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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…

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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…

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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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PRE-ORDER NOW: Judge Dredd – Machineries of Hate

The latest Judge Dredd prose novella is now available to pre-order!

Machineries of Hate by Matthew Smith 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.

This new case sees Dredd tackle an issue that will come to haunt his career in law enforcement – robots!

PRE-ORDER LIMITED PRINT EDITION >>

Mega-City One, 2082. 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. 

The first novella in the Judge Dredd: Year Three series, Fallen Angel by Michael Carroll, is available to buy now in print and digital.

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Judge Dredd: Fallen Angel novella out now!

The limited print edition of the latest Judge Dredd novella is out now!

The first in the Judge Dredd: Year Three novella series, Judge Dredd: Fallen Angel by Michael Carroll sees the still-fresh lawman having to help a Special Judicial Squad investigator who once tried to have him join his corrupt clone brother, Rico, on Titan!

BUY NOW >>

BUY NOW ON KINDLE >>

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…

Judge Dredd: Fallen Angel is out now in print (£7.99) and ebook (£2.99/$3.99) from the 2000 AD webshop and apps, as well as Amazon.

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Fallen Angel – pre-order the latest Judge Dredd novella!

The limited print edition of the latest Judge Dredd is available for pre-order now!

The first in the Judge Dredd: Year Three novella series, Judge Dredd: Fallen Angel by Michael Carroll sees the still-fresh lawman having to help a Special Judicial Squad investigator who once tried to have him join his corrupt clone brother, Rico, on Titan!

PRE-ORDER NOW >>

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…

Judge Dredd: Fallen Angel is out on 26 August in print (£7.99) and ebook (£2.99/$3.99) from the 2000 AD webshop and apps, as well as Amazon.

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Pre-order The Fall of Deadworld omnibus now!

In time, the whole world will be a graveyard, a charnel pit for billions.

In time, a tiny few will be all that remains, fighting back against the terrible, rotting “greys” until none are left. In time, the Dark Judges will rule unquestioned over an empty world.

But before the end of Deadworld must come the fall…

Discover new depths to the depravity of the Dark Judges with the omnibus of The Fall of Deadworld prose novellas – now available to pre-order in paperback and Kindle!

Written by Matthew Smith, the omnibus edition includes the prose novellas Red Mosquito, Bone White Seeds and Grey Flesh Flies, and complements the on-going comics series, delving into the dark days of the fall of the Dark Judges’ homeworld.

What was life like when all life is declared illegal? How did the Dark Judges make their terrifying rise to power? And is there any hope in a world marked for Death?

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OUT NOW – The Fall of Deadworld: Grey Flesh Flies

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

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

Read the first chapter for free >>

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.

Buy limited print edition now >>

Buy ebook >>

Buy for Kindle >>

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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.

Buy limited print edition now >>

Buy ebook >>

Buy for Kindle >>

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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The origins of Judge Dredd’s world – now in a discount novella bundle!

Detailing the origin of Justice Department and the Judges from the pages of 2000 AD, the first collection of hit ebook novella series Judges is now available for your ereader or Kindle for a low, low price!

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THE AVALANCHE by Michael Carroll: In America in 2033AD it is 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?

LONE WOLF by George Mann: In 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?

WHEN THE LIGHT LAY STILL by Charles J Eskew: In 2038, Ezekiel Jones was a cop, and proud of it—until his partner shot a kid and covered it up. Ezekiel testified against her, but the inquiry went nowhere, leaving everything he’d believed in ruins. He joined the new Judges programme the next day. Moulded and shaped to be the first of the new breed of law-makers, Jones hits the streets again. But as a new weapon gets into the hands of radicals and the tension rises, both Jones and those he serves have to decide where their loyalties lie.

GOLGOTHA by Michael Carroll: “The last police academy in the country has just passed out its last officer. That’s you.” In the united States of America in 2041, all Errol Quon ever wanted was to be a cop. Friends, family—even the instructors at the academy—urged her to quit, but she stuck to it, becoming the last cop ever to graduate. Quon’s assigned to Golgotha, Alabama, and partnered up with Judge Unity Kurzweil, hunting a lead on an old case. And there’s still a few things the last cop can teach one of the first Judges…