gangs are becoming more adept (or is that 'crazy enough'?) at actually boarding and breaking into a moving truck. There is little a truck driver can do in such an eventuality save swerve about in the hope of dislodging them, or climb out of the cabin to slug it out man-to-man on the roof of the speeding sixteen wheeler! A few widely-reported incidents of jetcopter pilots ill-advisedly strafing the fuel tankers they were supposed to be protecting have put paid to other remedies.
Most of the large corporations operate their own haulage companies (TransCon, for example, are owned by GenTech), and there are a multitude of large and small independent haulage firms using both unionised and non-unionised labour. Some firms, such as The Express and TDS (Trans-Desert Services), specialise in fast, small-scale message-carrying duties, using very fast, lightly-armoured vehicles and long-range jetcopters to speed small packages through to outlying regions in safety. Others band together in loosely-organised trade associations to construct larger, regular cross-country convoys.
The convoys, of course, are there for protection against the marauding gangs which increasingly infest the outlying regions. Some bands, of course, are clean-living and operate within the law, grouping together for protection as they travel the country from town to town, making some money from legitimate jobs. Others veer either side of the law, not being averse to some shady county-line smuggling or the occasional hold-up if the road is clear. Others, though, are real bandits, amoral sickos who live by the gun, travelling the back-roads between the settlements on which they prey on customised bikes and in cars. If the gangs stay in one place for too long, the Ops can usually track them down and eliminate them sooner or later, but others avoid the law for years by carefully moving on after every hit.
And believe it or not, there is also the occasional private driver to be found battling their way through the wastelands. These can range from idiotic Sunday drivers insistent upon vacationing in the same place they always have, to well-equipped psychos on the look out for an excuse to vaporise some poor sucker. Such crazies are the subject of many bizarre tales related in truck-stop canteens across the continent. Everyone who travels sandside regularly gets to know that lone drivers are real bad news, and either steers well clear or just removes them from the road before they hurt someone.
The trains on the ram-track railway networks operated by InterAm Fixed-Rail and ISRS (Independent State Rail Services) are large enough to be safe from attacks which don't use surface-to-air armour-piercing guided missiles, but of course the tracks are less safe. The advent of the ram-track system and the ultra-high voltage and relative impermeability of the tracks involved, have reduced the frequency of attack, but services continue to be disrupted in many outlying areas. This fact, coupled with the very high prices charged by both networks, has kept the service free of regular customers for years.
Air travel is more popular, especially since crossing the country from coast to coast by land is now so nerve-wracking, but fares are very high and services often irregular. The advent of VTOL craft and high-atmosphere shuttle airliners has shrunk the world, but irregular supplies of fuel required keep many operators firmly on the ground. A resurgence of terrorist activity directed against American nationals – in the light of CIA and US Armed Forces 'activities' in The Philippines, Indonesia, Iran and most of Central and South America – has also seriously disrupted air travel. Only those private flights operated by corporations of the size of GenTech and Freeberg run regularly with any degree of success.
Petrol & Other Fuels
- "I know that certain parties have been expressing concern about the impending depletion of fossil fuel stocks. There have even been some rumours that gasoline, petrochemicals and the like will run out before the end of this century. This is nothing but scaremongering hogwash. I can state definitively that at current rates of extraction and with Apco's accelerated prospecting program, we now have or are in a position to obtain adequate supplies of crude oil and all related products to last America well into the twenty-one hundreds."
- —Edward Morgenstern, Executive Vice-President of Apco, at the 1993 American Oil Industry Symposium, Houston.
After decades of plentiful supply, America is now finally waking up to the fact that the oil is running out. Prices have soared as quickly as the dollar has devalued, and most of the country's oil is now imported from Canada and the Middle East. Federal and state laws are supposed to govern price, taxation and distribution, but these are easily side-stepped by the black marketeers who are quick to fill in when legal supplies are disrupted. The US Army's prime domestic function is now to guard the precious oil supply routes, but somehow the mobs or terrorists manage to disrupt them month after month. There's an eager market for illegal fuel, no matter what the price.
Alternatives to standard diesel and gasoline are more readily available in some areas, especially the north, and it is not unusual to see vehicles powered by methane, propane or wood alcohol. Cynics are even predicting the return of steam powered vehicles in rural areas. There are an awful lot of cynics in America right now.
In agency offices across the nation you will find a small framed portrait of Senator Terence J Enderby. Some will even be decorated with flowers. The Enderby Amendment, as the Constitutional Act has become known, finally privatised the task of law enforcement throughout the United States. Immediately, the sloppy and corrupt state-employed police force had to clean up its act to compete with cost-cutting private organisations. Neighbourhoods were given the right to put their legal protection out for tender to whoever they felt provided the most efficient and economic service. Of course, in poorer areas legitimate operations tended towards the far-too-expensive, especially on a permanent 24-hour basis, so unlicensed security firms began worming their way in. In other areas the police simply pulled out for good.
There thus developed a market for a mid-price, freelance service hireable for a specific contract without involving the full weight of a corporation operation. These licensed operators are known as Sanctioned Operatives, or Ops, and most work from small agencies dotted around all the major cities of the US. Others attempt to make it as independent operators, but without the back-up that even a modest agency can provide, most don't stay independent for long.
Over the last decade the Ops have developed quite a reputation, typically through having to handle all the dirty jobs that the corporations won't touch. Maybe there's an important convoy which has to run through outlaw country without being hassled by the local kill-crazy biker gang. Maybe someone's decided to start smuggling illicit computer chips over the county line again. Maybe some meathead is being such a pain in some corporation's backside that he's got to disappear for good. Maybe a one-horse town somewhere has finally decided to stop paying protection to the fuel-injected psychos who always appear on the last Friday of the month. Anything the corporate outfits won't touch for fear of messing up their neat monogrammed company jumpsuits.
The most frequent assignment for an Op is simply taking out one of the many renegade highway gangs that now litter every desolate bit of road between the Big Apple and the Big Orange. Many agencies have become extremely specialised, developing heavily-armed and armoured killing machines for pursuit and hunter-killer operations. However, in keeping with their hard-drinking Philip Marlowe media image, Ops are also being increasingly hired for more detective-style assignments, even corporate espionage. One further recent trend has been the hiring of Ops by local policing franchise owners to handle extreme situations in their neighbourhood. This has led to some alarming (violently fatal) confrontations with various hardcore criminal mobs. The agencies take the line that they go where the work is; the Ops would generally like to be a little more choosy.
After the deregulation of 1985, many Ops started off as independents working out of small city-zone offices with little more than a desk and an ansaphone. The early days, as any surviving hand will tell you, were tough, one huge confusing mess of crossed-wire contracts and half-cocked botch-ups. The wrong people got terminated, the wrong people got away, and the Ops were right in the middle, messing it all up through a twin lack of preparation and support. There still are some loners out there trying to make a go of things the best way they can, but most Ops are now much more professionally organised. Op agencies are run just like any other business, with trained staff handling everything that is required to keep an Op out on the road doing his or her job.
The obvious thing to do when invalided out of service by injury or a sudden coming to one's senses, is to retire and run an Op agency sending younger agents out on the missions you can't handle anymore. The Hammond Maninski Agency based in Pittsburgh, Pa, for example, is named after its founder and owner. Maninski retired in '91 after receiving a debilitating lung wound while breaking a cross-border smuggling operation south of Cleveland, and immediately founded his agency. It now handles 90% of the Op business coming out of the fortress city, co-ordinating the activities of a dozen field operatives.
Typical Agency Structure
The Owner(s): An Op's professional career is about as long as that of a major-league football player – far too short, in other words. In the early days, statistics indicated that the average combat life of a rookie Op was only 23 minutes. Now, it's more like 23 days, although those that survive long enough to qualify as experienced can count on a couple of years of high-risk, high-income missions before the job's physical wear and tear catches up with them. The number of Ops still on active duty after 2 years are a tiny minority, living legends almost surviving through a combination of good luck, and unbelievable reflexes. And when you've been going that long, chances are you'll be too hooked on your own adrenalin to quit anyway.
Central Co-ordinator/Local Co-ordinators: Bidding for contracts and seeing them through to a satisfactory conclusion is the job of the co-ordinators. Each agency has several, some dotted around local offices in other parts of the US, Canada and even Mexico. Co-ordinators are experts at information-gathering, via their networks of human field agents and mechanical spies (the datanets and low-orbit skyball satellites) scattered throughout the PZs and NoGo. The co-ordinator also has to handle the Ops, coping with fiery tempers, sullen depressions or obsessive addictions and physical abuse. Again, many co-ordinators are ex-Ops who can't quite cut it any longer.
The Ops: Obviously the most important component in any agency set-up, the Ops have to be treated with kid gloves while simultaneously not being allowed to run wild. Life in the front-line is hazardous and takes its toll of every Op's personality; but if every other part of the agency is working to perfection an Op can do his job to the full, and any foul-ups are down to himself or that ever-present unknown coefficient, chance.
Legal & Admin People: Insurance is a very important part of every Op's life. Many think of nothing else; it's what keeps them going in moments of extreme stress while out on a mission. For others, it's just the safety net they can fall back on when the inevitable happens. The agencies negotiate special deals with the likes of Imperial City and Whitecastle on behalf of their operatives. The legal experts also have to be adept at extracting the agency's fee from some of their more shady customers when the latter believe they don't need to pay up.
Mechanics/Developers: An Op working for a major agency may find him or herself in charge of the very last word in ultra-sophisticated hi-tech supra-mobile killing machines. The sleek be-weaponed Interceptors and pursuit vehicles have been developed and re-developed incessantly over the last decade, and are now reaching the peak of perfection in terms of aerodynamic design, road-holding and weaponry. The agency mechanics and vehicle design experts use the latest computer-assisted facilities to wring a few more metres per second out of their Ops' vehicles.
Field Agents: An Op agency is only as effective as its information gathering. Without up-to-the-minute data an Op isn't going to get very far. As a result, the most organised agencies retain field agents throughout the country, gathering snippets of hard fact or rumour whenever it reaches their eyes and ears, and passing it down the line to the co-ordinator who can then hopefully build a clear enough picture of a situation for an Op to go to work safely.
There are as many different types of Op as there used to be fish in the poisoned oceans. Some are honest, down-to-earth people who treat their work like an eager civil servant treats a pile of accounts books. These are the Ops who sleep easy in their beds at night. Others are less easy to pigeon-hole. Like any stressful and dangerous occupation, the Ops have attracted people looking for excitement, for unrestrained sadism, for a way of going out in glory, or just for a way of escaping from normal society.
The different personalities of the Ops is markedly reflected in both their appearance, and in the way they go about their business. Some delight in living up to the macho leather-and-studs image the popular media typically assigns to the Ops. The cliched Op wears a mohawk and leather, chews on a cigar butt, walks with a limp earnt in an earlier action, fires a pump-action shotgun one handed at ninety-five to cripple a speeding renegade. Some Ops delight in living up to this image twenty-four hours a day; others choose to personalise themselves a little more.
There are the loners, who disappear for days or weeks on end before returning with the body of their quarry, and then leave for open country again with hardly a word. Others are the cool, calculating type, who get on with doing their disliked job as well as they can, reminding themselves always of the dollars building in the bank. Some are raving patriots, believing themselves to be the reincarnated spirits of Wild West heroes or Johnny Reb generals. Decked out in flags and old-style six-shooters they roam the dustbowls in their metal steeds looking for rustlers and indians to bring to good old American justice.
Vigilantes & Mavericks
Major hazards to an official Op's work, renegade Ops seem to be on the increase. Pressure twists their attitudes and turns them into outlaw vigilantes, cruising the highways and dirt roads, erasing anyone in their path. Others switch sides altogether, taking it upon themselves to remove as many Ops as they can before they are themselves terminated.
The most organised agencies have contingency plans for dealing with vigilantes and mavericks. Lone wolves make them look bad, and can threaten their all-important agency-client relationship; it is in their interest, and that of the Ops they support, to remove the bad apples from the proverbial barrel with all speed. Naturally, some are harder to catch than others. There is also a worrying rise in the incidence of city cops going out on the prowl as unofficial vigilantes at night, removing villains that the law has set free. Many public officials now see fit to remind everyone that perhaps Enderby was wrong.
It's a dog-eat-dog world. The corporations extort money from those who've got it (however they got it!) through subtle means, advertising, peer pressure and worse. Those with money force those without to do the worst jobs, or just hive them away out of sight into some roach-breeding ground they call a Rehousing Zone. There the strong prey on the weak, and the weak prey on the feeble (and then maybe the feeble hire the strong to beat up on the weak for them – this chain never ends). Many who couldn't take another minute of life in the cramped, fetid stink of NoGo hit the open roads for the wastelands and a kind of freedom; many of those that stayed tried to carve out their own empire from shattered streets and trash piles.
The street kids of Detroit, Denver and Philly – and of all the other sleaze-pits too – learn right from kindergarten just what their place is in their refuse pile of a world. They grow up tough, pulling their first armed robbery at ten to become initiated into the local gang, committing their first murder at eleven. By the time they reach their mid-teens they've seen it all, done it all, and all they want to do is burn it all down again so no other sucker has to go through what they had to.
The street gangs lack power and organisation, but they make up for it in youthful daring and a stunning single-mindedness. High on corporation chemicals and the latest underground hardcore sensation, they hit any target weaker than themselves in search of easy pickings. Each gang has its own identity, of course, to mark out its members for their rivals. The simplest use street clothes: leather jackets, studs and mohawks; the craziest use tattoos, ritual scarring and bodily mutilation. All are desperately tribal, marking out their patches like feral animals with graffiti and the corpses of unwary or unlucky trespassers. At night, the NoGo areas of every city in America are illuminated by the flickering light from burning cars and tracer bullets; broken glass and small arms fire serenade the stars.
The highway warriors who carve up the badlands at the heart of America also organise themselves into gangs, but out in the endless wilderness there are many crazed loners as well. The Ops call sandside rebels Renegades, and it's a term which has been carried through to the gibbering commentaries of the TV shows following many of the freeway duels which result from the meeting of Op and Renegade. The TV channels, especially those pirates run by the Renegade groups themselves, glamorise the exploits of the smugglers, duellers and crazies at every opportunity, building their frequent confrontations with the representatives of the law to the level of awesome gladiatorial spectacles (TV's like that).
Sandside America is an immense expanse of wilderness and roadway, and is home for a great many types of Renegade. The bikers and four-wheeled roadhogs make a living from all manner of illegal activities, including smuggling, highway robbery, extortion, show duels and so on. Others stay inside the law, acting as escorts for convoys or guardians for isolated settlements. The Renegades themselves are equally as varied in personality and style. Some adopt the classic leather and chrome image of the biker. Others go in for more foppish dress, or a cowboy motif, or camouflage gear. Whoever they are, though, the Ops are interested in them. They are the enemy, after all.
The various renegades are the most obvious signs of the rampant crime wave eating away American society like malignant tumours. All one need do is expand one's sights a touch, however, for the real criminals to appear. In keeping with the physical corruption wrecking the land, there is human and moral corruption at all levels of society. If you want to know who the biggest, most corrupt criminals in America today are, just look and see who's got the most power.
As we said earlier, sophisticated arms have become one of the United States' greatest exports. At home, weapons sales to the Pentagon are as immense as they ever were, the result of an ineffectual Senate and a powerful industrial lobby group.
Furthermore, covert operations by the CIA within the US – including political and economic assassination – are now publicly acknowledged by Washington. Involvement in deliberate reactor meltdowns and other ecological experiments in the sandside regions are also hinted at by certain sources, though again without al1V concrete evidence being offered. The FBI's power has been limited by the decline of Federal government, but, perhaps ironically, what little hope there is for the few remaining champions of traditional values (like civil rights and law and order) lies with the Bureau. Fed up with seeing the efforts of hard working agents being undermined by lack of state funds and inter-departmental politicking, Director Sam McCabe has started to inject some of his own personal fortune to refit the Bureau. So now there is a steady increase in the numbers of sleek and hyper sophisticated FBI vehicles to be seen cruising the city streets and interstate highways. And there will always be enough incorruptible, single-minded devotees of law and order to maintain the FBI agents' age-old nickname of the Untouchables.
The Mob made the best career decision in history when they merged with the corrupt ruling classes of Washington, Hollywood and beyond. Now they dominate all major crime throughout the east coast and north conurbation, having been ousted from the west coast by the various yakuza. The latter are devastatingly efficient and ruthless, and are rapidly infiltrating the mafia networks of Detroit and Chicago with a combination of terror and rewards. Some family dons have managed to strike deals with their eastern counterparts to restrain the new street gangs from certain key areas, but relations are still tenuous in the extreme.
The smaller criminal gangs range from the west coast's Chinese triads and Mexican bloods to the radical black Islamic Fundamentalists of the New York NoGo labyrinths. Factions ally and fall apart on a weekly and daily basis, and none have the firepower or sophistication to oust the mafia or yakuza.
Further rumours assert major criminal connections between the gangsters and the larger corporations which now hold so much sway over daily life in the US. While this is probably true for many smaller operations, it is unlikely that the larger concerns do more than hire the hoods for specific shady tasks.
The largest corporation in the US – and in Japan and Korea too – is GenTech, a gigantic industrial combine at the forefront of technological innovation which has a finger in every profitable pie in the continent. Recent reports hint that GenTech is in turn funded by a shadowy industrialist organisation known as Temple, who are known to have had links with a number of fringe religious cults and reactionary pressure groups in the past.
The Church – Old and New
The hardline old-time religions have survived, especially amongst the older, moneyed classes, by virtue of their alarmist ultra-right preachings of doom and disaster. Their power over the sinner in the street has been whittled away, first by a strong east coast Islamic movement, and then by a number of much newer (or perhaps much older!) cults which have begun springing up among the forgotten people of NoGo.
The cults seem to hark back to pre-Christian paganism, demanding extreme measures such as mutilation and sacrifice to effect a change in society and to give the individual acolyte new powers. Their influence is pernicious in the extreme, as disillusioned people stop believing in science and technology and start looking beyond typical human behaviour for a way out of the cesspit that is their lives. The new cults seem to offer worshippers hope and freedom – especially in view of the increasing rumours of top flight scientists disappearing after circulating reports of a breakdown in the laws of physics, and an erosion of the principles that hold the universe together. But whether this is groundless scare-mongering, or the first signs of something more sinister, is hard to tell. So far, no one has been able to produce an establishment figure to go on the record with some hard facts, but then, that is hardly surprising.
The corporations own every last part of the legal media, through dictatorial advertising accounts and direct (hidden and public) ownership. Game shows, chat shows and other lowest-common-denominator entertainment runs 24-hours. Glossy soaps promote the latest company products while presenting a fantasy world of money and glamour far removed from real life.
However, broadcasting equipment is cheap and people are always willing to broadcast their own views to the world. Pirate radio and television stations are everywhere, and it is only through these that any truth about the world is broadcast.
Despite the unswerving optimism that politicians and businessmen show in public, the United States are in a mess. The twin vices of unlimited money and uncontrollable violence are slowly but surely dragging the country down into an era of hi-tech barbarism. It is a country where anything can be bought if the price is right, where a life is cheaper than a tankful of gasoline, where the only important things are making the sale and making the kill. In 1995 the CIA, for the first time in its 48-year history, carried out more operations with the USA's border than outside it.
The physical conditions which have force so many people into the cities are worsening daily. The increasingly-frequent revelations of secret government experiments in nuclear physics and radiation have been blamed for speeding up the catastrophe. The corporations, by unchecked by a feeble government entangled in its own free-market theories, continue to pump filth into the world and conduct their own highly dangerous experiments. Rumors abound of pharmaceutical corporations using sections of NoGo as test areas for new viral strains; others whisper of sterile desert labs used for probing further and further into sub-atomics physics in the quest for true artificial intelligence. Occasionally someone claiming to be a research scientist from some corporate lab ot other will try to tell the world that the laws of physics are falling apart around the ears, and then disappear. Such rumors are snapped up by a populace ever-eager to believe in every last superstition and conspiracy.
Among the lost kids of NoGo, cultism is rife. Sects and cults of every shade flourish – especially those which encourage violence and drug abuse. Sometimes they invent their own, or steal ideas from a vid. Sometimes other names appear on investigators' files, and the professors they ring up about them try to change the subject...
How much longer can it last?