Judge Frankum discovered the boy in an alleyway, just after 4am. The bodies of his parents lay close by. Multiple blaster wounds had killed them, probably instantly. Frankum was a young Judge, not long out of the academy. He had more compassion than perhaps was good for him and felt desperately sorry for the child.
However, a witness was a witness. He'd asked some questions at the scene but the boy had not seemed to be listening. He could not even provide his own name, and Frankum had to work this out once he'd found the father's ID card and got his details back from Control.
Kyle Cooper, aged ten.
Small for his age, with long fair hair, keen blue eyes and pale skin. His clothes were ill-fitting, which could have been hand -me-downs, but probably were not because he had no brothers or sisters. Orphaned and all alone in the world, at least at this moment, except for the judges.
“Who did this to your Mum and Dad, Kyle?” asked Frankum, eye to eye.
The boy seemed to hear at last, and his vacant eyes became fearful.
“No face,” he answered, with finality, as if that would be enough.
“Man or a woman? Can you describe him or her? If we show you some holographs do you think you could pick them out?”
Frankum remained sympathetic and tried many different tacks, but the answer he received was always the same.
Later, at the sector house, after a gentle but persistent few hours of questioning had yielded little, and forensic reports had yielded less, Frankum was at the custody desk, preparing to sign Kyle over and go back on the streets. He saw Judge Dredd come in, and remembered he was there to brief his senior colleagues about the ongoing Surveyor's strike.
Frankum had never spoken to Dredd before, but he knew him by reputation (everyone in the City knew Dredd by reputation) and seized the opportunity to ask for advice.
Surprisingly, Dredd took the interruption with good grace. He had sized up Frankum in a split second, and decided he was a decent judge. Dredd listened to the details of the case and had worked out a way forward before Frankum had stopped speaking.
“Better get Psi Division to take a look at the kid,” stated Dredd.
Frankum inwardly kicked himself. Of course!
“Your lucky day, Frankum,” continued the legendary lawman, “I'm heading back to the Hall of Justice after this briefing. I'll run him over myself.”
“I appreciate that,” replied Frankum, “Thanks, Dredd.”
“Don't mention it,” said Dredd, and meant it. Gratitude annoyed him, especially from a fellow judge.
Frankum showed Dredd into an interview room. Kyle was there, surrounded by toys and games and even some synthi-cake. All of it was untouched. Kyle was just sitting, staring into space, sunk deep inside himself.
“This is Judge Dredd,” introduced Frankum. “He's going to take you to see someone who can help.”
Kyle's eyes flickered briefly at Dredd, and then re-focused at nothingness.
“Not much of a talker,” commented the elder lawman, “I like that.”
Psi Judge Anderson was off duty, but that didn't stop Dredd coming directly to see her. She didn't really mind, it demonstrated that he retained confidence in her abilities. With Dredd you didn't see him unless he either needed something from you or was about to arrest you. She saw him a lot, and remained unarrested.
He'd brought the boy. She suspected from the state of Kyle's hair that he'd been riding on the back of Dredd's lawmaster. Possibly inappropriate, but not against the rules. Obviously, as Dredd seldom did anything against the rules, and when he did breach them it indicated someone (never Dredd) was in serious trouble.
She took a good look at her witness. Years of experience had taught to her read people pretty well without even needing to engage her telepathic abilities. Kyle was deeply traumatised, she could see that immediately, but underneath his real personality was still in tact, submerged but not, so far, drowned. A happy boy, who loved his parents and, although naturally shy, was intelligent and sensitive. He would grow up to be a decent man, felt Anderson, if the Meg hadn't totally brutalized him by then.
Anderson scanned Kyle, at first getting nowhere, but she knew how to deal with defences erected by emotional damage, and side-stepped all barriers with relative ease.
Kyle and his parents were walking along the alleyway. An ill-conceived short cut. The parents were laughing. They knew it was risky, that they were out of camera range, but were enjoying themselves. Suddenly a man on a hoverboard descended to block their path. Not just any man,,, a judge! No, that wasn't right. The judge's uniform was home-made, the replica name-badge read “RIPPER” and the helmet seemed to have come from a joke shop.
The las-sword was real though. The parents were dead inside a minute and “Judge Ripper” ascended again, laughing insanely like the pyschopath he so clearly was.
Anderson snapped out of it. She took Dredd aside, out of Kyle's earshot.
“Jimp.” she explained. “Nasty one too, we need to get this guy off the streets.”
Dredd turned to Kyle, and spoke more or less his first words to him about the case.
“A man dressed as a judge killed your parents?” he asked, seeking confirmation.
“Yeah,” said Kyle, distantly. “No-face.”
“Hmmm,” said Dredd. He saw what the kid meant and he didn't like it much.
“There's an Aunt,” added Anderson. “You probably know. She lives over at Stewart Lee block. Seems like a nice woman, Kyle's always liked her.”
“That's on my way,” responded Dredd, not strictly accurately. “I'll run him over.”
Later that same night, Judge Frankum responded to reports of a disturbance at Credland. He entered the downmarket, discount superstore and saw immediately that this was serious. The place was in chaos. Terrified citizens were running and screaming and pushing and shoving (and many of them, it had to be said, were also looting).
Something needed to be done, and quickly. Frankum grabbed a citizen, at random, and lifted her off her feet.
“Where?” demanded the judge.
“Almost meat!” responded the panicked woman, holding on tightly to an armful of clothing.
“Thank you,” said Frankum, releasing her. “Make sure you pay for those goods.”
The woman bolted, possibly heading for the checkouts, but there again, possibly not. Frankum followed the signs, wading against the tide, forcing his way through the crowd, and finally arrived at the Almost Meat aisle. He was greeted by the smiling face of “Judge” Ripper.
“Aha, backup at last,” declared the cheerful jimp, surrounded by victims, splattered thick with their blood. “Lots of perps still to sentence and I've only got a las-sword!”
Frankum knew a Futsie when he saw one. He was pretty liberal-leaning, at least for a judge, but there were limits. He raised his lawgiver.
Judge Dredd's lawmaster motorcycle proceeded along an empty freeway. It was late now, and this wasn't the way to anywhere much. Kyle had been silent the whole journey. Dredd, who regarded small talk as practically criminal, did not mind one bit.
Kyle was clinging onto Dredd, but he was deeply uncomfortable in his company. The fog was slowly clearing from his mind since the visit to the kind judge-lady with the pretty face. However he did not feel he could trust the man he was now travelling with. Dredd wore a mask, just like his parents' killer, and he now believed that evil hid behind masks.
No doubt Kyle would have continued to feel like that, probably for his entire life, had not their journey to his Aunt's home been interrupted by a sudden and explosive intervention. There was a deafening “CRACK” and a massive fissure opened in the road just ahead of them. Dredd slammed on the brakes hard - too hard – and though they avoided failing through the road, many hundreds of metres towards the next level far below, both Dredd and Kyle went tumbling from the bike.
Kyle ended up some distance from Dredd. Unhurt, kneeling in terrified puzzlement. Rubble seemed to be raining down on them and more and more small cracks were appearing in the tarmac underneath every moment.
Dredd rose to his feet, and contacted Control straight away.
“What the drokk is going on?” he demanded, without preamble.
The voice that got back to him was clearly well aware of the problem.
“The surveyor's strike is really starting to hit home,” explained the operator. “Sit tight, Dredd, construction droids are on their way.”
Dredd had no intention of staying where he was and waiting for the road to give way beneath him, so he terminated the conversation with Control and instead turned to Kyle, who's position was becoming precarious as the freeway around them disintegrated further.
“Come on kid, we need to get out of here.”
Kyle shook his head, and shrank back.
“No face,” he said, by way of explanation.
Larger and larger pieces of debris were pouring down on them, it was getting to the stage where a direct hit could be fatal. The remainder of the freeway they were on was literally disintegrating, it would only be a few minutes before this entire section crumbled to dust.
“There's no time for this, kid,” Dredd insisted. “We have to go, now!”
Kyle shook his head again. This time he pointed directly at Dredd.
“No face,” he said again.
A huge chasm was opening between them and Dredd could not simply grab the boy. He knew he had maybe 60 seconds to persuade him to jump over, after that he would be out of reach and heading for a swift reunion with his dead parents. So Dredd did the only thing he could do.
Judge Dredd took off his helmet.
“We've all got a face, Kyle.” he said, matter of factly. “Even me.”
Kyle looked into the face of Dredd, and, finally, he trusted him.
This story started life as a plan for a possible Zarjaz strip, although I figured it was pretty much unpublishable (due to the ending) and decided not to submit it. Then I heard about a Megazine short story competition and decided to see how the idea worked in prose. Generally, I feel it came out okay. I didn't win though.
Illustration by Steven Denton. As everybody knows, Judge Dredd is (c) Rebellion.