I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 35
I glare at him but he doesn't retract his words. "Say what's on yer mind, Ryse, because I'm losing patience with ya."
"Get a grip on yourself, Tier. Junco's gone, but we're still here. We've got two billion people waiting to disembark the ships, four billion more on their way here, an incomplete Pillar Seven, no Halo, and all you can think about is the health status of that thing you're feeding breakfast to? Esta is fucking gone as well, in case you haven't noticed, Selia is all shot to hell, Ashur's been given control over the Warriors, and now Lucan's back on Amelia waiting to meet seven thousand years of planned retribution. I'm fucking sick of your shit. Pull yourself together."
"Ryse," I start calmly, "Junco's in the fucking Pillar, too, so don't—"
"Yeah, but the whole reason Esta went into the Pillar was because Junco said she'd be fine! She trusted her! I trusted her! Fuck! I trusted you too, and look how fucking far that got me!"
"Look, brother. We're all wound up right now, I get it, but yelling at me isn't gonna make it better. So just calm down."
He walks away, breathing hard, then pivots on his heel and the rage seeps out of his eyes as light. "You're sitting up here with that kid doing what?"
I look outside and see HOUSE watching us through the terrace doors. "Planning, Ryse. She's got a part to play and I'm just trying ta figure—"
"What the fuck are you talking about, Tier? Fuck her! You do realize this fucking baby Junco has put all our potential allies on hold, right?"
I just stare out at HOUSE.
"Fuck it. Forget it, OK? I'll go tell Ashur to call a meeting with the Friendlies up north, because I don't even think you could handle it right now. We're losing, Tier!"
"Wait!" I command before he can leave. "I'll take care of the Friendlies, OK? Tell Ash to go ahead with the migration and I'll take care of the Friendlies. Just give me one more day."
He doesn't even acknowledge me, just ports out and leaves me there feeling sorta stupid but not really caring. I can almost see the pattern here. It's like the whole puzzle is spread out before me, almost making sense, just a few mismatched pieces, just a few that are still askew and don't fit. But it's all right there, I just need to look at it from a new angle or something. Dig a little deeper.
"So, tell me again how it happened?"
HOUSE is playing with some dolls that came out of the auto-shopper and I'm kneeling on the floor in front of her. She's told me the story several times now, but it makes no sense.
"No." She scowls at me and goes back to her dolls.
"Commander Coot." She corrects me.
"Right." I'm failing to see the difference between the two, but for some reason, this is a point she will not concede. Commander Coot and Subjack are not the same person when she tells this story, even though she does admit they are the same person in real life. "Commander Coot reprogrammed your permissions and gave Junco full authority over you when she was ten."
"Almost ten," she corrects again.
"Does it matter, HOUSE? This bullshit with Commander Coot's name and Junco's exact age? Because—"
"You should not talk to me that way."
"Yer making me angry, girl."
She goes back to playing.
I close my eyes and ask for patience. "One more time, OK? Junco was given permission and the two of ya discussed you having a holographic body, and then Junco asked ya to make a body, but forgot to add that it should be a holographic one, and then ordered ya to keep it a secret?"
"Yes," she says and then produces a cough so thick with mucus it makes me clear my throat and swallow. Layla's last message said she'd be here in a few hours, and that was more than a few hours ago.
"And yer real? I mean, what's inside ya?" I wait but she doesn't answer. "HOUSE?" No answer. "Is this part of the secret?"
She looks up at me, her eyes all watery with sickness and her face flushed with fever, and nods. "It's a secret."
"Don't you think Junco would want you to tell me, though? I mean, she told me to take care of ya, darlin'. And how can I take care of ya if yer sick and ya can't tell me the things I need to make ya better?"
She shrugs and goes back to dressing her dolls, her little fingers deftly pulling on a glittery rhinestone jacket, and then she shoves a pair of pink sunglasses on the doll's face. "I might be able to tell you something else." Her hazel eyes are glowing a bright yellow now, she's lit up like the sun. "I was sick once before." She stops to cough here and it makes me want to choke just listening to it, that's how filled with mucus she is—like her lungs are drowning in it. "Inanna took me to the doctor once. When Junco was very sick," she whispers.
Inanna! "Who?" I ask, my heart beating wildly.
"Inanna." She stops to cough and I wince and shake my head.
She's getting worse by the second and there is no time to figure out why Inanna is involved. "Tell me where she took ya, darlin'."
She stands up suddenly and falls against my chest burying her head, still coughing like crazy. "I don't feel well," she whimpers. "I'm sick again and that means Junco's dying."
Her body goes soft and limp and I have to reposition her so she doesn't slump to the floor. "HOUSE?" Shit. I pull her head back and her eyes are closed. "HOUSE? Tell me, where did Inanna take you?"
I shake her a little and she finally responds with a cough.
"HOUSE?" Dammit! "HOUSE?"
"The Sagitta Building." She breathes out the words in an almost inaudible whisper.
Her coughing takes on a whole new level. I stand up, clutching her close and pacing the floor as the puzzle pieces start to fit into place. Dallas. The Sagitta Building is in Dallas. That's where John Hando took Junco the last time she worked with him. But she told me that it's not really a building, it's a giant transmitter used to send messages into space as well as the home to the only AI duality on the planet.
I locate Annun in another Sargassum building down the beach and transport us to his apartment. He's in the middle of taking a bite out of what might be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I scare the shit out of him.
"Whoa! Dude! You—"
He sees HOUSE in my arms, limp and pretty much unconscious, and checks himself.
"I need to see John Hando, right now. We need to get to the Sagitta Building and I know for a fact he's got access."
Annun nods but his eyes are trained on the drooping body in my arms and I see the panic. "Hando, Annun! NOW!"
"Right. I have the compound coordinates, should I—"
I steal them right out of his mind and port the three of us to the Dallas Underbelly.
"Which place is his?" I look around and see nothing but lifeless buildings. There are enough hanging trains attached to the underside of Upper Dallas to create a roar of noise and a constant vibration below my boots, but there are no trains above us because most of these old buildings reach up and connect directly to the underbelly. They are awash with filth and the occasional flashing of a half-lit neon sign creates a disturbing vertigo effect. The one across from us says Bail Bonds.
"That one is the main entrance," Annun says as he points to the sign. "They own about twelve city blocks from ground to ceiling. You can't tell from out here, but it's a total military complex inside these buildings."
"How do ya know that?"
He shoots me a dirty look. "It's my fucking job to know, asshole. What do you think I do around here, for fuck's sake?"
I tuck away his insubordination to deal with later. "How do we get in then, genius?" HOUSE stirs in my arms and I lean down to whisper. "Hold on, darlin'. We're almost there."
"We ring the bell." He waits for an oncoming grav bike to pass us and then leads the way across the street. We stop in front of a shoddy gate and Annun pushes a small white button on the side of a box that is affixed to the metal.
No one comes.
"Buzz it again." I order.
"No," he shoots back. "You ring once a
I push his worthless ass out of the way and lay on the buzzer non-stop for a solid thirty seconds. Then punch it over and over for good measure.
I'm still punching when a crackle of voices can be heard in between my requests for attention.
I let up on the buzzer so they can talk.
"You are being tracked with plasma cannons, Beast. State your business."
"I need John Hando, right now." I try not to growl it, but HOUSE's breathing is getting more labored by the second. "I need John Hando!"
There's several seconds of silence and then another voice. "Who sent you?"
"Junco," comes out automatically. "Junco sent me and I need access to the Sagitta Building, immediately!"
I hear laughter on the other end and I'm about to blow when the voice comes back. "What's wrong with HOUSE?"
I guess we know who really holds Junco's secrets. "She's sick, she needs help and from what I've been told that help is located in the Sagitta Building. I know you have access, Junco told me. I know there's a dual AI in there, Junco told me. And I know that this HOUSE AI has been there at least once before, so I'm asking ya, if ya ever cared for the girl, please give me access."
The crappy piece of tech crackles one more time. "Step back across the street. I'll come out."
We wait for what seems like an endless string of long-drawn-out hours but when I check my vision screen it's only been a little over two and half minutes.
There's a rumble of a roll-up steel security door down the street and both Annun and I crane our necks to get a better look.
A fully stocked military vehicle pulls out, then slowly approaches us. Annun walks out towards the curb as it pulls up and six men jump out, all targeting him. He stands still as they search and I wonder for a moment if I should reevaluate my opinion of this impetuous asshole who reminds me way too much of Braun.
Hando comes to do the honors for me. He pats me down, but I have no weapons. I haven't needed weapons for more than ten years now. "Thank you," I say simply.
He doesn't respond, simply waves us to get in the truck. Only Hando and the driver comes with us, the rest of the men jog down the street and go back inside the compound the same way they came out.
Annun gets in and stretches out his legs like the Texican Mafia picks him up on a street corner every day of the fucking week and I reverse my almost higher opinion of him.
Hando lets me settle with HOUSE and then leans over and whispers in her ear. She stirs and tries to open her eyes.
"Ya know who she is, then?" I ask.
He leans back in his seat and nods. "I know. I was there the last time she got sick." His look, when he finds my eyes, is challenging. I'm not really sure what I expected the one Junco regrets getting away to be like, but it certainly wasn't this man sitting across from me right now. That he's a pureblood Texican is apparent by his long black hair, his brown skin, and the infamous eyes that look like deep, endless pits. But if I hadn't just visited the familial compound, I'd never peg him for mafia. He's got a pair of dark sunglasses riding high on his forehead looking like they very badly want to slip down his face, a pair of long tan shorts that have lots of pockets, a white t-shirt that states something very rude in Spanish, and sneakers that look like he stole them off a Utopian surfer.
"So ya met Inanna, then?" is all I can think of to say.
Hando nods. "Yes. I knew Inanna well. We worked together regularly."
Oh. Fuck. I'm gonna have ta kill this man.
Annun pipes up this time. "So you know she's the one who stole Junco for two years and tortured her?"
Hando's eyes flash as we take a corner with speed and we all sway with the centripetal force. "I said worked, not work, alien. If I had known Inanna had Junco, I'd have stepped in. But we've not heard from her since the last time she brought HOUSE down here." He looks over at me now. "Which was the week after Junco was called home by the clone and never came back."
"Until last week, ya mean? She came back then, right?"
He smiles and slides his sunglasses down his face until his eyes are covered. "Do not piss me off, Beast. Because I don't need you to fix Junco's HOUSE AI. I have access to the Duality and I know you'll hand her over if it comes to that. So be nice to me and I'll let you tag along and watch."
I think I might hate John Hando just a little bit more than Gideon. At least Gideon is one of us.
At least he's not human. And he's not a criminal. And I'm really starting to wonder if the Hando clan runs weapons when we pull up to the massive median level of the Sagitta Building, because there's about two dozen plasma cannons lifting up from subterranean concrete bunkers, and they are all targeting our vehicle.
Since John fucking Hando doesn't seem concerned about it, I can only assume they are there to target Annun and me.
"I strongly suggest," Hando says casually as the vehicle comes to a stop, "not to make any sudden moves, not to touch anything, and not to interact too closely with the AI in there. You got it?"
Annun answers for both of us with a wave of his hand. "Chill out, asshole. We're here to save the fucking kid, OK?"
I think I might like Annun a little more than I did an hour ago, but I shoot him the compulsory dirty look to placate our host.
HOUSE coughs as we exit and I lean down to whisper in her ear. "We're here now, darlin'. Just hold on." I have no idea if this being I'm holding like a child can die or not, but I can only assume it would be very bad luck to have something so connected to Junco expire on my watch.
The driver pulls away and we stand and wait as a well-dressed holographic man exits the front door and makes his way down a series of platformed steps. Hando presses an open palm in our direction, signaling to stay back, and then he approaches the quick-moving digitized being.
The AI does not look happy and I recall Junco's words from a few days ago about how male AI's are unstable. I've never actually thought about it before to be honest. We never had male AI's in The Band, but I always figured that's because Lucan was partial to the female versions.
HOUSE coughs again and this time I swear I can feel shit rattling around inside her. Hando waves us forward and I step up to the waiting AI, who does not greet me at all, but reaches out and tries to remove HOUSE from my arms.
I pull her back as his cold hands rub up against mine. It sends shivers up my spine and I realize instantly that my girl is not anything like this AI in front of me. "No. Yer not taking her."
He turns on his heel and begins walking up the steps and John Hando is following, beckoning us to come along. But my feet are plastered to the cement as I stare at what the AI shows us from behind.
It's another face.
A face so deformed it's hardly recognizable as female. Her bottom lip is mutilated and droops to one side and one eye is entirely missing. There is no hair to speak of, only a thin strip that gives the appearance of a hairline, but only if you see it from the proper angle. She catches my reaction and smiles and then speaks as they climb the steps in a lively manner—her knees bending in all the wrong places for someone who appears to be facing forward. I shiver again. "Keep up, Beast," is what I think she says, but I might be wrong because the sounds that emerge from her lips are so slurred and distorted it could be any number of things.
Annun looks at me with his eyebrows raised. "OK, looks like we're joining the freak show. Ready?" he asks me casually, as if he's the one in charge here and I might bolt or piss my pants at any minute. You gotta hand it to Annun. He's either a clueless dumbfuck or the most ballsy, well-informed son-of-a-bitch that ever walked this planet.
Our feet climb the steps in unison and when the AI and Hando have created a substantial distance between us, Annun leans in and whispers, "I read that the male did that to her face. He's a fucking psycho."
"Where'd ya read that?"
He shrugs. "I checked the sphere on the way over. What did you think I was doing? Sightseeing in the
Annun's team points are stacking up today. I might have to promote him if we live through next week.
The AI stops at the front door and his fingers morph before my eyes, becoming nothing but a stream of electricity, and then connect to a receptor on the side of the building. The doors slide apart, but only wide enough to admit one man-sized person at a time. Hando goes first, then Annun, and I'm about to talk through when the AI abruptly turns and the female bends down to take a closer look at HOUSE with her good eye. I stop and let her scan the child, not sure if this is part of the process of gaining admittance or not. The body turns again and the male is apologizing. "She can step out of line at times, just know that she means no harm in this gesture. If she wasn't genuinely accepting of your presence here, you'd have been obliterated already."
I nod as I pass. Isn't that nice?
I've lost all sense of which duality is friendly. I go with neither and the door slides shut behind me.
The first thing that registers is that all my vision screen capabilities are cut off. The constant buzz that's been strumming though my head for more than two decades is suddenly gone. I look over at Annun and can tell he's experiencing the same thing, but he remains calm and begins to check out the interior decor.
The AI walks past me quickly, his holographic shoes producing a curt clicking sound on the polished granite floors for effect, and we all fall in line as we approach a bank of elevators that reside against the side of the building. "We've locked the building down since the invasion but we will allow you to see our engineer to determine if the HOUSE AI can be helped."
The AI stands there, waiting for me to answer, so I nod out a "We really appreciate you doing this," and then realize that Ashur must have given the relocation order since they think we've invaded.
"Just one thing," the AI continues. "If you had approached this building without that child, you would be riding a galactic wind as trillions of particles. Our cannons are SEAR-capable. We would not hesitate. We do not like you or what you're doing to our planet."
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