And so, we come to the final lost article from Atrotos, this time from the era when we made a small foray into fanfiction. Unlike the others, I won't try to finish this, but I'll just leave it as is. Enjoy.
Jayla rapped softly on the hardwood doorframe peering around the open door into the dark office beyond.
"Come in," came a gruff voice and Jeyla swallowed hard before straightening her back and striding into the room with a forced air of confidence. Her uniform was neatly pressed and her posture was excellent. Her dress cap, tucked neatly into her sash, was adorned with the three gold pips of a senior lieutenant but her blouse still clung to her awkwardly as she broke into a nervous sweat.
The Judge's office was darkened by the armored slats that smothered the windows and the air was oppressive with the stale scent of cigar smoke and old leather. The walls were lined with massive tomes, some clearly too large to be lifted by an unaided human. Jayla was certain these contained every minutae of the Law and its subsequent studies, revisions, blessings, academic commentary and history. It was like a clear view into the augmented memory banks of the Judge himself.
Judge Kole did not sit at his desk, Jayla doubted he ever had done something as human as sitting. He stood ramrod straight, one hand behind his back the other plying a stylus over the hologram of an ancient document as it was projected from within a plinth of lacquered wood.
Jayla came to attention saluting the Judge's back and he ignored her for a few moments before he extinguished the hologram with a gesture and a grunt. When he turned toward Jayla it was like a statue in the Imperial Square had come to life and fixed its cold stare upon her. Every inch of her was scrutinized, accessed and recorded by the Judge's fathomless membanks. Every detail was weighed and every flaw was highlighted for further study at a later time - a Judge's glance was enough to produce a pages-long performance report that could lead to suspension or even a court martial.
"At ease, Lieutenant."
Jayla almost swayed with relief. She was not a soft person, no Arbites from the highest Judge to the freshest Academy grad could afford an iota of laxity to invade their character, but standing before a Judge made her want to beg forgiveness for her shortcomings. That such imperfections did not truly exist in her case was irrelevant.
"Lieutenant Jayla Al'Mad reporting for duty as ordered, Sir"
Jayla poured all the steel she could muster into her voice but it still sounded shaky to her ears. Years of harsh commands and withering dress-downs of new recruits still hadn't qualified her to speak directly to a Judge - not even a relatively junior one such as Kole.
Kole did not invite Jayla to sit in one of the uncomfortable looking armchairs. Instead he moved slowly back toward the plinth and inserted a series of commands into a retractable key pad. A new hologram appeared hovering in midair and Jayla could make out her picture and a massive block of blue, hazy text apparently split into entries like a journal. The latest, she saw, was from just two days before.
"Your record makes for interesting reading, Lieutenant."
Jayla did not know how to respond to this and so she kept silent. The Judge continued slowly as if reading aloud.
"Three accounts of heroic conduct, one Wounded Lion, 15 high-risk raids and no less than 1220 arrests."
Judge Kole turned his head toward Jayla eyebrow raised. He made a deft gesture with his stylus and her record disappeared.
"Al'Mad," he said tasting the word. "Tallarn or Beshdan?"
"Beshdan, Sir" Jayla replied.
"Indeed," said Kole grimacing as if contemplating something profound. It made his features seem even more predatory and his facial scars twisted into crazed webs of old pain. "Beshdans make excellent officers and have done for near 500 years. Beshda III has is a home to one of the largest precinct recruitment hubs in the Imperium."
"We are a proud people Sir. Eager to serve."
"I'm sure you are Liuetenant," said the Judge still contemplative. "What do you know of the Keshdar district?"
The change of topic was abrupt but Jayla had been expecting it. She knew any reference to her heritage would likely lead to a discussion of her home district. One that had been little more than a ghetto for Beshdan refugees 600 years ago when a civil war had ravaged the nearby systems - the Beshdan one included.
"It's a commercial district, Sir. Population verging on one million citizens - mostly lower class. It... it's been in a state of emergency the past 50 hours."
"Practically a warzone," Judge Kole said nodding slowly. "Right here in the heart of the city. Informants have alerted us to the presence of instigators and ringleaders - the ones goading the poorer citizens into a frenzy. Terror attacks on commercial centers has the district in chaos - a state that cannot be allowed to gain momentum."
The Judge's voice had a hard edge to it and Jayla wasn't surprised to find the Kole's eyes were alight with the flame of fanaticism. His lip curled in disgust as he went on to describe what the informants had uncovered concerning the various cell leaders.
"I know that Keshdar is where you were born and raised Lieutenant,"said Judge Kole "but you probably didn't know that it is also where I reside."
Jayla had to clamp her jaw shut to keep from gaping in surprise. Judges were wealthy members of the high society she could hardly imagine one staying in such a decrepit part of town. For all she knew the Judge could live within a stone's throw of her own home! The last thought made her shiver.
"You are surprised," he said even though Jayla's facial muscles are burning with the effort of remaining absolutely rigid. A normal man might have smiled at her perceived discomfort but Kole only continued talking. "It was not always so - we were once residents of the Lilac district on the north side of the city. But when my son expressed interest in becoming a pianist we moved to Keshdar so that he could be closer to the Academy there."
Kole's gaze flickered for a moment over to a tiny frame on his broad oakwood desk.The picture is of a handsome young man playing the piano, his fingers moving too fast to be captured clearly by the pictographer. The Judge's face did not change but Jayla sensed something like pride radiating from behind the rock-hard visage.
So he is human after all, she thought to herself.
"Lieutenant," Kole says, his voice iron-hard once more. "You will assemble your squad and rendezvous with me at the southern gate of the precinct at 18:00."
"Yes, sir" Jayla responded, her thoughts of the Judge's humanity perished almost instantly.
Jayla unwound her muscles realizing she had stood almost at attention throughout the entire conversation, every instinct telling her that to relax even an inch was folly. She turned on her heel and left the room.
At 17:58 Kevan Sumone is all but sprinting down the polished marble hallway of the southern wing of Precinct 1019. He cannot believe his own stupidity.
"Women!" he howls aloud in frustration and a custodial servitor is shoved roughly aside as the Arbites armsman begins to pump his arms and legs in earnest, shifting his body into an all-out run. He rockets around the final bend, chest heaving and cold fear pouring ice into his bones. He has never been closer to utter terror than at the thought of being late for a rendezvous with Judge Kole.
Not caring about what his colleagues must think - after all they would all be doing the same in his position - he barrels down the last few meters of the southern thoroughfare and into the motorpool courtyard that marks the location of the southern gate.
None of his squadmates look up from their preparations at his approach but Lieutenant Al'Mad mutters something that has the other three members chuckling. Kevan's flushes in embarrasment but he maintains his cool knowing that a little chuckle at his expense is a small price to pay for almost being late.
And I'm afraid that's all we're going to get out of this series. Back to original content next time.