“I am the law,” Dredd growls.
Anderson politely waits for him to finish his little speech before she says, “If you say “I am the law” one more time, I’m going to start spraying you with a water bottle like a disobedient cat.”
Dredd stops eyeballing the pack of Green Daggaz long enough to look at her. She can’t be sure with the visor in the way, but there’s a 99% certainty he’s glowering.
“Owning a cat without a level four animal clearance is three months iso cubes, mandatory.”
Anderson rolls her eyes and chambers a round.
* * *
Anderson glances at the husk of a room, the blown out doors and blood splattered walls. A shard of bone sticks like shrapnel into the table.
“Grenades,” Dredd says tersely.
“Lots of grenades,” Anderson says. “Wait.” She spins around to stare into Dredd’s visor. “Did you just have an emotion? Is that… is that your annoyed face?”
The only change in his expression is the slightest tightening of the ever-present frown lines around his mouth.
“You know.” Anderson smiles at him, big and bright. “Irritated. Pissed off. Grumpy. Cantankerous.”
Dredd’s face has not moved an inch. Anderson just keeps smiling until he finally turns away and stalks into the room.
She imagines a room full of scientists observing them on screens and taking notes. Emotional state recorded: ‘Cantankerous’. She bites down on a snigger and follows him.
* * *
The entire level has been taken over by a labyrinth of screens and severs. Most are cracked, many are sparking. It’s like walking through the guts of a vast mechanical leviathan. Clearly the perp was in a hurry.
Even lying in pieces, most of the machines put out enough of a signal to really fuck with her head. It’s like having tunnel vision, like having her hands go numb. All her senses are working fine, but Anderson still feels like she can’t see.
They follow the trail of destruction to a shattered door leading to a large balcony. Without a single word or sign, Dredd bursts through the doors, sweeping the balcony for hostiles. Anderson follows automatically and resists the urge to tear out her hair and say “Are you fucking serious right now?”
The perp is on a balcony of next residential block, three floors above them. She’s too far away for a stun, and Anderson doesn’t want to risk anything else; technically her crimes so far have only earned her life in the iso cubes.
The familiar whirr of a CONTROL drone passes by, and then again, much closer. And then again, close enough to make her look up.
Yep. That is definitely a drone.
Judging by the way the perp is typing frantically, it’s her drone.
Anderson glances at Dredd to make sure he’s seen what’s happening and won’t actually try to arrest her for destroying Hall of Justice property. Then she opens fire.
By the time the drone lies in gently smoking pieces on the street below, Anderson has used all of her Hi-Ex and most of her Armour Piercing. She’s pretty sure Dredd let off a few Incendiaries too. The drones are shockingly hard to kill, even taking the heavy armour plating into account.
She has to wipe ash from her eyelashes before she can see more than a vague, Dredd-shaped blur. “Yeah?”
“I think we’re pretty safe in calling this attempted murder of a judge.” He just keeps staring at her, or at least she’s pretty sure that’s what he’s doing. He could be cross-eyed under there. She’s never really thought about it. Now is maybe not the best time to start. After a moment of increasingly awkward silence, she sighs. “The sentence is death.”
Dredd turns away, unreadable as ever, and takes aim at their perp. Anderson turns to watch. She anticipates the little spark of joy as the little asshole’s head explodes into pink mist; she does not, however, anticipate the whirr of another CONTROL drone approaching on what appears to be a kamikaze run.
The last of the signal from the building behind her finally seems to die. All at once Anderson can see everything clearly. She moves.
All Judge utility belts come with several hundred yards of microfilament, attached to nanocomposite carabiners that can support a collapsing megastructure. She hooks one end onto her own belt and the other onto Dredd’s. He turns just enough for her to use his jacket as a handhold. She pivots on the heel of her foot and swings him towards the edge of the balcony.
She’s maybe two thirds of his weight, closer to half considering she doesn’t wear a helmet. Anderson takes most of the rope with her and dives off the balcony.
The drone slams into the wall directly above where they had been standing. Anderson finds herself jerking to a halt maybe ten feet above the next balcony, spinning awkwardly at the end of her microfilament. She can see Dredd, dangling several feet above her from the opposite side of the balcony, somehow perfectly still and composed.
“I can’t believe that actually worked,” says Anderson. She raises her voice to be heard above the ringing in her ears and the clatter of falling pieces of drone. “Hey, any idea on how we’re gonna get d—”
There’s a flash of steel in Dredd’s hand. Anderson automatically bends her knees and rolls on impact.
“Like that,” Dredd growls.
She retracts her microfilament and finds herself resisting, for the second time in under an hour, the urge to say “Are you fucking serious right now?”
She’s about to give in to the urge when she hears another drone whirring. A glance at the little grey flashes of sky she can see through the black smoke reveals another twelve drones, locked onto their location and closing fast.
Anderson swears she can hear an actual inflection in Dredd’s voice when he says “Well… drokk.”
Not much of one, though. Let’s call this one ‘mild concern’.
* * *
Anderson had hoped that Peach Trees would be a once in a career situation. Even after she’d been proven wrong for the tenth time, she hoped that. Even while she was being proved wrong, she was hoping that.
Dredd’s sitting in a rapidly spreading red pool. Anderson can’t take her eyes off the steady pump of blood from the hole in his thigh. The perps are Angel clan, each and every one sentenced to death, and if she stops shooting now they’ll almost certainly escape.
The little of Dredd’s skin she can see is white and beaded with sweat.
Anderson stops shooting.
Somehow her hands are steady on the tube of medigel as she applies it to the wound. Dredd’s heavy gloved hand lands on her wrist. With anyone else she might assume it was comfort, but with Dredd it’s probably just making sure she doesn’t fuck up his staples. The way they cinch his skin together still makes her wince.
His mouth is in a perfectly straight line. If this is how he looks when he’s been shot, Anderson can only assume that the slightly-deeper-than-normal frown he wears whenever he sees her is actually some form of fondness.
It takes a few minutes for the gel to kick in and for Dredd to go from has-no-blood-left to his normal shade of never-goes-out-in-sunlight. When he lets go of her wrist, Anderson wipes the sweat from her forehead, replacing it with a long streak of blood.
When he finally stands up she stays on her knees, head bowed. She expects disappointment, a reprimand, maybe even an actual increase in volume. They’ve been after these perps for weeks now, and it’s been kind of a clusterdrokk from start to finish.
Instead there is a long silence, before Dredd’s hand closes around her elbow and she’s hauled easily to her feet. He doesn’t actually put her in a shoulder lock, which seems like a good sign.
“Off the floor, Judge. There could still be hostiles in this area,” Dredd says. He’s already scanning their surroundings. She’s pretty sure she’s off the hook.
She watches his profile, his mouth gradually settling back into the deep grooves of his familiar and strangely comforting frown. She dislikes the thin-lipped expression, though it still wins the prize for most understated reaction to being shot she’s ever seen. I think I’ll file that one under ‘That was unpleasant.’
* * *
The chase is resolved abruptly when the perp tries to commandeer Anderson’s Lawmaster, triggering the self-destruct. Unfortunately Dredd’s Lawmaster is also within the blast radius. They’re pretty much stuck until the recyc units arrive.
Dredd calls it into CONTROL. Anderson goes back inside to try and make herself useful. There are a lot of bodies.
Residents of the block have been calling in for months about the stench of the perp’s apartment. About mysterious disappearances. It wasn’t until an actual body was found that the Hall of Justice found time to deploy Judges.
Twelve serious crimes reported every minute. Seventeen thousand per day. We can respond to around six per cent.
The perp had decimated the first three floors of a residential block before they finally caught on.
When Dredd applies his boot to the apartment’s door, the stench hits them like a living thing. Anderson gags as a wave of it washes over her.
It seems the perp was initially keeping them in massive industrial freezers, but when he ran out of room there he started stacking them in his pantry, draws, suitcases, anything that would fit. He ran out of room there as well. There are bodies stacked like firewood in the corners.
The recyc units have almost as much of a workload as the Judges do. They may not arrive for a few hours. Anderson puts on her respirator and starts hauling corpses out to the courtyard.
Anderson counts the bodies as she drags them out. If they hadn’t already been sure the perp had earned his death sentence, she thinks, breathing heavily through her respirator, he’s earned at least one more posthumously here for hoarding of precious resources.
The work takes her mind off things. It’s not pleasant—some of the bodies are so decayed that only bones and black sludge remain—but it’s methodical and rhythmic and with the respirator on she can barely smell them. Dredd’s silent, solid presence beside her helps to keep her grounded as well.
Then she throws open one of the freezers and finds it full of children. Anderson’s not entirely sure what she does after that, but her world becomes a buzzing white haze and when she next draws a breath she’s outside the building, doubled over with her hands on her knees.
When she looks up, the sky spins above her, smoggy and grey but open and empty, no more bodies in sight. She blinks her eyes as her head clears. A shadow falls over her, and she recognizes Dredd’s boots, stepping casually over the splatter of vomit she’d left across the concrete.
It occurs to her that she is actually shaking and crying. Her respirator is safely in her hand, which is pretty much the only saving grace she can find—she maybe having a complete breakdown in front of Dredd, but at least she won’t have to clean vomit out of her air filters.
“Your psychological profile suggests that you have a strong emotional reaction to the deaths of children,” Dredd says.
“Yes,” she manages, slowly getting her breathing under control. “So do most people.”
“Hmmm,” Dredd rumbles.
Anderson looks up at him. He looms over her, the corners of his mouth turned down so deeply now they almost touch his chin.
“You are distressed,” he insists.
He’s standing just a half a foot closer than normal. Close enough he could reach a hand out and touch her shoulder.
She realises abruptly that this must be Dredd trying to comfort her. She bases this conclusion on the fact that the level of awkwardness is rising exponentially.
“Just… stand very still. For one second.” Anderson unfolds herself, steps forward, and leans her forehead into his shoulder. Dredd smells a little bit like the corpses they’ve been carrying, but mostly like leather and sweat and gun oil. She takes a minute to just breathe it in.
Dredd reaches over awkwardly and pats her on the head. Once. Singularly.
Something about the intensity of the awkwardness sends her over the edge and she laughs into his shoulder, accidentally spitting on his uniform, refusing to acknowledge she can see her own tears shining on the leather. She takes a step back and wipes his sleeve clean with her glove.
Once she’s feeling a little more composed, she refits her respirator. “Right. Come on, Judge. Those bodies won’t shift themselves.”
Dredd’s mouth smooths out into his standard-issue frown and he follows her back into the apartment. He pushes past her to handle the freezer full of children, and she gratefully steps into the perp’s bedroom, which, while no less appalling, houses only adult victims.
The thought of Dredd’s one stilted head pat makes her giggle a little bit even as her hand slips into a corpse’s rotting chest cavity. Attempted comforting: like attempted murder, but even more awkward.
* * *
Anderson has been waiting for this day. She has been preparing for this day. She has anticipated this day for weeks.
It’s been sitting on her belt, nestled between her stun grenades and her Lawgiver. Every time they find themselves addressing a group of perps her hand drifts towards it, ready for the moment.
And then it happens.
They’ve finally managed to hit one of the Angel clan’s distribution centres. Four bodies and seventeen perps, all neatly lined up and cuffed. Except for one, who just won’t shut up.
“You fucking motherfuckers! Do you know what you’ve done? Who the drokk do you think you are?”
“I am the law,” Dredd snarls, and knocks the perp unconscious.
Dredd turns very, very slowly to face her. Anderson waves the spray bottle at him.
“I did warn you.”
He uses the flat of his finger to wipe the water from his visor, and the thin squeak of leather against plastisteel makes her bite down on a giggle.
“Seriously though.” She hooks the bottle back onto her belt. “Bad kitty.”
For a moment, Dredd assumes the exact same expression he wears when he’s just been shot. His mouth opens very slightly, then closes again. He shakes his head briskly and finishes restraining the perp.
Our top story tonight, Judge Dredd has successfully demonstrated confusion. This brings his total emotional states to five. Scientists continue to debate whether or not this indicates his total capacity.
* * *
She can hear Dredd’s Lawgiver firing round after round in the other room, but there’s a lot of perps between him and her and she’s out of ammo. But not out of bad guys. This is really going to suck, she thinks, holstering her Lawgiver and reaching for her helmet.
She throws it, hard. It hits one of the perps in the face and he reels backwards, nose broken and gushing blood. His distraction gives her a foothold and she breaks into his mind.
One of them gets lucky with a knife while she’s still concentrating—it doesn’t register as anything more as an annoyance until she’s finished, but then it becomes a point of fiery pain. It’s in a really hard to reach spot, too, right up against the inside of her shoulder blade. She checks to make sure the perps really are contained, then shrugs out of her jacket with a pained grunt.
Dredd bursts in, Lawgiver drawn, and stops in his tracks.
“My back,” Anderson gasps. He hasn’t hit anything important, but it’s making it incredibly painful to breathe.
“The perps,” Dredd growls, glancing between her and the dazed men.
“Don’t worry about them,” Anderson says and closes her eyes. She concentrates. When she opens her eyes the image inside her head has become reality, and the perps have commenced a daisy chain of handcuffing.
One corner of Dredd’s mouth becomes fractionally less downturned.
“Impressive,” he says, then turns to help her out of her jacket. Anderson sighs in relief when she feels medigel hit the wound, then hisses as the staples follow. Dredd’s almost gentle as he helps her back into her jacket, shifting the leather so it doesn’t press down too painfully.
“Thanks.” She finishes zipping up her jacket and collects her helmet from where it landed. She wipes the spray of blood from her visor. “Guess it’s not so bad having a mutie for a partner, huh?”
Somehow the slightly-less-frowny-frown has morphed into cantankerous-frown while she wasn’t looking. Anderson frowns back.
Yep, that’s definitely his cantankerous face.
“The benefits of your service with the Hall of Justice outweigh your inherent genetic defects.”
“I’ve never heard it put quite that way before.”
There’s a long pause. Anderson lets it be. She’s gotten used to him staring at her in mute incomprehension.
He finally manages to grate out, “I do not regret giving you a passing grade.” He sounds like he’s the one that’s just been stabbed.
It might be the analgesics in the medigel hitting her system, but Anderson’s pretty sure she’s touched by that. She’s absurdly fond of his emotionally stunted attempts at affection.
“I like you too, Dredd.” And then, because nothing else can possibly defuse the awkwardness, she headbutts him in the shoulder and goes to check the perps’ restraints.