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Scorned As Timber

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When word had spread of their accomplishment, the technocult gathered at the edge of the Cities Below to celebrate it's doomed captive.

Dredd would have had a decent view from where he had been bound, on the seat in the center of the raised platform, except for the blood dripping into his eyes and the fact that the packed room was shrouded in near darkness. He flexed his arms where they were tied behind his back, felt the tendons in his shoulders stretch as he carefully tested the restraints. His helmet had been damaged when they had swarmed him outside of Rowdy Yates, and through the cracked visor the infrared sensors identified the group more as a single simmering animal rather than a teeming throng of lawbreakers. Only the slight temperature differences of their cybernetic modifications provided any variation, but it hardly mattered to Dredd. It seemed right, even, that they were nigh indistinguishable from one another; they would all be judged by the same standard of the law.

The hammering beat of the chant echoed in the chamber, twisted and magnified, reverberated off of the curved concrete walls until it ceased to be anything resembling human sound and became a thumping, pulsating drone. It raised in volume, pitched and whorled with growing fervor, until the glowing mass of the technocult split neatly down the middle. An ameoba divided into two perfect halves, with a single figure in the space between them.

Even in the low light, Dredd recognized that figure immediately when he switchedswit of the infrared HUD.

Anderson was older than the last time he had seen her, when she had walked away from him on the steps in front of Peach Trees. The hair on one side of her head buzzed down to the scalp, the rest of it run through with streaks of the cult's colors, but Anderson was still instantly recognizable. Dredd had heard that she washed out even after he had judged her to be a Pass on the field exam, and it was with something like disappointment that he noted her proud Judge's uniform was gone, long gone, replaced with a swath of golden cybernetic scales that traced from the sides of her neck down to her elbows. The scales shivered and swiveled as Anderson approached, and every alarm in Dredd's helmet blared at once before the entire system went dark. 

The two halves of the crowd became one again as it collapsed back in on itself once Anderson was through, still chanting. She walked towards him, long powerful strides that did not falter as she made her way up the steps of the dias where Dredd sat, motionless. Dredd did not have time to decide whichof the cult's numerous crimes would warrant her death sentence. He hardly even had time to tilt his head back and sneer at her before she threw her leg over him and sank down confidently to sit in his lap, one hand braced on his shoulder, and the other -

The chanting devolved into raucous cheers as she rolled her hips against his, but Anderson's eyes fixed on his through the darkened helmet visor as she pressed two fingers against his mouth, smearing in the blood there and reopening the split on his lip.

“Let me in.”

Let me in.

With a static soft flicker that Dredd could not be entirely sure was his own will, he did.

Anderson was older than the last time that he had seen her, when she had walked away from him on the steps in front of Peach Trees. The edges of the world in this corner of their minds were blurry and bleeding with the strain of memory, but not so distorted that Dredd couldn't see that, here, Anderson looked almost exactly the same. Her hair was shorter, maybe, than it had been when they had fought together, but the scaled cybernetic implants were gone. She was still wearing the uniform, helmet tucked under her arm, but the badge was slightly different.

Her eyes were warm and amused, and Dredd felt suddenly foolish. It was not a sensation that he was well accustomed to.

He shifted under her weight, and that was not a sensation that he was well accustomed to either.

“You're -”

Anderson shoved her fingers into his mouth before he could say anything else. Stroked them against his tongue. She bared her teeth at him, a viscous flash of gold-edged canines, and moved her hips again in time with the thrumming of the crowd.

“Shut up.”

You're undercover . Dredd tried again.

Anderson smiled in his head. You're not as incapacitated as you're pretending to be.

I was better before you disabled my helmet.

Don't worry, I'm just recalibrating some things.

How?

Anderson flickered and then she was standing chest to chest with Dredd, just as close in his mind as she was in reality. Dredd did not flinch or draw back, and she reached up towards his face.

Don't you know that I'm the mutant high priestess of the Glorious Drive Ascendent? That means that now I can get in here - she reached up and tapped her knuckles against the forehead of his helmet - just like I can get in here. Dredd felt the ghost of her fingertips graze across the skin of his forehead somehow, beneath the protection of the helmet. 

“Lucky for you Judge, that your sacrifice will usher in our great transcendence” Anderson said, and the fingers that weren't pressed into Dredd's mouth traced from the eagle epaulets to the badge too the zipper on the front of the uniform. “The singularity will be upon us soon.”

The leader will be here soon .

Dredd grunted.

Dredd grunted.

He needs their consciousnesses for... Anderson trailed off, and for a second Dredd's mind was a flurry of flipping pages as she shuffled through the details of her memories to try and decide what information was the most relevant, needed to be communicated the most.

Dredd held held his hand up, palm out, the universal symbol to pause . Are you prepared to judge him for his crimes?

Yes.

Then that is all that matters.

Good.

Anderson grinned up at him.

Anderson grinned down at him.

Her cybernetics shivered again and Dredd's equipment systems rebooted, scanners back online, his link to Control that had been blocked by the subterranean architecture re-established itself as Anderson boosted him. But Dredd did not make contact. The air seemed to vibrate with the intensity of the fever pitch jeering and chanting, but that fell into the background as Dredd's senses narrowed to the sound of the teeth of his zipper parting, the taste of Anderson's fingers and his own blood in his mouth, her weight in his lap, and it was as secure as he had ever felt in the strong embrace of the law.