Sector 102 // The Undercity
Welcome Dredd-heads to another fluff update following on from the Organized Crime article. This time we delve into a part of the Dredd verse I really enjoy, the Undercity! This article is based off a blog entry by Mongoose Publishing, but is also taken from Dredd sites all over the internet, so there shouldn't be any issues having here. It's a long article but enjoy:
A small minority of citizens are prepared to risk life and limb by organising expeditions to the old cities. The adventurous, the desperate, or the just plain greedy, dare to venture below the City into the darkness despite the Justice Department strict prohibition of the practice. However, any visitor must be careful to ensure that they can exit the Undercity as easily as they entered it – City Maintenance squads quickly seal up any holes and fissures that they find, which can leave the unfortunate intruders stranded in the dingy caves and caverns! The Justice Department also have a vested interest in keeping the Undercity under control. Despite existing beyond their normal jurisdiction, judges are occasionally sent on missions into the darkness in order to eliminate some terrible threat or apprehend some particularly important fugitive. On more than one occasion, judges have been dispatched on the request of the Undercity dwellers themselves to deal with some new terror, but this is very much the exception rather than the rule. A chronic lack of judicial manpower has ensured that regular Undercity patrols are a thing of the past, but there is still a form of regular law enforcement. Judges can choose to take the Long Walk into the Undercity when they retire from active service. Each takes an oath ‘to bring Law unto the Lawless – until death!’ but the midnight world of the Undercity is very different to the bright lights of Mega-City One and only the most exceptional lawman can last for long.
Most Citi-Def squads take great pride in the fact that they are always ready for enemy action, and to this end they tend to over-prepare somewhat, often carrying awkward or inappropriate heavy weapons or specialist equipment when embarking on a training mission. However, there are still the small minority of units that believe that they can deal with anything that the underworld can throw at them armed only with a handgun and a flashlight. It is usually only Citi-Def Officers and Jaeger squad commandoes that will embark on training missions to the Undercity – the normal citizens that make up the ranks of the Citi-Def militia are either disregarded as unsuitable or are simply not interested in crawling about below the sewers, preferring to watch game shows and soap operas instead. A typical Citi-Def training squad will consist of an Officer accompanied by three to six Jaeger squad commandoes, equipped with spelunker suits and Nightrider rifles with high-powered flashlights. Most carry enough rations to last for some considerable time, but some will be expected to live off ‘the land’ – surviving on only what they can catch and kill. Most find that they would rather go hungry.
Undercity dwellers tend to regard visiting Citi-Def as little more than an irritation – no matter how stealthy and well drilled the part time soldiers attempt to be, with their noisy equipment and blazing lights they cannot help but be conspicuous. Most tribes and troggie clans are prepared to ignore or avoid the intruders, knowing that they will soon return home to their own environment as soon as they get bored or hungry, or get killed by something bigger and meaner than them. Others, such as the peaceful Philadelphian trog tribes, will offer to act as guides, skilfully steering the intruders away from anything really dangerous in return for some small trinket or piece of technology.
Attracted by the fact that the Undercity is outside of the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, many large criminal cartels have had the idea of establishing a permanent base below the streets of the Mega-City. This is often a very expensive operation – transporting the raw materials to build a secure building from the surface world to the Undercity without attracting the attention of the judges is an almost impossible task that requires elaborate planning and an enormous investment of resources. Many fall at the first hurdle, attempting to bore a tunnel large enough to transport large construction vehicles and robots through the slabs of City Bottom. Naturally, this is a rather noisy and conspicuous business that rarely goes unnoticed!
However, an organisation that is able to establish a base is able to reap the benefits. The most typical Undercity base is used as a manufacturing plant, able to churn out anything from illegal weapons to drugs without much chance of discovery by the judges. In theory, the cartel should be able to flood the streets of Mega-City One with untraceable contraband. In practice, things rarely work out that way.
The Undercity dwellers themselves are a major headache. Unlike the temporary visits by the Citi-Def squads or the transient, nomadic fugitives and refugees, the criminal cartels clearly intend to stay on a permanent basis. Many tribes naturally take great exception to this invasion of their territories and will do their best to make the intruders lives as difficult as possible – sneaking in to steal anything that is not physically fixed down or simply murdering anyone they encounter.
A typical cartel base is a collection of modular, pre-fabricated buildings that has been constructed in a specially cleared area of an old city, or a repaired and re-fitted ancient ruin. Unable to connect to the City’s power supply, the cartels must ensure that there is a powerful generator available which includes more than enough power to run all of the outposts needs. Large lighting rigs illuminate the surrounding area, and 30 – 50 human guards are supposed to ensure that the Undercity dwellers keep their distance. A team of construction and assembly robots toil endlessly at production lines, churning out illicit contraband, which must somehow be smuggled into the Mega-City. Short of investing a huge amount of capital by installing one of the new teleport systems (which are unreliable even in the best of conditions), this will require a tunnel, which usually leads into some structure located on City Bottom – an old warehouse or Ecom unit is the most common – but the need to maintain a stable entrance into the world above is often the most difficult part of the operation, as the judges and City Maintenance alike will waste no time sealing the fissure without warning.
Mega-City One has had more than its fair share of wars, natural disasters and invasions. Some citizens have become so accustomed to citywide death and destruction that they have established a well-practiced drill, which is put into effect as soon as the first signs of a threat appear. Thousands of citizens pack up whatever that cannot bear to part with and make for the relative safety of the Cursed Earth or the Undercity until the danger has passed, taking elaborate measures to escape over the city wall or burrowing through the slabs of City Bottom.
What constitutes a refugee party varies enormously, from a lone individual fleeing via the sewer system to a massive, hundreds strong column that has made its way beneath the ground by using enormous construction vehicles or robots to bore a huge tunnel. Many blocks have established an evacuation drill that is put into effect at the first sign of an emergency, but in the event of an actual alarm most citizens will panic, grabbing the first thing that comes to hand (no matter how inappropriate or useless) and fleeing. Most refugees will be unarmed, but about one in ten are equipped with small arms or hand weapons.
A citizen fleeing from the judges is often prepared to take desperate measures to avoid a long spell in the Iso Cubes. Those that can afford it make use of a perp runner, a criminal highly skilled in smuggling fugitives out of the jurisdiction of the Justice Department. Even though it is the closest ‘judge free’ area, few perp runners will take the effort to deposit their charges into the dark underworld. Boring a tunnel through City Bottom is a time consuming, costly exercise that often attracts the attention of the very people that the runners are intent on avoiding. In any case, even ruthless criminals find the thought of life in the Cubes preferable to struggling for survival in the Undercity.
Most fugitives that find their way below ground make their way unaided, squeezing through fissures or navigating through the sewer system. It is usually only the most odious of criminals who are prepared to try to make themselves a new life in the Undercity – vile murderers tempted by the lack of judicial interference hampering their ‘fun’. These individuals often join with the most violent Undercity tribes, frequently rising quite high in rank.
Most of these tours are arranged by totally unscrupulous conmen, intent on draining their customers of cash for as little work or effort as possible. Others are more sinister – chump dumpers who simply abandon their charges in some dark corner of the Underworld to be killed by troggies or some monster, or even slavers who had no intention of taking their customers to anywhere other than a Cursed Earth slave market.
Even if tourists have been forewarned of the dangers of the Undercity, they are usually poorly equipped to survive below ground, often bringing no more than a vid camera and a bad taste in clothes. Some tourists are intent on a ‘hunting trip’ to the Undercity, loading up with heavy weapon and determined to bag a trophy – similar to the ‘dinosaur hunters’ that have been venturing into the Cursed Earth for many years. The Undercity is a very different environment to the Cursed Earth, however, which requires a very different approach – many hunters have failed to take this into account and have paid the price.
Most Undercity dwellers, except the most territorial and aggressive, tend to ignore and avoid sightseers. A non-violent exception is the pathetic troggie sub-breed known as wretches – the cadaverous, blind creatures tend to crowd around the visitors, begging for a few scraps of food. This approach does not normally work, but the tourists seem to regard the creatures as ‘charming’ parts of the scenery. Naturally, all tribes will react against any violent act, often tracking down and swiftly eliminating any group that seems to be a threat to them.
Seedy bars and clubs in the Mega-City are full of tales of the riches of the United States left abandoned in the old cities before their entombment. In a city where any pre-Atom War artefact is considered a priceless collectable, many of the more gullible citizens are prepared to risk life and limb in order to visit the savage underworld beneath their feet. Many pongo’s can make a fine profit selling ‘treasure maps’ detailing the locations of valuable items. Most of these are simply copied out of old atlases, giving a vague idea of some famous landmark that may still contain some valuable item, others are completely fictional pieces of artwork that ‘guarantee’ the owner will find huge riches, but bear no relation to reality. A few are genuine, accurately showing a location rich in valuable items – Gloomingdales department store in New York is a favourite, as it once claimed that it stocked ‘everything’, or the old United States Mint in Philadelphia, still reputed to hold millions of credits worth of old coins.
A few treasure hunters actually become successful, finding a cache of priceless lava lamps or unopened self-assembly book cases, which he then sells for a fortune on the antiques black market. These exceptional individuals can make a very good, if illicit, living from their subterranean activities. Others make a living by scavenging illegally through the Mega-City sewer system, seeking valuables other citizens have accidentally flushed away. Even these ‘sewer scrapers’ are sometimes surprised by what they find washed up in storm drains or channels.
The Junk Prospector
The Mega-City antiques market places a great deal of value on artefacts from 20th and 21st Century popular culture – items that a contemporary individual would regard as rubbish or of short term worth. Ancient newspapers and books are often banned by the judges, which only adds to their appeal – old copies of the New York Times, comic books or one time blockbuster novels find their way onto the Justice Department’s vetoed list, boosting their ‘collectable’ value no end on the black market. Other items can be legally owned, but are extremely rare. Ancient craze items such as Rubik’s cubes were at one time produced by the million, but only a handful have survived into the 22nd Century. Even packaging is valuable – tins, bottles and even carrier bags can fetch millions. It is not unknown for a collector to kill in order to obtain some rare item that was simply thrown away by its original owner.
The absurd prices that some citizens are prepared to pay for an old Wellington boot or a Sylvester Stallone movie poster naturally attracts many perps into ruined Cursed Earth towns and cities, or the buried conurbations of the Undercity in search of valuable junk. The savage environment or its inhabitants kill many before they can find anything of value, but a few manage to locate a valuable ‘seam’ of junk. Some still speak of the legendary Filmore Faro, who rediscovered the town of Memphis in the Cursed Earth and made his fortune selling Elvis memorabilia to the Sov block. Some still speak in awe of his priceless coat made from ring-pull tabs, but always seem to ignore the fact that he was driven completely insane as his brain was fried in the radiation saturated wasteland before he chanced upon the old city. The chance of making a huge profit always outweighs the dangers.
The Justice Department
The forces of the Justice Department are usually the only legitimate visitors to the Undercity. Unlike most intruders, the judges make use of the great Undercity Gates instead of having to find a tunnel or fissure through City Bottom – although it is not unheard of for a team of judges to be dispatched through a hole, even if it only to see where it leads. However, the judges lack the manpower to do anything other than make occasional visits, usually only when there is some pressing emergency brewing in the dark underworld. Unlike the Cursed Earth, there is little or no monitoring of the Undercity, no circuit patrols or Hotdog Runs to give an occasional update of the situation below the city. It is often years between missions – the judges often find that any information that they possess is hopelessly out of date when embarking through the Gates.
More often, though, the judges will venture into the Undercity to deal with some menace that has emerged to attack the citizens of Mega-City One. These threats vary from the relatively mundane – such as Slick Willy and his troggie cult’s abduction of dozens of upsiders to act as slaves in his mad plan to bring the Mega-City crashing down in 2099 – to quasi-supernatural monsters emerging to bring carnage to the roads and pedways – for example, the werewolf attacks in 2105 or the Holy Fiend murders of 2114. Most residents of the Undercity know enough to make themselves scarce whenever the judges venture into the Undercity – even the dumbest troggie realises that trouble always follows the black clad lawmen and he will need to find a safe place to hide until the shooting stops!
A judge’s standard issue equipment is usually enough to deal with anything that the Undercity can throw at them. With their access to the large Undercity Gates, the judges are also among the only visitors who are able to bring any vehicles with them, although anything larger than a Lawmaster will have great difficulty on the shattered streets.
The Undercity Long Walk Judge
No judge is expected to remain on the streets forever. Even the toughest lawman knows that, one day, their usefulness will come to an end and they will be forced to retire. However, it would be foolish to expect old judges to live out their final days lazing around in a Crock Block. Once retired from active service, there are still several valuable roles that they can fulfil. The most experienced are given the opportunity to pass on their knowledge gleaned from their decades on the streets by becoming Judge Tutors in the Academy of Law, training the next generation of Cadets in the statutes and application of the Law. Others are given administrative roles in Sector Houses, where they are able to offer guidance and assistance to their former colleagues. But there are always a few who find such tasks tedious. The only alternative is known as the Long Walk, when a retiring judge is given the
A judge taking the Long Walk is marked by a great ceremony. Twenty-one judges flank their departing comrade, each saluting him with a single shot as he passes. The traditional lament is recited as he exits the Mega-City for the final time. As the gates to the City clang shut behind him, the judge is alone for almost the first time in his life. From now on, he can only rely on himself – there is no backup, no comrades to come to his aid should he get into trouble. He has only his training and experience to keep him alive in a new, hostile environment. It takes a truly exceptional individual to survive longer than a few months as a Long Walk judge.
Like many habitats in the 22nd Century, the Undercity is a sealed environment. However, unlike the strictly controlled and regulated life support systems in the domes of Luna-1 or Viking City on Mars, the Undercity is an example of a closed environment that has been allowed to run out of control, with no monitoring whatsoever to keep the various life forms and habitats in a stable condition. The dark caverns have become the epitome of ‘survival of the fittest’ – only the strongest, adaptable or most numerous creatures are capable of surviving for any length of time. Isolation from normal sunlight has also had a dramatic effect on most plant-life – few species have survived the burial of the cities. Only a few mutant species of trees and flowers have survived in isolated patches. However, many new species of fungus and mosses have become common, thriving in the decayed darkness of the streets and buildings.
There is a huge diversity of man-made structures to be found in the Undercity. When the cities were buried, homes, offices and factories were evacuated and left empty. Lack of maintenance eventually took its toll and many ancient and historic buildings have collapsed. However, some have been appropriated by Undercity dwellers who have adapted them to suit their needs. Some have been reinforced into fortresses; others have been torn to pieces and used to make new buildings.
The Concrete Sky: The great rockcrete dome that covers most of the Undercity is almost universally known, incorrectly, as ‘The Concrete Sky’. In many areas of New York, the enormous structure is so far above the ground that it is almost impossible to see, giving the impression the old city is cloaked in a particularly dark night. In other areas, the roof is only a few feet above the ground to form claustrophobic caverns that constantly drip with freezing condensation. Huge stalagmites and stalactites are beginning to form in some areas – great, teeth-like growths that block large areas of the Undercity. The concrete sky possesses terrific tensile strength as it has to support the entire Mega-City, but individual segments are actually quite brittle. Many tribes have developed the ability to tunnel through the rockcrete walls, instinctively ensuring that the stability of the structure as a whole is maintained. The concrete sky is reinforced with hundreds of plasti-steel girders, which makes it far tougher than regular rockcrete.
Philadelphian Tunnels: Philadelphia was only the second United States city to be buried beneath the Mega-City, and the designers chose to use a radically different method. Colossal vaulted chambers were built over many important buildings and every street was converted into a tunnel to form a massive labyrinth before millions of tons of rockcrete smothered the entire city. Philadelphia became a claustrophobic nightmare of a city, regularly flooded by the stinking, fetid waters of the old Delaware River and overflow from the Mega-City sewer system. The tunnel and chamber walls are rather stronger than the concrete sky that covers the rest of the Undercity but is little more than a thin covering of reinforced vaulting. The rockcrete that covers Philadelphia is considerably thicker than the most of the rest of the Undercity – in some places over a mile. Some tribes of the stunted Philadelphia trogs are nevertheless capable of excavating their own passageways through the thick walls. Some areas have become a twisting, confusing labyrinth of low burrows interconnecting with the ‘official’ tunnels.
Sewer Tunnels: Sandwiched between the Mega-City and the Undercity is the vast sewer network, a convoluted warren of interconnecting tunnels and vaulted chambers. Some have speculated that the sewer system can be used to reach all areas of the Mega-City, but only a perp with an extremely strong stomach would actually use the tunnels as a method of moving from one place to another. The design and layout of the tunnels themselves tend to vary enormously from ancient, brick built three-foot high passageways to enormous reinforced tunnels and chambers to futuristic, plasti-metal clad shafts. However, before long every tunnel begins to look the same – dark, claustrophobic and extremely smelly. There are further dangers to investigating the tunnels – it has developed its own micro-ecology of savage life forms, from the giant white gators to millions of huge, vicious rats. There is further danger – explosive methane gas, an unavoidable side effect of the decay of sewage. Many Mega-City companies make a profit mining this gas as a valuable resource but pockets tend to quickly build up in hard to reach places. If exposed to fire or an explosion (such as a gunshot) a gas pocket will detonate as if it were a hand bomb. Sealed manholes are placed on City Bottom and beneath cityblocks at regular intervals to allow city maintenance teams access to the sewers – ordinary citizens must keep out of them at all times. Anyone found attempting to access the sewers without a valid permit will earn themselves a minimum of six months in the Iso Cubes should they be caught by the judges. Manhole covers are usually constructed from a durasteel alloy, firmly locked and sealed against any tampering.
Pre-Atom War Building: Much to the horror and bemusement of the citizens of Mega-City One, the majority of the shops and houses found in the old cities consist of squat, boxlike buildings a mere two or three storeys tall. Once, these were sturdy homes and places of business but the decades buried beneath the City has left little more than shattered, worn out ruins. Over the years, time has taken its toll and many old buildings have collapsed into ruin, leaving nothing but a hollow shells or broken rubble. Some buildings have survived more or less intact – these have usually been taken as homes by some of the smaller tribes. Broken masonry and scavenged materials are often used to shore up collapsing or damaged buildings, making even serviceable abodes appear to be little more than piles of rubble. A typical low-level building has two storeys, plus a basement or cellar area. The ground floor is divided into four to six rooms including a kitchen and a living room; the first floor is usually subdivided into bedrooms. The basement area most often consists of a single, large area. However, the function of any occupied building has long since been forgotten. Houses in Philadelphia suffered an even stranger fate – many were smothered in rockcrete when the tunnels were built, leaving only a single façade with only the occasional accessible room.
Pre-Atom War Sky-Rise Tower: The majestic skyscrapers that once dominated the skylines of many cities in pre-Atom War America would be regarded as quaint, low level con-apts by the residents of the giant Mega-City. Even the tallest surviving building in the Undercity – the Chrysler Building in New York – is less than a quarter of the height of an average sized cityblock. Nevertheless, these structures are still regarded as valuable resources and their ownership is usually hotly contested by many of the Undercity factions. Even collapsed or ruined skyscrapers are regarded as a valuable commodity – bricks, girders and rubble are always needed to shore-up the slowly decaying habitats occupied by the Undercity dwellers. A typical sky-rise tower stands fifty storeys tall, although only the mighty New York dome is capable of housing such a large structure. Many tall buildings are cut off by the concrete sky, their top few storeys embedded in the great mass of rockcrete.
Troggie Hut: Most varieties of troggies have become adept at constructing themselves primitive shelters. As there are no natural weather patterns in the Undercity, these huts are generally used as protection against the other residents of the underworld and are therefore reasonably tough. Troggie huts usually consist of a single room, about ten feet square with walls made from salvaged junk or the remains of an ancient building, torn apart and reassembled in typical ramshackle troggie style.
Philadelphian Trog Roundhouse: The Philadelphian trogs are rather more sophisticated than their cousins that occupy other areas of the Undercity, constructing their own, individual style of buildings that, strangely, resembles an ancient Celtic roundhouse. Philadelphian trog roundhouses are large, circular buildings constructed using ancient methods but with more modern materials – salvaged metal and brick rather than wood and leather. As they are nomadic, the Philadelphian trogs ensure that their homes can be quickly dismantled to allow them to move with ease – this is typically to escape from the floods from the black water of the Delaware river that wash through their tunnel homes on a regular basis. Naturally, these temporary and prefabricated structures are rather more fragile than a permanent structure.
Isolated from natural sunlight, very few plants thrive in the Undercity. Most forms of vegetation have withered and died in the shadows, but, like their human and animal equivalents, a few mutant species have adapted to live without ultraviolet light and heat.
Moss: Moss is probably the most common plant to be found in the Undercity. Moss requires little water and can grow almost anywhere. It tends to cover vast areas of the desolate streets and buildings of the old cities. Unfortunately, this plant has very little nutritional value, although many species – such as the pathetic sub humes known as wretches – are forced to eke a miserable existence grazing on it. Another form of moss is far more valuable – the so-called ‘glowmoss’ is a mutant species of luminescent moss, often cultivated on walls and ceilings in order to provide dim lighting.
Mutant Vegetation: Many mutant plant species have appeared since the burial of New York, although, as yet, none have become particularly common. Most tend to be weak and feeble, capable of surviving in the darkness or in the toxin saturated slime of the Big Smelly. Others are more robust – a few trees have managed to survive, and clusters of pale grass exist in isolated places. Others have developed along more sinister lines, such as the deadly Boston Strangler Vine and the parasitic Hoxton Creeper.
Dead Vegetation: Dead and decaying plants are by far the most common sight in most of the Undercity. The majority of the dark underworld was at one time rural fields and wastelands that were simply covered by the great rockcrete foundations of the Mega-City, leaving the unfortunate vegetation cut-off from vital life giving heat and light. Most of the Undercity is cluttered with dense mats of stinking mulch.
Humanity is not the only species to make a home in the Undercity, although as always they regard themselves as the most important inhabitants. Many creatures and monsters endure life in the darkness. However, there are several other forms of creatures native to the Undercity.
Gators: No one seems sure how alligators, usually only found wild in tropical areas, came to live in the sewers of many American cities, but their existence is undeniable. Although the larger specimens have emigrated to the cleaner waters found in the Mega-City sewer system, the old sewer networks beneath most of the old cities still harbour a healthy population of gators, and the swamp-like tunnels of Philadelphia make an ideal home for the fierce beasts. Naturally, the lethal, armour plated reptiles are greatly feared by humans and troggies alike.
So there you have it. Home to crazy, the dangerous and the unloved. A great setting for games of Judge Dredd. Hope you have enjoyed and drop me a comment.