The flood of thick sewage threw Mach Law out of Judge Sludge's
courtroom as Kess-Lorr chuckled at him. He slammed against the hall walls
with a thud, almost losing consciousness. Nothing had prepared him for anything
like what had happened. Ronin had coached him on Kess-Lorr's tactics, but
he hadn't been slimed by Kess-Lorr. This was from the Judge himself. Tired,
wet, and disgusted Mach pulled himself up and walked the short distance to
his office. Exhausted he stumbled in where Ronin was waiting for him.
"Give me a few minutes," Mach said walking through, making Ronin wince from the smell that trailed him. "I've gotta get this muck off me first."
He made his way to the shower and a few minutes later felt human again. When he had started taking Housing Court cases he had decided to look for an office with a shower for emergencies like these. But he'd been prepared for Housing Court, not Federal level corruption. He'd never been slimed so badly before, with the force of a firehose. That hurt!
"Judge Sludge dismissed all counts against Kess-Lorr and the Shyster Ring without allowing a hearing." Mach grimaced. "He's absolutely wrong on the law and he's definitely abusing his discretion on this, but I really can't afford the time to do an appeal. I'm sorry."
"I know, from the beginning an appeal wasn't part of our deal." Ronin replied. "I can do my own appeals. Tell me what happened."
Mach Law told Ronin what had happened in Sludge's courtroom hours earlier. How Sludge had threatened Mach for representing Ronin. How Sludge had opined that the case before Tegira was frivolous and had even made findings, unrelated to the case before him, that criticized Tegira for not dismissing Ronin's case before her. And then the total shock of Sludge mentioning The Magus. How the foul cretin implied that the Magus had arranged for the suit against Kess-Lorr to be dismissed using the Shyster's Affirmative Defense, and had arranged that any Barracudi helping Ronin would be punished severely. Sludge had also mentioned the Temple and Nemisis, showing familiarity with the case that had been before the Magus. The Magus had ruled against Ronin only a few weeks ago, but with such excellence that Ronin remained impressed. It was expected that the Black Tower's appeal of the Magus's ruling would focus on overturning a poorly conceived Second Circuit precedent, not on any failing of the judge.
For two hours Ronin interrogated Mach Law until finally Ronin stood and began pacing the office. How could a WLOD judge like the Magus conspire with a sewer dweller like Sludge? And for what reason? Why not slime Ronin himself? All of the proceedings before The Magus were impeccable, brilliant, and thorough. Granted, the Black Tower was there, but Ronin didn't believe that was the reason. The Black Tower's presence hadn't deterred Judge Con-Bad from doing his despicable tricks. If the Magus was hostile to Ronin then why would he have allowed a wizard's battle? Or any of the proceedings that repaired the damage done by Judge Con-Bad for that matter? Even the old wizard Randolph the Grey was impressed by the Magus. It just didn't add up. And then he had it.
"Mach. You're Jewish right?"
"Yeah. Same as yesterday, why?"
"Are you a part of a monolithic Jewish conspiracy against me?"
"What sort of question is that?" Mach asked annoyed. "Especially coming from you."
Ronin just stared at him with a wry smile until understanding dawned in Mach Law's face.
"Sludge thinks you're paranoid! And he doesn't know..."
"Exactly." Ronin smiled. "Mistakes the Magus couldn't possibly make. I think Sludge is trying to frame the Magus. The question is why?" Ironstone was going to love this, Ronin though. Weeks ago Ronin had said Sludge's written works demonstrated some real character, but Ironstone felt the Judge was senile and malicious. But this was not the work of senility, Ronin thought, but good old-fashioned, slimy corruption.
Magistrate Chronos had foretold these actions by Sludge months earlier. Sludge's knowledge of the Magus' actions were no doubt straight from Chronos. And like a game of telephone, the details were altered. The contact between Sludge and Chronos was well established in Ronin's mind. He had even challenged Chronos to explain his prediction given the early stages of the proceedings before Sludge. It was a possibility that Sludge had merely engaged Chronos in small talk and intentionally slipped a few 'predictions' to him while he picked Chronos' brain. For some reason Sludge wanted to frame the Magus, and possibly Tegira as well.
All that remained was to find out why. And that would be Tron's job. Ronin unlimbered Robespear... The weapon would finally get a taste of federal armor.
A team of men in white environment suits with breather apparati
stood in the hallway to Sludge's courtroom. Ronin was able to overhear their
conversation as he walked by.
"We've checked everything and we can't figure out where the smell is coming from."
"All the Judges have moved to other floors except this one. He's a real trooper."
"Let's check the sewer line for leakage again."
Ronin opened the large doors and the massive stench poured out from the courtroom almost making Ronin dizzy despite the nose filters Skull had given him. To fight a Shyster was one thing. To fight him in his lair was another. And what powers would a Shyster in federal armor have?
"Notice of Appeal received." A dry female voice intoned from everywhere. Above the clankings of the appellate machinery could be heard lowering the hooks which would lift this courtroom board to be scanned by the circuit.
A fountain of muck erupted from the judge's bench spraying the ceiling and pouring onto the floor. Behind it a flood of pale yellowish-green muck poured from the ceiling in a waterfall of foul putrid liquid carrying lumps of post organic matter mixed with bubbles of stinking gas.
In this flowing screen of muck a giant face appeared, formed of liquid flow and the wisps of stream.
"I AM SLUDGE." The face boomed. "I AM JUDGE!"
"I, Ronin Amano, enter my appearance pro se!"
Tendrils of the muck poured across the floor reaching greedily for Ronin's boots.
"I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL SLUDGE. I FORBID THIS! YOU CANNOT ADDRESS THE COURT WITHOUT YOUR ATTORNEY!! YOUR PRESENCE HERE IS VOID!"
"Sure, but you slimed him remember? I'm here as my own appellate counsel."
"NO! YOU MUST HAVE AN ATTORNEY. I VOID YOUR APPEAL!"
Ronin reached back and pulled his staff from its sheath on his back. With a snap of his wrist the staff expanded to it's full size with a click.
"I choose my counsel not you, Sludge! If you didn't want to face me pro se, then you shouldn't have slimed my attorney."
The floor shook as the giant hooks from the Second Circuit dug into the sides of the court's board, the massive links of the chain grew taut. With a steady cranking the board started to lift as the appellate machinery cranked.
"THERE IS NO APPEAL!" Sludge raved. "I VOID THE NOTICE OF APPEAL! I FORBID IT! I CANNOT BE REVIEWED!"
Ronin held his staff over his head as the weapon writhed angrily in the throws of its transformation.
"Appellate process initiated. Docket number assigned. Welcome back Ronin Amano."
"I AM SLUDGE! I AM JUDGE! I FORBID THIS!"
Ronin stood with his legs apart as Robespear manifested in his hands as a barbed angry trident. With all his might he drove the thing into the floor of Sludge's courtroom. Where it struck, black tendrils of sliss followed the rapidly expanding fractures as the floor bore the brunt of Robespear's ire. Where the sliss tendrils touched Sludge's muck, the muck dried and cracked.
"Let me appeal... and give me the record. I want to show the Circuit your innovative creation: the Shyster's Affirmative Defense. What an excellent coincidence, that your old buddies in the Shyster Ring are given carte blanch under it. That's so very different from the ethics that you expouse in your writings."
"I FORBID IT!" Sludge screamed. "STOP THIS APPEAL!"
"I knew you'd say that!" Ronin said with his best Judge Dredd ala Stallone sneer. Ronin pulled Robespear out of the floor and hurled it at the overlarge face of Sludge where it's barbs dug deeply into the huge face's right eye. Sludge screamed as the muck hardened and cracked all over his face. The floor shook and the walls bowed.
"You know what really disgusts me about you Sludge. The Magus ruled against me. But the Magus is a judge of cleverness, intelligence, and good faith. His ruling had integrity, something with which you are unfamiliar. How dare you try to slander him. How dare you try to manipulate me against him. I'm not even going to ask you to recuse yourself. I want to finish my section 372(c) complaint first. What do you think they'll say about your cheap attempt to smear The Magus?"
"Won't that be exciting, Sludge? While one group of three Circuit judges reviews your twisting of the Law, another group of six Circuit judges will be reviewing your conflicts of interest. Think you can withstand an investigation on something so blatant, Sludge? Slumlord's filthy lucre a bit too hot to hold? Feeling the need for some 'insurance'?"
Ronin drew Stormbreaker which began screaming the loudest he'd ever heard it. The blade was completely black as Ronin held it out and advanced on the judge's bench. The dry cracked muck flew away from Stormbreaker in a cloud of dust as Ronin advanced.
"Hey Sludge, what do you think, will the appeals panel have a judge or two who are also on the panel investigating your work you did here for the Shyster Ring?"
The tell-tale clicking of the appellate slot machine began above, audible over the other sounds. The three appellate judges would be selected promptly. What Ronin liked most about the Second Circuit slots was that there were fewer lemons...
"Appellate panel selected. Processing initiated."
Klaxons sounded. A door opened on the side of Sludge's bench and a small putrid man in rusty, corroded judicial armor poured out as a liquid and reformed on the edge of the board.
"I transfer this case to a new judge." The little man said as he hit the bench with a toy-like gavel. And then he leapt over the edge towards the ground below.
"Creep!" Ronin shouted after him.
If the creep stayed away and caused Ronin no more trouble, Ronin wouldn't follow through with the judicial ethics complaint... But looking at the twisted court, Ronin felt that this wouldn't be the last he'd heard of Sludge. He had caught the slimeball by surprise, and this judge was definitely a willing pawn of the Shyster Ring. He might try something sneaky next chance he got. Sludge hoped to avoid review of his actions by removing himself, but there was no way the Circuit would allow this Shysters Affirmative Defense to stand. Really, Kess-Lorr was caught lying to nine Federal Judges, six of whom sat on the Second Circuit itself.
The board split open with a crunching sound and Ronin was able to see as the little man floated down under his muck covered parachute. Ronin kicked a tile and it fell spinning lazily after him. Until now, Ronin had been able to dismiss Kess-Lorr's insinuations of corrupt federal judges as a cheap, manipulative ploy. Ronin had never considered it possible that federal judges could be bought and retained by crud like the Slumlords. Sludge had changed all that. Now he would have to rethink everything.
Just as I expected from Sludge, thought Ronin looking at the hollow underbelly of Sludge's courtroom, absolutely baseless.