I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 39
I sigh at the thought of losing Tier. I sigh at the realization that he is happy to do this for me. He harbors regrets, yes. I see that. But he is so willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
I walk, trying my best not to look down into my love’s face. Her neck is bruised a dark purple from my crushing grip. Her eyes are open. They are bright green. Like Tier’s eyes. Like Ashur’s eyes.
They get their eyes from her. I asked Gib to make sure she could see herself in them. To help her feel connected to them, like a mother might.
I realize with a start that I’m stopped in the middle of the hallway, facing the deep dark of the stars. I can see us in the glass. A pure reflection of me holding my Amelia in my arms, like I’m carrying her to safety.
“I am carrying you to safety, my love,” I say, leaning down to whisper it in her ear. “Please don’t hate me.” I can’t take my eyes off us. I am in my dark suit, she in her white bed gown. Her dark hair spills down and hangs in the air like a waterfall in space. “Please don’t hate me.”
I stare at myself now. I meet my own gaze and then have to look past us and stare into the dark.
Junco’s poem comes back to me. The one on the little card she carried all through Fledge. Ashur told me about it and I was consumed with curiosity. How did that card get into the Fallen Archer Church? It’s not a sanctioned card. It only exists in that one place. But there were more of them, dozens, in fact.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
It’s so appropriate. The darkness is Junco’s insanity. The poles are good and evil, the eternal war we all wage. She must have questioned this in herself after she killed Isec. She believes in no one at the moment, she has no faith in any god, but she has faith in herself. She stands and fights when she should run.
I turn away from the window and continue my long walk. I could port, but I need this. I need this time to think this through, to stop myself from feeling regret, to convince myself that this was the only way to save Amelia from eternal damnation.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
I repeat the last line again. My head is bloody but unbowed.
Junco has been hurt so much, yet she fights on. Even when she is wounded seemingly beyond repair, both inside and out, she still fights. She can’t help who she is. She can’t help that she’s the mechanism for my destruction. She can only accept it, take her blows, and get back up.
And she does. She falls a lot, but she refuses to stay down.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
Yes, there are more horrific things than this, my little bird. But she has no fear. She moves into the unknown with courage. She understands the meaning of acceptance and she trades the fear for courage using that currency.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
And this is true too. She will never be judged. Not by anyone. Not by me, not by Rache, not even by the High Order. They don’t judge, they simply punish. Her deeds do not matter. She is free to do anything she wants without the threat of moral retribution.
This—this is what scares people about us. We do not play by the same rules. We are not bound by things like good and evil. We simply exist in time.
I stop for a moment when I realize I’m here. Then I use my vision screen to flash my biometrics and the door whooshes open.
Rikan is waiting for me.
“You have something to say about this?” Amelia was his mother too. Even more so than Tier and Ashur, because Rikan never had to be trained for his part in this game. He spent most of his time in the Politicos Clutch, but Amelia always did favor him and would sneak him out to play and do special things. She almost never forgave me when I sent him to Earth with Mish. But it was necessary. He was made a warrior, even if he wasn’t raised with them.
Rikan sighs now, his expression long and sad. But he says nothing. He doesn’t have to. I read his mind like it’s my own. Like my own father will read mine. “I had to, Rikan. I had to. You do not understand what they would do to her. And she is eternal, they would never let her go. I had to.”
He sighs again. “I know. But…” He shakes his head. “What will we have left, if this is what we must do? Will winning even be worth all the sacrifices?”
“We can rebuild, Rikan. It’s gone now, it’s all gone. See it as so, accept it. Accept that victory is death and destruction. That almost no one you love will make it, and that we will be filled with a profound sadness for a very long time. Just make it real. Because there’s no room for hope now. There’s nothing but action.”
He steps aside and I press the little button on the side of the wall.
“May I come?”
“No,” I say. “No. I’m not even sure he’ll be there, and I have words to say to him. Words I don’t want you to hear.”
Rikan sighs as the door slides open with a cheery ding. I step into the elevator and watch my son grieve for Amelia. His eyes are still fixed on her face as the doors close and we are whisked up.
I count the seconds and when I get to ten the doors open again. I hesitate, not because I’m having second thoughts about fighting this battle with him, but because if he denies me I’m not sure how I’ll react. I look down at Amelia. “Please don’t hate me.”
I step out onto the nothingness.
I have not been on the Bridge in years. I sent the boys up alone to get their recent gifts. I was not going to see Him again. I was going to be strong and defiant.
But here I am.
I am back begging.
Ashur brought Junco up here once to see the stars when she first arrived on Amelia. I’m glad she saw the Bridge, even if it was inactive and she had no idea what she was stepping on, because it’s where she comes from.
It’s not inactive now and I know exactly what I’m stepping on.
At least He granted my request.
I step forward and begin the climb up the invisible incline. For a few moments I can still see the rest of the Amelia Tori. The spaceport is empty, there are no ships coming and going, there are no lights on now, save for the periodic luminaries used for emergency backup. But with each step the Universe outside this Bridge fades and the nothingness takes its place.
When the Bridge is active there are no stars. It’s just blackness. It’s nowhere and everywhere all at once. I continue my climb and it feels like it takes forever to make progress. How much time has passed back on Amelia? I might be cutting it close.
Eventually I see a light ahead.
I continue to walk and the light shines brighter and brighter, until I’m standing in the White Room.
Crage stands with his back to me, but he does not turn when he speaks. “This is dangerous.”
I hold down a huff or irritation. “Of course it is. Everything I do is dangerous. You need to get out more, Uncle.”
“Why did you summon me?”
“I came to beg.”
He turns and his eyes rest on my Amelia’s limp body. They find me when he’s done studying her. “You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I am, Crage. I’m very, very serious. I gave you three of my boys already, I’m giving you my one true son. I want a favor.”
His laugh comes out as a bellow. “You want a favor? Lucan, allowing those boys of yours to exist in between worlds is the favor. I’m saving you!”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m saving you. Let’s just get
“How? Keep her? I can’t, I—”
“No, not keep her. Fix her. I want her back. I want to come out the other end of this deal and know that I have this one gift waiting for me. I want her to live.”
“She’s a machine.”
“No.” I shake my head again. “She has a soul. I made her so perfect, she came with a soul.”
He looks at me like I’m insane. And that’s OK, I realize this is unheard of. Souls can’t be made. They can be taken, stolen, manipulated, dissipated, transcended, and put in stasis. But they cannot be created. “I made her a soul, Crage. She’s irreplaceable. It does not matter that I could make thousands of copies just like her, none of them would be her. She has a soul and I want that soul back in the end.”
He stares at me again, only this time his incredulous look morphs into anger as I watch. “You took Junco, and now you want me to save this thing?”
“If Amelia is a thing, then so is your daughter. And I never took Junco. I never did any of those claiming morphs on her. I gifted her once, with your blessing. Tier gave her his one and only gift to ease the pain of having two fingers bitten off by wild dogs. Tier morphed her into an avian so he could keep her alive and make this moment you want so badly happen. And Inanna, your bitch of a wife, is the one who turned her Archer and activated her High Order status without permission. I never claimed Junco, I tried to make her turn away from this path. I gave her choices. I asked for her help. I never took anything from Junco and I certainly never claimed her as my own.”
His anger seeps from his body like sweat, but I continue.
“I rescued her from Inanna’s wrath. Did you know that Inanna leveled her up to Archer status with no virtual? For two years, my Junco was subjected to pain and torture at the hands of your wife. All because you deserted Inanna and left her with me. I never wanted her, but you were so worried I’d be the one to cross this Bridge first and take over that realm, you left her behind jus to spite me. Everything that happened to Junco is your own damn fault. And you don’t even deserve her. You’re evil, you’re the Devil she’s afraid of. You’re the one who left her to slowly go insane. You’re the one commanding Subjack behind the scenes, telling him to walk away.”
My anger is building so I stop to temper it while Crage takes in my words.
“You’re wrong, Lucan. I made her perfect. It was Earth that messed her up. I sent her a family, other men to watch over her. I gifted her skills to excel and be strong.”
“Well.” I laugh as I shift Amelia’s body in my arms. “Yes, she is strong. Very strong, very skilled. And also very insane. Gideon left her, Crage. Her father left her. Aren left her. And almost everyone else was killed.”
“That was you!” he bellows. “You twined her to Isten!”
“No, Isten asked her to twine, she agreed. I did none of this to Junco. From the moment she set foot on my worlds I have been Junco’s advocate. I never forced her to do anything. I protected her, I made sure she survived, I loved her, for fuck’s sake! I gave her everything she needed. And now I want you to do the same for me. For the one I love. I want you to fix my Amelia and I want you to give her back to me as a gift when I finally end your brother.”
He’s silent for a moment as he thinks. “You’re very confident.”
“I trust Junco. I’m putting all my faith in her love for me. Just like I trust Tier and have put all my faith in him.”
“It’s wrong, you know. You say you love Junco but you’ll ask her to complete this job.”
“It was your idea!”
“I’m not saying I don’t want you to do it. I’m just saying it’s wrong to put them together like this and then rip them apart.”
“They put themselves together, Crage. Tier started all this on his own. I ordered him to kill her. He disobeyed.”
“And you let him live.”
“She killed herself to fucking save him! How do I stop that? How?”
He turns away from me. “I can’t help this machine, Lucan.”
“Amelia’s not a machine. She has a body, she has a soul and that soul is still inside. Just claim her, fix her, keep her safe, and send her back. You sent Selia back, for fuck’s sake, and she’s a fucking human!”
“Caleb wanted her.”
“Selia belongs to Ashur, Caleb knows that.”
He turns back. “Caleb wants Selia, Lucan. And since Caleb will never cross the Bridge again, I gave her to him as a gift.”
“So my sons mean nothing to you? Even though it is my sons who fight for you now, using my name as their battle cry? My wife means nothing? Your daughter means nothing? How are you the just and righteous God and I am forever the Devil? How?”
“You are the Devil’s spawn. You have it in your blood.”
“And he’s your brother, so let’s not hide behind semantics.”
“I won the right to this kingdom. Your father lost. Thus, you defer to me and I refuse to allow this thing to cross my Bridge and be saved. Salvation is reserved only for the most righteous.”
“She is righteous. She spent the last three thousand Earth years committed to the habitat that Sera abandoned.”
“Yet another one who belongs to you.”
I laugh at this, a true outburst overflowing with indignation. “Me? Once again, that was your wife! I am Sera’s complement in engineering only, I never twined with her. Inanna was the one controlling her!”
He stops. Just stops. There’s no defiance in him, no expression of anger, or hate.
But I recognize something.
Something I’ve seen before.
Something I’ve seen before on Inanna.
He gave Inanna up to cross the Bridge. And all this time I thought he had no regrets. But this expression tells me otherwise. “I’m going to end her, you know,” I say. “Inanna. I’m going to end her myself. Just like I’ll end my father. And I hope it hurts you to know that. Because it hurts me to know you could save the only good thing I’ve ever had and you refuse.”
“It’s too risky to allow your machine to cross.”
“Why? She’s not High Order like Inanna. She’s not a threat. She’s a simple soul, and nothing more.”
“If you want to end Inanna, fine. But just remember, I will have your one true son.”
I smile an evil smile at that. “You might. You might not.”
His expression changes. “So you will throw away all our plans for this one woman?”
“At least you admit she’s a woman now. And yes, I will keep my one true son if it means I win this battle here today.” And then, before he can respond again, I throw in something else. “I’ll make sure Selia stays here. I’ll protect her. I will give Caleb a perfect gift. To ease his pain, the pain that comes with knowing his life is expendable. I will make this promise to you, and you will save my Amelia and deliver her to me at the end.”
“Say it, then.”
“I will gift your son Caleb and I will spare Inanna’s life, if you will only save the soul inside this woman, Amelia, my wife.”
I almost snort at this. The nerve of this god. “Junco is a given. I would never let her drift. Never. If you want her back, I’m sure she’d be happy to go. Just say the word and I’ll bring her to you.”
“No, she’s High Order. She must not cross. Ever.”
I shrug the way Junco would, if she was here cutting this deal herself. “Your loss then.”
He holds out his arms and I step forward with Amelia. I lean my head down one more time and kiss her nose. “I love you and I’ll see you soon.” I place her in Crage’s arms and turn on my heel to make the journey back.
“Do not cross me, Lucan,” Crage calls after me. “I will make you pay if you cross me.”
I turn and speak clearly, just so there’s no misunderstanding later. “I promise to gift your son Caleb with his most sincere d
When the darkness fades back into the view of the other Amelia Tori I laugh.
I laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
Never in my life has it ever felt so good to laugh.
Of course, it’s an insane laugh that would make Junco proud. God, I miss Junco. I must see to her, because she was so right when she made that walk to her Pillar… You can’t ever trust the mind-reading skills of these aliens.
When I get to the elevator I push the button and the door whooshes open. Once it’s engaged on the Bridge floor, there is no way to enter. There can be no contamination between the Bridge and my Universe. We have this precaution in place to prevent unauthorized entry. And even if one did manage to gain access to the Bridge without my authorization, it would look like it does now. Like it did for Ashur and Junco when they came to look at the stars. Inactive.
Both sides of the Bridge must engage to activate it.
The elevator decelerates and then stops and I wait for the door to open. It does with a sweet ding and I step out.
Rikan is lying prone on the floor, his breathing coming in fits and gasps as blood spills out of his torso and mouth.
My father stands over him, the knives of his feet piercing Rikan through the back, his fangs out, his eyes red. “My son,” he growls in his demon voice. “It’s been a long time.”
My own lip snarls as I make the change, my talons come out, my fangs protrude, and the light of my eyes matches his. I stand still after it completes and give him my standard response. “Not nearly long enough.”
They just look at me.
Every child, and of those there are many, is quiet with the exception of some sniffling. I have a little pang of sadness as I picture HOUSE sniffling not more than a couple hours ago.
I shuffle my feet a little, somehow uncomfortable under the direct scrutiny of this human family. I clear my throat and extend my hand to the one called Vincent. “I’m Raubtier, Aves, 039-9, commander—err, former commander of the avian military, sort of… semi-retired—first son of Lucan. When ya speak to me, ya speak to him—”
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