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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHAPTER ONE

Timm Block
Monday, January 22, 2057
15:12

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

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

That’s not a lot.

And it’s not fair.

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

No one cares, but they should’ve. 

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

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

So, pretty much nobody and no one.

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

This isn’t what I want.

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

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

People that weren’t me.

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

And I hate it.

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

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

Not at first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully, I won’t regret this. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUY THE PAPERBACK >>

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRE-ORDER THE LIMITED ED. PAPERBACK >>

GET THE JUDGES OMNIBUS VOL.1 EBOOK >>

GET THE JUDGES OMNIBUS VOL.2 EBOOK/PAPERBACK >>

BROWSE THIS & OTHER 2000 AD NOVELLA SERIES >>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRE-ORDER THE PAPERBACK >>

GET THE JUDGES OMNIBUS VOL.1 EBOOK >>

GET THE JUDGES OMNIBUS VOL.2 EBOOK/PAPERBACK >>

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OUT NOW – the Judge Dredd: Year Three omnibus

These are Judge Dredd’s earliest cases – and Mega-City One has never been this dangerous! The omnibus prose collection of Judge Dredd: Year Three is OUT NOW!

Available on 2 February and collecting prose novellas by Michael Carroll, Matthew Smith and Laurel Sills, in two short years Judge Joseph Dredd has made a name for himself on the mean streets of the Big Meg. He’s tackled hardened killers and would-be revolutionaries; he’s taken beat-downs and bounced back; and he’s even arrested his own brother!

But there’s no such thing as a “normal year” in the Big Meg. In his third year on the sked, he’ll become embroiled in the growing anti-robot movement; he’ll head back out to the Cursed Earth; and he’ll fall afoul of the secretive SJS – and not for the last time…

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Fallen Angel by Michael Carroll

In 2081, SJS Judge Marion Gillen staked her reputation on proving that Joseph Dredd was as corrupt as his brother Rico—and lost. A year later, Gillen is on the run from her own division, and must navigate a world of secrets and lies. She approaches the stolid, inflexible young Judge she once tried to bust — two years out of the Academy and already making a name for himself — and finds he may be the only person in the city she can really trust…

Machineries of Hate by Matt Smith

Droids! They’re everywhere; they clean for you, cook for you, grow your food. But don’t they deserve rights like everyone else? Following up on rumours of an unlicensed robo-surgeon, Judge Joseph Dredd uncovers a growing robot revolution… and the mek-hating humans who want to stop them at all costs.

Bitter Earth by Laurel Sills

Flying out to the Cursed Earth to babysit Tek-Div nerds working on soil reclamation is hardly Judge Joe Dredd’s idea of useful work, but everyone has to do their bit. But an explosion goes off when Dredd and his fellow Judges arrive, and then people start disappearing, and it turns out he’s got work to do after all…

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PRE-ORDER the Judge Dredd: Year Three omnibus!

These are Judge Dredd’s earliest cases – and Mega-City One has never been this dangerous! The omnibus collection of Judge Dredd: Year Three is available to pre-order!

Available on 2 February and collecting prose novellas by Michael Carroll, Matthew Smith and Laurel Sills, in two short years Judge Joseph Dredd has made a name for himself on the mean streets of the Big Meg. He’s tackled hardened killers and would-be revolutionaries; he’s taken beat-downs and bounced back; and he’s even arrested his own brother!

But there’s no such thing as a “normal year” in the Big Meg. In his third year on the sked, he’ll become embroiled in the growing anti-robot movement; he’ll head back out to the Cursed Earth; and he’ll fall afoul of the secretive SJS – and not for the last time…

PRE-ORDER EBOOK EDITION >>

PRE-ORDER FROM BOOKSHOP.ORG (UK) >>

PRE-ORDER FROM BOOKSHOP.ORG (US) >>

PRE-ORDER FROM HIVE.CO.UK >>

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Fallen Angel by Michael Carroll

In 2081, SJS Judge Marion Gillen staked her reputation on proving that Joseph Dredd was as corrupt as his brother Rico—and lost. A year later, Gillen is on the run from her own division, and must navigate a world of secrets and lies. She approaches the stolid, inflexible young Judge she once tried to bust — two years out of the Academy and already making a name for himself — and finds he may be the only person in the city she can really trust…

Machineries of Hate by Matt Smith

Droids! They’re everywhere; they clean for you, cook for you, grow your food. But don’t they deserve rights like everyone else? Following up on rumours of an unlicensed robo-surgeon, Judge Joseph Dredd uncovers a growing robot revolution… and the mek-hating humans who want to stop them at all costs.

Bitter Earth by Laurel Sills

Flying out to the Cursed Earth to babysit Tek-Div nerds working on soil reclamation is hardly Judge Joe Dredd’s idea of useful work, but everyone has to do their bit. But an explosion goes off when Dredd and his fellow Judges arrive, and then people start disappearing, and it turns out he’s got work to do after all…

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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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Read the first chapter of Judge Dredd: Bitter Earth for free!

The latest Judge Dredd prose novella is now available to buy in print, ebook, and on Kindle devices – and you can read the first chapter, for free, now!

Judge Dredd – Year Three: Bitter Earth by Laurel Sills is the latest in the Judge Dredd: Year Three novella series, following Judge Dredd as he undertakes his third year on the mean streets of Mega-City One.

It is now 2082 and flying out to the Cursed Earth to babysit Tek-Div nerds working on soil reclamation is hardly Judge Joe Dredd’s idea of useful work, but everyone has to do their bit.

But an explosion goes off when Dredd and his fellow Judges arrive, and then people start disappearing, and it turns out he’s got work to do after all…

BUY LIMITED PRINT EDITION >>

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CHAPTER ONE

Dredd clenched and unclenched his fists, shifting against the safety harness holding him in his seat as the Landraider armoured tank grated along the dirt road, leaving MC-1 far behind, now a smudge on the distant horizon.

Soon the Cursed Earth stretched out in an endless haze in all directions, the sheer space of it all doing strange things to his mind. It wasn’t his first—or second—time out here, but it didn’t seem to get easier.

Where were the towering blocks, the teeming traffic, the looping pedways? And that sky! A muted light seeped through the floating rock field that rolled lazily above them, the reason they were in a tank and not an H-Wagon. The sky was supposed to be viewed in small glimpses between the pillars of human invention. It wasn’t supposed to stretch, limitless, exposing all and everything beneath it to any casual glance. The only cover out here was the Landraider itself; no backup maze of backstreets and buildings. He itched to order the outer shields down and cover the wide viewing hatches, but as the youngest Judge on the mission, he kept quiet.

“Don’t like the look of those rocks,” said Judge Deng, strapped to the opposite wall, next to Judge Smee. He pursed his lips.

“There have been no recorded instances of a Judge being killed by a stone falling from a Death Belt,” Judge Smee said, breaking her silence for the first time since they had deployed.

Deng looked a little shocked she had spoken. “How do you know that?” he asked. “There was nothing about that in the mission notes.”

She frowned and looked at him like it was a stupid question. “I read everything the archive had on the Cursed Earth for this mission, didn’t you?”

Deng didn’t answer, and instead went back to scanning the sky through the viewing hatch. Smee leant back in her chair, and resumed staring into space.

Dredd was familiar with Judge Deng, who’d come up in the Academy in the same year as him, but he hadn’t crossed paths with Judge Smee, who’d trained with the other psi-cadets. Judge Deng was clenching his jaw, maybe as displeased as Dredd was that he’d drawn the short straw and been assigned to a babysitting operation, but Smee didn’t seem similarly afflicted. She actually looked relaxed; relieved, almost.

Wearing her straight dark hair cropped just below her ears, she looked as though she had some East Asian heritage. Sometimes, Dredd looked at a person and found himself wondering what it was like for your genes to be a mystery to you. Being a clone of the Father of Justice, he knew exactly where he came from, and whose shoes he needed to fill. He liked the certainty of it, but knew from hard experience that genes meant nothing when it came to personality. His disgraced twin brother Rico was a case in point.

Being a clone of the big guy hadn’t stopped him from being assigned to this backwater mission either. When Chief Judge Goodman had summoned Dredd to his office to tell him he’d been temporarily reassigned to the Cursed Earth, Dredd had to grind his teeth to stop an insubordinate protest escaping.

Goodman must have noticed, as he’d felt the need to explain himself, which was out of character.

“Just until the heat from the Carver killings case cools off,” he’d said, pacing behind his desk. “And lest we forget, there’s still folks in the SJS gunning for you after the unpleasantness with the Santon family.”

Goodman sighed and rested his hands on the back of his chair. “Frankly, son, I just need you out of the picture for a few months.” He smiled reassuringly. “Nice, quiet, boring job out of the city.”

Dredd had ground his teeth some more and kept his objections to himself. The way to keep the heat off would be to take down more criminals and clean up the streets, not slink off to put his feet up for a few months. Reaching up to his harness, he pulled the release and pushed himself out of the seat, grabbing onto a handhold that hung from the ceiling to steady himself. “Going to check on the prisoners,” he said, before making his way to the driving deck.

“Don’t you mean ‘volunteers’?” Smee corrected as he left.

He grunted in response and curled his lip. These were perps grabbing hold of a good deal—too good, in Dredd’s opinion. Medical experimentation in return for a shortened sentence. Injecting a prisoner with drugs didn’t change what they’d done or what they were capable of. He’d assumed the offer would be reserved for low-risk offences, but after scanning the crimes of the dirtbags they had loaded into the tank holding cubes that morning, he was dismayed to see a string of high-violence offences stacked up beside every name.

Dredd nodded to the tank driver as he entered the driver’s compartment. Garrison, a grizzled old Judge with a bitter twist to his mouth, was serving out his twilight years as a glorified chauffeur.

“Hear anything from below?” Dredd asked, standing over the hatch that led to the holding cubes.

“Not a whisper. Hold on,” Garrison pulled down a lever, and the whole tank shook as they began to go up a steep incline. Dredd planted his legs and braced himself against the back wall.

“Not the perps below I’d be worrying about if I were you, but the mutie in the back.” He shook his head.
Dredd frowned at the older Judge’s statement.

“No point lying out loud, son; if you’re thinking it, then so are they. Those things can get straight into your head. No secrets around Psycho Div, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”

“I’m just going to check the volunteers,” Dredd said, itching to escape the conversation.

Garrison let out a bark of laughter. “More like ‘lab rats.’ Tell you what, they sure are going through ’em. Twenty of ’em in this transport. Used to trickle through, no more than five or so every few months. But now—” he whistled.

“Must be more like a hundred of ’em.

Dredd reached down to open the hatch.

“—and I’ll tell you something else. I haven’t driven any ‘volunteers’ back to a life of freedom. Makes you wonder where all of them are getting to.”

Dredd’s boots clanged against the metal steps as he descended into the vibrating darkness, hitting the lights on the way down. Eyes blinked at him through the bars of the travel cubes lining the far wall. One of them started barking and a few of the others took up the game, some hitting the bars and others laughing. All seemed as it should be.

“Judge,” a big perp called from the cube closest to the bottom of the stairs; he hadn’t been one of the ones barking. “I hear that right? We being sent to die out here?”

Drokk. He must have heard what the Judge had said as he opened the hatch. Ignoring him, Dredd began to walk slowly past the cubes, checking none of them were hiding any contraband or weapons.

“That wasn’t part of the deal!” the perp called as he walked away. “Safe, they said it was. Just some last-round drug tests and then we can go live our lives free again.”

Dredd turned to look at him properly. He was older than Dredd, maybe in his thirties, with a cloud of ugly bleached-blond hair, the roots growing dark and long now, and gang tattoos covering his neck and forehead. They marked him for a high-up in the BoJo gang. It had been taken down recently, exposing their seemingly respectable leader for the crooked self-serving scumbag he really was. They’d made mega creds running so called ‘charitable’ MC-1 projects, enslaving the cits they were supposed to be sheltering from vagrancy to work in their factories. Dredd had seen the reports. A full block had been turned into glitzy condos for BoJo’s enforcers, living it up on the suffering of everyday civs. A guy used to that sort of high life wouldn’t stay straight long outside of a cube, whatever it was he’d signed to say otherwise.

“Keep your mouth shut,” Dredd said, his hand moving to his Lawgiver.

“Typical Judge. Let the crazies bark as much as they want, but hear one word of the truth—”

“You want to make the rest of this journey conscious?” Dredd asked, setting his Lawgiver to stun and aiming it at the BoJo scum’s chest. “Either way, you’re gonna shut your mouth. Understand?”

The perp raised his hands and took a step back, miming zipping up his lips.

Dredd nodded and lowered his weapon; he couldn’t have that sort of rumour spreading amongst the other volunteers, true or otherwise. Satisfied the cubes were holding up and feeling like his trip below may have caused more harm than good, he left the volunteers barking in the dark. He strode past the driver before he could get another word in, slid the door into the passenger deck shut behind him, and went to strap himself back into his seat. Judge Smee looked him in the eye as he fastened his belt. While her face remained calm, her dark brown eyes glittered with fury. Dredd found himself breaking eye contact and looking at the floor. What was her problem?

“Right, let’s get this cleared up now,” she said, looking at Deng and then back to Dredd. “I know what a lot of Judges think of Psi-Div, or Psycho Div, as our driver so artfully put it. To be honest, I couldn’t give less of a drokk what you think. I just need to know that while we’re on this assignment, as fellow Judges, you’ll have my back, just as I’m going to have yours.”

So it was true, they did read minds. She’d been listening in on his conversation with the driver just as Garrison had warned.

“It is against protocol—”

“—to read the mind of a fellow Judge,” Smee finished for him. “I am aware of that.”

Dredd frowned. “And yet—”

“We could hear you,” Deng interrupted, before Dredd could get any further. He shrugged, as if to apologise for siding with Judge Smee.

Dredd let out a breath, watching the young Psi-Judge as she folded her arms and glared out the window. Reassuring another Judge that he had their back felt ridiculous. He had his orders, and they were both Judges, even if they were in different divisions. While mutants where illegal in Mega-City One and subject to deportation or death, human psychics—mutant or not—were extended citizenship as long as they served the Justice Department. Some people couldn’t bend their minds around that, but Dredd hadn’t put much thought into it. The Law was the Law, and Psi-Judges were protected by that Law, as well as being trusted to enforce it.

“What the stomm is that?” Smee said, half standing until her belt restrained her.

Dredd turned to look out the viewing hatch behind him as Deng let out a strangled gasp. The distant sand dunes were writhing, the earth shaking as if from a small, localised earthquake.

“Probably just a sink hole,” Dredd said.

“No, not that,” Deng undid his belt and crossed to press his hands against the window.

“Just wait for it,” Smee added, rising to stand beside him.

Dredd kept his eyes trained on the moving ground. Suddenly something shot from the earth, rising maybe twenty feet into the sky, writhing with what looked like hundreds of tentacles. Dredd made out an enormous hinged jaw lined with jagged teeth before it plunged back under the surface, as if into water. The three of them watched in silence until the ground grew still, and the Landraider took them around a high dune that blocked the now still earth from view.

“Was that a—?” Deng stopped mid-sentence, eyes darting to Smee.

“That was my cousin, Morty the Mutie,” Smee said, sitting back down.

The big man let out a laugh, his body visibly relaxing, and Dredd approved of the use of humour to defuse the tension.

“Some sort of large sand creature,” Dredd supplied. “We’ll report it when we arrive at the science station.”

The sky was the dark orange of dusk when the double domes of the station came into view, backed by a low range of hills of twisted rock, as if they had been melted in a great heat and reformed. Dredd didn’t like the look of them; they would provide cover for anyone wanting to get close to the facility without being seen—or wanting to get away from it. Dredd couldn’t see much evidence of the work within. The assignment report said it was a research centre to try and make headway in detoxifying the Cursed Earth. It was a noble venture; if they could claw back pockets of desert, they could cultivate crops, help feed the ever-multiplying mouths of MC-1. But it also seemed unlikely. The desert wasn’t called ‘cursed’ for nothing. And from what they had witnessed on the way over, it was no exaggeration.

The Landraider rumbled into a huge airlock that closed behind them, and was then blasted with cleansing chemicals to remove any toxins picked up in the desert before passing through the second gate and into the compound. Three Judges—Tomyo, Felps and Woodhead, from their badges—waited to greet them as the hatch opened, ready to board the tank for the journey home; Dredd, Smee and Deng would be relieving them. Dredd nodded in greeting. Deng clasped arms familiarly with Tomyo as Dredd jumped out onto the dust-blown earth and felt the heat of the dome-magnified sinking sun. It was stuffy inside the domes. The parking hangar was just big enough for the tank to turn, and for a bay of dune buggies. Dredd wondered what they were for. Science expeditions to get samples? The first dome was mostly taken up by an unremarkable white building, the lower storeys windowless. Opening the holding cubes from the secondary hatch, together they got the volunteers to line up, the six Judges training their Lawgivers on them.

“Cartwright will be along soon, to tell you where to take ’em,” Tomyo told them.

“Cartwright!” Deng said. “She’s a legend. My sister’s in Tek-Div, she says she laid the groundwork for that new Lunar colony they’re talking about. I’m actually looking forward to meeting her.”

It was strange to hear Deng talk about a sibling, although Dredd knew that some Judges still kept up a semblance of a family affiliation. From what Dredd had experienced of family, you were better off without them. Deng looked up as a woman in her sixties with short silver hair emerged from the building, flanked by two people in matching white lab coats, holding data tablets.

“Welcome to the bio lab,” she said to the Judges as her assistants checked off the volunteers. “If you’d kindly follow my assistants to the volunteer holding cubes—” She held her arm towards the door behind her.

And then the courtyard exploded.

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Following up on rumours of an unlicensed robo-surgeon, Judge Joseph Dredd uncovers a growing robot revolution… and the mek-hating humans who want to stop them at all costs. 

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