SECOND CLASS CITIZENS: FRANCHISE TOWNS
With enclave space limited, it’s a guarantee that the corporations must expand or die. To that end, the corps are looking at the feasibility of reclaiming the Midwest wastelands. Of course, it’s rarely cost-effective to build an infrastructure from the ground up…
The corporations make a habit of courting established settlements. They offer protection, goods, and many other incentives to joining the corporate family… And sometimes, the settlement buys into the deal. What follows next is a process that takes years to finish. First, corporate forces move in and set up a base within the settlement, providing guards and law enforcement, free of charge. Engineers develop the fortifications and infrastructure, and the military opens up a recruitment office, offering the young and restless a career that gives them the chance of travel, excitement, and violence. Once the settlement has some reasonable defenses and services, the corporation starts shipping settlers in from its enclaves, relieving problems with crowding, and offering incentives to citizens willing to make a go at taming the frontier. Sometimes the corps send prisoners, malcontents, or other problem people to franchise towns to get them out of their hair. This can backfire on them, but at least the problem is no longer near the enclave.
The end result is to convert the town into a part of the enclave, with the same benefits and downsides. Few towns have gotten this far… The development takes time, and the town’s original natives are usually more stubborn and slow to change their attitudes to 100% conformance with the corporate line. More often, the town is destroyed or ruined by raiders or wasteland creatures, or comes under peril from another threat that causes it to become deserted or uninhabitable. Sometimes the towns betray the corporations as well, kicking them out after they’ve been fortified, or going over to another corporation. This rarely goes well, and can end with a completely destroyed town if the parent corporation has violent tendencies or wants to make an example of the traitorous settlement.
It’s really too soon to see if the idea of Franchise towns is a success in the long-term. The longest-existing franchise town so far is barely a decade old at this point.
Franchise towns offer some of the benefits of both major settlements and corporate enclaves. You can usually count on running water, electric power, a roof over your head, at least one television channel, and some sort of medical care. What you can’t always count on, is food, or law enforcement. Corporate Enclaves barely have the food to feed themselves… Franchise towns are usually chosen because they can stand on their own, and supply their own food. And the guards and soldiers assigned to garrison duty sometimes use it as an opportunity to line their pockets or extort favors and goods from the townsfolk… Not all of them do this, but enough of them are corrupt that you aren’t always guaranteed justice in a franchise town. Not unless you’re paid up with the local law, that is.
You’ve also still got the dangers of the Wastelands to contend with. The defenses help against some predators and problems, but they’re not much good against the more subtle predators, organized military opposition, or diseases.
The technology level in a franchise town is equivalent to 1970, with less infrastructure. Crude, cheap electronics and decent medicine are usually available, and some gasoline-powered vehicles are in use on the nearby roads of the settlement. Power is usually supplied by an industrial-sized fusion cell donated by the corporation, that gets expanded into a fusion plant as time goes on. If the corp-appointed representative feels a need, he can request additional material and support from the corp. This may be approved or denied, depending on what he asks for, and how much profit is expected to result.
Franchise towns typically see a lot of caravans and travelers passing through. They’re seen as a little safer than the average settlement, and make good waypoints. Opposing corporations, of course, know better than to send their trade caravans through each other’s franchise towns. That’s a good way to get shot up, or have your goods confiscated. Free Traders usually stay out of Franchise Towns, but occasionally make camp outside their boundaries. They don’t announce their arrival or departure, and usually leave within a day or two, before trouble can find them.
Franchise towns usually retain the previous settlement’s attitudes towards things like metahumans and magic, though the increased traffic through them can mute it somewhat. The parent corporation’s attitude toward those prejudices can either lessen or amplify problems of this nature. Still, the frontier tends to eat the stupid, so even the most die-hard bigots may find that they don’t mind orcs or elves or whatever so much, when a large enough threat rears its head.
To live in a franchise town is to have the freedom to come and go as you please, with a few modern day comforts. You still have to work to make ends meet, and watch out for constant danger, but you don’t have to worry about some very basic things. Many people find this a good compromise between freedom and security. Others look at the corporation’s slowly-expanding influence, and the buildings rising up from new construction, and wonder just how much freedom they’re giving up.
The Franchise towns are often the gateway to the Wasteland for many of the enclave dwellers, and a ton of legal and illicit trade goes through them. To a few who manage to gain the influence or wealth, it’s a way into the enclaves.