SoS Boston: Behind the Wall
Boston From the Ground Up
Sometimes it’s a really good idea to know where you’re working. Not just the people or the corps, but the actual location itself. A working knowledge of the lay of the land is important to everyone because you don’t have your rigger with you every second of the day, and it’s a lot safer to remember which streets run one-way into the bridges when it’s time to get your hoop out of the Hub. Go ahead and study a mapsoft or ask GridGuide, but I’ll bet I can get from the NeoNET Towers to Doc Wagon Mass Gen on foot faster than you can in your car using those. Just listen up and try to absorb a little of what I say.
- I take offense to that. My rigger drives me everywhere! Seriously, this is true. Boston is an old town, and the Hub had no problem completely removing streets to build the megacorporate towers that now create its skyline. What they didn’t do, unfortunately, was widen the rest of the streets. A lot of one-ways, narrow two-ways, and even dead-ends make getting anywhere a challenge. Obey your GridGuide or learn the layout. Anything else will get you in more trouble than you want.
- Turbo Bunny
Before I get too far let me point out some basic facts and pull in some regional data that was meaningful up until last month. It’s actually still useful in that it gives you an idea how many angry and frightened people you’re likely to meet inside the quarantine zone.
I’ll run this down from the center out. The NEMA is bigger than just the Boston Metroplex, but Boston is by far the most populous chunk of the greater entity. The Hub, short for Hub of the Universe (don’t ask me why, go look it up yourself), also known as Downtown Boston, or the Nub if you’re a Southie, is what most people think of when you say Boston. Especially after the megacorps decided they all needed to demonstrate their superiority with architectural monstrosities. In addition to towers that look like giant you-know-whats erected by the smaller players, four major structures give Boston its iconic skyline.
The NeoNET Towers (previously the Novatech Towers, and before that, Fuchi Towers) are built out over Purchase and the highway, near Congress, in the southeast corner of the Nub. The complex has one huge pentagonal tower with five smaller pentagonal towers—one at each point. They’re all connected by enclosed skywalks, but the bridges are staggered every two floors in the central tower and every ten floors in the outer buildings. The whole thing looks cool, but it’s a slitch to navigate. Each tower offers a different amazing view of the city: Boston Harbor, MIT&T, and from the southeast corner of the southeast tower you can see clear to Fenway. This I know for a fact, because I stayed there once—part of a job—and watched a whole Sox game from the balcony with my scope (and was sorely tempted to wing Aligens to get him out of the game after Philly took him yard for the fourth time). Point is, the place is swank, and the towers are taller than every other structure in town except for one.
Mitsuhama Computer Technologies’ Boston HQ won some architect a half dozen awards in the ‘40s. It consists of two tall, corkscrewing spires (they don’t call them towers) connected by skywalks that twist around each other, making a double spiral. It’s supposed to look like DNA, something called a double helix, but I earned my education in the alleys of South Boston, so DNA is not my forte. (Though I do know two liquids you can get it from for a Johnson to use for his nefarious purposes. Yes I know what nefarious means.) Me, I call it the twisted ladder to hell. I know the ladder was supposed to go to heaven, but it’s my nickname and I’m sticking with it. Those helixing spires have a dozen or so meters on NeoNET’s towers but they’re at the opposite corner of the Nub, so from the water, NeoNET still looks bigger.
Ares does not plaster their name all over their holdings around Boston, but their subsidiaries control substantial chunks of real estate. To the untrained observer it looks like their only footprint is the Ares SkyTouch Tower—third tallest tower in town (say that ten times fast)—and the kind of architectural genius you would expect from a midwestern city. Story is it’s supposed to be an homage to the Sears Tower in Chicago, but more than anything else the Ares SkyTouch Tower looks like a kid’s building block creation. Ares operates their HQ out of SkyTouch, and Knight Errant has a corporate headquarters and a major downtown precinct in the building. The rest is rented out to other businesses—for the most part harmless and not directly connected to Ares. The space is pretty primo since KE is on your doorstep.
- OK, funny story: I did a simple B&E job against a certain firm that has offices in the SkyTouch. I was looking for a challenge worthy of my skills, and a building with a major security service precinct built in seemed right. I got in clean, got what I needed, and got the target out safely. It seemed too easy, and I was just way too curious to see what kind of response time they could manage on site, so I tripped a sensor, left a wireless camera behind to record the response, and then slipped out clean. When I eventually checked the footage, the response consisted of one rather obese guard, not even KE, coming up to look around and then radioing down to say false alarm. I was ashamed that I tried so hard.
- Don’t take that as chip truth for every alarm in SkyTouch. I’ve known at least two teams who made the wrong choice of going after a target in the building and ended up split between the holding cells and the morgue.
The last easy identifier of downtown Boston from the harbor, and most anywhere with a sightline on the Nub, is Aztechnology’s step-pyramid—their HQ is a giant ziggurat right on the water. It was built in the late ‘30s, before some of its towering companions, and it lacks that phallic vibe. Instead it sits like a sturdy block extending into the harbor from the waterfront. The outside of the building was built with a green marble. The parts along the water had been replaced with fresh marble several times over the years because of damage from the toxic harbor. Now the levels that contact the water have been replaced with more resistant synthetic materials. I remember when I was a kid hearing stories about the Vista Acuoso. It was a restaurant inside the pyramid with underwater views of the harbor. I know a lot of places have these, but this was in my town. Now there’s nothing at all to see since the windows had to be replaced when they started to leak from corrosion. Moral of the story, I really wanted to see that, and that water really is nasty!
- That restaurant is now a secure research lab for analyzing the harbor. I’d say it’s researching how to clean it up, but we all know better. That water eats through plasteel and marble—I’m sure the Azzies are trying to figure out a way to weaponize that.
- Pyramid Watcher
Before my mind wanders too far off of Downtown, which it’s starting to, let me mention the airport. Logan International Airport, named for the X-Men’s Wolverine (not true but I don’t care to look up the real person), is located opposite the Nub across the harbor. It’s easily accessed by the T, and there’s a road through Callahan tunnel under the harbor. I mainly wanted to mention it because it is inside the QZ. Think about that.
Away from downtown and bad thoughts of airports in quarantine zones, we move out to the communities Boston absorbed. The Nub is one hundred percent developed—even the grassy Boston Commons isn’t natural—but as the metroplex stretches beyond that, the natural lay of the land shapes the city. According to Aetherpedia, this area was shaped by glaciation—that means hills, valleys, lakes, ponds, creeks, and a few oddball surprises were scraped out by the big sheet of ice that covered the place a long, long time ago. I said that to say that outside the Nub the streets and residential districts have odd layouts. For most of its history, construction around Boston followed the lay of the land, instead of changing it, and what it couldn’t follow it went over or under.
As is the case in other metroplexes, residents and planners needed a way to discern one part of the city from another. Boston has a long and rich history of segregated neighborhoods, so breaking the larger area down wasn’t easy. Boston used the smaller cities they had absorbed as boundaries for districts, each with a district representative on the Boston City Council. The districts further allowed different neighborhoods to select, however they chose, representatives to attend district meetings on major issues.
Now keep in mind many of the city’s residents are corporate citizens and don’t play a role in their local politics; some participate out of a matter of neighborhood pride, but they can’t act as representatives on any level. Also, it’s good for me to point out that the districts lack real boundary lines since they’re based on former neighborhoods. In the past this has meant the neighborhoods change, complete with territorial disputes and even some brawls. Many of the average citizens of Boston have a gang mentality when it comes to their turf.
Though I’d love to talk about my own corner of South Boston, odds are most folks here care more about places like Roxbury, a.k.a. the Rox. Boston has a lot of neighborhoods with subpar security or spots where you can find a low-key doss to hide out—or about anything else you can think of—but nothing compares to the lawlessness and roach-infested drek-holes of the Rox.
Boston’s ascent was Rox’s descent. Rox is where Boston dumped all the dirt and scum to make room for the shiny new towers and fancy-suited business folks. If you’ve been to Seattle, it’s like Redmond, or the Aurora Warrens in Denver. The difference here though is that it’s Boston, and Boston is well…just different. An important thing to remember everywhere in Boston is the value of two things, ethnicity and history. Downtown may be full of international folks and people speaking every language of the globe, but Boston’s neighborhoods are broken down by ancestries that only Bostonians truly understand; don’t bother if you’re an outsider. Boston was built on unified separation. Irish stuck with Irish, Italians stuck with Italians, and so forth, but Boston stuck with Boston. I might be born and raised a Southie squarehead ork but you can sure as hell bet any Rox Mick is gonna stand by my side when some Chicago migrant starts getting mouthy. Now me and Rox might get to blows after the Chi guy is out cold, but that’s only cause I didn’t really need his help. Yeah, it’s happened before. The point: Neighborhoods all over Boston are real tightknit and pretty homogenous, so remember to mind your manners. We don’t like you, but we can be pretty cordial if you are polite.
Everything I just said doesn’t apply—or applies differently—to the Catacombs. Your average Bostonian doesn’t experience the Catacombs, but for shadowrunners the place is a mix of bolthole, shopping mall, hunting ground, secret passage, nightclub, meeting spot, storage locker, and so much more. Runners can do and find just about anything in the Catacombs. If they know where to look or who to ask. It’s like a city under the city. No one I know has ever mapped this whole place—probably cause anyone who tried died when they hit a pack of ghouls or swarm of bug spirits or some worse things no one’s ever classified that hide out down there. In one way this place is like any other in that it has its wilds, its suburbs, and its civilized areas. Of course keep in mind all those terms are still referring to a series of underground tunnels, caves, sewers, and basements. If you’re new in town or headed down for the first time, get a guide. Taysacs, at The Tipsy Dragon in Roxbury, is one of my top picks, and he’ll take anyone. A lot of others only work by referral, so get to know someone or get it set up through your fixer.
- Deep6, Sewer Rat, and Eddie Z all take newcomers too. They work out of Kung Lung, a restaurant about a block from the Chinatown T station. Which is a spot that happens to have good access to the Catacombs.
- Traveller Jones
- Can’t state how important it is to follow Southie’s advice. If you go without a guide, please just drop off all your expensive gear in a locker and give me the code. It won’t save you down there, and will likely just end up littering some critters nest or as undigested lumps in a pile of their shit.
- The Nub and Catacombs are home to a sweet little magic shop called “The Wandering Wizard.” The place is run by Doc Belmont. He’s got a rare setup that allows his shop access to both levels of the city. He’s usually upstairs operating the regular store, but he’ll slip down for special deals. If you have something you think is arcane in nature, bring it by—he’ll tell you what it does for a moderate fee.
- No discussion of the Catacombs can be complete without the Busted Bunker. Originally a fallout shelter built a century ago, the place was discovered and repurposed as a nice little bar. For the right price, BakaGrappler can get you some authentic mid-1900’s food that was in the shelter. It’s pricey, but something fun to say you’ve had.
Since I mentioned the highs and the lows, I might as well mention the snobbish. Two of the most prestigious universities in the world are located “within” the Boston Metroplex. Now, I put those quotes up because for some reason, Cambridge, home to both MIT&T and Harvard, likes to make sure that everyone knows they may be part of the Metroplex government, but they are not part of Boston. I’m sure there’re tons of long dissertations or studies somewhere about why they’re better off independent, but everyone knows it’s just pure ego. Cambridge wants to stay Cambridge. The Cambridge District of Boston or the NEMA or anything else just won’t do.
What do you need to know about Cambridge? For starters, if you are working in Boston you will end up there at some point. MIT&T is on the cutting edge of more fields with almost unpronounceable names than I can count, and Harvard medical is not far behind. Jobs to steal data and samples from those campuses occur just about every week. The colleges don’t want to appear like armed camps they would need to be to stop these jobs, so every lick of their real security is designed to blend into the background. Those handsome gentlemen in the nice uniforms that say “Campus Security” walking around aren’t security, they’re PR. They’re there to make the kiddies feel comfortable and direct them to their next class. The closest they get to real security work is breaking up rowdy frat parties on Greek row. This is just a little primer, so I’m not going into great detail here; just be well aware the colleges are full of high-ticket brainiacs and serious hidden security.
- MIT&T and Harvard like to hire security that looks young and blends into the college crowd. Best way to spot their real security is to run facial recognition software in the quad linked to a data log. The faces that never seem to go to a class are the ones that belong to security.
- Hard Exit
- What about the kids that just ditch class?
- This isn’t Boston College were talking about, it’s MIT&T and Harvard. Ditch a class and you might as well drop out. This is the big-brain leagues.
- Any word on The Professor? I know it’s a common street name, but I’m referring to the former shadow operator who taught at U-W and now sunlights as a prof at MIT&T. He popped over to Boston for the fall of ‘71 semester after some trouble in Seattle in late ‘70. He’s likely a hot commodity with his specialty in spell design and a need for some new tricks if people want deal with CFD or get word through the quarantine.
- I wonder how The Shady Heart has fared. It’s a top-notch nightspot where the smart would rub elbows with the smart and rebellious. Many a wild idea was birthed in the smoke and haze of that spot.
Boston is famous as a tech town, and that tech has made Route 128 famous with its massive concentration of tech research labs, tech development companies, and tech production facilities. Before I get too far I’ll remind non-locals that what I, and the rest of Boston, call Route 128, you will see as I-95 on a map. Call it 128 or the tech corridor because nothing shuts a local up faster than some “outie” saying I-95 or even 95. Sorry, tangented again. 128 is a prime target for runners. The security is always pretty solid and you are likely in extraterritorial space, so beware. Do your homework about the spot you are hitting and anywhere you might pass through going in or out. Not many things will scrag your run faster than ducking KE by slipping onto megacorp territory only for it to be MCT and you’re in the zero-zone. Speaking of MCT, 128 is also full of arcane research outfits and has lots of astral and dual-natured security, including paracritters at certain sites.
Moving outward we find the mix of urban, suburban, rural, and wild all within the friendly confines of the 128 ring. The urban sprawl stretches out along the coast, up the rivers, and along the interstates, though most of the living space along 128 is at the corp labs. The neighborhoods along those areas are built up and represent the height, or should I say heights, of modern urban expansion. Most of the structures are multistory with the occasional exception of the historic landmarks that dot the area. Even some of those are inside the towers that were built around them. They’re pretty interesting if you’re some NeoNET corpkid who goes there on field trips, but for me they’re just old buildings that I might have seen driving by on runs.
- Speaking as such a NeoNET corpkid, the historical sites are prime spots for quiet meetings. There are a few security drones, easily looped by a good hacker, but very little other surveillance. Johnsons in Boston will often use these places as meet spots, but remember it is still a public place, and there are almost always corpkids there on field trips. The little ones are perceptive, nosy as shit, and loud-mouthed. They spot a gun or even obvious cyber, the class is abuzz, the teacher knows, and then security knows. Play it cool.
The urban heights fade down pretty quickly into the maddening maze of curving streets in the former suburbia. There are trees galore, almost like Boston’s using the suburbs to make up for all the trees they tore down to build the rest of the place. From above the streets look like rivers in a forest. The trees are often so dense and tall you can’t even see the homes below. The shopping areas are patches of concrete and many of those have planted rows of trees to shade the parking lots.
These suburban stretches roll between the neighborhoods of Lexington and Woburn and down toward Belmont and Waltham. Very few of the former suburbs are still suburban; many areas and subdivisions are blighted areas abandoned during bad economic times or because of viral plagues or the Crash of ‘64. These areas are often squatter havens, dosses for runners with a contact in the realty biz, gang hangouts, or worse. I’ve seen the worse. They hide behind the fences that once kept the rabble out but now keep the rabble separated from each other. I’ve tracked down quite a few teenage corpkids who’d run away from mommy and daddy at the corp housing by the river to go back home, only to find home filled with gangers, squatters, whores, or even ghouls. Funny thing is only twenty-five meters away is a perfectly groomed lawn with a white-picket fence that belongs to the Joneses inside Cottage House Glen, the perfect suburban family, separated by an electric fence hidden by the overgrowth and ever-present trees.
- Southie’s right on with these spots. A lot of the population moved into the arcs and towers downtown. There are quite a few ghost towns out here. Be wary, though. Some of those ghost towns belong to megacorps that bought out the land to move their people downtown. That means extraterritoriality and freedom to do as they please.
On the south side of the river and over I-90, surrounding the urban garbage dump, literally and figuratively, that is the Rox, we have the Newtons (-ville, West, Highlands, Lower Falls, and Upper Falls) to the west, Dedham and 95 to the south, and over to Milton, Mattapan, I-93 and South Boston in the east. These areas are more suburban confusion with a touch more consistency in their collapse. The Rox is like a blight on the land that is slowly expanding. The closer the suburb is to the Rox, the more likely it is to now be a collapsing hellhole where runners hide out, “outside” the Rox.
South Boston deserves special mention, and not just because it’s my hometown. It’s one of the few places along the coast and close to downtown that managed to fight off the corporate high-rises, literally. Every time the corporations came in to buy up a shop, it was a brawl. All the damage took its toll on the area, and though the locals have tried to work together to rebuild, the corps have taken a few shots in return for all the trouble. The end result is one of the top five urban brawl zones in the world. There are worse things to be famous for.
- Right on the edge of the brawl is a club called The Black Death. They host a live band during every match. The wall behind the stage was replaced with bullet-proof glass, and the action often plays out as a backdrop to the latest up-and-comer on the death metal, thrash metal, or trog rock scene. Between matches they host signings with players and have regular shows, but the big names come out on game day.
Something everyone has come to respect in the Northeast is Mother Nature. Even before the Awakening, this part of the world knew the wrath of Mother Nature. Winter storms have buried the city of Boston in over a meter of snow in a single storm, and over three meters between melts. That, along with subzero cold snaps over a month long, means that this place knows the lady well.
With the Awakening, the strong connection to nature magic in this region and the economic realities—not to mention survival realities—driving former suburbanites into the cities, Mother Nature has reclaimed whole swaths of the Northeast region. A few small patches of suburbia still cling to the areas around the Fells (Middlesex Fells to outsiders) and Lynn Woods, but the UCAS Federal land reservations are now overgrown. Along with a lot of territory north of the city. Oh, you’ll still find suburban enclaves somehow surviving within the NEMA, but the metroplex has had little luck keeping nature in check. Those who live south of Peabody and Salem and north of the city stick to the cleared roads when not holed up inside their homes or walled communities; those who live longest avoid excursions into the forests. The locals refer to these areas as the Wilds.
Nature controls the Wilds, no question, but man presses close on every side. That means in addition to a widespread and diverse population of paracritters, there’s an unhealthy number of mutations that either formed there or escaped to there or were dumped there. Not to mention corporate experiments—either escaped, dumped, or released for study in their “natural” environment. It’s a dangerous place to wander. There are hundreds of legends and rumors about what’s in the Wilds—with new ones cropping up every day. Things coming through astral portals or Awakened creatures wreaking vengeance on those who have wronged the land, or harmed a golden-hearted witch, or some other transgression only the Wilds understand. Pretty much they all boil down to beware the dark places, because the magic is strong out here. I don’t know enough about what can or can’t happen in the Wilds to discount any legend, rumor, or cautionary tale, so I’d proceed as though every one is based on true events. Better wary than buried.
- There’s some money in hunting in this region, but it isn’t easy. The minute you step off the road you have to remember you’ve just entered the food chain. You may think you’re the predator but there are plenty of local fauna, and some flora, that will teach you differently. Do your research, keep out a wary eye, get in and, most importantly, get out quick. A day trip that turns into an overnight usually ends with being digested.
- The Wilds are a prime spot to grab telesma. But keep with Sticks’ advice and try to keep the trips short. A number of the critters out in those parts are naturally attracted to the best telesma gathering spots and defend their territory with the ferocity of a mama piasma defending her cubs.
When considering the interesting areas around Boston, you have to remember the many peninsulas. Several exclusive and reclusive populations have staked out these narrow strips of dirt. These peninsulas are where you will find the private enclaves of megacorporate executives, rich (a.k.a. dirty) politicians, and celebrities from a dozen fields. The limited access allows security to be cheap and tight all at the same time. Any invasions from the water are easily thwarted by alert and eager boat patrols and/or private security on the million-nuyen yachts floating all around the little land fingers. If I were inside, this would be where I’d go.
So that’s the dirt on Boston in a nutshell. She’s got her highs and lows and not a whole lot of in the middle.
Gotta love her.