Stillwater had gone quiet. The wide streets meant to accommodate trucks and other commercial traffic were empty and an eerie silence hung over everything. Between the Tanglewood “Night of Crime” and the Order trying to start a gang war with a Spider False Flag attack, it was a wonder that the partially abandoned industrial district wasn’t more of a focal point for violence.
While the streets were quiet, a cluster of “abandoned” warehouses were abuzz with activity. Beyond the sight of law enforcement, a sophisticated operation was already underway, in preparation for the Centennial of Superhumans only a week away. One particular warehouse bore witness to a gathering of newly minted Spiders, summoned from all across Jet City by their new boss. It was the biggest gathering most of them had ever seen, though that might have been due to how young the crowd leaned. The older ones remembered a time when the Crime Lords would host get-togethers like this, rallying the gangs against one superhero or another. But that was a long time ago.
The crowd was rowdy; an angry, nervous energy permeated the atmosphere as they waited for something to happen or someone to say something. Everyone hushed when the Spider himself walked out onto an elevated platform in the back of the warehouse floor. An improvised stage. He was dressed much like they were. Black and red thug attire and red bandana with black spider emblem spray painted on it. Confidence radiated from him and his audience took note.
“Brothers. Sisters. So glad you’re here,” the Spider began. His voice carried surprisingly well. The crowd listened apprehensively. “There’s a lot of new blood here. A lot of you may not know how we do things, or what we’ve got in store for Jet City. Don’t worry. You’ll learn. Right now, Imma bout to give you the big picture.”
He looked over the crowd, gauging his audience.
“First of all, if you’re here, it means you’re smart. You saw what was coming and you made the right choice; to be a Spider. And being a Spider ain’t an easy thing. It takes hard work. It takes guts. So be proud. You did what a lot of your peers couldn’t do. You survived. You’re a survivor. Like me.”
Some of the gang members looked around nervously. A few shrugged or nodded. It was mostly silent save for a few coughs. The Spider breathed in like he was enjoying a bit of fresh air, then exhaled a satisfied breath, ready to work his magic.
“But, being a Spider also means enjoying some serious perks. It means tasting that sweet taste of success that we don’t often get, being who we are. You’re prolly wondering what that’s like. Success. What do you see when you picture it? Does it look like Lil Big’s house? 2Shorty’s? Or maybe an episode of Cribs for you old folks in the back?” That got a few laughs. “No one gave us a second look a year ago and now we’re about to own an entire city. We did that by not playing their game. By not sticking to their script. If you’re a street gang, they automatically give you a part to play. Gangster, thug, urban youth. All you gotta do is play the bad guy and they don’t 86 you. Well we know better, don’t we? We told them to take their script and shove it right up their asses.”
The atmosphere in the room shifted subtly. What before was a nervous silence was now a curious one.
“There’s a way things work in this city. In this country. Well, the whole world really. A Status Quo that the powers-that-be put in place and maintain so that they can keep sitting fat and happy while the rest of us eat shit. If we got a problem with it, they sick their superhero muscle on us. Class warfare disguised as the fight for Justice. Well I got news for y’all. That shit is over. I’m about to show you how.”
The lights dimmed slightly and a projector clicked on, projecting a rectangular screen on the back wall of the warehouse. The projector clicked, and an old black and white picture of Jet Ryder, Mayor Trent and Dr. Brighton appeared. They were standing around a table full of blueprints in the middle of a hangar, the wing of a plane peeking in from just out of frame.
“That nerd in the middle is Dr. Brighton,” the Spider began. “Back in 1960, he and couple friends decided they were going to try and end all crime forever. Obviously, that didn’t work.” Almost everyone laughed at that. “Brighton Labs’ testing facility sat right here in Stillwater. Abandoned and forgotten. We found it. The Crime Lords never even knew what they had. When Brighton was forced to shut the place down, they left behind a bunch of neat little toys. Like this one.” The projector clicked, and an image of an advanced and old looking machine appeared. “This is the machine they invented which was going to end crime; turn society into a bunch of good little boys and girls who followed the rules and didn’t talk back to their superiors. A machine like that could be used for all sorts of nasty things. Like turning the people of this city against each other, overthrowing the powers-that-be and in the process handing us the keys to the kingdom. Does that sound like mind control? In a way, it kind of is. And it sat here, forgotten, for decades.”
A picture of Jet Ryder climbing into an experimental jet plane came up next.
“The reason you never heard about this is the same reason we still don’t have a cure for cancer, or hotels on the Moon, or jetpacks for everybody. The Status Quo wills it so. The powers-that-be would rather you didn’t know the way world could be. They want us to live shallow, empty, pointless lives turning the cogs of the machine that supports their lifestyle and keep the cool shit for themselves.”
“Fuck ’em!” someone yelled. A majority of the gang agreed.
“I don’t wanna survive or get by. I wanna fucking thrive. I want us all to live like kings. Think the Crime Lords worry about where their next meal’s coming from? Or the judges they own? Or their friends in City Hall? Naw, man. They fucking own all this. They run the secret brothels and the drug supply chain and the black markets while we sell their drugs and break legs for them for nothing. So you know what? We’re going to take that shit back. We’re taking it and we’re fucking tearing the Status Quo down. And we tell them so everyone can hear, we run these streets now. Say it with me. Spiders what?”
“Run these streets,” the crowd replied.
“I’m thinking beyond street level. I’m on a whole other plane right now. I’m starting a muthafuckin revolution, y’all. And Jet City? We’re gonna turn this place into our own little Pirate Enclave. A safe haven for people like us where we can strike out and raid other cities. A gangster’s paradise where the only law is the one we make. So how do we do that? Even if we had all the guns in the world it wouldn’t be easy.” He opened a case filled with silver canisters that everyone recognized. “Another gift from Brighton. A means to super empowerment. Right here. I told you the Spiders provide.” He tossed several canisters out to the crowd. “I’m about to change your fucking lives, man. I’m gonna expand your mind, body and soul because I love you. I love you and I know what you’re capable of. I know what the Spiders can become. We got the guns, we got the juice, and you know what? We got the guts to do this. Spiders what?”
“Run these streets!” they replied.
“Say it again! Spiders what?” he asked again.
“Run these streets!” they cried even louder.
“Damn right we do! And soon we’re gonna run this whole damn city! Keep it going!” He waved as he left the stage and signaled his right hand man.
“Okay, listen up,” his right hand man called out. “Every crew in here has a card with a color and a number. The color is your working group and the number…” his voice faded as the Spider left the warehouse out the back and entered the one next door. His chief strategist met him and walked to keep pace. She was dressed liked a political operative and looked very out of place next to the gang leader. It was the Spider, however, that was dressing for the part.
“How we looking?” he asked her.
“Behind schedule. We lost another ammo depot this morning and the S.O.S. are still setting up for the op.”
“Still? We’re moving on the target in less than two hours. They need to get their act together,” the Spider said, grinding his teeth in frustration.
“That vigilante has them distracted,” she said.
“This shit again? I swear, I’m fucking throwing Rio into the meatgrinder feet first after he’s done with the mission.”
“Also, the choke points around the test site have been mapped out. The details were sent to your PDA,” she said.
“Glad to hear it.”
They entered a large work space where the hidden side of the Spider gang was preparing for war. Boxes of rifles, ammunition, grenades, and explosives were being unboxed and inspected with military precision. The Spider smiled behind his mask. The revolution was coming and nobody was going to stop it.
“You know, I think everything’s gonna turn out all right. I have a good feeling about this. Real good,” the Spider said, laughing to himself. His chief strategist nodded but in her own mind she wasn’t so sure. What of the Order? What of the superheroes? What of that constant thorn in their side, the vigilante? A lot of variables. A lot left to chance. She didn’t like it one bit.
Meanwhile, in the rafters high above, a Spider that wasn’t a Spider put his spy camera away, satisfied that he’d seen enough. He left the way he came, slipping past heavily armed Spider guards. Once he was far enough away from the warehouse, he quick-changed out of the red and black clothes he’d taken from an actual Spider gang member and into regular street clothes and a green letterman jacket. Evan hopped a tram back into town, pondering his next moves.