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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

03:38

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.

Shoo!

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!

BUY NOW IN PAPERBACK

BUY NOW IN EBOOK

BUY NOW FOR KINDLE

PROLOGUE
St. Christopher, Connecticut

Tuesday, January 4th 2033

17:52

“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.”

GOLGOTHA
“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,

Gabriel.”

“Asset.”

“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

GOLGOTHA
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.

CHAPTER ONE
Merrion, Mississippi

Thursday, May 5th 2039

14:01

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?”

“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?”

“Sir?”

“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 Rebellion Publishing fiction eBook sale is now live and you can bag yourself FOUR thrilling Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson omnibuses for just 99p each. The sale lasts until Sunday 12 April so get in quick before they go!

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Written by Matt Smith, Michael Carroll, Al Ewing, Cavan Scott, Alec Worley, Danie Ware, Laurel Sills, and Zina Hutton, these omnibuses take you beyond the comic book pages of 2000 AD and into a whole new world of prose as we follow Dredd and Anderson on their first years on the mean streets of Mega-City One.

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Read the first chapter of the new Fall of Deadworld novella

The end is getting ever closer in the latest novella in the acclaimed Fall of Deadworld series by Matthew Smith – available to order now!

Choose from ebook or Kindle editions, or buy one of only 200 copies of a special edition paperback.

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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CHAPTER ONE

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.>

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Laurel Sills on Judge Anderson: Devourer

Judge Anderson: Devourer is the latest thrilling slice of novella action from Abaddon Books and 2000 AD to focus on the early life and adventures of Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson.

Written by Laurel Sills, Devourer sees MC-1’s premier Psi-Judge before her greatest cases, just a year into her life as a full-eagle Psi-Judge. Here, something’s hunting the Psi-Judges, with the victims landing in the infirmary with the same phrase repeating across their minds… ‘I am not worthy’. Partnered with seasoned Judge Mei Yin, Anderson soon finds herself right in the heart of this madness that could take down Psi-Div and destroy her mind!

Order a limited print edition of Judge Anderson: Devourer >>

Laurel Sills is a writer and editor working out of London, whose writing includes stories in the Sharkpunk and Game Over anthologies, published by Snowbooks. From 2013-2017, she co-edited the award-winning Holdfast magazine, a celebration of speculative fiction, with eight online issues and two print anthologies. You can find the issues archived over at holdfastmagazine.com and find Laurel online at @laurelsills.

Richard Bruton asked Laurel a few questions about all things Anderson…

Laurel, I suppose the first thing we should do here is ask the old favourite… can you tell us a little about yourself?


Laurel Sills: I live in London with my partner, baby daughter and two cats. For my day job I am a senior commissioning editor of commercial fiction. Before my daughter was born I also spent a lot of time in bands, writing and recording music and playing shows, which is paused until I can get more than three hours of sleep in a row!

Your new Judge Anderson novella, Devourer, is out later in the month. Exactly what can we expect?

LS: A crazed psychic cult is targeting psi judges and driving them mad and the whole of Psi Div is called in to hunt the perps down. Anderson is paired with Mei Yin, a tough as nails Judge who doesn’t do partners. Devourer is essentially a buddy cop story, except the cops are psychic Judges and the crime boss is a demon god from another dimension who wants to eat the souls of everyone in Mega-City One.

What do you think it is about Anderson that makes her such a popular character? Is it her iconic status, the depth of stories that have been told about her? Or is it something to do with the contrast between her and Dredd?

LS: For me it’s her complexity. Her psychic abilities give her a connection to people that makes empathising with them unavoidable, but at the same time she sees into the darkness of the human mind. This gives her both a vulnerability and a strength that make her really interesting. She has a certain fragility that Dredd doesn’t have, but it’s not necessarily a weakness. Despite this she is really hard! She isn’t afraid to use deadly force when it’s needed and she certainly knows how to handle herself in a tough spot. She also has a rebellious side which gets her in and out of trouble that I love about her.

There’s already a rich history of Anderson from many years of appearances. What affect does this have on you when going so far back into her history?

LS: Writing such an established character comes with a great responsibility. While needing to stay true to who she is and who she will become, you also have to try not to be frozen by a fear of getting her wrong. While I certainly kept her future self in mind, for Year Two I was writing her as a young Judge at the beginning of her career. The Year One novellas by Alec Worley were of course a huge focus and where I took my lead from – my aim was to carry on the youthful and tenacious Anderson that Alec set up so brilliantly.

Seeing as you’re exploring Anderson’s past, is there a sense of constraint upon what you can do? With the “War of the Devourers” you’re creating a pretty serious part of Psi-Div history, a moment the entire Psi-Div could have been destroyed before really getting started.

LS: It is so important to respect the world you are writing in, and when I wrote the history of the Devourer War I did struggle with the weight of that. However, just by writing a Year Two novella I am creating a new part of Anderson’s and Psi Div’s history, so it didn’t feel like too much of a stretch to go back in time from Year Two to create a history for Mei Yin and the Psi Div veterans too. It’s a really daunting thing to do, but I also wanted to be able to write a rounded, fully formed story, and the Devourer War was an important part of it! 


There are many intriguing little touches throughout Devourer, especially in the earlier chapters when you’re setting up the world, the environment. Moments such as when Anderson turns her nose up at the idea of bovine milk, or the food that she’s eating… Bombay-locust pie, spiced mealworm fritters. It struck me as strange at first, until I reasoned that we’re still, relatively, primitive here. So perhaps the range of food stuffs that can be synthesised or produced just isn’t there. Am I anywhere near the ideas process you had for developing your own Anderson and MC-1 history here?

LS: That is a really good point in terms of us being quite far back in time, but it was also just me taking a bit of an artistic license! I wanted the market where Anderson meets Maya to be a gritty, smelly, vibrant place that is chaotic and loud that readers can imagine themselves in. Having half recognisable food made from bugs was just a fun addition to that atmosphere. I also wanted to link to old world and lost cultures as a tip of the hat to the ancestors of all of the people in Mega-City One, but in a confused way – like the people there are trying to recreate something of the past but getting it a bit wrong, like with the Bombay locust pie. In terms of the judges having access to better synthesised food, the scene I think you are referring to is where Anderson goes to get something to eat with another Judge after something pretty awful has happened at Psi-Div. They both want to reboot somewhere far away from what is going on there – so they end up eating out in a civilian restaurant – and I imagined that the civilians could have a bit of variety in terms of quality and what is available to them compared to what the Justice System would have.

Devourer has a wonderfully striking cover by Christian Ward, what did you think when you first saw it, the very first cover just for your work?

LS: I was over the moon when I saw the cover. It’s so vibrant and represents a really strong version of Anderson that feels totally perfect.

This is your first work for 2000 AD, what does this book mean to you?

LS: I was beyond excited to write for Rebellion and 2000 AD, it’s a crazy honour and not one I saw coming. Judge Anderson actually opened up Judge Dredd for me. Although I must admit my introduction to her was via the 2012 film Dredd. That’s what made me seek her out in the comics. I really love how her character has developed over the years. It’s really cool to see the different interpretations that artists have had of her, and in a way it feels like Year Two – three novellas by three different writers – is carrying on that tradition! That’s the exciting (and scary) thing about stepping into an existing world, you get to put your own spin on it. But it’s also nerve wracking as you have so much history and a really established personality to work with, and most importantly, do justice to!

Thus far, you’re a prose writer only. But, after this first step into the world of 2000 AD, could you see yourself working up some ideas for comics, 2000 AD or elsewhere? After all, there’s always the possibilities of “The Adventures of Maya, Psi-Judge Cadet”?

LS: I have always wanted to write comics! It’s something I did as a kid a lot and I have half a dozen dodgy scripts lingering in a drawer somewhere – so yes – it’s very much something I would love to do. ‘The Adventures of Maya’ sounds pretty brilliant! Anyone want to put in a good word for me?

Judge Anderson: Devourer is out this week in ebook from Amazon, 2000AD.com, and other ebook providers, and in a limited print edition available from 2000AD.com

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OUT NOW: Judges Volume One

“Tense, engaging and full of twists and turns” – Pop Culture Bandit

“fast-paced and uncompromising, keeping true to the essence of the Judges.” – British Fantasy Society

“essential reading for fans of Judge Dredd and the Big Meg” – Starburst

The first collected volume of Judges is out now!

This collection of prose novellas from Rebellion Publishing explores the very beginnings of the Judges, years before the Atomic Wars and the construction of Mega-City One, with stories by award-winning writer Michael Carroll (Judge Dredd: Every Empre Falls), George Mann (Doctor Who), and Charles J Eskew (Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark).

In the USA of 2036, Eustace Fargo’s Judges have been on the beat for three years. Crime is down but tensions are high between police and Judges, and millions rail against the radical new laws. A summary execution sparks a crisis: only the killer knew where his last, still-living victim was hidden.

With the largest storm in decades brewing off the East Coast and a city about to erupt into violence, can Judges Ramos and O’Shea find him in time?

Launched by series editor, author Michael Carroll, Judges explores the origins of Justice Department long before Judge Dredd, bringing to light its difficult formation amondst the dark days of the end of the United States of America.

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Read the first chapter of Judge Anderson: Devourer

Read the first chapter and grab a limited edition print copy of the new Judge Anderson novella by Laurel Sills!

Judge Anderson: Devourer is the latest fiction novella from 2000 AD and Rebellion Publishing – and there only 200 copies of this special edition paperback for sale, each one signed by the author!

Pre-order the print edition now >>

In 2101 AD it’s Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson’s second year on the streets as a full-Eagle Judge, and something’s taking down Psi-Judges. More and more are turning up in the infirmary with only one phrase in their minds: I am not worthy.

Pulled off a hunt for a missing child, Anderson finds herself partnered with seasoned Judge Mei Yin on the trail of the cult behind the madness.

But Mei Yin doesn’t do partners.  And she’s more closely connected with the case than she’s willing to admit to…

Judge Anderson: Devourer will be available for Amazon Kindle, Kobo and other e-readers on 14th March.

Read the first chapter below…

Psi-Judge Turner froze, his pulse thudding loudly in his ears, his eyes scanning the deserted street. He held his breath as he waited to hear the child’s voice again, straining his psi-sense for that tiny, panicked, chirping call.

This was a Shine district, towering blocks of GlamCo living where the 0.01 percent of the Mega-City One population lived out their lives in shimmering force-field-protected security. Turner craned his head to gaze up at the tiny sparks caused by floating debris hitting the shields. He had a fleeting moment wondering what it would be like to breathe that filtered air before he shook himself and focused.

He closed his eyes and opened his thoughts to the night. The roar of consciousness threatened to overwhelm him, the teeming, collective mass of tumultuous thoughts from the concentration of humanity above whirling him into a state of vertigo. He had to try and sift through it if he wanted to pick up the kidnapper’s trail, but he’d never been good at wide-scale processing.

A scream stabbed into him, savaging his open mind. Stupid. He slammed up his barriers, braced himself and zeroed in on the echoes of terror.

A hand pressed over his mouth, rope biting into his wrists, pain as his small body is dropped onto the ground, gravel crunching as it bites into his back, a bag pulled off his head to reveal a leafy manicured garden, the shimmering wall of the tower in the background.

He ran.

A wide ramp traversed the side of the tower, narrowing as it wove through a holo-leaf-lined arch towards the pleasure garden, ending in a tall reinforced metal gate, sparkling with the filter-field. His helmet projected a Justice Department code and the door swung open on soundless auto-hinges.

Pulling out his Lawgiver, he stepped in, senses reaching to identify the child and her abductors. He paused as he emerged into the garden of his vision, white gravel paths snaking into lines of ornamental hedges and lush flowerbeds. A feeling of quiet awe washed over him as he realised that most of the plants were real, only bulked out in places by swatches of holo-plants.

A crunch of gravel sounded from the depths of the garden, with no thoughts to accompany it. He frowned, concentrating as he trained his Lawgiver on the sound.

“Identify yourself,” he barked, his footsteps sounding unnaturally loud as he moved towards a bend in the path. “That’s a Judicial order; the sentence for disobeying is three weeks in the cubes.”

“Judge Turner.”

An immaculately suited man was seated on a stone bench in a clearing, the high hedgerow encircling him like a cage. He sat with his hands clasped loosely on his lap, a calm silence emanating from him, lapping at Turner with a bullying insistence.

Turner shook himself. How did this man know his name?

“Where is the girl?” he demanded, feeling instantly stupid. He could sense it now, an absence of fear, of tension; the distress call he had followed snuffed out like a light. “What have you done to her?”

The man smiled, his teeth perfectly white, his pale blue eyes stark and cold beneath the silver hair swept artfully back from his weathered brow. “I wanted to speak with you, Judge Turner. The call was designed specifically for you. You felt her panic, did you not? You yearned to help her.”

Turner felt sluggish, and realised with rising alarm that he could not read the man.

“You should be mindful of your weaknesses, boy. They can be used against you.” The stranger gestured to the bench beside him. “Sit, please.”

Turner sat.

“Weakness?” Turner pushed the word through numb lips. “I am protecting the weak.”

“Noble sentiment, Psi-Judge Turner.” The man sneered as he spoke the syllable, and shook his head. “But it is a falsehood, to think that you are what you are because of your own wishes. You are a tool, Turner. Your gift has been taken and controlled by the Judiciary, twisted and warped to use for their own ends. This gift of mind we have, Turner, do you really think it was meant for such tawdry use as this?”

We have. It made sense now, why he couldn’t read him, and this feeling, this haze that had suddenly come over him. This man had psi abilities, strong ones, blocking Turner from using his own power. Turner fought it, sending out feelers into the psi-fog pouring off him.

“Tawdry use?” Turner murmured, exaggerating the dull edge of his voice. Keep him talking; make him think he had control.

“It is abhorrent.” The older man stood, his shadow looming larger as it fell across Turner. His casual tone belied a raw, barely contained rage. “It is sacrilege.”

The tendrils of mind Turner had been carefully working into the miasma of control were suddenly gripped in an iron vice, and the white-haired psi smiled. Turner fell forward from the bench onto his knees as agony exploded within his skull.

“Oh, Turner, no. You cannot refuse us.”

Two figures stepped out from the shadows, dressed in grey robes remnant of the vestments of long-dead religions. They had deep hoods that hid their features, and from the darkness beneath came a flood of psi-power. He could almost see it as it streamed towards the white-haired man, where it refracted like light in a crystal.

“This gift is sacred, Judge,” the white-haired man said, stepping forward, “a gift only to be used in the service of Karlul.”

Turner was paralyzed in the onslaught of psi-energy cascading from the man’s lips.

“And you are not worthy, Turner, not worthy at all.”

The two figures stepped in to hover behind the smiling man.

The Psi-Judge began to tremble as he realised he was too weak to resist them.

“Say it with me, Turner. I. Am. Unworthy.”

Turner opened his mouth, shut it, bit his tongue, hard.

“SAY IT.” Spittle flew with the force of his words.

“I am unworthy,” Turner whispered.

The words echoed, bouncing against the walls of his mind.

“I am unworthy,” he said with more force, looking up at the figures, squinting into the glare of their power.

“I am unworthy.” His tongue had found the shape of it now, rolled and repeated it without effort. And he knew, then, that he was unworthy. “I am unworthy, I am unworthy, I am unworthy.”

As he felt himself begin to dissolve. There was only one, uniting force that held the pieces of him together, the threads of him thrumming on the brink of snapping. A certainty, an all encompassing conviction, a whole and final truth, penetrating the whole of his being.

“I AM UNWORTHY.”

Posted on

OUT NOW: Rico Dredd: The Titan Years Book Two

The next chapter in the back story of Judge Dredd’s corrupt clone brother, Rico, is out 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.

The Process of Elimination is available to buy in paperback and ebook from Amazon now!

Buy the paperback from Amazon now >>

Buy the ebook for Amazon Kindle now >>

Buy the ebook from the 2000 AD webstore now >>

“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.”

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.

Posted on

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

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.

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Pre-order brand new JUDGES: THE AVALANCHE novella now!

You can now pre-order special physical copies JUDGES: THE AVALANCHE, the brand new fiction series by Judge Dredd writer Michael Owen that explores the origins of the Judges!

Just 250 print copies of this new novella are available to order now from 2000 AD‘s webstore, featuring a new interview with Carroll and the first chapter of the next novella in the series.

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In a time of widespread poverty, inequality and political unrest, Eustace Fargo’s controversial new justice laws have come into effect. Protests and violence meet the first Judges as they hit the street to enforce the Law; the cure, it’s clear, is far worse than the disease.

Is this a sign of things to come?

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Only 100 copies available: each book is signed by Michael Carroll and along with the novella this volume includes an unpublished interview with Michael Carroll and the first chapter of the next Judges novella by Charles J. Eskew III.

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Only 150 copies available: signed by Michael Carroll, includes an unpublished interview with Carroll and first chapter of the next Judges novella by Charles J. Eskew III. Also comes with a numbered cover art print signed by artist Neil Roberts.