I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 37
He nods. "Yeah, there's some movement in the Seventh, but it's not all that spectacular."
"I'm gonna go back to Peak City and wait it out, OK? If you guys—"
"Tier!" Annun is running up to me now. "Wait! They found her!"
The wave of nausea that rumbles through my stomach makes me swallow hard. "They found who, Annun?"
"The baby," he whispers.
I look around to see if anyone else heard. Arel has already moved on but John Hando is still next to me so I play it down. "You have standing orders, Annun. Carry them out." I turn to walk away and put an end to this conversation.
"Tier!" This time it's Tessen. I turn just in time to see Merkar and Pike yank her back by the arms, but she elbows Pike in the chin and he lets go just as she knocks Merkar down with a well-placed foot sweep and runs over to me. "I'm not on board with this, do you understand? I am not on board!"
"I don't care, Tessen. I gave the order. All you have to do is carry it out. If you refuse, then get the fuck off my team." I stare at her and wait for her defiance but she stands down, not willing to lose her position I suppose. But she does find her voice.
"I want to hear you issue that order again then, Captain. So when Junco gets back I can tell her I heard those words come straight out of your mouth."
I let out a long tired breath. "Do you know what that thing is, Tessen?"
She just shrugs and begins to talk softly. "It doesn't matter what it is. Things can be killed but they can never be unkilled. If you do this, Tier, you'll regret it. And let's face it, we've all collected up enough regrets for one lifetime, don't you think?"
I look over her shoulder at Pike and Merk and sigh. "Drug it into unconsciousness and contain it." I stare at her eyes and watch them reflect the red in my own. "If you let that thing wake up and get out, Tessen, I'll—"
But she's already running back to her team.
"What the hell was that all about?"
"Exactly what it sounded like, Hando."
I wait for the judgment I deserve but he stays silent for a few moments. "Hey," he finally says with some sympathy. "You got a place to stay? You want to come meet my family?"
He shrugs and pulls out a com, swipes his fingers a few times as he stares down at it. "I have a nice family, Tier. You'll love them. And they love Junco to death. Let's wait it out at my house." He ushers me over to his vehicle and pushes me into the back. He climbs in next to me and puts his com away. "They'll come back, I think."
"Maybe," I say. "Or maybe we'll just all be dead in a few days."
"Yeah," Hando says without malice or anger. "You probably have other people you'd like to hang out with then. You got your own family and stuff? You don't have to come home with me. I get it."
Who do I have?
Lucan and Rikan are with Amelia, Sera is who knows where, Ashur has Selia, Annun and the fledgling team are working, Ryse wants to kick my ass over Esta, and Arel is way too busy to hang out. Braun would've been my first choice, but he's dead.
I look out the window, search for the stars, and then point up. "They're up there, John. They're both up there."
They are the only two people I care about right now. They are all I have left.
And I would sell my soul, I would give up my promised eternal salvation, if I could just get one more chance to make it right for them.
I Am Just Junco, Book Six
By J. A. Huss
Three years ago Junco Coot was an insane sniper. Three weeks ago she was a prisoner being tortured in a morph tank. Three days ago she was nothing but billions of molecules floating in a sea of darkness.
Today, Junco Coot is the key to saving or ending the world.
Three years ago Raubtier Aves was the captain of the Avian Military. Three weeks ago he was trying to forget Junco ever existed. Three days ago he was given a gift of eternal salvation.
Today, he will give that gift back.
The Angels are here, the end is coming, the Demons have been released and Lucan has a past that ties it all together. Seven thousand years of waiting for revenge is over and there’s just one more question that needs to be answered?
Who will be there at the end?
Not having wings, that is. And being dead. Inside this Pillar with my twine.
Especially since she’s not here. But that’s Junco for you. Always doing shit her own way. But at least when she was on Earth before her morph she tried to follow orders. Now? I let out a long breath. Now, she’s not interested in what anyone says. Not Gideon, not Tier, not Lucan, not Caleb, not Sera, not anyone from what I’ve seen.
She just does not give a fuck and that’s bad news for us.
I study the virtual programmed into Pillar Seven so we can connect and finish what we started. It’s the same one she had with Charlie. The old wooden dock. The mountain lake. And the cabin.
I want to go check it out but it feels wrong somehow to be here without her. To see her personal place. So I stand here on the edge of the dock and wait.
The sun never sets. The water never gets rough. The temperature never changes. It’s just total stagnation.
“Who are you?”
I turn abruptly and stare at the child. “Who the fuck are you?” She’s small, maybe eight or nine human years. Brown hair, pink shirt, cut-off denim shorts, and pink flip-flops.
“I asked you first.”
She looks like Junco. If Junco was a sweet kid. I’m doubting Junco was ever sweet and I’ve never been able to picture her as a child even though she’s not much bigger than a child, fully grown.
“I’m a friend of Junco’s. Her twine, in fact, which makes us like twins.”
She snorts at me and crosses her arms over her chest. “I don’t think so, mister. If anyone’s Junco’s twin, it’s me.”
“Fine,” I say as I scratch the stubble on my chin. “You can be the twin. Now tell me who you are.”
She stalks around me in a circle, eyeing me, looking me up and down like she’s studying me. Like I’m a specimen. Her flip-flops smack against her feet with each step and I can’t help it, I laugh.
“Hey!” I look around. I walk back to the cabin, I even go inside. But the child is gone. “Junco!”
“Goddamn it, Junco. What the fuck?”
Was that little girl her? I sigh loudly even though there’s no one to hear me, and then rack my brain trying to remember who the fuck is in the Pillars on either side of me. I just didn’t pay that much attention when the job was being explained. I know who’s in all the Pillars—that piece of shit Kush who I will personally eviscerate if I see him. That damn Charlie, who got Junco pregnant which led to that bout of instability back on Earth before she morphed. And Aren. God, this is like a nightmare of Junco’s ex-boyfriends. Then there’s that little fuck Isec, who almost got her killed on numerous occasions. And my brothers—Braun and Mish.
Yeah, so I can remember all of them—like I said, I know who’s part of the plan. But I need to know who’s on either side of me if I want to connect with someone other than Junco. Who was in charge of Irin’s Pillar? And Moju’s?
This isn’t helping.
I sit down on the dock and then lie back, basking in the fake sunshine and flipping my bare feet through the water—how weird is that? To have feet instead of talons? Being wingless is sorta cool, but I sure hope this isn’t permanent. I miss my old self.
“She’s not answering me.”
I stand up and turn around. The little girl is back.
She wipes her arm across her nose and sniffs loudly. “Junco, dummy. Junco’s supposed to be here and she’s not. So I went up farther and I can feel her, but she’s not answering me. Tier said I have to tell her—”
She sniffs again. “Yes. He said I’m supposed to tell her the Magpie myth because Gideon—”
“Wait the fuck up. OK, let’s start this again. Who the hell are you?”
She stops for a second and squints her eyes. Sizing me up. Or trying to decide if I’m lying. She narrows them a little more and her flat expression turns into a scowl. “Are you trying to intimidate me?” I laugh.
She turns away.
“Wait, hold on there, kid. I’m just trying to get some answers. OK? I’m supposed to meet Junco here, like you, I guess. I’m Isten, her twine. That means we’re connected via consciousness. I can sorta feel her, like you said, but she’s not here. I’m her proxy for the Seventh Pillar, I’m part of the Halo, so if you have more information than that, I need to hear it, OK?”
“Isten.” She says it softly. “The one in her head?”
“Yeah.” I nod. “Yeah, I’m the one in her head. But she’s…” I search for a word to try to describe what Junco is right now. It’s not easy. Describing the twine relationship is never easy, but now I’m in another universe and she’s inside this Pillar but yet not. “She’s missing, like you said. I can’t feel her at all even though I should be able to seek her out and pull her towards me mentally.” Her eyes soften a little and I get a little hopeful. “Tell me who you are. Are you Junco?”
She nods. “I am Junco, but just a little part. I’m HOUSE.”
“HOUSE? The AI from the house in the Rural Republic?”
“Yes, Tier sent me up here. I was dying. Well, my body was sublimating on Earth, it was only meant to last a week or so after deposition, so Tier took me to the Sagitta Building and shot me up into the Pillar. Junco was dissipated.”
I stare hard at her. “Do I look like a fucking chemist or something? Explain that in baby words, OK?”
She grunts. “Inanna made me real, I died, and then Junco and Inanna had a big fight with SEAR knives inside the Pillar and they scattered themselves. Better?”
It’s my turn to grunt now. “So, she fucked up the whole plan? Great.”
“You’re not very smart, you know. It’s your fault she went crazy in the first place.”
“Yeah? How ya figure that?”
“You left her.”
“That was always part of the plan, HOUSE. I was always gonna die. We’ve all got a Destiny, she’s got hers, and this one’s mine.”
“Yeah, but you lied to her. I saw those memories when I took you out of her head. You told her you’d be together forever and you lied to her. You’re just one more person who walked away after getting what you wanted. I’m the only one who stays. I’m the only one who cares about her. None of you care. Not even Tier. I’ll take her his message about that stupid Magpie Bridge, but he’s using her too. And I’m gonna tell her that, Isten.”
She drawls out my name like I disgust her.
“I’m gonna tell her about everything. Because Inanna is inside this Pillar too, and I had to pass through her to get here. And I saw it, Isten. I saw the plan. I’m gonna tell Junco what Lucan is doing, and what Sera and Inanna are doing, and what Gideon is doing, and Caleb, and Rikan, and all of you guys will be sorry when she finds out. You just wait.”
“HOUSE, you don’t understand, OK? You just—”
But she disappears. Just blips out of existence.
And HOUSE is wrong, I never said forever. I said I’d never give her away and she’d be with me until I die. Which I did. I died.
“I fucking died!” I scream up to the fake sky. “I didn’t lie, dammit! I just died.” I end a lot softer than I started, that’s for sure. Junco thinks I abandoned her? Fuck. It’s so hard to understand that girl. One minute she’s all badass killing machine, the next she’s a mountain of tears and sadness.
“HOUSE! Come back! I didn’t lie!”
I get nothing in return. Just the eerie background noise that comes from a virtual on loop.
The Stag Tunnels
It’s not the dampness, the darkness, or the eerie sound the water makes as it trickles down the walls that bothers me. No. And it’s not the fact that there are mutants out there on the other side of the doors, because they are contained and not a threat.
It’s not the anger coming off Merkar or Pike, either. Hell, I wouldn’t know what to do without these guys with me right now. They are nothing but good in my opinion.
No, that’s not it.
It’s the smell. The smell inside this lab, under the remnants of the Stag Camp, is putrid. It’s fetid. It’s rotten, it’s rank, and rancid, and foul. Foul. Just motherfucking foul.
And this is where they keep that baby. Where that baby has been living for months. That nursery in Vegas was nothing but a setup for Junco. Tier was right about that part. But he was wrong about the baby.
Because that baby is real. And she’s here. In this foul, rancid, rank, rotten and putrid place.
I’m not a baby expert. Hell, I’ve never even seen a real baby up close before. I’ve only seen a video feed of this one because the security system on the door was enough to stop us entering. But I know this is not how babies should enter the world. Even avian children are treated like royalty compared to this.
That Inanna is one sick fucking bitch.
The three of us stop at the window and the silence permeates the air now that our boots are no longer walking.
Merkar puts a hand on my shoulder. “You OK, Tess?”
I look behind me at Pike. He’s covering us from behind. We’ve secured this area already, but we’re a cautious team. “Is Wyrd still coming?” I ask Merk.
“As far as I know.”
I strain to see something past the glass window that allows us to see the room, but it’s no use. The baby is unconscious. We gassed her.
We had to gas her, Tessen. That’s Wyrd’s voice in my head. He’s our science contact for this mission. I haven’t worked with him in a very long time because he’s been doing his moleculars all this time.
This—this fucked-up piece-of-shit mission—is his homecoming.
Pike got the formula for the gas over the vision screen from Wyrd so we didn’t accidentally kill the baby with an overdose. Wyrd said he’d be here as soon as he could.
“How much longer?” I ask Merk, a little bit annoyed by the smell, the dripping water, and the fact that Junco’s fucking child is gassed unconscious on the other side of this glass window.
He squeezes my shoulder this time. “He said he was in Peaks about an hour ago, so soon, Tess. She’s fine. And anyway, there’s nothing you can do until he gets here. We’re not going in there without him, there’s no point.”
“I know,” I sigh. “It’s just so wrong what that bitch did. Just so fucking wrong. I hate her, Merk. I fucking hate her. If there was a way to kill Inanna, I’d sign up for that.”
He stays silent as Pike walks over. “I just got a message. Wyrd’s at the entrance to this tunnel, so couple minutes, Tess.”
“Thanks,” I mumble. I know they are both pissed at me for disobeying and then confronting Tier about it. But shit. I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother, but I know Junco deserves a chance to make this decision herself. If she wants to kill the baby after she sees it, fine. I’ll live with it. But the girl’s been through too much to have that decision taken away from her.
I turn abruptly as the sound of boots echoes down the hallway. Wyrd appears around a corner and I feel my whole body relax. I want to say so many things to him, but first I smile as he greets Merk and Pike with a firm forearm grip and then looks over to me.
“Wyrd.” I laugh, I can’t help myself. Then he walks over, his legs longer now than the last time I saw him, his chest fuller, his shoulders wider, his jaw scruffy with a bit of dark stubble, and gives me a hug.
After Junco’s spectacle in Deliverance the rest of us on her Fledge team were just sorta
Those six weeks were non-stop chaos.
And they just… forgot about us.
So Annun took over.
Annun was nothing like we expected. He was devious, he was sneaky, he liked to bend the rules, he got us into training classes we should not have been in. We fought against the highest-ranking teams on Amelia. We lost, but still, that kind of experience was once in a lifetime. We basically ran amok for weeks until Tier was released.
By that time, Annun had us in a routine that Tier wasn’t interested in breaking up. In fact, Tier just gave us to Annun. Sure, he showed up and put in some effort. But then they all left for Earth.
And Junco never came back.
But Tier did.
And then all of a sudden he remembered he had a team besides the one he lost on Earth.
So that was that as far as our freedom went. Tier’s infamous iron fist was back in full force. It was non-stop training, it was non-stop drills and hand-to-hand combat, and we spent months out at the Earth replica training habitat. We camped in the mountains, we trudged up and down cliffs, we flew for days—then weeks—with nothing more than a few hours’ rest between challenges.
He kicked our asses.
Tier gave the orders, but Annun was still our main commander. And after six months of ass-kicking, Wyrd was shipped off to Lacerion for molecular training and that’s the last I saw of him.
But I’ve heard of him. It’s hard not to.
Because Wyrd might’ve been just another throwaway in the General Fledge that was pulled through by Junco. Like me. But that’s where his connection to the rest of us regular people ends.
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