I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 19
I stare at him as these words sink in. "My father? What the hell does he have to do with anything?"
"Later." And then he prods me on with a slight wave of his hand.
"A spy who went above and beyond his call of duty to report back accurate intelligence to the Hebrews when they wanted to invade Canaan."
The description of Caleb slides off my tongue with ease, a result of my rather extensive recall training as a child. RR Sunday School was an endless barrage of memorizing passages and descriptions of every important person and act in the Bible. I went for fourteen years and never missed a day if you don’t count my periodic bouts with insanity, and considering that I have a near perfect photographic memory of anything written, this recitation is not difficult.
"Nice," he says as his eyes sparkle with pleasure. "Those marks on your back, do you know what they mean?"
I shake my head.
"Archer scars, I guess."
"They are the mark of the Fallen, Junco. You have been claimed and marked by Inanna for Lucan. And this will not work for us. It's unfortunate the way it turned out, and I'm sure we're not the only ones who are disappointed, but it cannot be undone, I'm sorry."
I blink at him.
"I'm Caleb and all I want is the truth so I can report back accurate intelligence. So tell me, Junco—who do you answer to?"
I know this answer as well, it was part of my Sunday school training along with the freaking Bible bullshit, but I suddenly have to urge to go off script. "Gideon," I say with satisfaction. "I answer to Gideon."
He sighs and turns his back to me for a moment as I take a small bit of pleasure in his disappointment. "But you made your promise back in the Runout valley, Junco. Surely you remember that?"
"Was Gideon saved or not?" He turns back and his eyes dart back and forth, searching mine for answers.
"You know he was."
"So, I don't understand your confusion. You begged for his life, said you'd do anything, remember?"
I will do anything, God.
Just save my friend.
"Gideon's powers come from us, Junco. So his survival is our gift to you."
I close my eyes and admit defeat. I prayed for his life to be spared. I should've known there'd be strings. I should've known. "I remember."
Caleb smiles and seems pleased with my admission. "You must not enter the Pillar with anyone else. Especially Gideon, Junco. Do you understand?"
I totally should've stayed with Tier. Maybe I can port back? I look around at the darkness, the nothingness of where we are and have a lot of doubts about that. "Why? I mean, maybe I will agree to go inside the Pillar alone, but just tell me why."
"Because Gideon does not belong to you, Junco."
I snort out some air at this. "The fuck he doesn't! Gideon is mine! And if that's your reason, well, that's definitely not good enough for me." Things start to take on more form and make more sense and then we are back in front of the fire, I'm sitting on a log and Caleb is across from me sitting on a rock. A trick? He tricked me somehow.
"This is your only warning, Junco. Do not cross me."
"I don't even know who you are."
"Look at me, Junco."
I lift my eyes and stare into him as he presses something cold into my hand. It takes a lot of willpower to look away from his face, but I finally manage to glance down at the object. "Tier's true north compass." I finger the smooth silver then pop open the clasp and wait for the needle to settle.
It's pointing to Caleb.
I drop it and stand abruptly, turning to find Polaris in the night sky. It's behind me, so the needle is pointing south when I turn back to Caleb. "It's pointing to you."
"It points to me because I am your true north, Junco. Fate can shift but Destiny is fixed."
Sera's words, back when I was in that virtual cabin after Deliverance.
"You can resist Fate if you want. You can refuse to play along and you can quit. But Destiny cannot be changed. And your Destiny is to meet the end, one way or another. You can go prepared or not. You can fight or surrender. You can control all those things, but what you cannot change is the fact that you will be there."
I swallow down the bile that is rising in my throat and scan the horizon, looking at anything but him.
He takes a step towards me and then leans into my ear to whisper, "Do not waste Selia, she is critical."
I just stare at him as he walks past and then I hear Selia's voice behind me. "Ready, uh—" She's still lying and forgot what name she gave me.
"Yeah, I'm ready."
We're about two hours northeast of Vegas if what Caleb says is correct and really, after all the bullshit he just laid on me, is he gonna be lying about that? His buddy, Jacob, directs Selia to the backseat of a late-model Ripper that barely seats two, let alone four. I'm glad he's squished back there with her, I'd rather have control of the door anyway, you know? Just in case this guy goes apeshit on me and I need a quick escape route.
I shake my head after that thought. It's pretty dumb. I'm not interested in running. The next person who attacks me will find one pissed-off bitch to contend with.
They all chat endlessly as we rage down the desert highway towards the glow of light that spews out of the distant horizon. It's like a beacon. Or whatever the opposite of beacon is, because I'm pretty sure no one in Sin City wants me to drop by for a visit.
Someone pushes on my shoulder and I jolt myself out of my funk. "What?"
"Jacob wants to know what high school you went to, Abi."
I contort my body so I can look back at Selia. She's sitting in the seat behind me, so all I see is the friend Jacob. I narrow my eyes at him. "What the hell does that matter?"
Selia interrupts my bad mood. "We both went to Goshen High out on the Western Slope, five years apart."
I roll my eyes back at the Jacob guy. "How convenient." I'd forgotten that Selia was from the MR. That realization bothers me for some reason.
Caleb interjects before I can answer, "Which school, Abi?"
"My name is Junco, right? I'm pretty fucking sure everyone in this vehicle knows that, so why the fuck are all of you calling me Abi?"
"Answer my question, Junco."
"I'm a cadet rat, OK? I went to Council 1 Cadets. Happy?"
"Oh shit," Selia says. "We're getting out. Pull over."
Caleb just laughs. "I'm not dropping the two of you off in the middle of the desert dressed like prostitutes. Really, Selia."
Selia snarls at him as she pushes her head up through the slit that separates my seat from Caleb. "I said, pull the fucking car over or Junco will subvert the electronics and pull it over on her own."
I will? I probably could. If I can tap into phone lines, how hard would it be to take over this car? Easy, I bet.
My eyebrows shoot up when Caleb pulls off the road and settles into a small turnout, cuts the engine and the lights, and we all sit in the silent darkness.
"Now what?" Caleb asks.
Selia kicks my seat. "Open the door, Junco."
I sigh. "No, just go, Caleb. Selia, I'm not interested in getting out, walking to Vegas, or using an unorthodox method to get us there. Just let the man drive. What's he gonna do? Kill us?" I laugh. Shit, I'd actually love for him to try because it's been a while since I had a decent one-on-one fight.
Caleb starts the engine and pulls back out on the road before Selia can even answer me. I hear her slump back against her seat and huff out some air. The car is silent after that and I just sit and stare at my reflection in the passenger window, my face distorted with the curve of the glass and the orange glow that radiates out from the dashboard lights.
About an hour later, just as the sun is coming up in the east and bathing the desert in a wash of orange and pink, Caleb turns into a Chick-Chick-Chicken, parks the car, and opens his door to let Jacob out. "Selia," he commands, "go with Jacob s
I expect a battle of words at the very least but she climbs over the hump that separates her seat from Jacob's and exits the car.
Caleb gets back in and I wait for it.
"Let me be very clear, Junco. You have rules and obligations, do you understand this?"
I shake my head. "I rule myself and I've been thinking about that whole prayer out on the battlefield." I wait for his anger and then smile and continue. "I'm just not convinced that I'm obligated to go forth with what you're asking, ya know? I mean, I figure Inanna taking me was a pretty severe trade for saving Gideon's life. So I think God and I are even, I don't owe you and I'm not interested in your plan for me. I'm taking Option B, Junco fate shift."
He reaches over and grabs my wrist and squeezes. It's painful, I'm not gonna lie, but it's not even close to the pain Inanna inflicted on me in the tank. "Break the bones. Go ahead. I'll heal."
He stares at me.
"Your rules, Junco—you will follow my orders and enter the Pillar alone. You will give us the results we're after and you will report back as instructed. Do you understand me?"
"I understand your words, yes. But I will not comply. Period. That discussion is now over. I follow Gideon's orders, and that's it, do you understand? I'm not your servant, I'm not your slave, I'm not your warrior. I'm nothing to you. I'm not interested in this job or mission or whatever the fuck you Bible people are calling it, and I certainly have no moral obligation to deliver results because I have no morals."
His eyes blaze at me, not in the way that Tier's eyes might, but just a normal I-hate-your-fucking-guts blaze of anger kind of way. "You will, Junco. You will do what I ask or I will revisit you and make you do it."
I laugh at this. "Oh, Caleb, that is a good one. And ya know, if I hadn't already been told by Tier that I have the Power of Decision I might've believed that." I stop just long enough to gauge his reaction. "But I'm pretty sure that I'm driving the float in this little parade we have going, so you can keep your threats and—"
His attack crashes me back against the passenger door and his hand is wrapped around my neck. I head-butt him in the forehead so fucking hard the blood that spews out of the wound splashes down on my face. He hesitates before grabbing both wrists as he leans back to stay out of the reach of my skull.
I laugh. "You fucking idiot. If you want to fight, get out of this car and let's do it right!"
He spits blood out on the floor of a vehicle that probably costs as much as a house in the RR. "Calm down, Junco."
"Oh, now you want to be reasonable? Before it's all violence and threats, but now you want to be reasonable? Fuck you."
My door opens and Selia has a gun pointed at Caleb's head before I can even register what's happening. "Get out, Junco, we're—"
"No, Selia, get in. He's done now. We're fine, right Caleb?"
He releases my wrists and opens his door to let Jacob in the other side. I get out so Selia can get in behind me. She keeps her TZi handy.
Everyone settles back down and after I clean the blood off my face with a wet-nap from the glove box, Jacob offers me food. My hand reaches out to take it before I can stop myself. Selia shoots me an incredulous look. "I don't even know how many days it's been since I've eaten, Selia. Sorry." I pull off the pickles and proceed to scarf down the sandwich.
"Which hotel?" Caleb asks Selia as we crawl into the early-morning traffic of the Strip.
"Asgarth's Dungeon," she answers.
You have got to be fucking with me. I laugh between bites of chicken. My life is one long bad omen after another. Nothing but one long motherfucking bad-ass omen after another.
The car glides into the dropoff in front of a hotel that looks exactly like a castle from the Middle Ages. When the valet comes up Caleb waves him off, then pulls forward into a little alcove.
"Please stay a minute, Junco." He opens his door and lifts the seat so Jacob and Selia can exit, then settles himself back in and looks over at me.
"You will renege?"
"I made no promise to you."
"You made a promise to God, Junco. He held up His end. Now it's your turn."
I hold my temper, but inside it's raging. "God? You want me to believe you're the Messenger of God? After what I've seen, you still expect me to hold on to that shit? Caleb, the Devil swooped me up into the heavens so I could have a few moments of peace to stargaze. In the middle of an empty fucking vacuum, no air, no gravity, no nothing. And I'm still here to talk about it. He took me through time, he sees the future. And you want me to believe there's a God?"
I watch his expression for a few fractions but it is still.
"God is nothing but a trick of science. I've been resurrected by an AI, my mother reshaped my body in a tank of fucking gel, I've jumped out of a spaceship from a hundred and twenty-five thousand feet, met myself hundreds of times over in the face of Mountain Republic clones, and my twine died in front of my eyes."
It doesn't matter how many times I mention Isten out loud, his death is so raw and painful it takes my breath away.
"There is no God. Because if there is, and that God did this to me for his own Purpose, then I hate his motherfucking guts and I hope he loses. If Lucan's the Devil and he's the enemy of God, then I hope God loses. You got that?"
"He gave you a family."
"My mother left when I was six and my father left when I was sixteen."
"He gave you skills."
"Skills that are only good for killing people."
"He gave you strength."
"Strength to bear all the fucking pain!"
"He made you intelligent."
"Yeah, so I can figure out what a worthless piece of shit He is."
"He gave you Gideon."
I falter and turn my head. "And He'll take him away, too, right? It that what you're saying? He gave me Gideon and He'll take him away now?"
The tears stream down my face and I can't hold it in anymore.
"He wants very little from you, Junco."
"It's too much."
"What more do you want?"
"I want Isten."
His frustration comes out as a long breath of air. "You will disobey over one man? One man you were twined with for a few weeks? Who was not even a lover?"
"I want him back. I want to tell him I love him. I want to tell him I'm sorry, I want to tell him about my day and I want to hear his heartbeat under my cheek as we fall asleep together."
"You have Tier for that."
"Tier gave me Isten. He was a gift."
"Tier traded Isten for you."
"And God granted your prayer and saved Gideon, Junco. You never prayed for Isten."
"I never got the fucking chance!" I scream the last part and I feel myself losing control quickly so I take a moment to pull it together.
"You know what? Forget it, I want them all. I want them all back. You tell your God I want them all back and then I'll finish His job."
"No, that will not happen, nor is it even possible. Isten and your friends are gone, Junco. Gone."
"No, they're not. I know where they are." I look up and meet his eyes. He's unsure of this statement and it shows. "I've seen them, I know where they are and I want them back!"
"No!" His shout rocks me back against the window. "They cannot come back. They are somewhere else, that's true, but once you cross over there is no return, Junco. There is no proxy for that world. They are gone."
I drag my wet eyes away from his anger and play a card. "Then I want to go there too."
He laughs at this. "You cannot have it both ways, Junco. You cannot stay here with Gideon and go there with Isten. That's not how it works."
I smile. An actual honest-to-God smile. "Then I'll take them all with me."
"You'll kill your friends? Is that what you're saying? Because, Junco, that's what those words mean."
"We can go right now, can't we? I mean, I can just check out
The smile grows across my face as his arms sweep out and grab my shoulders. "Junco, stop. I cannot give you Isten, I cannot. It's not possible. But I can give you something else. Name it."
He's right about one thing. God did make me pretty fucking smart. I throw down more cards and I've got a full house. "You're versed in Bible trivia, right? You know what the name Gideon means, Caleb?"
He sighs. "Warrior of God."
"No. Wrong answer. Gideon means Man of Proof. When God asked for his compliance in ancient times, just like God is asking for mine right now, Gideon stood up and said, Prove it."
Caleb turns away and shakes his head.
"You go back and tell your God I said prove it. And I'm gonna tell you right now, Caleb—I've seen some pretty spectacular things in my day. Lucan can do just about anything so you better tell that God of yours to come up with something better than any of the things Lucan's done. I want my miracle. I want my Isten and I will accept nothing less."
"It cannot be done."
"And if He takes Gideon, the whole deal is off. I'll kill everyone and we'll all go down together."
A guffaw bursts out of my throat. "You're just figuring that out? Shit, Caleb, you're late to that party, it's pretty much over. I'm certifiable, absolutely. I will kill them all, Caleb. I will kill them all. I will destroy this whole fucking planet!"
"I cannot take this message back, Junco. I won't do it."
I shrug and open my door. "You do whatever the fuck you want, I've got some revenge to enact. Thanks for the ride."
I slam the door and head over to Selia who is waiting on the curb in front of the giant dungeon doors that lead into Asgarth's hotel. The absurdity of this setting makes me cackle with laughter.
Selia chews her fingernail as I walk up to her. "Everything OK, Juncs?"
I grab her hand and lead her through the doors. "Just great. We're all gonna be just fine, you'll see. We can't lose, Selia, we cannot fucking lose."
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