"Have you seen 'Fifth Element'? It's just like that."
-- Dave Allsop, Mort-Con, Friday, April 20th, 1998
Apart from questions relating to the truth, the question of what Mort is really like has to be one of the most commonly asked when it comes to SLA industries. So it was not surprising that the game's creator, Dave Allsop, was asked this at Mort-Con this year. In some ways, his answer was not surprising as many of those on the game's Mailing List had been raving the film's look long before its release. Considering that it comes from the proverbial horse's mouth, then it should be taken as a definitive answer, but not the only answer and not the complete answer. In other words, not every element of the film is relevant to SLA Industries.
There are better films with which to throw light upon the game's 'MacGuffin' or Truth, rather, as the title suggests, the aim here is not examine the world of SLA Industries in context of the film, but rather an aspect of the film and how it relates to Mort. In other words, the topography of Mort and its transport. For the sake of argument, we shall take Mort as being a city two thousand miles in diameter. Outside the city, beyond the Cannibal Sectors, is a wasteland. Here on a rare Green BPN, operatives will find numerous factory belts, both working and abandoned, the various atmosphere processing towers, as well as Dark Knight bases and the usual mix of crazed serial killers and war criminals (my thanks to Tim Dedopulos [Tim@midnight.demon.co.uk]for a near canonical description of Mort's topography).
What we see in Luc Beeson's is a depiction of 25th century New York akin to that of Mort, and although we never quite see a clear depiction of Mort Central, I would suggest that in Korben Dallas's apartment and its outside corridor, we see part of Lower Uptown, quite close to Downtown. Whilst the police of the film may not quite fit the image of our SHIVER trooper, they could easily be a Monarch Law Enforcement Officer. In the chase sequence of the film, Korben Dallas drives his taxi into the dark underbelly of the city, where besides steaming piles of garbage, we see him avoid a gauss train and delivery trucks.
This is the aspect of The Fifth Element that is important here. First though, we should dispense with the flying cars of the film as they do not appear in the game. That is not to say that such vehicles do not exist in the game as proven by the multi-prop turbine hover bike used by SCAF (as illustrated in the basic rules, not the Mort sourcebook), the FEN 3497 'Kilcopter' and the FEN 5009 'StingRay' dropship. These, though, are exceptions and entirely the province of the authorities. Moreover, given the evident technology levels within the game, the flying car is not an everyday device. This does not discount the possibility of there being flying vehicles operated by civilians or operatives, but they should be the province of SLA employees of some import, perhaps necessary to or a benefit of the position they hold within the company. You would have to be a wealthy individual to afford to buy and run one.
Where flying vehicles are used is in transporting civilians to industry. By this I mean, getting to and from the various atmosphere processing plants, factories, research facilities and factory ships out at sea across the surface of Mort. Bar the plants, none of these are overly over-automated as that decreases the labour required, which would go against the work ethic that is part of the World of Progress. In order to feed the ravenous hunger for goods of every kind, I would suggest that these do not operate on a nine to five basis as suggested in the rulebook, but continuously and have the workforce to match. After all, in other aspects, particularly its television, Mort is a twenty-four hour culture. Think of the early scenes in the film 'Outland'.
In most cases the ideal transport would be a civilian version of the FEN 5009 'StingRay' dropship, able to travel at altitudes where it would hopefully safe from any danger from below. Other than that, the most common form of transport outside the city would be by the Gauss Trains. Travel by ground vehicles would be rare, and probably dangerous, most likely on specific assignments or the occasional 'Search And Destroy' mission. Gauss Trains run throughout the city and beyond, most notably to the domed university city of Meny, but to the factories and so on. Evidence of this can be seen in the BPN 'Gauss Train' in the Mort sourcebook. These extend above and below ground, constantly guarded by SHIVER units and give access to the various sites across Mort. Assignment to a terminal far out in the wasteland is little more popular than Sleeper Duty in Downtown, if only because there is even less to do - and when there, it is probably more dangerous. Just as with Downtown, the first thing to go with this duty is something heavier than a browbeater.
The factory complexes themselves, and in particular the factory ships (here think of a combined oil rig and Russian whaling ship, then enlarge several times) are microcosms of the World of Progress. Again, think of the early scenes in the film 'Outland'. Running from these complexes back across Mort, either parallel or usually immediately below the tunnels of the Gauss Train, is a secondary and equally important set of tunnels. Along these run the cargo carrying Gauss Trains. There is a multitude of different carriages that these haul, matching the multitude of goods they shift. The standard type is a container pod, used for a wide variety of purposes. Just as the normal train terminates at the numerous stations throughout the city of Mort, the Cargo Tunnels have their own cargo terminuses. From here the various cargoes and containers are transferred to trucks and lorries to go onto their destination. For a cargo terminus picture a busy combined seaport and rail depot with its huge overhead cranes on wheels. The most numerous of these cargo terminuses ring the spaceport and make tempting targets for Dark Night strikes.
Of course personal transport is available within the city, but to a rich and relative minority in comparison to the huge population of the city. How does an average citizen on a weekly income of 40u get around? The most obvious answer is through SLA Industries' heavy subsidy of the Gauss Train network, paid through the higher ticket prices by those in employment. Simply the employee pays in Credits, the unemployed in Uni's, but both paying a similarly numbered price. The same can be said of the numerous taxi firms.
Yet there is an incongruity in the idea that the operative only has to pay five credits and can travel from the Crib in Mort Central to where ever a BPN is taking them. This is a distance of anything up to a thousand miles and if the amount of congestion the streets and the probable speed of the taxi in question, then a trip is going to take a day or so - despite a road system that winds it way above and below ground. The nature of Mort is a bureaucratic one, but given such a delay in travel times, would anything on Mort ever get done?
Obviously an alternative is needed. Here another aspect of The Fifth Element comes to the fore. Notable on the side buildings are huge train- like express lifts that steam up and down the face of the tower blocks at great speeds. These might make an interesting addition to the buildings of Mort Central, but would be rare outside it. Perhaps the ruins of this system's prototype still hang from the outside of Salvation Tower? Just as applicable here is the article on lifts on the Mort Central web site.
Where I suggest that this system has been implemented is across the city rather than up and down its buildings. This would piggy-back the already existing Gauss train network, but smaller and faster and through the city's skyline, rather than below it. These radiate out from Mort Central, reaching out as far the lower reaches of Uptown. It is from here, where they terminate that the operative grabs his five credit fare into the 'safest' areas of Downtown. The speed at which these bullet trains move, requires the passenger to strap themselves in at the ever least, though some of the heavier armour would be protection enough.
This form of travel would be open to all employees of SCL 10 and above, though those actually conducting SLA business take priority in their use of the bullet trains. Even more so in the case of a Red BPN. All they would have to do is present the requisite BPN to the BPN reader at the station and it whisks them to their intended location.
Below all of this is ground traffic. Heavy and congested, and to the man on the street, another symbol of affluence to which they can aspire. An obvious inspiration for this would Judge Dredd's Mega-City-One with its huge eight lane skyways, but there is a cleanliness in their depiction that does not befit Mort. Rather for the average citizen one should look to the streets of the film 'BladeRunner' with its grunge and constant rain, below a splurge of neon across a decaying splurge of architectural styles. This is as much a clich as it is applicable to the city of Mort, but the film is somewhat dichotic in its depiction of the population. Is it over populated, or is under-populated as per the original book? Another source to look for gutter feel is the city of Moscow whilst under Communist rule. Its roads in a state of disrepair from the poor weather, the centre of road is always kept clear to allow Party Officials to travel freely across the city. I would suggest this gives an interesting feel to the streets of Mort. For further information, see the trilogy by Martin Cruz Smith, which might also provide inspiration for a SHIVER or Monarch Law Enforcement campaign: Gorky Park - also the film, Polar Star (useful for a BPN on a factory ship) and Red Square, which advances the story into the early days of capitalism in post-Soviet Russia.
These random thoughts hopefully throw some light on a neglected aspect of life on Mort. It also highlights the potential that travel has for a source of adventures and BPNs. Several BPNs in the Mort source book involves transport or travel, 'Gauss train' has already been mentioned, but 'Spaceport' and 'Media Report' fall within this category. Immediate ideas that spring to mind are a Red BPN, involving a terrorist attack on a cargo depot or think 'Aliens' when a transport terminal far out in the Wasteland goes off the air or 'Assault On Precinct 13' if the squad is the terminal when things start to happen. Either way, happy trails...?