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Read the first chapter of The Fall of Deadworld: Red Mosquito

You can now read the first chapter of The Fall of Deadworld: Red Mosquito, the first in a new series based in the world of the Dark Judges!

Published in ebook on 18th September, the limited print edition of this new novella by Matthew Smith is now available to order from the 2000 AD webshop.

Deadworld was once a planet similar to Earth, until Judge Death and his lieutenants Fear, Fire and Mortis deemed that as only the living could break the law, life itself should be a crime. In The Fall of Deadworld, writer Kek-W and artist Dave Kendall explored the origins of the four Dark Judges and the destruction of their homeworld. Now, in Red Mosquito, Matthew Smith plunges readers into a world falling apart…

Something is rotten in the Hall of Justice … although I don’t really follow politics, myself. You could say I ‘work with my hands.’ I’m a head-breaker for the Mob; I come for you if you owe the Bushman money. Or whatever other reason he gives.

But today’s job just can’t go right. Supposed to be beating up a loser with a bad habit, but I picked the wrong guy and now I’m babysitting some lab nerd babbling about Judges and bioagents, and it turns out I’m following politics after all…

Pre-order print edition from 2000 AD >>

CHAPTER ONE

I was never a believer in predestination. Hell, if pushed I’d struggle to spell it. It seemed an unlikely state of affairs, your life attached to these rails that lead to one inevitable conclusion. It’s a comforting school of thought, I have to admit, to consider that every shitty choice you ever made was fated to happen, that every bum deal you were handed you were never going to escape. Kinda takes the sting out of the guilt. Que sera sera, and all that—whatever will be will be, so fuck it, there’s nothing I could’ve done to change it.

But I can’t avoid accepting the responsibility, however attractive that sounds at the time. The trains I take are mine alone to board, and where they take me is a journey of my own making. I am the master of my own destiny, even if that destiny is to be a washed-up asshole with no prospects. I got myself to here through every bad decision and crummy situation I found myself in, and no matter how much I’d like to drink that knowledge into oblivion, the fact is that it’s no less true. Nothing is fated; the future is yours to mould and shape as you see fit. Your life is in your hands, not the mysterious whim of the cosmos. Sure, I could blame a lot on the arbitrary roll of the dice, and the fact that Lady Luck’s been mainly smacking me in the face lately rather than softly nibbling the nape of my neck, but I feel it’s better to own your screw-ups rather than rant about outside forces you’ve got no control over. No one likes a whiner, after all.

So, yeah, I’m well aware of who’s at fault for putting me in my current predicament, and I’m cool with it—in the sense that I’m not bitter as opposed to unwilling to change it, because I would be quite happy for the chance to climb out of this pit. But that would require commitment, sobriety and drive—attributes that I don’t necessarily possess in abundance; and money too, and it’s the lack of folding that’s possibly the root of everything. Does my pursuit of the green get me into these scrapes? Probably. Does it plunge me further into debt, in an ever-tightening downward spiral of self-loathing, thereby necessitating me to take jobs that I would otherwise baulk at? Oh, most definitely.

Anyway—predestination. Not a believer. Or I wasn’t. But sometimes I guess a moment comes along where you feel it’s a turning point; it’s setting your life on a path that you’re not going to be getting off. It’s got nothing to do with choice; the event’s been handed to you as a fait accompli. Or what’s that other Frenchie phrase? Force majeure. This is the universe taking that big old junction lever with both hands and giving it a wrench, tugging you onto a whole other set of tracks entirely, and you get no say in the matter: you just have to respond accordingly, which is mostly by barrelling along headfirst towards the new end-point. Now, you may disagree—you might reckon I could’ve done things differently at any time; taken a way out, a side exit, picked another route. But I suppose we’ll have to not see eye to eye on that, ’cause as far as I’m concerned I’m sure—sure as eggs are cluckers—that my future was mapped out that night. Fate took a guiding hand, and swept me along a road I couldn’t turn back on.

Fact is, the bottom crapped out of the world the evening I beat up the wrong guy. I mean on a global scale, not just in some localised woe-is-me way: the whole actual planet went down the shitter. I’m not naïve enough to think that what I did was the catalyst—I’m sure this stuff had been building for a while, and I only became aware of it in the slow, dim, dawning realisation of a man who’s just been alerted to the fact that he’s on fire—but it felt like a through-the-looking-glass episode. Everything was changed, both within and without.

Now, I don’t make a habit of beating up guys, wrong or not. Or at least I don’t do it for pleasure. But unfortunately it’s something my somewhat sorry state of affairs has dragged me to, and efficient acts of moderate violence are one of the few skills I can legitimately lay claim to. Thirty years ago I was a boxer of reasonable standing—welterweight, semi-pro—and had the potential to make a name for myself in the ring. I was fit—frighteningly fit—and had ambition to burn; I used to spar with Thad Dewberry, if you remember him? This was before he became four times national champion, naturally. Knocked him on his ass on more than one occasion too. Freddy, my trainer, said I had raw, natural talent, and at the risk of blowing my own trumpet I knew I was good: I was fast, nimble, with enough aggression to power a decent right hook, and an obstinate streak that meant I never knew when to quit. So, of course, I took all that aptitude and ability and threw it all out the window in exchange for a serious gambling addiction. Cards, dice, roulette: I was a sucker for everything, and the more it took hold, the bigger my debts grew, and the faster that physical discipline drained right out of me. All I could think about was the next game, and where I could secure the funds to enable it, and with that my concentration was shot.

Organised crime circles the sport like sharks round a stricken dinghy, and outliers on the fringes of the Mob were more than willing to lend me the cash with an interest rate scarier than some head injuries I’ve received. I took a dive a few times, I’m ashamed to admit, and ploughed the payoffs I got from those straight into my next poker session. I did some bare-knuckle fights—cracked my eye socket, was hospitalised for a spell with bleeding on the brain (which may or may not have had more of a permanent effect than the quacks let on). I backed out of those pretty quick. By this point I was in my mid thirties and starting to feel gravity’s sag. I wasn’t the dancer on the canvas anymore; I was lumbering, and threatening to do myself wheelchair-worthy damage.

I retired from the ring while I could still see and speak without a slur, and got a job at an automobile plant. Picked up a nice little alcohol problem too, which made sure the ship sailed on the last of my fitness: pants got that much tighter, breath got a shade shorter, heart palpitated more times than I cared for. But I… Listen, I don’t know why I’m telling you this, or why I think you would want to have all this personal info frontloaded onto my tale. Like, you didn’t ask my life story, right? I guess the point I was making was that I wasn’t always a bum, and that current fiscal circumstances are the reason I agreed to rough up a complete stranger. Once I abandoned the boxing, my income plummeted but unfortunately my love affair with the cards didn’t lose any of its ardour. Next thing I know, I’m being informed that my debts that I’d spread around town had been consolidated into one big chunk of change that I owed a guy who called himself the Bushman.

I’d never met this dude, and still haven’t; the reasons for his moniker are as shrouded in mystery as his facial features. I didn’t know anything about him, but he sure as shit knew plenty about me. His intermediaries informed me of his preferred repayment plan, but made sure to point out that if I was willing to do him what they called ‘favours’, then he would see about shaving off a few kay. This sounded voluntary, but I never considered refusal was ever an option, and frankly a couple thousand off my tab looked better on the balance sheet than the inevitable broken limbs that were heading my way if I didn’t start returning my loans. The Bushman was well aware of my former sporting prowess, and figured to exploit it, even though it had been a good half decade since the last time the old Jackson McGill piledriver had been called into use. It was still there, that jab, even if time had not been kind to the body that it was an extension of.

So I became de facto Mob-boss muscle, directed as required. I threw up after the first time I beat someone to a pulp, disgusted with what I’d become, and haunted by the look of fear on their faces just before I slammed my fist into them. They were squirrelly little saps for the most part—losers like me who thought they could take the money and run—and nothing like my opponents in the ring, who had come out of their corners snarling with the intention of delivering equal amounts of hurt. These submissive pricks, on the other hand, snivelled and blew snot-bubbles and apologised profusely, and sometimes I hit them more than was necessary just to get them to shut up. I didn’t need to hear it—my own head was filled with doubts and regrets and broken glass, and I didn’t want it to get too crowded in there. Block it all out, I told myself. Give the bozo some bruises to remember the Bushman by, and skedaddle. The drinking came into its own there, I have to admit; it was great for blurring memories. I embraced the bottle even more.

I know how all this sounds, and I’m not expecting you to like me. As I say, how I got here is through my own choices, and no one else’s. If I was smart, if I truly wanted to get out of this life, then I’d knock the gambling on the head, stop racking up the debts. But I’m well aware that’s not going to happen any time soon—and most pertinently, so does the Bushman. He’s got no desire to lose me, I’m too much of an asset. Thus, here I find myself, trapped in a role of my own making.

I got the call just after five on my way home from work. I live a little outside of town in a two-storey shitpile on the edge of a derelict street just before the suburbs gives way to scrubland and the woods, and it’s a good half-hour drive past the factory stacks and abandoned car lots. I saw my cell chirrup on the passenger seat of my Pontiac as I edged it through the rush-hour traffic, rain splodging the windscreen. I knew who it’d be—they always texted from the same number and at the same time. I found a public callbox and pulled over, hitching my jacket collar up and ducking through the fat, warm drops to the kiosk.

I don’t know if this is the benefit of hindsight colouring my recollection, but something felt off even then: more people seemed to be out in the weather than you’d expect, and they appeared agitated, restless. Sirens blared several blocks over. The radio said something about tailbacks across the river. There was an edgy vibe, as if tensions were going to spill over any second, but I didn’t know for what reason. A guy slammed his palm against the callbox window and shouted something indecipherable, then tried to yank open the door; I told him to fuck off and he took the hint, but his eyes told me he was barely aware of what was going on. A few more just like him stomped past, and I remember pausing to watch them, this herd of crazies surging down the street, demented in their terror. That should’ve been the first sign, I guess, but I must’ve passed it off as random loons—the city wasn’t short of them. Even the Judges weren’t exactly stable, at the best of times.

I punched in the number and got the message: gimp staying at the RestEazy motel on Rothman, near the airport. He’d booked himself onto the 7.30 flight to Hugersfield, way up north. I was to stop him getting on that plane and gently remind him that he owed fifty kay in unpaid debts, a commitment he was freely welching on. Don’t cripple him, they said, just make him piss blood for a week. They gave me a brief description, and I could picture him instantly, since he was virtually identical to every other sadsack that I’d put the frightners on—tubby middle-management drone drowning in a wretched coke habit, and not even embezzlement to the tune of a quarter of a mil could keep him supplied in snow and ensure his girlfriend was happy and sufficiently far enough away from his wife. Dabney Krinkle was his name, like it mattered—I whale on one of them, I’ve whaled on them all.

I had to book if I was to make to the RestEazy before he checked out, so I ran and slid back into the car, burning rubber towards the freeway. The news broadcasts weren’t kidding about the traffic; the filter lanes were rammed nose to tail, and several of the drivers had given up entirely, abandoning their vehicles and fleeing along the hard shoulder. I still didn’t have clear idea what had put a bug up so many people’s asses, and the pundits on the radio weren’t clarifying anything—I heard the word ‘coup’ several times, and listening between the lines it sounded like some kind of military takeover at the heart of  Justice Department. A damn quiet one if it was, since there hadn’t been any suggestion of small arms’ fire from what I’d seen.. but who knew what was going on in the Grand Hall? Something was certainly scaring the locals, unless it was mass hysteria: I’d seen pack mentality in action before. If I’d had the time, I could’ve stopped someone and asked if they knew what the hell they were running from, but I suspected I would’ve got little sense in reply.

Madness, I thought. I assumed it’d blow itself out by morning.

I got off the freeway first chance I could and tore down the back roads instead. The newsreader was now listing areas of the city that were either off-limits or impassable, and it seemed like they were radiating out from the centre, sectors being shut down systematically. No wonder so many cits were bolting; they were being forced out towards the edges. Static crackled from the speakers, and before I could retune the radio it went dead. Nothing was audible on any station other than a low hiss. That was disconcerting. Even the twenty-four-hour evangelist guy had been silenced, and not even the revelations about him and the fifteen-year-old had managed that. The car felt uncomfortably quiet and empty, and darkness was falling fast beyond the glass.

I was driving parallel to the airport, I realised, but on the other side of the chainlink fence nothing was stirring. No planes taking off or landing, no lights, no signs of life. It occurred to me that maybe all flights had been cancelled—grounding the aircraft sounded like the first sort of thing the military would do in the event of a governmental overthrow—and that I wouldn’t have to worry about catching the mark before he departed. The counter-argument in my head reasoned that Dabney possibly wouldn’t know that, and could still try to scurry away. I spotted the RestEazy and swung in to the kerb opposite the entrance, turned off the engine and leaned forward in my seat, arms on the wheel, confident I had a decent enough view.

A family were throwing their suitcases in the back of a taxi while the dad was shouting at the harassed-looking driver. They eventually drove off in a cloud of exhaust fumes, destination who-knew-where. Beyond the doors, I could see further consternation in the lobby as arm-waving dweebs berated the receptionist, luggage piled around them. It seemed like everyone was getting the shit out of Dodge; or at least they wanted to and were being frustrated by the lack of transport options. I looked up at the motel façade and saw a few lights on in the windows, indicating some residents at least were staying put, then thumbed the number for the place into my cell, gleaned from the buzzing neon sign hanging off the corner. It took several unanswered calls and a couple of redials before a female voice finally responded with a barked expletive.

I asked to be connected to Dabney’s room and the line hummed, then rang. I remained optimistic: she hadn’t said he’d checked out. The receiver was picked up after the sixth ring, though no one offered a greeting other than short, quiet breathing. I listened for a moment, waiting.

“Dabney Krinkle?” I asked.

No confirmation or denial, other than the breaths hitching up a notch. Then the line went dead. I scanned the front of the building again, watching the few illuminated squares that were the occupied rooms, and sure enough one blinked out seconds later. The spooked Mr Krinkle was on the move. I pocketed the cell and resumed my study of the main entrance, running his distinguishing characteristics through my head as I awaited his appearance.

People were threading out now into the street, bags gripped tightly in fists, glancing around, wondering where the hell they were going to go. A trickle became a crowd and I sat up, worried I was going to miss him. My eyes roved over the sweaty, concerned faces, trying to zero in on my target. Seconds later I spotted him—tubby, white balding dweeb, glasses perched on his conk, snap!—and I wrenched open the car door, tracking him as he stumble-tripped along the sidewalk, away from the bulk of the others, briefcase clutched to chest, head turning left and right as if hoping to catch sight of another cab. I followed discreetly, the others paying me no heed, more important things evidently playing on their minds.

I picked my moment just as he was well separated from the throng and crossing the shadowy junction with the RestEazy’s underground car park. I closed the distance in a matter of seconds, wrapped my arm around his neck, and pulled him further into the gloom; he was surprisingly light, and shock meant he offered little resistance. I pushed him up against a wall, satisfied we were alone, and hit him hard on the bridge of the nose, just enough to make the stars dance before his eyes. I always lead with a good pop to the face, gets them disorientated. He gasped, glasses went flying, and his legs buckled. I caught him and propped him back up. He didn’t let go of his briefcase though, I noticed. I gave him a couple of quick slaps to get him to focus.

Now I had his attention, I could go to work.

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Read the first chapter of Judges: Golgotha

“The last police academy in the country has just passed out its last officer. That’s you.”

The latest novella in the critically-acclaimed series exploring the early days of Justice Department and the Judges is out now!

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…

Writer Michael Carroll continues his series about the creation of the infamous Judges in this new novella, available as ebook or limited edition print copy!

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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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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.”