Introducing The Truce
Ripley sits at home, a chilled cup of coffee resting on the arm of his sofa, and wonders how much longer his family will be safe. He wonders how long it will be before the madness of the inner city reaches the quiet little suburbs where his daughter sits at the desk in her bedroom and writes applications for local universities.
It has been the worst few days of his entire life. Not because he has been out protecting his city from the terrors that clutch at it but rather the opposite. It has been a terrible few days because he has just been sitting here, at home and powerless, crippled by forewarning. He could swear the old scar on his stomach hurts more now than when he first got it and whenever he even thinks of returning to the station, it burns.
Ripley sighs, pulling himself to his feet, and hobbles over to the kitchen. He contemplates his icy coffee for a second and then decides to just sod it. The world’s been turned on its head enough lately, no one’s going to care if he ignores the natural order of things and shoves it in the microwave to reheat.
Someone knocks on the door just as the microwave dings. He pulls his beverage from its mechanical belly and takes the first, scalding sip. It doesn’t taste quite right but it’s better than that crap they serve at the station.
The knocking comes again, more insistent this time, and Ripley grunts angrily to himself.
“I’m coming, you bastard. Mother never teach you about patience?” Ripley talks to himself all the way to the door. “Can’t move fast enough for these jumped up city freaks.”
He wrenches the door open, standing at the top of the porch, and glares down at the intruders.
“Fucking hell, Higgs,” he says eventually. “What are you doing here?”
“Marcus! Don’t swear in the house.”
All three of them peer up the corridor, responding to Aurelie’s voice, Ripley’s wife, as it comes bouncing down the stairs.
“I’ll say what the fuck I want in my own house,” Ripley says, much quieter this time, and steps outside, gently closing the door behind him.
As Ripley stands out there with the two of them, cold winter air nipping at his exposed skin, his stomach calms, the pain ebbing for the first time since Maya marched into his office, swung her feet up onto his desk, and tied a black mask around her face.
“Chief,” Tim says, responding to Alex’s elbow in his ribs, “you’ve got to come back.”
Ripley already knows this is why they came. He also knows his stomach is sending a very clear message about ensuring he returns with them but he’s a stubborn old fool, always has been, and he’ll be buggered if he lets them turn up here and start ordering him around on his own front porch.
“Go away,” he says, “I’m retiring.”
“We both know you can’t just up and decide you’re retired Ripley. You can’t just walk out the station and never come back. We need you.”
“There’s four other Inspectors at that station that would jump at the chance to earn Chief, Higgs, not to mention golden boy Jack Docklen, so you can cut that crap right now and leave me in peace.”
“You’re not the only one that’s up and disappeared, Chief,” Alex says. “The only one that comes back is Docklen and he’s sporadic at best, never there when we need him.”
“And what do you expect me to do about that?”
Higgs sighs and Tim throws him a worried glance.
“We know you feel guilty about charging Maya,” the Sergeant says.
“She didn’t exactly give me much choice.”
“I know, I know. But the rest of us are still there and we kind of need you right now.”
Higgs’ face is so pleading that Ripley decides he’s dug his heels in quite enough to prove his point. He opens the front door a second time, grabbing his coat from the hook, and shouts up to Aurelie. He’ll be back in time for dinner. Probably.
The car journey into town is an enlightening one for Ripley who’s only seen the damage on the television, not lived it.
“You ever watch apocalypse movies, Chief?” Higgs asks as they chug along the hard shoulder, sirens blaring.
Both sides of the road are chock-a-block with cars going in only one direction: out. There are so many of them, all battling to go the same way, that they’re stuck, trapped bumper to bumper. Some people look like they’re giving up, packing their belongings into bags, swinging those bags over shoulders, and abandoning their vehicles. They stream through queued cars at a steady pace, winding between exhaust pipes, rolled down windows, and angry drivers with a strange determination, one that Ripley’s never quite seen before.
“I don’t have time for that crap,” Ripley replies, voice distance, distracted by the myriad of sights before him.
“Well I do,” Higgs says, “and it’s all getting a little too familiar for my comfort.”
The closer they get to the station, the worse it gets. Potholes, that would perhaps be more closely related to swimming pools, line the centre of the street. The road is empty now, now that they’ve gone deeper than the places that people live, but the way is no clearer. All the buildings that Ripley remembers from his commute are damaged beyond recognition. It’s eerily silent, the gentle rumbling of the patrol car interrupted only by odd sounds, the barking of a distant dog, the steady drip of leaking water.
“Who did this?” Ripley breathes.
“We were actually kind of hoping you’d help out with that one,” Higgs says as he pulls the car over to allow Tim to jump out.
Neither of them seem even slightly perturbed by the girder that lies across the street. Ripley’s concerned though. He’s not stupid. They must have driven out this way to get to him, and if that thing’s there now, then it wasn’t there before, and that only means that everything around this place is still very unstable.
Higgs doesn’t blink an eye as Tim bends down, grabbing the girder by a set of protruding ridges and flips it, end over end, until it lies facedown on the opposite side of the road. It’s the first time Ripley’s seen any of his Sapient+ operatives in action, with the notable exclusion of Maya of course, but Higgs doesn’t seem even marginally phased.
A lot has changed over the course of a few measly weeks, of that much he’s certain.
Usually there’s a lot of life, a lot of movement around the station whenever Ripley gets there. Time of day doesn’t even matter. He could arrive at 3am on a Sunday and there’d be people jumping in and out of patrol cars, there’d be officers outside the front doors, having a quick smoke.
Not today, though. Today it’s empty.
Higgs parks the car next to the door and gets out.
“So much for Kurtis and her superhero act,” Ripley mumbles as he follows his officers up the steps. “This city’s half dead. It’ll take years to fix this much damage.”
“Actually, on that note,” Higgs says as they walk onto the station floor. “We kind of need you to get your uniform on, there’s someone you have to meet.”
He won’t give any more information and eventually Ripley gives up asking him for it. He disappears into his office, switching his old coat for a navy jacket. When he exits, there’s a manilla folder in his hand, the only piece of mail he’s received the whole time he’s been out, regardless of all that’s happened in his city.
“What’s this?” He asks and Alex looks up.
“Just some fingerprints,” he says with a shrug. “Some guy from The Facility brought them down. Was absolutely livid, said they’d got their own prints database and if it wasn’t for your bloody politics, they’d have identified them by now. He seemed to think it was related to Docklen’s Shark case.”
Ripley nods. He makes to drop the folder in Jack’s outbox but something makes him think twice, just a second of forewarning from his twinging stomach, and he throws the folder back on his own desk.
“Where are my officers?” Ripley asks when he’s done, a low growl curling in the back of his throat.
Both Alex and Tim throw casual glances around the abandoned office.
“They’re out,” Higgs says, “watching the roads, helping people leave. We didn’t really know what else to do.”
Ripley smiles then. For a second he’d thought they’d left, abandoned this city like he’d nearly done, left it to rot in its own fetid mess.
“And where are we going?” Ripley asks.
He doesn’t miss the quick glance his men share. Neither of them seem quite content with what’s about to happen next.
“He wants to talk to you,” Higgs says, “Card Shark. Seems to think he’s the only one with a solution to any of this.”
“And what makes him think he’s got the kind of authority to be making any opinions on this at all?”
Ripley grumbles extensively but twenty minutes later he’s still standing on a rooftop somewhere, one of the very few left it would seem, and he’s about to humour the maniac. He’s not even sure how it happened really but Sergeant Higgs has got a way about him, that’s for sure, and Ripley can’t even remember why he bothered arguing in the first place.
It’s bitterly cold up here, stark grey cement bared to the mercy of the elements, but the figure before him doesn’t seem to notice so Ripley makes a distinct effort not to care either. After a brief scuffle, an argument he’s seen the partners have a hundred times, his officers leave him, dropping back into the stairwell and sitting on the steps. This all seems far too mafia reminiscent for Ripley but he trusts Higgs, the boy’s got CO written all over him, so he doesn’t question it.
With a sigh and another complaint about his age, Ripley makes his way over to the superhero on the edge of the rooftop. He strikes a dominant figure, broad shoulders pulled back, hands in pockets. Ripley refuses to be intimidated.
He doesn’t react as Ripley draws up to his side, nothing beyond the brief flick of grey eyes under a black mask. Together they survey the events going on below.
The street is packed with heaving bodies, thousands of young people all pressed together, paint on their faces, boards in their hands. It looks like a protest but not one of the like Ripley’s ever seen before. It’s utter chaos down there. People are shouting, screaming. That he can handle. What’s unusual is the fighting in the middle. These are people who all share a single cause and yet, every now and again, they turn on each other with a savagery that’s almost too violent for the battlefield. They’re like rabid dogs. It’s terrible, true enough, and it’s only matched by the sporadic bouts of debauchery, people pressing together in ways better suited to the bedroom… or some sleazy rave club that sells narcotics and heady alcohol.
“There’s chaos leaking into everything,” Shark says, “and they seem to think I can stop it.”
He nods his head downwards, drawing Ripley’s eye to the markings on the boards. The hero speaks true and, now that he listens for it, there is a steady chant weaving in amongst the rest of the noise, a single name repeated on the beat. They’re not calling out for government bodies, not calling out for the Met. They’re calling out for Shark.
“And sure enough,” the hero continues, “I know what’s causing it, so I have the advantage there.”
“It’s one of your bloody rogues,” Ripley grumbles, “same bloke who pulled the buildings down. Don’t think I’m blind, son.”
“I think you might be,” Shark says, reaching out a hand to point. “Can you see that man there?”
Ripley follows Shark’s gesture and, sure enough, there is one figure that stands out from the crowd, if only by his uncharacteristic stillness. He just sits on the ground, cross legged, paint drenching his body from head to toe. It’s difficult to make him out, most of the fights seem to be breaking out in that area. He keeps getting blocked off by moving bodies.
“What of him?” Ripley snaps.
“If that man was gone, this would all be over. Look at how they react around him.”
Ripley does as he’s bid, paying proper attention, and sure enough, a trend begins to make itself clear. Anyone that touches him suffers a drastic personality change. The madness of all of them emanates out from a single, catatonic body. Ripley’s not even sure the boy in question even knows where he is.
At his side the hero smiles, a knowing kind of smile, and eventually he turns his head, taking Ripley in properly.
“Not one of my rogues,” he says. “I can’t help, otherwise I would have done so already.”
“So why are you wasting my time?”
“I can see why Maya likes you,” he says.
Ripley doesn’t have time for idle chat and he’s quite happy to vocalise this but the hero jumps in first.
“I’m going to offer to make a deal with them,” he says, “Townhall, the powers that be. I am willing to stop this, I’ll give you my word on that, but I can’t do it alone.”
Ripley doesn’t say anything, waiting for the man at his side to continue.
“I need you to drop the charges against Maya,” he says. “She’s stubborn. You’re the only one she’ll listen to. She seems to think she caused this somehow, that by taking herself out of the equation it’ll just go away, but it’s gone beyond that.” Shark nods his head again, at the protest on the street. People are dying out there. “I thought that if I showed you, then you’d be able to show her.”
Ripley shakes his head.
“Townhall won’t listen to you,” he says, “and Maya won’t either.”
“They don’t need to listen to me, they need to listen to you, Chief.”
“Don’t call me Chief, son. It’s not your place.”
The hero sighs, dropping down until he’s sitting on the edge of the roof, feet dangling out over the drop.
“Please,” he says eventually. “This won’t stop spreading. It has to end now, before it’s too late. I signed up for self sacrifice when I donned the mask but I’m not the kind to run head first into my own death.”
Ripley realises, then, that the boy’s begging, in his own proud way. He almost feels pity, almost, but of this whole conversation, there’s only one thing that they both agree upon: Ripley’s home has descended into chaos in the time that he’s been at home, nursing old gunshot wounds. As far as Ripley’s concerned, though, there’s only one way to deal with chaos and that’s to reintroduce order, to add familiarity back into the equation even if it requires brute force. Making deals with self-professed superheroes does not fit into that equation and neither does releasing criminals he’s in the process of putting behind bars… even if that criminal is Maya bloody Kurtis.