A tale of heroic resistance in the darkest corners of Britain.
Her baby is crying in the next room. She listens to him wail, looking for his mother, but still she does not move. Fear has frozen her body. Her eyes are wide and filled with tears, her breath trembling at her lips. Her heartbeat echoes the banging on the front door.
Two men are on the other side. They stand tall, broad-shouldered, their ties pressed tight to their throats, their hulking bodies straining against their stab vests. Again, the side of a meaty fist bangs on the door. Agitated sighs materialise in clouds of vapour.
A sob escapes her. Upstairs, her other two children wander to their bedroom door, cracking it open to listen to the commotion. She hears the patter of their tiny footsteps and worries her heart might give way as fresh terror takes hold.
The door shakes as his fist strikes it again.
“Open the door, please! If you don’t open up, we will force entry.”
Her fingers are trembling as she clasps the handle. Every breath rattles in her chest. Not once does she worry about herself. Her life has been hard enough to prepare her for whatever lies ahead. She thinks only of her children, cries only for her children as she opens the door.
“Please,” she says. “I… I have children. I’m their only family. We have no money. Nowhere else to go. Please…”
“I’m afraid your landlord’s been very clear,” says one of the men. “We do need you out of the property. Now. There’s nothing I can do.”
They don’t see her struggle. They don’t see her love, her strength, her determination. They don’t see how kind a neighbour, how upstanding a member of the community, how dedicated a mother she has been. They don’t see how hard she has worked, nor how suddenly and unexpectedly her job was taken away, nor the desperation she reached as she searched for a job that would pay for her rent and her children’s food in a crumbling economy. They don’t see the delays she was met with in receiving any Universal Credit payment, nor do they see how she was turned away for every loan she could find in light of her troubled history, nor do they see the sleepless nights lost in floods of tears. They do not see a human being standing before them. They see something less than human. They see the colour of her skin and hear the accent in her voice. They see the condition of her flat, the cheapness of her clothes and the state of her neighbourhood. They see an irritation, an obstacle, a problem to be handled and thrown aside. They see their prey, a whimpering and wailing reassurance of their place in the food chain.
What they do not see is the food chain fighting back.
“You should have paid your rent-”
The words are barely out of his mouth when, in a flash of crimson, the wind is knocked from his lungs and he is sent tumbling into the road. Tarmac bloodies his face and stars dance in his fading vision.
Before his partner can spot the attacker, his head connects with the wall of the house. He feels an arm pressed to his back, feels its incredible pressure through the lining of his stab vest.
“What the fuck?!” he gasps. “Let me go! Get off!”
He squirms. He struggles. He does not escape.
Someone whispers in his ear. The voice is low, electronically altered beyond all trace of humanity. In its depth, its synthesised reverberations, its lingering earthy hiss, it becomes almost spectral.
“She is under my protection. You will leave this neighbourhood and never set foot here again. Do you understand?”
He whimpers. He struggles. He is pushed more firmly into the wall. He feels the kevlar in his vest give way. Something grips him and his feet are lifted from the ground.
“I want to hear you say it,” says the voice. “I don’t care who sends you. I don’t care about your orders. I don’t care about whatever justification you can muster. You will never force anybody who is struggling, who has nowhere else to go, to leave their home. If you ever step towards another innocent person’s door, victimising the desperate and downtrodden on the orders of some parasitic slumlord, know that I will stop you. And next time I will break far more than your vest. Now – do you understand?”
“Yes!” he screams. “Yes, I understand!” The pressure lessens, but not enough for him to face his prey’s defender.
“That’s very good.”
“Who are you?”
“A citizen. One who stands for all citizens.”
“Please…” he moans. “Please… it’s a job… it’s just my job…”
“Yes.” Again, he is pushed into the wall. His feet kick helplessly. His breath grows desperate, panicked. The voice remains calm. ”And now you are going to tell me who hired you.”
He tells that faceless voice, that indomitable spectre, all that it demands. He vows not to return, not to send anyone else here, not to call the police. His stab vest is torn away and he is hurled aside. The stench of piss in his trousers as good as seals his promise. He runs.
Only then, over his shoulder, does he catch the briefest glimpse of a figure in red as I watch him flee.
“What are you talking about?” a tweed-swaddled blob of a man mutters into his phone as he waddles down the garden path to his country house. “What do you mean you couldn’t evict her? Well, what the hell was the problem?”
With a huff and a grunt, he jabs his key into the door and lets himself in. He pulls his cap away from his lank silver hair, thrusting it onto a hook by the door.
“What, some bloody yobs or something? For God’s sake…” He flicks the lights on. “Well, how soon can you get back out there and-” After a single step, the lights cut out. His heavy brow furrows over his small round eyes. “I’ll call you back.”
Shoving his phone into his pocket, he steps slowly back to the light switch. It does nothing. He trudges through the house, wheezing under his own weight, in search of the fusebox. Probably a dodgy bulb somewhere. He never trusted all this energy-saving nonsense.
The second he sets foot in the living room, his throat is struck. Sudden, swift, something connects. It lifts him into the air. His small, staring eyes strain to pick out the hulking silhouette amongst the shadows. A sliver of light through the window illuminates the faintest gleam of red.
“One woman and three children.” He shudders at the sound of my voice through the mask.
“What?” His voice cracks as he forces the word to his lips.
“One woman and three children. You nearly made them homeless.”
“She didn’t… pay… rent…”
“So you condemn her? You see someone struggling, someone who has been forced into dependency on you, and your response is to attack?”
“She’s not my problem!”
My grip tightens. Something catches in his throat.
“She must have felt so powerless. So vulnerable. So terrified. Tell me – how does that feel?”
I pull him close. Close enough for him to see the faintest dark reflection in my visor. I wonder what he thinks of the sight of himself.
“You will not profit on others’ desperation anymore. You own eighteen properties that you rent out to tenants who have had to endure the worst forms of intimidation, harassment and abuse from you. While you have sat here comfortably on wealth you never worked for, wealth created by wealth, you have left your tenants living in squalor and misery. In the last ten years, you have made five separate families homeless. Three of your former tenants have died, cold and starving, on the streets. It all ends now. It ends with me.”
He hits the floor and grasps at his throat, desperately gulping at the air.
“What the hell do you want me to do? Just how far do you honestly think you can push me?!”
“You can slash your rents to nothing and vow never to evict or fine any of your tenants again… or you can simply hand your tenants the deeds to their homes. Either way suits me.”
He forces a strangled laugh. It’s almost a sob.
“You must be out of your mind. Break into my home, tell me to give up my livelihood and expect me to just do it? Or what? You’ll come back and do me in?”
“You don’t want to learn the answer to that question.” I stand in front of the window, my back to him. The armour beneath my trenchcoat creates a silhouette that almost fills the window frame. “Before surrendering any ownership, you will also fix every single problem with every single one of your properties. You owe this to the people you have failed.”
“I am not going to take this rubbish!” He clambers to his feet. I turn and beckon him back down. He freezes. Stubborn. Resolute. I step towards him and he sinks to the ground.
“I imagine you can afford it. You have extorted enough wealth in your lifetime. But if you are worried about costs, you could always use some of the insurance money.”
His mouth opens and closes a few times.
“What… what insurance money?”
My finger squeezes the trigger. Heat bombards us. Light overpowers our vision. He’s knocked onto his back. I stay standing, feeling the shockwave and the ricocheting debris cascading about me. Walls fall to rubble. Glass shatters. The ceiling caves in and what was once a bedroom rains down upon us.
Through the smoke and the flame, the night sky looms over us and the faintest chill weaves its way through the fire.
He’s curled up in the foetal position. I stand over him, coat whipping at my legs, helmet illuminated in the flames.
“You’ve made so many homeless. Now it’s your turn.”
I hear the wailing, the whimpering, the cries of anger and desperation as I vanish into the smoke. He’ll have places to go, people to look after him, money to spend on a new home. He won’t have to suffer like his tenants did. But the message has been sent. He will know better than to put a toe out of line again. And if he does, I will be there.
For too long, crooks like him have been afforded too much power. Now his power is gone – returned, by force, to the people.
Everybody is pacing, yelling down phones, waving down ushers, trying to make sense of what just happened. The reddened faces of Britain’s billionaires sweat over their black ties and extravagant dresses.
Staff are fretting in back rooms, snapping at each other, staring at screens. One young woman mops her brow before returning to the main floor of the fundraiser, mustering as pleasant and reassuring a smile as she can. Apparently it does not offer the reassurance she was hoping for. A man in a dark grey suit is grabbing her arm, demanding to know what went wrong and how they will recover his boss’s money. She glances over at the boss to whom the man is gesturing and recognises him immediately – one of the night’s higher profile guests (which, amongst this crowd, is no mean feat). Her mind is in too delirious a state to concentrate on what the man is asking her. Something about a message on a phone. She smiles politely and asks the gentleman to bear with her, before running back to the staff-only office.
The boss in question is staring at his phone – a message he cannot clear is fixed on the screen:
“YOUR GREED WILL NOT OVERPOWER OUR COUNTRY”
As he looks helplessly at the words, he calls to another one of his aides, asking for an update – hoping for any scrap of good news – on his finances. His private accounts, including the offshore ones, have been emptied. Two million pounds vanished first. Then the rest followed.
Two million pounds. The same amount for which, a year earlier, he had sued the NHS after losing a local service provision contract to them. As he reads and rereads the words on his phone, that thought doesn’t leave his mind.
He isn’t alone. Everyone in the room has just become poorer, their bank accounts emptied without explanation.
“We’re onto something,” says a stern-faced woman in one of the back rooms. A couple of expectant faces turn in her direction. “It looks like something interfered with our contactless donation system.”
“Everyone here made a donation on their way in…”
“Yeah. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.”
“Can we… track whatever happened, or…”
“We can’t, no. The police? Maybe. But it depends on where that money’s gone, how much it’s been moved around, how and where transfers have happened and- I mean- shit. If whoever’s doing this is smart – and, let’s be honest, they pulled this off – there’s no guarantee we can refund any of them.”
“Shit!” says someone still staring at the computer screens.
“No, I mean… look.”
The screen is blank and unresponsive. Frozen. And bright red.
While the fundraiser attendees panic, their money is being moved. The funds are collected in a single account. From there, the money is split into different pots, moved and shifted through various accounts, until finally being deposited in its ultimate destinations.
Employees on poverty pay and zero-hours contracts receive a chunk of their employers’ wealth. Hospital funds are boosted. Homeless shelters receive generous anonymous donations.
A broad, sturdy figure with a bloated face and hooked nose charges out of the building, pushing through the front doors while swearing profusely under his breath. He climbs into the back of his waiting car and mutters instructions to the driver.
Across the country, the people who keep his businesses standing, people who labour in warehouses and stock rooms and shop floors to earn his money for him, are benefiting from the wealth that has just been taken from him. People fired under his rules, for refusing one too many shifts or for taking one too many sick days or for trying to join a union, are also receiving a payout.
He looks down at his phone. He too has been sent a message.
“THIS ISN’T OVER”
The next day, he will be confronted with reports of his companies’ employees walking out. Despite his union-busting efforts, despite the long-winded and Draconian anti-union laws to which he has always clung, his workers will stand in an act of ultimate solidarity and demand the fruits of their labour. They will be joined by others who believe in the cause. And he will see all his stores shut down by crowds of workers and sympathisers, all wearing the same red masks.
The following report is based on video and audio from official Downing Street security recordings, eyewitness accounts and covert footage leaked to the general public.
Midnight had just passed at 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister was not getting any rest. Perhaps he was putting the finishing touches on the contentious and much-talked-about US trade deal. Perhaps he was preparing an official statement and plan of action on the so-called ‘Red Mask Strikes’. Perhaps he was reviewing the latest findings from research into the crises in the NHS, homelessness and in-work poverty, all of which had been approaching a catastrophic breaking point since his re-election – but here, perhaps, I am daring to imagine too much.
There had been no noise from police or any Downing Street security that night, no sign of trouble, no cause for concern. It was probably disconcerting for the Prime Minister, then, when the office in which he sat was plunged into darkness. The lights cut out as every circuit in 10 Downing Street died.
The Prime Minister rose from behind his desk. He ventured to the light switch on the wall and flicked it on and off a couple of times. Nothing. He went to leave the office and, as he turned the handle of the door, found it had been jammed shut.
A tap at the window caught the Prime Minister’s attention. He turned, saw nothing there, but froze on the spot. The window was reinforced, bullet-proof. He must have been telling himself nothing could break through it.
Then something sparked. A small flash in the corner of the window at first, followed by a series of flashes, building into a steady flame. It burned red.
The Prime Minister trembled where he stood. The flame erupted. With an almighty ‘BANG!’, a crash of light filled the room. The Prime Minister shielded his eyes against it. He only looked back when his ears stopped ringing.
Cracks were spreading across the window’s surface. Crossing the room to investigate, driven by ill-placed curiosity, the Prime Minister was greeted only by the darkness of the night and the dim form of the Foreign Office building beyond the window.
For a moment, the silence was broken only by the slow creaking of breaking glass. Then the window shattered.
Glass shards burst into the room under a sudden impact. Smashing through, a masked figure came face to face with the Prime Minister. Their powerful fist knocked him across the room, leaving him in a heap on the floor.
Straining and stammering, the Prime Minister peered out through his tousled mess of hair. His mouth hung agape as his gaze fell upon a tall, imposing figure hidden in shadow. At that moment, the backup generator kicked in. A dim reddish glow illuminated the masked crusader whose exploits had become the talk of the tabloids.
The figure was clad in a long, heavy trench coat. Beneath this, kevlar plating was strapped to combat clothing. They wore heavy-duty boots and gloves that looked solid as steel. A cowl covered what little of their neck was visible between the collar of the trench coat and the fearsome metal helmet that concealed their face – featureless, save for a jet black visor. The entire outfit blazed in shades of red.
“It’s… it’s… it’s, it’s, it’s you!” spluttered the Prime Minister.
“You should have known you would have to face the people of this country at some point.” The masked figure spoke in resonant, superhuman tones. “How unfortunate for you that I am the one you had to face first.”
“Now, uh, listen here,” said the Prime Minister, stumbling to his feet, “you cannot break in here and assault me!”
“And you cannot force the citizens you are supposed to represent to live in incendiary death traps. You cannot turn your back on people starving and freezing to death in the streets, or screaming and dying in agony in crowded hospital corridors, or dropping dead after being forced to work while cripplingly unwell. But here we are.”
The red revolutionary took a step towards the Prime Minister.
“What do you want?”
“I want you to be afraid,” said the spectral voice. “I want you to live in fear of the power of the population. The power of the struggling, suffering, dying working classes. You and the elitist class you represent have hammered Britain to breaking point. You have instilled the people you have failed with an inextinguishable fury. You can only repress that rage for so long until they fight back. Until you have to face up to the cost of your sins. Until you have to face me.”
“I- I will not be cowed by- um- by terrorists…” said the Prime Minister, staring desperately into that metal mask.
“A terrorist is someone who seeks to instill terror in the masses, to strike fear into the hearts of whole populations of ordinary people, in order to take power for themselves. I am no terrorist. I fight with and for the people, striking fear only into the hearts of the malicious ruling class.”
“We- we have a democratic process in this country-”
“No, we don’t. Not anymore. Not even close. We have a facade of democracy that you have propped up in front of a vast, malevolent machine of manipulation. Your dealings and rulings are shrouded in secrecy and misdirection, a meticulous but paper-thin sugar-coating carefully applied to every cyanide pill you force down the throat of the people. Our news is controlled and constructed by the billionaire gatekeepers of the upper classes. It is nothing but a particular fiction sold as fact, a means by which to maintain the established order – you and the parasites who grow fat on our nation’s wealth at the top, the people who worked hard to create that wealth at the bottom. Any detail, any scrap of information, that can make its way to the people through any news outlet is first scrutinised, doctored, edited and packaged to prevent them ever possessing anything close to fact. When you have gone to such lengths to hide every scrap of truth, then people’s votes are based on nothing. This is not democracy; it is an endless act of deceit, designed to keep a privileged few in power and everyone else crushed beneath your feet. It is ruthless, heartless, hopeless tyranny putting on a shallow performance of democracy.”
The Prime Minister, overcome by fear, made a sudden dash for his desk where a panic button would be hidden. But the crimson crusader was in his way and would not be knocked aside like a mere schoolchild. A vice-like grip landed on the Prime Minister and hurled him to the far wall.
“Help!” he cried out.
“They can’t hear you. The room is sound-proof. So considerate.”
“Look, uh, if it’s money you want…” said the Prime Minister, picking himself up only to drop into a nearby chair. “To help out a, um, a food bank, or something…”
“The grip you and the upper class have on this country is ending. The fight back has started. Tonight, printing presses were destroyed. Nobody was harmed, but the presses used by a vast range of national newspapers – owned by a very small range of incredibly wealthy men – were taken out of action. The flow of misinformation is narrowed and their profits will be taking a nasty hit.”
“Ah, but their employees–”
“Are being handsomely compensated, courtesy of the attendees of one of your friends’ recent fundraising events. I’m sure you heard. The papers’ bile will still be available online, of course, but so will your draft proposals on limiting the powers of the courts, Parliament and public protests, as well as the full details and text of your recent trade discussions with the US. I wonder how people will react to the proposals on raising drug prices and increasing NHS outsourcing.”
“Now, look, this is all total and utter madness!” barked the Prime Minister. “What is the point of this- this- this intrusion?”
“I’m here,” said that low, echoing voice, “to make a statement. You and the tyrant class you represent are not untouchable. People are fighting back. The class war that has defined this country for countless generations is coming to a head. And you can never win, because you cannot survive without us. But we have absolutely no need for you.”
“If you think all this theatricality and bluster and… uh, thuggery is going to intimidate me, or… or cow me into giving an inch to delusional maniacs like you, then you are very deeply wrong! You’re living in some loony lala-land, where you think we all deserve to be equal and… and the same… and without hierarchy or, or, or any sense of order! Well, the truth you can’t face is that people like me are where we are because-”
“Because you were born into power and wealth and privilege. You never earned a damn thing. Your ancestors fed off other people’s labour, got rich by exploiting the work of others, and then committed themselves to keeping their fellow citizens crushed into the dirt so you could sit comfortably above them.”
“Well, that just goes to show that my ancestors were smart enough to keep the hordes of braying idiots and vermin who pollute and overrun this country in line! They put them to work for the greater good! This country has always struggled, always been overwhelmed with failings and problems and shortcomings and it all comes from the feckless, filthy, uneducated underclass in whose savagery and stupidity we have always been drowning! They need to be controlled, herded like cattle, and kept under the thumb of a better class of people! You need men like me, who can handle the power those scroungers and deadheads and hoodlums could never ever cope with! And we deserve better than all of them because we, the superior class, have proved we are better! That is the truth you loony ruffians are too dense to handle!”
The figure in red paused for a long, lingering moment. They looked briefly towards a mirror at the side of the room, then stood squarely in front of the Prime Minister.
“Thank you, Prime Minister, for making your feelings towards the British people so abundantly clear. Thank you for drawing the line in the sand that will define the coming conflict. I came here to make a statement.” The figure leaned forwards, the red mask inches from the Prime Minister’s terrified face. “But not to you.”
The figure in the mask raised a hand, in which was held a small screen. That screen showed a live feed of the the Prime Minister’s face. The figure looked back at the mirror and the video feed followed.
“Camera in the helmet. Our entire encounter, every word you just said, has already been shared to a secure server and is being uploaded to every website you can think of. I hope you’re ready for the fight and the fury you’re about to face, Prime Minister.”
As the Prime Minister sat in stunned silence, someone banged on the office door. “Took their time. I’m sure I’ll see you again. You’re always in my sights.”
The masked vigilante swept back over to the window. The Prime Minister called out after them.
“And who the hell are you?!”
The figure stopped in the window and turned to face the Prime Minister.
“I am Citizen Red.”
The door shook under the impact from the other side. The Prime Minister ran his hands through his tangled, sweaty mop of hair.
Citizen Red leapt through the window and out into the awaiting London night.
The door finally gave way, crashing open as an armed police officer burst into the room.
“Where the hell have you been?!” yelled the Prime Minister.
The officer was looking from the Prime Minister to the broken window.
“Prime Minister? What happened?”
“An intruder! There was… there was an intruder, an attacker, a masked menace in here!”
“What? Who? Where did they go?”
“I don’t know who! Just… jumped back out the window.”
The officer ran to the window, looking out into the street below.
“Can’t see anyone. Can you describe- was it a man or a woman?”
“Man. No… I think- I don’t know, they were all covered in armour, using some sort of voice-changing thing, wearing a mask. I don’t know!”
“You have no idea who this might have been?” asked the officer.
The Prime Minister held his arms out in frustration.
“No! It was absurd! And they were in a mask, like in those strikes… all red, little black visor. They just sort of… I don’t know… looked like a letterbox!”
The officer raised an eyebrow.
“Maybe we should take a statement in the morning… when you have a clearer head, Prime Minister?”
The morning brought a wave of responses to the video. Many critical of Citizen Red, many supportive.
More and more red masks started to appear on the streets.
The fight back was beginning. The people were not scared, would not stay silent, would not be defeated. A statement had been made, a rallying cry sent, and a truth discovered by the people.
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the red flag flying here.
Citizen Red exists in a dystopian future – a future where the problems we feel in Britain today have reached a breaking point and the institutions of law, order and government can no longer be trusted to save any one of us from the system that has been weaponised against us.
This dystopian future is not set many decades, or even a few years, from now. It is days away. But we can stop it.
Use your vote to save Britain on Thursday 12th December.
The fight back starts right now.