I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 20
The elevator takes us all the way up to the penthouse and I'm just about to think this is excessive and unwarranted when the doors part and Irin is standing in front of me smiling.
The penthouse comes with a terrace.
A terrace that is easily accessible for avians.
I have a good team.
"Well, my psycho little sister, it's about fucking time!"
I let her hug me and breathe a sigh of relief. I think I love Irin, even though she's a total bitch.
Lili, on the other hand, is standing there with her hands on her hips, her mouth in a contorted scowl, and her eyes blazing. "Lucan is not happy with you. At all."
I flip her off. "You can tell Lucan I said that. OK?" I look around the suite and spy several doors on either side of the large sunken living room. The screen is on and the scene is familiar. People running, screaming, death, destruction.
Looks like Tier is in town, wherever that place is.
"Which room is mine? I'm fucking exhausted."
Irin points and I walk off, calling out, "Do not bother me," as I close the door and flop on the king-sized bed.
Oh shit. I really am tired. That Caleb guy might be an asshole, but he gave up some serious information. Tier gave me Isten then took him away. Sacrificed him for me.
I want Tier to be my one, I really do, but every single time I get it in my head that he's a good guy, that we're meant for each other, I learn something ugly about him. I pull my comm out of my back pocket and fiddle with it until my dad's face appears on screen.
I push the tab associated with the picture and the connection starts. It buzzes a few times and then he's there.
I smile so big it makes my cheeks stretch. "Hi, Dad."
I sigh. "Yeah, I'm OK. Just tired. How about you? Where are you?"
"Is everyone there?"
"Yes, everyone is here now. Your mom's here, too."
"Oh," is all I have to say to that. I'm not interested in her. "Well, what's going on up there? Anything important?"
"Yes, you could say that. But you'll have to come see for yourself." He stops, and then adds, "When you have a chance, of course. You're busy now, so that's OK."
"Oh," I say again. I was just making conversation, but whatever.
"Tier called a few hours ago. Said you'd be calling."
"Did he now?" Must be nice to see the future. That's like the Powerball of superpowers. "Was he mad?"
"No, should he have been?"
"Ummmm… no. I guess not."
"You just call to say hi? Or do you need help?"
"Dad," I begin, "do you think Lucan is the Devil?"
Oh, shit. That was not the answer I was looking for. "Do you think he's evil?"
"Do you think I'm evil, Junco?"
Well, sorta, I want to say. I mean, he did nuke Peak City and Council 3.
"You don't have to answer that. It was rhetorical. I'm just saying that everyone has the potential."
"Do you think I'm evil?"
I hear the long draw of breath before he speaks and know he's gonna lie. "Junco, evil is not as black and white as you were taught. Evil isn't an action, Snowbird. It's an intention."
I'm not so sure of this, that road to hell is paved with stuff that sounds very similar. "Who's side are we on? Do you know? Is there a side? Is Lucan trying to destroy the world? Who will—"
"Junco." He cuts me off there. "Stop. I understand it's confusing. Evil is tricky in that way. You can never be sure you're on the right side. But love. Love is easy. Stay on that side of the road and it doesn't matter what it's paved with. You're on the right side."
"They keep hurting me, Dad."
I can hear the anger come out as long deep breaths on the other end of the comm so I elaborate before he loses his cool. "Not physically. Physical pain has no meaning, I don't even feel that anymore. They hurt my heart, Dad. And I don't understand how this can be love. Tier twined me to Isten and he knew Isten was gonna die in the Runout Valley. He knew, and still he let me get so close and depend on Isten. And then it was ripped away. And my heart, Dad. My heart after Isten died, it was so full of pain. Pain I can't even describe, pain that hurts me still. It hurts so bad I just want to crawl into a corner and die."
I pause to see if he'll contribute, but he stays silent.
"And Tier did that to me. But I still love him. I want him so much, but how? How can I trust him with my heart when he hurts me?"
"Junco, people are flawed. This is how we were made, we are not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes."
"But that wasn't a mistake, it was deliberate."
"The mistake, Snowbird, was hurting you in the process. He doesn't want to hurt you. He loves you."
"Oh." How can that be love? I admit I'm no expert on love, I barely know what it means. But it just seems wrong that it should hurt so much. "Gideon never does this shit to me. The only thing Gid ever did to hurt me was leave and it's not like he could've stopped that. He was just a teen when he had to go away. Tier and Lucan, they know exactly what they're doing and they do it anyway. Like I'm just collateral damage or something."
His sigh is long and loud. "Sometimes we have to kill to right our world. Sometimes we have to be killed so someone else can right their world. This is life, Junco. It's not good or evil, it's a delicate balance of both."
It's like the constellations. Like Laelaps and the Teumessian fox. A paradox that must be neutralized. It's like Lucan's lecture on perspective. Look at both sides, but neither side is right. It's like Inanna giving me this strong new body and these powers even though it turned me crazy with the pain.
I have a hard time with that last part. How can anything she did be good? But that's what Sera was trying to say as I ignored her words. Inanna made me whole again. But I never asked to be whole. I never begrudged what I was.
"You still there, Junco?"
"Yeah," I breathe. "I'm tired now, Dad. I'm gonna go to bed."
"I love you, Junco."
"Ditto, Dad. Bye."
I tap the screen to end the connection, then turn over on the bed and before I have time to think my eyes are closed and my world is dark.
I'm sweating like a motherfucker in the Dallas Underbelly humidity. The black covert ops outfit doesn't help things either. Fucking shit sticks to my skin and makes me feel like I'm wearing plastic. Who the hell needs heat shielding when it's ninety-seven degrees out? I mean, fuck! I highly doubt that single degree is gonna be the one thing that gives me away on this job.
This distraction makes me lose focus and my lens scope vibrates against my iris as it adjusts. I'd rather have a fucking pair of night-vision goggles strapped to my head than these stupid lens cams. Who the fuck planned this job, anyway?
The vibration stops and then I hear the internal beep that says it's found the target. He's got a marker on him that's been programmed into my vision equipment. It zooms in and out as it focuses—again.
I peer down the sight of my rifle and start breathing.
In. Out. Stop.
"Stand down, Semaj. Report back. Repeat, stand down, and report."
Now what the fuck? "H2, I'm on target, I've got him."
"Stand down, now. Report."
This whole night blows.
I slither back into the dead space and then crawl back the way I came. Over the railing, hop onto the next building, down the fire escape, jump to the ground, and book it down the alley. My stalk mocs are silent as my feet pound the pavement. I love those synthetic rubber soles. You could stalk anything in these shoes.
I slip into the shadows as some prostitutes walk by, then walk the wall and round the corner.
I slam into James and fall on my ass.
"What the hell, James? You're not—"
I take his hand as he helps me up and we walk briskly to the waiting flier. He holds the door open as I get in and then we take seats opposite each other in the back.
"What's he want?" I'm suspicious because my dad hasn't called for me in almost a year.
James shrugs and pushes a bag into my lap as he takes my rifle. "Get into your uniform. I told him you were in training down here, but he's not aware of your extracurricular activities."
Obviously. I cannot even imagine a world where my dad sanctions civilian hits.
I struggle out of the wet plastic and sit there in my underclothes for a few minutes, letting the air conditioning blast me. James is uncomfortable with me undressed, but I don't care. It's so fucking hot down here and the last thing I want to do is put on a cadet uniform.
"Dress, Junco. Now."
"Why do I have to wear a service—"
"He thinks you're here as a commander, Junco. Not a student."
"Oh." I blow out some air and start tugging on the layers of clothes that make up the Senior Cadet Captain service uniform. Pressed shirt, tie, trousers, belt, socks, boots—in this fucking heat, boots!—and hat.
After I'm dressed I sit as still as possible. Every single time I move I sweat, even in the air condition.
"Fuck, why is it so damn hot?"
James shoots me an uncomfortable look and then adjusts the temperature lower. His flesh is pimpled with chill and I reach over and touch his arm. He's freezing.
"No. No, James, you better explain—"
"Junco, he's stable right now, but he's not doing well, I can't lie."
My body instantly breaks out into a sweat, living the fever that connects Gideon and I, and my breath is coming in short gasps as the panic rises. "He's dying! He's dying, isn't he?"
"Don't, Junco. Do not lose it, do you understand? Your dad is there, he's already suspicious of this trip, and if he sees this connection I guarantee you he will not let Gideon live. You listen to me now and hold it down."
I force the tears back because he's right. My dad is different. I don't know how to explain it or how it's even possible, but my dad has changed somehow. I haven't seen him since late spring last year and the last time I talked to him on the comms, he was acting strange. So many questions, things he already knows, like it's a test or something. Or like he forgot the answers.
And this heat thing started a while back with Gid and I. He broke his arm on a mission—shit, he got hurt a lot over the past few years. And each time the heat from his wounds was transferred to me. But it never felt like this. This is a fever that burns my whole body. Which means he's fucked up.
I swallow and look out the window. It's too dark to see anything but the occasional light or two until the perimeter security for the Stag comes into view.
I can see my dad's private flyer on the east pad and we land on the north pad.
When the door opens he's standing there, in full service uniform as well, and his hands crossed in front of his chest. He doesn't salute.
I raise my eyebrow at that. When I wear the service uniform I get a salute. It's always been that way.
"Weapon," he barks at me. His arms uncross and his hand extends as I untuck my shirt and pull out my SEAR knife, then hand it over.
He slips it into his front trouser pocket.
My eyebrow doesn't shoot up this time, but it wants to.
"What's going on, Dad?"
"Gideon is very sick, Junco. I wanted you to know right away that he will not make it."
My heart is crushed and my eyes close to protect myself against these words. "No."
He grabs my arm and pulls me towards one of the outer perimeter buildings. One that I've never been allowed into before. He flashes his biometrics and tugs on me as the double stainless-steel doors part to let us through.
My head is in a fog as I am pulled along several corridors, through more doors, past stations manned by nurses—or actually, when I take a second look, manned by scientists. I do a double take at one as we pass and my dad notices and jerks my attention back to him.
"Don't get nosy."
"Nosy?" Since when is being aware of my surroundings considered nosy? I'm about to call him out on this when we come around a corner and Gideon is in front of me.
I burst into tears.
He's nothing but machines and tubes, and wires. The large room is buzzing and underneath I can hear the tell-tale wheezing of the ventilator that is keeping my partner alive. "What the fuck happened?" The words are out before I can stop them and I'm sprawled out on the ground, the pain radiating out from my mouth as the blood from my lip drips on the floor in front of my eyes.
"Watch your mouth!"
Did my father just hit me for swearing? Since when?
James picks me up and smiles, but I see the panic in his eyes as I shake off his grip on my arm and walk over to Gid's bed. When I look back, Matthew is in the room as well. James retreats behind him, no more help for me. If Gid could talk he'd tell me to keep cool and stay alert. They're up to something.
I take a deep breath and look at my dad. "Please, tell me what happened."
He smiles at my manners. "He is not responding well to a treatment we gave him. He will not recover, Junco. We are taking him off the ventilators tonight. He will stop breathing, and you will deal with it rationally."
I swallow down my anger and growl, "Define rational."
"Normal, everyday grief is fine—"
My unexpected laugh cuts him off and then he continues.
"But we will not tolerate rebellion over this. He will die and you will go on. You will be agreeable and follow orders. Do I make myself clear?"
He sure does. One thing is very clear. This man is absolutely not my father. My father loved Gid like a son. He would never expect me to be rational upon his death. Never.
I nod up at him and look over to Matthew. He's smiling. But I almost miss that because the tiniest fraction of my sight is directed towards James. And he puts it all into perspective. We're playing a game, Junco. I can almost hear the words come from his mouth. That's what he always told me as a kid when I had to behave but would prefer not to. We're playing a game.
"Yes, sir," I whisper.
I can play. I know the rules.
"You may stay here with Gideon until we're ready to remove his life support, but do not wander the hallways. Clear?"
They leave me alone then. I pull a chair up to the bed and lean my head down on his chest. I can't even hear his heart, not through all the artificial breathing. But I don't need to hear his heart. I can hear his mind.
And I can feel his pain. His fever circulates in my blood, his life mixes with mine and for a moment I almost panic and think I'll take that from him. That I'll be responsible for his death.
But then the heat dissipates and I move on. Looking for the next problem, looking for the things that want to crush him. And I take them next. I take them all, one at a time, until my body is limp and his fever is my own.
If he dies, so will I.
I refuse to live without him.
The voices are what wake me. Not soft. Not talking to me. Not loud, more like hurried or insistent.
Not talking to me—talking about me.
I struggle to make sense of the words, but I can't catch it all. Only fragments that make no sense.
Life support… recovery… death.
Oh God. I start crying before I can stop myself and then someone is hovering over me, asking me questions.
But I'm not listening. Because their erratic conversation can only mean one thing. Gid has died. They took him off life support and—
"Junco?" This soft voice is talking to me. "Junco, he's still alive, so you can stop now."
James. I say it but no words come out.
The voice is no longer soft, it's my new dad t
I feel the tube in my arm wiggle as someone pushes drugs into the line and then, almost instantly, the world ends.
When I come to I am fully awake and I am staring up at Gideon.
"Snowbird. Don't ever do that again."
He looks like total shit, his gown slipping down his shoulder, his arm still attached to an IV line that ends at a bag of something, and his hair—shit, what hair? Half his head is shaved bald and the remaining hair is sticking straight up.
I manage to croak out some words. "Don't you ever do that again."
He leans down and kisses me. He kissed me!
How many years have I waited for Gideon's kiss? It pecks my forehead, but so what. I cough out a small chuckle. "Is that what it takes to get a kiss from you?"
"Shit, Junco. You want a kiss, just say so. Don't ever do that healing shit again, you hear me? It's not safe, you're not ready."
I close my eyes because they are still so tired. "What is this place?"
"The outer labs."
I open my eyes again and find my attitude. "Yeah, I know that, Gideon. What is it, though?"
"It's not important. Just rest. I only wanted to come in and see how you were doing. They said you were gonna be fine, but I had a hard time believing them." He shrugs. "I need you, Junco. Don't leave me yet."
I smile up at him. "I won't if you won't."
He leans down and kisses me again. On the cheek this time. "Deal," he whispers. "That's a deal. Now go back to sleep. I gotta get to my room before they come back."
"Where is everyone?"
"Some sort of emergency in another building." He stands up and grabs his IV bag and squeezes my arm with his free hand. "I'll come see you tomorrow."
I manage a nod and then lose the battle with my heavy eyelids.
The next time I wake I feel spectacular. A nurse stands over me and smiles. "Thought that might bring you back."
"Who the fuck are you?"
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