Note that although the following material is primarily concerned with the Neo York Zero Zone, it can be applied to all Zero Zones in general.
WHAT IS A ZERO ZONE?
A Zero Zone is an area that has been designated as an area of "Zero Law Enforcement" These areas are usually any troublesome section of a city that can be easily sealed off and ignored. The most infamous Zero Zone was formed in 2010 in Neo York, and is located in what used to be the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Other East Coast Zero Zones can be found in Atlantic City (usually regarded as the worst one in existence), and Washington D.C. (basically everything inside the Washington Beltway).
Most Zero Zones were formed over a period of ten years, starting in 2007, soon after the detonation of a nuclear device in downtown Los Angeles. At the time, many municipal police departments were converting to contract law enforcement, and numerous city governments were willing to ignore certain low-rent districts in favor of extra law enforcement in those areas with a higher tax base. Usually, a designated Zero Zone was supposed to be reclaimed "after things settle down" Very few Zero Zones have received this treatment.
According to tri-vid shows, a Zero Zone is either a dark burnt-out hell filled with cannibals, mutants, and sub-human gangers, or a techno-dreamscape of bars and nightclubs where everyone is either a full-chrome street samurai or a psychokinetic. The truth lies somewhere in between.
HISTORY OF THE NEO YORK ZERO ZONE
In 2010, as New York was reeling under the impact of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting of the Second Civil War, an unknown individual presented a drastic solution for the problem to officials of the city government. The plan was very simple and highly pragmatic. It stated that since New York couldn't afford to provide police protection for all of the city, then it shouldn't. Those districts that could afford law enforcement would receive police protection, everyone else would have to fend for themselves. In addition, certain districts were to be fully-abandoned, since at the time they were a haven for refugees, street gangs, and low-income non-skilled laborers. The government of the city of New York, rapidly running out of options and fearing for the safety of Manhattan, agreed.
What followed was one of the more darker periods of American history, even if one considers that a bloody and violent civil war was being waged. Police and fire departments were shut down and the officers transferred into Manhattan, to form the first line of defense against rioters, looters, and the large gangs that were rapidly taking over the streets.
The transition was not a smooth one, and marked by numerous incidents of violence, especially when enraged mobs rushed police units in attempts to prevent their leaving. The declaration of martial law helped in resolving the situation, as National Guard units were brought in to restore order. The police, issued orders to shoot any and all looters on sight, and backed by military forces, began the purging of central Manhattan. At the same time, the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, home to some of the worst street gangs and riots, were left to get by as best as they could. Thus, the New York Zero Law Enforcement Zone was born.
To further insure the safety of Manhattan and the rest of New York, the bridges that linked Manhattan to Long Island were first barricaded, and then simply cut using demolition's charges. This served three purposes; first, it kept the mobs of homeless refugees out of Manhattan; second, it made it very hard for looters and gangs to raid the rest of New York; and third, it was far easier to guard a single bridge as opposed to six.
After the Second Civil War ground to a close, New York, now known as "Neo" York in an effort to revitalize the citie's image, breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, life would begin to return to normal. The unification with what was left of Canada meant renewed prosperity, which would mean fiscal gain for everyone. Well... at least in theory.
The financial forecasts for reclaiming the Neo York "Zero Zone" were staggering. There was the cost of opening the subway tunnels, new bridges to consider, power and sewer lines to connect, not to mention trying to rebuild the thousands of burned out buildings that littered the Zone. And then there were the people. All of them were technically citizens, although most were probably criminals. Still, finding and relocating several thousand people, even if it was to behind bars, was no easy task. In the end, it was decided to leave well enough alone. If someone really wanted to clear the Zone, it would get done, probably by allowing a multi-national corporation to buy up the land at a bargain rate in order to build some new industrial complex.
Currently however, the Zero Zone is far more useful as is, then as a reclaimed industrial/residential center. With no laws and no police, the multi-nationals are free to come and go as they wished, treating the entire Zone as one vast experimental proving ground.
LIFE IN THE NEO YORK ZERO ZONE
Who lives in a Zero Zone and Why?
Zone residents come from all walks of life. Many are transients, refugees from CAS/UNA border squabbles or other outbreaks of civil disorder, fleeing from any one of a number of intolerable situations. The average Zero Zone inhabitant has little or no money and lives in whatever empty set of rooms he or she has been able to find and hold on to. They own some clothing, a little bit of scavenged furniture, and whatever odds and ends they can find to make life a little easier.
According to the federal government, Zero Zone inhabitants are those who have a "detrimental effect on society" or are "undesirable elements" These "elements" are usually the homeless, jobless, refugees, immigrants, mentally handicapped, and other similar unfortunates. Zero Zones are also a popular target for runaways, especially corporate teenagers who want to experience "how the other half lives," or those that wish to avoid detection (such as police pursuit) or certain obligations (such as debts or marriage). Finally, a significant portion of Zero Zone residents are gang members or have connections to either the Mafia or Yakuza.
How does one live?
In the twenty years since its creation, the Neo York Zero Zone has formed into its own, separate society. There are no laws and no law enforcement, but there are certain unwritten rules. The most important Zone rule is that everyone minds their own affairs. The second rule is that certain bars and nightclubs are considered neutral ground, safe for anyone to enter and conduct business.
Most Zero Zone residents just try to survive. A fortunate few (and these are very few) have jobs in Neo York or the surrounding area. As for the rest, many make a living by stripping abandoned buildings in the Zone of anything useful, such as pipes, wiring, doors, furniture, and so on. Some people use vacant lots to grow crops (corn, beans, and tomatoes are common) or to raise livestock (chickens, rabbits, and pigs). Finally, others barter their services; carpenters, electricians and mechanics are always in demand.
For those who choose more questionable ways to make a living, the Zone has many options. Both the Mafia and the Yakuza are more than willing to recruit prospective new members from the Zone. They have found that Zone recruits tend to be desperate for attention of any sort and respond favorably to the prestige that comes from being even a low-level Mafia or Yakuza soldier. This reaction also takes the from of a higher degree of loyalty to the organization which recruited them. Others peddle to humanity's more basic nature, selling drugs, simsense chips, guns and even themselves, to any who can meet their price. Finally, there are those who have found employment in the Zone's entertainment district. These people work as strippers, dancers, waiters (and waitresses), musicians and entertainers.
Utilities in the Zone
The Neo York Zero Zone is still connected to the local ConEdison powergrid, and it is possible to have lighting, heat and air conditioning. To connect to the grid, a user must have a system identification number (a.k.a. "SIN") as well as a computer account that can be billed for services rendered. The grid is broken down into building-by-building designations to make it easier to set up accounts. Payment is automatically deducted from the user's account. If insufficient funds are available, then the power is turned off to that account. Naturally, very few Zone inhabitants can meet all of these conditions, and the only places in the Zone with reliable power are usually the larger nightclubs, or Mafia/Yakuza-run businesses. As can be expected, power piracy is a common problem. Grid maintenance is very spotty. If a portion of the grid goes down, it could be weeks or even months before a repair can be set up. Because of these problems, Zone residents have turned to a number of alternative fuel sources. These include solar panels and wind turbines (both are found on most Zone rooftops), oil or wood stoves, coal furnaces, and methane, methanol or ethanol generators.
Clean drinking water is less accessible than power. There is some running water to the Zone, but it is very limited and rather unreliable. Water from the East River is undrinkable, contaminated by raw sewage, industrial pollutants, and corporate arcology wastewater, which produces immense algae blooms. Most residents use large roof-mounted collection tanks to store water. Naturally, water filters are a highly sought after item in the Zone.
Business in the Zone
The primary business district in the Zone is Bartertown, located along the East River, south of Newton Creek. Most of the open air markets are found here, as well as a few stores, complete with checkout counters. Just to the north and west of Bartertown is the Entertainment District, where the Zone's (in)famous nightclubs, bars, and strip joints are found. The most notable of all is The Living End, located at the intersection of Humboldt and Greenpoint. The Living End is where everyone who is anyone goes to see, and to be seen. This is the place where all of the big Zone bands play. Even Neo York corporate sararimen will attend when these shows are announced.
Organized Crime in the Zone
Both the Mafia and Yakuza are heavily involved in Zone life. The Zone provides a convenient place to hide members wanted by the authorities, a place to store goods until needed, and a talent pool from which to recruit new members.
The usual methods of income for these groups is not a feasible proposition in the Zone as there is no ready supply of cash to make such things as protection rackets, numbers running or loan sharking profitable. Instead, they concentrate on such activities as prostitution, gun smuggling, drug smuggling, chip dealing, gambling, and similar vice-related crimes. The Yakuza even operate a number of stores selling food, household goods and other necessities needed for everyday life.
The Mafia and Yakuza are not the only syndicates to be found in the Zone. There are Chinese Tongs, Jamaican Posses, and numerous smaller street gangs. Most make their money smuggling drugs or guns, or engaging in a variety of vice activities.
Zero Zones being what they are, they have become a haven for certain horror industries. These include organlegging operations, better-than-life simsense studios (including some that manufacture "snuff" films, where the person being recorded dies in the course of the filming), slaving operations (especially in young women, who are shipped to other countries or to corporate arcologies), and live hunts (where heavily armed "sportsmen" track down and kill assorted Zone inhabitants). This last form of "sport" seems to occur rather often in the Atlantic City Zero Zone.
LAYOUT OF THE NEO YORK ZERO ZONE
The Neo York Zero Zone is composed of the boroughs of Brooklyn, and Queens, ending on its eastward side at Island Parkway. All bridges and subway tunnels linking Manhattan and other parts of Neo York to the Zero Zone have been sealed off or cut. The Williamsburg Bridge is the only usable bridge left standing between Manhattan and the Zone. This bridge is heavily guarded on the Zone side. Entrance to the Zone is simple: one can just walk in. Attempting to re-enter Neo York can only be accomplished after a thorough inspection conducted by elements of the NYPD Inc..
The Neo York Zero Zone has been divided into several sections based on such factors as general population and purpose. These sections are as follows.
Zone City (or Zone Central)
Formally known as Long Island City, this is where the majority of the population of the Zone lives. Its borders are formed by the intersections of Highways 496 and 278 and Grand Central Parkway.
9-Tails Towing—Not a place per se, 9-Tails Towing is owned and operated by Ayane and André, using their (incredibly noisy) steam-powered truck. They will haul most anything in the Zone to anywhere in the Zone. Getting shot at costs extra.
The Dixie Patrol—Excerpt from Dr. Snakeye's journal:
"Fort Dixie lies on the east end of Zone Central, one of the last organized neighborhoods before one emerges into the Wastes. Like a number of neighborhoods in this area, it is protected by an organization which more closely resembles a private police force than a gang. The Dixie Patrol was founded by a group of Confederate soldiers during the Second Civil War, who escaped from a POW camp in upstate New York and opted to flee to the Zone rather than try and make their way back to Confederate States. The NYPD refused to go after them, and the war was over before the army got around to it. The veterans still run the complex, and form the backbone of its defenses. The ones I've met are all heavily cybered, and I'm prepared to believe the rumors that they were part of a CSA special ops unit.
"The neighborhood itself earned the name "Fort" from the Patrol's defensive strategy. When the CSA soldiers first reached the Zone, frequent raids by Go Gangs convinced them they needed more than just good armaments to keep their neighborhood secure. In a raid which has since become a legend they crossed into Neo York by boat and stole two bulldozers and some construction explosives. They ferried it all back to the Zone, then proceeded to redesign the district. First, they evicted people from indefensible buildings, then demolished them. Then they used the bulldozers to move the debris all over their territory, turning the streets into obstacle courses which could not be navigated by vehicles moving at more than a snail's pace. Finally, they fortified elevated positions to allow them to shoot at the cyclists as they made their way through the maze of debris, and carefully arranged their defenses to permit easy withdrawals inward. The result, while hardly impregnable, forces invaders to fight a slow, house-to-house struggle rather than the quick hit-and-run raid which is the go gang trademark elsewhere within the Zone"
The Edge of Night—Blandly glitzy, tamely dangerous-looking, the Edge of Night is a Zone nightclub only in the most technical of terms. The club lies right across the street from the checkpoint back into Neo York, and it is well-policed by hired guards. The Edge of Night caters to the people who want the edgy sense of danger that comes from the Zone, but do not want to risk their safety.
The Edge of Night is a gigantic exercise in fakery. It's run mostly like one of those nightclubs in downtown Neo York club that affect a special theme; the theme just happens to be the Zero Zone. As a result, its atmosphere resembles little of a genuine Zone club, and more like what they look on the trid. That's exactly what its clientele wants, of course, so it is making a brisk business. Every night, it is packed with Cits dressed like Zoners (or how they think Zoners dress); few Zero Zone inhabitants could manage to be let in It does manage to attract fairly popular acts for its live-band nights, including some that would never play elsewhere in the Zone, so some of the more respectable Zoners do occasionally visit.
Louie's Bar & Grill—Louie's Bar & Grill is located just south of Zone City (and just north of Darkside), nestled between two dilapidated brownstone apartment buildings. It is very unprepossessing from the outside, essentially a storefront with a steel-shuttered window and a small washed-out sign tacked over the door.
Inside, it has surprisingly kept a lot of the small neighborhood bar atmosphere from its pre-Zone existence. The front room is narrow, with the bar running down the right side and tables and booths scattered on the left. The lighting is dim, mostly single lamps hanging from the ceiling; somewhere, a small generator coughs and struggles to keep running, causing the lights to flicker slightly.
A small kitchen is assumed to exist behind the bar; at least, that's where you order your food from. A bartender stands guard, usually wiping the counter or a glass. There are two doors on the far wall. One leads to a small room (available for "private parties") and the other leads to the restrooms (enter at your own risk).
Louie's is never crowded; there are no bands, not even a jukebox. There is no pool table or dartboard to take up space or distract from the business at hand. And business is what goes on at Louie's. This is where you meet a contact or settle a deal. Or, if you need something, you can talk to the man himself.
If you ask the bartender for Louie, he will take your measure then, if you pass the eyeball test, direct you either to a booth in the back or to the back room.
Louie is a beefy man, dark-haired with a tired-looking face and a scratchy voice. Don't try to impress or intimidate him; he's seen it all.
The Tombs—A mercantile center dealing in organs and recycled cybernetics.
WFZZ (Radio Free Zero Zone)—A.K.A. "the Fizz", WFZZ operates out of an old (and heavily modified) Greyhound bus. The radio station broadcasts to the Zero Zone (mostly), and is on the air just about 24 hours a day. They have no set schedule, and most of the programming is based on the whim of the DJs. Music, new reports, the weather, and rants are all mixed together to create an highly eclectic radio show. Naturally, the station is fairly popular.
This is where most Zone residents meet to buy, sell and trade goods and services. It lies to the south of Zone City near Newton Creek.
Bob's Garage—A car strip-shop in the zone. Basically little more than an automotive abattoir, cars that go into this place are stripped for what can be used or re-sold, then abandoned. If you want to get rid of it fast and no questions asked, this is the place.
Clark Street—This is a not-so-typical neighborhood somewhere on the hazy border between Zone City and Bartertown. The place is mostly comprised of closely packed-together old apartment buildings with the lower floors being former shops. There are quite a few merchants in the area, but it is notable mostly because Lydia, one of the Zone's scant few medical doctors, lives here.
The area is the turf of the Clark Street Devils, a street gang of unusual nature. It survives largely through a protection racket that involves real protection, the sale of light drugs, and "tolling" certain visitors to the turf; this mellow attitude seems due in great part to the presence of the doctor, Lydia. They are far less violent than the average gang, yet remain ruthless and very vicious when they have cause to fight. They are led by a tall man called "the Boss", who is apparently a remarkable tactician. The gang knows the neighborhood very well, and the area's buildings are honeycombed with passages allowing them to reach any point in the territory safely.
For a time, the gang and the area were deeply influenced by the presence of a crippled telekinetic, who kept both the gang and the residents in line. Despite the recent absence of this PK, the gang has held on to its turf surprisingly easily, thanks to good planning, intimate knowledge of the terrain, and the friendly attitude of the residents.
Set between Bartertown and Zone City, Church Row is a small series of streets notable only for the large number of churches that had been built within no more that a block of each other. Over time it has become the defacto town center of the Zone. It is the one place where gangers and troublemakers aren't welcome and children are.
Located near Brooklyn Heights, Darkside lies just southeast of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. It is so named because a line of ten-plus story apartment complexes that block off the city lights of Neo York at night. Darkside is also well known as the haunt of organleggers and chop shops. Where one can get illegal cyberware of highly questionable origin. Where you can buy (or capture) slaves. Where one goes to dispose of bodies. It is the home of the truly desperate and destitute and is the perfect place to hire those who have no scruples what so ever.
The Vat—This squalid bar is run and staffed by synthetics for synthetics. Located on the fringe of Darkside in the basement of an abandoned rowhouse, it is not very big, but popular among the Zone's small replicant population. It is recommended that non-replicants give the area a wide berth. The bar is secretly owned by Sylvie with help from Gordon.
Located between Bartertown and Zone Central, this is where one finds most of the Zone's bars, nightclubs and strip joints. This is the only place in the Zone that has reliable power.
93 Underground—93 Underground is the Zone nightclub, have a reputation that extends even into Neo York itself. Hooked up the the power grid, the Underground features working lights, running water, heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. The place to go to see people, it is one of the few places in the Zone really popular with people from Neo York. Famous Underground acts include Dawn and her band The Razor's Edge, as well as strip shows by the Zone-famous Puma sisters.
Bell's Motors—This is a garage located to the north of the Entertainment District. It is home to Bell and Ken, although André and Ayane spend a lot of time there as well. Bell's Motors is located in between the teratories of several street gangs, and is considered neutral ground, as this is where numerous gangs go to get their bikes repaired and rebuilt. Thus, anyone harassing Ken and Bell will have to answer to one or more gangs—usually at the same time.
Bell's is a fairly large place, built up around an existing automotive service center. There is a chainlink fence (cobbled together from scavenged parts) surrounding the place, with coils of razor wire around the top (well, mostly). Inside the fence is the garage proper, a large garden, and a housetrailer that serves as Ken and Bell's home. Power is provided by a windmill, solar panels, and a hydrogen fuel cell. Aside from automotive service, Bell's also doubles as a part-time lunch counter, as Bell herself tends the garden, and raises chickens, pigs, and rabbits.
The Darkside Lounge—A bar in the Entertainment District, catering to corporate executives who want to enter the Zone but not to sacrifice luxury. The air is filtered, the tables and chairs are designed to look crude but are in fact mass-produced, and the liquor and food are all imported from Neo York proper.
"Family Hotel"—A Mafia-run hotel in the Entertainment District, catering to corpers seeking to spend time overnight in the Zone. Prices are expensive, but the amenities are good and the facility is safe.
The Gold Spike—A casino in the Entertainment District.
Referring to southern Brooklyn, Southside is avoided by most Zone residents, as this is where the psychokinetic Ran is rumored to live (as well as the Puma sisters). Only those who are very brave or very foolish (or both) venture far into this area. Due to the current environmental problems, large portions of the Soutside oceanfront is flooded, and either totally or partially submurged.
This is everything east of Zone Central. The Wastes are mostly uninhabited, except by scattered gangs and loners. The miles of abandoned stores and homes provide a steady supply of raw materials for those who live in the western end of the Zone.
The Pit—The Pit is a club for some of the worst of the worst in the Zero Zone. Situated on the edge of the Wastelands, the club is built inside a ramshackle warehouse, held up by nothing more than bad intentions. The interior is hollowed out and mostly dance floor, with a number of stages and a long bar on one side. The place is dark, with most of the light coming from old strobe lights rigged up in the rafters. A number of noisy generators power the place, pumping noxious fumes into the bar itself. Regulars say this only adds to its atmosphere.
Generally only the worst can be found in the Pit. It's a home of drug deals, prostitution, slavery and other vices. The stages are usually occupied with amateur bands cranking out loud and grating music, semi-naked dancers or even the occasional staged fight—often with a bloody conclusion. The bar serves all manner of drinks, mostly bootleg or stolen—drink at your own risk. A few tables line the walls for those seeking a semblance of privacy, although an escape from the noise is impossible.
John F. Kennedy International Airport—Bombed in the 2nd Civil War.
Shea Stadium—A ruin? Used as a gang gathering place?
La Guardia Airport—the runways are used to hold races...
THE NEO YORK ZERO ZONE FROM BOTTOM TO TOP
The Neo York Zero Zone has been subjected to over twenty years of neglect. This means that many parts of the Zone are now in ruins, inhabited only by the desperate. This section will look at the Zone from the deepest subway and sewer tunnels to the tops of building roofs, detailing the appearence of the Zone.
Deep under the streets of the Zero Zone run the remnants of the old New York subway. The network is fairly extensive, stretching from the East River far out the west into the empty Wastes. Although the tunnels are dark and badly in need of repair, their size makes them natural thoroughfares for those wish to avoid attention or surface interaction. However, such passage is not without its dangers, as the tunnels are also home to the more desperate examples of Zone resident, and it is not unheard for lone travelers to be dragged down a subway station entrance to never been seen again.
The Zone subway system starts under the East River, where no less than fourteen different tunnels run from Manhattan to Long Island. Back when the Zero Zone was first created, these tunnels were sealed off in order to prevent the passage of people and goods back and forth between Neo York and the Zero Zone. Naturally, with the passage of time, these seals have become less than secure, and there is a small trickle of traffic (mainly smuggled goods) between the two districts.
In general the subway tunnels are fairly straight, and quite wide, with two to four rows of tracks, as well as a maintenance walkway running down one side. As there is no power, the emergency lighting no longer works, and the only light sources are either limited amounts of natural sunlight, or such artificial sources as open flames or battery powered lamps. Note that tunnels devoid of a light source will be pitch black, rendering normal forms of sight useless. Infrared and ultraviolet vision will help, but not to any great extent, as the environment is usually too cool for infrared, and there is little ambient light to assist those using ultraviolet.
Due to neglect and lack of upkeep, large portions of the subway system is crumbling into rubble. The seepage of water (especially acidic rainwater) is the primary reason, although the cool air and generally damp conditions don't help matters. This has resulted in such problems as flaking concrete and large pools of standing water, especially in the lower tunnels. This problem is especially prevalent with the Broad Channel and Rockway Park lines. As these tunnels run under Jamacia Bay, they are some of the lowest tunnels in the entire system, and most water runoff ends up collecting here.
Although there is plenty of water, the lack of light has severely inhibited any sort of plant growth. Fungi, molds, and mildews are common in the tunnels proper, while the open-air subway entrances at street level are often festooned with thick growths of weeds and climbing plants.
Although there is little plant life, the tunnels are home to a wide variety of animals. Aside from the omnipresent New York cockroach, the tunnels shelter bats, mice, rats, feral cats and wild dogs. These animals exist in a fairly limited food chain, with the bats, mice and rats preying on the roaches, the cats preying on the bats, mice and rats, and the dogs preying on the cats and rats. The dogs then serve as prey for those humans who can't find any other source of food.
Aside from smugglers and those wishing to by-pass the surface-level street gangs, the subway system is also home to small enclaves of humans. Some have simply taken over a surface-level subway station as "home," while others live their entire lives in the dark. Pale from lack of sunlight, these indivduals usually have little to no language skills, as well as a reduced mental capacity. They live as little more than savages, using simple clubs and sharpened sticks as weapons, and prey on anything they can catch, including rats, cats, dogs, and people.
The Zone sewer system ranges from tiny drains about a foot in diameter, to large storm drains some eight to ten feet across with an elevated maintenance walkway. It extends all across Zone, and can be easily accessed from innumerable locations. If followed far enough, the typical sewer line will link up to a large line, which will eventually end up at either a defunct pumping station, a similarly inoperative treatment station, or at an outflow pipe opening up on the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the more surprising facts about the Zone sewer system is how clean it is (relatively speaking). Due to the Zone's greatly reduced population, the amount of waste flushed into the sewers is virtually nil, not to mention that most solid waste (a.k.a. "night soil") is collected as fertilizer, while liquid waste is boiled down to be used in tanning and medicine. However, this does not mean that the sewage system is free of debris or blockages. Just like the subway system, the sewer lines haven't seen maintenance in nearly a generation, and as the sewers tend to be closer to the surface, they are more prone to collapses and cave ins. In addition, tree roots have clogged some lines, while leaves and other debris have filled others. Overflows from heavy rains are common, and some tunnels are permanently filled with large pools of standing (and usually stagnant) water.
All this debris means the sewers are the perfect environment for a wide variety of animal life, including: mosquitos and other insects, newts and salamanders, frogs, small fish, snakes, lizards, mice, rats, and cats. There is plenty of plant life as well, including assorted fungi, algae, and various forms of weeds and grasses. Even in those areas that don't receive sunlight, one often has to contend with roots that have worked their way through cracks in the crumbling concrete (or brick for older sewers).
Due to their smaller size, the sewers tend to be used more as a form of emergency escape route than as a regular thoroughfare, although some gangs go to great lengths to block off the sewers in their declared territory and use the tunnels to move about. Some people even live in portions of the sewer system proper, although this can be a risky proposition due to the threat of flooding or collapse.
One of the first things a newcomer to the Zone is sure to notice is how green everything is. Any open plot of land is thick with tall stands of weeds, and in many places this growth is starting to break up the concrete sidewalks and asphalt streets. Vines grow up the sides of most buildings, while what were once simple shade trees lining the streets are now wild and overgrown, and in some cases dead and fallen. In fact, in any form of extensive open space (such as a park or cemetery), the plant life has reached jungle-like proportions, rendering some areas virtually unpassable.
The second thing a newcomer will notice is how empty the streets are. Gone are the thousands upon thousands of cars and trucks, as well as the people that drove them. Those vehicles that are left are usually rusted-out wrecks stripped of their tires (or sitting on four rotted flats), with all the glass smashed out, and any potentially useful parts long since removed. There are a small number of working vehicles in the Zone, usually adapted to run off of such alternative fuels as steam, alcohol, or methanol. In addition,.most, if not all of the litter that once plagued the streets has long since vanished, either washed into the sewers or simply decomposed and/or rotted away. Naturally, not all man-made materials vanish so, and there are still plenty of glass bottles, aluminum cans, and plastic products lying about.
The third thing the newcomer will notice is the sheer amount of free-roaming wildlife. Many people in the Zone raise livestock, and some of these animals have managed to escape to run free. The Zone's animal life includes various rodents (such as chipmunks, mice, rabbits, rats, and squirrels), cats, dogs, deer, and wild pigs (which can grow to be quite large, and quite aggressive). Almost all of these animals serve as food items for the Zone's human inhabitants.
Finally, one must consider the streets themselves, which range from bad to impassable. Most are shot through with cracks, and both depressions and upheavals are commonplace. In some places sinkholes have developed, usually as a result of a sewer collapse. Rubble from surrounding buildings is a major problem, not to mention buildings that have out-and-out collapsed. On a similar note, fallen and damaged bridges are another problem, especially in and around the old freeway system. These obstructions are a major reason why motorcycles are a common choice of transport, as they can navigate such obstacles with far greater ease than any four-wheeled vehicle.
The sheer number of buildings in the Zone is staggering. They range from small single-family homes to towering multi-story office towers and apartment complexes. Most are still standing, although a few have given in to the ravages of time (or external abuse) and have partially or totally collapsed. Of those that are standing, many show some sort of damage, be it missing doors, shattered windows, or sagging roofs.
Almost all buildings in the Zone have a basement, and basements in the Zone can be considered an extension of the sewer system. Basements are normally cool and damp, and anything in them is afflicted with mildew or rust. Those with access to the open air (usually by a missing window) often have pools of standing water, and in summer this water can become home to hordes of mosquitos. Note that in some cases, the building itself is either missing, or collapsed into the basement, which may have then filled with rainwater, creating a small pond. These ponds will then become home to water plants, frogs, snakes, and in several cases, fish (usually as a result of clever Zone inhabitants stocking the pond). Swimming in most of these man-made ponds is greatly discouraged due to the presence of submerged wreckage.
Those buildings that have not collapsed fully are often in a state of partial ruin anyway, as the elements slowly pull the building apart. In many cases, time has broken windows, allowing for rain, ice, snow, and the wind to get inside a building. Those areas with direct outside exposure are often heavily weathered, with rust and corrosion common. Anything made from wood has almost certainly been warped, and is usually quite rotten. In many places, external wooden decks and stairs have collapsed completely. (Note that telephone poles and the like, having been soaked in various chemicals and tars, do not rot or warp (much), and are usually still standing.) Thus, flooring is often sunken and warped (or even separating apart), while doors are either jammed shut, or can't be closed properly (if the hinges even work properly), furniture is so much rotten junk, and many metal products have rusted out into fragile shells that crumble at a touch. To make matters even worse, small plants can often be found growing *inside* buildings, provided that the organic detritus (such as leaves) is thick enough, and there is sufficient light.
Deeper inside a building, things are much less decayed, if only due to the fact that the elements can't access the inner depths to any great extent. Usually the inner chambers of the typical building are home to molds, mildews, and fungus, which will take hold anywhere there is decayed organic matter. The inner rooms of many buildings are also home to animals, including rats, raccoons, squirrels, cats, dogs, and pigs. The presence of these animals, when combined with the remains of their food items, droppings, and others factors, often creates an abominable smell, especially in those buildings with little air circulation.
On the rooftops, one must contend with new problems. The roofs are often sagging and damaged, and can be quite weak. Travel by roof always runs the risk of collapse. Even if the roof is sound, it of usually littered with more plants (usually weeds), unless the roof is solid concrete, or the building is of sufficient elevation to discourage such growths. Even if there are no weeds, there are usually pigeons, and many roofs are covered with their droppings. Cats are common rooftop predators, as are falcons and hawks. Crows serve as scavengers.
Getting to the roof can be a bit of a trick. One can take internal stairs, although if the building is 20 stories in height this can be a feat in of itself. Fire escapes work as well, although one has to be careful that the escape doesn't pull free from the wall or collapse outright. Those who can jump had best be careful—a cyborg's velocity combined with its inherent weight may cause it to crash right through the roof and down a few floors.
Note that all of these extends only to the buildings that are abandoned. Inhabited buildings are often in better shape, especially those that seem some sort of regular upkeep. Also note that major, "modern" office buildings (those built in the 1990s) are usually in excellent shape, while some antiquated buildings (dating from the late 1800s) are such much ruin.
Aside from the environment, one must not forget the human factor when it comes to the Zone. For example, even a simple psychokinetic duel can shattered the pavement, crack walls, and bring down buildings. As there is no one to put them out, a fire can rage uncontrolled for days, and whole blocks may be reduced to smoking ruins. Corporate operatives may blow a building apart in a test of combat tactics and gear, and the occasional corporate argument may leave a wrecked helicopter or armored vehicle in the street. Those areas that see a lot of human activity should be slightly neater, with tended gardens, gang markings, and fewer random debris (wooden items will have been burned for fuel, while rubble might be used to block off the street).
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