Out now in digital and print – this is the untold story behind Mega-City One’s most famous telepath and Judge Dredd partner, Judge Anderson, in her first year on the job!
Read the first chapter – for free – below!
Mega-City One, 2100. Cassandra Anderson is destined to become Psi-Division’s most famous Judge, foiling supernatural threats and policing Mega-City One’s hearts and souls. For now, she’s fresh out of Academy and Psi-Div themselves are still finding their feet.
Judge Anderson: Year One contains three novellas from 2000 AD writer Alec Worley:
Heartbreaker: After a string of apparently random, deadly assaults by customers at a dating agency, Anderson is convinced a telepathic killer is to blame. Putting her career on the line, the newly-trained Psi-Judge goes undercover to bring the romance-hating murderer to justice, with the big Valentine’s Day parade coming up…
The Abyss: Sent to interrogate Moriah Blake, leader of the notorious terror group ‘Bedlam, ‘ Anderson gets just one snippet of information – Bedlam’s planning on detonating a huge bomb – before Blake’s followers take over the Block. It’s a race against time, and Anderson’s on her own amongst the inmates…
A Dream of the Nevertime: Anderson – a rookie no more, with a year on the streets under her belt – contracts what appears to be a deadly psychic virus, and must explore the weirdest reaches of the Cursed Earth in search of a cure. She must face mutants, mystics and all the strangeness the land can throw at her as she wrestles weird forces…
PART ONE: HEARTBREAKER
Finding love in the city is hard. Soaring crime rates keep everyone indoors. Living life on the right side of the law keeps everyone busy. These days, who has time to make that special connection? Is romance dead?
MEET MARKET don’t think so. We’re Mega-City One’s most popular in-house dating agency. Our auctions can get you a great deal, whether you’re bidding on the date of your dreams or listing yourself as part of a romantic evening that goes to the highest—and hopefully hottest— bidder!
Sign up before Valentine’s Day and we’ll upgrade your first listing for free.*
Whoever you’re looking for, you can find them on MEET MARKET.
*subject to 36-month contract; offer excludes robots, mutants and aliens.
‘Meet Market’ Tri-D commercial, first aired 01.02.2100
Zak placed Reena’s synthi-caff on the table and smiled. Reena snarled and thrust her fork into his eye. He staggered backwards, open-mouthed, barging into the table behind him, spilling hot drinks into the laps of another couple, who stood and cursed him. The table capsized as Zak sprawled onto the floor. He sat up, touching the utensil protruding from his eye. A woman screamed.
A plate shattered against the wall by his head. Then a cup glanced painfully off his skull. Reena was a lot bigger than her profile picture had suggested. She was standing now, snatching glasses, plates and cutlery from the other tables and hurling them at him, shrieking obscenities, as though he were a rat she had cornered in her kitchen. Other couples were grabbing their coats and bags and hurrying past her out the door. Some just sat and stared. One of the guys behind the counter was babbling into a vidphone. Reena grabbed an empty loomanade bottle and pointed it at Zak, screaming.
“One-eighty tall, my ass. You lying sack of stomm!”
A big guy began to rise from a chair beside Reena, appealing to her to calm down, and she smashed the bottle across his face. He cried out and fell to his knees, clutching his cheek. The few remaining onlookers fled. The surrounding windows were now crowded with people, some filming the scene on their vidphones. Reena stared at the broken bottle in her shaking hand. Her chest heaved as though she were pausing to catch her breath. She turned to Zak, her teeth bared.
Zak’s habmate Marty had warned him that there were way too many crazies out there. Didn’t he read the newsfeeds? Zak had just told him that a cute girl on Meet Market had accepted his 75-credit bid to take her for an afternoon stroll around a holo-park. Marty advised him to wear a stab-vest; he had read about this chick who murdered this guy she met through one of those agencies. You gotta watch out for those futsies.
Marty was right, of course. The feeds were full of stories about futsies, those citizens whose minds could no longer resist the overwhelming madness of day-to-day life in Mega- City One. Some threw themselves off buildings or under trains. Others vented their outrage on their fellow citizens, using hastily purchased shotguns or the biggest cleaver they could find in their kitchen drawer. Having claimed the lives of several unlucky citizens, these spontaneous episodes would invariably conclude with a couple of well-placed bullets courtesy of the Justice Department.
“Listen to me when I’m talking to you!”
Zak held up his hand to placate Reena, edging towards the door as he did so. But the gesture only seemed to incense her. She snorted like a maddened bull and ran at him, clutching the broken bottle like a dagger.
Zak yelped, feeling the fork wagging in his eye as he turned and scrambled for the exit. The automatic doors parted and several onlookers backed away outside. Reena grabbed a fistful of Zak’s hair, throwing her weight on top of him and pushing him to the floor. Scrabbling wildly, he pulled over an ornamental plant, spilling stones and soil. Reena stabbed him in the throat three times before the rest of the bottle shattered in her hand. Zak grabbed the largest of the scattered stones and rolled over to swing it at her head. He felt it connect and she fell to one side with a groan. The onlookers watched as Zak staggered to his feet and lunged towards them with bloodied hands. They retreated and he fell to his knees, clutching his throat.
Through his remaining eye, he squinted at the afternoon sun glowering through the vast windows of the Meet Market plaza. He could feel blood pulsing warm against his fingers, drenching his shirt. Someone would help him. Any second now. He would be okay. Zak felt himself topple and roll onto his back, his hand falling away from his spurting neck. From here he could see the indoor holo-park where he and Reena had paid to take a stroll, maybe rent a boat on the lake.
“Drop your weapon, citizen.”
Bemused, Zak turned his head. Across the spreading pool of blood in which he lay, he saw a Judge approaching from across the plaza, his Lawgiver raised. Zak heard screams, then feet pounding towards him from the caff-bar. The Judge paused, then fired twice. More screams as someone landed on top of Zak, driving the breath from his body. It was Reena. A large stone slipped from her dead hand and rattled on the ground beside him. Zak shivered as he felt Reena’s body dragged aside. Strong
gloved hands pressed down either side of his throat.
“Control, this is Montana,” the Judge said. “I need a med- wagon, code three, at Meet Market Block, level six at the caff- bar on Valentino Plaza.”
Zak looked up at the red and blue visor glaring down at him. “Hang on, citizen,” the Judge said. “You’re gonna be okay.” Zak felt a wave of helpless gratitude. He shivered again and felt as though he were falling backwards. He hoped his sisters
would take care of Mom.
Then the world according to Zak Mahoney disappeared.
* * *
Experiencing the death of another person through their eyes was routine post-mortem work for a Psi-Judge, but Cassandra Anderson always worried that it moved her more than it should. She figured she would get used to it soon enough. At least the technical term ‘reading for latents’ no longer felt as shockingly indifferent as it had when she first heard it as a child. Zak’s body was cooling more rapidly than usual, thanks to the blood loss. It was time for Anderson to vacate the premises. Principal Randall, a leading telepath at the Academy, liked to scare cadets with the story of the Psi-Judge who had lingered too long in the fading mind of a dead subject, the Judge’s consciousness drowning in darkness when the lights finally went out. Anderson withdrew her fingers from the dead man’s temples and opened her eyes.
“You okay?” Montana said. “What did you see in there?” “Same thing your witnesses saw,” Anderson said. “One minute these two’re making nice, next minute she’s riding the overzoom to Nutsville.”
The med-wagon had arrived and Anderson moved aside to let a pair of spindly droids start bagging Zak’s body. The two Judges had the plaza to themselves now. Montana had released the last of the witnesses, who were now being ushered elsewhere by Meet Market staff. Meet Market was required by law to accommodate Judge patrols, although the company filed constant objections on the grounds that it spoiled their expensive ambiance. Thank Grud Montana had been finishing up a sweep when he heard the screams. Anderson had just finished a routine cult bust-up two blocks south at Robin Hardy when she caught a patrol call about an assault in progress. She arrived five minutes later to find Montana guarding the two bodies and confiscating a citizen’s vidphone, threatening to bust the creep for obstruction.
“Sane one minute, crazy the next,” Montana said, watching the med-droids lift the bodybag containing the woman. “Sounds like a standard futsie to me.”
“Wait a second,” Anderson said, standing in the droids’ way as they tried to load the body into the med-wagon. “Don’t you wanna know why this woman flipped out?”
“She flipped out because she was crazy.” Anderson shook her head.
“There’s gotta be a reason.”
Montana gave her a sympathetic look.
“The other week, there was this mall manager up in Michael Douglas Block,” he said.
“Gets his hands on a flame-thrower, torches everyone in menswear before the Jays can take him down. No priors, no reason. People just snap. You’ll see this kind of thing every other day around here, rookie.”
“Rookie?” Anderson said, standing her ground. “That’s cute, Montana. Now let’s see…” She touched her temple.
“You made full eagle a whole month before me. Gee, I’m surprised you haven’t made Chief Judge yet with that kind of experience.”
Montana tried to interrupt.
“Passed by Judge Landsman, right? Although you almost blew it for failing to submit the correct address on an incident report. Oh, and there’s an ‘o’ in ‘perpetrator.’”
“That’s real clever, peejay,” he said. Peejay; Street-Div’s latest epithet for a Psi-Judge. “I’ll bet that one goes down great at kids’ parties. But, y’see, there’s this thing we need in the real world called ‘evidence’ and—Hey, what’re you doing?”
“Gathering evidence,” Anderson said, lowering Reena’s bodybag to the floor as the droids chirped their annoyance. She ignored them and unzipped the bag, revealing the dead woman’s blood-streaked face.
“I need to know whether we’re looking at a plain old futsie flip like you say, or something else. Now keep these droids quiet, I’m trying to concentrate.”
Anderson touched the dead woman’s forehead and tuned out before Montana could answer.
The other Judge, the droids and the plaza in which they all stood vanished as Anderson slipped into silent blackness. She reached out, drawn by the psionic afterglow that remained inside the dead woman’s congealing brain.
Reading the minds of the dead was really no different from reading those of the living. With a living subject, you just locked onto their cerebral cortex and fired psionic impulses into their synapses in order to access whatever memory you were after. Psi-Judges called it ‘lock and shock.’ Unlike living minds, the dead ones did not wriggle about like a mess of eels when you tried to grab hold of them. Provided the brain was reasonably fresh and had not been sucked inside out by a Lawgiver round, post-mortem subjects took a lot less ‘locking’ but one heck of a lot more ‘shocking.’ The Psi had to jumpstart the dead brain by flooding it with psionic energy. This temporarily revived the inanimate mind and illuminated the neural pathways last used by the subject. The Psi then had to maintain a steady flow of energy into the subject’s brain in order to keep the lights on while they had a look around.
Anderson let her psi-energy flow and felt the woman’s blackened mind light up like a city block returning to life after a power cut, although the synapses in the right hemisphere kept flickering. She remembered the woman had suffered a head trauma when Zak clocked her with that stone, and Anderson had to increase her bandwidth into the dead brain in order to maintain a steady link.
The first thing Anderson heard was hate. Super-fast gamma brainwaves, screeching like a zillion tortured violins. No steady beta-waves here to rationalise or restrain, just a torrent of terrified loathing. She heard wild commands to claw out the eyes of the man cowering before her, rip the flesh from his cheeks, beat his head against the floor until his skull cracked like an egg.
Anderson listened. Psi-Division telepaths were trained to regard the human brain as a radio with every station playing at once. Some stations played fast; others plodded. Some sang shrill and staccato; others produced bass notes so deep they felt like an earthquake. Anderson could tune in and out of different thoughtwaves as easily as if she were flipping channels on the Tri-D. But she was struggling to hear her way through this cacophony. So insistent were the woman’s hateful thoughts that the moment Anderson tuned one out another replaced it. The thoughts weren’t fried in the telltale backwash of drugs or stims; nor were they slurred by alcohol. The only thing the woman appeared to be high on was nerves and caffeine. Anderson was eventually driven back, forced to tap the more rational core of the woman’s long-term memories.
Anderson struggled to sustain the immense flow of energy into the dead woman’s brain. That tap on the noggin had caused a post-mortem haematoma, a ‘black spot’ that was now leaking psi-energy. Anderson quickly tapped into the woman’s revived synapses and several long-term memories rang out at once. The woman’s name was Reena Stanhope. She had a mother in Sector 72, whom she called every Saturday. She kept lots of houseplants. She lived in fear that the Judges would find out she had an illegal Tri-D hookup, which her last boyfriend had set up for her and which she couldn’t figure out how to disconnect. She was an account manager at an ad agency. She hoped people liked her. She worried about her weight. She was lonely, dissatisfied, and fearful that her next birthday would prove another tick of the clock counting down to spinsterhood. Anderson had heard it all before, of course. Everyone’s private fears sounded remarkably similar.
It was here in the forebrain chatter that you heard the ‘screamers,’ the psychotic or predatory urges, the long-term damage wrought by abuse or trauma. This was the stuff of which futsies were made and it usually started yelling at you the minute you tuned in. But here inside the rational core of Reena Stanhope’s memories, there was nothing of the sort. So what had made her flip?
Anderson was unsure how much longer she could maintain the psi-link, especially with that black spot leaking energy like a punctured tyre. Better hurry up and read those latents before the lights go out. She sank herself into the cockpit of the woman’s consciousness. Two holes glowed in the blackness, converging and widening until the light enveloped Anderson and she found herself peering through the eyes of Reena Stanhope, viewing the last few minutes of the woman’s life.
Reena was eating a forkful of brandycake. Anderson could feel its soft sweetness mashing between her tongue and palate. She heard the clink of Reena’s fork against her plate. She and Zak were talking about tomorrow’s Valentine’s Parade, a weekend- long festival that flooded the city streets with exotic dancers and lavish floats. Reena had never attended. She had been put off by too many stories of Judges busting heads at random. Zak said it could get pretty crazy, but was a lot of fun. Maybe they could check it out together. Yeah, maybe. It turned out they both lived in Carey Mulligan Block. She lived three levels down from him, but they both used the same gym, the one where the air conditioning kept breaking down and that girl with the piercings was always on reception, but never said hello.
The conversation was a breeze, each topic revealing a shared interest or giving Zak a chance to show off his cool sense of humour. Reena worried about filling her face with cake while they were talking and wondered what her mom would make of him. Reena had only just subscribed to Meet Market. The first two bidders she accepted had not impressed her. The first was at least 40 years older than his profile picture and had forgotten to bring his teeth. The other guy, who called himself ‘JudgeCuddles2072,’ had suggested they skip the bat-gliding lessons secured by his bid and Reena’s listing fee, and instead go back to his hab. But this time Reena appeared to have stuck man-gold. Maybe not 24-carats—he was way shorter than the 180cm he had stated on his profile—but definitely worth another date.
Zak asked if she would like another caff. She did. The bar was warm and comfortable and their coupon for the holo-park was good for another month.
Anderson heard a thought shriek out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning.
He’s playing you, Reena.
Unrelated thoughts always bubbled up from the cauldron of a person’s mind, but they rarely lingered, or struck with such violence.
Anderson listened, horrified, as that single thought—he’s playing you—consumed Reena’s mind like a virus.
You think a guy with arms like that struggles for a date, Reena? He’s probably bidding on twenty other girls right now. And look how you’re falling for it, bitch. Are you really that stupid? Are you really that desperate? Tomorrow morning that drokker will be high-fiving his buddies and laughing at pictures of you on his vidphone.
Reena was glaring now at Zak as he queued at the bar. She stabbed her fork into the table, rattling her caff cup, drawing glances from the other couples. Her heart was racing. Anderson did not have to be an empath to feel the volcanic hatred gathering inside Reena’s body.
From nought to ‘I wanna kill you’ in 60 seconds? No way was that a normal train of thought. So what had caused it? Some long-forgotten trauma? Dormant psychosis? Nothing Anderson had heard so far in the mind of Reena Stanhope suggested any such thing. Anderson was now convinced Reena was no futsie, but would have to dig even deeper if she were to find any evidence to the contrary. If evidence existed at all.
Zak smiled as he returned with Reena’s caff. The image flickered. That damn black spot was now haemorrhaging psi- energy as fast as Anderson could pump it. One minute more and her body, kneeling somewhere out there in the Meet Market plaza, would pass out under the strain, severing the psi-link, and leaving her consciousness stranded. But did Reena deserve to be remembered as a murderous futsie, another reason for citizens to hide behind their hab doors, her breakdown a conundrum that would torment her family for the rest of their lives?
Anderson held on, as Reena’s view of Zak and the caff-bar dissolved into a black sea that repeatedly whispered the words he’s playing you. Anderson focused on the source of the sound and pitched a final round of synaptic commands into Reena’s deepest memory centres.
An image flashed through Reena’s mind: a black arrow, gleaming as it drilled through the air. Anderson felt it burn with hatred. The image was not a memory. It was a bolt of negative psionic energy shaped—visualised—in the form of an arrow, and fired into Reena’s mind. There it had detonated, confirming every insecurity, igniting every secret terror, obliterating all sense of judgement and sending her aggression impulses somewhere north of thermonuclear. Reena Stanhope was not insane; she had been driven to murder by a powerful psychic.
Anderson let go, releasing herself from Reena’s dwindling mind. But instead of surfacing in her own body, Anderson felt herself sinking deeper into the surrounding darkness. She took a second to realise, grasping at emptiness, that she must have passed out, her body keeling over out there in the real world, leaving the rest of her to evaporate. Anderson felt a flush of panic before her memories vaporised and she forgot what panic was. She felt herself dissolving. Where was she? Was she in trouble? What is ‘trouble’? Who am I? Anderson? Anderson.
Someone was shaking her by the wrists. Then a gloved hand slapped her face so hard that she cried out in rage. Anderson caught her attacker and threw him to the ground, locking his throat with both arms, a reflex burned into her by fifteen years of daily training in the Academy dojo.
“You’re welcome,” Montana said through gritted teeth, as the world returned to Anderson’s senses like a refreshing tide.
“I’m sorry,” she said, releasing him as the med-droids retrieved Reena’s body.
Montana sat up, rubbing his throat. “You nearly broke my neck, peejay.”
“And you’re breaking my heart, Montana. Now listen up. I think we’ve got a psychic psycho on the loose.”