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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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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.

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Keep boredom at bay – Judge Dredd & Judge Anderson ebooks for just 99p!

Keep boredom at bay with a slice of prime future cop prose – grab ’em while they’re still legal!

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

Buy now >>

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

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Read the first chapter of Judges: Psyche

The latest novella in the acclaimed prose series, Judges, is out now – and you can read the first chapter below!

Psi Division is one of the most powerful tools at Justice Department’s disposal, and Psyche by Maura McHugh charts the beginnings of the psychic cops who would go on to save Mega-City One again and again, and a terrifying future that may or may not happen!

Available on Kindle as well as direct digital download from the 2000 AD webshop, there are also 200 copies of a limited paperback print edition available.

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.

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Psi-Division, Mega-City One

Tuesday, 19 September 2141

03:38

Judge Pam Reed dreamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woods! Where are there woods any more?

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

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

Who’re you, lady?

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

Pam, eh?

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

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

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

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

Shoo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, nothing like that.”

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

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

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

She only whispered one word: “Psyche.”

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OUT NOW: Judges Volume One

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

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

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

The first collected volume of Judges is out now!

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

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

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

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

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

The next chapter in the back story of Judge Dredd’s corrupt clone brother, Rico, is available to pre-order now!

Every fan knows the cautionary tale of Rico Dredd, the Judge who went bad – but his story didn’t end when he was consigned to Titan by his own brother! The Process of Elimination is the latest prose novella from veteran Dredd writer Michael Carroll that delves into Rico’s history and gives voice to this haunting presence in Judge Dredd’s life.

Out on 3rd October, The Process of Elimination is available to pre-order as an ebook from Amazon and Rebellion Publishing’s ebook store!

Pre-order for Amazon Kindle >>
Pre-order on the Rebellion Publishing store >>

“Everyone breaks, that’s what they say about Titan. Everyone breaks. But not me. Not Rico Dredd. Not even when they cut out my lungs, injected every inch of my skin with cold-resistant polymers, plastic-coated my eyes and sealed up my mouth and nose.

“You don’t get to become Mega-City One’s top Judge without learning how to adapt, how to survive. I know the score. The prison is an unforgiving hell, but do your time, keep your head down, and you just might make it out alive.

“Then I was chosen for a rescue mission out on the surface, and everything changed. A dark secret was uncovered, and suddenly even I was pushed to breaking point.”

Buy The Third Law, the first book in the Rico Dredd: The Titan Years series, in ebook or paperback >>

Rico Dredd: The Titan Years

Titan
2084 AD
Chapter One

It’s said that even the toughest prisoner is no match for Titan. Everyone breaks, they say.

The cold, the storms, the darkness, the endless labour, the sporadic nocturnal screaming sessions, the ever-present danger from the guards and the other prisoners, the days that last three hundred and eighty-two hours, the constant risk of suffocation in Titan’s toxic air, the food so utterly bland that sometimes you’d happily murder everyone on the whole drokkin’ moon just for the chance to lick the pot a potato had been boiled in.

Most prisoners broke, eventually; a few didn’t. I didn’t. Never broke down, never once allowed myself to roll over and expose that emotional underbelly. Displaying a weakness like that in such a hostile environment is the equivalent of handing the other guy a gun and showing him where on your chest you wanted him to aim.

Cadmus Robert Holland—male, Caucasian, fifty-something—finally crumbled, more than a year into his sentence. We’d long since exhausted the pool on him and just taken it as solid that he wasn’t going to crack.

We all knew why Holland was there, of course, known that from the start. He’d murdered his brother. Bludgeoned him to death with his fists in a frenzy of pure rage. For someone not trained in hand-to-hand combat, that’s a pretty impressive feat. Sure, anyone can knock someone over so they hit their head and that kills them, but to actually cave in a human skull using only your knuckles? That takes a special kind of fury.

Otherwise, the only remarkable thing about Cadmus Holland was that he was one of the final batch of Mega-City One citizens sentenced to Titan. Other cities kept sending civilians for the next few years, but someone in the Big Meg had decided that the mining colony on Titan was too harsh a punishment for cits, and fit only for wayward Judges.

It was late November, 2084. A bunch of us had been assigned to cable-duty on J-shaft. Assignments were usually fixed, and most of the time I was outside the prison compound, but sometimes a dig would be picked clean and we’d have to wait until another one was found; or sometimes, the weather was just too bad. That was when they put us on J. It wasn’t the worst duty—that would be waste management, and believe me, you do not want to know the details—but it was hard work, especially pulley duty.

The shaft was inside the prison compound, and was the primary reason the prison had been built just there. A rich, almost vertical seam of iridium ore that even after all these years still hadn’t been exhausted. The yield was about a kilogramme of iridium for every two tonnes we dug out. That might not sound like much, but it gave the average astrogeologist palpitations.

The shaft was a narrow cone, fifty metres across at the surface and three hundred metres deep, with a few small side-tunnels that snaked away, following smaller deposits. It was covered by a sturdy, three-storey-high framework, housing thirty or so mechanical pulley blocks.

That day, former Sov Judge Zera Kurya and I joined eighteen other prisoners hauling on the pulley cables, two prisoners to a cable. We nodded the usual greetings to the teams on either side of us—Cadmus Holland and Artherus Schiller were on our right—and then untied our cables and started to pull.

Arm over arm, steadily hoisting up huge steel buckets of ore. When they reached the pulley block we switched to a second cable that pulled the bucket forward until it was clear of the pit, then tipped it into the back of a waiting truck.

The trucks took the ore to the smelter, which refined the metal, depositing bars of iridium in neat stacks. Back on Earth, any one of those bars could set someone up for life. Here on Titan, they were just piled up, waiting for the next ship to collect them.

It took an average of four hundred arm-pulls to get a bucket up from the lowest level of the pit. I know: I’d counted. It was exhausting, tedious, backbreaking work and everyone hated it. Most jobs in the prison you’d find someone who didn’t mind it, but not this.

New fish always think that they’ll be okay with it, and for the first few hours it’s not so bad. The buckets weigh about half a tonne fully laden; but with two people lifting, that’s only two-hundred and fifty kilogrammes each. And the pulley block has a ten-to-one ratio—for every metre you pull, the bucket is raised ten centimetres—so you’re really only lifting twenty-five kilograms. In Titan’s low gravity, that’s hardly any work at all.

Until you have to do it over and over, a twelve-hour shift, in your bulky, uncomfortable environment suit, on your feet the whole time. You get three twenty-minute breaks per shift, and no talking if certain guards are supervising.

I had it a little easier because mods only do ten-hour shifts when we’re working outside: after that, we have to purge our sinus filters, and no one wants to see that.

Six hours into the shift our supervising guard, Delaney, called second break. Delaney was a barrel-chested man with rosy cheeks and white bushy eyebrows. Donny Guildford had once whispered to me that he looked like Santa Claus had gone into witness protection, and it’d stuck with me ever since. We liked him; he was one of those guards who wasn’t paranoid enough to equate casual conversation with sedition.

As we all gratefully tied off our cables and sat down on the frozen ground, Cadmus Holland said, “I’m done.”

Artherus Schiller asked, “You’ve done what?”

Inside his helmet, Holland slowly shook his head. “I can’t go on. This drokkin’ place… The air is poison, nothing grows in the frozen dirt, the storms wind can tear you apart. And for what? For this.” He picked up a small chunk of rock and bounced it in the palm of his hand. “Iridium.” He pointed straight up. “There are whole asteroids made of the stuff up there. Much closer to home than we are.” To Kurya, he said, “I heard your people are talking about setting up a mass-driver in the asteroid belt. Shoot the damn things at Earth, let them burn up in the atmosphere, save the cost of smelting them to get the ore out. That’s the way it should be done.”

“Probably wasn’t their idea,” Schiller said. “The Sovs don’t invent. They just take other people’s ideas. You know? Communism. Even the ideas belong to the state. No offence, Kurya.”

“Die in pain,” she responded, calmly.

I said, “Schiller, shut that down right now. And you can drop the ‘I can’t take it any more’ attitude, too, Holland. You can and you will. Your first week, you thought you weren’t going to survive, am I right?”

He nodded. “Yeah, but—”

“You were wrong then. Never thought you’d make it through your first month, either, or your first year. Same as the rest of us. But you were wrong then, too. You did make it. Now you think you can’t make it to the end of your sentence. What makes you right about that when you were wrong before?”

Schiller gave a half-laugh, half-snort. “Dredd’s right. You’ll get back to Earth. Start your life over.”

Then Holland said, “Without my brother.”

“Yeah, well you’re the one who caved in his skull. You crack an egg, you can’t go complaining that the yolk is leaking out, right?”

Normally, Holland would have either completely ignored that, or responded with a brisk head-butt. This time, he just nodded.

Schiller flashed me a look that said, That’s interesting… Then he asked, “Why’d you do it, Holland? You spent eighteen years taking care of your brother, and then one day you just snapped.”

Holland sighed long and deep, and the strength and life just seemed to slip out of him like a punctured airbed.

I knew from previous conversations that Holland had grown up believing in Mega-City One, in the Justice Department. He’d lost friends and family in the war—on both sides—but had never lost his faith in humanity. In the end, no matter what the odds, the good in people will triumph.

That’s what he believed. That was at the core of Cadmus Robert Holland’s being: the notion that people are inherently good. There are some who stray from time to time, but there is always a nucleus of goodness deep inside even the most hardened, most bloodthirsty criminal.

I guess he was right about that. Back in the Meg I got to know a lot of people who have one foot firmly in the gutter. The department classifies them as criminals, but ignores the good that they do. A woman can spend her entire life and all her pay making clothes for the homeless, but she shoplifts one can of lettuce-freshener and she’s labelled a thief.

I’ve already mentioned my friend Evan Quasarano. Grew up in the ghetto, joined a gang, became a small-time crook. Why’d he do that? Because he knew nothing else. His mother struggled to keep the family fed and clothed, his father was long gone and his grandfathers constantly bickered. They’d been on different sides during the war and every family get-together was destined to go down the ‘What the drokk did you just say?’ route. More than once I’d had to pry the two old guys apart, stop them from killing each other over the dinner table.

Evan was a thief, a thug, a low-life numbers-runner and occasional bodyguard. All before his eighteenth birthday. Did that make him a bad person? No, just misguided. I’d spent a lot of time with him, listening to his barely-formed opinions and regurgitations of other people’s ideas, and I could tell that Evan was just ignorant, and maybe a bit dumb. But I once saw him give half a bag of crawbies to a kid who’d had his own stash stolen before he could sell it, all because he knew that kid’s mother would have beaten him if he’d come home empty-handed. You can’t tell me that’s something a bad person would do.

People are a little selfish, maybe, but when they take the time to step outside their own lives and see things from other perspectives, they generally do realise that we’re all in this together. I’m not saying that it’s altruism, doing good for no reward or recognition, but that’s not the point. Every good thing we do helps make the world a better place—and who doesn’t want to live in a better world?

That had always been Cadmus Holland’s stance. Broderick—his younger brother—had apparently been a nice guy, doing pretty well at school, had some good friends. He’d been well-adjusted and well-liked by most people.

Holland said, “Something happened to him the day after a bunch of us went to the Festival of Wheels.”

Schiller said, “I remember that. We couldn’t go—Papa said it was too expensive to get to Mega-City One.”

Holland nodded slowly for a moment, then calmly said, “You’ve been begging me forever to tell you, so shut the drokk up and listen.”

Schiller grinned. He was never the sort to take offence easily.

“Broderick was thirteen years old,” Holland said. “We’d had a good time at the festival but the next morning he didn’t respond when I woke him up for school. I mean, he got up, but he didn’t say anything. Went off to school still not talking to me. I figured he was angry with me for something, but you know kids—you can’t read their minds. That night I got a call from his school. Broderick hadn’t spoken to anyone all day, not even when his teachers asked him directly.

 “So I went into his room and said, ‘The hell’s the matter with you?’ Nothing. ‘You’re not talking to me?’ Still nothing. I figured it would blow over in a few days, but I was wrong. I could see it in his eyes sometimes that he wanted to speak, but he just couldn’t. I gave him a pencil and a pad, but he just threw them aside. Same with the datapad. After the second week I brought him to the doctor. Those first brain-scans alone cost me a month’s salary, but they didn’t show up anything wrong. No damage, no lesions, no parasites. Broderick had just lost the ability, or the will, to speak.

“We did have some medical insurance, but the drokkers refused to pay up without an official diagnosis, so I had to pay for everything. Sold the car. Sold the house to cover a four-week stint in the Tremaine Clinic, but still they couldn’t find anything wrong. Had to move into a crappy one-bedroom stomm-hole on the west side after that. And then…” Holland looked up. “That day. Broderick was thirty. We’d been living with his condition for seventeen years. We were out, scouring the market down under the flyovers… I thought that maybe I could get him a job somewhere that it didn’t matter that he couldn’t speak. At that stage we were so broke I was dealing zizz to juves. So we saw this market stand where an old guy was selling dead-shirts. He—”

Kurya interrupted. “Dead-shirts?”

I answered for him. “Clothing taken from bodies at Resyk. Used to be that the Resyk centres just incinerated the stiffs’ shoes and clothing, but then they started using it as landfill. Some people steal the clothes from the landfills and sell them. It was actually quite the fashion for a while. I remember—” I caught the look in Holland’s eye. “Sorry. Go on.”

Holland said, “I asked the old guy if he needed help getting the stuff, and he said, ‘Yeah, maybe. Not easy work, though. You strong?’ I said, ‘I am, but it’s not me looking for the job. It’s my brother Broderick here.’

“And then Broderick said, ‘It’s about drokkin’ time!’”

Kurya said, “So he had not lost the ability to speak?”

“No. No, he hadn’t. I asked him what the hell was going on, and he told me that seventeen years earlier, the night before that first morning, just before he went to bed… We’d been joking about someone we knew. He didn’t even remember who it was, but that’s not important. What is important is that we both said, ‘Yeah, that guy’s insane!’ at the same time. And… and then I said, ‘Jinx.’”

We all stared at Holland.

Schiller muttered, “Stomm…”

I said, “No way. No way he kept that up for seventeen years!”

Holland said, “He did. Stubborn little drokker. That was the rule, see. Two of you say the same thing at the same time, then if one of you says ‘jinx’ before either of you say anything else, then the other one can’t speak until the first one says their name.”

Schiller asked, “In all that time you never said his name? Not even when you were speaking to a doctor about him?”

“Sure I did, but apparently not when he was around to hear me use it. He said I’d just referred to him as ‘my brother.’” Holland stared down at his hands. “I’d put my entire life aside and spent every credit we had trying to find out what was wrong with him and he could have put a stop to it at any time with a note on a scrap of paper. So I hit him. And I couldn’t stop. He was long dead by the time the Judges came, and even then they had to shoot me to get me away from him.”

No one could think of anything to say after that.