The Jewel of New England
“Welcome to Empire City!
"Empire City is a relatively young metropolis. It does not boast the storied traditions of much of the East Coast sprawl, but it has, in its short time, developed one of the richest cultures of diversity in the United States. Empire City prides itself on peaceful acceptance of all races, creeds, religions, orientations and genetic anomalies. While society outside the City oftentimes seems determined to tear itself apart at the seams on the grounds of varied bigotry, such problems are much more rarely seen within Empire.
"Built practically from the ground up by TMI, Empire City is a beacon of hope to the universally oppressed. From the simply misunderstood to the genetically gifted, all are welcome here. For this reason, alone, the ratio of Avatars to Naturals is four times the national average and double that found worldwide. Empire City's largest corporations each employ some of the largest privately-funded superhuman organizations on the planet and the scores of hopefuls that apply daily further bolster the demihuman population, if only temporarily. If an Avatar can find neither peace nor acceptance anywhere else on Earth, he or she may find a home in Empire.
"Do not think, however, that Empire City is an exclusive, Supers-Only club (although the City boasts several). With some of the best shopping to be found anywhere, gorgeous parks, a lively theatre community, cultural centres second to none, and leading edge technology on every corner, Empire City has something for everyone!
"Welcome, once again, to Empire City. Enjoy your stay!
"-- Empire City Tourism Board"
The Unvarnished Truth
While nothing in the preceding propaganda is exactly false or in any way grounds for legal action, it only tells half the story. It is true the primary contributor to Empire City's continued existence is TMI, however TMI rebuilt Empire, as the City actually predates the corporation by several decades. It is true that super-powered beings, and other minorities, are more accepted in Empire City than practically anywhere else on Earth, but true, universal acceptance is not to be found anywhere. The City does boast some amazing technology, a thriving art culture, and some fabulous shopping, yet no major metropolitan area is free of crime, homelessness, or unemployment.
Sparkling ideals are fine and altruistic motivations are grand, but humanity's greed is as boundless as its fear of things it does not understand.
The bulk of humanity, no matter how much they might want to, will never accept their heroes. They may cheer them and idolize them and maybe even love them, but Naturals simply cannot accept Avatars. They are, as their self-adopted nickname illustrates, not really human. Humans do not fly, shrug off nuclear strikes, or toss around buildings. What is any mere human's greatest Earthly accomplishment compared to an Avatar who has saved the world five times in as many days? Yes, jealousy plays a part, but mostly, it is the lack of understanding. Every human dreams of flying, yet not one does. How then, can one compare himself to a being who can? How can a human call these god-men “brother”, these demigoddesses “sister”?
Even in the face of massive, Avatar-inspired, advancements in science and industry, the gap between the haves and have-nots is as deep and wide as the ocean. Thus has it been and perhaps shall always be. In Empire, there are certainly a lot more haves than have-nots and the ratio of the destitute in Empire is far lower, per capita, than the national average. This doesn't mean that they have it easy.
There are perks to living, or visiting, Empire City, however. Empire City boasts universal healthcare within the city proper. Shelters may be found on almost every other block and violent offenses of the mundane sort are rare exceptions to the rule: Crime does not pay in Empire City. Residents and tourists sleep safe at night. In many ways, it really is a nice place to live.
Avatars are the power elite, almost without exception. Even the most mundane of mutations catapults one into instant celebrity, and then, almost as quickly, into infamy. Just as is true amongst the Internet icons, what is favored today is forgotten tomorrow and many an Avatar has found that hitting bottom is all too quaint a description for the collapse of one's entire life in less than a fortnight. That unpleasantness aside, Avatars are the new cultural icons, surpassing talented actors and sports heroes alike. Many, if not most, are independently wealthy by any variety of means. Their every move is watched by an awestruck humanity glued to their television screens and pulpits. Of course, for every hero, there is a villain. For every selfless sacrifice there is an hundred selfish acts of violence.
While a significant percentage of the super-powered have donned costumes and taken pseudonyms to fight either for or against Truth, Justice, and all that other stuff, the majority seem to do their part in much more mundane ways. A super-fast mechanic that can get a car back on the road in seconds instead of hours or minutes instead of days can be just as valuable in a rapidly paced society as the sort of guy or gal that thwarts bank-robbers and other ne'er do wells.
Just below, or equal to, the Avatar upper crust are the corporations. Foremost amongst these is Technical Matrix, Incorporated: the rebuilders of Empire City whose suggestions carry so much weight that the company would not be incorrectly identified with the emperor of this Empire. While such enormous clout is honestly frightening in the hands of a faceless corporation, the humanitarian history of the organization and their constant strides in technology beneficial to all life makes such power seem not only justifiable, but also necessary. Other prominent employers of Empire's varied denizens include RazorWare, a computing and robotics specialist with a shadowy benefactor; ShadowCorp, primarily a government contractor responsible for the development of various weapons platforms, espionage and counter-espionage technology, and pharmaceuticals; Lao Enterprises, an industrial technology firm specializing in aerospace and manufacturing; Sine Technologic, a bioengineering company whose radical methods have been alternately frowned upon and lauded by the pundits; and the Wiel Medical Group.
While all of the aforementioned corporations deserve a more in-depth look, the lattermost will be specifically noted here. On the surface, the WMG seems to be like any other corporate interest involved in the healthcare industry. However, further research into the company's holdings reveals not only majority shares in hospitals worldwide, but also in pharmaceutical companies, prosthetic limb manufacturers, dental clinics, free clinics... Wiel Medical Group owns outright, or through a well-disguised subsidiary, a large percentage of the healthcare in the United States and has a good hold on medicine worldwide. While not exactly compelling evidence in and of itself, the speed with which WMG acquires new holdings, especially in companies that have no need of such mergers, combined with difficult to prove ties to research houses developing biological and chemical warfare agents and rumored links to genetic research of the most depraved sort, this is a corporate entity to watch with the utmost scrutiny.
The standard of living in Empire City is significantly higher than the national average. Finding a job that pays minimum wage in the City proper is a difficult task for even the most desperate underachiever. While the largest portion of Empire's population could never be mistaken for "rich", they are, for the most part, comfortable.
The average household income is, on average, twenty-five percent greater than the national average. Indeed, Empire City is big on being better than average in all respects. No other city in North America can boast an unemployment rate as low, wages as high, or benefits as rewarding as those found in Empire City. It has been found that when attempting to pass laws that are clearly written and are of great benefit to all those in question, the process is quick and painless.
No system is perfect, however, and individuals do occasionally slip through the cracks. Small town kids get lost in the bright lights of the big city every day. A heart is broken and a dream is crushed every minute of every hour.
The majority of Empire City's homeless forsake the shelters for the communal life of Shantytown. South of the river, with the Warzone on one side and the bay on the other, there exists the lone memory of the tragedy that befell this place long ago. Amongst the ruins left by the meteor, the destitute have built themselves a heaven in hell's despite.
Home to an uncounted army of panhandlers, window washers, hobos, and schizophrenics, Shantytown has the look of an impoverished, third-world nation. Outsiders, predators and pious alike, are not welcome in this place. Only the forgotten, the broken or the lost may find solace here. While terrible things do happen in the labyrinthine passages between the sheet-metal and chipboard shacks, the denizens generally look out for their own and most are genuinely honest and charitable people.
TMI, and several other powerful organizations, have many times attempted to "clean out" Shantytown and bring the people there into the world. For one reason or another, it never works. Some say that the people like it there. Others opine that the measures taken are never enough, or utilized the wrong approach. Whatever the reason, it seems that the land of the lost is here to stay.
Located twenty air miles southeast of New York City, Empire occupies an area where once were fields of sulphur. Originally an humanitarian and ecological effort, the placement of the bulk of the City on the ocean side of the New Jersey Turnpike is no accident. Thanks to the efforts of TMI and partners, New Jersey's distinctive smell is no longer an issue.
One of the most distinctive features seen from this top-down view is Steel Harbor. In actuality the impact crater of the meteor that destroyed much of what had been here before the catastrophe, the harbor offers protection from the worst of what the Atlantic has to offer.
Although it is not truly centrally placed, Matrix Plaza forms the heart of Empire City. Dominating the landscape is the world's largest building: the headquarters of Technical Matrix, Incorporated. Surrounding this behemoth are the home offices of Sine Technologic and ShadowCorp to the north and Lao Enterprises and RazorWare to the south. Beautifying the Plaza is nearly three square miles of cultivated greenery. While not the largest park in Empire, it is, perhaps, the most beautiful. TMI maintains a landscaping crew of more than a hundred individuals year-round to care for it.
The area northeast of the Plaza is what the natives not-so-affectionately refer to as "Green Street", as it is the only color that matters to the financial institutions that make their homes here. Enough power lunches occur throughout these skyscraper-shadowed streets to make or break nations.
Continuing in a northeasterly direction, one goes from where the money is made to the place it is spent. A square mile of department stores, boutiques and specialty retailers catering to any conceivable (and legal) desire may be found in the "Bazaar". The majority of the streets in this area of the city are for walking rather than driving and the image of vendor crowded streets that the name of this place brings to mind is, in this case, the literal truth. One may pass a thousand shops, peddlers, booths and folding tables along the length of a single city block. The best, and perhaps only, way into the clamor and confusion of this sprawling marketplace is the monorail.
After a long day of power-brokering and and a late evening spent shopping, the obscenely wealthy travel out of the city along the 287 and into Weston. Weston is the East Coast equivalent of Beverly Hills and the palatial mansions found there are home to the great majority of the richest men and women in Empire City. Originally the expansive backyard of TMI's co-presidents, Weston is now more a walled city than gated community. The residents employ their own private police, fire, and emergency departments, built one of the finest private schools to be found anywhere, and have access to all the necessities of the good life mere minutes from their front doors.
Separated from the glittering finery in the north by six miles, the industrial center of Empire City sits on the river earning its nickname: “Smoke”. While great strides have been made in clean air legislation and putting such legalities into practice, heavy industry is still a dirty job. It is here that most of the fabrication of Lao Enterprise air- and spacecraft occurs. ShadowCorp's manufacturing is also centered in Smoke. In fact, the only local manufacturing that occurs "in house", as it were, is found within the expansive walls of TMI.
"The Market", lying between the major employment areas for laborers in Empire is the City's "red light district". There is frighteningly little that cannot be purchased here for the right price.
Curving northeast with the river is the "Waterfront", lying on both shores. Shipping, receiving, warehousing and dockside watering holes make up this entire area. If anyone calls this place home, they do so from a box or a dumpster.
South of the river, on the "wrong side" of it, is what Empire natives call the "Warzone". It is a blasted patch of earth where a few scant ruins still stand. Survival of the fittest is the only law here. There is no police presence, no habitation, no stores, nothing. When supers have a dispute to settle and the individuals in question actually care about collateral damage, they come here to fight it out. With the nature of a significant portion of the citizenry and the exceptionally well-funded police department in mind, it is little wonder that all sorts of less than legal ideals see fruition here. It is said that three sorts can be found in the Warzone: supers, criminals, and fools.
Everything outside the major metropolitan areas of Empire City are referred to as "Suburbia" by the city-dwellers. Similarly, everything within the city is referred to as simply "Empire" by the Suburbanites. The 'Burbs are, of course, villages, towns and cities in their own right. Each boasts a city hall and local sets of public servants: police, firefighters, and the like. Each of the outlying towns has its own schools, politics and problems. The relative size of each town can be surmised by the size of the font that designates it.
Founded by Jonathan Hamford in 1826, Hampfordshire was initially a small colony of free-thinkers determined to not be held back by the strict, puritanical visions of their peers. The the only real income came from the great fishing available around the bay and along the river named for Reginald Sticks. In mid-June of 1872 Mr. Sticks discovered that the entire area was rich in the natural deposits necessary for the manufacture of steel. Hampfordshire was suddenly a boom-town, and several other villages sprang up nearby to take advantage of the massive natural resources in the area. The mineral richness of the land and the circular harbor were due to a meteor striking the coast several centuries earlier. This 'fury of the gods' caused the area to be shunned by the natives. They considered the land cursed for as long as they could remember.
The population of the entire area began to swell, and as the first World War bloomed, the island in the center of Sticks' River became home to a host of mills and ore refineries. The city was dubbed the 'Steel Empire' by the newspapers of the day as it produced a significant percentage of America's steel during the conflict. Every tenth Allied soldier had the Steel Empire to thank for one of his weapons. This success would be short-lived.
The Depression hit very hard here. The bottom dropped out of steel and pollution had cleared the bay of fish. The lack of any major industry led to the wholesale collapse of Hamfordshire's economy. Organized crime painted the streets in blood. A great many survivors moved away. The passage of just a few more years would have witnessed utter collapse.
The Second World War came swiftly, and the Steel Empire rose again. In a desperate bid to not repeat the errors of the past, the city council invited industry to Empire, offering land free to any and all takers. The name of the city was officially changed in 1945 to Empire City after it had absorbed several other smaller towns. During this period of rapid, industrial growth, the ecology of the entire area began to suffer horribly. Massive sulphur deposits gave rise to the infamous stink in New Jersey. Some measures were taken to curb the ecological damage, but nothing, it seemed, could keep the refineries in check.
In mid-July, 1968, the steel industry in Empire was brought to its knees when a small, space-borne object struck the island in the middle of Sticks' river (the River Styx to long-time denizens) and started a firestorm. The fire burned for twenty-two days. A dozen steel mills and four ore refineries had crowded the island that became a mass grave to four thousand, three hundred and four Empire City residents as molten metal covered the island in a shell of steel, iron, and the metallurgic elements of the baseball-sized space-rock that caused the disaster. Those familiar with the history of the area and the alleged curse the land held, took this as proof. It is now known as Memorial Island. Services to honor the departed are held annually.
Disasters notwithstanding, Empire City was growing exponentially. The largest boon to Empire economy came with the placing of the home office of a vast corporate empire in the heart of the city. Technical Matrix, Inc. planted its roots there, and set about planning its headquarters in 1976. TMI started an unprecedented plan of urban renewal and donated large sums of money to local educational, municipal and law-enforcement funds. It started a full-scholarship program for all Empire residents. Widespread and immediate ecological legislation was pushed through the City Council. With superhuman aid, the clean-up effort was both short-lived and totally successful. Work began immediately on the economic giant's new home. TMI opened the doors to the world's largest building, and its main office on the first of October, 1989.
From Then 'Til Now
31 December, 1989: Empire City rings in the new year by playing host to a party that breaks every record.
1 January, 1990: The first modern supervillain attack occurs. Empire City and a significant portion of the East Coast's population are nearly destroyed when a madman attempts to detonate the power stations. He is still at large.
1 January, 1991: The move from nuclear to renewable energy in Empire City is completed. The last nuclear power plant is dismantled one month later.
3 July, 1991: The ROTORs are installed throughout Empire.
31 October, 1995: The first successful modern supervillain attack occurs on the soil of a sovereign nation. Losses are catastrophic, large portions of the North American Midwest are destroyed. The culprit dies in the process and is never identified.
12 August, 2000: Feedback and DoubleShot battle from the Plaza to the Bazaar. Collateral damage is massive. The ensuing investigation reveals the president of ShadowCorp, where the fight started, is also kingpin of the Mejuanar Cartel. Jorje "Jimmy Majors" Mejuanar is struck by a monorail while fleeing the authorities and is presumed dead.
2003-2006: The Weil Medical Group continues to acquire portions of the medical resources in Empire City. The first Academy graduates return to Empire and the rest of the world. Empire City continues to be a beacon of hope for Man- and Avatar-kind.
October 17-18, 2014 - That Dark Day (the events of the novella Rain Shadow)
Spring 2017 - Every Academy Embassy on Earth explodes simultaneously. Invisible robots begin a worldwide murder spree of Supers. Warring factions of Supers join forces for self defense against an unknown enemy. The Academy is invaded by hostiles and defended by faculty, students, and "pro" Supers gated in from Empire City. It is discovered only registered Supers were targeted by the assassins meaning the database had been compromised. Threat seems to have been ended in Empire City when Blitzkrieg destroyed a huge warehouse filled with the robots before they could escape storage. The mastermind behind the attacks was never discovered.
2019 - The events of the upcoming novel to which Rain Shadow forms the Prologue.
Today - 2021