The Chief Judge sat on her perch and watched the city fall away beneath her. No one ever called the Chief Judge’s office the Perch, at least not officially, but that was the only name that made sense. At the top of the Hall of Justice, sat between the eyes of the Department’s symbol; the Eagle. A desk, a chair, a bathroom, a walking stick. It was facing away from the window when she was promoted, and her first action, bum knee or not, was to turn it around. She didn’t ask for help, because, even if this wasn’t a test, she thought of it as one. The Spartan way, just with added paperwork.
A Spartan would feel at home there, but, she liked to think, any Spartan would cringe from the view. Every human still alive in America, crammed into the city beneath her. A crucible made of steel and stone, bone and blood.
She hated it.
She was meant to. The training saw to that, that you hated the city because it was, when it came down to it, untidy. Everything wouild be better if citizens didn’t break the law, and whilst they were careful never to say this out loud, the Department loved to dangle the carrot of a normal life in front of its cadets. She closed her eyes, listened to the growl of a voice that had said the words to her.
‘Your life means nothing, Rookie. Neither does mine. The badge is what matters, the symbol. You stand your post. You hand out your sentence. Do that and every Judge in the city will be at your back, every day of the week. Especially me. You ready? You don’t look ready.’
She smiled, crossed her hands at parade rest and glowered across the city at Peach Trees block, standing as tall as the other blocks, as utilitarian and robust. Her jurisdiction ended at the door, Ma-Ma’s gang ruling the block and turning it into the centre of Slo Mo production for the city. She honestly wasn’t sure what was more hateful; Mega City 1 or the idea of a drug prolonging your perception of time being popular. The Chief Judge couldn’t begin to understand anyone wanting to spend more time here.
Aside from him, she thought. Dredd. The most decorated Judge in the department had chosen to be her examiner on Eagle day, and she still remembered the hotwire feeling of excitement, pride and terror. She was issued a real gun, she was issued a bike, she was sitting next to a man who was the living definition of the ideal Judge. Immutable, relentless, brutal. His voice never more than a whisper, his movements filled with the economy of kata, of martial precision. The Justice Department was perpetually outmanned and outgunned, but riding out with Joe Dredd felt like riding out at the head of a convoy.
She’d excelled. She was big enough to admit that now. They’d had a rough shift, multiple block war incidents, a Cursed Earth incursion. She’d talked down a jumper within ten minutes of exchanging fire with a rogue Block militia that was, in turn, holed up less than two miles away from where the pair of them had stood shoulder to shoulder, going hand to hand with a group who’d rather die at the wall than live outside the city.
She’d killed five people. She saw their faces every night for a year. Now she couldn’t remember a single one.
But she could remember Dredd. He dragged the attention onto him wherever he went, natural authority that took most Judges a decade to gather forcing everyone to look at him. He was quiet to the point of monosyllabic but, after the Cursed Earth fight, her hands shaking so badly and clenched so hard she couldn’t lower her gun, he’d tapped her once on the shoulder and said.
‘Break. We got fifteen minutes, Rookie.’
It being Dredd, he’d taken the break driving to Sector 13, the roughest section of the city where they’d finish out the shift. However, he’d talked to her the whole way, walked her through the fight, shown her where she’d gone wrong, where she could improve, shown her what she’d done right. He didn’t praise her, he didn’t do that with anyone, but he talked to her as an equal. By the time they’d pulled into Sector 13 she was together, hardened. They’d gone into the sector house, picked up a walking briefing from the duty officer and been back out in under ten minutes. Walking to their bikes, Dredd had detailed what was next on the list and stopped her, the same hand on the same shoulder.
‘You ready, Rookie?’
A tiny nod. ‘You look ready.’
The rest of her shift had been twice as tough as the morning. She aced it, got her full Eagle and was on the streets five good years before another Block war had taken her knee and most of her lower right leg. Another two years of rehab and paper work, of politics and closed fist reform and she’d stood for Chief Judge. Dredd had been the first to vote for her, and that had all but sealed the deal.
The Chief Judge stood and walked to the elevator outside her office. She had meetings for the rest of the afternoon but this one was different..
Eighty storeys down, she stepped out of the elevator and found Cassandra Anderson waiting for her. She really shouldn’t have been surprised, Anderson’s pre-cog capabilities were remarkable. She nodded to the young blonde woman and strode off, ignoring the phantom pain in her fake knee, not letting the Cadet see it.
‘Cadet, you’re aware of your scores I take it?’ Anderson carried herself well, but there was a perpetual slight hunch to her shoulders, a slight bracing. Her childhood had seen to that and, the Chief Judge knew, a couple of her fellow cadets had tried to continue the tradition. Anderson had beaten the first so badly he’d ended up in hospital and the second had been found screaming at things only he could see. After that she was left all the way alone.
‘You’re aware they’re unsatisfactory.’
Feather light touches at the edges of her mind. The younger woman was trying to read her. Not today. She remembered her Psi Division training, slammed a metal door shut in her mind, saw Anderson recoil a little. ‘Yes Ma’am, I am. I’m doing my best to improve.’
‘And what if it isn’t enough, Anderson? What then?’
‘I’m a ward of the state, Ma’am. The choice is out of my hands.’ Just a flash of anger, one she didn’t need to be telepathic to pick up. Good. ‘Yes, Cadet, it is.’ They were in the interrogation cubes, the screams and shouts of people already booked or on their way there echoing down the corridors. The Chief Judge loved that there were active cells in the Hall of Justice. It sent the right message; Judges work for a living. See we don’t need to work you over.
She opened a door, let Anderson see inside. A desk, a chair. A holding cell. The woman pales and just for a second the Chief Judge felt bad for her. ‘Your efforts are noted, Cadet. You’re aware that as of today you’re eligible for your Full Eagle?’ Anderson blushed, the color returning to her cheeks. ‘Ma’am, I thought I was a washout.’
You are. Unless I get lucky for us both.
‘Justice Department looks after their own, cadet. Wait here.’ She pauses, adds it for good measure. ‘Get ready.’
The Chief Judge stepped through into the next room and waited. A minute passed and then she could hear his footsteps, that precise, measure tread. They hadn’t talked since her Eagle Day but that was Dredd’s way. She knew he viewed Peach Trees the same way she did, a professional embarrassment. She knew he’d respond quickly, because that was what Dredd did. She knew Anderson was Judge material, she just needed the right environment to thrive in, the right assessing officer.
She knew something had to be done about Peach Trees and she was a firm believer in multi-tasking.
He was a few steps away and she closed her eyes, steeled herself and opened them again. The door opened, she turned to look at Dredd. She was ready. So was Anderson. She’d have to be.