The Cursed Earth stretched out for thousands of kilometers. It witnessed the rise and fall of the living. Many thought of it as cursed for the multitude of plagues, mutants and other problems that inhabited the wide berth of land. One human living in it thought it cursed because no longer could it grow green things. One day, maybe, long after her, it would turn green again.
Nately ‘Nat’ Emmett stood atop a rock formation that was also her home. Upon closer inspection one might discover that it was a marooned ship buried in rock. She held binoculars against her eyes scanning the view around her. The nearby valley village of Idrian, over twenty kilometers away, looked quiet from her vantage. She rotated towards the great western wall of Mega City One, standing as a seamless sentinel of civilization on the far horizon. Something in the foreground caught her attention. She changed her focus and spotted some dust clouds and glints of metal amongst the dust. She pulled the binocs closer. Someone was being attacked. If she left now, she might be able to help them. Ask questions later, if alive. At the very least, she could check on the situation.
She disappeared into the ship. Moments later she came out of the base and uncovered a motor cycle. She wore light dusty desert robes. A weapon lay on her thigh and a rifle hung from a strap on her back. She pulled a helmet over her light brown hair and started the engine. It started quietly and off she went.
As she approached the location, she stopped short and went in on foot. There was enough rock for cover. She surveyed the area for henchmen on look-out. All clear. Five members of the Red Rock Gang and another figure were down in the open space surrounding a Judge. Nat’s eyes squinted against the light. A Mega City One Judge in her valley. The gang had dragged him from his bike. He had already been shot. The Judge had killed one of their gang. As Nat found a safer better vantage point, they shot him again before she had her rifle ready. A body lay in the back of their truck. They started beating and kicking the Judge. She heard someone yell above the other screams. Would a Judge sentence her for killing his assailants?
She aimed, took a breath, released it and fired three rounds. She hit the legs of the gang members. Three members went down in screams. The remaining members stopped and looked around. They didn’t know exactly where the shots came from. The Judge immediately looked for his gun. Nat looked to the rock around her, listening for movement. She was safe. The Judge started crawling. The gang members hurried to get their members to their truck. Two of them turned to finish off the Judge. They aimed their weapons. Nat aimed for their weapons and fired. The guns shattered in the mutie’s hands. She hoped they wouldn’t come calling for a doctor. That would be awkward. They looked in her general direction. They moved again and Nat aimed for the ground around their feet. They ran back to their truck swearing and drove off in a plume of dust.
The Judge crawled to his bike and passed out. Nat waited a minute before moving, scanning the area with her binocs. Gritting her teeth, she moved down off the rocks and quickly walked to the area with the judge. The dirt thirstily drank up the blood. Whether human, alien, or mutant it made no difference. Shell casings and a hat lay in the dirt.
She looked up at the Judge resting near his bike, gun loosely held in his fingers. His dented helmet firmly in place. She swung her weapon across her back and placed her hands, palms forward, in the air. He didn’t move. She could see him bleeding on his torso and right thigh and it looked like a possible broken shin bone. She approached the bike carefully. When nothing happened she carefully reached out to feel for a pulse under the helmet. Weak and thready. She looked at the wounds. She pulled a small bottle out of her pack and sprayed it into each wound. The Judge could still feel that.
She looked at the badge. Dredd. Her eyes went wide. She studied the bloodied mouth. She rocked back on her heels calculating.
“Judge Dredd! Can you hear me? Judge Dredd?” she asked. He mumbled something. Gritting her teeth she slapped him.
“Is help coming for you?”
“Negative,…solo mission,” barely came out of him. She nodded, thinking.
“Will your bike help or follow us? I can help you but you are coming with me.” Dredd made a sound in his throat. Nat took a deep breath and pulled out some clean cloth from her hip pack and stuffed them into his various wounds. She unsnapped the shoulder pieces and put them on the side. She tried to lift him and up and check for exit wounds and those as well. His shin felt swollen,
but she had no splints handy. She studied the bike.
“Law Master? Can you respond to me?” she asked. Nat moved Dredd to his back and tied his legs together. She had a herculean task ahead of her. She needed to make a pallet. She ran to her bike and rode it over to him. She pulled out something that looked like a bag with poles from one of her bike packs and started to unfold and lock it. She placed it next to the Judge. She pulled on his hips to create distance between his head and the bike. Nat feared the bike would shock her and time was critical for the Judge, if she could help him. She stood between him and the bike. With her foot on the pallet she leaned forward and placed her arms under this armpits, lifted and heaved him over to the pallet. She did the same with his hips and legs, meanwhile repeating over and over, “Sorree.” While clipping him onto the pallet and then to her bike, she addressed the Law Master.
“I’m going to save Judge Dredd’s life, if no one from the city is coming. I’m taking him to where I live, so I can remove the bullets and repair the damage. Follow me, track, me…if you can. I will hide you as well.” With a towel, she picked up his Lawgiver, wrapped it and put it in her bike pack. Finished with everything, she got on her bike and slowly drove off. She looked at Dredd to make sure he wasn’t worse. Halfway home, she noticed the bike was indeed following and the pallet left nice clean lines in the dust. The rest of the way, she planned how to get him up into the ship. Thankfully she was not completely alone. The ship’s AI touched her consciousness. “Yes, I need help getting him ready. – No! I can’t trust the trainee. – Alone, with you. Keep me alerted,” she said to the presence. They worked out the details before she arrived.
She lay on the floor of the infirmary, panting at the ceiling. Dragging ninety-three kilograms of dead weight up through rocks and up through a hatch onto the med bed made her dizzy. She pulled a few muscles too. To no one but herself she said, “If the waiting doesn’t kill him…GET UP! Get up. Get up. Get up!” She sat up. Safe inside the ship that was her home, she rose unevenly, stumbled to a sink and kit. She spoke out loud often. No one had taught her to be ashamed to think out loud but then again there weren’t many people in her daily life. “What would he think of that?”she asked the air. “No, not you,” she said to the AI. She stripped off her desert clothes and cleaned up, sterilizing as best she could and to herself said, “I need a chair.”
She stood over Dredd checking his pulse. From the time she stopped his bleeding in the desert, to the time she stood over him ready to operate, not more than 30 minutes had passed, but it felt so much longer. Nat had removed the helmet, studied those most private of facial features and attached the anesthesia. Dredd’s clothes lay neatly folded on a table nearby. With the help of the AI, wound by wound Nat, methodically removed bullets, stopped bleeders, closed and treated the wounds. Then she examined the leg and splint it. She placed several blankets over Dredd’s body. She cleaned up all the rags and instruments. His pulse and breathing were steady.
She desperately wanted to lie down. Instead, she made her way back outside to see how big a trail she left with the bike and the litter. The winds had kicked up and little of her passing could be seen. A storm approached. She should really take out the bike to get a better look but she was too tired to trust what could happen. Turning back to the ship, she talked to the AI as she re-entered, “Stay alert. I’m going to sleep. Wake me if I need to check on the Judge. – Thanks.” She fumbled her way up to the main room. She paused to look at the Judge and went on through the nearby hatch, locked the door in the open position and collapsed in her bunk.
After several hours, Nat woke and struggled to get out of her bunk. It seemed every muscle group complained. She got up and checked on the Judge. Steady readings. Good. She went back to bed.
Dredd dreamed disjointed images of past and current enemies and the job. Standing on a corner watching citizens pass by, he became aware of pain. The citizens turned to climb all over him and bury him. The pain seemed all over his body. In the quasi drugged state of his consciousness, he opened his eyes. His helmet? Where is it? He could barely move his neck. He looked down. His right leg was uncovered and a woman had her hands on his leg! He couldn’t think the next question before she turned brown eyes to him mouthing words he couldn’t hear as he slipped back into sleep.
Dredd surfaced from his nightmares slowly. Something was in his hand. It was not his gun. He squeezed and it squeezed back. An alarm went off in his head. He felt the pain afresh as he tried to move. He opened his eyes. Again, No Helmet! A woman sat there holding his hand. He looked at her hand around his and back at her. She let go before he could shake it off. Like a whisper it felt as if with her release the pain felt worse. She spoke in clear tones.
“Do you know what happened to you?” she asked softly. Her eyes were guarded but kind.
“I was ambushed,” he said. She nodded.
“What’s your name?” she asked then added, “It helps me assess how you’re doing.”
“Dredd,” he said.
“My name is Nately Emmett. Many call me Nat,” she shrugged before she added, “You were ambushed by the Red Rock Gang, alien mutie combo. By the time I arrived you had killed one of them. You had been shot several times and have a fractured right shin.” She stopped and looked away. She licked her lips.
“What happened?” he asked. The Judge in him moved back into position. There was fear in her eyes.
“Things are different here in the Cursed Earth…I lucked out spotting you and them. I got my rifle and bike and rode over. I wounded 4 of them. I would have killed them so that I could save you. I don’t know if what I did deserves a sentence from Mega City’s toughest Judge. I saw a Judge in need. I didn’t want to go to jail. I didn’t want a Judge killed. I didn’t know who you were,” she paused at her babbling. His silence unnerved her. She couldn’t read him at all. She stopped talking. She pulled a small flashlight out of a pocket, put it back. Mentally, as a defense, she put on her doctor hat. “I have more…um, Let me check you out this morning.”
“You sustained three bullet wounds and one fracture,” she said. She gently removed the bandages and checked for infection as she kept talking. “It was a tough call. I didn’t know if the city would send help for you.” She noticed a slight shake of his head. She rolled him over on this side to check the bandages on the exit wounds.
“I got out the bullets. Disinfected the wounds and put a splint on your leg. You’ve been in and out for two and a half days, mostly out. So far, no fever and you appear to be healing quickly,” she said. She finished looking at his thigh bandage. She looked back at him and pulled out the small flashlight.
“Now, look at my finger as I shine this light in your eyes. Follow my finger.” She looked intently at his pupil dilation as she move her finger and light. His eyes tracked with her finger perfectly and pupils were dilating fine. “Good.” She moved to his feet and uncovered them. “It was a challenge to get you up here so I’m checking everything.” She ran her thumb up the arch. “Do you feel that?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. She switched to the other foot.
Nat let out a deep sigh she didn’t realize she had been holding. “You’re doing well. I don’t have Mega City med services to speed this up. I heavily recommend 5 more days of rest before testing the stitches and the leg. I know you don’t want to be here, but I want to you to make it back,” she said.
“Where is my uniform?” he asked gruffly.
Embarrassed suddenly, she pointed to another table but told him when he couldn’t turn to see them. He slowly turned and saw them. They were mostly cleaned and folded neatly. She moved closer to that table.
“I repaired most of the damage,” she said. “I tried to salvage them. I’m sorry for any indignity my actions may have caused,” she said as she fidgeted with her flashlight. She couldn’t look at him. Silence stretched out between them, the first of many.
“Would you have preferred I left you out there to die? Did I make a mistake?” She mustered the courage to look over at him.
“There seem to be some – extenuating circumstances.” It was not a verdict but kept it open ended. He watched her accept it and added, “You fixed me. Thank you.”
Dredd tried to sit up but he felt a dagger of pain and felt a moment of dizziness. He sorely missed the Justice Med Bays. He felt her next to him. She pulled him up with effort and quickly put a roll of blankets behind him and made sure it didn’t rub the exit wound.
“Good enough for now?”
“I can leave you for a while now. Do you object?”
“We’ll talk again later. Ask me any question you want,” she said. She pointed to a switch for the light that he could reach. She moved to a bag on the floor and pulled out a book. Dredd wondered who this woman was.
“Your bike makes me nervous. I wanted to find one of your law books I suspect you always carry with you, but I didn’t dare. Here is a law book that my father had from his days. It is well worn,” she said. She held the book, caressed it for a moment. She handed it to him with both hands. His face softened ever so slightly and snapped back. He wondered at her statement and accepted the offering.
Nat nodded and left the room silently. Off in what sounded like a great distance, he heard a door and then a motor start and fade away. He studied his infirmary living space. It looked like a ship. Writing on the walls, key pads and doors looked unfamiliar, so he made a mental note to find out what galactic language later in Mega City One.
He looked at the law book in his hands. The copyright was twenty years previous. Her father’s law book? Emmett? The name was unfamiliar. Inside the book cover was the written name, Wilson. He repeated the name in his mind. He would look into that when he had the chance. The pages were worn. It could be a good review of historical precedence. He read until he fell asleep.
Nat had high hopes for this Judge. She wanted or needed, depending on how she felt, to go to MC1, as she called it, for further medical training and more. She hoped that Judge Dredd would agree to take her back with him. She approached the small village of Idrian. A few locals saw her and they exchanged waves. She intended her visit to be short. She had to find her assistant in training. Together they would check on a few neighbors and she wanted to talk to the mayor. She intended to let them know of her plans and talk them into the long range goals she had for them. They might not be so happy about it. She told herself it was for them that she was doing this. She had a lot of ideas.
When Nat returned to her ship, buried in the red rocks of the valley, Dredd was fast asleep. In her bunk room which also doubled as the kitchen and all purpose room, Nat prepared another meal and some soup. She plated the food and sat down in Dredd’s direct eye line, if he woke up. After eating, she made a tisane, in her room.
“Emmett?” he asked from the other room.
“Yes, Dredd. I’m here,” she said. It never occurred to her to use his first name. She walked into his field of vision. “Do you need anything?”
“Hungry?” There was a pause.
“Yes,” he said, more like confirmation to himself.
“Good sign.” She helped him sit further up. She brought a tray with the soup and tea and placed it on the small table near him. She sat at the table across the room. A pile of books at her shoulder. “Sorry, it’s all liquid for now. It’s best for your guts.”
Dredd smelled the food and cautiously tasted it. No worse than anything Walter had prepared and possibly better.
“You’re not a mutant. Why do you live here?” he asked.
“Not a mutant?” she mused, “Hmm. I’ll tell you my story while you eat. My parents left Mega City One, I’ve shortened it to MC1, before Cal built the wall. My father, Thomas Wilson, went through the Law Academy but quit shortly after being a judge. He didn’t wall off his emotions. I don’t know how he made it through the academy. He fell in love with my mother, Breeze Emmett. She was a teacher, I think, or wanted to be. She had studied medicine. I had passed the assessment. I entered the academy and then I was out here in the Cursed Earth. They never explained. I’ve never known why. I don’t know if they ever regretted that decision.
“We went as far as this valley…They survived about 4 years, then they were killed by slavers because they got in the way. Close friends protected me at that time. I don’t know if what I was told is the truth but I had no recourse. One day wandering alone, taking stupid risks,” she grimaced, “I found this ship. I think he’s been here for a long long time. I say ‘he’ because of my preference. The AI is a high functioning intelligence….The AI actually installed an implant,”she pointed to her head, “..longer story. He talks to me through the implant. We have helped each other – stay sane…surrogate parent….I moved in here when I thought I was old enough and slowly I’ve been repairing the systems and studying,” she took a breath and paused before continuing, “I started to help the villagers with broken bones and sickness, with his help. He scans the surrounding area, alerting me when I need to go on the offensive. We’ve stayed safe. For now.”
“You operated,” he said. She nodded.
“Yes and he helped with what I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve read a lot of law and medicine books over the years.” They talked. Most of the talking done by Nat until they both grew tired.
They sat there silently for a few moments. Nat looked inside wondering about answering his initial question. She had tried to leave. There had been life threatening attempts.
“I’ve stayed here for several reasons,” she said. Her gaze lost some of her focus. “Let’s call it a night,” said Nat. She yawned and stretched.
“I would love to know more about MC1 and your day to day life, your job,” she said as she eased him back down.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
“Of course,” she said.
She continued to make eye contact with him. He always had his helmet on and so no one could make eye contact. They were intimidated by it. He was the face of the Law. He longed to put it back on. Longed to see again through polarized filters and the HUD. He felt her still in the room. Little noises gave away her activities. He processed all the information she had provided about herself, the ship and the valley. She had dedicated herself to their care and protection. Admirable and very likely foolish without support of the Law. If her story proved to be true, it was a miracle she was still alive. Her days were likely shorter than his. He admitted an inkling of respect for her and gratitude for saving his life and then filed it away.
As these thoughts flowed through his mind, he relaxed and went to sleep. Across the room Nat finished putting away the books. She watched until his face relaxed. She moved closer. His chin the most prominent feature and his mouth relaxed into a more natural downward line leaving fuller lips then suspected. Care and frown lines around his eyes smoothed out. He wasn’t conventionally handsome but he wasn’t ugly. He had a good face. She moved her hand up to block half his face with her hand. Soon enough, she knew that would be all she would ever see again.
“G’night Dredd,” she whispered. She lightly touched his hand and left the room.
Nat woke up and laid in her bunk half asleep. She heard sounds – grunting – and adrenaline flooded her body. She bolted out of bed with a weapon in her hand, scanning the room. Memory flooded back. Judge Joseph Dredd lay in her care in the next room. Rubbing her face, she walked into the infirmary room. He had managed to sit halfway up and put the blankets behind him. He looked at her.
“Dredd,” she said. The gun was still in her hand. She put it behind her back.
“Emmett” he said. She changed topics.
“Ready for some food?”
“Yes.” Nat went back to her multipurpose room, changed her clothes and prepared food. She brought it out.
“Dredd, yesterday, I answered maybe all your questions. May I ask – please tell me about your daily life. What’s it like to be a judge? Is that OK to talk about?” she asked as she placed the food down for him and moved to sit at a nearby table. Dredd checked the page of the law book and laid it down carefully. He picked up the soup and tasted it.
“Being a street judge in a dying city is hard work. Violence, aliens, invasions, and weird situations all come into play. We are called in to handle all sorts of cases,” he said and drank some soup.
“Maybe tell me about an average day,” she said.
“No day is average but I think I understand your meaning,” he said. Dredd proceeded to tell her a play by play detailed account of a day and the multiple calls he answered and assisted. Nat listened attentively filling in gaps with memories of childhood. She heard his selflessness, dedication, his leadership, his rigid will and zealotry for the law and his care for the greater good of the city. She also heard and felt what he denied himself. Her eyes slowly brimmed with tears. Dredd noticed and stopped.
“Nately – You’re an empath,” he said. The authority and insight floored Nat.
“I was a frequent disappointment to my father. He wanted me to be what he failed to be but passed it on to me,” she said, thinking out loud. She felt uncomfortable. “It seems to me, with the life I’ve had so far, that a judge needs to be a machine. Some of the Regs make more sense to me now…but I didn’t realize how lonely and painful it can be. I shouldn’t be surprised. I–I don’t know how you do it.”
“Fifteen years of training. Some judges crack under the pressure. Some take the long walk. Judges die every day,” his voice more gruff. “The Law is life. The law is everything. We should study it daily and be focused on the law all day. There is little time for else.”
“So many laws. How can a good citizen keep track?” she asked.
“Ignorance is no excuse,” he said.
“I’ve lived in the lawless cursed earth for 10 years. All the people out here have done something,” she said. She moved her hands as if to brush away a fly and said, “I talk too much. I – I need to check on a few things. I’ll be back.” She walked out of the infirmary. She walked through the ship. And stopped near the top hatch. She stood there several long minutes thinking things through.
Nat stood in her room looking into the infirmary. She stared at the helmet. She sensed he wanted it. Didn’t know why he didn’t demand it. She walked into the room over to the helmet. Dredd looked up from his book and watched her. She picked up the uniform and helmet and turned to him.
“The world is a cruel place and so it seems the law can be as well. I want to ask you something else,” she paused as she handed him his clothes of office, “Let me know if you need assistance.”
She looked him in the eye for the last time expecting to find cold assessment and saw something else, perhaps approval or relief that he had his uniform. With his hands full and without much thought on her end, she reached over and kissed him. Being a Judge, he didn’t kiss back. It was as if she kissed a warm rock.
Nat quickly disappeared through the infirmary hatch into her room. Once in that room, she jumped up and down, not in excitement but more like she had just burned her hand on the stove. I am going to jail, she told her herself. Why’d she do it? There were lots of reasons. He is a healthy male. He is from the city. He is a Judge. He is her patient. Am I falling for my patient she asked herself. That’s just wrong she told herself and moaned. She sat in her bunk waiting to hear anything. Now, she didn’t want to face him. Fifteen minutes went by and she edged closer to the door. She swallowed.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“I can’t cover my right leg,” he said. Nat went to a small box with alien writing and pulled 2 pieces of cloth from it. Nat stepped into the infirmary. The helmet glanced at her with only his chin available. She moved over to his leg and changed the splint to the unassuming cloth. The wound looked clean and the leg was healing fast. She slipped the cloth around his foot and up his shin until it felt firm against the bone.
“How does that feel?” she asked.
“Like a glove,” he said.
“I’m sorry Judge. I shouldn’t have kissed you. In the city, no doubt, there would have been a sentence,” she said as she worked.
“Six months in the Iso Cubes,” he said.
Nat accepted that with a sigh. There could be mercy. She fixed the suit around the high tech splint. She moved closer to his torso. He grasped her forearm.
“Nately, you’ve done the near impossible in this place. I’ll allow it, this one time, as a warning. Do it again, once inside the City, six months in the Iso Cubes,” he said. Nat looked at him with big eyes. “How much time for an impulsive hug?” she asked. He let go of her hand and she backed up having sensed his annoyance.
“Don’t make it a habit. You haven’t earned familiarity yet and a judge cannot love anything but the law. Attachments are distractions and we cannot afford them; therefore, they are against the law,” he said. “It can also be dangerous for you.” She nodded. This was the most she had talked to anyone in ages other than the AI. She felt ashamed and slightly confused.
“It sounds so lonely,” she said quietly, not looking at him and then added as she looked at him, “You look ready to go,” she said.
“Not without the rest of it,” he said. She smiled.
“Try to stand up,” she said. She watched as he sat all the way up and tentatively put his weight on his right leg. Nat put a small glass jar with a lid on the table next to the law book.
“Inside is a salve to put on the wounds to keep them clean. I think from here on you can do that without me,” she said.
“Judge, can I go back with you? I was hoping I could go to school, get real training and come back here. Can I get training?” she asked. She pulled another piece cloth out of her pocket. She picked up his knife and handed it to him.
“What are you doing?” he asked. Nate held up the piece of black fabric as tightly as she could between her hands.
“Please. Stab the middle of this,” she said. He hesitated and thrust the knife forward. “Again,” she said. Dredd attempted to pierce it again. Without her saying, he tried harder driving Nat a few steps back. She handed the cloth to him. He looked at it closely.
“That’s all I have of that. I and the AI have been working on a formula to recreate it. I want to work on the formula and make enough of it and wear it back here….and offer it to the justice department.” Her demeanor changed. She looked at him with passionate determination.
“Nately, I’ve had every intention of taking you back to Mega City One,” he said. He expected an emotional response and another attempt to hug him. She looked at him and nodded. Good, he thought.
“Thank you,” she said. She put the cloth away. She left him to himself. She went into her room and started to think about what she could take that would be hard to replace. She didn’t know if she would be gone a year, 5 years or forever. She also kept in mind that she’d probably be riding with the judge on his bike rather than hers. No room for sentiment, only necessity.
Dredd dismissed the frustration he felt. The Med Teks could have healed his leg in ten minutes. Remarkably, it didn’t feel as bad as he knew it could. He limped around the infirmary testing any limits and pushing himself. The wounds still hurt but he didn’t notice them as much. He had had worse before when he was younger. He looked into the hatch opposite the one Nat walked through. Then he checked out her multipurpose room. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as she packed and organized things. She used this activity to think and plan.
The rest of the day went quietly. The One window Dredd found was dirty and it looked like a sand storm was moving through the area. Storms could be minutes or hours…perhaps days. He frowned.
The next morning, Joseph Dredd dreamed again. He sat in a classroom. Rico sat next to him. They laughed. Joseph frowned at the laugh. “Joseph.” He heard his name called. “Joseph.” A woman’s soft voice. He turned from his brother’s face to the sound. His eyes opened and looked into Nat’s brown eyes close to him.
“Nothing’s wrong. The Storm has blown over. Willing to go topside with me? Fifteen tight steps going up and a top-side hatch,” she said.
“I’d like to get my bearings,” he said. He forced himself to sit up. He could smell that the same food cooking. His boots had been moved and waited for him. Wincing, he leaned over and put them on. The right leg proved a little tricky but once the boot was on it felt better. Standing on it felt rough but doable. He hated the pain but pain taught lessons. Pain humbled the proud. Pain pointed to strength. Pain distracted.
Nat waited for him in her hatchway and nodded her head to follow. She led him through a few more hatches then to the stairs that spiraled up to an outer hatch. Nat went up the steps to the top. These 15 steps reminded him of limitations. Each one gave him more determination to put them behind him. She opened the hatch and covered her face from the dust, sand, and pebbles falling in. Dredd paused behind her. Nat took a short ladder and hooked it up under the opening. Halfway up the ladder she put her arm out and pulled herself up through the hatch. Who needs grace, she thought. She turned around to watch Dredd pull himself up through the hatch and straighten up. Nat put the binocs to her eyes and looked toward the village. Figures were out and about. She watched them for a moment to see if she could tell what they were doing. Dredd scanned the horizon and found the western wall with no problem. His HUD helped him judge the distance left to go. He scanned the rest and stood next to her looking towards the village.
“You see the village?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“So far this year we have about 60 residents. Right now they aren’t too happy that I’m leaving. Fear I won’t come back. And not happy with the assistant I left down there either,” she said. She turned to look at the wall. We lost our advantage for today. Traveling in the dark on bikes is dangerous -” she stopped herself. “Look who I’m talking to…sorree,” she asked.
“I’m ready. Are you?” he asked her.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she said. Another moment of silence in the dusty breezes.
“Golden reds and browns, wind sun and moon my companions, haunted by green things,”she whispered. She looked through the binocs again. He looked at her. Dredd looked at the orange, gold and red tones of rock and sand. The sky hung over them in an odd shade of blue. Had he ever looked before? It didn’t matter.
“You’re a poet too,” he said. Whether a declarative or a dismissal, that statement made her blush.
“Yeah. Maybe. We should go. You’ll be easy to spot if someone is looking, so we shouldn’t stand here any longer,”she said. She made her way to the hatch. “You first.” Dredd squatted and swung himself down with a grunt. Nat put the binocs on her back and sat in the hatch and swung her legs over to the ladder and lowered herself down. She unhooked the ladder and closed the hatch. Next she took him down to the bottom of the ship and out the hatch to check on the Law Master. He didn’t see his bike at first but a similar shape. Nat pulled off the cover. Remarkable. It totally disguised the bike, he thought.
Dredd proceeded to check functions and talk to Mack, his Law Master computer. Nat left him so she could survey and watch for dust trails and talk with the AI. “I don’t know how long I’ll be – maybe. Could be a year or 5…I..I don’t know. Life is unpredictable. I will miss you too. No. Don’t trust them and neither should you,” she said to the ship. When Dredd was ready, he found Nat looking over her bike inside the ship.
They went back to the infirmary. Dredd propped up his leg and checked the circulation of his foot. Nat went to her room to prepare under the guise of giving him space and herself time to say goodbye. No matter the pain, Dredd had supplies in his bike. He would take Nat with him. He’d give her the chance to do what she wanted. The rest would be up to her. He calculated the journey ahead. In time they ate, talked of what to expect at the gate, the city, the Council of 5, and went to sleep.
By Jennfier Packard
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