I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 40
“OK. That’s enough of that. You want a beer?”
I let out a long breath. “Yes.”
“Get him a drink. Come over here and have a seat, I’ve never seen real-life avian up close. Well,” Vincent amends, “except Junco, but she was just a regular kid when I knew her.”
An overwhelming need to know what this man knows about Junco consumes me. “What kind of kid was she? Was she… sad?”
“Sad?” Vincent asks back, tilting his head. He looks over to John. “Was she sad?”
“No,” John says without hesitation. “I never really saw her sad. She was calm at times, she was violent at times, she was sometimes very annoying in a girly kinda way—but she made up for that by being very un-girly most of the time. She was never sad down here with me.”
“And ya used her for… killing?”
“That’s right,” Vincent says matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure which Junco you know, but the Junco we knew was a soldier of fortune. A hired gun.”
“She was like, what? Sixteen?”
Hand shrugs. “She was a better trained killer at sixteen than I’ll ever be.”
Someone plops a beer down in front of me and I take a long drink as I try to decide what I want from this meeting. Is this a social call? An offer of an alliance? A friendly chat with some boys? “Why am I here?” I look over to John as the words come out. “Why invite me back here?”
“We have some information you might need,” Vincent replies.
I turn back to him and wait.
“The Polar Friendly has made a discovery up in the Arctic ice. And maybe you’re already in on it, I’m not sure. But I know that no humans, other than the men in this room and those associated with Subjack up there, know what’s going on. So I’m going to assume you’re in the dark and tell you what we know.”
He laughs a little. “Because I’m not sure where your allegiance lies, but I do know some of it is still with Junco. And everything up there, the future of this planet and—well, I’ll be honest here, I’m not sure what else, but I know it’s the future of this planet and maybe even more far-reaching than that—rests on what happens over the next few days.”
“With the Angels?”
“No,” he sighs, shaking his head. “With the stuff up there in the ice.”
I wait for more but Vincent seems to be waiting for me. I look away from them and take my attention to the children on the other side of the massive open room. This place is not a house, it’s an old factory. The ceilings in this building are more than fifty feet high. The floors are a rich dark brown color and made up of polished concrete. The room is completely open, yet also sectioned off into separate areas. There’s a kitchen on the far side. A massively long dining table sprawls out down the center of the room. Actually, it’s more like ten long tables placed end to end with long benches. Something you’d see in a summer camp for human children. We’re sitting in an area with deep leather chairs. A meeting room without walls.
“I have a half-brother,” I finally say. “His name is Caleb. His rank is equal to mine, but he works for someone else. He’s mentioned what they’ve found up there, but”—I turn to look at Vincent—“he didn’t tell me what it was. He just said, everything. Everything is up there. Do ya know what that means?”
The man smiles and nods. “It’s everything. And since we all live in this system, since we all need this planet—we are irrevocably tied together. So, I’d just like you to know, we expect you to take us into consideration when you move forward with your plans.”
And… that’s all I get from Vincent. They clap me on the back and get up and walk away. They just leave.
So that’s where I am now. Still sitting in that deep leather chair wondering what the fuck is going on. I check my vision screen, but there are no messages. I’m a hundred percent positive they’ve got technology blocking my messages, but right now, I do not care.
I’m not sure what I care about right now.
“Hello,” a tiny voice says off to my left.
The little girl is not more than four human years old, she’s got two long plaits of hair spilling out over her shoulders, and her eyes are large and brown. “Hello,” I say back.
“Are you an angel or a bird?”
I laugh. “Neither.”
“But you have wingths,” she says with a lisp. “Tho you have to be one or the other. Angel or bird?”
“Bird then, I guess.”
“Well, you look more like an angel than a bird.”
“I’m not an angel. I’m not a bird either. I’m an avian. Do you know what that is?”
She nods. “Yeth.” I smile at her lisp because it reminds me of HOUSE. “A bad guy.”
I laugh again. “Well, that’s not really true. Well, maybe a little bit true. But there are badder guys than me, that’s for sure.”
“Will you kill us?”
It’s such an honest question from this child. How do I answer? “I’m doin’ my best ta save ya, little darlin’.”
“Can I touch your wingths?”
“No, they’re not for touchin’. But I tell ya what…” I reach over and pluck out a feather from my wing and hold it out to her. “You can have a feather to touch. How’s that?”
She smiles and hesitantly reaches out her fingertips to take the feather. It’s not a long flight feather, just one of thousands that cover the bony plate up on my second shoulder. She studies it as she twirls it between her fingers and then abruptly pivots and skips off, satisfied.
John comes back and takes a seat in the chair across from me. “Sorry, she’s bossy when she should be calm and opinionated when she should remain silent.”
“In other words, a typical female?”
We laugh at that.
“I’ll go with you to the Polar Friendly, if that’s OK.”
I ignore that and get right to the point. “So, ya work for Inanna?”
“Yes,” he says without hesitation. “My family has worked for her for hundreds of years. Most of it was your normal everyday mafia shit, though. Not that stuff we saw up in the Sagitta Building. Of course, I knew it was there, but I’ll be honest, I never knew what it was about. I still don’t.”
“Are you allied with the PF?”
“No, technically not. But we’re all allied, we just haven’t figured that out individually yet.”
“Well, I hate to break it ta ya, John, but my job and yer job are not connected.”
“How so? You were sent by Lucan to do what?”
“See, if we were allied, ya’d know that already. I’m not even sure I fully understand the answer to that question, to be honest.”
“Yet you’re willing to see it through?”
“Absolutely. It’s the only way this ends with more than zero humans and avians alive.” I shrug. “None of it is pretty. Yer daughter was right, I’m a bad guy. But I was right as well. There’re are badder guys than me out there. Our answer is the only one that allows some of us to live.”
“Will Junco live?”
I sigh. “I’ll tell you the same thing I told yer girl. I’m doin’ my best.”
He stares past me for a few moments as the women get busy over near the tables. “Hungry?” he asks after a few more seconds. “My mother has invited you to dinner.”
“Thank you.” I take an extra second to look him in the eye. “For helping me with HOUSE and for being a friend to Junco.” I stop to recall our last fight and it feel like she’s been gone years instead of days. I look back up at Hand. “She told me something before she went into the Pillar, ya know. You were her one regret, she said. She regrets leaving you that last time in Dallas because you have everything she’s ever wanted. The family, the kids…” I can’t say anymore without being dragged down into the depths of despair, so I just stop there.
He opens his mouth to say something back, but then shakes his head before giving it another try. “She made the right decision.” He nods, maybe to me, maybe to hi
“Lucan seems to feel the same way. He’s wholly unconcerned with her right now. Like she hardly matters.”
“And you trust him? Why?”
“I might not know what Inanna told ya about what’s happening here, but that makes no difference. The future is tied to Lucan. And so am I. There is no possible way I will refuse his last order. Even if that means I lose everything I care about. Even if it means my life.”
John Hando considers my words for a moment, watching me as he sits back in the chair, one leg crossed over the other in a relaxed state. Wearing a t-shirt that’s telling me to fuck off in Spanish and a pair of shorts with those beach sneakers.
He tips his beer bottle in my general direction. “Well, here’s to hoping that’s not how this shit ends.”
I tip my bottle towards him as well. “Never hurts ta hope.”
The Hando dinner table is like a shrine to family. It’s long enough to seat all three dozen family members, including Hand’s numerous siblings and their many offspring.
The little girl sits on my left, swinging her feet and stuffing spoonfuls of rice in her mouth, while Hando sits on my right, holding one of his other daughters in his lap as he feeds her something out of a jar. His wife is pregnant. She sits across from him looking like she’ll burst into tears at any moment as she sends me small looks of unhappiness, as if I’m the one responsible for her misery.
I sigh. And eat my food.
I’m doing my best and if I had my way John Hando would stay here with her. But I’m not the man’s keeper, he’s allowed to meet his Destiny the way he sees fit. I’m the wrong guy to silently plead to for help in this area.
I gave up everything for my role in all this. It’s justice, if you ask me, that everyone else be made to suffer along with me. I’m no goddamn martyr, it’s just a motherfucking job.
Annun pops into the room behind me and scares the shit out of the little girl. She starts screaming as Hando’s wife rushes around the table to pick her up.
“Annun,” I growl. “This is a private residence.”
“Hey, sorry, kid,” he says casually to the little girl as her mother picks her up. “I gotta talk to my boss, OK?”
She stops her crying long enough to consider his half-ass question, then nods her head as she’s whisked away to sit on her mother’s lap.
“Tier, I just heard from Ryse. Ashur is up on ship with Selia and he’s not coming down until later. I got the meeting set up with the Polar Friendly, but we gotta hit the road here, they’re waiting. Subjack is a total dick, and he does not at all excited to see you in person again. Like at all. I got Arel and Lili running the Pillars until Ashur decides to show the fuck—”
“Annun,” I growl.
“Oh, sorry, kid.” He smiles sheepishly at the little girl who is now across the table from us on her mother’s lap. “Habit.” He winks at her and she giggles.
I roll my eyes.
“Anyway, we’ve got people manning the Pillars so when Junco gets her shit together”—he stops to wink at the little girl again and gets another giggle—“and the Halo is in action, they can pick up the Siblings and bring them in. That’s what I really need to talk to you about. They got something weird up there in the Polar Friendly. Well…” He stops. “Fuck, Tier, it’s just weird shit. We gotta get up there pretty quick and check it out.”
Several Hando females got up at the start of his speech to bustle around in the kitchen, and are now returning with eating paraphernalia. “Sit and eat,” Hand’s mother says.
I’m about to get up and tell them no, but Annun is already sitting in the little girl’s chair next to me and plates are plopped down. “Yeah, sure,” he says with a dimpled smile that makes every Hando female audibly sigh. “I could eat.”
This guy. He bugs the fuck out of me. It’s like he lives in his own private universe, unconcerned with anyone around him. But Annun is the best warrior I have right now. He might do shit his own way, but the shit always gets done. He never needs to be told what to do, he just does it. And unlike me, Ashur, and Ryse, he has no personal agenda that takes precedence and messes with the plan.
He dominates the conversation after they heap food on his plate. While I cause silence and tension as soon as I enter a room. Annun is all about being comfortable in his surroundings. And he makes everyone around him comfortable too.
They ask him all sorts of questions. The girls even start touching his wings and he sits there with a stupid smile on his face enjoying it a little too much before I growl for them to stop. The girls back off, but they send me dirty looks as they do it. Annun just smirks.
There is no point in disciplining him anymore. He’s impervious to my insults, threats, and punishments. I’ve demoted him several times, only to have to promote him even higher after he does something spectacular. I’ve kicked his ass so many times I lost count, but he neither holds it against me or changes the way he talks to me because of it. It’s best to let him do his thing the way he wants and ignore all the bullshit that clouds around him like a swarm of wasps.
He is the only one who gets away with it. He is the only one I let call the shots with me.
He is the only one now. Because he is my Braun replacement. And I miss that fucker so damn much it almost hurts.
I sigh as I look down at my plate, my appetite gone. I try not to think of the sacrifices I’ve made, of the people I’ve lost. And what that has turned me into. What kind of monster I am now.
I look around at the happy family. They know what’s happening, probably better than anyone else on this planet because they know Junco personally. They know what she is and what she can do.
But they are laughing now, thanks to Annun. They smile at each other. Mothers hold their children, fathers talk to their brothers.
My gaze wanders down to the head of the table closest to me. It’s Hando’s father. He nods when my eyes reach his.
I sigh. Because they will all be dead in a matter of days if we fuck this up.
If Junco refuses her last order.
If I refuse mine.
It’s the two of us who will decide who lives and dies.
And even if we can scrape together some sort of meager existence for the humans of Earth when this is all over, there will be nothing left for Junco and me.
I sigh again and push back from the table. “It’s time to go.” I look down at John Hando. “You should say your goodbyes. I’ll be out on the street waiting for you. Annun, walk with me.”
I get up and stride over to the security doors. Somewhere out of sight this door is manned, because it beeps and clicks until a green light flashes on a biometrics panel on the steel wall. Annun and I walk through when the door opens, repeat the procedure again to make it outside, then pass the gates and cross the street.
The last time I stood here, only a few hours ago, I was holding HOUSE in my arms.
I still had hope.
I still thought she would live, that she and I would be a little team and meet our Destinies together. I’d have more chances to badger her into doing things she didn’t want to do and put my foot down when she asked for things I was unwilling to give her.
But I was a fool.
And it’s time to just face the facts here.
I’m not gonna make it out alive. There is no possible way I will be alive when this is all over.
Hando comes with me in my timeshift and Annun follows in his own shift after he floats the coordinates over to my screen. We exit seconds apart, standing on a long, flat, gray sla
“Not very subtle, are they?” John says, his teeth chattering in the cold. I look down at his clothes and then smile.
“Ya should’ve dressed for the weather, Hand. We’re not in Texas anymore”
“Right,” he says. “Let’s go in.”
“We can’t go in. We gotta be invited. So we have ta wait.”
“I’m taking care of it, don’t throw a fit, Hand.” Annun gets a distant look on his face as he accesses the Sphere and does his thing.
I sigh and take in the environment. Light snow, twelve degrees Celsius, wind from the southeast at seven miles per hour. Sun low on the horizon. I check my vision screen for the time. Six PM local.
A small door opens next to the massive one and I move forward. “Come on, that’s our invitation.” When we reach the door a heavily armed soldier stands aside and lets us enter. Inside is dark compared to outside, but my vision adjusts seamlessly using infrared and heat sensing.
There are twenty-two guards positioned in various hidden spots in the open cavern. I ignore them as Annun handles the soldier at the door until the conversation starts deteriorating. I look back at Annun and he shuts up. “I want ta see Subjack. I have news of Junco.”
The magic words work because Subjack appears and beckons me with a wave of his hand.
We step forward, John Hando still shivering, Annun still talking shit under his breath to the door soldier, and meet up with the burly man who is looking far more professional than I’ve ever seen him before.
The first time I met Subjack we were in his Northern Territories bunker and he looked like an insane mountain man with his long hair and beard. Junco hadn’t seen him in years since the man who had raised her since she was sixteen was a clone. Subjack had indeed abandoned her. Left her in the Rural Republic to fend for herself.
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