Thursday, August 25, 2022

Neighborhoods in the Last City: The Sea of Pillars

The City Itself

The City itself is an inverted mountain; an urban plan like a Dantean vision of hell.  In the lowest pit, at the deepest point there is a fractal tree growing from the bones of the Demiurge.  Here, at the center of all things, the least can always look down on the greatest. All waters lead here eventually; flowing in titanic waterfalls ever downwards. All trackless wastes lead here as well.  

To get to the Last City, one must learn how to get lost just so.  Really, truly lost.  It's just as hard to leave the City.  Returning to where you left from is harder still.  Most of those who leave to trade with the wider world are residents by necessity.  It's the one place you can count on getting back to.

The Sea of Pillars

Rising out of the brackish, polluted water of a uncountable oceans; out of mist and acrid bunker fumes is a forest of monolithic stone pillars and the City's largest ward by area (though it is mostly water). The greatest pillars are neighborhoods and forests unto themselves.  The waters here are deep.  In some places, impossibly so.  Vast things circle in the depths; sometimes visible as titanic shadows.  After all, even the the leviathan gets lost eventually.  

This is one of the City's two great ports, receiving much of the regular commercial traffic and a steady stream of lost and frightened newcomers.  Poor, rough, and almost infinitely diverse. 

Vast container ships ply the waters here along with galleys and canoes. Derelicts wind up here eventually too and many of the ward's inhabitants survive by picking over the wrecks for salvage. Piracy runs rampant; there are many places to hide a small boat.  The bravest pirates attack from the air; dropping onto their unsuspecting targets with ropes or parachutes.

The ward is also a skyport.  Airships are more common than other forms of aerial transport simply because getting properly lost is much easier if you don't have to worry about running out of fuel while you wait.  The pillars make for an excellent anchorage.  The enormous nuclear seaplanes used by some of the City's corporations also land here, but corporate anchorages are generally well-secured and not a place anyone visits except as an employee.

The boarding axe and the fast rope are the universal symbol of piracy here.  Piracy in the Sea of Pillars is conducted by both tight-knit gangs and sophisticated organized criminals and racketeers.  In either case it doesn't look much like high seas piracy.  Violent smash-and-grab attacks are the norm.  More sophisticated outfits mix in some kidnapping and racketeering.  Stealing ships is for white collar criminals.  

The Walking Bus Wars: 
The ward's pillars are connected by a vast tangle of wires which enables transport between and within neighborhoods.  Cable cars are usually not convenient and small boats are regarded as unsafe given the amount of seagoing traffic.  Walking busses are one of the most popular ways to get around (if you've got enough money you can even get a walking van or a scooter-sized vehicle).  Bus lines are known for their vivid branding.  The two largest operators, Catbus (notable for painting their busses in feline livery) and King of Monkeys (decorated with brilliant mandalas and artistic graffiti) have been in a vicious decades-long  competition over routes.  While passengers are spared the worst of the conflict, a bus with a "not in service" message is probably moonlighting as a technical.   

Former bus drivers have developed smaller and more specialized walking vehicles and their own distinctive style of urban mechanized warfare.  Many hardened mercenaries cut their teeth in the bus wars.  There are rumors that mercenary companies are stoking this conflict because it's a cheap way to produce highly skilled mech pilots. 

The Most Honorable Guild of Longshoremen and Shipbreakers: 
The people who unload the ships and pick through the wrecks are the lifeblood of the ward.  The MHGL&S is not the most effective union but it's a lot better than none at all.  It is also an informal haven for more respectable pirates (who are, after all, unloading your ship with extreme prejudice and therefore within the Guild's jurisdiction). 

Generally, corporations prefer the Guild's protection racket to to other organized criminals'. It is more predictable, easier to deal with, and displaces the most violent and dangerous groups.  The Guild also provides a semblance of law and order in the ward and is fairly popular with locals in a place where law is scarce.


The Lower Market:
A vast floating market in the shadow of several heavily forested pillars.  Imported goods can be bought straight off the ship.  You can buy everything here but even locals depend on guides to navigate through the chaos of the stalls by boat.  The pillars themselves are full of fruit trees illuminated with artificial light; one of the few good sources of produce in the ward.  These horizontal forests are filled with apefolk and conceal several monasteries and sacred places reachable only to those who can climb.

The Big Alley: A singular vast food court.  The stalls are so dense that you don't need a boat.  But those are just the storefronts.  An adjacent pillar contains a neighborhood's worth of kitchens and workspaces hot as hell (and full of angry devils).  It's also the best place to buy wholesale ingredients.

The Tree of Plenty: In a quiet courtyard turned ninety degrees sideways there is a tree with seven hundred different grafted branches from fruit trees across the universe maintained by a small order of traveling monk-botanists.  The tree's fruit is reputed to have magical properties (but nobody can agree on the details).  The Abbot is an odd chimpanzee with access to arcanoneural devices dreamed up by the Divine Intelligences and corporations in the lower rings of the City.  He is surprisingly well connected and is often involved in illegal or questionable dealings.  Rumored to be a former executive at a large corporation.   

The Sink:
The sea is shallow here and the ruins of concrete structures are more common than pillars.  It is the final resting place of rusting hulks of ships beached on a metallic shore.  The constant shriek of metal being cut and the roar of engines is inescapable here.  This is one of the ward's most dangerous neighborhoods.  Shipbreaking is a job for the desperate.  The Sink is full of furnaces, recycling plants and factories.  Anything that can't be reused is melted down or burned to provide power.  Full of escaped corporate androids who have found security in numbers here.

The Vending Machines: If a local says the vending machine, they're referring to this one (there are several throughout the neighborhood).  The machines sell almost anything that will fit through the front of a standard vending machine dispenser from canned coffee to 26mm gyrojet ammunition.  It will ask for payment in services (you'll know in your heart  what you have to do and that there will be consequences if you don't).  The case is usually decorated with a spray painted yellow smiley face.  A lifeline to the desperate with inscrutable goals.    

The Brass Dome: A massive structure partially buried in the wetland muck.  The inside of the dome is a place of supernatural darkness.  An order of blind monks, the Order of the Huntsman Spider makes their home here along with all sorts of dreadful predators hunting in the gloom.  It also supports several small no-questions-asked settlements when even the Sink isn't anonymous enough.  


Terminal 3:
Designed to handle the biggest freighters, this is the MHGL&S' stronghold.  It's one of the wealthiest areas in the ward (not saying much) and both labor and low-level management call it home.  The bars are rougher than expected and the coffee shops nicer.  Quiet during working hours.  

The Chapterhouse of the Laughing Knights: Also known as the Order of the Skua, the Laughing Knights (after the bird's "hah-hah-hah-hah!" call) are the most feared among unionized pirates.  They are in perpetual conflict with other organized criminal groups and in addition to the support of the MHGL&S, they've got solid but often tense ties to down-ring megacorps who consider them to be better than any possible alternative.  They follow a code of kleptoparasitic chivalry; the knightly trappings aren't just for show.  

The Office of Traffic Control: Keeping track of all the ships coming into and going from the city is an uncountably complex affair.  The OTC does plenty of normal work on tugboats and with radio sets but it's most famous for the small army of spotters and observers who can climb anything with a set of binoculars and a radio to provide a set of eyes.  Unsurprisingly the OTC is also a great asset to union pirates; a street-level operation cannot hope for resources like these. 

The Banners:
One of the largest and most central pillars, it is conspicuously decorated; a neon-lit beacon covered in fabric signs advertising its establishments.  This is the ward's largest entertainment district (though most locals do not regard it as the best).  

Cable Box: It turns out that the universe is lacking in uniform electronic and digital standards.  The Cable Box is your best bet if you need the hardware or software required to access a particular type of digital media (local services exist too).  Like much of the thankless work required to keep the gears of the universe turning, it draws many devils.  The devil nicknamed Dongle (real name unknown) manages the store.  Many-limbed, many-eyed, ancient, and a connoisseur of arthouse cinema and obscure music.  Any complex services require payment in kind (get her a particular movie, track down a 20-inch disk drive for her, etc.).  Old Man Red makes his home in the store's basement.  Like devils, dragons are closely tied to the demiurge and the world of Matter.  This dragon hoards cables and adapters.  

Meat Stipend: No flag.  No neon sign.  No tourists allowed.  Claims to be the best heavy metal venue in the universe.  It's definitely the best one in the ward (which is pretty close).  It's also an informal support group for cyborgs, meat horrors, and lab experiments run by Five Honest Ghosts.  


The Dam:
Most of the Ward's residents are not free to leave the City's outer rings without papers or sponsorship.  The dam is a militarized border filled with private security.  The truly desperate attempt to escape down-ring by riding one of the waterfalls down.  Very few survive.

The City of Lights: A tourist destination for down-ring people who don't care to venture too far into the ward.  Equal parts sanitized tourist traps; walking bus tours, souvenir shops, overpriced pizza and illegal vice and blood sport.  Corporate law enforcement is omnipresent but locals still come here because it's one of the few reliable places to get things that can usually only be obtained down-ring including ANIs and other DI gift technology.  Also a great place to do some property crime if you're confident you can get away with it.  

Turbinetown: The Sea of Pillars may be rough but nobody wants for electricity here.  In addition to power generation, this is where synthetic fuel and plastic gets made from sludge fished out of the sea.  Full of workers' dormitories and corporate security with several wholesale raw materials markets.  A no-go area for anybody with a union card.  The shipping megacorps may be reasonable enough but the manufacturing corps here will shoot anybody who looks like a labor organizer.  

Built inside the skeleton of a titanic sea creature, this small neighborhood is a refuge for the undead.  It's peaceful and quiet here.  No electricity, no traffic.   Almost respectable.  Don't expect much in the way of accommodation.  The only way to reach it is a single ferry (runs 4 times per day).  

Eret's Rare Books: Eret, the shop's custodian is unusually friendly, impossibly well-read, and one of the only places for the living to rent a room if they miss the last ferry.  You can buy all sorts of rare books here but Eret doesn't want trouble; look elsewhere for anything truly dangerous.

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