The Districts and Neighbourhoods of Vermintown.

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THE WESTUNDS

 [Explore the Westunds map.]

Unquestionably the more salubrious of the two lower-level districts, the Westunds owes its name to a corrupted reading of a patched and faded Vastfolk sign mounted on the tunnel wall. Where once the platform and its attendant rail-line were marked “WESTBOUND SERVICES,” now parts of the first word and almost all the second have been occluded by the accumulated filth of the station’s initial construction and the dust of the many years since. Hence “west__und_s”.

The district benefits from two distinctive structural and infrastructural advantages over its lowlier counterpart, the Viast, which have served to magnify and exaggerate its desirability since its founding. The first is its reliable and well-deployed system of water distribution, extant since the hobfathers first linked the plentiful aquifer-resources of Uptown to the plebeian sections of the lower city. Founded first, the Westunds was granted a distinctly advantageous access to resources – water, waste, electricity and scav – when compared to its more haphazardly-planned and later-arriving cousin district.

The tunnel’s other natural benefit is the soft movement of air peculiar to its environs, caused by a small break in the ceiling of a perpendicular underground line (the Charing-Cross Branch of the Northern Line, intersecting the proposed Soho Branch extension several dozen metres eastward along the line). The passage of vastfolk trains in the other line stirs a gentle venturi breeze which aerates the Westunds and removes the worst of its industrial smogs. Thanks to the supposedly restorative effects of this flow, several well-to-do Gob neighbourhoods – in some cases even rivalling the splendour and affluence of Uptown neighbourhoods – have flourished in the immediate path of the draught.

Finally, a suite of cultural associations – arguably the product of aggressive snobbery by its existing residents – have sealed the Westunds’ reputation as the undisputed superior of the lower districts. The lesser of these is the presence of the Vend: headquarters of the Vermintown Militia. In as much as any police organisation could be said to lend an air of safety and respectability to its neighbourhood, let alone a force so frequently assailed by accusations of corruption and cross-species deviancy, the V.M. does so. (More recently, under the guiding eye of Commander Briskovine Scattle, the force has taken to identifying the multiracial diversity of its officers as a point of proud modernity rather than one of operational necessity – a rebranding act which has oppositely irritated and delighted different sectors of the Westunds community according to their progressivity.) Nonetheless the Westunds will forever be regarded as the district from which Justice Is Served and The Peace Is Kept, for better or for worse, and bragging rights are duly cherished.

The more potent cultural superiority-complex afforded Westunds residents (in spite of the militia’s trumpeted diversity), is quite simply the discrict’s distinct lack of NonGob residents. As the first platform to be settled during the early days of Vermintown’s downward expansion, the district is almost exclusively settled by middle-class Goblins and proto-Hobs. Besides a few prosperous immigrants and a couple of aspirational business-owners of “foreign” extraction, the one exception to the No-NonGreens rule is the unofficial ghetto known as Gristown: originally a dumping-ground for sewage and unusable scav, long since colonised by Brownies as an occasional home, rutting-post and rummage-spot. Renamed “Zhābat” by its unhygienic occupants (lit: “Goodshit”), it’s a source of constant revulsion to its nearest neighbours and is frequently destroyed by purge-teams of public-minded vigilantes and militia squads, undoubtedly with a few greased palms along the way. (The Brownies don’t seem to mind too much anyway: gradually drifting back to the mangled heap in slow stages.)

To the East, through the tunnel mouth’s Safety Net (erected at all four platform-approaches to dissuade nocturnal predators), a circuitous route known as theHoledown leads via broken access-hatches to the surface, and is one of the three main entry/exit routes used by the scav teams (the others being the Crack at the Wildish, at the top of the uptown escalators, and the Chimbly-Lift on the West-side approaches to the Viast). Thanks to this constant flow of high-quality merchandise, the Westunds is endowed with a far better series of ramps, pulleys and funiculars between its trackfloor and its platform edge than its less affluent neighbouring district.

THE VIAST

[Explore the Viast map.]

Like its more affluent neighbour the Westunds, the Viast owes its name to an imperfect reading of the Vastfolk sign marking its tunnel wall. Originally labelled “EASTBOUND via ST PAULS”, a cultivated patina of mould has obscured the majority of the text and left only the central “via ST.”

Unlike the Westunds – which merely teems – the Viast swarms.

Attracted by the lower realty and taxation rates (a result of dismal infrastructure and terrible hygiene), the residents of the Viast come in all shapes and sizes: united only by their relative poverty and their galloping dislike for those Not Like Them. Despite the air of panethnicity which characterises the district almost all residents have separated out into racially-typed neighbourhoods, analogous with (at best) immigrant enclaves or (at worst) refugee ghettoes. Nonetheless the majority of Viastites are still Gobs, albeit tending towards the hunched and spiky appearance of the shamefully Down-On-Their-Luck “scrawnies”. Even these destitute malcontents will, if given the chance, vocally characterise themselves as better, luckier, more important and existentially more real than their nongob neighbours; even those materially wealthier than them.

In fact, in a half-dozen or so of the largest immigrant ghettoes it’s rare to see a single goblinoid face. These centres of foreign population act like miniature cities in their own right: ferociously insular and inward-looking, with residents clinging to the traditions they brought with them from the Wild and disdaining anything strange. Most notable are the municipal territories of the Kobos, the Pics and the Fey (not to mention the more haphazardly-strewn micro-enclaves of the Chauns, cheerfully infesting and delineating the boundaries of other communities), each of which maintains its own microcosmic society, cultural institutions and unofficial justice; breeding tensions and discontent wherever borders meet. In certain hotspots – such as the famed “Preen” on the banks of the Slop Runoff – territorial disputes are so severe that miniature No-Go areas exist: undeveloped frontiers of icy taboo where gang membership finds its primacy.

Despite their self-appointed isolation and insulation, even the enclaves fall ultimately under the jurisdiction of the civic authority. They pay taxes (often as a community effort rather than individually, and never without complaint at the unfair lack of reciprocity for the monies paid: the ghettoes are, after all, very poorly served for water and energy). Hence communities’ cultural identities are often strained by the dichotomous desires to a) remain separate from the intoxicating, corrupting city around them, and b) to partake of the very benefits which drew them to Vermintown in the first place: safety, society and the chance – no matter how slight – of prosperity.

It’s an unavoidable truth that, in their working lives, many of the Viast’s residents are obliged to labour alongside other races. Be they employed as scavs, growers, builders or merchants, anyone in the employ of Gob businessmen will be expected to swallow their prejudices and toil side-by-side with Filthy Foreigners. In many cases this has led to a bizarre existential hypocrisy, in which workers become firm friends with members of other races but are nonetheless expected to toe the bigoted line when they arrive home after a tough shift. It all adds up to yet another internal erosion of the Old Traditions, as individuals struggle to know what’s Right and what’s Wrong.

The poorest ghettoes – at either edge of the trackway – are little better than favelas: labyrinthine heaps made of overlapping cardboard, broken packaging, secret stairways and popsicle-stick gangplanks. Here the single largest of the Viast’s many domestic problems is most keenly felt: delinquent gangs, dealing in chemicals, hexstims and territorial violence. Ironically, for all their immoral behaviour the gangs are not only the most progressively inclusive of the city’s organisations – far less concerned by racial identity than gang membership – but also a psychological force for wider integration. Feys, Pics, Chauns and Kobos: for all their differences they’re united in loathing the activities of the gangs.

The one other unifying factor – another universal expression of hatred – is for the district’s most reviled and feared denizens: the Boggarts. They too have established their own smoky little enclave, Bogside, on the distant Eastern fringe of the trackway where few others would care to live anyway. Unlike other races they pay no taxes, contribute nothing (at least nothing visible) to society, never deign to offer themselves for employment, and in fact seem to gain as little from their presence in Vermintown as they offer to it. Frightening to look at, wrapped in rumours of vile activities and disgusting traditions, and above all eminently mysterious, they’re held as disgusting, degenerate and dangerous by all: the one race that even the most open-minded soul wouldn’t dare associate with.

The final factor which informs the general air of poverty and grimness hanging upon the Viast is the perennial Waste issue. Much of the city’s shit is collected by teams of workers to be hauled to Menpark and used as fertilizer, but whatever’s left is simply dumped into the gutter runoff which spills into the tunnel at the Eastern end of the Viast platform. On a good wake it merely stinks. On a bad wake whole communities fall sick. The Hobs who run the system, naturally, couldn’t care less.

UPTOWN AND THE WILDISH

[Explore the Uptown map.]

At the top of the “trips” stairways – in the lee of the impressively ruinous remnants of Wardour Street Station’s escalators – stands the platform atrium today known as “Uptown”: the city’s administrative centre. Here cluster-together the city’s service-sector offices, its banking institutions (financial entities of almost religious importance in a goblin-majority society), a few upwardly mobile civilly-owned residential villas, and the seat of the city executive itself: City Hall. Built in and around an inverted wheely-bin, this imposing structure has windows carved into its plastic shell, palatial apartments for the city’s aristocracy and an internal lattice of card and plasterboard forming its famously labyrinthine interior. Endless legions of goblin bureaucrats shuffle in and out of City Hall’s warren of offices and counting-rooms every fresh wake.

The atrium in which it sits is unremarkable: a broad chamber with a black and cream chequered floor (mostly co-opted to form the streets and territorial boundaries of Uptown’s gridlike environs), a couple of faded signs directing visitors towards the platforms below, and the entrances to a pair of intended (though of course never used) public toilets.

 Both escalators collapsed into their own machinery-pits years ago – possibly the result of reckless scavengings among their constituent parts – and the inaccessible morass of yawning spaces and jagged detritus which remains is popularly held to be haunted. The site of the station’s intended entrance at street level – a bankrupt adult supplies store which the authorities never quite got around to demolishing – has been crudely bricked-over, leaving nothing at the head of the stairways but a chaotic region of snaking cables, poured concrete and builder’s rubble, popularly called “the Wildish”. From here a small chink in the brickwork – “the Crack” – leads through to the adult store and the street beyond. This provides access to the outside world for the endless teams of “scavs” from the city below, who pass back and forth in lines of rat-drawn carriages along the leftmost escalator’s single remaining handrail.

 The Crack also permits a little natural daylight into the Wildish, which cunning hobs have exploited in ages past, using a series of fish-eye mirrors, to divert light along the wreck of the escalator and through the doorway of MenPark: formerly intended as the Male public toilet. 

MENPARK

The city’s one true agricultural zone, with its own fragile source of sunlight. The “crop” is almost entirely mycological. The floor-tiles have been torn out (and used to decorate buildings in Hobville and the Check District), revealing a sandy loam beneath. This is kept fertile by teams of sewage-collectors who bring (residually magical) waste from all parts of Vermintown.

The fungus-crop of Menpark isn’t nearly large to feed the whole city, though most of the wealthier gobs who control it prefer a diet of meat and fish anyway. Many of Vermintown’s residents get by on a diet of rendered scav crumbs brought down from the outside world. One has to be profoundly wealthy to eat nothing but freshly grown mushrooms.

Menpark’s second stream of revenue is even more exploitative than the first. Being the only easily-accessible source of daylight in the entire city, it’s a popular destination with visitors from all races and classes: the city’s one and only tourist landmark. The crop’s goblin owners naturally charge a vicious fee for access.

 HOBVILLE

Formerly as a public toilet for vastolk females, Hobville is the city’s wealthiest neighbourhood: more of a suburb than a district in its own right.

 Here the cubicle-dividers were removed years ago, leaving a row of seatless toilets and the white tiles. In Hobville the soda-can buildings are polished and undented, the spacious packing-crate mansions are painted palatial white, and everything is built-up with milk-crates and beer bottles so that the upper levels are flush with the top of the toilet bowls: giving the wealthiest residents instant access to clean, pure water.

 Very few non-gobs have ever seen inside Hobville – and none who aren’t in the direct employ of its residents. Wealthy landowners maintain impressive private security forces to keep it that way.

THE TRIPS

Two short flights of stairs leading between Uptown and the main platforms below, each named according to the district at its base: hence “the Viast Trips” and “the Westunds Trips”. They serve as geographical umbilici connecting the residential zones of the platforms with the mostly administrative, legislative and agricultural regions of the upper level. Their social and economic function has evolved to fill a similarly liminal niche: between necessity and frivolity, product and service. The trips are therefore extensively covered in shops, hex-stands, up-market brothels, bars and restaurants. More than anywhere, the Trips bypass the city’s simmering racial tensions in the more egalitarian pursuit of commerce, vice and perversion.

 A small community on the 8th step (a large switchback in a turn of the staircase) of the Viast Trips, known locally as The Twist, serves as an exaggerated exemplar of the suspended prejudices which characterise the region: an almost wilfully bohemian neighbourhood attracting the city’s more progressive and creative minds – or at least those ones wealthy enough to afford the exile and ostracism of their own people. As the old joke has it, the Twist is where all the artists, writers and philosophers come to complain that nobody gives a shit about art, writing or philosophy.