Thursday 6 October 2016

Five unusual places to meet your Johnson

Nightclubs are loud. Bars are full of drunk people. Expensive restaurants object to drug deals on the premises. Danger-hungry Shadowrunners need other options.

(Also - I've been thinking a lot about the sprawl, about futuristic streets, about street scenes that don't yet exist. This is a brainstorm...)

Containing five secure locations for a meet, but also:









1. The HydroHostel

In 202X, every city possesses innumerable multi-storey aquaculture stack farms, purpose built or adapted from abandoned office blocks and car parks. Many of them are run by foundations, autonomist co-operatives or religious communities. These organisations tend to be friendly to nomads, runaways and drifters.

"HydroHostel" is an informal name for farm stacks which cater to transients, castaways and youthful travellers. The deal is simple - you can stay in the stack's accommodation in exchange for working in the hydroponic farms for a few hours a day. Almost every 'punk and teenage romantic frequented such places on their way from home to here. They are great places to hide, great places to meet fellow outcasts, great places to see upcoming bands. 

While no corporate would ever deign to travel to such a place, activist networks and fixers frequently make their offices under the stacks. The combination of bright heat lamps and constant damp makes it difficult for external surveillance to scan the interior of the stacks, while christian survivalists, anarchists and punk co-operatives all tend to be hostile to police and syndicate spies.

Still, meeting in a stack is not without disadvantages; the damp aqua mist gets everywhere, and the vegetable smell clings to everything.

2. The Porte

This town comin' like a ghost town...

First they came for the nightclubs. Then they came for the hipster roof garden "events." Pretty soon dancing and screwing outside of insipid corporate chain-pubs and distributed webcam networks was impossible. A solution was needed.

Every night, flash parties happen around the city. People build hard floors and sound proofing into their front rooms, along with counter-surveillance gear and covered windows. Tiny speakeasies, hidden on every street - hidden nodes of culture.

Not really that different to the old hardcore house-show circuit, really; just dressed up with a fancy name and some AR technology. Membership of the party networks is controlled, reputation networks work to ostracise obnoxious gatecrashers and undercover spies. Taking photos has become a faux pas - people love the immediacy and "authenticity" of the movement, a temporary autonomous zone built around dance and ephemeral culture. 

3. The Reality Game Studio

Generations unable to afford material possessions have embraced the pursuit of lived experience instead. This, along with the mainstreaming of cos-play and the rise of augmented reality gaming has led to unlikely rebirth of LARPing.

A well designed Reality Game Studio tends to be an abandoned industrial space stripped of most dangerous surfaces and equipped with a wide variety of different ramps and open spaces. The entire zone is rigged with augmented reality systems, both visual and "tactile." While many games will be of limited duration and presided over by GMs, other studios offer a constant virtual experience. Live and breath ancient Sparta or Edo on the streets of Neo New-New York!

In 2024 Catalyst Game Labs made a gift to the skeevy corporate terrorist community with the release of Shadowrun: Revolution, a Reality Game franchise that caught on quickly due to a successful collaboration with a popular costume retailer. Reality Games are as monitored as any other public space - the difference between a Shadowrun: Revolution studio and an ordinary street is that the monitors expect conversations about corporate espionage and industrial sabotage.

Simply work out a code whereby you replace the name of the real target with "Mitsuhama" or "Saeder Krupp," then hold your meeting of SINless murder-junkies in public, disguised as a meeting of SINless murder-junkies. Unlike some of the options below, you don't have to dress like a worthwhile human being or bring fake android children.

(Players playing murder-hobos disguised as players playing murder-hobos. How avant-garde!)

4. The AR Fashion Cafe

Augmented reality and 3d printing created wonderful opportunities in clothing retail - the opportunity for customers to tailor design their own clothes to their own specifications in their own homes. 

You might have thought this would be the final nail in the coffin of fashion retail, but you'd be very wrong. 

The concept is simple - get together with your (predominantly adolescent female) friends, head to the AR Fashion Cafe full of comfortable sofas and scanning booths, then get tanked up on soft drinks and design a whole new wardrobe. If you need help, talk to "trained" staff right there and then. Create your garments over the course of a lazy afternoon arguing about tassels. Spend as much money on milkshake as clothes. 

What does this have to do with hard-bitten mercenaries who kill computer researchers on behalf of other computer researchers, for pay?

AR cafes have body scanners and cameras everywhere. It's part of the appeal - the customer can see themselves in their outfit long before any purchase, making adjustments right there and then. As you can imagine, the existence of large databases of hyper-detailed teenage girl body-scans raised serious privacy concerns. The corporations tried to ignore them.

Then came vs Tara Inc. (2024), followed by the collapse of the Tara retail chain.

There are now no central databases - all bodyscan data is uploaded directly on the customer's unique encrypted membership card, which can only be read by offline computers in the store. The recordings of conversations between customers and those computers are also not stored. Every time a fashion cafe chain has tried avoiding these market conditions, malicious hackers have made them regret it. 

Furthermore, fears about mass shootings have led most of the larger department stores to employ weapon scanners and security guards at the entrances. These places might be the safest locations in the city, while also almost completely devoid of Orwellian surveillance.

Of course, it's rather hard for a hard-bitten cyborg covered in chainsaws to look inconspicuous when surrounded by schoolgirls slurping lemonade. One solution, particularly easy in places with collapsing birthrates like Japan and France, is to rent an android child-substitute or two before going into the store. Another is to employ careful memetic techniques - using viral marketing techniques to encourage teenagers to dress in (fabric) chainsaws so your own accoutrements blend into the crowd. This will allow you to have your meetings - and your healthy kale and mint shakes - in peace.

5. The Insect Farm

Insect farms are notoriously hard to bug, because of the constant drone noise.

Also, I'm not going to apologise for that sentence.

Insect farms have become surprisingly common on the outskirts of large sprawls and in the desiccated suburbs. Backyard "Entoprenaurs" grow stocks of "craft" locusts, crickets and mealworms for use in powders, ointments and sauce-laden menus. Stacks of plastic crates resound with the mating calls of a million bugs. Living near a protein-producing fly farm can be intolerable, which creates a nice empty space for a meeting. Empty of humans, anyway. 

Organised crime syndicates love insect farms. They are a great way of getting rid of the low grade chemical waste generated by a number of bio-tech scams and narco-production methods. Locust ranches have replaced waste plants as the Mafia's front of choice.

Two final notes, should you choose to betray your employer. 

  • First: insect farms tend to be really hot. Wearing MetalGear will make you sweat. Sweat will make you look nervous. Looking nervous will make your target suspicious. Firefight will ensue.
  • Second: having a firefight in a hornet pharm is a really, really, really bad idea.

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