Judges dress alone.
No one's sure how that started—it's not like there's a hell of a lot of extra room anywhere in a place where "mega" is slapped in front of everything except life—but a decision got made somewhere along the line, because every shield-bearing judge has their own space to undergo the daily change from citizen to law.
Anderson never gave up on getting the code to her own locker room, but it's still a shock when the door in front of her actually opens to reveal her armor hung on the wall.
She bites her lip to hold in the giddy laugh until she's stepped forward and the door has closed her in with a dull thud.
She walked away from Peach Trees with her chin high. Until she got to her bike, anyway. There, she stalled.
Was it her bike anymore? She had to keep the armor on for now, since her jumpsuit was back at the Judges Hall, but did she still have authority to drive the official vehicle in front of her?
Picturing the way Ma-Ma's man's blood and skin and bone had spread out, sprayed wide in an instant of official rejection and judgment, Anderson swayed, unsteady for the first time since she took the hit at the top of the megablock. That was why—she'd swear to it—she stumbled back into a semi-crouch when a gloved hand appeared in front of her eyes with her shield glinting in the sun.
"Judgments are correct," Dredd said as he came into focus. "Assumptions are stupid."
She blinked up at him, watched his mouth twist just enough to make her wish she dared try to read what that meant.
"Your assessment is over, rookie. You're a pass. The Chief Judge has been informed."
Her mind whirling, Anderson straightened and looked around. Everyone nearby was paying no attention, focused entirely on swarming the block in front of them or standing firm in the way of the citizens furtively staring at probably the most concentrated Hall of Justice action many of them had ever seen.
Then Dredd reached out and she swayed again as reattached her shield with a little push against her chest, just above the wound he'd dressed as they descended out of one kind of hell. And then he stood there. Waiting, she realized.
"Yes, sir, thank you," she finally managed.
Now she could tell without any extra-sensory help: that particular twist was a version of a smile.
Her first assignment isn't what she expects. Even after being assigned to Sector 13, she hasn't really expected to be partnered with Dredd—Dredd doesn't do partners, that's what she's heard, lone judge, exemplary judge—but solo never entered her mind. Rookies are always given assignments, the responsibility to choose where to dispose judgment comes with experience. And they never go in the field without a 10-year or more judge beside them.
She knows better than to ask, though. Years of shutting out anything she doesn't deliberately seek out can't keep the strongest thoughts from seeping in. Especially when backed by that face. The one that says the person in front of her would be happier if they didn't know she existed.
"Property dispute, Atlantic Tower megablock, level 112. Details will be relayed en route."
"Yes, sir," is all she says.
Watch dispatchers don't wear the helmet when they're on the desk. Almost none of those on the desks at the sector houses do. As she walks away, Anderson wonders if this judge has been newly placed here, if he usually does view the world through the visor, or if he just doesn't care that it's easy for anyone to read the wary distaste his eyes.
Atlantic Tower doesn't have the desperate edge that fills the air of Peach Trees. It's still a megablock with the typical homogenously cramped design, but there are signs of better lives—or at least the hopes for ones—in the predominance of clean windows and graffiti-free walls.
On level 112, the sound of sobbing comes through the door at the dark end of the hall where fairly recently spray painted obscenities have dripped and stained. Approaching carefully, Anderson turns the handle and nudges the door with one hand, weapon up and ready in the other. The colorful main room is empty, a cushioned chair knocked over backwards. As is the bedroom, cluttered but undisturbed. However, an inner door to a second bedroom that's a rare luxury on any level is open just a crack.
"Ma'am?" she calls, and then shifts into full guard stance when the sobs cut off with the sharp sound of a hand meeting cheek.
Layla Smart's brother, Robert, Anderson calls up from the details that had finally gotten to her as she'd pulled up in front of the megablock. This had been their mother's apartment. She'd passed it on to Layla. Robert had made his unhappiness plenty clear since the will was read, vandalism primarily.
Anderson reaches out with her mind, skimming over Layla's near-hysterical fear and feeling carefully around the edginess of the man who is...yes, pressed up against the door. She pulls back in, locks herself tight.
"Robert," she says, projecting the kind of authority into her voice that she'd heard Dredd use on the perps in front of the infirmary. "This is Judge Anderson. Come out."
A wild laugh breaks through the door. "Yeah, no, Jacko said you'd come! You come in here!" Another laugh. "Hear that, bitch, this is my place now!"
Anderson feels her shoulders tighten. "Wrong answer," she says to herself.
Her boot hits the steel of the door with a solid blow and it turns out Robert isn't actually very smart, because he clearly hadn't considered that all doors in the megablocks open inward.
The metal meets his face, winning her a pretty satisfying howl of pain and anger. "Bitch!" he spits again, reeling back, gun swinging toward her even as blood spurts. "Jacko said—"
Robert swallows whatever he was about to say when she slams the heel of her hand into his jaw. Now his tongue is bleeding along with his nose, and he drops to the floor, eyes dazed.
She flips him over onto his front and kicks the gun away into a corner. As she pulls his arms back and puts the restraints on him, she says, "Crimes: assault with a deadly weapon, attempted property theft. Sentence: five years, iso cube." She yanks him up by the restraints, shoves him back against the wall and sneers, "I'm leaving off attempted murder of a judge because you don't have enough brains for that to have been deliberate."
His eyes still aren't focusing, so Anderson looks away long enough to see Layla sitting on the bed. She has face in her hands, tears flowing freely again, but quieting as the woman clearly tries to get a hold on control. Anderson sighs and triggers her comm.
"Anderson to Control."
"Situation resolved. Requesting meat wagon to level 112, one live for the iso cubes."
"Copy that. Wagon inbound."
She steps over to Layla and crouches down to get eye-to-eye with the woman, but refuses to reach out physically or mentally. She does soften her voice before she says, "Layla."
On another shuddering breath, Layla raises her head. "Thank you, judge," she whispers. Her eyes are shining with gratitude and residual fear, but there's a solid core within her and seeing that stand firm against what's happened, that's a new kind of satisfaction. One that Anderson carries with her even after she takes the armor off for the day.
Mutant scum was one of the first thoughts Anderson learned to block.
Kids can be mean, but she also learned early on that adults are where cruelty breeds and grows.
On the outside, especially as she moved through the academy, people tended to react to her in one of two ways. Some did their best to hide how disturbed they were by her abilities, and then they wigged when she spoke up with intell she gained. Others ordered her right off to keep her "psychic thing" under wraps and to keep anything gathered from them to herself. The Judges Council might think she was useful, but they didn't seem to be doing anything to convince their judges to join in on that idea.
And running under all of it were thoughts of mutant bitch, mutant scum, mutant, mutant, mutant.
Sometimes she curled tight in bed, swamped with guilt that she was wishing the radiation hadn't done this to her with just as much fervor as she was wishing it hadn't taken her parents away from her.
That morning in front of Peach Trees isn't the last time Anderson sees Dredd. She catches glimpses of him almost every time she's around the Chief Judge's office. They both seem to get called there often enough, although she bets his meetings are more positive. She'd been glad when her second assignment came with a trial partner, but the familiar pattern soon emerged. Judge after judge has informed the chief of their decision to partner some other rookie, and the chief's scowl has grown deeper every time she's passed on that decision. It only takes a few weeks before Anderson starts thinking she'd rather go through a door alone again.
Almost two months after she makes judge, she walks out of the sector house to find Dredd straddling his bike next to hers.
"I have a series of apparent property disputes in the megablocks in the northeast of this sector."
No greeting, just a statement. Anderson raises her eyebrows and tries to not get too much so what? in her, "Yes, sir."
"Three have resulted in bodies. One more—the second this week—in a coma. I have nothing except an escalating pattern and a name that comes up in each case."
Something is tickling the back of her brain, but stays stubbornly out of reach. So she just nods.
"Jacko," he says.
Oh. "Atlantic Tower, Robert Smart."
His mouth settles into a satisfied line, his head dipping in slight acknowledgement.
"He's in an iso cube." She frowns, confused, because Dredd must also know that.
"Potential intelligence temporarily supersedes sentencing." He almost recites it. "The presence of the sentencing judge is required."
Anderson nods and looks away, grabbing her helmet as an excuse. A regulation requiring her presence. Of course.
"I filed to remove Smart from iso at 1400 today," he says.
She swings onto her bike and pulls her helmet on, and follows him away from the house.
Watching her parents wither away in a matter of months was almost the most painful thing Anderson ever needed to do. It's relatively quick, at least, she heard more than once, out loud and in her head. The people who believed hadn't been there for the first coughs, the deepening shadows under her parents' eyes, the first time her mother had trembled with chills while her skin burned.
Even credit couldn't get meds, not then, and in the end Anderson could feel just how much it hurt them to hold her and she knew she needed to let them go. It was the right choice, which made it a good choice. And it was a choice that they could make.
That was the answer she didn't exactly give Dredd that day in Peach Trees. Yes, she wants to make a difference. But that difference is giving others a better shot at choosing their own life path, not to have circumstances always do it for them.
She hadn't bothered interrogating Smart; his crimes were clear and she correctly passed judgment on site.
Nearly two months in iso hasn't been kind to him. He slumps, gray faced, in a chair on the other side of the glass. It's not even a mirror—the containment centers don't run to the same kind of veils of freedom as the Hall of Justice. You're here. You're not leaving until your time is up.
Dredd looks at him, impassive as ever. After a full minute of silence, Anderson speaks up.
"Sir, are you taking lead on the interrogation?"
Dredd turns to her slowly.
"Do you need to be in there with him?" he asks. "You were able to read the woman through a door." Then his head tilts, memory coming into his voice. "But you were in the room when you got details out of Ma-Ma's gang members."
Anderson pulls in a surprised breath. When he doesn't move, and definitely doesn't mention how much she'd read from him that day everything changed, she lets it out with a huff of laughter.
"No, sir, I'm good here. Just whatever he knows on Jacko?"
"Yeah." Dredd nods and faces the glass again.
She rolls her shoulders, lets her eyes fall shut on a deep breath, and reaches.
The first time she went into someone else's head, she didn't know she was doing it.
Thoughts, feelings, she learned to block those except for when she wanted to hear them. For all the Judges Council didn't like them, the academy had enough psychics of some skill to walk her through those steps. After two years of building her own weak walls in order to stay as sane as possible, having experienced hands help her weld steel and frame out doors with locks was such a relief. The first day she made it to lunch without a stabbing headache, she had to leave to go cry in the back basement where she'd found no thoughts could penetrate.
None of the others had her power, though. Maybe because she was a child when she got them, that theory was advanced more than once. Her mind had been still developing, more malleable than an adult's, more open to the radiation's meddling fingers.
Then one day she opened one of those doors she'd built and, instead of just listening, she decided to step through.
The colors around her were brighter, everything seeping vivid rays like it always did when she reached out into the world, but she wasn't where she was. She had no other way to describe it.
She knew she was standing in the classroom, alone, with her instructor down the hall as part of their test of her reach. But she wasn't. The room around her was an office. Her instructor was sitting behind his desk with the bent leg and dented top, but he was watching his son over in a corner bouncing a patched ball against a fence where laundry dried over the top.
Everything in Anderson seized, a high noise stuck in her throat. Her instructor looked up, eyes going wide, and then the boy disappeared and the door slammed shut, knocking her back into a chair where she coughed, leaned forward, and puked up her lunch all over the floor and her boots.
Her instructors didn't know what to do. The academy did: practice makes perfect.
No matter how much confidence she has gained as a judge, where Anderson is truly comfortable is in other people's heads. She's not sure what that says about her.
Smart's head is even more of a mess than she expected it to be and the oversaturated colors are somehow muted. He stands with heavy chains around his ankles in the middle of a windowless room, staring blankly at the far wall. There, a movie plays of him puffed up and buffed up, and kicking down Layla every time she crawls to the door of his—not her's—apartment. Over and over, no variation, a continuous loop.
"Delightful," Anderson comments.
He rouses with a roar and swings at her.
She's behind him.
"That's not going to work," she tells him even before the chains anchored to nothing pull him short.
He tries to spin, but she steps on the metal links so he stumbles and falls to his knees. His head drops and the sideshow movie slowly peters out.
Leaning down, she stomps down on the faint string on pity moving through her and takes hold of his hair to force him to look at her.
Dredd hasn't moved when she opens her eyes. She's never entirely sure of how much time passes when she does this, but she does know that she has never worried less than the two (now three) times she's done it with him beside her.
"Malac Jacondo. Operates out of Sector 13, but Smart doesn't know what block."
Since she has the time, she takes a cleansing breath and moves away from the glass and the man cringing against the wall by the door that a guard is now opening to reclaim him. Anderson doesn't regret, but she also doesn't need to watch.
After a moment more, Dredd shifts with her to pull around a chair and sit. She follows his example and takes a minute to put together the pieces into some kind of order.
"It's mostly pawns and loans, as far as I can tell. He sets up a stall in the Atlantic Towers courtyard once a month and dispenses money in return for, well, anything and everything. Smart's heard rumors of sex and child sales, in addition to the usual drugs and valuables."
"And he also dispenses property?" Dredd doesn't sound confused. Anderson isn't sure if he knows how. She does know that tone means she needs to hurry this up, though.
"That was a surprise to Smart, too," she says. "He went that month to Jacko's stall with a necklace from his mother, the only thing he got in the will, so he figured it had to be worth something big. Jacko didn't think so, which still pisses Smart off, but Jacko had another idea about Smart's mother's apartment."
A hmmm comes from Dredd. "How'd Jacko know?"
Anderson shrugs. "He told Smart not to worry about the will, just go to the apartment and kick his sister out...and wait for the judges to show up."
Invisibly raised eyebrows are clear when he growls, "'Wait for the judges'?"
"Interesting." He rises and walks back to the window and the empty room beyond. "I wonder," he finally says, "how much property Mr. Jacondo has registered in Sector 13."
It's hard to not measure time in Before and After Peach Trees.
After, Anderson put the judges she'd killed in her report and assumed that Dredd did the same, but other than that, she never brought up them or her suspicion that they weren't the only four to have something on the side. She had a few moments between killing the first and reaching Dredd and the second to be surprised that she wasn't surprised, and then it became something she couldn't do anything about.
That didn't mean she wasn't paying attention, though. Corruption had always run rampant through Mega-City One. That it had seeped into the Hall of Justice went with the law of averages and, once she started looking, the signs were there in the perps that never seemed to get justice, no matter how often the drones picked up action. Sure, you could put that down to an ever-climbing crime rate and a limited number of judges, but again, on average at least one judge had to have gone after them. And yet.
No one asked Anderson to elaborate on her report. Dredd had seemed as fatalistic about it as everything else that had happened. And so she moved on, vaguely wondering what she would do if she brushed up against another judge betraying their oath.
Shoot to kill, and then write her report, she suspected. What else could she do?
She's seen it before, but Anderson is still kind of amazed at how focused Dredd can be when he has an objective.
Control doesn't have much more than they already know. Less, in fact. Malac Jacondo is in the system as a citizen with only minor infractions when he was a juvenile living with his aunt and uncle in Sector 11. He's done well in his business as a private money lender, and his property ownership list includes one residence, one car, one bike. That's more than most, particularly given that residence's location being a free-standing two-story building, but there's no show of obvious wealth.
It's clear he isn't a street criminal or a gang boss. Anderson isn't sure if she's excited or uneasy about that.
They agreed that Jacko having a monthly stop in Atlantic Towers likely means he has a monthly stop in each of the other megablocks in the sector. So they're going to each and every one of them. It only takes until the second—Sternhammer, a near mirror of Peach Trees, and Anderson has to consciously keep her hand away from her weapon from the moment they get off their bikes—for her to realize exactly what Dredd's doing.
"We're not looking for him," she says once they're back at the bikes. "We're letting him know we're looking. You're hoping he comes after us."
Dredd swings on before saying, "It's more efficient."
"That's one word for it," she mutters.
"Got another idea, rookie?"
She shakes her head, but as she mounts her own bike, she says part of what she's thinking. "He's not likely to come after us himself."
"No, he's not," Dredd agrees.
There's not really any way to say the rest of what she's thinking that's going to sound good. Before she can try, Dredd revs the motor and turns in his seat to look at her. "Stay close," he says. "Ready?"
She doesn't ask, For what? She knows the answer is Anything.
Looking back in the days after Peach Trees, she realized that the thing that always held her back and kept her under the expected pass-fail bar in the academy was uncertainty.
When you hear and see more things that most people do, you can't help but try to process all that information and wonder if there's even more. Once she made a decision, she was committed, but making the decisions—never mind passing judgment, this was just determining what the next step should be—took more time than the academy knew she'd have in the field. So in the sims she kept scoring the marks for her intended action, but ending up severely wounded or dead. A lot.
In the first hours in Peach Trees, Dredd kept having to nudge her into making decisions and taking action. She'd known she wasn't measuring up well, even if the decisions he forced out of her were ones that met with his approval.
Then they were standing out in the open night air, and he was telling Control that they couldn't stay there, that they had no place to go unless they took steps to make a safe place. And she knew that was the single decision that ruled over everything else.
Do what's necessary to stay alive. Make the decisions that will protect and preserve yourself and innocents right now.
She stopped hesitating.
The hit comes as the sun is setting and they're headed back to the sector house.
Anderson doesn't have more than a moment to be surprised when the cargo truck stops dead in the road in front of them and the back slides open to reveal a damn canon of a gun.
"Slide!" Dredd barks, and without thought she mimics his sharp turn and hard lean so their bikes go horizontal. Her right leg scrapes along the ground as they skid forward and under the truck until her bike slams into his just short of the hitch connecting the trailer to the cab.
He's already shot out the front tires by the time she frees her weapon, and then she hears the back ones go pop pop pop pop. So she rolls up into a crouch and takes aim, prepared to put lead into the legs of anyone who decides get too close.
Time stretches out, her heart beating hard in her ears. Eight, nine, ten, eleven... No legs appear.
"We can't stay here," she whispers.
Dredd's got his free hand up and running along the smooth underside of the trailer. He lets out a short huff. "Reinforced."
A careful, exploratory push toward whoever is above them confirms that. All Anderson can feel is the uneasy excitement of the civilians who have scattered around their spot.
"It must be thick," she tells him. "I can't get anything."
He grunts. "Paranoid, or well briefed?"
It takes a second for the implication to sink in, along with a more personal fear. "You think they know about me?"
"I think you're right," he says, voice hard. "This is not a sustainable long-term position."
"Hey! Judges!" It's a male voice reverberating from some kind of speaker. Anderson's hand clenches on her weapon. "Nothin' gonna happen. Jacko just wants to talk to ya."
Dredd's frown deepens, but he stays silent and Anderson holds herself stone still beside him.
"Come on," the man drawls. "Y'already fucked up my ride, don' make this any more complicated than it's gotta be."
Dredd cocks his head, then calls back. "Carrying a Class 5 weapon in a civilian vehicle brings seven years in an iso cube. Attempted assault on a judge—"
A harsh laugh interrupts. "Attempted. Okay, then, judge, you wanna do it that way."
Metal scrapes on metal and they both look up and over. From under the cab of the truck a tube has appeared. Anderson's breath catches in her throat and she shoves her hand into the pouch at her waist, going for the breathing mask before she catches the sweet scent of what the street likes to call blackout gas.
She hears Dredd swear, and the blackness comes before she can tell him it's okay.
No one at the academy was a big believer in coddling. Life for the majority in Mega-City One was hard, rough, painful, and judges couldn't pull punches.
That was one of the reasons Anderson never told anyone what happened to her whenever they went through chem training.
The first time they ran her cadre through a sim with multiple shielded rooms, including one filled with a gas that put out anyone who took a breath after they opened the door, she went down and, naturally, she took the pokes about being the one to fall into that week's trap. But she was so sick and shaky that she knew the taunts weren't has cutting as they could have been.
Then the entire green cadre went under in the next run because they couldn't get the door open and so decided to blow it, flooding the corridor with the gas, and she wasn't the bottom of the barrel anymore.
That night, Anderson pulled herself together enough to do some quiet asking around. What she found wasn't going to settle her any time soon, though—no one else had experienced the shiny dizzy loss of self while they were out.
It was six months later that she took that first step through her mental door into her instructor's head. Six months before she realized what she could do, even if she didn't want to.
Turned out natural rest was fundamentally different from induced unconsciousness.
There's a part of her that still wants to scream.
She has better control now than she did in the academy. Even when she's under and chemicals are doing their best to strip control from her, she knows now how to keep hold of herself and navigate the current.
Anderson has never actually seen a river with rapids and rocks, but there were vids when she was little, short movies that her maternal grandparents had taken out west before the curse. Riding the Colorado, her parents called it as they leaned into each other while the pictures of a rubber boat bouncing and splashing through rushing water played on the screen.
That's what it feels like. All the minds of the people physically nearby—shielded or not—are a great turbulent flood around her, trying to suck her in, suck her down and it's hard, damn hard to separate out the streams into individuals. She doesn't always manage to. She's determined to, this time.
She doesn't know how long it takes this time to fight down that urge to scream until it drives everything and everyone else away. A bubble. She's in a bubble observing the rush around her. A blast-shielded, triple-walled bubble. They can't reach her and she can't reach them. Safe. Safe that way.
Time stretches until the first distinctly separate mind becomes clear. It's dark and has sharp-edges that she forces herself to not back away from. It's also muffled, and she knows that's the helmet's doing. She knows, even though she's briefly touched him only once before, that it's Dredd. Intruding there without permission...she can't think about that.
She slips around him into the other flashes of lives. It takes all her focus to separate out the somehow less violent minds of the men who have abducted them.
This one is in a pool filled with women in various states of nudity, along with more than a few men in similar states, all reaching out to run greedy hands over his overly muscled body. A fairly standard daydream for a grunt.
This one is flying. There's no ship, no drone, it's just him flying with his arms held wide as he swoops around the towering megablocks, cackling and blasting out windows, quick ping ping ping. The drugs fueling that flight reach out with enough force to give her a contact high that she shakes free before it can pierce her protection.
This one has ordered thoughts. Plans. He is the voice. She slides deeper without engaging, images spinning past. The vision of her in one of those plans leaves an oil slick of distaste behind. Then there's a smoke-filled room filled with people. She looks closer there and sees the face from the ID file, Jacko, and the way everyone centers around him...no, around the shadow, a familiar outline—
Anderson's bubble pops as a hard wave of anger jerks her back into consciousness.
The anger crests and washes over her, and it pushes her eyes open in time to snap a foot out and catch the knee of the man who is leaning into her face, his hand falling away from the fastening of her vest as he stumbles back. Her muscles tense, ready to follow through, but the cuffs securing her to the chair she's in are tight enough to dig in when she tries.
The man grins, all stained teeth and horrific breath.
"Oh, look," he says, and it's voice from the truck with all the plans. "Sleepin' beauty's finally awake."
The man jerks and Anderson takes the opportunity for a quick glance left, then right where she sees Dredd, also restrained, his mouth twisted into a vicious line. Her eyes widen. Even through the helmet, it has to be him, the source of the anger that pulled her back.
"If Dredd hadn't come out so quickly," the new voice continues, bringing her attention front again, "I would think you had made another mistake, Davies.
The new voice is coming from a speaker on the short wall at the far end of the room—no, she can feel the movement around them, they're in the truck now—that is the only thing she can see besides them, and on that same wall a hatch that must be the entry to the cab and a shiny dot of a camera lens. She can feel the lack of weight on her thigh and in her boot where her weapon and a knife should be, and she can't sense anyone except for the Dredd and Davies', whose swirl of emotions now includes a sliver of fear as he turns and aims an apologetic smile at the camera.
"No, no mistake, Jacko. No more mistakes. She's a little thing. The blackout, it musta hit her harder."
"Must have," Jacko says calmly. "Leave them now."
"Yessir." All cocky assurance gone, Davies walks forward away from them and shoves through the hatch, any sense of his mind disappearing with him.
After a moment long enough for Anderson to take three deep breaths trying to calm herself enough to concentrate, Jacko speaks again. "So, someone clearly made a mistake."
Anderson spent about a year, when she was six, thinking that judges were robots. A factory made them with no eyes, one of her friends told all of kids gathered around him, that's why they had helmets. The idea of that a little freaky, but since she only ever saw them on the screen news reports about riots and crime, it was pretty easy to believe.
By the time they came to get her when she was nine, she sort of wished that she was a robot. Feeling nothing had to be easier. Maybe, she thought, they could make her one.
She knew even before Peach Trees just how not true the robot idea was. Judges were good, bad, fallible, honorable, and very very human.
It wasn't until she watched Dredd go off on Ma-Ma's man, though, prepared to beat him bloody to learn why a woman would all but incinerate a level full of innocent citizens, that she thought maybe she wasn't the only judge who sometimes wished she didn't feel so much.
"From all I've heard," Jacko says, "you're not going to be amenable to an agreement."
Dredd snorts, his foot tapping out an impatient beat on the floor. "Adding bribery to the list, Jacko?"
"Truth be told, it's already there."
"Well, what I'm hearing," Dredd says with the same conversational tone, "is that you're a man who understands how to come out on top of an opportunity."
Anderson stops herself just in time from frowning at Dredd. But she does look over, and that's when she notices that the tapping hasn't stopped.
"I am a business man," Jacko agrees. "I didn't think that you were, however."
"I'm in the business of lowering the number of serious crimes in the city."
A laugh. "Tactfully said, judge."
She tunes them out, focuses.
A flash of memory. Dredd's hand on the underside of the truck.
The tapping hasn't stopped, but the rhythm has changed.
Quickly taking a good grip on the chair arms, Anderson pushes off with both feet and pulls her legs up to her chest as she falls backward, hoping they're far enough toward the rear of the trailer.
The concussive force of the explosion is exactly as bad as she thought it would be. Hi-ex charges are designed to be a focused blast—collateral damage by a judge is frowned on—but they are also designed to put a perp down without remorse and the reinforced body of the trailer takes the brunt.
When Anderson drags her aching body up, she sees the upward bloom of metal at the point where Dredd had placed the charge. The floor is warped and the ceiling and walls are spotted where flying shards hit at full deadly speed. She can feel the sting where one made it past the metal of her chair and found her leg, low on her left calf.
The cab is a mess, blood and flesh faring far worse than metal. Too close to have a chance without warning.
"I guess Davies did make a mistake."
There's a strange sound from behind her, not laughter, but it's enough to make her wince. But all Dredd says is, "Yeah."
Every year, Anderson made a point of going to the top of her old block to get as close to the open sky as possible. She'd never flown anywhere. Neither, as far as she knew, had her parents. But being up there where she didn't have to look at any part of the city had to be something like it.
It wasn't easy to make the trip once she was in the academy. Sneaking out was a major infraction, and leave days weren't exactly handed out generously. But even if it meant begging and bartering, she found her way up there on the day they left her and she stayed until she could pick out the few stars still visible through the hazy atmosphere.
No one ever asked why. She wasn't sure she knew anyone she would tell.
Davies and his associates hadn't bothered to strip them of their comms, probably counting on the shielding to keep them off the grid. With the new big hole, it's easy to reach Control and call a wagon for three for recyc.
They walk silently back the mile to the alley their bike homers led them. The entire way, Anderson runs scenarios in her head.
"This isn't the end of it," Dredd says casually as they look over the bikes to make sure everything is in order.
Okay, she thinks, if that's how he wants to do it. "Jacko doesn't just have judges in his pocket—he's working for one."
Dredd's head snaps up and she knows his eyes are locked on hers. "Which?" he demands, moving into her space.
"I don't know," she says, holding up both hands to ease him back. "I couldn't read him, no way to, not remote."
"How do you know, then? I didn't see you do a deep read of Davies."
He knows how to tell. He's paid enough attention to know. Anderson shifts, suddenly not just uneasy about sharing an ability that not even the Judges Council knows she has.
"Anderson..." he growls.
"No," she admits. "There's this, this thing that happens when I'm knocked out with chems."
She shrugs. "When I'm out, I can read anybody. Through shielding. Within about a mile radius. I think. I haven't really gone out of my way to test it."
He's silent for one moment. Two. Then, "The Council doesn't know."
She shakes her head and watches warily as his lips tighten.
"Okay," he finally says.
It's hard to believe it's that straightforward in his worldview. "Okay?"
He looks at her.
"Okay," she agrees, willing to take—from him—this on faith. And she supposes she has something to give back. "I didn't read you, just, I wouldn't."
He pauses in the middle of swinging onto his bike. "Right," he says. Then he nods. "We'll work this together, find the boss, take them down."
Anderson raises her eyebrows. "That easy?"
The grimace on Dredd's face is getting easier to read. "Nothing's easy, rookie. But we do it."
"Yes sir. We do."