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A Heart of Flesh in a World of Stone

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Anderson was breathing heavily by the time she reached her motorbike, but there was no one close enough to hear her. Her back was straight as she swung one leg over the seat. Maybe she leaned a little awkwardly over the bars of her Lawmaster, but she doubted it would be noticeable to anyone watching her.

She doubted that anyone was watching her. Even so, she did not look back at Peach Trees.

The communicator on her wrist beeped insistently. Anderson ignored it. She knew what message she would recieve from Control, and she knew that she could deal with it tomorrow.

Right now, she just wanted to go home, swallow some painkillers, and sleep for twelve or fourteen hours.

It was the sound of breaking glass that caught her attention; despite her firm intentions to leave, just leave, she had been trained too well to ignore the sound of civil disturbance. Instinctively, she twisted around to survey the street to her left, even as the movement caused the wound on her side to throb with pain.

Ah. Three men were converging on one figure backing up against a wall. One of the trio was waving a broken bottle.

Ah. She knew that figure. Of course. He had not had the chance to get very far.

She could still leave. She did not need to intervene. She was not a Judge any longer, after all.

Anderson sighed as she hit the killswitch on her bike and dismounted. As she approached the group, the wind blew their words to her.

"And there ain't anywhere that you can go no more."

"Yeah, Ma-Ma is dead now. Who's gonna save you now?"

"You know it's payback time, bitch."

The man with the red hair stumbled against the wall and slid down to the ground. "C-come on, guys," he stuttered. "I could, I could work for you now. I know how to do some really drokk stuff."

One of the men laughed. "You'll be really drokk when we string you up. Then everyone will know that this sector isn't be safe for anybody who's worked for Ma-Ma."

"Citizens," Anderson shouted, and the men turned to stare at her. "Citizens, this is an illegal gathering. You are ordered to disperse."

She felt a secret flicker of surprise, because she had not thought about what she was saying before she said it. Performing the speech had been an automatic instinct, drilled into her by a decade spent in the gleaming halls of the Academy.

The three men turned to stare at her.

"Who the fuck do y--"

She kicked that man in the knee, and he went down with a shriek.

"Citizens!" she said. "Do not make me repeat myself."

The first man was struggling to his feet -- reaching into his jacket for a gun or a knife or another predictable weapon, and Anderson shifted in preparation for disarming him -- but his two friends were grabbing him and pulling him away. "It's not worth it, man," one of them hissed. "She's a Judge, man." They dragged him past a corner and out of sight.

Anderson should have called in the incident. She should have reported her use of non-lethal force. Instead, she turned to look down at the man cringing at the base of the wall. "Citizen," she drawled. "This does not look like you're staying out of trouble."

He stared up at her, and the pupils of his cobalt eyes contracted into hexagons. "They jumped me. I didn't know what to do."

She frowned. "Where are you going, citizen?" She glanced back at the building behind them.

"No," he whispered. "No, I can't go back to Peach Trees. They know that I worked for Ma-Ma." He shivered. "They'll take everything out on me."

She could see the standard heart tattoo of the Ma-Ma gang across the side of his neck. There were also blue letters tattooed crookedly across the corner of his forehead, but Anderson could not tell if they spelled out MOLE or MALE or something else. It did not look like a tattoo that the man had chosen for himself.

"Where are you going, then?" she repeated.

"I don't know," he said, and there was the edge of a sob in his voice. He leaned forward and rested his forehead against his drawn-up knees. His pale sleeves flapped raggedly against his wrists.

It was on the tip of Anderson's tongue to tell him the standard spiel: that vagrancy was illegal, that he was required to stay in his assigned housing district, that he could request a transfer through official channels and expect a formal assignment in the next six to twelve weeks. That speech, too, had been drilled into her at the Academy.

One fragile tendril of red hair rustled in the wind. She also knew that, if he went back to Peach Trees, he'd be murdered by a rival gang within a week. His life would be even shorter if he tried to rough it on the streets.

She dragged a tired hand across her forehead. "Come on," she said. "You're coming with me."

He gave a panicked bleat and started scrambling away from her. "N-no, you can't, you said I could go, I--"

"No, not that," Anderson said. "I'm not going to take you in. I just want to talk to you." She showed him her empty palms. "I mean you no harm. And I'm not a Judge any longer."

He stopped crab-walking along the wall. "What?"

"Failed my test," she said briefly. She didn't add: Letting you go just compounded the failure. "But if you come with me, I can help you out. It'll be quid pro quo."

His eyes flickered to the street behind her, and she knew he was still weighing whether or not to make a run for it.

"You should make up your mind soon," she added. "Because I imagine those guys are planning to come back. With friends."

He shuddered, and his shoulders slumped. "Okay," he whispered.

"Good," she said, and she offered her hand. "Come on, then."

He took her hand, and his fingers were cool and soft. In the moment of physical contact, Anderson felt a flurry of sensations: fear and hunger and secrecy and a sliver of hope and, above all of that, an image of herself, hand extended, with her blonde hair lit up around her face like an angel's halo.

Anderson firmly pulled her hand free as soon as he was on his feet. "Come on," she said.

He trailed her back to her bike. He, too, avoided looking at Peach Trees. When she mounted her bike, he glanced at her with some trepidation before clumsily clambering aboard behind her.

She threw back the kickstand and started the engine. "You should probably hang onto me," she shouted behind her, and she felt his hands tentatively come up to seize her waist.

"No," Anderson said, gasping, because his left palm was pressed against the place where she had been shot. "Higher, please."

"Higher?" he squeaked. "Like...like this?" His hands hesitantly rose to the place where her flak vest curved up around her breasts.

"That'll work," she said impatiently. "I'm Anderson. What's your name?"

"They call me Clan Techie," he shouted over the rumble of the engine.

"Yeah? What's your name?"

"I don't remember," he said. "Clan Techie will do."

Her motorcycle jerked forward, and his arms convulsively tightened around her chest like a vise. Through her armor, she could feel the weight of his torso pressed against her back. "Come on, come on," she muttered, and they roared forward.

*****

Anderson had not eaten in about twenty-four hours, so she brought Clan Techie to her second-favorite noodle bar, which was on the ground floor of the Atlantic Tower block.

"Why is this your second-favorite noodle bar?" Clan Techie asked as he peered at his bowl of cloudy pho.

Anderson blew across the steam rising from her coffee. "It was closer," she said. "Eat up. This place nearly always passes its health inspection."

She did not tell him that, on the way, her comms had beeped against her wrist again. Anderson knew intellectually that her inevitable debriefing was low-priority for the Hall of Justice, given that twelve serious crimes were committed every minute, but when her comms had beeped, Anderson had felt a spike of paranoid alarm that she might pull up to her first-favorite noodle bar and see a Judge waiting to apprehend her.

They haven't realized yet that I'm not coming in today, she told herself.

They definitely wouldn't send Dredd to arrest me, she added.

And then, because her inner monologue was veering uncomfortably close to the litany a child might whisper to herself to ward off disaster -- if I say it must be so, then it will be so -- Anderson restlessly threw back her head and drained the coffee cup in one long, uninterrupted gulp, even though it was still too hot, even though it burned her tongue and throat going down.

She dropped the cup against the table's plastic surface and ran her numbed tongue around the front of her teeth and looked up to find Clan Techie regarding her expressionlessly. His pupils were wide and many-sided, and Anderson suddenly wondered what exactly his augmentations allowed him to do. Typical street optics were one thing, but if his implants were different, either homebrewed or black-market overseas imports...

"So," he said. "Quid pro quo. What do you want from me?"

"I have a proposition for you," Anderson said.

His glossy blue eyes swept up and down Anderson.

"No," she said before he could say anything. "Not that kind of proposition. But you need a new residence assignment, right? And so you need a place to stay until you can get that new residence assignment, right?"

He said nothing.

"And what I need," Anderson said, "is to find out what kind of Judges were on Ma-Ma's payroll."

He poked at the liquid in his bowl. "I didn't really know too much about that side of things," he said.

Anderson leaned back in her chair. "You seem resourceful." Over Clan Techie's head, she could see the owner of the noodle bar watching them warily from behind his counter. When she had purchased their bowls of pho and coffee, he had stared at her expressionlessly, and she had felt his grim distaste. He did not see the cadet who had come to this noodle bar at least once a week for the last two years. He saw only the uniform of a Judge and wanted only for this Judge to be on her way before she found him guilty of some misdemeanor.

"They'll be locking up access to all of those old records," Clan Techie was saying. "Both the last remnants of Ma-Ma's gang, and also the new administrators of Peach Trees. Even if they weren't involved, no one will want to get in trouble. Everyone will be busy hiding their guilt or covering their asses or both."

"Sure," Anderson said. "But that'll take them some time. Maybe even a couple of days." She smiled at him, and she felt -- even though she wasn't trying to read his mind -- a spark of fear and alarm and arousal in reaction to her smile. Mentally, she forced herself away from his heightened emotions, which were leaking all over the place, and redoubled the intensity of her focus on his face. Her side throbbed. "It doesn't matter, though," she said, staring at him fixedly. "Because I'm sure you've got back-ups and back-ups of those back-ups."

The techie said nothing for a long moment. "And that's it?" he asked at last. "I get you some incriminating spreadsheets, and you find me some cardboard box to sleep in?"

"It'll be a few steps above a cardboard box," Anderson said. "But that's not all. I also need something else from you."

"What?" he asked warily.

She smiled at him tightly. "I need you to follow me into this place's bathroom," she said, "and I need you to help me bandage a wound, because I think I just popped some stitches."

He goggled at her. "What--?" he started.

"I'll go first," she said quietly, rising to her feet and nodding at the noodle-bar owner, who was still watching her from behind his counter. "And then you wait for three minutes and follow."

She was not entirely sure he would follow, but she gave him no time to argue.

Anderson's second-favorite noodle-bar's bathroom was only moderately filthy, but it had been recently tagged with a series of red and black skulls and, repeated over and over in exaggerated balloon letters, the words "EARTH CURSERS." A sign over the sink implored all employees to wash their hands.

Anderson stripped off her flak vest and wedged it on top of the paper-towel dispenser, which had never held paper towels in all of Anderson's years of coming to this noodle bar. She unzipped her jacket and gingerly lifted the edge of her undershirt. As she had suspected, her wound from earlier was bleeding again, and some of the automatic sutures that Dredd had applied were tearing loose.

The door opened, and Clan Techie tentatively poked in his head. He stared at her wound with horror.

"Shouldn't you be at a hospital?" he asked stutteringly.

"It looks worse than it is," she lied. "Besides, I don't have the time to spend six hours filling out forms in a hospital. Come in and close the door." She fumbled with the med kit on her duty belt and pulled out the clotting foam injector. "Here," she said, thrusting it at him. "I'll pinch the skin closed, and you spread this over it, and it'll help keep it together and uninfected with the sutures."

For a moment, Anderson thought that he was going to faint, but then he swallowed and straightened and accepted the injector. "Okay," he whispered. He bent over her, and from this close, she could tell that he smelled like greasy chips and copper wires.

He gingerly pressed the injector's trigger, and a small line of foam began bubbling across Anderson's belly.

Anderson closed her eyes and fought the strong desire to pass out. Should have taken the morphine, she thought, but no, she couldn't take any more opiates until she was home and safe and away from all these people and all their thoughts, but holy mother, the pain was agonizing.

"Did I hurt you?" Clan Techie squeaked.

"No," Anderson whispered. "I'm fine. It'll be fine." She slowly counted to ten, making her breaths steady and even, and eventually the sharp stab of pain against her ribs receded.

"Come on," she said. "Now we need to re-apply the stitches." She pulled free the stapler from her med kit and handed it to Clan Techie.

"Okay," he said. "But I think we should be...maybe sitting down for this?"

Anderson glanced at the sticky floor with visible distaste. "This place only passes its health inspections sometimes."

"Okay, okay," Clan Techie said. "But let's just lean against the sink here, okay? Because I think that this part is going to hurt a lot more."

"Fine," Anderson said. She gripped the edge of the sink with her left hand and leaned her hip against it. "Okay. Let's do this."

Clan Techie's fingers were cool against her skin, and from the flickers and flashes she kept getting from his mind, she knew that he was trying so, so, so hard to be gentle.

It still hurt like a motherfucker, though, and Clan Techie had to grab her arm as she wobbled against the sink.

"Oh, god," he said, "are you okay?"

"Yes," she gasped. "It's definitely not the worst thing I've felt today."

It was, given her day, maybe even the least painful thing she had experienced. Yet the cumulative weight of all those earlier pains -- the bruises and the blows and the terror and the bullet -- had worn away at all her endurance until she felt as fragile as glass. At this point, Anderson was not sure that she could survive a stubbed toe.

"Come on," she said. "We need to go home."

*****

"Where are we?" Clan Techie asked as Anderson's bike slowed down outside a tall tower, rising toward the sky like a bronze mountain.

Anderson turned her bike right and descended into the underground parking garage. "It's the dormitories for the Academy," she said.

"Oh," he said.

"It's where I live," she added as she pulled into a thin parking space.

"Oh," he said again.

He clumsily climbed off the bike and awkwardly stood there -- clutching the bottom edge of his T-shirt and darting nervous looks around the cavernous space -- as Anderson powered down the bike and locked it.

"Follow me, and act like you belong here," Anderson said. "I'm not really supposed to have...guests."

She took him the back way, which involved a series of service elevators and dim staircases, and despite their unconventional route, they passed more than a dozen cadets, who invariably glanced at them curiously. Anderson ignored them. She willed them to ignore her.

It might work. Sometimes she could subtly suggest to observers that she wasn't worth any notice, that their eyes should glaze right over her, but her past successes in that regard had been unpredictable, and she suspected that she was too tired to manage it right now.

Not that it mattered, because they would still show up on the security cameras monitored by Control, but Anderson doubted that they had started searching for her. Yet.

Tomorrow, she told herself. Tomorrow, after I've slept. Tomorrow, I'll be able to endure anything.

Clan Techie clung tightly to her side and nervously twisted his hands in his pockets and failed utterly to look like a possible Academy cadet.

"There are a lot of eagles everywhere," he said.

"Yes," Anderson muttered.

"A lot of eagles."

Anderson sighed. By the time they reached her housing unit, she felt very tired.

She scanned her ID against the door, and it slid open with a creak. "Here," she said.

"It's...cozy," Clan Techie said.

"Yes," Anderson said. "It's tiny."

Under normal circumstances, cadets bunked two to a room, and under normal circumstances, Anderson would have had a roommate. But Anderson had no roommate; her abilities made it difficult for her to sleep in the same room with another person. So the system had assigned her a single room, which contained a single bed and a tiny wardrobe and a minature desk and an electric kettle. Unlike most of the dormitories, which shared communal showers and toilets, this room had its own tiny bathroom.

And so Anderson had spent the last decade living alone in a shoebox, and her solitude was, in theory, complete.

"Come on," she said, pulling him into the room and closing the door. "We don't have all day."

"So," Clan Techie said, awkwardly standing against her door. "What happens now?"

"Now?" Anderson said. She was stripping off her vest. "Now I'm going to take a shower. And then I'm going to take some morphine. And then I'm going to go to bed. And you're going to figure out where Ma-Ma kept those files with the information about how to get in contact with dirty Judges." She opened up the wardrobe and hung up the vest. She reached up to the wardrobe's top shelf and pulled down the extra blankets stored there. She thrust them into Clan Techie's arms. "You're welcome to crash on my floor." She paused and glanced at him. "Or not. I won't be hurt if you decide to leave."

He clutched the blankets closer to his chest. "N-no. I'll stay."

"Okay," Anderson said. She was leaning against the wall and tugging off one boot, and then the other. "Anyway, we'll figure out what to do with you tomorrow. Maybe I can talk to one of the bureaucrats in the housing division, speed up the process of getting you a transfer." She threw her shoes in the bottom shelf of the wardrobe and closed the doors. "Okay?"

"Okay," the techie whispered.

It wasn't until Anderson was in her tiny bathroom, stripping off her grime- and blood-splattered uniform, that she allowed herself to think the second part of that thought: Tomorrow, they'll decomission my ID and reassign this room. I'm no longer a judge, and the paperwork will catch up with me. Maybe even tonight? No, the system doesn't work that fast. But definitely tomorrow.

To keep her dressing dry, Anderson stood halfway in and halfway out of her shower and ducked her hair under the nozzle. As the water ran down her ears and chin, she thought, It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. And if the last thing I do with this power and authority is help this poor little freak in some tiny way, that will be a suitable send-off.

She toweled her hair off and pulled on her pajamas and thought, This is probably the last night I'll ever spend in this room.

The thought might have hit her harder if she had not already had the exact same thought, two nights earlier, as she nervously stewed over her incipient rookie assessment. Two nights ago, she had been wistful and nostalgic, full of thoughts like It's the last time I'll see that eagle statue in the atrium! and It's the last time I'll pass that chip in the gymnasium wall when I forgot to activate my safety!

Now, staring at her reflection in the bathroom's tiny mirror, Anderson merely snorted at the thought. No one had given her a choice about joining the Academy; the Judges had simply taken her. And while she did not regret dedicating herself to what the Justice Department stood for -- law and order and the protection of the weak -- she could not pretend that her time at the Academy had not been full of drudgery and struggle and loneliness.

Was this little room my cell? she thought. Was it any better than a decade spent in the iso-cubes?

When she stepped out of the bathroom, Clan Techie had made a nest of blankets for himself on the narrow strip of ground next to her bed. He was lying straight on his back and staring at the ceiling as his strange blue eyes tracked left and right. In his hands, he was blindly twisting a sheet of notebook paper.

Anderson regarded him. "What can your eyes do?" she asked at last.

He blinked as his pupils focused on her. "I have perfect night vision," he said.

"Yeah? And?"

"I can process visual data quickly," he said. "Very quickly."

"Uh-huh?"

"I also have...a limited ability to access networks, by myself, without a screen," he said reluctantly. "But that part is pretty slow and clunky. It doesn't work very well. It would be easier if I had an actual data-screen."

"Huh," Anderson said. She leaned over his legs to pull out the drawer of her desk. "I've got a student data-screen. They're assigned to all cadets. It's pretty basic, but you might be able to use it. Would it help you find the Ma-Ma files?"

He sat up as she handed him the thin tablet. "Wow," he said at last. "Yeah, I know this model. I could unlock its restrictions." He looked up at her. "Are you okay if I totally reformat it? It's pretty...fancy."

"Is it?" Anderson started going through her uniform's utility belt. "It's considered pretty low-tech here. I think they figure that the cadets will just destroy them."

"You'd pay a lot for this on the street," Clan Techie told her. "A lot." He cradled her data-screen in his hands. "I'll try not to fuck it up."

"Do whatever you need to do," Anderson said. She had pulled a clear vial out of her med kit and was unsealing it.

"Is that morphine?" he asked.

"Yep," she said.

"Why didn't you take that earlier?" he asked.

She drank the entirety of the vial. "Because," she said, swallowing, "it's not a good idea for me to lose too much self-control when I'm around too many people." She put the vial back in her med kit. She was tempted to stop talking there, leave that statement unadorned, but she felt it somehow wouldn't be fair: he had told her about his capabilities willingly and freely. She should do the same.

"I'm a psychic," she told him.

He was expressionless for a long moment. "I've never met a mutant before," he said at last.

"Yeah?" Anderson asked as she awkwardly climbed onto her bed without touching him. "We're not all three-legged and drooling."

Very deliberately, she did not let herself feel any of his emotions or thoughts, but long experience had taught her what people thought when they thought about mutants.

He said nothing for a long moment, and then he lay back down against his nest of blankets and began tapping against her data screen.

The best I could have hoped for, Anderson thought as she pressed her head against her pillow.

After a moment, the pale hand of Clan Techie rose into view. It was holding a little white figure, which was placed on the edge of Anderson's bed.

Anderson squinted at it. It had been made from twisted notebook paper. It was a crouched figure with two curved planes extending from one side in a V-shape.

"What is this?" she asked.

"It's an eagle," Clan Techie squeaked. "I made it for you. I like to...to make little things."

"Oh," Anderson said. And then, because something more seemed called for, she added, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he whispered. "Good night."

"Good night," she said.

Even with the morphine, sleep was strangely difficult. She had never had another person in her room before, and the sound of Clan Techie's breathing to her left was disconcerting.

But she had trained herself to fall asleep regardless of outside stimulation or disturbance. Growing up, catching the stray floating thoughts and feelings and dreams of everyone living in her block, she had developed a iron-clad system to will herself into sleep. She started with her toes -- made them relaxed, boneless, numb -- and slowly worked her way up her legs, her hips, her belly, her breasts, her shoulders...

She slept. At first, she did not dream, but her normal barriers against psychic intrusion were weakened by pain and exhaustion and morphine, and so, bit by bit, the fragments of other people's thoughts and desires began slipping across her mind.

Being in the Academy made for mostly predictable dreams. She missed exams. She showed up naked to her final assessment. She had meant to shoot a perp, but she had missed, and now an innocent's head had exploded in a red mist of blood. She had been taking the wrong notes all semester. She did not know the professor's name.

She was kissing a man without a face.

She was flying through the air. She was running through a hallway filled with red crepe-paper streamers. She was riding her bike down an unending road. She was standing on the wall of Mega-City One, and the desolated earth stretched before her as far as she could see. Behind her, the blocks of the city rose up like tombstones.

The stubble around his frowning mouth rasped against her cheek.

She had passed her assessment. She had failed her assessment. She was turned back on the streets, a failure, left to find her own way. She had a badge, she had authority, she was a Judge. She was covered in blood. She was covered in red paper streamers. She was covered in red hair.

She had failed, she had failed, she had failed.

*****

"Wake up, Anderson. Wake up."

Anderson groggily climbed back to awareness. "What?"

Clan Techie was kneeling next to her bed. "Two things," he said. "I think I found where Ma-Ma kept her back-ups, and there's a Judge coming for you."

Anderson sat up and swung her legs onto the floor. Her side twinged, but it felt distant and bearable. "How do you know that?" she asked as she stood up.

Clan Techie hesitated for a moment. "I patched into the local network," he said at last. "And it's connected to the Hall of Justice's network. So I've been monitoring their local transmissions."

"Huh," Anderson said. He shouldn't have been able to do that, she vaguely knew, and she had several questions, but at the moment, only one mattered. "Who is coming for me?"

"Well, it's...wait. Wait." There was a long pause, and he was motionless as his eyes tracked back and forth. "That's...weird? They just transferred the assignment. Some other Judge called in and claimed it. Said he was closer."

Anderson felt as if someone had reached into her chest and gripped her heart. "Who?" she asked.

Clan Techie frowned. "I can't tell. I haven't totally cracked the encryption yet. But I think they're arguing about it. Now they're both coming."

"What are the charges against me?"

Clan Techie gave her a startled look. "No charges. It just says that he -- or they -- should bring you in."

Anderson stared past Clan Techie and thought about her options.

"Okay," she said at last. "Where did Ma-Ma keep her back-ups?"

"A place close to Sector 9," he said. "I don't think it's guarded. I don't think anybody knew about it."

"How did you find it?"

His tone was flat. "I know how Ma-Ma thought. And I cross-referenced her accounts with her known assets. She's been paying rent for this place for years, for no apparent reason. It's some sort of business, but it doesn't seem to bring in any apparent revenue? That wasn't really how Ma-Ma operated."

Anderson stood up and started stripping off her pajamas, despite a startled noise from Clan Techie. "Here's what we're going to do. I'm going to go out and intercept those Judges before they manage to get back here." She started pulling on clean clothes and her uniform -- underwear, bra, pants, undershirt, jacket, vest -- as Clan Techie stared at her dumbly. "You're going to go out and find that place where Ma-Ma kept her files. You're going to find the files. You're going to send me a message when you get them." She paused for a moment. "What's the best way to send me a message? A message that won't be intercepted?"

"I'll call your comm," Clan Techie said.

Anderson frowned. "You can't call my comm. It's locked to Control."

"No, I can," Clan Techie said steadily. "I can call your comm. Trust me."

Anderson stared at him. "Okay," she said at last. "When you find the Ma-Ma files, call my comm. If I don't respond, it means I'm incarcerated." Or dead. "In which case you should send the files to the Chief Judge of the Hall of Justice, and then you should disappear." She gestured at her data-screen. "Sell that. It should be enough to pay for a rush on your new housing assignment."

Clan Techie swallowed. "What's going to happen to you?"

Anderson was lacing up her boots. "Me? I'm going to find out which Judge wants me more." She stood up and went to the door. "Wait five minutes, and then leave the way we came in. Do you remember it? Don't talk to anyone. There's a transpo hub two blocks south of us. You can take a bus from there."

She was out the door before he could respond.

In the hallway, she was startled to see the lights dimmed; it must be the curfew-time between midnight and six a.m., which meant that she had slept for longer than she had thought. The hallways were empty. All cadets were snugly asleep.

"So," Anderson whispered to herself. "Where would I be if I were a judge sent to collar a rookie for failing to report in? Front gate? I'll start with the front gate."

She took the main elevator down and thought about her lack of a gun. She had not missed her gun very much in the hours since Peach Trees, and, anyway, she had not really expected to get it replaced, but now she found herself wishing she had her gun.

Still have a knife, she thought. I still have a flash grenade. I still have a half-full injector of clotting foam.

She found that she had unconsciously pressed her hand against the empty panel on the front of her vest. No badge, though.

The elevator doors opened, and she walked through an empty atrium filled with the looming, massive statues of eagles. When she reached the front gate, she saw an unfamiliar man in a familiar judge's uniform talking to the security guards on duty.

"Wait," she heard him say. "Cancel that call. I think this is her." He turned toward her. "Judge Anderson?"

Her pace slowed. She had not expected that sequence of words. "Yes?"

The man's mouth smiled, and from his mind, she felt a clear spurt of determination. "Control has been trying to reach you all day." His badge read PETRIE.

"My comm must be malfunctioning," she said coolly.

Petrie's smile slipped. "You haven't filed your report from Peach Trees. Ordinances require that a report be filed within twelve hours of the case's closure." He gestured for her to follow him, and as she fell into step beside him, Anderson saw the curious security guards disappear back into their office.

"Ah. I assumed my fellow Judge would file the report," Anderson lied.

"That's the other thing," Petrie said. "The Council would like a full report from you about your experiences being evaluated by your fellow Judge."

Anderson pretended to think about this. "Are they planning to reverse his judgment on my capabilities?"

"No," Petrie said easily. "My understanding is that the Council agreed with him about your pass."

And for a moment, Anderson felt the strangest feeling, as if something hard and hot was pressing against the interior of her rib cage, and the sensation was so disorienting that it took her a moment to register what Petrie was saying.

"...the pacification of Peach Trees, and so there will be a formal inquiry about the presence of other Judges on site." They had reached the parking garage, and everything was dark and still around them. There were no lights within the garage, due to the Academy's energy-efficiency efforts during curfew-hours. "There has been an accusation of corruption," Petrie said. "Judge Travis and the rest of the Council would like to determine whether or not the conflict at Peach Trees was brought about by a misunderstanding."

"A misunderstanding," Anderson repeated. They were moving through silent rows of motorbikes. They were presumably on the way to Petrie's Lawmaster. Anderson could see her bike two rows over.

"An unclear identification," Petrie elaborated, "or a mistake in the heat of gunfire. The Council is interested in considering all possible alternative explanations." His tone was calm, casual, off-hand. "Do you believe in an alternative explanation for those so-called 'rogue' Judges, Judge Anderson?"

"Not really," Anderson said. "I think I'm pretty much in agreement with Dredd."

He reached for his gun, but Anderson, registering his sudden emotional surge, was already ducking under his arm. She slammed her shoulder into his stomach and he reeled back with a grunt.

She heard the sound of his gun's bullets hitting the cement floor as she sprinted toward the nearest row of bikes and slid behind them.

"This isn't very smart, Anderson," he shouted.

Anderson did not bother to respond. It was dark in the garage, but it was not pitch-black. A few more bullets rattled against the pillar behind her.

She heard him laugh. "I heard you were a mutie," he said. "I heard you've got some gifts. Talented. So they're a little worried about killing you. I said that you had to be neutralized, though. I just want you to remember, Anderson, that I was willing to bring you in alive. You were the one who brought us to this."

Anderson scuttled to the next row of bikes. Her Lawmaster was still several bikes down the row.

Petrie had stopped shooting, but his voice was getting closer. "You didn't understand what being a Judge means."

"I think it means upholding the law," she muttered as she moved toward her bike. She inadvertently banged against another bike's back wheel and threw herself to the ground just as a fresh blast of gunfire from Petrie rained down around her. He was moving in her direction. She started dragging herself along the ground on her belly, despite the pain.

"Such bullshit," Petrie sighed, and Anderson heard his comm crackle to life.

"Judge Petrie," came a high-pitched voice, "you are ordered to Sector 11 to contain a riot."

"What the fuck?" Petrie said. "What is this? You're not Control."

"Judge Petrie," said his comm, "we repeat, you are ordered to contain a riot in Sector 11."

"Control? Control? Control, come in. I think I've been hacked."

"Judge Petrie!" shrilled the comm. "Judge Petrie!"

Thanks, Clan Techie, Anderson thought as she slapped her hand against her Lawmaster. "Bike, activate cannon. Shoot the source of that voice."

"Acknowledged," said a cool, synthetic voice as her bike scanned her genetic sample, and Petrie said, "What the fuck?" and his comms shrieked "Judge Petrie! Judge Petrie! Judge Petrie!"

There was a furious blast of gunfire right over Anderson's head. She clapped her hands over her ears and slid to the ground until the noise ended.

She uncovered her ears and heard the distant rumble of an approaching motorbike.

"Anderson!" said Petrie's comm. "I think he's dead? I think I'm on the ground? I'm not reading any new biometric data from him."

Anderson pulled herself up and stood next to her bike. "Bike, do you identify any life-signs from your target?"

"Negative," said the bike.

"Clan Techie," Anderson said, "do you think you can get the lights turned on in this garage?"

"Hmmmm," said the tinny voice on the comm, "I'll see what I can do."

"Standby, bike," Anderson said. "I might still need you."

"Acknowledged," said the bike.

Anderson took a deep breath.

Just as the approaching bike entered the garage, all the lights triggered in unison, so rapidly and so intensely that Anderson was momentarily blinded.

The other bike stopped. "Judge Anderson," said a familiar voice, low and gravelly, and Anderson felt the proximity of a mind as sturdy and immovable as a mountain.

She blinked rapidly. "Judge Dredd," she said. She gave him a wavering smile. "I had hoped that you were the other judge sent to retrieve me."

"Yeah," Dredd said. He dismounted from his bike and walked over to the figure lying on the cement: Petrie, with most of his chest blown out, very dead. "I meant to beat him here. Didn't think it made sense when he wanted to bring you in. Looks like you had the situation under control, though."

"He tried to kill me," Anderson said.

"Yeah," Dredd said. "Figured he would."

"He said I passed my Judge's assessment."

There was a pause. "Yeah," Dredd said, but slowly. "You did."

Anderson swallowed. "Are you here to bring me in?"

"The Hall of Justice generally likes to meet their new Judges," Dredd said dryly. "Shake their hands. Offer them some platitudes. I don't think it has yet occurred to the Justice Department that you're AWOL."

Anderson stiffened. "I'm not AWOL."

"Then why haven't you come in, Anderson?" 

Anderson slowly took her hand away from her bike. "Because I have to finish something," she said. "And I'm not sure whom I can trust."

Dredd's expression beneath his helmet did not change. "This is about those dirty Judges."

"Yeah," Anderson said. "I've got a lead. I know where there are some files. Some files that could implicate other Judges." She nodded at Petrie. "Maybe high-up Judges."

Dredd was silent for a long moment. "How did you find this lead?"

"I have a source," Anderson said. She bent down and fumbled with Petrie's limp wrist until she had activated his communicator. "Hey? Are you still here?"

"Yeah," said the comm. "What's the...the plan?"

"Come meet us in the parking garage. We'll go get the files." She released the dead man's wrist and looked up at Dredd. "It's that man. From the computer room at Peach Trees."

Dredd's mouth twisted sardonically. "I remember him. You know that hacking a Judge's communicator is a capital offense, right?"

Anderson stared back at him. "What judge? All I see here is a traitor to the Law."

Dredd's mouth twisted, but before he could speak, they heard both heard the sound of a metal door squeaking open. They turned to see Clan Techie dashing across the expanse of the garage. He had Anderson's data-screen tucked under one arm, and he slowed as he saw Dredd standing with her.

"Er...hello," he said.

"Citizen," Dredd said gravely.

"Um," Clan Techie said.

"You got here fast," Anderson said.

"I was almost here when we spoke," Clan Techie said. "I had to get physically near the garage before I could interface with his comms."

Anderson glanced at Dredd, but Dredd was silent and expressionless.

"Okay," Anderson said. "Let's mount up, and we'll be on our way."

Dredd frowned. "Before we go, there's two things we have to do." He reached around and unclipped something from his belt.

He offered it to Anderson, and as Anderson took it, she was not entirely surprised to find that it was her eagle badge. She pressed it into the indentation of her vest, and it clicked snugly into place.

"Thank you," she said.

Dredd said nothing.

"What's the second thing?" she asked.

Dredd looked down at Petrie's body.

"Oh," Anderson said. "Right." She initiated her communicator. "Anderson to Control? This is....this is Judge Anderson. I'm calling in to report the execution of a Judge Petrie for treason."

"Copy," came the cool voice of the Control dispatcher. "We'll send re-cyc."

 

*****

"So. Is this the place?"

This time, Clan Techie was perched on the back of Dredd's bike, with his dirty shirt sleeves wrapped around Dredd's chest.

"I think so," Clan Techie said. They craned their heads to look up at the squat building, built before the advent of the mega-blocks and thus a mere fifty or sixty stories tall. "I think Ma-Ma's property is on Floor 16. I think....I think it might be an old-fashioned love motel?"

"Charming," Dredd said. "Get off."

Clan Techie scrambled off the bike and edged closer to Anderson, who was locking her own bike.

"Come on," she said, smiling at him. "Let's find those files."

The building's lobby was desolate and graffiti-tagged, but a directory by the elevator listed RABU RABU, INC as a business on the sixteenth floor.

"What exactly is a love motel?" Anderson asked in the elevator.

"Brothel," Dredd said.

"Noooo," Clan Techie said hesitantly. "But it is...a place to have sex. But not necessarily with sex workers. Couples can come here too. Love motels used to be big a few decades ago, but they're rare today. I don't know why Ma-Ma owned this one." He grimaced. "Maybe she thought it was funny. Maybe it was some kind of joke."

The lobby of RABU RABU, INC was shaped like a scalloped seashell, with the main entrance at the base and ten closed doors arranged in an undulating semi-circle behind the front desk. One of the doors was transparent, and through it, Anderson could see a balcony looking over the city.

The front desk was run by a one-eyed woman petting a small pug dog. She was disinclined to let them into any of the rooms.

"I know you work for Ma-Ma," Clan Techie said. He pointed to the tattoo on his neck. "Guess what? I worked for her too. But now she's dead. So there's no point in following her instructions any longer."

"Who is Ma-Ma?" the woman asked. "I know no Ma-Ma."

"See this badge?" Dredd drawled. "I'm a Judge on official business. Obstructing my investigation carries a five-year mandatory sentence in the iso-cubes."

The one-eyed woman did not blink. "You want a room, you gotta pay. You want all the rooms, you gotta pay for all the rooms. It's 75 credits a night, or 650 credits for all of them. For 800, I'll rent you the entire floor and vacate the premises." She raised an eyebrow at the three of them. "If you think you need the space and have the stamina."

"Okay," Anderson said before Dredd could speak. "Let's take the total package." She hastily swiped her ID through the card reader, and a little voice announced that eight hundred credits had been debited from her account.

The one-eyed woman rolled her single eye. "Here are your access cards. You have access to the rooms until ten o'clock tomorrow morning." Muttering to herself, she hoisted her pug dug under one arm and slowly shuffled down the hall and onto the elevator.

Dredd waited until the elevator was descending before he looked at Anderson. "What was that?"

"I think, at this particular moment, we don't necessarily want to arrest that woman and call in the arrest to Control," Anderson said as she sorted through the access cards. "I think, at this particular moment, we may not want to alert our possible enemies in the Hall of Justice to our location." She handed three cards to Dredd, and then three cards to Clan Techie. "Here. We'll split up. Sweep the rooms, look for anything that looks like computer equipment, report back here in fifteen minutes."

The first room that Anderson checked had the words JUNGLE ROOM on the door. Inside, the room was filled with plastic plants and a stained mattress and six humidifiers sending up a constant stream of steam. For further ambiance, there was a constantly looping soundtrack that alternated parrot cries with human moans.

Through the wall, Anderson heard the distant sound of Clan Techie's voice. "Is that a mechanical goat?"

The second room that Anderson checked was labeled BUNNY SUITE. It contained an prodigious quantity of vibrators.

In the distance, Clan Techie was saying, "It actually still functions? Oh god, how do I shut it off?"

The third room was labelled JUDGMENT, and Anderson took a deep breath before she entered. She had met Ma-Ma, if only briefly, so she had a pretty good idea of what she would find in the room.

There were eagles everywhere, of course: on the carpet and embossed on the curtains and decorating the top of every lamp and bed-post. The color scheme was red and black, obviously. There was a bed. There was a display of sex toys: handcuffs and batons and a gleaming black dildo sprouting from the nozzle of an assault rifle. A door led to an obsidian bathroom with a sunken bathtub and little bottles of strawberry-scented shampoo.

On a large screen mounted on the wall across the bed, a video was playing: a naked young woman was enthusiastically performing fellatio on a man wearing a crude cardboard facsimile of a Judge's helmet and knee-high leather boots.

Anderson tried to turn off the screen, but all she managed to do was advance the player to the next video in its loop, which featured two naked men in Judge helmets spraying one another with whipped cream.

There was a noise behind her, and Anderson turned to see Dredd in the doorway.

"It won't turn off," Anderson said. Her face felt hot.

The corners of Dredd's mouth turned down. "Figures. Did you find anything?"

Anderson tilted her head. "The Jungle Room is too wet to hold electronics. The Bunny Suite had a lot of vibrators? So maybe it is hidden in one of them. What about you?"

Dredd shook his head. "Nothing with electronics." He turned his head and called across the lobby, "Hey! Stop playing with that goat. Did you find anything?"

Clan Techie appeared behind Dredd and looked slightly abashed. "No-ooo," he said. "Nothing that looked like it held back-ups for Ma-Ma." He peered curiously into the Judgment Room.

"Okay," Anderson said. "I think...I think our best bet would be to dissemble those vibrators? Maybe there's something hidden inside them. Maybe Ma-Ma used them to conceal her data."

"No," Clan Techie said, coming more fully into the room. He pointed at the large screen behind Anderson, where the two naked Judges were now furiously masturbating one another under a flashing strobe light. "I think the data is probably in that screen. It's the newest piece of technology here, newer than anything else by about forty years. I bet Ma-Ma installed it, and I bet she used it for her back-up."

Anderson glowered at the screen. "Can you hack into it?"

"Yeah?" Clan Techie said. He pulled out her student data-screen and sat down cross-legged in front of the wall-screen. "It might take a little while, though."

"Good news," Dredd growled from the doorway. "We've got this place all night."

There was only so much Judge pornography that Anderson could endure, and when the wall-screen started showing video of two female Judges wrestling one another in a plastic wading pool filled with red gelatin, Anderson retreated into the lobby.

Dredd followed her.

"You should get some sleep," he said.

"I've slept," she said.

"Not enough," he said. "And we'll need to alternate watches. I'll take first watch for two hours, you sleep, and then we'll switch."

Anderson glanced at him. "How much sleep have you gotten today, Dredd?"

"Enough," he rasped.

"Fine," Anderson said.

 

*****

The dream featured her and Dredd and a multi-limbed crimson octopus-like creature that was probing their every opening. She was lying with her legs open and watching as the bulbous head of one red appendage rubbed against her labia. Beside her, Dredd was moaning: a full-throated noise that only deepened as the octopus thrust deeper.

She woke up in a flurry of indignation and icy rage and the embarrassed realization that the place between her legs was throbbing.

On the wall-screen, a helmeted woman was slowly inserting a baton into her vagina. "I love the Law," the woman intoned. A ghostly series of 1s and 0s flickered across the top of her image.

Anderson pushed herself into a sitting position, and Dredd -- who was leaning against the room's window, watching the city below -- turned to look at her.

"Have you been awake?" she said, a little frantically. "This whole time?"

"Obviously," Dredd said. "I'm still on watch. It's only just been two hours." He gestured in her direction and, turning, Anderson saw -- with a sense of resignation -- the sleeping form of Clan Techie on the mattress beside her. "He's been out for about thirty minutes. Said that he had found the files, but it was going to take a little longer to run his decryption software."

Clan Techie must have taken a shower earlier, because his damp hair smelled like strawberries.

Anderson stood up and joined Dredd at the window. "What's going on down there?"

Dredd indicated a plume of smoke a few blocks away. "Riot. Not too close. But could be inconvenient."

"Hmmm," Anderson said. "Can I ask you something, Dredd?"

"Yes," Dredd said.

"Why did you pass me?"

Dredd's mouth was a thin line. "You did the job. You saw it through. You may not have done it well, but you did it all."

It was stinting praise, slowly offered, and yet with every word, Anderson felt as if someone was stroking the inside of her belly.

"Can I ask you something, Anderson?"

"Yes," Anderson said.

"Do you trust him?" He nodded toward the sleeping man.

"Yeah," Anderson said. "I trust him."

"May I ask why? He's a known criminal, and you're asking him to provide further evidence of criminal misdeeds in which he was probably involved." Dredd frowned. "I don't see how he profits from incriminating himself."

"He wasn't involved in the judge-bribing side of things," Anderson said. "And I promised to help him find a new housing assignment."

"That sounds suspiciously like using the powers of a Judge for personal benefit," Dredd said.

"I said I'd talk to the Housing Authority about getting him a new housing assignment," Anderson said. "I don't have any powers there. Just a lot of patience for standing in lines and filling out paperwork."

"I don't understand how your bribe makes him a trustworthy figure."

"It's quid pro quo, Dredd." 

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, Anderson." 

"I've seen his mind," Anderson said. "He isn't going to betray us." She cast a sidelong glance at Dredd. "Also, he's got a crush on us."

Dredd was silent for a long moment. "On us?" he asked at last.

"Yup," Anderson said.

"Why us?"

There were questions within questions within those two words, and Anderson hesitated before she answered. "He's lived a pretty shitty life. Been kicked around a lot. Ma-Ma was the one who blinded him, you know. He hated her so much and was so afraid of her, but he didn't know how to get out. And then we showed up. And saved him, like two knights in shining armor. And then we gave him something useful to do." She shrugged. "Under such circumstances, a strong feeling of attachment is not unknown. Or unusual."

"I do not see how his lust for us is a useful measure of trust," Dredd said.

No, of course you wouldn't, Anderson thought, but she said, "He wants to help us. More than that, he wants to impress us. And most of all," she added, partly out of irritation at Dredd's unchanging expression, "he wants to fuck us."

"Sexual liasons are strongly inadvisable for judges," Dredd said.

Anderson gave him a glance. "I don't think he knows that." She gestured at the screen, where a second judge was straddling the first woman to insert the other end of the baton into her vagina. "In fact, I don't think most people know about that part of the handbook, you know?"

Before Dredd could respond, his comm beeped to life.

"Dredd? It's Travis. From the Council. I've been reviewing your recent drug bust at Peach Trees, and I think there's a connection between that case and something I've been working on."

Dredd and Anderson exchanged a look, and Dredd raised his comm near his mouth. "Copy, Travis."

"Where is your current location?"

Dredd gave him the coordinates.

"Copy, Dredd. Hold your position until I get there."

Dredd's comm beeped off. Dredd lowered his communicator and looked at Anderson. "Convenient timing."

Anderson raised an eyebrow. "Highly convenient. What are the odds that he's the one running corrupt Judges?"

"I put the odds at 75 percent," Dredd said. "But maybe I'm wrong."

Anderson gave a dry laugh. "I've never known you to be wrong, Dredd."

He shrugged. "Once or twice, Anderson. Once or twice."

Anderson frowned. "I think Judge Petrie mentioned a Judge Travis?"

"Then it's 80 percent," Dredd said.

A beep from the wall-screen made them turn. Across the video (now the two women were see-sawing back and forth) appeared dark lines of text with colons and slashes.

"Hey, Clan Techie," Dredd growled. "Up and at 'em. I think your program is done."

Clan Techie awoke with a gasp -- and despite herself, Anderson caught the tail end of his dream, in which he and she were both slowly unzipping the jacket from Dredd's gleaming, bronzed, naked torso -- and pushed himself upright. He peered at the wall screen, and his pupils contracted into rectangular slits. "Oooh. It is done," he said.

He reached for the data-screen and his fingers drifted across it. "Ahhhh. Here it is. The pay-outs that Ma-Ma was making, and the broker that hooked her up with those Judges you met at Peach Trees."

Anderson peered over his shoulder. "I don't recognize that name."

"I do," Dredd growled, taking the data-screen from Clan Techie's limp fingers. "He's high up. Not a Judge. But powerful."

Anderson frowned. "But that doesn't get us any closer to finding out who is gunning for us from inside the Hall of Justice."

Dredd tilted the data-screen so that she could see it. "Sure. But that holding company that the broker represents? Doesn't that name seem familiar?"

Anderson gave a low whistle. "Travis?"

"Now I put the odds at 100 percent," Dredd said.

"He'll be here soon," Anderson said.

"Good," Dredd said. "That'll make judging him easy."

 

*****

Travis' men came at around dawn. They pulled up in front of the building in black cars with dark windows, and they swarmed through the lobby to the central elevator. They were not Judges -- presumably Travis was not stupid enough to pull that move a second time -- but they had the over-muscled appearance of professional bully-boys. They had serious guns. They had the superiority of numbers and hardware, and they would have been a formidable, possibly impossible opponent, if they had gotten as far as the sixteenth floor.

Instead, Clan Techie cut the power to the central elevator around the third floor, and the elevator-car thundered precipitously to the ground.

They heard a crash. From the window, they saw the men stumbling out the front door. Some of them were being carried by their comrades.

"Good work," Dredd said, and Clan Techie blushed.

"That was anti-climactic," Anderson said.

"That wasn't all Travis had up his sleeve," Dredd said. "He wasn't among them. He'd want to see this through in person."

In the distance, something chimed.

Dredd took a deep breath. "Does this place have a service elevator?"

Clan Techie was frantically fiddling with the data-screen. "Oh, shit, yes. Oh, shit, it's on this floor. He must have come through the back."

Dredd unholstered his gun. "Stay here, and stay low," he said to Clan Techie. He glanced at Anderson. "You don't appear to have a gun, Anderson."

"Nope," Anderson said. Somewhere on the floor, a door opened. "But I'll improvise."

"Oh, good," Dredd snarled. "Finally. Improvisation." He threw back the room's door and rolled through it.

He came up behind the front desk and saw a trio of men standing by the Jungle Room.

One of them was a Judge, and he turned toward Dredd casually. "Judge Dredd, we came as fast as we could, but you're not safe--"

Dredd fired his gun, and the man to the Judge's left staggered and fell to the ground.

"Fuck," said the third man, and the Judge said, "Judge Dredd, I am Judge Travis, we just spoke," and the third man said, "Fuck this, fuck this, just kill him."

Dredd shot him next.

By this time, Travis had his own gun out. "Christ, Dredd, fine," he shouted as he fired an incendiary blast at Dredd. Dredd dodged out of the way, but the desk behind him burst into flame, which distracted Dredd long enough for Travis to run for cover inside the Judgment Room.

Where he found Judge Anderson holding a black assault rifle with a glistening dildo sprouting from its nozzle.

She swung it at his head, and he staggered back at the blow. He tried to aim his gun, but Anderson pressed her advantage and kept slamming the dildo into him.

"Judge Travis," she shouted. "You are found guilty of treason and subverting the mission of the Justice Department. The punishment is death."

"Fuck you," Travis screamed, pulling the trigger of his gun and spraying the back wall with bullets.

Then he fell to the ground with blood spurting from his neck, and Dredd and his smoking gun were standing behind him.

Dredd glanced at Anderson. "Improvisation."

Anderson, breathing heavily, dropped the dildo to the ground. "Yeah," she said. "Exactly."

Dredd activated his comm wrist. "Dredd to Control. I'm calling in to report the execution of a Judge Travis for treason."

"Copy," came the impervious voice of the Control dispatcher. "We'll send re-cyc."

Clan Techie poked his head over the edge of the bed. "Is it...is it over?"

"Should be," Dredd said. "I'll reconnoiter the perimeter to make sure that Travis didn't bring any other guests." He disappeared down the hall.

Clan Techie pulled himself up from the floor and sat on the bed. "Well," he said. "What now?"

Anderson dropped heavily on the edge of the bed and then, after a moment, threw herself back so hard that she bounced once or twice before she finally came to rest lying on her back.

"I don't know," she said. She pressed the heel of her hands against her eyes. "What do you think happens now?"

"Well...a new housing assignment would be great," Clan Techie said tentatively.

"Right, right," Anderson said. "We'll do that today. Definitely. I promise."

A long pause.

When Clan Techie spoke again, his voice was quiet. "What are you hoping happens, Cassandra?"

She dropped her hands to her side. "I don't know. I thought I wanted to be a Judge. And then I wasn't a Judge, and I felt...a little relieved? Even though it was awful to fail, I was also a tiny bit glad? But then I found out that it was all a mistake, and I am a Judge, and now I'm not sure what to feel." She lowered her voice to a low rasp. "Emotions of any kind are strongly inadvisable for judges."

"Oh," Clan Techie said. After a moment, she felt him reach out to clasp her hand, and from his mind, she felt concern and surprise and a tiny flicker of satisfaction that, for once, he was not the most pathetic and uncertain person in the room.

On the wall-screen, someone was moaning, "The Law! The Law! The Lawlawlawlaw LAW!"

"What is the point of this?" Anderson said.

"Well," Clan Techie said, as his thumb ran little circles against the inside of her wrist, "I think...I think the point is that, somehow, you have to remember these feelings, even though they're difficult, even though it would be easier to ignore them. This world requires you to be sharp and hard and lethal, but you can't just be that or there is no point. You also have to be soft and merciful, even though it's a struggle, even though it hurts."

"No," Anderson said, opening her eyes and sitting up. "I meant...I meant the porn. This Judge porn. Why would anyone make it? Why would anyone consume it?"

They both looked at the wall-screen, where a Judge in a badly constructed uniform was reaching into his pants and pulling forth a fully erect penis that throbbed thick and red. "Ooooh," cooed an unseen women, "go on, show us what the Law can do."

Clan Techie snorted. "Well, I think some people just probably like to jerk off to it. And maybe some people might like it because it's pretty silly. Real Judges are terrifying, but these Judges are ridiculous, and you have to laugh at them. And some people might like the idea of all-powerful Judges reduced to sexual objects, because it makes Judges seem...like they could be controlled, like they could be contained." He had stopped rubbing the inside of her wrist, but his hand remained, warm and loose, around her own. "And I think some people like this stuff because...maybe it's a reminder that Judges are not unstoppable murder-robots of lethal justice. They're humans too. Despite their best efforts, they bleed and shit and dream and fuck. They make mistakes. They can be merciful. They can be kind."

"Hey," said Dredd from the doorway, and they both gave an involuntary jerk at his unexpected presence. Clan Techie snatched his hand back from Anderson.

"It's time to leave," Dredd said, giving no sign that he had heard anything. "Let's go."

Anderson left the access cards on the front desk. "I guess that woman will be coming back at ten?"

"Not if she wants to avoid being charged as an accessory to Ma-Ma's criminal acts," Dredd said. "She's long gone by now."

The ride to the ground floor in the service elevator was conducted in silence.

When they reached the front of the building, Dredd nodded at Clan Techie. "Citizen, Judge Anderson and I will need to make a full report at the Hall of Justice. I believe your testimony at the Hall would be a valuable piece of evidence for our case."

Clan Techie blinked at him. "Ah..."

"And," Dredd said grudgingly and slowly, as if the words were being dragged out of him, "in exchange for your testimony, we would be willing to offer you an immunity deal. You would not be charged with any previous criminal activities to which you may have been an accomplice."

Anderson stared at Dredd.

"Oh," Clan Techie breathed, "yes, I think I will take that deal, yes, sir."

Then Dredd lowered his head and said something else, very low, to Clan Techie. Anderson could not hear his words, but she could feel the response from Clan Techie's mind: startled, amazed, joyous, happiness exploding inside him like a bright yellow sun.

Dredd straightened. "Very well," he said. "Get up on my bike and we'll go to the Hall of Justice."

 

*****

Much, much later -- after many hours of paperwork and testimony and filing things in triplicate, and while Clan Techie dozed in a chilly conference room -- Anderson asked Dredd what he had said to Clan Techie in that moment.

Dredd paused. "I told him that we could not have solved the case without him. And I told him that he was a good boy."

"Oh," Anderson said.

"What did you think of your first day as an official Judge, Anderson?"

"It was...long."

"Yes," Dredd said.

And then he surprised her by reaching out to rest his hand against her shoulder. "It gets easier with time, Anderson. And harder."

"I know," Anderson said. She could feel the struggle inside him: how much he had to force himself to reach out his hand, how much he had wanted to reach out his hand.

"Good," he said, withdrawing his hand and turning to go wake up Clan Techie to begin another round of interviews.

Anderson was still. Dredd's mind was, as ever, as sturdy and immovable as a mountain, but she could feel little tremors beginning deep underground.

"Anderson? Are you coming?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes!"