Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Dredd characters, places, etc.
A/N: Thank you all for sticking with me through this! Its been a pleasure! And extra props to Speakfire for suggesting the cover! Also, I will begin posting the sequel probably about next Thursday US time. Not sure on the title yet, but keep your eyes peeled. You guys are just too much fun to write for!
Chapter 18: Boundaries
Dredd didn't have to wait long outside the tall, corrosive grasses. The ground rumbled and the plants seemed to slither away, opening a wide passage for him to enter the small paradise of cool spring water and luscious plant life. He eased the salvaged Lawmaster through, finally accustomed to its lightness and increased maneuverability. As he passed beneath the boughs of fruit trees offering refuge from the relentless sun the poisoned grasses slithered back into place, closing the way behind him.
In a few moments along a well worn path he parked the Lawmaster near a small, mounded house covered in creeping vines and tall flowers in an array of colors. Dismounting he made his way past the house and along the stone lined path towards the small spring where the plants opened out into a well kept lawn.
The Gitaskog's head was resting on the dock Rosenberg had rebuilt on their second or third day as guests, great eyes half shut as it attended the pair of women seated opposite each other. Anderson was quietly shelling peas in a fired clay bowl, eyes on her work beneath a dark fringe of lashes. Though she still sat in full sunlight with the barest tan lines her creamy skin was unblemished, heavy layers of sun screen making her shine like she was freshly painted – a stipulation he had insisted upon when they'd returned to Amanirenas. In her well worn training garments with her legs folded calmly she could have been just relaxing.
Beatrice Amanirenas however was sweating profusely nearby, half crouched, the toned muscles in her dark arms with their patched scales clenched. Her clothes were sullied in grass stains and dirt, drenched and smeared with mud. Dredd watched a sudden burst of vines race towards Anderson. The young Judge didn't even shift and the vines changed trajectory and slammed against Amanirenas.
"Enough!" the woman called as the vines went limp and then slithered back. The witch sat up panting as Anderson looked up with a smile. "Have you even moved all day?"
"I went and got more peas," she tipped the bowl to show Amanirenas her efforts. The dark woman scrubbed sweat off her face.
"You've gotten very good at altering my perception," she shook her head. "I've done nothing but beat myself up this last week."
"I think its fair," Anderson replied. "How was town?" she looked up at Dredd.
"Orderly. Its time to head back," he replied. Anderson got up with the bowl of shelled peas under one arm, offering the other hand to Amanirenas. Judges were all muscle in general but Anderson had put on a sort of muscle that didn't come from regular training to maintain a suitable level of athleticism. Hers had become an animal stamina. Amanirenas insisted that the work of psychic powers required a physical fitness norms wouldn't understand and had put Anderson through a level of punishment Dredd knew very few Judges could have endured.
"You need to remember that you know me very well now," Amanirenas lectured as the pair of them made their way back towards the house, Dredd bringing up the rear. "That means you're familiar with the byways in my thinking, the way I apply logic and how I problem solve. You will not have that advantage over others that you meet so don't be overconfident."
Anderson nodded as a string of advice followed, holding the door for her limping instructor and he too. Once inside Anderson continued to respond as she pulled on her street gear minus the helmet lost in the Valley of Hearts somewhere. She gathered her one little bag and Amanirenas fell silent, staring at the young woman whose uniform fit differently now, a little too big for her. Anderson tied the top half of her hair out of the way, her bangs in need of a trim.
"When you first came here I was sure I could break you," Amanirenas said after a moment. Anderson smiled faintly.
"Most people are," she answered.
"There are nightmares waiting in that city, and that city will never be impressed that you do not shatter. It will only wait for you to become broken and then it will send in one like him to dispose of you," Amanirenas pointed at Dredd as the senior Judge sought a flaw in the witch's logic. Sadly he found no way to disprove what she said.
"I'm not looking for a place in the history books Beatrice," Anderson shook her head as she lifted her overnight bag. "Just to make things better where I can, even if its only for a short time and for the people with no power over history and her interpretations."
"So you will let them put you down like a dog as they see fit?"
"I'll just hope the job gets me before something like that happens," Anderson shrugged.
Amanirenas snorted and moved irritably towards one of her cellars. She rooted around in the dark room before finally emerging with a plate sized object wrapped in cloth. Her yellow eyes beneath their furrowed brow stared at the cloth before she unwrapped the parcel and displayed one of the Gitaskog's scales. She turned it over to expose scratches and dents, one edge of the oblong scale edged in burns, another scalloped by stress fractures.
"The Gitaskog can swim in a river of acid," she said, holding the scale out. "Because it secrets an oil to coat its scales, base enough to neutralize the effects of the acid. Even its resilience has its limits, a boundary line." Anderson took the scale reverently, turning it this way and that, running the tip of her glove along the damage marks. "There is a boundary between you and your city, between you and your orders, you and your powers. To cross it is to leave behind Cassandra Anderson for an endless hunger. That is what made Sunakarib, Taharka, your friend the Tooth Collector and the creature he was calling. Others may define you by telepathy but you must never do so or destruction will follow as swiftly as the river would overcome the Gitaskog without his oils."
Anderson nodded without looking away from the scale. She held it back out but Amanirenas shook her head. Anderson wrapped the scale back up and then tucked it carefully in her bag. Her teacher gave her a long, hard look and then folded her hands and stepped back. The younger Judge lowered her head.
"Thank you," she said earnestly. Amanirenas simply turned away and Anderson accepted the dismissal. Both Judges made their way outside and the door closed forbiddingly behind them. Anderson didn't seem to mind the abrupt shut out.
Dredd settled on the bike. She secured her bag and made her way back to the dock. The Gitaskog gazed at her with what almost looked like sorrow in its luminous eyes. The psychic placed a hand on its nose and the pair of them communed. She seemed to impart some final command before the Gitaskog shook its great head and the scales bristled like feathers on an agitated bird. It cocked its head before the scales smoothed again and it nudged her in a canine expression of remorse.
"Remember, only the goats they leave you. Pick on the Gici Awas. They're a little more your size," she admonished before returning to Dredd and hopping on behind him. She was a little heavier with muscle despite the inches she'd lost around her waist. "I'm going to miss all these flowers," she sighed to him this time. There was nothing to be said to such an observation so he didn't offer an opinion one way or the other. Anderson again wasn't perturbed as he moved them carefully through Amanirenas' paradise, the bike rumbling beneath them. When they exited, the poisonous grass guarding the Green Witch's home slithered back in place forbiddingly for a final time. Dredd doubted either he or Anderson would ever make it back for a visit.
They arrived in town just at dusk, parking at Mayor Radkov's house as people filtered in from the fields and the smell of cook fires filled the night. Anderson got off first, bag slung over her shoulder as she moved with an easy grace up the steps on the porch and knocked on the door politely. Maura Radkov pulled it open, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Welcome back Judge Anderson," she smiled, stepping out of the way. "Judge Dredd," she nodded to him too when he entered. Dredd stopped off in the dining room while Anderson walked with the chattering Maura into the kitchen. He caught a glimpse of the metal chip Anderson still wore religiously for Al-Saayid back in MC1. No doubt the Tek would be beside himself with glee over the data there.
In a few short moments Radkov, Rosenberg, young Sava, and Yosef entered the room covered in grime and grease. The Teks had spent the last three weeks repairing solar panels, vehicles, generators, water heaters, and anything else mechanical or full of circuits they could find. At first strangers had trickled enthusiastically into Salem in search of the MC1 Teks' expertise. As word spread there was a deluge from Roanoke and smaller neighboring villages, some even venturing through irradiated stretches when news reached them of the specialized skills. Salem and her residents had made a killing putting travelers up, feeding them, and selling their wares.
"No did you see that thing?" Sava was asking his brother eagerly. "That clock was an antique! It was made of real wood!"
"I'm pretty sure it was synthetic," Radkov shook his head, the sly gleam in his eyes suggesting he was teasing the boy.
"No! I know the difference!" Sava insisted hotly. "It had actual grain."
"So does synthetic wood," Radkov pointed out. Sava snorted.
"Philistine," he shot at his brother who cracked a grin.
"Maura says you should wash up before you track in dirt," Anderson advised from the doorway of the kitchen. She'd stripped out of her gear and the sleeves of her coveralls were tied around her waist again. Sava's grin went wide and his face flushed scarlet.
"H-heya Judge Anderson," he said, trying to keep from showing every tooth in his head with delight. "You um, how was...did you get here okay?" he stammered uselessly as the men around him tried very hard not to laugh outright.
"It was a harrowing adventure but all my pieces made it," she shrugged. "Wash up and set the table?" she half asked. Sava was gone in a heartbeat towards the bathroom and Yosef laughed aloud.
"Witch," Radkov accused Anderson as she flung a damp towel at him. "He was a good kid before you corrupted his mind with impure thoughts," he peeled the towel away from his sweaty face and wiped his hands on it, grease and dirt coming away from his callused fingers.
"Says the man the better part of Salem is salivating over," she rebutted.
"Wrist seems like its doing okay," Rosenberg observed. "How were the last three weeks?"
"Tough," Anderson replied. "The sooner you wash the sooner we eat."
"You have man arms," Radkov accused and his father elbowed him.
"Wanna arm wrestle? Loser does the dishes," Anderson held up a hand.
"I'll do the dishes Judge Anderson," Sava announced upon his return. He'd even washed his face and slicked his hair back, changing into fresh clothes to minimize the effects of hard work. Anderson quirked an eyebrow at Radkov as the Tek rolled his eyes.
"You can also have the first round of desert," she answered. "Set the table would you?"
"Yes ma'am," Sava nodded eagerly, hurrying to do just that as Anderson went back into the kitchen.
"Harpy!" Radkov called after her. As the bustle increased in the dining room Dredd made his way onto the porch to keep out of the way. He surveyed the darkening streets and the fewer people hurrying home to dinner themselves.
"Good spirits in there," Wynne remarked. She didn't startle him. About five minutes earlier he'd smelled the pipe smoke drifting in through one of the windows.
"Made it to Roanoke and back fast," he remarked. Wynne shrugged a shoulder and smiled her feline grin, fingers tracing the carvings in the pipe. Dredd came and sat in one of the chairs close to her. In the dusk the pale skin of her burn scars stood out. It didn't change her style of dress at all. In fact she seemed to flaunt the healed up wounds, badges of victory.
"Your cut," she placed a pouch of coins on a small table between them. Dredd shook his head and her smile widened but she didn't reclaim it. "You could stay out here. Murugans don't live so bad."
"I'm a Judge," he replied. Wynne smirked, the pipe embers reflecting in her mutant eye.
"I'm going west," she remarked, lifting her long legs and crossing her heels on one of the porch rails. "I've heard a rumor about a man who grants wishes for molars." Dredd tilted his head at that. "Don't worry. I'll pay you a visit if he's more than a quack. Unless of course you wanted to see me sooner?"
The day after Wynne had set Devon's bike ablaze like a Viking funeral pyre she had been back to herself. A week later after lounging in the luscious flora of Amanirenas' sanctuary watching Anderson in her training Wynne was fully recovered – with the aide of some medication from Rosenberg – and she'd gone and pulled out papers for several bounties from her possessions. Dredd had accompanied her on four to pass the time, the four men convicted of murder. He could admit he respected her.
"Good luck," he replied instead. Wynne chuckled.
"Dinner," Anderson came out the screen door, closing it gently behind her.
"You look human," Wynne observed.
"I looked like the Gitaskog molting for a few days there," Anderson replied. "Are you eating?"
"No," Wynne tapped the ember out and ground it beneath her boot. She swung up and came towards Anderson, circling her once. The Murugan took a section of Anderson's hair between two fingers, tugging on it lightly before hooking it behind Anderson's ear. Both women stared at each other with some unreadable expression before Wynne rolled back onto her heels and smiled like a hyena. "There's something about you that makes me strange," she said. "I feel almost...like a monster." Her hand closed around Anderson's throat. The muzzle of Dredd's Lawgiver was pressed against the back of Wynne's head but neither woman acknowledged he'd moved.
"You might have better luck telling me I'm pretty," Anderson replied, hands folded calmly behind her. Wynne laughed.
"Is that what it is?" Her hand came away from Anderson's neck. "Its all so confusing." She turned and smiled wide and feral at Dredd. "Maybe it won't be you I come to visit." Wynne sauntered around behind Anderson again, running one finger along the telepath's shoulder. "Your skin is so nice I can almost feel it," the Murugan observed as Dredd tried to figure out what sort of power play was happening.
"You'd have to at least buy me dinner," Anderson stepped forward with a little crooked smile. Wynne chuckled and tipped her hat.
"I'll keep it in mind," the Murugan promised before walking down off the porch and swinging onto her bike. She didn't cast them a last look, just turned the engine over on the new vehicle and departed like a cowboy at the end of a film. Dredd looked to Anderson for an explanation but the psychic only raised her eyebrows enigmatically.
"Dinner?" she prompted.
It was a noisy affair, much like mess in the Academy with people in high spirits for their last night in Salem. Enyo had come in the back door while Dredd was on the porch and sat prettily next to Rosenberg while Sava in no uncertain terms put himself at Anderson's right hand. Radkov was forced onto her other side by his step mother who was less than subtle in expressing her yearnings for a daughter-in-law. Radkov bore this with significantly less vitriol than he would have a month ago while Anderson let allusions and hopes pass without much more than a well placed remark to rib her EOD expert. Dredd was dragged into a one sided conversation with Yosef about children and how fast they grew up in which his opinion wasn't needed, which suited him fine.
After the meal was noisily enjoyed Anderson helped Maura, Sava and Enyo clean up – performing the duties of Cursed Earth women without more than a wry smile – while Yosef dragged the two Teks into a game of cards which Dredd declined. Gambling was illegal in Mega City One outside particular establishments and even though laws here were different – barely contained anarchy on a good day – it would have been poor form in his opinion. Dredd inspected their things again before settling outside on the porch beyond the reach of noise.
At some point Enyo and Rosenberg slipped out the back door. Dredd had considered objecting to the relationship but he resolved it wasn't his business. The girl was of age at eighteen – Anderson had confirmed it – and Rosenberg was under no restrictions as far as his personal time went. Personally he thought it was foolish to get tangled up in so short a time but then they seemed to be professional about it.
"Hydrate," Anderson handed him a mug of tea before she settled down on the bench next to him after a while. The Radkov men were arguing over the cards through an open window. She had pulled her jumpsuit back into place to ward off the post sunset chill.
"You still doing my paperwork?" he asked.
"Of course. If you hadn't given me that idea on how to overcome Amanirenas then Taharka would have obliterated me," she nodded, crossing one leg and leaning back. She seemed older now. At the start of their mission she was still something of a rookie to him, though a formidable one. Now she carried in her the confidence of a seasoned Judge. He wondered if it was a consequence of the beasts they'd faced or the mastery over her innate skills. Either way it showed in her carriage and in the ease of her communication with him. He approved.
"What happens with Psi-Division when you get back?" Dredd asked. Anderson blew on her tea thoughtfully, eyes ranging over the dusty street before her.
"Interviews," she answered after a moment. "And probably some undercover work. Goodman as much as said there were criminal elements we hadn't been able to touch before this."
"What makes you think it'll be undercover?"
"Psychics know when you're rooting around in their heads, even if they're not telepaths. Our minds are organized differently. I'm not strong enough yet to just charge in and grab hold of a defensive mind like that. Besides, a subtle hand might get me more than one crime boss before Psi-Division's cover is blown and we're as well known as your Street Judges." She shot him a smile over the rim of her mug. "You?"
"Back on duty," he shrugged. He was surprised at himself, realizing he was curious to see how far and high Anderson might climb. At the same time she seemed more fragile than ever, an ethereal creature with powers beyond his understanding. That would make her suspect in everything she did, particularly to those who didn't put their back against hers and trust her in a fight. "Why wasn't an SJS officer assigned to Psi-Division?"
"Goodman," Anderson shrugged, her tone more restrained. "SJS wanted me as soon as someone realized what I was. Orders came down from the top I was not to be attached to SJS but to be trained as a Street Judge. I imagine there'll have to be one now that all this data is collected for Al-Sayid." She pulled the metal plate off the back of her head with a slimy peeling sound. Turning it over in her palm her eyes were unreadable. "Probably Slocum."
"Slocum is Cal's deputy."
"He's competent and loyal," Anderson nodded, her voice very carefully pleasant.
"But?" Dredd prompted.
"SJS is...murky." She stood up and blew out a silvery breath, pale blue in the moonless sky spattered with its breathtaking assortment of stars. "If they had their way I would be little more than a tool kept behind layers of electrical shielding, removed only when they wished to unravel another being. I understand the motivation but I can't quite commit myself to such a life."
Dredd wanted to think her opinion was harsh but he knew better. The laws were extreme regarding mutants and psychics fell under those parameters. Goodman was taking a risk letting Anderson walk free, and as a Judge no less. Still, he felt Mega City One would be better for it.
"Judge Anderson," Sava popped out the screen door, letting it crash behind him. "Ma says you both should come in before you catch cold." He shot Dredd a suspicious look. He cut between them pointedly, entering before Dredd and after Anderson when they filed inside. Dredd thought he should have been annoyed but instead he found it faintly entertaining how children gathered around her. They saw her as something else, a living, breathing woman where adults hashed out treacherous boundary lines to confine a beast. Perhaps it was a compliment they found him a threat. It might mean he had a good read on her.
He hoped so.