No one remembers when The Takeover began.
It wasn't sudden. It didn't happen fast. They didn't walk out of their houses one day to find the movie theatres all shut down. Fun park gates weren't suddenly locked. TV stations didn't go to static all at once. The Ban didn't happen overnight.
Art was leached out. Entertainment was drained away through shallow wounds.
There was a tragedy, though it's fuzzy now what it was. The way only history scholars know what started the First World War; it'd be a quiz show question if there were still quiz shows. But it's not just history that's written by the winners when the first amendment's a goner. When you live in the Land of the Censored and the Home of the Gutless, the winners give you the current events. Even the Weekly World News and the Inquirer tell stories of rates of violence, drug use and fucking obscenities taking a cliff dive.
The economy's fine because there is no economy. The entertainment industry is gone because there is no entertainment. L.A. is a No-Zone.
Gabe was two-thirds of the way down a bottle of Skyy when the CNN scroll announced that they were reinstating prohibition. Three days later, there was a looping, silent advertisement for USDA beef—complete with June Cleaver pulling the roast from the oven—where CNN had been. Gabe's stomach turned for all sorts of reasons.
The padlocks were on the doors of every club in New Jersey the next night.
Gabe was a lot of things, most of them pretty suspect, but he was not a quitter.
Midtown kept playing shows in the buildings that the government had condemned. In the old clubs and abandoned venues that had been shut down and forced out by government decree. And since Gabe had never been in the same room as subtle, he continued to flash it. After The Takeover, Midtown filled venues like they were house parties, people shoved in from all sides, coming from all over.
Nate turned sixteen, and shoved into the back of his friend's beat up Toyota Supra with four other dudes. The car was gold and rust, and built the year before he was born. He spent half the trip sitting in someone else's lap, laughing, too many people shoved into not enough space.
He knows, vaguely, that at the time his neck had hurt from tilting his head to avoid hitting the ceiling with it. Everyone kept bitching about their ass being numb. The tape deck kept eating tapes, like they weren't a valuable commodity now. They drove from Georgia to New Jersey, going back and forth between REM's Eponymous, on a cassette tape they'd found shoved under the passenger's seat, and a static-filled Dixie Chicks wishing they were Stevie Nicks, the volume turned up high only when they were on a open road, with no one else around.
They'd started searching the lockers at school and confiscating CDs and mp3 players. Another record store was shut down every day. They didn't know it would be the last Midtown show, but they knew there wouldn't be many more left.
Between the crush of bodies and the thrum of the bass, no one heard the boots marching across the dried-beer-sticky floor. At least, not at first. Rob faltered, missed a measure and went back to it too slow. Nate turned around in time to watch the last of them come in, marching one by one, lined up shoulder to shoulder. The fucking National Guard called in to break up a club show, dressed like a SWAT team.
"Listen, kids," Gabe said, never letting the bass line drop. "No, don't look at them—listen to me." And everyone did. Nate pushed closer to the stage, one of his friends tugging on his sleeve, and two more already three people back. "Listen, kids. Times they are a-changing."
Gabe laughed, fingers still steady, chin held high. "All you motherfuckers out in this crowd, yeah, even you assholes here to break it up, all of you better remember this. When you go home, you tell your friends, and your brothers and your sisters, and one day, you tell your kids; you can't take dancing away from Kevin Bacon, and you can't take music away from any of us. I'll be music's fucking Al Capone, motherfucker. And if I'm going down, then I'm going down like this. It's the end of the goddamn world, and I feel just fucking fine."
Nate laughed, still cheering as he was pulled out the door to the familiar beats of REM. He was soaked in sweat, and his fingers were shaking with adrenaline and something in the back of his throat that burned like hope.
They got stuck in Maryland around dawn, because the borders had closed and they didn't have the right documentation. Nate sat in the used-to-be police station shackled to a folding chair. The uniforms the officers wore were the same ones from last night. The same ones that had been on the news with the shut down of every movie theater, concert venue, and record store in the country. Nate tapped out a rhythm on his thigh as they ripped the radio out of the car.
They started rounding up anyone with a tattoo for "questioning in regards to suspicions of dangerous, illegal, and/or immoral activity."
By all rights, the most shocking thing about Pete's arrest was that it took until October.
He'd spent weeks pretty much locked in Patrick's basement, carving piano keys into the Stumps' old wobbly-legged coffee table with a steak knife, while Patrick learned to build a guitar. He'd scribble notes until his fingers ached, when everything started closing in, but it never really helped. Patrick would hum some Sinatra, quietly so only Pete could hear, fingers sliding along two dimensional piano keys, and Pete's chest would ache with missed opportunities.
He took a walk, because sometimes looking at Patrick was like looking at the sun. Sometimes all he could think was how fucking unfair it all was.
They grabbed him off the street, and he'd been so careful, too. His jeans were loose, his shirt tucked in, his hands in fists inside the pocket of his hoodie.
Rumor had it uniforms were next. An entire nation confined to navy blue and beige. Like they could disband gangs by taking away their colors. Like if everyone dressed the same, suddenly there wouldn't be any Bloods or Crips or DecayDance.
Pete was shoved into the back of a modern day paddywagon with ten others. They took his belt away before they pushed him in, though. And he understood that, at least, perfectly clearly, as one kid kept banging his head against the metal side, and nine others stared on in smeared-mascara blank eyed horror. After all, they didn't close the borders to keep other people out.
They had an even dozen before they were taken back for processing—a dozen arrested because their jeans were too tight, or their hair was too long, or their fingernails were painted black—and put in what used to be a maximum security prison before The Takeover redefined the term. No change of clothes, no charges filed, no phone calls made. Guantanamo Bay probably had better due process.
On his third day, shivering in the Chicago wind, hands shoved into the pocket of his hoodie and his shoulders hunched against the chill, Pete met Gabe.
Well, to be accurate, he met Bubba, two hundred and fifty pounds of white supremacist bundled into a five foot four frame and an orange jump suit. He had the Confederate flag tattooed around his neck like an ascot.
"Listen," Bubba said, barely above a whisper, when Pete was backed up against the chain link fence. He grabbed Pete's wrist when Pete tried to edge to the left, laughing nervously. Bubba, an extreme close talker, smelled like sweat and sour milk. His knuckles read "rusty cage." If he cared that Pete didn't want to die today, he tried very hard not to show it. "Stop," he said, tightening his fingers around Pete's wrist briefly, and then not letting go.
" Jesus. You were in that band, right?" he asked, as Pete stared at the crucifix branded into his forehead, shocked silent. Fortunately, Bubba didn't care to wait for a response. "Listen," he repeated, "first offence is five. They don't tell you this. They won't 'til they open the gates and push you on the other side. You've got a couple more days and then you're back on the outside of the fence."
Pete nodded, bile in the back of his throat, and his heart pounding louder than his amp ever did.
"Gabe Saporta's got a message, and I think you need to hear it."
As far as recruitment techniques went, it wasn't bad.
"Yeah," Pete said, nodding again. For real this time, as reckless and carefree as everyone used to accuse him of being. "Yeah, dude," he laughed, overly loud, and didn't manage to rein it in on time. Gabe fucking Midtown Saporta, not going down without a fight. "Take me to your leader."
Travie learned pretty early on that there were an untold amount of people out there just going through the motions, following orders, trying to meet the lowest expectations placed on them. He'd been watching people struggling to put forth the least amount of effort possible and still survive all his life. The Takeover didn't make a difference to that one way or another.
It wasn't like it happened by popular vote.
There weren't a lot of people Travie crossed paths with who bought in one hundred percent. There was always one thing or another they weren't sure was really right. And it wasn't like it'd raised anybody's way of life up out of anything. Only real difference between now and then was how important your level of dedication became to everyone else.
But his circle, his friends, they were the True Believers. Capital letters required.
It started with Nate, picked up as he was trying to cross the street. His second offence, though no one had ever been able to figure out why he'd been arrested the first time. It didn't matter. They fingerprinted you when you left, so they could track you. Second stint meant five months inside the yards, five months outside of them, probably serving out slop to the troops.
And somewhere between Ryland breaking the news and Suarez's very emphatic, "oh, shit" Travie started drawing a different set of lines. "Guards overlook things all the time."
Ryland paused, legs spread out across the cramped space to tap his toes against Suarez's ankle, something slow as water dripping from a leaky faucet. "You want to bake him cookies?"
"A cake with a nail file?" Suarez countered, straightening his tie.
In the end, getting Nate, that was easy. They had things other people wanted, or they had a way to get them. They bought Nate's freedom with a Janis Joplin album, a book of poetry, and a box of wine.
They got cocky after that, trading illicit goods for whoever they could get, meeting in back alleys and the empty parking lots of abandoned buildings. They'd gotten fifteen people out in the first six months of business.
But when the message finally came through, when Pete finally made it to Travie's, they all had to stop, had to take a deep breath. Saporta wasn't like the others. He wasn't someone they wouldn't miss. Maybe Midtown never would've been legend, but Gabe stood up when everyone else was afraid. When no one else did. He'd made some enemies in pretty high places.
Travie blinked once, and everything was different when he opened his eyes. Like The Takeover had never happened, and they were all hanging out in his living room, the whole wide world in front of them.
Travie shrugged, threw an arm around Pete and pulled him into a sideways hug, tucked against his side. "It's like my man here's always saying," he said, drawing out the words with a grin, "Believers never die."
When William was younger, when he was supposed to be sleeping, he'd sneak down the stairs. He knew by the age of six the wood wouldn't creak if he kept his back along the wall as he went down. His Batman pajamas would scrape against the wood paneling, and he'd sit on the bottom stair, knees pulled to his chest and listen to his mom sing along with the radio as she did the dishes.
He tried to tell this story to Travis once, his chin on his knees and his tongue thick. It was too dark to see anything but the burned out orange outline of their last match, and they'd been awake for too many hours. They'd been doing impersonations of pretzels; folding too many miles of limbs up together in the space under the stairs of Mrs. and Mr. J. Smith, a couple of used-to-be hippies with more to lose than they had to gain, who refused to be afraid anyway. William's hands had been shaking and his stomach was performing some kind of complicated acrobatic routine with his lungs.
They didn't have their papers yet.
Travis had wrapped an arm around his shoulder, traced an intricate pattern on the back of William's neck with the pad of his thumb, and said absolutely nothing. There were too many voices in the kitchen, raining down to them through the floorboards. They couldn't catch the words, or the tone.
All they got was the melody, the cadence, the rhythm of speech that they couldn't take away. The distinct impression of conversation you don't really get, like falling asleep in the car listening to everyone else talk.
He'd told Travis the thing they took that he missed the most were the shows. The bass reverberating in his limbs, the ringing in his ears, the entire crowd singing along until their throats were raw, the kick drum echoing through him. The way the microphone made his voice electric, and sweat dripped down his spine, and he had the entire room at his fingertips.
Travis had tapped the back of his neck again, and William had a cramp in his lower back, one knee practically under Travis's chin, dust in his chest, and the sharp edge of a table shoving hard into his upper arm. He laughed in a huff, soft and quiet enough not to be heard.
"All I wanna do," William had whispered, not quite shaking his head, '90s songs stuck in his head again.
William would always wake up in his own bed. When he got too big to carry, he got too big to sneak down and listen. He'd lost his accidental Top 40 lullabies to natural causes long before they could be taken away. But when he'd seen the first notice of condemnation stapled to the door of a club that was underground in name only, with his guitar on his back and his heart in his throat, he didn't hear the sirens, or his dreams shattering, or the crowd of kids huddled together and crying; he heard the echo of his mother singing "Round Here."
A week after Gabe had been arrested, every radio station went to static.
A month after his escape, he sat down across from William, jagged scar on his face still new skin pink, and brought out his used-car-dealer smile.
William laughed, throat so dry it ached, before Gabe could start the sales pitch. "Are you ready for it?"
"Yeah," Gabe said, his grin sharp and sudden and disgustingly unafraid. "Shit, yeah. Bring it."
Downstairs, the party was in full swing. Gabe had found them a fucking opening act; another band as reckless and determined as his.
The price just kept climbing steadily higher for what they did, though. For crowded shows with hundreds of kids. For music. The True Believers weren't able to get to the last few before they were publically executed as a warning. Some band of kids, taken in and put down because they didn't follow the orders of The Takeover.
This party got busted up, it wouldn't be another round of overcrowded prison camps and making friends out of enemies who happened to agree on a point or two. No, they got caught this time, they'd be swinging like bank robbers in the old West. But if they wanted to take music away from him, they were going to have to pry it out of his cold dead hands.
The word had spread fast once he'd gotten Wentz involved. Once he'd gotten free again. It went from kid to kid, from underground party to underground party. It was sort of like the old scene all over again. Like punk in California before Green Day signed a recording contract.
After he got out, he found a new band, his old one too afraid to buck the system again for more than a night spent crashing on their couches. He found a new family. New brothers and sisters to play with, to play for. Like a rebirth. The True Believers gave him a chance for a whole new life, new papers and new place. But he was never gonna do anything else with it. Never could've stood it if he'd tried.
Gabe took the stage with a flourish, but no fancy light show to be found, while some techs rig up the equipment. He kept his hood up and his hat pulled down, the brightest fucking neon sunglasses he could find firmly in place.
"I had a dream," Gabe said, only halfway to serious, pointing a finger to the sky, "where a cobra from the future visited me and told me that it was our duty to take the music back. To take it all back, consequences be damned. Cause it may be the end of the world, motherfuckers, but I'm throwing the motherfucking party."
Pete—the arrogant, dissenting little shit—called out from his too-cool-for-school perch along the back wall, "Less talk, more action, Saporta!"
"I'll give you action," Gabe said and grabbed his crotch.
The kids were packed in tight, wall-to-wall and shoulder-to-shoulder, sweaty and smiling and alive. The laughter rolled through them like a wave. Like the death cough of their everyday lives of toeing the line.
"Fangs up, bitches," he called, throwing his hands in the air.
Everyone in the room followed, cheering loudly. Like they believed. Like they believed they could do this.
The band was set up, finally, his team right behind and beside him. Gabe grinned, because he couldn't help it. "Now, I don't know if you've noticed this or not, but, the city is at war," he said, finishing as they fell into the song and the lights went down.
They could do this.