An explosion in the distance.
And then, darkness.
The entire city seemed to plunge into nearly pitch-blackness, and with it, a silence. For a beat, only the sounds of cars in the streets weaving between the skyscrapers could be heard. The hum of electricity which had apparently served as an auditory backdrop to every resident in the city disappeared, in its place a strange, uneasy tinnitus.
“For fuck’s sake!” came the curse from Bruno Jones, the detective inspector at Main City’s police department. He slammed his fist on the table. “He didn’t!”
“Sir, there’s been an explosion. The power stations are out. There’s no power at all in the whole city.” An officer put her head behind his door and addressed him, panicked.
“Did his message get out?”
“Yes. Yes, his message was live on every station. Radio and TV.”
The entire PD was chaos. People were rushing around, running here and there, but the phone lines were all dead so nothing would come in. And that was the issue. Nothing would come in. They were blind and deaf to what was happening on the streets.
“Tonight, Main City, I give you the ultimate gift. I give you the gift of freedom. Tonight, I give you the freedom to do as you please. Go where you want to go. Do what you want to do. The city belongs to you. Its loyal citizens.”
The chilling voice emitted from every single TV set and radio in the city. There wasn’t a single channel that was free from it, from the menacingly soft drawl that gave the city’s criminals permission to live, for once, in their own light. Mothers and fathers clutched children to them. Drivers froze as they made their way home, cautious eyes glancing down dark alleys. Prison guards turned down the volume, if anything just to silence the rowdy, excitable prisoners who now banged on the bars and jeered and yelled their assent to their new King of Crime.
There was a breath as everyone watched the figure move back, a button in his hand. He was a silhouette against a bonfire, upon which – if one looked closely – three bodies lay, tied together, their screams silenced in death. The figure lifted his hand and pressed the button.
The explosion was heard across the city. The power slowly went out, block by block being plunged into darkness. The only light was from the fire which had lit up the eastern skyline, burning furiously from the coal that had powered the generators. Tremors shook the ground. No-one could really believe he’d actually done it.
Hospitals had back-up generators, which clicked into effect as soon as the main grid current died. Those buildings were perhaps the least-chaotic places in the whole city. A few of the bigger high-rises had generators too, and slowly they started to light up again. But already, in the streets, the underworld had woken up. Criminals walked the streets, well-prepared to take control of the city which had long been under the control of the efficient police force.
The MCPD was in uproar. The backup generators had come on nicely, but that hadn’t helped. What did they need to do? Units were heading to the power stations now to try and put out the fires, but all over the city they were being accosted, stopped, hindered. Reports were coming in of three or four patrol units being held up by gangs breaking into buildings, rioting in the streets. Reports came in thick and fast. Dispatchers were overwhelmed, the emergency services were not able to pass through the streets, police officers and cop cars were being targeted as a priority by a seemingly overwhelming amount of gang members with bats, crowbars, hammers...
“Kaboom in-fucking-deed, the guy’s reduced the city to a criminal playpen!” DI Jones hissed, trying the phones again. Nothing. Lines dead. “Can we get ANYONE close enough to the power stations to catch this guy?!”
“We’re trying, sir, but the city’s turned against us – patrols can’t get through!”
“Can we get a bird in the sky?!”
“We’re trying, sir!”
The black-clad figure stood on his platform, watching the city below turn to carnage. The flames from the power station rendered him no more than a silhouette to the loyal circle of followers behind him. They stared up at him, respectful, afraid.
“It’s time for us to play, my friends.” He turned to the circle, and smiled. “A job well done.”
“Congratulations, my king,” said one woman, who stepped forward and took a knee before him. She shook.
“Come here, princess.” He held his hand out to her. She stood and took his hand, allowing him to pull her gracefully up to the platform. The others in the circle took their leave. “Or perhaps I ought to call you my queen...” pulling her close, he held a ring up to her. The stone glinted in the fire from the power station, and from the smaller bonfire that now held three skeletons.
“Joseph... Are you... is this...?”
“Marry me, Scarlett.”
“Yes!” The ring slid onto her finger, and he pulled her face to his for a kiss. Their silhouettes moulded together against the backdrop of the fire, the sounds of chaos, of screams and carnage surrounding them.
“Alright, people! Listen up! This place is locked down – we go in and out via the basement. You’ll come out on west fifth street. You go out in plain clothes only! Blend in. Carry your weapon obviously on you. Hide your badge.” DI Jones paced in front of the bull pen, every officer staring up at him, each one dishevelled and mussed up from panic. “We’re looking for Joseph Kerris. He’s slippery. He knows the city better than most people. Unknown age, but the profiling has suggested he’s late-twenties, early-thirties. Six feet tall, brown hair, slender build. He usually wears long coats, usually black. Dresses smart, according to our sources. And, as we can see, he has no conscious or moral compass. I need this guy found, and bringing in. Alone. The big guys want him alive, but I’m easy either way. If he’s dead, it puts an end to this shit.”
DI Jones’ reaction to all of this was natural. Joseph Kerris had held a reign of terror over the city for so long, it was impossible to see where his reign stopped and the police control started. Most of the criminals the police detained were under his umbrella of protection. Most of the organised crime that happened was organised under his umbrella. If people died, it was usually because he’d ordered the kill. A quick dig usually gave them the answer as to why he’d ordered the kill. Criminals reported to him, and he told them what was acceptable. He held the city in the palm of his hand, and no-one in law enforcement knew who was on his payroll. Even some of the officers in the PD were corrupt, but who they were remained a mystery. Someone fed information to Kerris regularly, because he always knew where the police patrols would be, who was doing them, and as such he was able to get away with bank robberies and killing people.
But, DI Jones was loath to admit that it was rare that innocent civilians were killed under Kerris’ order. His collateral damage was a low percentage, even if his fatality rate was 100%. It was highly unlikely that any innocent person would have died tonight from the explosion at the power station, but could the same be said in the streets? Had his minions been told not to kill? What did ‘the city belongs to you’ mean, anyway? Freedom? What was freedom to a criminal under Kerris’ orders? He didn’t want to find out.
As the hours passed, chaos raged in the city. Hospitals locked themselves down shortly after midnight, because the first wave of casualties from fires and explosions and beatings had overwhelmed them. Law-abiding citizens largely remained home, locking their doors, barricading themselves in. Criminals roamed the streets, looting and rioting, setting things on fire. But there were no reports of deaths. Not yet. By five in the morning, still a few hours of darkness to go, fires lit the streets, but the chaos had settled down. The police department had managed to regain some sense of the situation, but officers who’d been on the streets were missing, and their cars set alight. The damage to the power station couldn’t be assessed until daylight. The damage to the streets was obvious.
“Sir?” A knock at the door made DI Jones look up. Officer Perkins, a woman in her mid-thirties, stood with a notepad. “There’s updates.”
“Fire away. Ha.”
“No deaths so far, but twenty foot-patrol officers are missing. The power station has been locked down and secured, the blaze is under control. The feds have been in touch about the state of affairs. They want to send in the military if we can’t regain control before morning.”
“They can’t send in the military, Perkins.”
“We can’t regain control of the city, sir. It’s not possible. Kerris has gone underground. A few people saw him driving around in an SUV with his girl in the passenger seat, but that was a few hours ago by the sounds of it.”
“So he’s with the girl again?” Perkins nodded. “Right. She’s a loose cannon when she’s not glued to his side.”
“What do we do, sir?”
“Do we have names of the missing officers?”
“Yes.” Perkins handed over a printed sheet of names. “All of them were working the streets and patrolling. Their cars have been found burned out. They’ll be recovered when the daylight comes.”
“What about the hospitals?”
“Still fully locked-down. The staff have put down the bullet- and bomb-proof shutters like we asked them to. No-one in or out.”
“Good, good... How many officers do we have here in-house?”
“One hundred and six, across the whole precinct, sir. But they’re trying to keep the front doors closed. People are still trying to get in here.”
“Alright. I want everyone in riot gear and in the bull pen. Those who can’t fight, don’t. They’ll stay here and man phones in the panic rooms. Those who can fight will do. We’ll go out the back way, but we’ll lure them into the bull pen and keep them here. Hopefully it should keep some of the criminals busy.”
“Yes. Get out there and regain control of the streets, Perkins! Go!”
The storming of the prisons had perhaps been the worst thing to hit the pitch-black city. Hundreds, thousands of detainees freed, overwhelming the guards and breaking down doors to get out. It took a few hours for them to assemble and understand what Kerris had wanted them to do, information passed on via word of mouth to followers. Kerris himself had disappeared with Scarlett, his blushing bride-to-be. As the prisoners spilled into the main streets of the city, the police – decked out in riot gear – prepared to take them on. The new wave of fighting would awaken the sleeping, tired-out first wave of criminals, and would see the first official deaths of the chaos.
Joseph and Scarlett, however, were safely tucked into a warehouse in the backwaters of the city. The streets there were largely untouched, save for the odd day a week when police would come over to see if there was any illegal activity. Joseph had made sure that nothing ever took place here – not unless he’d planned it.
He'd organised for a judge on his payroll to be present to marry him and Scarlett legally and officially, along with two witnesses from his trusted circle. She’d say yes, because she was his and he was hers. Anyone messed with her, they met their demise at the end of the barrel of his gun. Anyone messed with him, they met their demise at the end of the barrel of her gun. The King of Main City needed a Queen.
Scarlett was his world. She’d been there for him since day one. They’d been through college together, and both of them had intended to join the police force to do the world some good. But Joseph had lost both his parents in a mugging one night in the city, and the police hadn’t done anything much to catch the guy who’d changed his life with two bullets. Scarlett had no parents. Hers had died in a car accident when she was younger, and she’d suffered at the hands of the foster system until she was 18, when she’d been cut loose into the world. Joseph and Scarlett had been smart, though. Joseph followed a career in engineering, focussing on chemistry and biology. Scarlett had taken a biology and chemistry minor, with a psychology major. Between them, they were dangerous. A formidable couple.
Joseph’s desire for revenge against the ineffectual police had blossomed into his control of the city. His ability to poison entire gangs without anyone knowing had given him a name. His ability to blow someone up using teaspoon amounts of chemicals had given him a reputation. His ability to charm his way to the top of each gang, merge them, and manage them... he was infallible. And Scarlett was like an extra arm. She knew him inside out. She was an extension of him, fearless, a psychotic mess who could play with a mind and manipulate it as needed. She was also a keen shot. And between them, they controlled the city.
As the judge declared them man and wife, Joseph pulled Scarlett close to him and kissed her without hesitation, bending her lithe frame backwards.
“Let’s go rule our kingdom, shall we?” Joseph purred, a dark glint in his eye. Scarlett giggled and nodded, relaxed in his grip. He wouldn’t drop her. Ever. He lifted her up. “Starting, I think, with a little visit to Detective Inspector Jones...”
“Shall I bring my knives?” Scarlett asked sweetly. Joseph gave her a small nod.
Getting into the MCPD wasn’t an issue. Joseph sat in his nondescript car with Scarlett at his side, watching as the doors to the main building were flung open, and the gathering of convicts outside surged in.
“As predicted. Our dear detective has left the building, it would seem.” Joseph moved the car through a U-turn. “He’ll be using the underground emergency exit...”
“He’ll come out on west fifth street,” Scarlett murmured, nodding. “Unless he’s in the panic rooms.”
“Mmm.” Joseph thought for a moment. He stopped the car. “Are you armed?”
“And ready.” Scarlett tapped her leg and revealed the handguns in holsters.
“Go get’em, baby.”
Scarlett jumped from the car and joined the dregs of convicts forcing their way into the building. Joseph didn’t wait to see the carnage if she’d got in. He sped off west.
“Did we find the bastard yet?” DI Jones paced the makeshift office built in the basement of a now-abandoned building. A small team of people not left behind to fight or man phones were with him. No-one answered him. “Hello?!”
“Perhaps a kinder tone might render a more jovial response to your demands, detective.” That chilling voice. Jones turned. The silhouetted figure of Joseph stood in the doorway. “We’re alone, detective.”
“Where are my officers, Kerris?”
“Safe. Secure. I don’t kill civilians.”
“I know you don’t, but that doesn’t stop you from -”
“Let’s cut the idle prattle, detective. I come to you in person as a courtesy to you. I could have sent a proxy.”
“You mean your little side-piece.” Jones scoffed. He fingered the cold metal of his handgun. Joseph noticed.
“Thank you. I’d command a little respect, detective, but I can see you still think there’s a way out of this for you.” Joseph stepped into the dim light. “There isn’t.” Jones pulled his gun. Joseph didn’t flinch.
“You’ll kill me, then?”
“No. You’re no threat to me. You’ve dug your own grave. Letting the criminals loose on the city -”
“YOU BLEW UP THE POWER STATIONS!”
“Because you didn’t give me what I asked for. And I asked politely, too.” Joseph shrugged. Jones’ hands shook.
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
“Neither do we.” Joseph wandered around the small office space. Jones realised his gun didn’t scare Joseph at all. Joseph had control of the situation. “I control them.”
“You control... sure. You control nothing. The military will come and take down every bad guy on the streets -”
“Is what I’m sure you think will happen. I’ll be in contact with the military when the time comes. I wanted to work with you, detective. You worked against me at every step.”
“Yes. Because you’re a criminal.”
“Don’t test me, detective. I control the criminals. I eliminate those who choose to disobey. I keep the people of this city safe. You’re no more than the conventional hardened cop who plays rookie and does what he wants. You have guidelines, detective. I have rules. Guidelines cannot be broken. Rules can.” Joseph folded his arms and tapped his foot. “When daylight comes, you'll be ready to hand the city over to me. The mayor has fled.” Jones’ resolve faltered.
“Then... you’re on your own, detective.”
The sun’s soft rays pricked the new winter morning. Plumes of smoke rose from the power station, but silence hung in the air.
In a small square in the centre, DI Jones stood on a platform, a few brave civilians mingling with convicts, all silent, waiting for a speech, for guidance. Anything.
“People of Main City.” Jones swallowed. His voice shook. “I... I’d like to present our new leader... the esteemed Mr Joseph Kerris.” Joseph stood; a roar of applause greeted him.
“Thank you, dear Detective Jones. Are we ready for a new chapter in Main City’s history, my people?”