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It wasn’t often that Judge Dredd called for an assist.  Even more rarely that he called for an assist by name. So when Anderson heard his (unmistakable) voice over the comm, asking for her, it took her tic or two for her to get herself together to respond.  “Anderson here,” she said, snatching her helmet up from the desk in the ready room, already heading toward the bike bay.  “What do you have?” She hated the helmet, but knew she’d get that particular frown from Dredd if she didn’t at least have it with her.

“Uncooperative perp.” His usual, laconic burst of words.

“Really? I thought you had ways of making them cooperate.” Ways, namely his fists.  

A grunt, dissatisfied, on the other end of the comm.  She couldn’t help but grin. It wasn’t funny--there was nothing, really, funny in the work of a Judge, but there was something, well, satisfying, about pushing Dredd’s buttons. Gently pushing, that is.  

“What’s the case?”  She could study the case notes on her way, maybe give her an in. If Dredd wanted her, it likely wasn’t for firepower--she wanted every edge she could get.

“Child disappearances. No bodies found.”  She’d heard of that one--who hadn’t?  Almost a dozen children from Sector Five, all between the ages of five and ten years old, going missing in the late afternoon/early evening.  

No witnesses, though that wasn’t all that rare. Most of the ‘good citizens’ of Mega City One tended to have terrible memories when it came to questions from Judges.

“On my way. Keep trying to get the perp to cooperate till I get there.”  Because if the perp was even distantly connected to children disappearing, a few extra bruises were more than fine with Anderson.

The roar of her Lawmaster drowned anything he might have said, its onboard comm pulling up Dredd’s location: Guy Fieri block, second floor. Not far--just enough to skim the case notes, which were woefully sparse. Even the pattern algorithm, plotting the abductions as patterns, hadn’t revealed much. No mass transit ran by all of them, sewer tunnels didn’t run the same, resyk units didn’t track--nothing. They seemed random. There had to be a pattern, though. There always was. It was just that sometimes computers didn’t always catch how the human mind worked.  There was logic, and then there was human logic.  

And she was here, already, the bright neon of the block sign blazing even in the late afternoon, white and red zig zags outlining the letters, against the drab grey concrete hulk of the tower block.  

Anderson swung herself off the Lawmaster, striding into the building with a confidence she was still growing into. She’d never swagger, like other Judges did, buoyed by their power, but she could move like she belonged here, like she knew what she was doing.

She did know what she was doing.  It was just that what she did was, well, a little weird.

“Location, Dredd.”

“2215. Door’s open.”

She knew what that meant--the door would be off the hinges, maybe in splinters of wood.  

Oh, no. She was wrong.  Door was gone, entirely, a circle of grimy char surrounding what had once been a doorframe.  Someone had gone right to the Hi-Ex, it seemed.

Anderson picked her way carefully around still-smoldering chunks of fo-wood and a litter of crumpled take-out food containers.  Something felt...wrong, here.  Not just the stink of food gone off, but something else, under it, something brownish grey tendrilling around the sides of her mind. Something awful, that faded when she tried to get her mind on it. “Dredd?”

“In here.” ‘Here’ was around a partition wall, through another sea of trash, the walls lined with flyers from restaurants and food carts: Mutie Freddie’s, Gog’s Dogs, Kromm’s  Fishnflesh, where Dredd had the suspect, uh….cornered?

The suspect must have weighed about six hundred pounds, masses of corpulent flesh, pale and soft like uncooked dough lapping over the sides of what had once been a loveseat.  Thin wisps of hair,  dyed bright pink, straggled down around his face, dry and flyaway like candy floss.  He gave a wet laugh, raising one hand weakly.  The grey-brown awfulness was around him, too, but not him--like something he breathed--with every exhale, it seemed to smoke around his nostrils.

“Him?” Dredd must have lost his mind.  This guy's legs probably wouldn’t hold him upright long enough to get to the door, much less to go out on the street. And if he could manage that, he’d, well,  he’d’ve caught someone’s attention.

“He knows something.”

“I know lots of things,” the perp said.  “Watch a lot of tri-d.” He gestured toward the projector in the corner, and his arm made a bit of a sucking sound as it lifted off the couch’s arm. “Did you know there useta be a sammich called a Dagwood? An’ they useta use pigs to hunt up trifles.”

A sharp snort of air from Dredd. “Thinks he’s funny.”

Everyone knew Dredd wasn’t issued a sense of humor, but Anderson was and...yeah, this perp wasn’t funny. She stripped off her gloves. “Let’s see if he likes my sense of humor.”

“Ooooh, am I gonna get a lap dance?”  The leer was entirely uninviting, especially with the sour breath leaking through sugar-wrecked teeth.

“You don’t even have a lap,” Dredd muttered.  There was a note of warning in his voice, entirely unnecessary. Anderson could take care of herself.  

She placed one hand on his temple, trying to ignore the clammy reek of him, and the sense of that wrongness getting stronger than ever here, like a stink, and then.

And then she was inside.

The decor wasn’t much better inside his mind than out: everything was yellow and grimy, bright, but sickly, and sucking at her feet like mud.  “Knock knock,” she said, in his mind.  She could feel a ripple of something--fear, panic--like a wave roiling the sticky yellow...whatever under her feet.  “Are you going to play nice, now?”  Nice by her standards, she would hope.

No answer. Fine, she thought. Be that way. Why make it easy on me?  She was up for the challenge--Dredd called for her because he knew she could do this. And then there were all those missing children--they didn’t know her, but they counted on her doing her job right.  

She started moving down the passageways of his mind, space unfurling and refolding around her as she moved forward, like she was traveling in a bubble down a blind vein.  That grey awfulness was there, too, she realized, streaking the shadows, then climbing up the formless walls, blotchy and streaky like blood poisoning.

Blood poisoning. That thought stuck in her mind like a splinter.  What was it?  What was it?  She reached out, touching it with one hand, and recoiled at the shock of impression--red pain, black despair, screams and the smell of fire. She snatched her hand back, but something stuck to it, oozy and mucusy: a take-out flyer for Mutie Eddie’s--the cartoon of the mascot, presumably Mutie Eddie, with three eyes and four hands, each holding a cooking tool, winking at her.

Oh. No. No.  NO.

She didn’t realize she’d screamed the word aloud until she felt Dredd’s hand on her shoulder, and the echoed thud of his boot in what must have been part of the perp’s leg.  

She shook the hand off her shoulder, flaming with anger, diving back into the perp’s mind, driving through the yellow muck, tearing through it, sharpened by her anger that seemed to swell with suspicion at every pulse, until she found him--a small, weedy guy, struggling to hold up a too-loose pair of pants around his knobby hips.  

“You didn’t.”  She knew he did. But she couldn’t bring herself to say the words, to make it real, even in her mind, even as her mind throbbed ‘he did he did he did’.

“It’s not my fault!” the perp bleated, scrambling backwards, tripping over his own heels. “It’s on the menu! Can’t blame a man for ordering a menu!” 

“We’ll see about that,” she snarled, snatching him up by the scrawny shoulder.  Another set of flashes: pudgy knuckles pushing buttons on a phone, breathily, huskily asking for 'the special'. A delivery boy, scowling under the red-and-white cap, muttering that he 'din't hear nothin' 'bout no extra eyeballs'.  A takeout carton, reeking with wrongness. A surge of anticipation and hunger.  “How many? HOW MANY?”

“T-two! Just two! It’s expensive, you know! A delicacy! A treat for myself, when I needed a pick-me-up!”

Pick-me-up.  She knew as he said it that that phrase was ruined forever for her.  Eating...children, for Grud’s sake, the way she might buy a snack bar or a pair of earrings.  

She flung him from her, in disgust and rage, and leapt out of his mind, though the revulsion seemed to cling to her like a stink.  “Mutie Eddie,” she said, to Dredd, hating how thready her voice sounded to her own ears. She didn’t want to break down, at least not right now. Not when the case wasn’t closed yet. Not while there were perps in need of justice. And not in front of Dredd.  

“Eddie’s,” Dredd repeated. “Food truck.  Moves around.” That was what the algorithms couldn’t catch--a moving grab, one that drew no attention. Was anything less noticeable than a kid grubbing around a food truck?  

He nodded, briskly, tapping his comm. “Need a transport in 2215 Guy Fieri Block. Iso-Cubes. 20 years.”

“Noooo!” the perp whined. “Not the iso-cubes! I hear the food is--” Dredd’s fist cut off the rest of that sentence, not even losing a beat on the comm.

“Probably need heavy lifters.” He cut the comm and looked over at Anderson. “You want in on the collar?”

Anderson pulled out her Lawgiver, checking its load, before shoving it back in the holster. Full load, just like it should be. And wouldn't be for long. Mutie Eddie was going out of business. With extreme prejudice. And probably some Hi-Ex.   “Couldn’t keep me away.”