I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 48
And that scares me a little. She scares me a little.
I port to the coordinates and exit in the Rural Republic. My vision screen scans the air and finds the radiation comparable to flying at high altitude. I turn and look at the house that should not be here.
Junco’s house. White foundation with walls made almost entirely of glass, a large wraparound front porch that on a farmhouse house would look warm and inviting, but on this example of modern architecture, it looks like a warning. Like a moat that divides the outside from the in. Like a threshold not to be passed.
I look up at the dome that spans the roof. I can smell chlorine from here.
The massive double doors open and Caleb stands in a beam of stray sunlight.
I roll my eyes like HOUSE might. Can he be any more dramatic?
“Come in,” he says as he fans his arms out in greeting.
I watch my feet as I climb the porch steps. He turns his back and leads me into the living room and beckons me to sit on a long white couch. I take it all in. I’ve been inside Junco’s house before, but never as a guest.
“When did you build this?” I ask.
“Last year. The house is quite famous, actually. Built by a well-known artist last century and gifted to the Church, which means it was gifted to us.” He smiles at that, like it’s so clever.
And I guess it is. The fucking Church ruled this country for almost a hundred years, long before the Succession wars turned this area legitimate.
“It was good PR to rebuild it to its exact specifications before the bombings. Offsite security footage gave us the contents. It’s almost an exact replica. Subjack himself provided the engineering documentation, up to and including the AI system.”
I look up and around.
“It’s not working out, I disabled it. No personality, that thing. It really got on my nerves.”
I sit on the couch and stretch out my legs and let out a sigh. “Why did ya build it?”
“So Junco could see it. And maybe—” He holds his hands up, palms out, like he’s trying to placate me before he speaks. “Maybe she’d like to come back here someday. I’m not saying now, I’m just putting it out there.”
“Ya brought me here to brag about yer house?”
He smiles and folds his hands together, then steeples his forefingers under his chin so he can lean in and appear pensive. “It bothers me, Tier.”
“What’s that, Caleb?”
“That she feels we abandoned her and you perpetuate that lie.”
I chuckle a little and my whole body shakes with it. “Lies are things that are untrue, Caleb.”
He gets up and walks across the sunken living room, then steps up and heads towards the hallway, his boots tapping out a thud on the polished white marble floor. “Walk with me, Tier.”
I growl. “I walk with one man, and you are not him.”
“It’s a figure of speech down here, Tier. Follow me, if you prefer.”
I get up and follow him down the hallway and he stops outside the last room on the right.
Junco’s bedroom door has writing scrawled on it in black marker. It says, If you wake me up, I’ll make you regret it.
God, I fucking love Junco.
Caleb palms the biometrics and the door opens to reveal her Princess stuff. White canopy bed dressed up in purple, pink, and unicorns.
I can’t help it, I laugh. It makes me happy to picture her and HOUSE in here conspiring against Subjack and being all sorts of ornery.
“See!” Caleb says with a bright smile. “It makes you happy, right? Is this the bedroom of a girl who was abandoned?”
I take it in for real now. She’s got a fuzzy bean-filled chair on the corner, shelves filled with picture books, a long rectangle board suspended from the ceiling by cables and covered in an authentic Persian carpet, and trophies everywhere.
It looks, I have to reluctantly admit, like a normal human bedroom for a spoiled little rich girl.
“She had a barn filled with ponies, a father who protected her and loved her fiercely. A mother who excused herself from the program, just so she didn’t have to witness her only child being made to kill. Junco had a piano in the living room to keep her sickness at bay, she was guarded by soldiers her entire life, she was well-trained, regardless of the methods used. She was loved, Tier. And she thinks we simply left her here.”
“Well, Caleb,” I say with a sort of half-laugh. “Yer entitled to yer perspective and Junco is entitled to hers. I’m not callin’ ya a liar, or saying ya never cared for her, because I have no information on that. But Junco felt abandoned. So it doesn’t matter if ya never meant it. She gets to feel that. She’s allowed to feel that. And it’s not yer place to tell her that she’s wrong.”
“And I’m entitled to tell her our perspective, Tier.”
I open my mouth to talk, but he puts a hand up. “No, wait. I’m not done. She is God’s Swan Princess. She is. And this room proves it. She is His Princess. He loves her, Tier. And you, of all people, understand that. Because you are the only other living thing in this system that unconditionally loves a father who will throw you to the prairie lions in the end. How is His love for Junco different from Lucan’s love for you?”
He waits for me to answer but I can only sigh.
“How?” he continues. “Tell me how? Because if we win and she makes it to the other side intact, I want her to be happy. I’ll be here with her. And I want her to be able to let you go and be happy. I know you’re going to see her soon. Very soon. She’s on her way out of the Pillar as we speak. And when you do, just remember that she will live on. So I’m begging you, my Father is begging you, give her what she needs. Tell her to be happy, to let you go, to move on with those of us who remain behind. Because she deserves that, Tier. She deserves her happy ending.”
I walk over to the photo book on the table next to the bed. This is all fake, or copied. Because I have this photo album back on Amelia in my own room at the 039. I open it to the second to the last page. To the picture I loved the most. It’s a teenage Junco. Fifteen years old from the caption underneath the image. And she’s dressed up in this really, and I mean really, ugly fucking costume. I smile just looking at it. Ruffles in green. Green. I can only shake my head.
But it’s not the outfit, or the horse she’s sitting on, or the giant trophy she balances on her thigh that makes me love this picture. It’s her smile. Because in this picture everything Caleb just said is true. She is loved. She is a princess. She is whole, and confident, and she shines. She shines with the glow of happiness. Secure in the knowledge that her world is good.
“Don’t you want her to be like that again, Tier?” Caleb says from directly behind me. “Don’t you want her to feel that again?”
“What do ya want from me, Caleb? Spell it out.” I put the album back on the table and turn around to face him again.
“Just an opportunity when she comes out of that Pillar, like I asked for back on Sargassum. Just an opportunity to tell her we’ve been here for her this whole time. And I want you, Tier. I want you to tell her. Just tell her He loves her. Just tell her that. And make her believe it. And once she does, please, let her go. Let her go so she can do her job and be OK with it if we win.”
“And what will ya promise me, if I let her go?”
“Do you want to renounce your gift?” His eyebrows shoot up, like he’s feeling hopeful.
“No, Caleb. I’m keeping my gift.”
He turns away and sighs. “So you see why this is so important, then? You will leave, she will be left behind. You must, must release her.”
I nod. “OK.”
“OK?” He laughs a little. “OK… well, that wasn’t as hard as I expected.”
I look him in the eye. “I love her, Caleb. I’d do anything to make her happy. Anything.”
“And I’m to reward you for that, Tier. Understand? It’s a fair trade. You help her, let go so she will follow her order, and we will turn her back.”
“We have a way. She will still be High Order genetically, but we can turn her physically back so she feels like herself again. It’s difficult, these anatomical changes. The last morph upset her because she couldn’t find herself in that body. I’ve set it up already. Sera is in charge. But only if Junco completes her mission and you complete yours. If you two don’t do your jobs, none of that will matter.”
“And that’s it? She completes her job and I complete mine? That’s a given, is it not?”
“Hardly!” he laughs. “Hardly.”
“It’s a deal. And I have a message from Lucan for you. He gave it to me weeks ago, said I’d see you on a day after I came back from hell. Since time’s running out and I was down in a raging hot tunnel in the Earth today, I’ll take this as the time and place.” I reach into my pants pocket and pull out the little envelope, then hand it over.
“A wax-sealed letter? How archaic.”
“What can I say, Lucan’s a traditional guy. He said to have you read it out loud so there’s no misunderstanding.”
Caleb breaks the wax seal on the envelope and unfolds the parchment. “It says, I, Lucan of the High Order, grant Caleb, crosser of His Bridge, Selia Manchen for services rendered. Raubtier Aves, my High Commander, will secure her and place her in his possession.”
I snatch the paper and read it for myself. “This is not possible, she belongs to Ashur.”
Caleb is almost giddy with excitement. “She belongs to me now. I’d like her to be brought here, if that’s OK?”
I hand him the paper back and answer cautiously. “What do I care? I’ll be dead. Ashur will probably be dead too, and he’s damned, so what does it matter?” I stop to let my next request sink in. “I’ll bring her. But you will do me one favor.”
“What?” he asks, suspicious of me since things have gone so well.
“I’ll give up my position.”
He narrows his eyes.
“But let me transfer it to someone else. Our brother, Ashur. Let me give it to Ashur.”
Caleb huffs out some air. “Why should Ashur cross when I can’t?”
“Because I’m owed and I want to save him instead of myself. Just let me fade away. I just want to die. I’m tired, Caleb. And even though I told ya eternity is a long time and my blood will wash away eventually, I’m not sure I can wait that long. Let me give it to Ashur.”
He’s shaking his head. “I can’t get permission for that. You know the Bridge is closed. Lucan’s been taken. They are here. I can’t go ask.”
“Then exercise executive privilege, Caleb. I know ya have it, just as I do. When I speak, I speak for Lucan. When you speak to me, you speak to Lucan. If I can speak for Lucan, you can speak for Him. Speak now. Let Ashur cross.”
“He is faithful and good, Caleb. Far, far more deserving than I am.”
He winces because he knows that’s true.
“He is worthy, Caleb. He’s loyal, and just, and truthful, and he follows all the rules.”
He sighs and I know I’ve won.
“OK, you can transfer the gift. But he must be present when you do it.”
“So I just say what? I, Tier Aves, one true son of Lucan, pass my gift to cross the Bridge of Life to you. Is that what I should say?”
Caleb nods. “Yeah, that should work.” He looks at me for a long second and then smiles. “Will you go get Selia? I’d like to see her before the war.”
I nod. “I’ll be back.”
And then I port out of there before he realizes the significance of the gift he just gave me and tries to rescind.
Sagitta Building – Dallas
“I’m not sure I like you,” John Hando says as we walk up the stairs to meet the twin AIs in front of the Sagitta Building.
“Yeah?” I reply. “What’d I ever do to you?”
“Those two”—he motions to the freaks—“are considered friends. Be nice. No insults this time. They heard all that shit you and Tier talked the last time we came.”
“I can be nice,” I say, a little offended. I’m like the fucking leader of the avian or some shit like that. Sorta. I’m pretty sure Ashur would kick my ass if I actually tried to claim that title, but he’s not here.
Web steps forward to meet us, his cordial attitude and put-together appearance in stark contrast to the disfigured face and untidy clothes of his female twin who is now her own entity instead of Web’s backside.
Which is just weird.
But I’m nothing if not adaptable. When Web gets close I offer my hand like a human. “Hey, Web. Wassup?”
Web ignores it, but suddenly Deb is there in her new body. It’s still deformed, but at least it only has one face. She grabs my hand firmly. She gives me the warrior version of a human handshake and it sorta gives me the creeps. She mumbles out a string of syllables, but to my ears it sounds like she said, Purple dogs bark at midnight. I’m not sure if Earth dogs come in purple, but I am pretty confident that’s not what she said, so I just nod and smile.
“See,” I tell Hand. “Being nice.”
He and Web turn and continue towards the building. Deb latches herself to my arm like we’re on a date or something. I just look straight ahead. At least she doesn’t smell. Things could be worse. “Oh,” I say, a stray thought putting in an appearance. “Dude, Hand, tell me, brother, we don’t need to go up to that floor where the AI bodies are, do we? I’ll stay downstairs, if so. I can’t, man, I just can’t. That shit was—”
“Annun, please. That’s their floor too.”
“Oh.” I look over at my date. “Sorry, Deb.”
“Yeah, I got that last time.”
Web opens the little door like he did last time, and we all go through single file. Again. Man, it really woulda been so much more efficient if fucking Hando had let us in on the Iliana thing last time we were here. We coulda been done with this shit this afternoon.
We don’t take the elevator to the AI floor, we take the one across the lobby that goes to the top. After we enter, Hando flashes his biometrics, waits for the blood pull, then steps back next to me to lean against the wall as we ascend.
The is no little ding at each floor, thank God, but there is one when we arrive at our destination. My stomach does a little roll inside and I get a little nervous about what might be up here. So far, the Sagitta Building has been full of surprises. I’m guessing it’s piled high with them and that’s why it’s on constant lockdown, so I’m prepared for just about anything.
To my disappointment we exit out into your average high-class office building elevator vestibule. It’s got polished floors made of some kind of brown stone, black leather couches, and large leafy plants in ceramic pots. To make it feel homey for Juno’s clone, I guess.
Web turns left and heads down the hallway, us following, until he reaches a door. Hando flashes his palm and gives blood one more time. His fucking fingers must be killing him from all the DNA blood draws. The doors part after a few seconds and Web waves us forward. I start to go but Deb has a hold of my arm and she’s decided not to go with. “Hey, Deb? Need my arm back, hon. Be right back.” I pry her fingers loose and place her hand at her side. “OK?”
I look at Web. “Should I know what that means?”
He clears his throat. “She said, She’ll stab you in the back if you let her out of your sight.”
“Oh.” I look over at Deb. “Thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely keep my eye out.”
She nods her head once and then smiles a crooked grin.
“Let’s go, Annun.”
We go forward and leave both AIs outside. I’m sorta missing my Deb already. If she’s got a thing for me I’d like to keep her around. Junco was blessed with all these damn AIs she’s got doing her bidding. Especially that little HOUSE. I sure hope she comes back, because I liked that little s
We go down a long boring hallway, nothing but some really uglified wallpaper in a silver flower pattern to look at, and then end up at a large stainless steel door. Another palm, another poke, and Hand and I are walking through the door. For a second I’m disoriented. I turn, look up, look down, then squint at the window and walk over quickly. It’s dark outside but the lights of Upper Dallas calm my fears.
“What’s wrong?” Hand asks.
“Fuck, man, it’s just… this place looks like Amelia. Like I’m back home.” I look over at him. “Sorry, just screwed with my head for a second.”
I let out a short puff of air and pull myself together. The tank is alive with lights and humming, and that’s all good from what I know. Hand walks over first and looks at the control panels. “OK, let’s get this show on the road.”
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
We both stand there, then look at each other. “Well?” I ask.
“Bring her up.”
“Do I look like I read fucking alien?” He pans his hand to the writing on the control panel. “You’re the fucking avian here, you bring her the fuck up.”
I break out in a sweat. And then gulp.
“Annun, you’re the fucking commander or something, right? Do not fuck with me.”
“Dude, I do not read avian. I swear. I’m not even Aves, I’m from fucking Politicos. I was in the General Fledge, man, I was—”
“Stop. Not one thing just made sense. How do you not read this shit?”
“I just told you, I’m not Aves. I’m Politicos. Unless you’re born into Aves Cluster, you never learn avian. And yeah, normally I would be spending a bunch of years training after Fledge, but all this end-of-the-world thing sorta messed with our schedule. Tier disappeared, Ashur and the 039 were here on Earth, so I made the shit up as I went. When Tier came back he sent Wyrd to Science, but he took us and put us to work. I had no training in the ancient languages.”
“And Tier’s dumb ass never thought of that?”
I shrug. “He’s always forgetting I’m not Aves.” I take a deep breath and crack my knuckles. “Don’t worry, how fucking hard can it be, right?” I smile at John Hando and he looks like he’s gonna murder me. But I’m used to that look so I ignore it.
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