FREE PREVIEW: read the first chapter of Rico Dredd: The Titan Years Book Two!

Read a free preview chapter of Michael Carroll's new prose novella about Judge Dredd's corrupt clone brother, Rico!

8 months ago

The next chapter in the back story of Judge Dredd's corrupt clone brother, Rico, is available to pre-order now!

Every fan knows the cautionary tale of Rico Dredd, the Judge who went bad - but his story didn't end when he was consigned to Titan by his own brother! The Process of Elimination is the latest prose novella from veteran Dredd writer Michael Carroll that delves into Rico's history and gives voice to this haunting presence in Judge Dredd's life.

Out on 3rd October, The Process of Elimination is available to pre-order as an ebook from Amazon and Rebellion Publishing's ebook store!

Pre-order for Amazon Kindle >>
Pre-order on the Rebellion Publishing store >>

"Everyone breaks, that's what they say about Titan. Everyone breaks. But not me. Not Rico Dredd. Not even when they cut out my lungs, injected every inch of my skin with cold-resistant polymers, plastic-coated my eyes and sealed up my mouth and nose.

"You don’t get to become Mega-City One’s top Judge without learning how to adapt, how to survive. I know the score. The prison is an unforgiving hell, but do your time, keep your head down, and you just might make it out alive.

"Then I was chosen for a rescue mission out on the surface, and everything changed. A dark secret was uncovered, and suddenly even I was pushed to breaking point."

Buy The Third Law, the first book in the Rico Dredd: The Titan Years series, in ebook or paperback >>

Rico Dredd: The Titan Years

Titan
2084 AD
Chapter One

It’s said that even the toughest prisoner is no match for Titan. Everyone breaks, they say.

The cold, the storms, the darkness, the endless labour, the sporadic nocturnal screaming sessions, the ever-present danger from the guards and the other prisoners, the days that last three hundred and eighty-two hours, the constant risk of suffocation in Titan’s toxic air, the food so utterly bland that sometimes you’d happily murder everyone on the whole drokkin’ moon just for the chance to lick the pot a potato had been boiled in.

Most prisoners broke, eventually; a few didn’t. I didn’t. Never broke down, never once allowed myself to roll over and expose that emotional underbelly. Displaying a weakness like that in such a hostile environment is the equivalent of handing the other guy a gun and showing him where on your chest you wanted him to aim.

Cadmus Robert Holland—male, Caucasian, fifty-something—finally crumbled, more than a year into his sentence. We’d long since exhausted the pool on him and just taken it as solid that he wasn’t going to crack.

We all knew why Holland was there, of course, known that from the start. He’d murdered his brother. Bludgeoned him to death with his fists in a frenzy of pure rage. For someone not trained in hand-to-hand combat, that’s a pretty impressive feat. Sure, anyone can knock someone over so they hit their head and that kills them, but to actually cave in a human skull using only your knuckles? That takes a special kind of fury.

Otherwise, the only remarkable thing about Cadmus Holland was that he was one of the final batch of Mega-City One citizens sentenced to Titan. Other cities kept sending civilians for the next few years, but someone in the Big Meg had decided that the mining colony on Titan was too harsh a punishment for cits, and fit only for wayward Judges.

It was late November, 2084. A bunch of us had been assigned to cable-duty on J-shaft. Assignments were usually fixed, and most of the time I was outside the prison compound, but sometimes a dig would be picked clean and we’d have to wait until another one was found; or sometimes, the weather was just too bad. That was when they put us on J. It wasn’t the worst duty—that would be waste management, and believe me, you do not want to know the details—but it was hard work, especially pulley duty.

The shaft was inside the prison compound, and was the primary reason the prison had been built just there. A rich, almost vertical seam of iridium ore that even after all these years still hadn’t been exhausted. The yield was about a kilogramme of iridium for every two tonnes we dug out. That might not sound like much, but it gave the average astrogeologist palpitations.

The shaft was a narrow cone, fifty metres across at the surface and three hundred metres deep, with a few small side-tunnels that snaked away, following smaller deposits. It was covered by a sturdy, three-storey-high framework, housing thirty or so mechanical pulley blocks.

That day, former Sov Judge Zera Kurya and I joined eighteen other prisoners hauling on the pulley cables, two prisoners to a cable. We nodded the usual greetings to the teams on either side of us—Cadmus Holland and Artherus Schiller were on our right—and then untied our cables and started to pull.

Arm over arm, steadily hoisting up huge steel buckets of ore. When they reached the pulley block we switched to a second cable that pulled the bucket forward until it was clear of the pit, then tipped it into the back of a waiting truck.

The trucks took the ore to the smelter, which refined the metal, depositing bars of iridium in neat stacks. Back on Earth, any one of those bars could set someone up for life. Here on Titan, they were just piled up, waiting for the next ship to collect them.

It took an average of four hundred arm-pulls to get a bucket up from the lowest level of the pit. I know: I’d counted. It was exhausting, tedious, backbreaking work and everyone hated it. Most jobs in the prison you’d find someone who didn’t mind it, but not this.

New fish always think that they’ll be okay with it, and for the first few hours it’s not so bad. The buckets weigh about half a tonne fully laden; but with two people lifting, that’s only two-hundred and fifty kilogrammes each. And the pulley block has a ten-to-one ratio—for every metre you pull, the bucket is raised ten centimetres—so you’re really only lifting twenty-five kilograms. In Titan’s low gravity, that’s hardly any work at all.

Until you have to do it over and over, a twelve-hour shift, in your bulky, uncomfortable environment suit, on your feet the whole time. You get three twenty-minute breaks per shift, and no talking if certain guards are supervising.

I had it a little easier because mods only do ten-hour shifts when we’re working outside: after that, we have to purge our sinus filters, and no one wants to see that.

Six hours into the shift our supervising guard, Delaney, called second break. Delaney was a barrel-chested man with rosy cheeks and white bushy eyebrows. Donny Guildford had once whispered to me that he looked like Santa Claus had gone into witness protection, and it’d stuck with me ever since. We liked him; he was one of those guards who wasn’t paranoid enough to equate casual conversation with sedition.

As we all gratefully tied off our cables and sat down on the frozen ground, Cadmus Holland said, “I’m done.”

Artherus Schiller asked, “You’ve done what?”

Inside his helmet, Holland slowly shook his head. “I can’t go on. This drokkin’ place... The air is poison, nothing grows in the frozen dirt, the storms wind can tear you apart. And for what? For this.” He picked up a small chunk of rock and bounced it in the palm of his hand. “Iridium.” He pointed straight up. “There are whole asteroids made of the stuff up there. Much closer to home than we are.” To Kurya, he said, “I heard your people are talking about setting up a mass-driver in the asteroid belt. Shoot the damn things at Earth, let them burn up in the atmosphere, save the cost of smelting them to get the ore out. That’s the way it should be done.”

“Probably wasn’t their idea,” Schiller said. “The Sovs don’t invent. They just take other people’s ideas. You know? Communism. Even the ideas belong to the state. No offence, Kurya.”

“Die in pain,” she responded, calmly.

I said, “Schiller, shut that down right now. And you can drop the ‘I can’t take it any more’ attitude, too, Holland. You can and you will. Your first week, you thought you weren’t going to survive, am I right?”

He nodded. “Yeah, but—”

“You were wrong then. Never thought you’d make it through your first month, either, or your first year. Same as the rest of us. But you were wrong then, too. You did make it. Now you think you can’t make it to the end of your sentence. What makes you right about that when you were wrong before?”

Schiller gave a half-laugh, half-snort. “Dredd’s right. You’ll get back to Earth. Start your life over.”

Then Holland said, “Without my brother.”

“Yeah, well you’re the one who caved in his skull. You crack an egg, you can’t go complaining that the yolk is leaking out, right?”

Normally, Holland would have either completely ignored that, or responded with a brisk head-butt. This time, he just nodded.

Schiller flashed me a look that said, That’s interesting... Then he asked, “Why’d you do it, Holland? You spent eighteen years taking care of your brother, and then one day you just snapped.”

Holland sighed long and deep, and the strength and life just seemed to slip out of him like a punctured airbed.

I knew from previous conversations that Holland had grown up believing in Mega-City One, in the Justice Department. He’d lost friends and family in the war—on both sides—but had never lost his faith in humanity. In the end, no matter what the odds, the good in people will triumph.

That’s what he believed. That was at the core of Cadmus Robert Holland’s being: the notion that people are inherently good. There are some who stray from time to time, but there is always a nucleus of goodness deep inside even the most hardened, most bloodthirsty criminal.

I guess he was right about that. Back in the Meg I got to know a lot of people who have one foot firmly in the gutter. The department classifies them as criminals, but ignores the good that they do. A woman can spend her entire life and all her pay making clothes for the homeless, but she shoplifts one can of lettuce-freshener and she’s labelled a thief.

I’ve already mentioned my friend Evan Quasarano. Grew up in the ghetto, joined a gang, became a small-time crook. Why’d he do that? Because he knew nothing else. His mother struggled to keep the family fed and clothed, his father was long gone and his grandfathers constantly bickered. They’d been on different sides during the war and every family get-together was destined to go down the ‘What the drokk did you just say?’ route. More than once I’d had to pry the two old guys apart, stop them from killing each other over the dinner table.

Evan was a thief, a thug, a low-life numbers-runner and occasional bodyguard. All before his eighteenth birthday. Did that make him a bad person? No, just misguided. I’d spent a lot of time with him, listening to his barely-formed opinions and regurgitations of other people’s ideas, and I could tell that Evan was just ignorant, and maybe a bit dumb. But I once saw him give half a bag of crawbies to a kid who’d had his own stash stolen before he could sell it, all because he knew that kid’s mother would have beaten him if he’d come home empty-handed. You can’t tell me that’s something a bad person would do.

People are a little selfish, maybe, but when they take the time to step outside their own lives and see things from other perspectives, they generally do realise that we’re all in this together. I’m not saying that it’s altruism, doing good for no reward or recognition, but that’s not the point. Every good thing we do helps make the world a better place—and who doesn’t want to live in a better world?

That had always been Cadmus Holland’s stance. Broderick—his younger brother—had apparently been a nice guy, doing pretty well at school, had some good friends. He’d been well-adjusted and well-liked by most people.

Holland said, “Something happened to him the day after a bunch of us went to the Festival of Wheels.”

Schiller said, “I remember that. We couldn’t go—Papa said it was too expensive to get to Mega-City One.”

Holland nodded slowly for a moment, then calmly said, “You’ve been begging me forever to tell you, so shut the drokk up and listen.”

Schiller grinned. He was never the sort to take offence easily.

“Broderick was thirteen years old,” Holland said. “We’d had a good time at the festival but the next morning he didn’t respond when I woke him up for school. I mean, he got up, but he didn’t say anything. Went off to school still not talking to me. I figured he was angry with me for something, but you know kids—you can’t read their minds. That night I got a call from his school. Broderick hadn’t spoken to anyone all day, not even when his teachers asked him directly.

 “So I went into his room and said, ‘The hell’s the matter with you?’ Nothing. ‘You’re not talking to me?’ Still nothing. I figured it would blow over in a few days, but I was wrong. I could see it in his eyes sometimes that he wanted to speak, but he just couldn’t. I gave him a pencil and a pad, but he just threw them aside. Same with the datapad. After the second week I brought him to the doctor. Those first brain-scans alone cost me a month’s salary, but they didn’t show up anything wrong. No damage, no lesions, no parasites. Broderick had just lost the ability, or the will, to speak.

“We did have some medical insurance, but the drokkers refused to pay up without an official diagnosis, so I had to pay for everything. Sold the car. Sold the house to cover a four-week stint in the Tremaine Clinic, but still they couldn’t find anything wrong. Had to move into a crappy one-bedroom stomm-hole on the west side after that. And then...” Holland looked up. “That day. Broderick was thirty. We’d been living with his condition for seventeen years. We were out, scouring the market down under the flyovers... I thought that maybe I could get him a job somewhere that it didn’t matter that he couldn’t speak. At that stage we were so broke I was dealing zizz to juves. So we saw this market stand where an old guy was selling dead-shirts. He—”

Kurya interrupted. “Dead-shirts?”

I answered for him. “Clothing taken from bodies at Resyk. Used to be that the Resyk centres just incinerated the stiffs’ shoes and clothing, but then they started using it as landfill. Some people steal the clothes from the landfills and sell them. It was actually quite the fashion for a while. I remember—” I caught the look in Holland’s eye. “Sorry. Go on.”

Holland said, “I asked the old guy if he needed help getting the stuff, and he said, ‘Yeah, maybe. Not easy work, though. You strong?’ I said, ‘I am, but it’s not me looking for the job. It’s my brother Broderick here.’

“And then Broderick said, ‘It’s about drokkin’ time!’”

Kurya said, “So he had not lost the ability to speak?”

“No. No, he hadn’t. I asked him what the hell was going on, and he told me that seventeen years earlier, the night before that first morning, just before he went to bed... We’d been joking about someone we knew. He didn’t even remember who it was, but that’s not important. What is important is that we both said, ‘Yeah, that guy’s insane!’ at the same time. And... and then I said, ‘Jinx.’”

We all stared at Holland.

Schiller muttered, “Stomm...”

I said, “No way. No way he kept that up for seventeen years!”

Holland said, “He did. Stubborn little drokker. That was the rule, see. Two of you say the same thing at the same time, then if one of you says ‘jinx’ before either of you say anything else, then the other one can’t speak until the first one says their name.”

Schiller asked, “In all that time you never said his name? Not even when you were speaking to a doctor about him?”

“Sure I did, but apparently not when he was around to hear me use it. He said I’d just referred to him as ‘my brother.’” Holland stared down at his hands. “I’d put my entire life aside and spent every credit we had trying to find out what was wrong with him and he could have put a stop to it at any time with a note on a scrap of paper. So I hit him. And I couldn’t stop. He was long dead by the time the Judges came, and even then they had to shoot me to get me away from him.”

No one could think of anything to say after that.