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Dying to be famous – JUDGES: (IN)FAMOUS out now!

The exciting series charting the collapse of America and the rise of the Judges continues – buy Judges: (In)famous by Zina Hutton now!!

Read an exclusive extract >>

JUDGES: (In)famous by Zina Hutton is the latest in the JUDGES novella series exploring the origins of Judge Dredd’s world.

United States of America, 2057 A.D. Judge Kiera Clayton’s young, idealistic… and bored, watching videos to kill the time. Amara Dawson’s bid for internet fame isn’t paying off—until she attracts the attention of a group of viral pranksters.

But Amara’s not prepared for how far the gang are prepared to take things, and she’s going to need help. What’s wrong with wanting to be famous?

The (In)famous ebook is available from, the 2000 AD app and Amazon’s Kindle store. Or you can pre-order one of 150 copies of the special edition paperback from the 2000 AD webshop now!






Listen to Stitch (aka Zina Hutton) discuss their novella on The 2000 AD Thrill-Cast:

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What price, fame? Read an extract of the new JUDGES novella

The exciting series charting the collapse of America and the rise of the Judges continues – read the exclusive extract below and pre-order the special edition paperback now!

JUDGES: (In)famous by Zina Hutton is the latest in the JUDGES novella series exploring the origins of Judge Dredd’s world.

United States of America, 2057 A.D. Judge Kiera Clayton’s young, idealistic… and bored, watching videos to kill the time. Amara Dawson’s bid for internet fame isn’t paying off—until she attracts the attention of a group of viral pranksters.

But Amara’s not prepared for how far the gang are prepared to take things, and she’s going to need help. What’s wrong with wanting to be famous?

The (In)famous ebook will be available from, the 2000 AD app and Amazon’s Kindle store on 1 December. Or you can pre-order one of 150 copies of the special edition paperback from the 2000 AD webshop now!






Timm Block
Monday, January 22, 2057

My first video gets fifty views on my ViewTube channel, Amaramaramara, in the first week.

I wasn’t expecting a million—of course not, nothing that high—but only fifty? That’s messed up. Counting my extremely extended family, the people I hang out with when I’m forced to drop into meatspace interactions, and the people who I’m friends with thanks to the online school session I (thankfully) finished last year—

That’s not a lot.

And it’s not fair.

If it were just the views, I don’t think I’d mind so much. After all, this is my first attempt at being somebody online. Ultimately, I know I’m a nobody and it’s not as if I expected instafame or fortune. But only fifty views after everything? After all the work I’d put into the video—the editing software I’d splurged on with my allowance, the cool mystery script I’d written, having to bribe all of my annoying little siblings into rehearsing and performing—

No one cares, but they should’ve. 

I worked so hard on getting everything together: hours of research on ViewTube, making sure that my video fit the ones trending, and had linked to everyone I could, urging anyone with the slightest amount of clout to share the video. It was the perfect video and yet, no bites. Barely any views.

In fact, the only comment on the video after the first few days is from one of my cousins on the other side of the city where we used to live.

So, pretty much nobody and no one.

I stare down at the comment from my cousin, a simple line of text that says Yo Amara, you’re killing it, and consider deleting it. It’s obviously not a bad comment and I guess I like my cousin, but— 

This isn’t what I want.

Before I can click the little X next to the comment, I hear the sudden sound of chaos from the world outside of my tiny cube of a bedroom. First a loud clatter, and then the sound of shouting. It’s a familiar noise in our home once my younger siblings disengage from their school sessions and turn on each other for offline entertainment. I hate that I can figure out what time it is based on how loud the rest of the apartment gets every day.

As much as I love my siblings—most of the time—I also wish I wasn’t in charge of them all the time these days. Four children, four energetic personalities too big for a single teenager like me to handle. Before we’d moved into the family suite in the massive in-progress complex that our parents would be responsible for managing, I didn’t have to spend all my time with my siblings. We’d lived in a smaller building, one with an in-person school for them. Just a few months ago, my siblings—the twins Ria and Darren, Minnie stuck in the middle, and baby Tracey—had friends. They had more than each other. Most importantly? They had other, older people in charge of them.

People that weren’t me.

But moving to the new building where our parents have Responsibilities, as thousands of residents file in to fill the apartments as they’re finished and furnished, has changed things. Instead of teachers watching my siblings, I have to spend time with them so they don’t short-circuit our section of the apartment or set the building on fire. With thousands of people in the building so far, even the parks on the upper floors are off limits for them. So, I’m stuck in here with them more often than not because our parents have to do things like ‘work’ and ‘manage the move-in for all the residents’ and a ton of other boring things that I don’t exactly keep track of, but that keeps our parents away for most of the day. 

And I hate it.

The door to my tiny bedroom slides open with a muted hiss that’s quickly overshadowed by the sound of every single one of my siblings rushing in and shouting over one another. It’s just loud and a lot all at once.

I wince, resisting the urge to cover my ears with my hands. I know I should be used to this by now because it’s an everyday occurrence, but I feel like my head is about to crack open. All of my siblings that can talk do. I catch snatches of the complaints, but none of the word spill makes sense.

Not at first.

I minimise the window on my screen and then turn around so that I can look at my siblings with a stern look straight up stolen from our busy mother. “One at a time or else I kick you all out and put a lock code on my door.”

It’s a threat that only works because they’re all so desperate to speak to someone with some kind of parental power. If our parents weren’t out of the suite from dawn until dinner time, this wouldn’t work. But I’m the only person that can deliver any judgements about the dozens of petty little problems they have across the day, and so they fall in line.

Silence reigns for a moment before Darren, with Tracey on his hip, pushes forward past his sisters and says, “Can you please tell Minnie to leave my game alone?” That sets off the other two, and their volume ratchets up another nearly deafening level until I wince and reach for the headset dangling over the edge of my monitor. The headset is a pricey VR one someone got me as a gift for graduating. It’s the kind that blocks out everything, and the kids clock the threat for what it is. If the headset goes on, I won’t surface from the VR communities I have been haunting until it’s past all of their bedtimes.

I thrust the headset out at my scowling siblings, brandishing it almost like I would a weapon, and say, “If you’re going to be loud like this…”

Silence follows the dangling end of my warning as the sullen quartet in front of me tries to show that they’re capable of being quiet.

I sigh loudly and let the headset drop down to my lap. Here’s the thing: I know that my siblings won’t simply go quietly into the rest of the apartment. If I don’t go out with them, they’ll be back within the hour and louder than before. “I’m only doing this because I want you all to stop arguing,” I say, directing a sharp and scathing look at the kids in front of me. “Give me ten minutes to check my messages and shut down, and I’ll be right out,” I say. When Ria opens her mouth wide to complain, I snap my fingers and then point sharply at the door to their bedroom. “Ten minutes of quiet out there or I put the headset on and pretend you goblins don’t exist until it’s time for us to eat. Choose wisely.”

The kids nearly trample each other on the way out, returning me to the dark silence from before. It should feel good to be respected, but it doesn’t.

That’s the thing, though: I only feel seen and surrounded by my siblings. And even then, they’re seeing me as a parent replacement, not as Amara-as-a-person.

At every other point—even more so with this ViewTube thing—it feels as though I’m trying to be seen in a crowd and no one’s looking in my direction.

With that on my mind, I’m prepared for more of the same when I glance back at my monitor and then prepare myself to delete my cousin’s comment on ViewTube page. But then I notice a bright blue notification at the top of the page.

“A message?” I lean in close to the page as if the proximity will reveal that it’s a fake notification or a glitch on the site. But no, it’s a real message from someone that I really don’t know.

The message is short, but life-changing even in its brevity.

ChannelDel: Your video was good. You should’ve gotten more views. If you’re looking for a way to get a bigger audience, hmu. I recognised the view from the balcony at 5:39. You’re in Timm Block, same as me. If you’re free around 2pm tomorrow, let’s link up at the park on the twentyfifth floor. I’ll be the guy with the pink ponytail and pet rock.—Del

I know, as I read the message, that I should pause to question… all of that. From the fact that the person, this ‘Del,’ figured out where I live from the view outside a balcony, to the whole… pet rock thing, this should be a whole bunch of red flags, and the flags are set on fire.

If not for the fact that I do want fame and fortune and more than fifty-freaking-views, I’d delete the message outright. Because I know better. I’ve seen the crime shows my parents watch when they think we’re all asleep. Even now, things are bad. I know this isn’t smart.

However, desperate times call for desperate measures. And besides, I don’t have that much time before my siblings decide to break down my door and return to chaos.

I reply to the message with a simple OK and then close everything down before I can overthink things and delete my entire account. 

Hopefully, I won’t regret this. 

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‘What Measure Ye Mete’, the latest in the thrilling JUDGES novella series, out now!

The exciting series charting the collpase of America and the rise of the Judges continues – get the special edition paperback and ebook now!

Judge Dredd is still in the future – but the present is scary enough without him! In JUDGES: What Measure Ye Mete, author C. E. Murphy takes you on a thrilling, disturbing case in a world that is slowly falling apart as the police are replaced with the Judges.

Out as now, What Measure Ye Mete is available from, the 2000 AD app and Amazon’s Kindle store, plus you can now order one of 150 copies of the special signed limited edition paperbacl from the 2000 AD webshop!

In 2053, there’s not a lot left for the last few cops of what was once New York City to do. Officer Cera Cortez once dreamed of chasing down killers, but now she mostly just puts a friendly face on the implacable justice of the Judges.

Until a tiny robot falls onto her face screaming murder, giving her one last chance to do her job—and signs point to the killer being a Judge…







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A routine stop, a gunshot, the world changes – get the new JUDGES novella!

The exciting series charting the collapse of America and the rise of the Judges continues – buy now in ebook and special edition paperback!

JUDGES: Necessary Evil by Michael Carroll is the latest in the JUDGES novella series exploring the origins of Judge Dredd’s world.

United States of America, 2051 A.D. Chief Eustace Fargo is dead…

A routine stop, a gunshot, and the world changes. It’s been twenty years since Francesco Deacon first put on the badge, and it grows heavier every year; but today more than ever, there’s work to do.

And then Judges in Philadelphia pick up Dallas Hawker, a long-time fugitive and Deacon’s closest ever link to a crime-lord he’s been chasing his whole career…

The Necessary Evil ebook is available from, the 2000 AD app and Amazon’s Kindle store. Or you can buy one of 150 copies of the special edition paperback from the 2000 AD webshop now!






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Pre-order ‘What Measure Ye Mete’ – the latest in the thrilling JUDGES novella series!

The exciting series charting the collpase of America and the rise of the Judges continues – pre-order the special edition paperback now!

Judge Dredd is still in the future – but the present is scary enough without him! In JUDGES: What Measure Ye Mete, author C. E. Murphy takes you on a thrilling, disturbing case in a world that is slowly falling apart as the police are replaced with the Judges.

Out as an ebook on 25 August, What Measure Ye Mete will be available from, the 2000 AD app and Amazon’s Kindle store, you can now order one of 150 copies of the special signed limited edition paperbacl from the 2000 AD webshop!

In 2053, there’s not a lot left for the last few cops of what was once New York City to do. Officer Cera Cortez once dreamed of chasing down killers, but now she mostly just puts a friendly face on the implacable justice of the Judges.

Until a tiny robot falls onto her face screaming murder, giving her one last chance to do her job—and signs point to the killer being a Judge…





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A routine stop, a gunshot, and the world changes – pre-order the new JUDGES novella

The exciting series charting the collpase of America and the rise of the Judges continues – pre-order the special edition paperback now!

JUDGES: Necessary Evil by Michael Carroll is the latest in the JUDGES novella series exploring the origins of Judge Dredd’s world.

United States of America, 2051 A.D. Chief Eustace Fargo is dead…

A routine stop, a gunshot, and the world changes. It’s been twenty years since Francesco Deacon first put on the badge, and it grows heavier every year; but today more than ever, there’s work to do.

And then Judges in Philadelphia pick up Dallas Hawker, a long-time fugitive and Deacon’s closest ever link to a crime-lord he’s been chasing his whole career…

The Necessary Evil ebook will be available from, the 2000 AD app and Amazon’s Kindle store on 7 July. Or you can pre-order one of 150 copies of the special edition paperback from the 2000 AD webshop now!




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Judges: Psyche ebook just 99p!

The Judges: Psyche novella ebook is just 99p in the Rebellion Publishing sale!

Written by Maura McHugh, Psyche charts the beginnings of the psychic cops of Psi Division – one of the most powerful tools at the disposal of Justice Department in its fight against crime!

Read the first chapter below and then buy for just 99p from the Rebellion Publishing webshop!

Buy the ebook for just 99p >>

Washington DC, 2044: Phoebe Wise has always known she was different; she joined the Judge programme to get away from all that. But the Department has other ideas. Radical, outrageous ideas.

Mega-City One, 2141: Pam Reed is the best pre-cog Psi-Div has, rushed to a crumbling block in one of the oldest sectors of the Meg to dig through files thought long-lost.

And something has reached across the decades to bring the two Judges together, and protect a future that almost never was.

Psi-Division, Mega-City One

Tuesday, 19 September 2141


Judge Pam Reed dreamed.

As one of Psi-Div’s most dependable and senior pre-cogs (current rating: 81% accuracy), she trained her dreaming mind as hard as she trained her body. She viewed her talent as a virtual Lawgiver, which required skill and discipline to wield effectively. The intel about future potentials she fished out of the entropic currents of time and probability were vital to the preparedness of the Justice Department and the safety of Mega-City One. This was how she uniquely served the citizenry, and she prized her contribution to their welfare.

A scene began to swim into view, one different from the mundane information her unconscious mind sifted through and ordered during sleep. It was overlaid with the indefinable zing of an important vision.

Distantly aware of lying in bed, she brought the thumb and forefinger of her left hand together, which connected a circuit—thanks to embedded nanites—and activated a recording of her vitals as well as video and audio output of her experience. Sometimes she said words or phrases aloud she didn’t remember afterwards. All data could be useful in trying to piece together a better understanding of a prescient dream, which were often jumbled and symbolic.

First, a symbol. Ψ, rotating, followed by the word Psyche, which reverberated with a myriad of associations: secrecy, doubt, power, and fear. She forced the word past her slack lips so it could be noted.

A girl’s face appeared, as if through rippling water. Young, with an engrossed expression. Pam knew that face as well as she knew her own. As if this woman was her—despite her being white, wiry and black-haired, and Pam being black and tall with a fauxhawk. The jolt of recognition startled her enough it nearly knocked her out of the dream, but she was used to tugging on slippery dream-strands; she pulled them back into focus with gentle determination.

The woman was sitting, very still, in the woods.

Woods! Where are there woods any more?

Pam’s sense of self slipped in and merged with the younger woman’s, and the whole scene snapped into being: she could smell the damp mulch under her boots. A slight breeze stirred the branches and leaves into casting shifting puzzles of light and shadow across the forest floor. Birds called to each other sweetly. It had rained earlier in the day; light droplets of water fell on her from above. She was perched on a moss-covered rock, and its cold, hard surface numbed her ass through her water-resistant camo combat trousers. She held a hunting rifle, but mostly she was enjoying the isolation, practising extending her senses as far as she could through the area, seeking light tendrils of thought.

Pam probed slightly, and snagged the woman’s name: Phoebe, or Fee to her friends. But this jostled the woman’s awareness and alerted her to the presence of an alien observer. She stood up and placed her hand upon the rough bark of a large beech tree beside her, reflexively using it to ground and steady herself.

Who’re you, lady?

And Pam sensed a surprisingly hard push against her defences and an attempt to scoop information from her mind. She slammed up her shields, but she was no telepath.

Pam, eh?

Phoebe was looking around the forest, casting a mental mesh that unfurled rapidly out from her, seeking Pam’s physical location.

Didn’t your Mama teach you it was rude to enter a mind without her say-so?

Pam made no reply. The strength of the woman’s focus was unnerving, if a bit raw. Pam began to recoil from the dream: it didn’t feel like prescience. It had the tone of… memory.

Phoebe had narrowed her eyes, and her curiosity transformed into irritation.


And Pam was booted out, unspooling back to her bed, and the darkness of her quiet apartment.

She sat up, and pressed her hands against her heart, which felt like it was going to burst from joy.

She had been in a healthy forest. She’d heard birdsong. She had touched a tree! She inhaled the recycled air in her small bedroom, but the richness of fertile earth and healthy trees lingered.

There had been many times she had hated her talent, especially when Psi-Div separated her from her mother when she was five years old. In this moment, as tears slid down her cheeks, she praised her talent, thanking it for giving her a doorway into an impossible moment.

A beep indicated that Psi-Div Monitor wanted to speak to her.

She quickly wiped away the tears and pressed the sensor on the wall by her bed. A light screen shimmered into view before her, displaying one of the on-duty officers. Behind him other officers sat in front of arrays of screens, listening and noting streams of information from the psis working throughout Mega-City One. They’d been alerted once she started recording her dream.

The man had a neutral expression and an efficient tone. They were trained to deal with agitated psis trying to explain their visions.

“Judge Reed, do you wish to log a warning?”

She shook her head, settling back into the familiar, calm demeanour she worked to maintain. Many of her dreams were bloody visions of death and destruction that lingered with her for weeks or years. It took a great deal of effort—and some meds—not to keep hearing the screams and the cries for help.

“No, nothing like that.”

He looked down and a slight flicker of surprise registered. He’d read something on a feed. “There’s been an alert raised about your voice recording.” He raised his gaze and his tone slid into something more official. “Report to Judge Shenker for debriefing at oh-seven-hundred hours. He will take your verbal report in person.”

“Roger that,” she said. There was no point questioning why the head of Psi-Division wanted to meet her. She’d find out at the meeting.

She rewound and replayed the recording, and watched an IR image of her relaxed face on the pillow, her eyes moving behind their lids.

She only whispered one word: “Psyche.”

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OUT NOW: Judges Omnibus Vol.2 – read the first chapter!

Three stories, one growing nightmare – the second omnibus of the acclaimed JUDGES fiction series is out now in paperback, ebook, and on Kindle!

In the United States of America of 2041, Eustace Fargo’s new justice system has been in effect for eight years. The old days of waiting times and backlogs are over: judgement is quick, and sentencing is instantaneous. The old police academies have all shut down, and the new order is triumphant. But are things any better? Unrest is worse than ever. Criminals are more likely to kill rather than be caught. There’s a war coming for the streets…

Writers Michael Carroll, Maura McHugh, and Joseph Elliott-Coleman delve further into the origins of Judge Dredd’s world as due process is cast aside in the pursuit of instant justice – but will these new officers, invested with the powers of judge, jury and executioner, save the country from itself?

This prose collection is available to order now – and you can read the first chapter below!




St. Christopher, Connecticut

Tuesday, January 4th 2033


“Niño’s gonna flake,” Gabriel Drake Nyby told his boss. “He’s not built for this kind of pressure.”

The passenger seat of Romley’s Tesla was warm and comfortable, and much as Gabe was afraid of Romley, part of him wanted the conversation to go on longer. It was cold out there and the cops were pissed that one of their own had been shot by a Judge. They were liable to take it out on anyone who crossed them.

A block ahead, the four cop cars parked at awkward angles in front of the main entrance to Mercy South Hospital were tinted orange by the setting winter sun.

Romley pursed his lips. “All Niño has to do is put an end to Officer Chaplin. Once that’s done, Chaplin’s colleagues will rebel against the Judges. That’ll give us time to recover our stock.”

Gabe’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he dug it out and flipped open the cover. “Aw man… That’s not going to happen now.” He glanced to the side: Romley was still staring straight ahead, towards the hospital, and as usual wasn’t showing any emotion. “Nodge says the Judges’ve already destroyed the stock. Piled it in the empty lot across from the factory and just torched it. Damn Judges work fast.”

“Yes. They do.” Romley tapped a rapid beat against the steering wheel with his thumbs. “All right… So in your judgement, Niño is not going to be able to go through with it?”

“I doubt it. He’s no killer, Mister Romley. I mean, not in cold blood like that.”

“Is he still using?”

Gabe hesitated long enough that there was no need to answer.

“I see. I thought so. My own fault for relying on an addict. I should have dealt with him sooner, but he had such good contacts…” More tapping on the steering wheel. “But he’s out of our reach now, and out of our control.”

Gabe’s phone buzzed again. “Aw hell no… Now the senior Judge is on the scene, along with Captain Witcombe. Niño’s got no chance now.” Another sidelong glance at Romley. “He’ll talk, or he’ll run. He’s not going to be able to stand up to them.”

“Okay.” Romley continued to stare towards the hospital for a moment, then turned to Gabe. “Mister Nyby… Consider yourself promoted, on the grounds that you do me two small favours. You’re unlikely to be able to get to Niño, so forget about him. There are only three others in the organisation who know who I am. You, Francie Hamilton and Merrick Bergin.”

Gabe almost flinched at that last name. “Bergin’s one of yours? We’ve been in a low-level turf war with him for years!”

“I know.”

“Jesus. All the trouble that guy caused us. You know he offed three of—”

“You’ll drop that subject, Gabriel. You’re going to take Hamilton and Bergin out of the picture, permanently. And immediately. Then you’ll go west. Chicago at least, preferably further. One way or another Niño Aukins is going to talk to the Judges and we can’t stop that. He doesn’t know you’re working for me, but he’ll name you as a friend and that might be all the Judges need to come looking for you. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, but, look, Niño’s built a network of contacts over the years. If they can get that out of him—”

“None of them know anything that could lead back to me. So we’ll let the Judges have Niño as their prize.”

“If you’re sure. But I can’t just take off and—”

“You’re either an asset or a liability. Choose now,



“Good. I want Bergin and Hamilton dead tonight. Get to them before the Judges do, and then leave town. I’ll find you when I need you.”

“Look, I can’t just take off. I’m gonna need—”

“Glovebox. Forty thousand. Take it. And if you squander it, or draw the wrong sort of attention with it, I’ll find you that much sooner.”

“I understand.” Gabe popped open the glovebox and pulled out the thick envelope. “Hamilton and Bergin. Two in the head, two in the heart. Not a problem.”

“One last thing.” Romley reached over and rested his hand lightly on Gabe’s arm. “I know you have a fouryear-old son you’ve avoided telling me about. His name is Raphael, chosen to please his mother who has a thing for angels. Which is also one of the reasons she chose you as her partner. You’re embarrassed about that, so you’ve told your friends that your son is named after a turtle.”

Gabe stopped breathing.

“You didn’t tell me because you were scared I’d use him against you.” Romley patted Gabe’s arm, and smiled. “I was right about you from the start. You are a good judge of character. You only see the boy once every couple of weeks anyway. He barely knows you. A clean break really is the best way. And it won’t be forever, I’m sure. A few years and things will have settled down enough for you to come back.”

“What about my—?” Gabe cut himself off. There was no arguing with Romley. When you went to work for him, he learned everything there was to know about you. Treated you like you were the only one he really trusted

just so that you’d trust him in return, until the day you realised that he was doing the same thing with all of his other seconds-in-command. Gabe had known about Niño and Hamilton, but that was all. He’d never even suspected that Merrick Bergin was in anyone’s pocket, let alone Romley’s.

“Go,” Romley said. “I know I can rely on you to do the right thing, Gabriel. Your son is also relying on you.”

Clutching his envelope full of fifty-dollar bills, Gabe climbed out of the car and clicked the door closed behind him.

The Tesla moved away gracefully, the only noise being the hiss of its tyres on the asphalt.

Gabe zipped up his jacket, then stuffed his hands deep into his pockets as he quickly crossed the road. His old Lexus was three blocks down. He knew it had a little over half a tank—enough gas to get him out of the state, but first he had to make two stops.

Hamilton would be easy enough: Gabe and Francie had known each other for nearly thirty years. Not exactly friends, but close enough that he knew she’d open the door to him.

Gabe unlocked his car and climbed in. It started first go, which he took to be a good omen, and he let it idle for a while in the hope that it would warm up.

Francie Hamilton fronted as a respectable woman, in a nice neighbourhood, the sort where the houses still put Christmas wreaths on the door and the local kids loved the winter because they’d make fifteen or twenty bucks for every drive they shovelled.

Gonna have to leave the engine running… a gunshot on that street will bring every neighbour to their windows.

He hoped that it would be Francie herself who answered the door, and not one of her kids.

Getting to Merrick Bergin was going to be a lot tougher. Gabe didn’t even know exactly where the man lived— but he knew enough people who did. A couple of them owed him favours. He’d start with them first, then move on up the chain. But it had to be done fast, and without alerting Bergin. Simple rule: if you’re gunning for a guy, don’t tell him.

Before the night was out, a lot of fingers and teeth would be broken. And families.

Gabe reached under the passenger seat and groped around until his fingertips brushed against his old reliable Sauer Mosquito. The Lexus had been sitting there for so long that the gun was almost too cold to touch.

But it would warm up soon enough.

Merrion, Mississippi

Thursday, May 5th 2039


Errol Quon had daydreamed about the graduation ceremony for most of her life. She’d always pictured a bright sunny day. A pool-table-flat lawn covered with perfect rows of wooden chairs occupied by the cadets’ proud family members. The cadets in their dress uniforms, crisp creases, polished brass, everything a perfect fit. Beaming smiles as they accepted their certificates. A rousing cheer as they tossed their caps into the air.

That’s how they did it in the movies. A ceremony to mark not the end of their training, but the beginning of a new life.

Whenever some friend or relative had been boasting about their kid’s wedding costing a fortune, Quon’s mother Sharlene always commented, “A wedding is not a marriage.” Likewise, a graduation ceremony was not a career. It didn’t matter that there was no band, no press photographer, no flags or ribbons. What mattered was the intent.

Eighteen of them started together at the Police Academy in Merrion, a much lower number than in previous years, but that was no surprise. Almost no one wanted to be a police officer any more. Quon’s one remaining friend from high school, Jess, had begged her not to join the academy: “What’s the point of trainin’ to be a cop? They’re already obsolete. You wanna be a Judge, that’s the future.”

Her own parents agreed. “I know you had your heart set on it, punkin,” her father, Nicholas, said, “but you have to face up to the fact that life won’t always work out the way you want.”

But she’d signed up anyway. She’d always known that being a police officer—especially one of mixed race here in the south—was going to be tough. Old prejudices often ran deep, and with the rise of the Judges, she felt that ordinary cops would be needed more than ever.

On the first day, at orientation, the academy’s lecture hall echoed as the tutor read out each cadet’s name and details, then he said, “This day ten years ago, this hall was full. One-forty cadets. Now… eighteen.” He looked at the students in turn, and to Quon it seemed that he settled on her. “A lot of you aren’t going to make it.”

He was right. Of the eighteen cadets in her class, four

quit in the second week. Three more before the end of the first month.

The others stuck with it, though. At first. But oneby-one, they’d fallen away until only Quon and Milo Visconti remained.

Visconti was exactly a year older than Quon, which they’d discovered during that orientation class. It had given them a reason to talk to each other, and to bond.

Their relationship was intensely physical at first. Frenzied nights of dorm-sneaking and perspiration and giggling and stifled cries of ecstasy, but that aspect quickly faded as appetites and curiosity were slaked. They remained friends, no hard feelings, no recriminations.

Quon thought of it as her first grown-up relationship. Jess had once told her, “You know you’re grown up when you can break up with someone and not hide when you see them coming. Though I suppose that might mean maybe you weren’t so interested in the first place.”

Aside from Jess, Quon had never managed to cultivate any close friends; just people she knew. She was okay with that. People were complicated and didn’t stay inside the lines. Jess was a good example. If you wanted her to do something, you just had to tell her that she wasn’t allowed to do it. Or that she wasn’t able to do it.

Opposites attracted; Jess was spontaneous and reckless and dangerous, and Quon was careful and considerate and respectful.

But it was only when she left home for the academy, and no longer had her parents and Jess to act as landmarks, that Errol Quon realised who she really was.

Three months into their training, she told Milo, “Some people live to bend the rules… I like to straighten them. Neat rows. Order over chaos. If everyone obeyed the law, we would all be much happier. It’s that simple.”

He laughed at that, “Yeah, good luck surviving in the real world with that attitude, Quon. They’re gonna grind you into paste on the first day. I’m not saying we should totally go with the flow, though. I figure we should make the flow go with us. You know what I mean?”

“Be the pace-setter, not the follower.”

“That’s it.”

But a month after that, Visconti told her, “I’m done. This job is a dead end, Quon. The Judges are running the show now.”

“They made you an offer,” Quon said. A statement, not a question.

“Sure did. I’m surprised they haven’t talked to you yet.”

Her only response was a shrug. Representatives from the Department of Justice had approached her twice, and both times she’d immediately turned them down. She’d never told Visconti about that: much as she liked him, she knew his ego wouldn’t respond well to learning that the Judges had favoured her over him.

Visconti was gone within the hour.

The following morning, Captain Deitch called Quon to his office.

She knew what he going to say: it was obvious from the cleared shelves, the packing crates piled up against the wall, and the stack of folders on his desk that he was steadily sorting into two smaller stacks.

“Cadet Errol Quon. With your friend gone you’re the last one standing.” He gestured towards the packing crates. “Told you last month they were gonna shut us down, and now they have. As of tomorrow morning, the contractors are moving in. Gonna strip the place, remodel it for the Judges. The first Academy of Law in the Magnolia State. Guess we should be kinda proud of that, in a way.”

The captain regarded her in silence for about five seconds, then said, “Sorry, kid. We’ve all been retired or sidelined, so…”

Quon didn’t move, didn’t change her expression. She’d always been good at keeping her emotions under wraps. But inside she felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff. “Sir… I request a transfer. To another academy. I think that’s within my rights and—”

“Yeah, it’s within your rights. But it’s not gonna happen. All the academies are winding down. They’re trying to shed their cadets, not take on more. The Department of Justice cut every goddamn state’s police training budget down to near zero.” The captain picked up the final folder and moved it over the stack on his left, hesitated, seemed to come to a decision, then dropped it onto the other stack. “We have no staff, no money, no academy. Quon, if you don’t want to be a Judge, go get yourself a job in a library or something. That’d suit you: they like to keep everything neat and tidy, same as you people.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You people?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Well, no, I don’t mean you people like… you know I don’t give a damn what race someone is, or who they—I mean…”

She knew what he meant. What they always dance around. If you’re female and tall, with a strong build and short-cropped hair, the average person will assume you’re a lesbian. It suits them to categorise people. Makes things easy. She understood that.

She let him off the hook. “What about you, Captain?

You’re only, what? Fifty? That’s young to retire.”

“Not as young as some.” He dropped into his chair, leaned back with his fingers interlocked and resting on his chest as he looked around the office. “Nineteen years I’ve been here. I’ve seen it all, Quon. Good cops, bad cops, clock-watchers and thugs and those goddamn ghouls who want to become a cop because they got a thing for seeing dead bodies. Every kinda weirdo and freak came through those doors and it was my job to knock the rough edges off them, mould them into a shape that’d fit neatly into society. So I can tell when someone’s got it, and when they haven’t. Quon, you’ve got it. Ten years ago, you would have passed with honours. You’d have made a great cop. Now…” He shrugged. “You seriously never gave any real consideration to joining the Judges? Just say the word and I’ll contact Judge Leverett. Give

you my highest recommendation.”

“I don’t want to be a Judge, sir. Just a cop.”

He smiled. “That’s because you’re an idealist, Quon. Your biggest flaw.”

She decided to cut him off before he embarked on his ‘You want everything to be sunshine and roses’ speech. “Yes, sir. You’ve told me that before. Sir, what do I do now? Are you telling me that I have no choice but to quit?”

“Well, no academy, so, yeah. You kinda do have to quit.”

She nodded slowly. She’d seen this coming. They all had. When Fargo introduced the Judges, everyone knew that it wouldn’t be long before there were no more ordinary police officers. That day was some ways off— there were still a lot of cities where the Judges barely had a presence—but no academies meant no new officers coming down the pipe. That had been one of Visconti’s strongest arguments: “You’ll be signing on to a ship that’s already sinking, Quon.”

She still had five weeks to go. If the Judges would just hold off that long, then she’d be a police officer. Sure, in time the Judges would take that away, too, but it would be better to be an obsolete officer than an obsolete cadet.

Captain Deitch gestured towards the door. “Take off, Quon. You’re just making this harder on yourself. Clear out your locker and… I was gonna say if you hurry you’ll catch the next bus home, but what the hell, it’s not like

I’ve got anything else to do. I’ll drive you.”

“Or you could not.”


“Meaning that the contractors might be coming tomorrow but they won’t be doing all the work at once, right? So we’ll stay on. You train me. It’ll go faster with just one student. We’ll work around the builders and decorators, not give them any reason to complain about us still being here. And when we’re done—if I pass— you’ll give me my commendation and find an assignment for me, just like you would if none of this had happened.”

She had more prepared, but the captain jumped to his feet almost immediately.

“All right. Yeah. Let’s do that. Screw Fargo and his dead-eyed dreadnoughts, pushing us around like we’re no better than cold broccoli on a kid’s dinner plate.” He began rummaging through one of the crates piled against the wall. “Your records are here somewhere… We’re gonna finish your training, Quon. You’re gonna graduate and become a damn good cop and we’ll show those pushy bastards that they’ve got a long way to go before they can control us.”

Quon knew that a lot of other people would have smoothed the path for her, but Captain Deitch had a point to prove to the Judges. He push her hard, personally supervising every minute of her training even as the physical building was being noisily stripped and rebuilt around them.

On the day of her unarmed combat final she was already on the mat in the academy’s gymnasium, waiting for her opponent to finish warming up, when the doors were pulled open and Senior Judge Leverett strode in.

Leverett stopped in front of the captain and glared at him. “The hell is this, Deitch? You know you’re trespassing?”

“No, we’re not. This precinct was absorbed by the Department of Justice, and I haven’t quit yet.” Deitch stepped to the side to see past the Judge. “Cadet Quon is about to take her finals in U.C. You’re interfering with that.”

Leverett pulled off his helmet and looked towards Quon. “My offer won’t remain open forever, cadet.”

She shook her head. “Thank you, sir, but I don’t want to be a Judge. I believe that the law should work for the people, not the state.”

“Then I’m shutting this down. All of it.”

Captain Deitch said, “We’re not costing the department anything—I’ve been paying the instructors from my own pocket—and the country’s still going to need cops for a few more years. You should be thanking us, Judge.”

Leverett smirked. “All right, then. Quon, let’s see what you’re made of.” He called out to Quon’s instructor, Blake, a former Marine who was charging them a hundred bucks an hour. “Unarmed combat. Right?”

“Yes, sir.” Blake approached the mat wearing his usual smug grin and cracking his knuckles—he knew Quon hated that.

“She any good?” Leverett asked.

“She’s fast. Got a strong right, a little weak with her left. And she’s hesitant. She pulls her punches.” Blake’s grin spread wider as he stared straight into Quon’s eyes. “Because she’s too dainty. The little princess doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Then I’m giving you both permission to let go,” Leverett said. “Three minutes, no rules, no consequences.

Anything goes.”

Captain Deitch grabbed the Judge’s arm. “That’s not how this is done.”

Leverett shrugged him off. “It is today.” He nodded to Quon. “If this man is not unconscious or begging for mercy by the end of your three minutes, I’ll consider this—whatever this is… Captain Deitch’s experiment— to have failed, and you’re both out of here.”

“We don’t agree to that!”

“I don’t care what you agree to, Deitch. I’m a Judge. I make the rules, I give the orders. Quon, your three minutes starts… now.”

Blake lunged at Quon and she immediately raised her arms as she shifted her weight back on to her left foot.

He was only a little taller than her, but at least twenty kilos heavier, and with two decades’ more experience. And strong, too. Tendons like steel cables, skin like leather.

She pulled her head back and to the left as Blake’s clawed fingers slashed her face, close enough that the hairs on the back of his hand brushed her cheek.

He’d been aiming for her throat. If he’d connected…

She’d known he was dangerous, but a killing blow, in front of a Judge?

You have been holding back, she told herself. Blake and Captain Deitch have both told you that.

It wasn’t that she was afraid to hurt someone: when it came to physical force, there was no point in using more force than was necessary. Keep things neat. Stay inside the lines.

Blake faked a jab with his left, but she’d seen him do that before, and easily blocked his right fist.

She ducked back and to the side, shot her left leg out at the same time. Slammed her heel straight into his groin.

The impact told her he was wearing a protective cup, which she’d expected: he was a thug, not an idiot. But he flinched all the same, pitching his top half forward and dropping his hands to protect himself.

An elbow to the side of his head, hard. He stumbled, and she body-slammed him, crashing into him with her shoulder.

His feet skidded, lost their grip, and as he hit the mat butt-first, he tried to grab onto her. He was too slow. Her knee cracked into his chin and sent his head crashing backwards, then two sharp punches to the solar plexus and a final jab to the throat stole his breath.

Clutching his neck as he gasped and shuddered, Blake stared up at Quon, eyes wide from shock more than pain.

She straightened up. “My advice… Lie there for another two minutes, fifty seconds and then beg for mercy.” Quon stepped back, and looked towards Judge Leverett.

He was silent for a moment, then turned to the captain. “All right. Point made. Carry on.”

The graduation ceremony took place indoors, in what was once Deitch’s office. Instead of a crowd, the only onlookers were Quon’s parents and two contractors who agreed to cease hammering for five minutes.

Captain Deitch shook Quon’s hand. “Congratulations. The only graduate of the class of 2039. I am… very proud of you, Officer Quon.”

Quon’s mother began to applaud, and was quickly joined by her father and one of the contractors. The other one cheered and tossed his hard-hat into the air. It clunked loudly off the freshly-plastered ceiling before hitting the floor and rolling away.

As they watched the contractor chase after his hat, Captain Deitch said, “I’m sorry there’s no certificate or… well, anything else.” He lifted an envelope from his desk, handed it to her. “Your assignment.”

Quon opened the envelope. “Golgotha, Alabama.”

Deitch nodded. “Best I can do. No other force is taking on anyone else. And even this one had closed its ranks, but Captain Bonacki owed me a favour. The Judges are making it very clear that the old ways are gone.” He shrugged. “You realise what this means, Officer Quon?”


“You have graduated so now this place…” He glanced around the room. “As of now, this academy is officially defunct. The last police academy in the country has just passed out its last officer. That’s you, Quon. You are the last person to become a police officer in the United States of America.”

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The end of the world is pretty damn nigh … but it ain’t over yet! Misha Cafferly and Judge Hawkins are still on the road, still somehow breathing after all these months, and they’re damned if they’re giving in now. There’s hope on the radio. But the soil is poisoned, the water is foul, the bugs have become killers, the greys are everywhere, and now the terrible Sisters are even turning the survivors’ own minds against them… Time is running out.

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The world was incrementally dying; there was no doubt of that now. Bit by bit it was dropping away into darkness, slowly and steadily. There hadn’t been an atomic flash that had exterminated millions in an instant or a seismic shift in the tectonic plates that had cracked continents in half; instead, it was deteriorating in stages, like a once healthy organ being eaten from the inside out. You were aware of it in the sudden sharp scent of corruption brought by the wind, in every fluctuation in the miasmic light, and especially in how the plant-life was responding to its new environment, contorting horribly like it couldn’t understand what was happening to it. It made your heart break to see it, Misha thought; the flora was adapting with no comprehension to what was going on around it, once verdant shoots twisted by a poisoned earth to the point where they, like everything else on the planet, could no longer survive.

She was standing on a ridge looking down at a copse, and the trees were virtually petrified, noticeable for their sickly calcified brittleness. Considering the season—she was fairly sure they were somewhere in the summer months, but it was increasingly difficult to discern the passing of the days, as a tombstone-grey cloud settled permanently over the sky—the branches should’ve been bursting with leaves, but instead they’d been reduced to skeletonised shadows of their former selves. They hunched together like terminally ill old men, bewildered by the malicious toxicity of their situation, and as they struggled to maintain that pulse of life, the cancerous new eco-system was ensuring their eventual downfall. She imagined it wouldn’t be long before fissures appeared in the bark, the trunks would split asunder, and the trees would collapse as little more than ash. Misha and Hawkins could pass by this way again in a week, and the landscape as it was would simply be a memory. She didn’t want to come back, though; partly because retracing their steps would be one more sign that they had nowhere to go, and partly because she had no desire to witness such grim inevitability. Better to leave it in the rear-view mirror, decaying out of her sight.

She glanced across at Hawkins, the Judge bringing her toolkit to bear on the Lawrider’s gearbox and grunting in irritation as she wrestled with it. The ability to keep moving was so far a luxury they’d taken for granted, but they might not have transport for much longer if the bike gave up on them. It was showing increasing signs of strain, its suspension shot and the onboard computer displaying worrying eccentricities. Hawkins needed the communications unit fully functioning if she was going to intercept radio traffic to guide them to safety, and she couldn’t afford the A.I. to go on the fritz. (Misha, for her part, was philosophical about the slim possibility of such a sanctuary existing, but kept her opinions to herself, aware of how important it was to the Judge. Let her have something to hold on to, at the very least.) The loss of a ride would be a most troubling development indeed—it didn’t pay to linger in any one place for too long. They’d learnt that to their cost.

It wasn’t just the threat of discovery by the greys, though that was challenging enough on its own; it was seeing, like this, the devilish details of the land’s destruction. It did things to your head, watching the change being wrought upon the world, the new status quo being foisted upon it. While the global scale of it was at times simply too vast to comprehend—and she had to assume that what was happening here was being repeated in other countries: the climatic shock was too great not to be affecting their overseas neighbours—it was brought home when she gazed down on acres of grassy plains shrivelling away to nothing, or abandoned fields of blighted crops that had degenerated into an ugly hue and now gave off a fetid stench. With, so she’d heard, most germinating insects effectively wiped out, fertilisation was now impossible. Nothing would seed or sprout; there would just be tracts of barren, hostile ground. Having that laid out before you, you couldn’t help but want to weep, the sheer wrongness of it proving difficult to process. There’s something not right about this picture, she wanted to say. This is against the natural order of things.

But of course, that was exactly what it was: a perversion, a tilting of a fragile balance that served the interests of the new rulers’ anti-life agenda, and there was seemingly nothing that could be done to stop it. If the planet had any kind of consciousness—a Gaia spirit, Misha had once heard it called—it was being viciously choked, and these swathes of crumbling, blackened vegetation were symptoms of its death throes. Small wonder that she didn’t want to hang around for too long: to confront this was to test the limits of your endurance.

Put it behind you. Put it behind you, however futile that may be. Outrun the world’s unravelling.

She turned and crossed over to Hawkins, whose brow was furrowing as she twisted something deep in the bike’s chassis with a wrench. “How’s it looking?” Misha asked.

The Judge shook her head. Her speech was limited by the knotted mess of scar tissue that was the lower half of her face, and she could evidently only open her mouth so far without it causing her significant pain. Her diet subsisted mainly of liquidised rations that she could suck through a straw. Misha had never fully gleaned the whole story of what had happened to her, but then again, she didn’t really need to—they were all walking wounded now, some carrying more obvious injuries than others. If she was still alive, then she’d fought her battles against the common enemy and come out the other side still in one piece, more or less, which was some kind of small victory. But the legacy of those encounters was unmistakably writ large upon her flesh, and they told enough of their own tale that the actual details seemed superfluous.

Given the weeks Misha had now spent in Hawkins’ company, it meant the pair had developed a rudimentary sign language that the Judge clearly found less exhausting than trying to formulate words. The younger woman was surprised at how adept she quickly became at picking up what Hawkins was communicating simply from raised eyebrows and a few hand gestures. They seemed to understand each other intuitively, often predicting the other’s actions, or knowing what needed to be done without any kind of signal. They had a solid system, and it had stood them in good stead so far—but Misha couldn’t escape the fact that she didn’t know how far the Judge trusted her. Hawkins had encountered the girl when the balance of her mind was disturbed, and effectively saved her from herself. The rest of Misha’s fellow survivors had eerily vanished in uncertain circumstances, their fates unknown, and the teen had been discovered raving, on the verge of losing her sanity entirely. Hawkins had sat with her and brought her down gently.

Misha—for whom that entire episode remained something of a blank spot in her memory—was still unclear on why the Judge persevered with her, committed herself to pulling the girl back from the brink and bringing her with her. Hawkins could be forgiven for simply looking out for herself as the world crumbled; plenty of others had done just that. Yet here the two of them were—partners, of a kind. It could be that the Judge simply appreciated her company, that ironically her own mental health was in a better state having another human being to interact with, even one as borderline crazy as Misha (potentially; she’d never had another episode since) was. Maybe Hawkins simply saw something of herself in the younger woman that she wanted to protect. The teen was well aware she’d lucked out tagging along with the law officer, as she’d never have made it on her own, and felt beholden to prove herself useful should the prospect of her getting ditched ever finally come up. She went overboard in demonstrating her reliability and capability, hoping that every chore performed without complaint, or extra watch duty taken, reinforced her place in Hawkins’ confidence. It seemed to do the trick, but, nevertheless, paranoid niggles remained that the Judge was just waiting for her to make one wrong move… and Misha had good reason not to fully trust herself.

Hawkins slung the wrench back in the toolbox and motioned towards the bike with angry resignation. She stood, stretching weary limbs, and looked out across the landscape, markedly avoiding eye contact. She shook her head again, then started to pack the gear into a rear pannier compartment.

“How long have we got?” Misha asked.

The Judge shrugged, and held up a finger.

“A day?”

She gestured with her hand: <thereabouts>.

“Fuck,” Misha breathed. Hawkins nodded her agreement. “So we need a new set of wheels sharpish.”

The Judge leaned back against the Lawrider’s handlebars and picked up the comms transmitter, signalling that she was listening to it. “Stay in contact,” she intoned, the words forced out, raw and raspy.

Hawkins’ obsession with finding other uniforms hadn’t dimmed, despite the radio giving out nothing but static for weeks. “You mean we somehow lay our hands on another Justice Department vehicle?”

The older woman spread out her gauntleted palms: <no choice>.

“Which would mean diverting towards the capital.” They’d deliberately skirted pockets of civilisation as much as possible, which were dense with grey teams, and kept to the country roads. They’d found less trouble that way, but it also meant supplies were sparser. Picking up a car or truck that still had fuel was one thing; stealing a Judge’s bike was a whole other level of complication. But Misha knew that Hawkins wouldn’t be dissuaded on this one—she had to know that the resistance was out there, and that she could rendezvous with it.

The Judge threw her arms wide, indicating the barren expanse. “Want to walk?” she growled, though Misha imagined she heard the faint outline of a smile behind it.

The teen shook her head and kicked the dust at her feet. “Fuck,” she repeated.

Things got worse the closer you got to the capital, as if that was possible: the smell, the sights, the pervading sense of despair. The horror had seemingly rippled out from the Hall of Injustice at the epicentre like an earthquake. So many had tried to escape being caught in the shockwaves but the sheer weight of numbers and the ruthlessness of the new Chief’s forces meant that few within the city’s boundaries had survived the initial purge. Misha had been one of the lucky ones, bundled to safety thanks to the random kindness of a complete stranger, but plenty of others had been left behind, gunned down in their hundreds.

Some of them were still here, decaying bodies propped behind the wheels of their cars, massacred in the ensuing chaotic gridlock, but there was evidence that there had been a systematic clearance of corpses since that night. Smouldering pyres of bones lined the roads, and in the distance dotted points of flame suggested there were several burning away. It turned Misha’s stomach, and she wished they could go back, abandon this plan. Even though they were still some distance from the capital proper, you could feel the dread sense of emptiness, the void it had become, gnawing at your mind. She had argued further with Hawkins against this folly, believing it to be an unnecessary risk, but the more she protested, the more the Judge dug her heels in. She would motion to the bike, indicate the unhealthy noise that the engine was making, and remind her that it wouldn’t be long before their ride gave up the ghost entirely. The fact was the Lawrider was truly screwed—Hawkins hadn’t been wrong about the extent of its problems. It had got them over rough terrain in the past few weeks, but it was showing the strain now, kicking out oily black smoke as power outages kept rebooting the onboard computer. It would only be a matter of time before they were locked out of the weapons systems and/or something ignited close to the fuel tank. It said something of Misha’s fear of the city that she was aware that they were astride a failing machine and still she’d rather take her chances with that than go near the capital.

Of course, the teenager had reasons of her own not to get too close to the HoJ beside the obvious possibility of capture or, more likely, execution, but she had to be careful not to arouse Hawkins’ suspicions. She’d want to know why the girl had such a hard-on for staying well out of its area, and if Misha came clean that would almost certainly be a prelude to a parting of the ways. At the same time, she was aware she was compromising both of their safeties. She just hoped they could circle the outskirts and quickly find what they needed without entering the city any more than they had to, and she’d made Hawkins promise as such, citing her own personal trauma as an excuse. The Judge didn’t need to know what Misha could bring down on them if they dallied too long in the Grand Hall’s shadow.

It had been like an itch at the back of her brain up until now, a pressure she found she could push back against. She’d evidently been previously well outside the Sisters’ reach: they’d been a background presence, an electrical charge in the air you could feel in the hairs on your arms, but nothing materialised beyond that. They were looking for her, casting out their psychic hooks in the hope that they’d get a fix on her location, try to worm inside her mind and plant their seeds of corruption, but she’d blocked them. It had been relatively easy when the psignal was that weak, and they were clearly casting a wide net, but now she was getting nearer to their centre of operations it was only going to get harder to keep them out. All it took was one lapse in concentration, a drop in her defences, and they’d be inside her head, rifling through her thoughts, grabbing what they needed to direct their undead goons to pick her up—or worse, take control of her and force her to do their bidding.

They wanted her alive, she felt sure of that; or at least some approximation of it. It probably wouldn’t matter to them if she was delivered in pieces as long as her grey matter was still functioning. The thing about psychic broadcasts was that it worked both ways—while they actively sought her out, Misha at the same time could pick up the reasons behind it, their motives. Their intentions permeated their emanations, an unmistakable flavour running through them, and the Sisters’ curiosity about the girl showed strongly through their probes. They knew about Rachel, her sibling that had allied herself with the new CJ’s creatures, and the neuro-flipping that had been occurring between the pair; this kind of link was ripe for exploitation, and Misha’s potential abilities were too powerful to go to waste. She was sure that if the Sisters got their hands on her, they’d peel her brain apart for their own arcane amusement.

Needless to say, she’d told Hawkins none of this. It was a betrayal, after a fashion, that she was keenly ashamed of; she was endangering the Judge’s life through her own cowardly secretiveness and self-interest. But she reasoned they’d come too far now to imperil their partnership, and she deliberately chose to disclose nothing about the entities snapping at her heels.

Misha coughed as the wind swept smoke from the pyres in their direction, the smell sticking in the back of her throat. She tapped Hawkins on the shoulder, and signalled that this was close enough.

To go any further was to enter Hades itself. They were on one of the main arterial freeways that serviced the capital—once a never-ending flow of traffic, now a graveyard—and looking ahead, the road had seemingly been paved in bones. Layer upon layer of skeletal remains coated the ground, piling up in drifts; virtually impassable on two wheels. Hawkins slowed the Lawrider to a crawl, and weaved the vehicle between two burned-out cars to shield them from view when she saw greys patrolling the city’s boundaries. Leaving the engine idling, the Judge turned in her seat and motioned to the vibrations coming from within the engine.

<Getting worse,> she signed. <Hasn’t got much life left in it.>

Misha shrugged theatrically and looked around with arched eyebrows, indicating that they weren’t exactly spoiled for choice. They’d seen no abandoned Lawriders on their journey here, seemingly suggesting either that those resisting De’Ath had succeeded in fleeing the area, or they’d been incinerated on the spot. Hawkins raised a finger: <wait>. She flipped some switches on the bike’s control panel, and it emitted a low, regular beep.

Transponder, the Judge mouthed. Will flag any other Lawriders in the vicinity using the same signal.

“Won’t that also alert anyone that’s listening that we’re here?” the younger woman whispered.

Hawkins nodded. <Risk we have to take,> she signed. <Keep it broadcasting very briefly.>

Misha looked around nervously. An H-wagon flying overhead at that moment would pick them up instantly on its radar, and their movements tracked. She didn’t like advertising their presence so blatantly, used to travelling well off the grid. She closed her eyes and counted down the seconds before her companion deactivated the transponder—

The tone changed suddenly and Hawkins grabbed the girl’s arm, shaking her to pay attention. <Pingback,> the Judge revealed. <Found one. There’s a stationary bike less than a couple of miles from here.> The Lawrider chimed again, and then emitted a succession of urgent, clipped bleeps.

“What’s that?” Misha asked.

<Emergency protocol tagged to the signal,> Hawkins signed, frowning, squinting at the bike’s readout. <SOS. Help me.>