World Background

Roger Bell_West

Thanks to John Dallman.

1 History

1.1 2010s

1.2 2020s

1.3 2030s

1.4 2040s

2 Major Players

2.1 G4S

G4S is the major security provider in the UK, having police contracts for many urban areas as well as the majority of the prison and private security market. The only substantial rival, though it’s rather smaller, is the Westminster Group. Persistent rumours have G4S moving into military contracting via its drone operations arm.

2.2 Capita

The major government outsourcing company, Capita ends up running most of people’s interactions with “government”: disbursing benefits, collecting television licence fees, managing hospitals, and so on. Main rival is Atos, which works more specifically with computers.

2.3 The BBC

Based at the Salford Bunker, the BBC continues to produce entertainment and informational programmes for broadcast over the net. Its lack of a London presence has impaired its news arm.

2.4 Fox

The BBC’s news rival, Fox (not legally affiliated with the Fox Party), is based in London and notable for cross-promotion of its news, entertainment, and leisure products.

2.5 BT/Google

BT is the default telecoms/internet access provider, fixed line and mobile, and most people don’t care enough to change. It works, more or less, most of the time. Censorship is even more severe than legally required, and darknet access is blocked whenever a new route is noticed. BT runs under the California state law of its owner Google.
It’s not actually illegal to use an ISP other than BT. But it’s certainly regarded as suspect.


Formed from LINX, LONAP, LIPEX, and other IXPs, UKNET manages Internet backbone services in the United Kingdom and Scotland as well as enabling Internet monitoring. It is an open secret that many UKNET staff are also deeply involved in the darknet and the IETF.

2.7 GCHQ

One of the few government agencies that still hires its own contractors rather than using an outsourcing firm. The Doughnut is responsible for processing UK net surveillance data and giving out practical tips to police and government.

2.8 IETF

Welcome to the Internet Engineering Task Force, the world’s most-wanted hacker group. Our ideals are free communication and collaboration, but to get anywhere with that, we’re going to have to overthrow a load of governments and re-educate a few billion people. We aren’t concentrating on that this week. We’re more concerned with finding and learning to crack gateways between networks, subverting parliaments’ and courts’ word-processing systems to put loopholes into laws, and spreading compatible and open technologies into areas of the world where there isn’t enough market for corporate pablum. Grow that beard. You’ll be needing it for talking to the mullahs.

3 Tired of Life

3.1 Westminster

The City of Westminster is Tourist Town, packed with expensive shops to get foreign exchange out of cash-rich tourists from China and India. Quite a few shops won’t take sterling at all, though they’ll be happy to arrange a forward exchange contract for you. Buildings are usually deliberately antiqued to give the impression of Merrie Olde England – and coated in plastic to stop the air eating the stone away. But it’s perfectly OK to breathe. Really.
Law enforcement is low-profile and photogenic (traditional peaked helmets and all), but the hard men are on tap at disconcertingly short notice, ready to drop in by tiltfan and drone, stun ’em all and let an Emergency Court sort ’em out.

3.2 The City

The City of London was always a ghost town at weekends, but these days it’s looking more like that during the week as well. The big banks have moved out to Frankfurt, or at least to Docklands, and the City is no longer propped up by the huge corporate money that kept it viable for so long.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag, with the bold new skyscrapers of the mid-2010s decaying quickly now that nobody’s maintaining them (watch out for falling glass), while the older stonework buildings including a few surviving churches dissolve a little more every time it rains.
On the other hand it’s become cheap. There’s not much residential space, but squatters have moved into most of the empty offices, since a roof over your head tonight is worth being moved on tomorrow. As you’d expect, the sort of people who prey on squatters are here in force too.
The City of London Police were one of the last forces to resist the move to telecops, in part because they couldn’t afford them by the time they decided to switch, and these days the force is regarded as a bit of a refuge for has-beens and no-hopers. This doesn’t improve their attitude.

3.3 Docklands

The remaining big businesses of London, and most especially the banks, have all moved here: it’s a more controllable environment than the City ever was, with more modern infrastructure, and housing available close by. As a rule, you don’t come here except on business (indeed, expect to show a pass for residence or employment status every time you enter). Police presence is entirely invisible, summoned by remote cameras; the visible guys or teletroopers in uniform are corporate security guards.

3.4 Suburbs

With decent Underground, rail or bus connections, the suburbs are where the non-super-rich live if they work in town (or, off the transport net a bit more, if they work remotely).

3.4.1 Northern suburbs

A patchwork, from nasty estates (Neasden, Haringey) to rich enclaves with private guards (Hampstead). Great for going to ground among people who won’t ask too many questions.

3.4.2 Western suburbs

Generally fairly pricey, and getting more so as you get further out of London proper, though living near Heathrow is still woefully cheap because of the noise.

3.4.3 East End

Some relatively new enclaves (Stratford City), but mostly this is where new grotty estates have been built in the last thirty years. Not very many high rise blocks; they’re mostly maisonettes or row houses. Some of them (Barking Reach) get just a tiny bit flooded at spring tides… OK, high tides… all right, the lower floors are basically underwater, and have been abandoned to squatters.

3.4.4 South of the River

A patchwork like the north, but more rail and less Underground, which means stations are further apart and you’re more likely to use buses.

3.5 Transport

3.5.1 Roads

Getting about by private car is doable but expensive, at £200 for a day pass (way more for internal combustion). Your transponder will be tracked everywhere you go, and if the vehicle carrying it doesn’t have a matching description and registration plate you can expect police attention. Same for motorcycles. Still, the traffic’s not as bad as it used to be. Taxis are pricey but reliable.
Buses are pretty viable, driven by teleworker-assisted AIs, though they mostly stop running by midnight. (Don’t get on a night bus without your flak vest. The ones you can get from the on-board vending machines really aren’t up to the job.)
The cheapest way to get around at ground level is by bicycle. Your modern bike probably runs to an electric motor and storage battery, and while it’s technically limited to 12mph that’s really a matter for subtle technical tools like a screwdriver or nail file. In spite of repeated attempts, there’s still no registration on bikes. Though if you leave it in the wrong place, don’t expect to find it again however many locks you attached.

3.5.2 Rail

Within London the Underground, DLR and Crossrail are all quick ways of getting around; the networks are functionally merged, with integrated ticketing. Expect to be on camera at every moment of your trip.
If you want to leave London, trains run from Kings Cross to the Continent, and from Euston to points north. They run at “up to” 250mph, getting you to Birmingham in fifty minutes, Sheffield or Manchester in just over an hour, Leeds in an hour and a half; then you’re down to 100mph or so to the Scots border, and it’s anyone’s guess after that.

3.5.3 River

River traffic is slow, but hard to regulate; there are plenty of electric jet-skis and pedal-floats. You don’t want to swim in the Thames.

3.5.4 Air

There’s relatively little domestic air traffic in the UK now; City is the base for corporate flights (a few business jets, mostly commuter flights around Europe, generally nothing transatlantic), while Heathrow serves more distant destinations (including some trips to low orbit, though most of them are from further south) and the diminishing tourist market.

4 Daily Life

4.1 The Worker

You’re woken by an alarm: fifteen minutes to work. The shower is the most depressing part of the day: that’s when you have to take off your euphoria machine after wearing it all night. Breakfast is the remains of last night’s pizza, wholemeal dough with low-fat cheese, kale and rocket. Bio needs taken care of, you lie back down and plug into the net. Your neural jack’s owned by Capita, though you’re paying it off. Another twenty years and maybe you’ll be able to choose your own job.
You spend your ten hours making decisions that were too hard for the street-cleaning AIs. Does this obstruction just need a bigger street-sweeper? Or a maintenance crew? Or the police? You don’t see the results: there are rumours that three separate operatives get asked each question. Or that they’re using your input to train the next generation of AIs. Well, that’s probably true.
Once work’s done, the euph goes back in the jack, and it’s Exercise Period. Your BMI’s up to 19.5, “obese”, and the fat tax is cutting into your pay: must try harder. You can’t afford a home gym, so it’s time to hit the streets for a jog. You shrug on some clothes, topping it all off with a ballistic jacket and a set of mine clearance boots you picked up at Mad Mike’s Army Surplus. Not that you’re likely to step on any mines! This is London, not Birmingham. But they’re great against broken glass, and light enough that you don’t make a lot of noise when you’re hiding from the Neighbourhood Protective Association out on a jolly.
After exercise, you’re allowed to use the jack for socialising. On-line’s the only place you can get a decent pint now, even if it is simulated. Means dropping the euph again, so while you drop in to talk to your mates at you don’t stay long. An early night, and pleasant dreams.

4.2 The Lifer

Today’s work is flying UCAVs against North Korean resistance groups. Yesterday it was running a platoon of half-ton teletroopers somewhere bright and sandy, they didn’t tell you where. Your cellmate flipped when he got shot down again, started screaming about “all the bodies”. They dragged him off. Beats getting stabbed in the canteen or beaten to death by a guard, which are the only other ways out of this place. It wasn’t that many speeding tickets, but they had a quota to fill…

4.3 The Cyberpunk

Last week you helped an old mate move some pre-ban Somerset Brie before the telecops trashed his warehouse. Tomorrow you have to be up early to get first pickings at the government-surplus computer sale. So far they still think their erasers work. Tonight you’re in the Red White and Blue with some mates. Some of them are old soldiers from back when you still had to put your own body on the line. Some of them are younger, maybe ex-forces, maybe just trying to do a bit better than welfare in a world where there’s ten blokes lined up for each job at McDonald’s. Even crime doesn’t pay any more now the government runs it.
The metal arms and legs were a fashion thing at first, a way of showing solidarity with the blokes who’d had their originals blown off. But it’s good to be strong and fast and see in infra-red, especially when you’re going up against a military-surplus police drone. Sure, the guys who designed the prosthetics might be a bit squicked by it, but they’re old people. Metal just works better. And it doesn’t hurt when you take a hit. Millimetre radar can spot an implant weapon, but there’s nothing illegal about having the socket for it.
The Red’s not a bad pub – the landlord can spot a Diet Agency grass before he’s through the door, and sell him a pint of 2% National Beer so skunked he’ll be lucky if he makes it back out again on his feet. He knows where the good stuff comes from, and it’s homebrew vats in people’s cellars, not Mortlake or Reading.

5 State of Technology (and a bit of Law)

This is a GURPS TL9 setting with TL10 cybernetics.
Fully volitional AI continues to be a research goal, but current AIs are non-volitional: when they encounter something unexpected, they’ll stop and ask their operator for help.
Ground vehicles are almost exclusively electric; petrol and diesel are too expensive for anyone except rich enthusiasts. (Private cars are getting rarer in general.) Air vehicles may be electric (if small or short-ranged), or run on very costly avgas; in either case they’re likely to be VTOL-capable, whether with multiple fixed fans (drones), helicopter rotors (older vehicles), or tilt-fans or -jets (larger modern vehicles).
Possession of offensive weapons is illegal. Which means that if the police pick you up with one, you’re screwed. On the other hand if the police have decided to pick you up you’re screwed anyway, so you might as well carry. If you can afford a lawyer, maybe your vortex pistol with knockout gas or electrolaser or tangler pistol or microwave disruptor wasn’t an offensive weapon after all.

6 But It’s Not All Bad

But what’s the good news?
The oppressive boot of the state/corporate complex can’t stamp everywhere at once. They’ve got smart and started to use the tech they’re comfortable with, but there’s newer hardware than that. Microwave disruptors, route-agile networking, and the plain old awareness you get from putting your eyes out on the street rather than watching a screen in a control centre somewhere: all these things can work in your favour.
And the state/corporation is getting increasingly fragile. It’s spending more and more money on keeping its top people safe and luxurious, less and less on anything productive. The contract with the people at the bottom, whether that was representative government or gainful employment, has long since been forgotten. They go up against each other, they want deniable resources to keep up the façade of everybody being friends, and that’s where you come in. Just make sure you don’t work for the same guys all the time, and you can help bring everybody down.
And what comes next? Nobody knows. But that’s why you’re not just shooting down police drones, you’re trying to build microcommunities. Maybe it’s a few houses round the local pub, or a street or two. It won’t be big enough to be self-sufficient, but it’ll produce a surplus that it can trade for the things it needs.
For that you want smart people whose work is in demand. You want high-end biotech for power and food production. You want fabrication facilities, whether that’s etching chips or 3D printing. And, whether or not you like it, you want guns. You can’t put up the barricades yet, because the cops would just blast them down. But when the day comes, the cops will be too busy staying alive, and you’ll still need to look after your own when the sheep wake up and realise that stuff is just out there for the taking.