Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Judge Dredd Characters, places, etc.
A/N: For Darth Gilthoron. Your turn.
The city still breathed, still teemed with countless dreams and myriad emotions gathered and running like the whorls of turbulent water. It was calming to dwindle into insignificance, a tiny bubble of foam amid the frothing currents. Here was someone in soul lifting love, there was someone wrapping about her in lead cloaked depression after being fired, snapshot images from a thousand different directions, knowing and not knowing, too fast to pull apart and glean without tremendous effort, like catching a single spark in the phoenix tail shower of a welder's work.
Minds flowed through Anderson and she let them pass like grains of sand through her fingers. With her eyes shut and so utterly absorbed in the abandonment of her defensive walls it hurt less. Not the patchwork staples of battlefield medicine, not that knifing pain. It was insignificant as compared to the keening wail of utter failure. Weighed. Measured. Wanting.
She was just a mutant.
Her eyelashes fanned open towards the slanting light of late afternoon. It glowered in block after block of steel and glass, running in lines of molten fire and shimmering like firelight on the countless window panes. This city. Her city. Endless mile after mile all the way down the east coast, sprawling north, creeping west heedless of the radiation. Even where it withered there the city kept pushing on, trying to reclaim irradiated blocks. All of it. This was her kingdom, every slum and glistening tower, every two hundred story block, every broken stone and twisted scrap of slag. And these were her people to serve, protect and...
Her mind closed up, blotting out the familiar sensation of those around her to hone in on the cloistered, almost claustrophobic space of her own mind.
"To kill," she recited aloud as her fists bunched in their besmirched gloves. There was blood all over the uniform. Some was hers but most had come from men opening fire on her. She had passed judgment and performed the executions herself. Cassandra Anderson had executed these men, had murdered them. Technically it wasn't murder as she had been an acting Judge. But then she had felt their deaths.
Like the beads in a rosary she went over it again for the millionth time in a familiar pattern. The agony of death, the shock of their demise, had broadcast their thoughts in such perfect clarity they were practically seared into her every synapse. Those fleeting memories and thoughts, the sensations, they were hers as if she had been on the other end of the Lawgiver.
The man who performed magic tricks for his nephew, the man who worked magnificent tattoos and saw colors more vividly than any mind she'd ever touched, the boy who wanted extra money for his family, the mechanic whose mind worked in schematics and dreamed of old cars, the card shark with a penchant for sweet liquors, and so many others rippling through her in a by now familiar litany.
Reaching out she closed the blinds. Her familiar dormitory went suddenly dark. The abrupt absence of sunlight prickled her skin in a creeping chill. The echoes of the grim work just behind her bouncing off the cage of her defenses Anderson turned towards the bathroom. A trail of sullied gear crossed from the window to the bathroom before the hiss of steam and water afforded a comforting disruption of her thoughts.
Sequestering all else she turned instead to removing the grit of a long shift. The last shift she amended. The sweat came away easily enough, the dirt, swirling down the drain. The rusted red of blood dried in her hair and sliding down her side seemed to leave a residue. She scrubbed until the skin was tender, digging into her nail beds despite never having taken off her gloves. It seemed she worked off even her fingerprints in a desperate attempt at cleansing, working the creases of her palms and particularly the joints in her trigger finger.
Anderson stood a long time in the water, letting it scald her scalp and shoulders, roll like lava all the way down to the greedy drain. She stood leaning against the relatively cooler tiles and beneath the boiling spray until her vision swirled before shutting off the water. Waiting until the gray along the edges of her vision became transparent she emerged.
With only a towel she sifted through her drawers, all neatly folded athletic gear issued by the Academy during her training. Her uniforms were neatly pressed and hung in the closet lest they become wrinkled. But she wanted nothing Academy. Surely the weight of her failure would be suffocating.
She found in the bottom drawer the faintly musty civilian garb she had acquired out of necessity. The old jeans with torn knees because she'd only bought one pair two years ago and had consequently worn out the fabric after a fellow cadet had caused them all to be recalled from leisure for punishment for his indiscretions. A particularly brutal obstacle course had awaited them and she'd taken an ungainly spill tearing out both knees. At the time she'd only washed them and thrown them in the drawer, thinking they still fit and she shouldn't bother with another pair for fear of the same ill fortune. There was also a plain v-neck t-shirt in gray. These would do.
She dressed, careful of the stitching a her side and the ache settling in her muscles. How little there was to pack she reflected. How little of her there was beyond the Academy and aspirations of becoming a Judge.
Anderson felt Tamina Vasquez on the other side of the door before the knob twisted. Her familiar room mate in sweat soaked athletic gear stumbled into the room reeking of sweat and paint, the blotches of blue and orange indicating she had not done particularly well in the last exercise.
"Hey," Vasquez mimed something like a wave that came out a twitch, her hair in a messy wad at the top of her head. "You. Chief Judge. Go," she gasped before face planting into her bed. Anderson didn't need to check for a pulse though Vasquez looked dead as she lay utterly still. There was a certain feel of a mind, even when it was dead asleep.
To make up for a total loss of what protocol dictated Anderson removed the soaked tennis shoes and rolled Vasquez onto her back before pulling the covers up. As she stood looking down at a mind totally bereft of thoughts Anderson resolved that she was still technically a member of the Academy. As such she should appear following regulation. Removing her short lived civilian clothes she opted for the indoor uniform and stood at the door to her dorm like she stood at the threshold of Peach Trees. Unease clenched in her guts.
Hesitation would win her nothing. True she had not passed her exam. The loss of her primary weapon, her Lawgiver, immediately disqualified her. But she had acted with honor and done right. She had performed at the maximum of her abilities and sentenced in accordance with her core beliefs. The deaths would weigh in her conscience like stones, hers forever, but she had acted right.
Head up and shoulders back she strode into the hallway mustering every ounce of poise and control the Academy had taught her to carry. She was Cassandra Anderson and for a day she had done all she could to make her Mega City One a better place. Regulations be damned. She had walked away from Peach Trees when the odds dictated she should have been dragged out in a body bag.
The report was detailed. Dredd closed the file and couldn't help but look between it and his perfunctory documentation of events in Peach Trees. Anderson took more time fleshing the scene out, offering notes about their surroundings with a better memory for statements made by those around them. The additional report on her psychological dealings was as interesting as it was disconcerting. When everything was said and done though she had performed well.
Her badge was scratched like she'd been on the job for years rather than a day. It rested on his desk just to the right of his keyboard. The moment they had emerged into the sunlight she had pushed it into his hands and walked away. Her head was high, back ramrod straight, doggedly ignoring the wound that must have ached at her side. Despite the projected confidence he knew she believed to her core she had fallen short.
Dredd lifted both files, noticing the page discrepancy between them in a back corner of his mind, and made to leave the office. At the door he hesitated, looking back at the badge with Anderson's name spelled diagonally across the shield. Doubling back he lifted the scarred metal, weighing it in his palm. The metal was so slight and yet fused into the alloys was all the power and responsibility of enforcing Order. Some might call it an exercise in futility. They were usually the ones that washed out of the Academy.
He pocketed the metal and went to deliver their reports.
Anderson stared at Chief Judge Goodman's office door. She had expected to feel dread at such imminent dismissal. Mega City One was vast. It could swallow her whole without the structure of the last years at the expense of the Academy. She had grown up believing she could serve the Hall of Justice in turn,to make a difference. Come what may she intended to. That resolve seemed to settle any lingering anxiety. After all, she'd stared down death more times than she could count on two hands in the last two hours. What was being fired to that?
Raising her hand she locked down her psychic abilities and rapped lightly on the door. She made sure to keep her chin up and shoulders back. Show no weakness. It was one of the first things she'd learned.
"Enter," Chief Judge Goodman called from the other side. Anderson pushed the door open and stepped into the functional office with a spectacular view of Mega City One alight with billions of glimmering lights against a blue black sky. Seated behind a modest desk with a spread of files at her fingertips Chief Judge Goodman looked surprisingly tired. Soft spoken with tightly curled black hair cropped close to her skull, she seemed so slight to wield almost absolute power over the city.
"Sir," Anderson snapped a crisp salute.
"Come in and sit down Anderson," Goodman beckoned with one earth toned hand. Anderson closed the door and cut across the room crisply before perching on a chair drawn up across from the desk. Her heart remained calm and she kept from peering into Goodman's mind. "Tell me what happened in Peach Trees."
"Sir. At 1200 after you assigned Judge Dredd to – "
"I'm not asking for a recitation of your report Anderson. I'm asking for your opinion of your performance." Goodman laced her fingers together before leaning her elbows on the well kept old desk. It was made of real wood, a beautiful antique. Anderson was conscious to keep from pressing her hands between her knees like an anxious student again. Instead she left them in fists on her thighs as she thought.
"I stand behind my judgments, even releasing the boy working building security," she answered after a moment. She held Goodman's dark gaze. "I upheld the law and was just. But I made a rookie mistake and was not only taken hostage but both lost and destroyed my Lawgiver. I have...come to terms with the fact that I failed the exam."
"Failed?" Lines gathered about her eyebrows as they came together.
"The loss of my primary weapon will result in an immediate failure sir," Anderson repeated the regulation to her. Goodman leaned back in her chair and studied Anderson with a face that may as well have been carved of stone for all it revealed. It would be an easy matter to peek into her mind but conditioning kept her from so egregious a mistake.
"You not only released that boy you did it against the recommendation of a senior Judge, the one performing your Assessment no less. Why?"
"Because it was right. That boy was a victim."
"You saw this in his mind?"
"Yes sir. And in the way he carried himself. He was a victim."
"You would testify to that then, even should your word have to go against Dredd's?"
Shock lanced through Anderson at the thought. She had expected to fail but to be charged with insubordination or worse, accused of misinterpreting the law? Apart from the barest flinch she managed to prevent an overt reaction. A cold band of determination settled in her middle.
"I am a Judge. My primary function is to ascertain guilt or innocence and administer the appropriate sentence. I was correct and I will stand before whoever you like and testify as such no matter who says otherwise."
Silence stretched between them, interrupted only by the soft sound of the air conditioner humming through ducts. Anderson and Goodman stared at each other, perfectly unreadable to the other only because Anderson used all her willpower to resist the temptation. She needed to know if she'd misread Dredd. Prickly, taciturn, harsh, but she had deemed him just. It was unthinkable he would take such a route. Even if he did object to her judgment she thought he would address her directly. No, she knew he would.
"You'll do," Goodman finally smiled serenely and leaned forward again. "You're to take time off for your wound there, maybe head down to medical."
"Sir," Anderson hesitated. "I failed my Assessment. I destroyed my Lawgiver. And by the sounds of it I have another report to submit and questions to answer for my actions on Assessment."
"You passed Anderson," Goodman shook her head.
"But Dredd failed me," Anderson protested in head spinning disbelief. "You've already made an exception for me to even take the Assessment. If I can't stand on my own as a Judge..."
"Dredd gave you the pass," Goodman almost laughed. Anderson's posture went slack and she slouched back against the chair. Her eyes strayed out the window to the gleaming city, her breathing, pulsing, living city disfigured and glorious all at once. It had never looked so magnificent before.
But she was still standing on the outside. She was there at the doorway needing one last thing to grant her entrance.
"So, visit medical and report back next Thursday at 0700 for duty," Goodman said when she felt Anderson was listening again. "Dismissed Anderson."
"Sir," Anderson got to her feet and made for the door in a dream-like disconnect.
"Anderson," Goodman called. Anderson swung around. "Congratulations."
"Thank you, sir," Anderson nodded. She beat a retreat before Goodman could somehow change her mind.
The reports made it into the appropriate in box as Dredd considered what the rest of his evening should look like. Medical might be a good idea. His patch job would hold but now his work was completed it might be a good idea. He was restricted under Goodman's orders to a week's rest despite insisting he would be fine.
Medical it was. He made for the elevator to plunge down to the ground floor where he could receive treatment. It crossed his mind that Anderson was due an appointment and he doubted she'd made time for it after compiling so thorough a report. He would inquire at the desk then. With any luck Goodman had informed her of the pass, promoted her, and Anderson would then have the common sense to patch herself up more soundly. New Judges were always trouble though. She'd saved his skin so he could at least make sure she saw to her own wounds.
It was always busy here. With the round the clock shifts, the magnitude of he city, and the percentage of violent crime there were always Judges in need of medical attention. Cadets made up a large portion between the physical demands and the battery of tests to which they were regularly submitted.
Dredd wove through the press of armored judges and uniformed cadets in varying states of injury to reach the front desk. He'd almost made it when he detected the smell of shampoo above the sharp scent of sweat and antiseptic. For some reason it made him turn, perhaps because his job was to notice discrepancies.
Anderson was signing out of a different desk. Her hair was damp and in her face, her dark blue indoor uniform a stark contrast to the strawberry blond tresses and her pale skin. She looked up at something the clerk said and nodded. As she straightened she seemed to realize she was being watched and turned to face him. A small voice wondered if it was telepathy or something else that had connected her stare with his visor.
In truth it was a prickle at the back of her neck that had alerted Anderson to Dredd's presence. Minds had a particular signature, like a smell almost, and when she became attuned to it she could sense its presence without having to search for it. His appearance there in medical still in full street gear with his helmet on was...reassuring. They had survived Hell together and at no time had he ever displayed weakness, never backing down, never wavering from what he believed absolutely true.
Before she knew it she had made her way through the crowd to stand a full head shorter than him, looking up towards the visor. For his part Dredd wasn't sure why he had come to a stand still. He thought her shoulders were rather narrow and she was overall so delicate, like a little sparrow. Then again she'd marched with him through Peach Trees and not only come out alive, but come out a Judge. And now here she stood peering through his visor as if in search of some answer she was sure he held.
"You...passed me?" she asked at length, her dark eyes narrowed just slightly. Was there any way to tell if she was in his mind or not? Rather than answer he simply reached into his pocket and extracted the war weary badge. Turing his hand palm up he let the badge rest between them.
"Think hard. You wanna make a difference don't put this down again. No more chances after this."
Dredd watched her stare at the badge with her name written across it. He watched her absorb the words and weigh them, finding himself hoping she would take it. The streets needed good Judges. Anderson was already a good Judge.
Her small hand found the metal, fingers curling around it, reclaiming her battered shield. Dredd pulled his hand back and gave her a nod when she looked back up at him. A smile spread across her face with all the warmth of high summer, dark eyes shining.
"Its a bit like a heart I guess," she looked down at it, thumb tracing a particularly pronounced scratch. Dredd had never quite equated it as such but he supposed it fit. Having no answer he waited to see if she had anything else to say.
Anderson looked up at the helmet obscuring the better part of his stern face, the day and a half old stubble coming in dark on his chin, the gore splatter of their hard work. Beneath all that he was a contusion of old anger, bitterness, iron resolve, and an almost monastic faith in his ideals. His name was whispered in the streets and spoken with reverence and fear by the cadets. For all that complication it was plain as day what he was. The helmet obscured his face but his heart was pinned there on his chest, the old badge with scuff marks and worn edges, scratches leaving shallow indentations.
"Thank you sir. For everything," she gave him a crisp salute, badge clutched in one hand. "Have you been to see the medic?"
"On my way now," he shook his head.
"It looked...you'll be back to work soon," she changed mid sentence. "I'll let you get to it. Thank you again, sir." She took a few steps back and made to leave.
"Anderson," he called her by name. Her eyes flew to him. "Judges always wear their badges."
She secured it to her uniform and offered him a salute, her happiness and pride almost infectious. Almost. Dredd gave her an approving nod before resuming his original trajectory to medical check in.