Friday, January 11, 2019
Judge Dredd - The Itch
It started as an itch. Right at the back of her skull, but somehow under the skin not on it: inside her head. Just enough of a nagging doubt, an aching thought. Just enough to keep her awake the last two nights wondering what it meant. So she sits with her legs up on an adjacent chair, Lawgiver and helmet on the console beside her. It’s 0300 – Psi-division control room is deserted apart from this one figure plugged into the PSU feeds flicking through the surveillance cams – an eerie light flickering across her face. Now green, now orange, now red; casting weird almost ghoul-like shadows over the vacant chairs and blank screens around her.
Anderson was a Psi-judge and to a Psi-judge itches meant something. Something scratching away at her, awakening, trying to get her attention perhaps?
She continued to flick through the cams, not knowing what she was looking for, not really sure why she was looking. The pedways and over-passes were mostly quiet, well as quiet as Mega-City One ever was. A light, dirty rain was splashing off every worn zipstrip, every pockmarked flyover. The weather kept the perps indoors, the juves in their beds; just the loons out tonight - that kinda night.
‘You’re here somewhere,’ she mouthed, her finger still tapping the button to switch cameras. ‘Whatever you are.’ She reached one gloved hand round to gently rub the back of her neck under locks of long blonde hair, still grimy from a day of riding the Boomways. It was more like a dull ache now; rubbing didn’t seem to be helping, so she gave up and tapped her finger faster. Blocks flicked by, some she knew and some she didn’t, just hoping that something, anything stood out. And then it did, by not sticking out at all.
She sat up in the chair and flicked back two screens to stare at a long shot picking out a low rise conapt – something had caught her minds-eye, but what? She rubbed her tired eyelids and tried to re-focus on the steadily flickering image of a dark, rounded building, a few lights showing here and there. But it all seemed too quiet, too unassuming, too untroubled. Maybe trying just a bit too hard to be uninteresting. She squinted at the cam label.
‘Ian Kilmister Block, never heard of ya,’ she muttered, flicking the joystick to zoom in just a little closer. ‘So why are you bugging the hell out of me?’ The itch flared again, a slight stabbing pain that gnawed at at her brain. She rubbed her head again. ‘Yeah, yeah, I feel you,’ she acknowledged.
She reached out stiffly and pressed a button on the control panel to call a tech, nothing happened. She glared at it icily. ‘Drokk it!’ she thumped it hard with the heel of her hand and it gave a plaintive ‘beep’ and glowed to show it was working now. She drummed her fingers on the console, waiting impatiently for the tech to pick up, what was keeping them?
‘Tech div - Conner here - what can I do you for?’ The voice was crackly but not as grumpy as techs usually were. Must have caught him on a good night.
‘Conner - Anderson. Be an angel and call up all the perp stats for Kilmister for the last…’ She thought a second for a suitable period, most blocks called in hundreds if not thousands of crimes an hour, best not go crazy. ’…12 hours?’
‘Sure, I’m on it. Looking for anything in particular?’ The voice sounded positively perky, she glanced at the console again just to make sure she’d actually pinged the right department.
‘Nope, just a hunch.’ She could hear faint tapping through the speaker as the tech did her bidding. The tapping stopped and she heard a small intake of breath.
‘Crapola - some hunch. I’ve never seen this before,’ muttered Conner.
‘What you got?’ Anderson leaned forward so as to hear better.
‘Nothing,’ he breathed. She could hear frantic typing again, checking his figures no doubt.
‘Nothing, nada, zip. Nothing at all for the last 12 hours.’ The itch dug it’s claws in again but she was already moving, holstering her Lawgiver and grabbed her helmet. ‘Switching to helmet mic, stay with me Conner.’
Out of the Psi-division, past a slightly dopy looking maintenance crew, boots echoing in the empty corridors. Hit the ziplift: basement, Lawmaster garages.
‘You still with me Conner?’ she adjusted her helmet, not used to the weight – Psi-judges rarely used them. She felt her stomach lurch as the lift began its descent.
‘Yeah, I’m here. Running the records back, last reported crime was 2 days ago, it’s normal before that.’
‘By normal, I guess you mean barely better than chaos?’
‘Exactly. What drew you to this block again?’
She rubbed the back of her neck once again, ‘Oh, just a itch I had to scratch.’ She reached the Lawmaster garage and strode towards her bike. ‘Matter of interest, what was the last reported crime?’
‘One mo,’ more typing, barely audible. ‘Ha, some juve’s cat reported missing.’
‘Missing cat? Legal pet or illegal?’
‘Doesn’t say.’ Doesn’t matter anyway, thought Anderson, just another bad omen to go with the nagging doubts. She gunned the Lawmaster into life, the howl of it’s engine filling the spacious garage, kicked it off it’s stand and rode up the ramp out into the grimy, wet Mega-City night.
We are not yet ready!
It was a moonless night, but it made not the slightest jot of difference in the Mega-City, it still glowed gaudily with neon and laser light. Bars, eateries and pleasure domes stayed open all night plying the citizens with anything they craved. And they craved just about everything going. Even on this foul, drizzly night the city still buzzed and throbbed. Anderson ignored it all, powering her Lawmaster down Judge’s Lanes, pedways, fly-overs. No one much out tonight though; the rain was at best filthy, at worse highly radioactive. It tended to put one off a midnight perambulation. She strained her eyes through the rain and the spray, keeping half an eye on the nav-comp. Kilmister block was not as far away as she had thought; she was somehow expecting it to be tucked away in some (relatively) quiet backwater sector, whereas in fact it lay almost directly in the centre of the city.
As the city’s garish attractions flashed past her in a hazy cloud of spray, the itch began to change. The throb grew tendrils and began to spread across the back of her skull; she had a full-blown headache coming on.
‘Just what I need,’ she cursed to herself, ‘can this night get any more wretched?’ The nav-comp flashed her to pull off the Boomway, she leant the motorbike over and eased onto the offramp, and lo, her night got worse. This Skedway had all its lights out; traffic seemed to be giving it a miss too. She considered calling city-maintenance and giving them a piece of her mind, but they were probably all tucked up in their sweet little bunks. She flicked her headlights onto full and ploughed on.
Suddenly a dark figure lurched out of the gloom towards her. Spitting oaths she felt herself start to lose the back wheel of the Lawmaster, scumy, oil saturated spray cascading in plumes all around her. She gunned the engine and the wheel squealed in protest on the nu-asphalt surface but somehow just managing to find some grip. The bike levelled and she brought it to a juddering halt, killed the engine and dismounted into a firing crouch - Lawgiver already in her hand. She glared back through the sleet to see her would be assailant. But all she saw was a prone figure writhing in the puddles, a bottle of something, no doubt highly dodgy, in a faker-paper bag. It was wailing something barely understandable, ‘They’re back, they’re back.’ Just some drunk stumbling around in the gloom, probably a futsie who just can’t bear it all sober any more.
‘Drokking frightened the life out of me,’ she growled to herself. The relentless rain and now hammering headache were beginning to really get on her pectorals. ‘I’ve really not got the mind space for this right now.’ She re-holstered her pistol and slung a drenched leg back over the bike seat. She hit the start button and the engine fired and then spluttered rudely into silence.
‘What now, for grud’s sake!’ she tried to fire it up again, but this time nothing. Warning lights lit up all over the rain-splattered dash. ‘Exactly what I needed,’ she muttered with exasperation as she dismounted, turning back to the drunk who was by now delicately trying to regain his feet.
‘This is all your fault,’ she spat at him, as he continued his unsteady progress back to his feet.
‘They’re back,’ he gurgled without making a lot of sense.
‘Scarper creep!’ she retorted and then turned and began to stomp along the Skedway towards the block, now just about visible in the gloom a couple of klicks away. ‘Guess I’m walking then. Control can you hear me?’ nothing but static from her helmet. ‘Control?!’ Again nothing. ‘Oh just perfect, a little bit of rain and everything goes to pieces, you wouldn’t think this was the 22nd Century’. She realised that complaining was not really going to get her anywhere in hurry so she wiped her visor and began the soggy trek to Kilmister block.
Not yet! Not yet! We need more time!
Anderson walked on towards the brooding block, her boots splashing through the streams of water cascading off the pedway. Not far out she stopped, realising the block looked exactly as it had in the PSU feed. Precisely the same lights still on, but not a soul visible anywhere. Deserted, yet trying to look like it was occupied, trying to draw no attention to itself. She glanced up the nearest (non-functioning) lighting pole half expecting to see the PSU’s cam right above her the view was so familiar. There was no cam, but there was something tied to the pole flapping in the hammering rain. Out of curiosity she reached up a hand and turned it to get a better look. It seemed to be a little figure of a man made of plastic sticks and tie-wraps, hanging like some sort of amulet on the post.
‘What evil spirits are you here to ward off exactly?’ she mused and even as she did a shiver went down her spine. Just the cold, she thought, nothing more. Time to get out of the rain. She released the figure and strode on.
Finally Ian Kilmister block loomed up in front of her, nearly half a klick high and glistening in the wet. She drew her Lawgiver again and did a quick 360 as she walked out onto the broadway that surrounded the tower, straining her eyes to see out into the gloom. With a sickening sense of realisation it struck her then, that there was no light for two klicks in all directions around her. Beyond that the city glowed malevolently, utterly oblivious to this brooding black hole in its very heart. She felt very alone, just her and whoever was in the sinister edifice before her. Moving more swiftly now, holding her pistol in the ready position, she approached the main glass doors to the lobby. They slid open obligingly and she stepped into a large lobby and finally out of the rain.
‘Control, you back with me yet?’ she enquired of her helmet mic, more in hope than expectation and sure enough no answer came. ‘Suit yourself.’ She slid the helmet off and propped it on the concierge desk, still lit up with glowing comp-screens. She shook her head, partly to shake the rain out of her unruly cascade of blonde hair and partly to try to shake out the fog in her mind. But the headache had her in its clutches, grinding now like a migraine on mega-steroids.
‘What are you hiding?’ she called out, moving forward cautiously across the cheap nu-nylon carpeted floor towards the bank of elevators. The question had been intended for the building, but uttering it she suddenly felt as if a veil had been lifted from her eyes. The itch, the throb, the drokking mother of all headaches, it wasn’t trying to tell her something; it was trying to hide something. Someone, or something was in her mind, blocking her memories, preventing her from realising what was right in front of her.
‘So I know you!’ she muttered semi-triumphantly, as a lift door slid open in front of her. ‘Well I’m coming ready or not.’ She stepped into the lift and hit the only floor number that made any sense – thirteen.
Not ready! But come anyway Anderssson.
The lift slid smoothly to a halt and Anderson stepped out onto more tacky plastic carpet on the long 13th floor of Kilmister block. The corridors were lit in eerie low light ahead and to both left and right, but starkly empty. Nothing moved, her footsteps echoed damply on the floor - she was still dripping wet.
‘Where are you then?’ she stepped forward, wondering which way to go next. A movement dead ahead, she crouched and aimed, her finger trembling on the Lawgiver trigger. A few metres away from her, walking as calmly as you like across the floor was a black cat. She froze as the cat stopped midway and turned its head towards her. Its eyes were dark and hollow: there were no eyeballs in the sockets. It hissed at her viciously and as it did a foul stench of decay filled her nostrils and with alarm she realised that the headache had now shifted to a numbing pain down her back and into her arms, she was barely able to move.
A door creaked open next to the cat with an ominous grinding noise and the animal turned and darted into the apartment, in its place a long dark shadow stretched across the corridor as a figure moved towards the door.
‘Andersssson!’ The stench of rotting flesh was overpowering now, she couldn’t understand why she’d not noticed before. But the headache was gone and her mind began to clear even as her body refused to move. The wraith moved out of the door into the corridor, the black helmet with it’s dull metal grille, the sickly, bloody teeth, the decaying flesh: putrid and vile.
‘Have you missssed me, Anderssson?’ it hissed and the sound of its voice rattled down her spine. Behind in the doorway she could make out more shapes following.
‘Judge Death!’ she had to force the words out, as she was unable to move without considerable effort. Behind her the lift began to work again, more ghouls coming no doubt – surrounded.
‘You came too sssoon, our plansss are not yet ready!’ Howled the apparition gliding towards her as behind it a couple of decaying bodies stumbled blindly into the corridor.
‘My brothersss and sssissters have not yet been able to join me,’ his voice hammered inside her head like shrapnel grenade exploding. ‘No matter, Anderssson, your body will be a ssuitable receptacle for one of them.’ He floated closer his hideous, clawed hand reaching out towards her heart.
‘Drokk it all, I knew I should have just stayed in bed and taken a synthi-aspirin,’ she spat, mostly to herself. She braced her inert body as best she could, all the awful memories of her first possession by the foul beast flooding back.
Without warning the doors of the lift slid open behind her and a hail of white-hot incendiary bullets flashed past her head and tore through the decaying body of the dark judge. Flames ignited in its clothing and sparks showered in all directions as shells hit the corridor walls and detonated. Without ceremony a rough hand grabbed her collar and hauled her backwards into the elevator capsule, dumping her on the floor. Gazing up she found herself looking at a Lawgiver rapid-firing into the corridor, flame spitting from it’s muzzle, hot metal shell cases clattering down onto her and the floor. She followed the firing arm back as another ungodly howl came from were the bullets were aimed: the crumpled blue uniform, the dented judge badge, the grizzled face and, well, that chin.
‘Judge Dredd,’ she burbled, finding that movement was slowly coming back to her body. He ignored her and fired another burst whilst the elevator doors slid shut barely preventing a great fireball engulfing them. At this moment the lift pinged and started moving downwards in an almost comical fashion given the bloody mayhem they had just witness. ‘What brings you out this way?’
Judge Dredd shrugged, his Lawgiver still held ready, smoke wisping out from the barrel.
‘Just a hunch, y’know. An itch I had to scratch,’ he growled checking her over quickly for injuries. ‘How’s your night going?’ With that the whole lift shook violently and a great scream reverberated menacingly all around them;
The lift light shattered and darkness engulfed them, but just as it did the doors hissed open and Dredd hauled her out into the light of lobby and onto her feet, dragging her towards his Lawmaster still revving in the middle of the lobby where he had abandoned it.
‘Oh, I’ve had better.’
They mounted Dredd’s Lawmaster and with a great arc of burnt rubber and smoke he swung it around and gunned it full-throttle at the plate glass doors, smashing straight through them and skidding barely in control into the teeming, ice-cold mega-city rain.
‘Control we have a major on-going incident, Ian Kilmister Block, all available units attend!’
‘What is the nature of the incident Dredd?’ replied the nonplussed controller as Dredd accelerated up onto the saturated Pedway through sheets of filthy standing water.
‘They’re back Control,’ he hissed. ‘They’re back.’