Fastball Express Inc.
At the eastern end of the Valles Marineris canyon is an immense basin called Eos. In a few centuries, it will be a sea, but in this day and age it is the most densely settled part of transhumanity’s heartland. At its core, on a mesa that will one day be an island, is our utmost city: Valles-New Shanghai. From a cluster of rust-frosted tin cans to a smoking brothel she grew, till the dome slid over her like the nictitating membrane over a snake’s eye. She is my broken lady, an aching demimonde held together by the glittering prosthetics of money and nanoglass. She is my love and my curse, my Chinese box, my thousand year egg, delicious and awful. There is nothing—nothing—envisaged in the minds of either angels or demons you will not find under her five domes and the frankincensed eaves of her souks.
Thirty seven million souls—yes, I said souls, reprobates—teem in her boundaries. Half are slaves, the rest whores. I’d rather not sound flippant, though, so let me be clear: indentures are nearly as common as ferrous oxides here, and one in five people is clanking around in a robotic half-life. Another one in five are pods—meat lollipops whose innate humanity ends at their lizard brains. The opportunity for our adversaries to exploit fifteen million poorly protected cyberbrains is one of those things I enjoy losing sleep over.
Valles-New Shanghai Demographics
Culture & Demographics
New Shanghai is a polyglot city, and almost any language that survived the Fall can be heard here if one waits long enough. The most spoken languages are English, Mandarin, Wu, and Arabic, with substantial populations also speaking Hindi, Urdu, and Portuguese.
New Shanghai proper, along with Little Shanghai and Valles Center, stands on a high bluff overlooking the meeting of two rivers, the Xi and Monongahela, where they merge into a third, the Nanjing. All three are shallow, with slow currents, and they run at the bottom of deep cuts crisscrossing the chaotic terrain of the mesa. Across the rivers, at slightly higher and lower elevations to the east and north, respectively, rise the domes of New Pittsburgh and Nytrondheim. The domes are linked by massive transit conduits carrying highways and commuter trains (the Valles-New Shanghai Transit Maglev, or just “vi”). Above them are flyways demarcated by massive beacons on tall aerial spars hundreds of meters high.
From the periphery of the domes to the river banks spread the maze-like souks, a dense network of covered walkways, arcades, streets, and tramways connecting myriad pressurized buildings ranging in size from arcologies to the dilapidated tin can modules of the slums. Most Martian cities have souks, but Valles-New Shanghai’s are the archetype. Almost all buildings have black or darkly colored roofs to capture heat from the weak Martian sun. At night they are lit with a riot of glowstrips and, when one comes closer, AR graphics, either displaying advertisements or marking landing pads for small aircraft. Inside the souks, the arcades are filled with a river of transhumanity day and night, and the aromas of cooking food, orbital hashish, and sex waft out from the open fronts of eateries, gambling dens, and brothels. It’s as if all the filth and glitter of the redlight district of Amsterdam, the hutongs of Beijing, the squats of Montreal and old Mumbai, and the bazaars of Marrakesh had all come together on one endlessly twisting byway.
Valles-New Shanghai grew from the colonization efforts of several major Earth power blocs, and the architecture and culture of the five domes still reflects this to some extent. Originally, of the three oldest settlements, New Shanghai was Chinese, Nytrondheim European, and New Pittsburgh American. Valles Center was a purely corporate enterprise, and Little Shanghai was built after the Fall.
Bisected by the artificial River Ares, the massive dome of New Shanghai is a temple to gleaming excess. It is our Manhattan, our Constantinople, our Babylon. At its center lie Zhongshan Road and the Bund, a brickfor-brick recreation of the famous old Shanghai waterfront. The hypercorps love maudlin public displays of nostalgia like an infomorph broker loves a skilled engineer with no backup insurance.
The Customs House at Number 13, the Bund, houses the Consulate of the Planetary Consortium, Mars. Also located in buildings along the Bund, or further down Zhongshan Road, are the central administration of the Tharsis League, which doubles as City Hall; the Tharsis Terraforming Office; Rail Eos; the consulates of Noctis, Elysium, and other large Martian settlements; the embassies of the Lunar-Lagrange Alliance, the Jovian Republic, and the Titanian Commonwealth (the latter two right next door to one another—strong indication that God has a sense of humor); the Extropian trade mission; and several influential social clubs, including the British-style Shanghai Club at Number 2. An address on the Bund is some of the most expensive real estate in the solar system. One can tell a great deal about both the status and the mindset of a hypercorp by its digs here. The most powerful and ostentatious, including Fa Jing and Direct Action, occupy entire buildings. At the same time, several of the most prominent hypercorps—including Cognite and Solaris—have nothing more than a single secure conference room rented in a shared building. It should go without saying that security along the Bund is some of the tightest in the system. One can be accosted by plainclothes officers doing ID sweeps at any time, and keeping the riffraff out is a major side occupation.
The rest of New Shanghai is a picture-perfect grid of arcologies, parks, and housing towers. The architecture varies a great deal. Outside of the Bund, many of the major buildings, particularly the arcos, mirror the blocky, monumental New Imperial school of twentyfirst century China—a style beside which twentieth century Soviet bloc buildings would seem like elfin confections. North of the Bund on the east side of the river is Weiming Prospect, a neighborhood of mansions and row houses expensive enough, and in some cases showy enough, to have made a Russian oligarch blush. Other notable neighborhoods include Ninjinsky Square, a decadent gallery and theater district; Athenaeum, home to the University of Mars; and South Pudong, a neighborhood with much to recommend it if one enjoys haute Szechuan cuisine, high stakes mah-jongg, and meetings with highly placed triad bosses.
If abuse of neon lighting may be taken as an indicator of how low a population’s morale and aspirations have fallen, then Little Shanghai is perhaps the most desperate place in the solar system. The population of pods and synths is highest here, at times seeming to make up half the press filling Little Shanghai’s sidewalks. Pimps, narcoalgorithm dealers, and sharks ready to loan fast cred with the lendee’s body as collateral crawl the streets in cars whose tawdry glow and swirls of AR graphics compete with the garish, lascivious signage overhead. Beyond the street grid and tramways, there is virtually no design to this place. The buildings are in a riot of styles and intimidatingly dense, a play gym for some of the best parkouristas in the system. The roughest and most sprawling of Valles’s souk neighborhoods—the part of my city that may most clearly be called a slum—wraps around the foot of this dome like the coiled insides of a mitochondrion, filling the space between the transit conduits connecting Little Shanghai to adjacent New Shanghai and Valles Center.
The bars, red market augmentation parlors, and massage parlors here make no bones about what they are, standing in stark contrast to the clinical glamor of the city’s other quarters. Like the catch grill on the drain of a slaughterhouse floor, this quarter collects the city’s dregs—anarchists, scum, bohemians, and addicts—for easy clean-up. I recommend aggressive AR filters, an anti-nanowarfare package, and a breathing mask in this neighborhood. Judging from the occasional deranged behavior of some of the residents, the corps, the syndicates, and perhaps entities we know not of use this unfortunate quarter as a petri dish for memetic warfare, attempts at creating their own basilisk hacks, and airborne trials of designer biochem. Note also the storefronts that sometimes open up offering an exciting new product on easy terms, only to be gone in a week. Little Shanghai has the ugly marks of a mass experiment on transhuman kind written in its seams and pores.
The criminals operating here are mostly garden variety triad scum and local gangs who war constantly on one another, but one criminal group stands outside the usual fray. The Moderates arms syndicate is well entrenched here, and they’re a law unto themselves. They walk and talk like glossy Nytrondheim advertising directors, but their heavily armed reprisals against gangs that cross them are savage and leave no survivors.
Perhaps the most sterile and boring quarter of the city from an aesthetic standpoint, Valles Center is nonetheless one of the most interesting, as this is where many of the hypercorps hide their secrets. While most of the corps have a conspicuous presence in other parts of town, it is in the anonymous office parks of Valles Center that many of their private networks, design centers, and engineering labs are located. The painfully monotonous design of the place serves another purpose: security. Very few people live under this dome. The streets and tramways are crowded with commuters during rush hours and lunch time. The rest of the day, foot and vehicle traffic is incredibly light, relative to the rest of the city, and at night the streets are virtually deserted. This makes keeping the area under tight surveillance nearly idiot proof, which is how the corps like things. Meanwhile, the detestably uniform building designs mean that when someone’s ill-advised nanowarfare project gets out of control and breaks half a block down into its component molecules, rebuilding things so that they look exactly the same three days later is a relatively simple matter.
At the center of the dome is the Exchange, a complex of massive office towers and very expensive housing that is the trading center for much of the Martian securities and commodities trade. The three tallest of these, known together as the Trident, are the tallest buildings on Mars; they extend 3 kilometers above the dome, affording well-heeled occupants a stunning view of the Eosian countryside. Although trading is an entirely mesh-based activity, the trading houses still cluster together for social reasons. Also located in the Exchange are several of Valles-New Shanghai’s most prominent law firms; the current cock of the walk is Chen-Boltzmann-Marcos. If there is any proof of karma at work in the universe, it might well be the number of pre-Fall lawyers slaving away as infomorph paralegals for these firms.
The Burgh, as many call it, is built over hilly terrain on a higher level of the mesa. It is not the most practical site, but it has a commanding view of the rivers and the other four domes below—typical choice for the Americans in the waning days of their empire. New Pittsburgh is a solid mass of metal and smoke, with an imposing skyline that peaks toward the center of the dome with the Althauser Rocketry building, corporate seat of the powerful Althauser family (if there was any golden age in this city, it was when Goddard Althauser was governor general; but that was long ago). The architecture is glass, steel, and Martian basalt, weirdly evoking a twentieth century metropolis less than half a kilometer from what is otherwise a city of bright, new constructions. Its parks and sidewalks sit at the bottom of canyons of concrete with fast-moving one-way flyways above, always seeming perilously too close to the buildings. Fortunately, there isn’t much in the way of wind shear in a Martian city dome.
This is my favorite part of town. The climate of the dome is extravagantly humid, tuned for frequent drizzles, and one hears English spoken with comforting regularity. The after-work pubs in Burgh Center pour a variety of American-style microbrews, and one can watch an ice hockey match at Rail Eos Stadium four months out of the year. The game is only invigorated by the low Martian gravity, unlike football, both varieties of which I now find impossible to watch with any enjoyment.
Unlike Valles Center, the Downtown area is mixed use, with both corporate offices and a great deal of high-rise housing; thus one finds a great many groceries, simulspace cafes, clinics, and pet stores. Although this is true of Martian cities in general, people in this part of town in particular are absolutely mad about pets; walking a dog is a display of wealth and resources. Cats and more exotic animals are equally prized, though not as status symbols. Despite all of our successes with transgenic animals, to the best of my knowledge transhumanity still hasn’t managed to develop a cat that will put up with being walked.
The Yellow Bridge, a massive structure of arched girders, is a major public gathering place, spanning a wide public reservoir (Allegheny Public) placed for climate regulation between downtown and the residential district east of it. A lower deck carries four lanes of traffic on an arterial road. The upper deck is a foot and bicycle bridge that puts me in mind of the Charles Bridge in old Prague. South of downtown is mostly residential. North and east lie a combination of small research labs and microfacturing facilities. Much of Valles-New Shanghai’s ground-based industry is concentrated here, with hundreds of 3D copy stores, garages, fabricator shops licensed with blueprints to fab certain goods, and even artisan workshops using pre-fabricator construction techniques. Outside the dome, the rest of the mesa is taken up by the groundside operations of Althauser Rocketry and by Valles Skyport, the city’s primary spaceport.
I am not one given to self-indulgence—virtual immortality, in me, has produced a certain asceticism—but when I’m in the mood for it, gluttony is far and away my deadly sin of choice. One can fake it with a fabricator, but if you prefer your food cooked by a human (or a pod, at least), Nytrondheim is the only place in the solar system where one can breakfast on ouitsmijter, lunch on crepes or croque monsieur, dine on tapas, and finish off over solid, brown beer in an honest-to-God-and-the-King English pub. It makes continuing to live worth doing, even though on the way one is assaulted with a haze of AR graphics inviting one to various scandalous and anatomically improbable entertainments, the beratement of Marxist Barsoomian street agitators, and a profusion of video walls and ads for new vidgames and XPs that make old New York’s Times Square look dim and staid.
Aside from being a place where one can eat well, Nytrondheim is the city’s entertainment and media district, and at night it is swarmed by Valles-New Shanghai’s glitterati (and also-rans) as they flit from theaters to chic nightclubs. Many of the buildings here are fine examples of the European Genomist style that developed just before the Fall. The style views buildings as organisms whose shapes develop from a sort of architectural DNA rather than an overall design; many of them look more grown than built. A genomist building does not so much have a ventilation system as it breathes, and some of the buildings may even be observed to have slow, gentle movement to them. The style and the construction techniques underlying it were strongly influential in the development of newer organic constructions, such as Hamilton cylinder habitats.
Experia, Boba, Traumwerken, Savage, Red Five, Arnault-Kieselhurst-Patrick, and a host of other media companies and ad agencies have their headquarters or local offices here. Every one of these blood drinkers bears watching. Their interest in AGI,singularity forecast simulations, memetic warfare (in the guise of viral marketing), and repurposing old military intel and even TITAN technologies for gaining greater market penetration makes them incredibly dangerous.
Law and Order
Order, such as it is, is maintained by the Valles-New Shanghai People’s Militia (called the PMs on the street and the VNSPM internally and in city government). These thugs are the city’s main police force, with jurisdiction extending through all five domes and into the surrounding exurbs. In terms of professionalism and restraint, they rival the LAPD tac squads turned loose during the Second Watts Riots on twenty-first century Earth. Apathy and bloodthirstiness make strange bedfellows. The VNSPM shows a great deal more discretion when policing the wealthier neighborhoods, with large plainclothes units assigned to areas like the Bund and Valles Center.