I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 49
“Let’s see…” I scan the symbols. “I can read some of them. You don’t live with the fucking warriors for two years and not pick up some of it.”
“OK, so what parts can you read?”
“Hmmm… none of this. I only picked up the swear words.” I laugh and Hando gets personal. He punches me back so hard I crash into the wall and make shit fall over, shattering on the black polished floor. “Take it easy, gleisvaangi—that’s avian for ‘dickhead’, by the way.” He comes at me again but I put my hands up and laugh again. “I said it was easy. We’re superior life forms, we don’t make shit complicated.” I walk back over to the tank and push a few buttons.
A few more. Something starts blinking. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” I swipe my whole forearm across the control panel so it comes into contact with dozens of buttons.
Shit goes haywire. The lights are flashing, the life support alarms go off, and the lid pops open and then everything settles down.
I peek into the red goo, which is just wrong in so many ways. This shit’s supposed to be green. It’s thick and viscous, so I reach down and grab a hold of the oxygen tube and then yank as hard as I can. The body of a very blonde girl floats to the top and I almost lose my shit right there. “Help me now, Hand! Let’s get her out.” I run to the other side of the tank and we lift her up by the arms. “Pull out her tube, just yank it out of her mouth!”
“What? That might hurt her!”
“She’s gonna suffocate if you don’t, John. And I don’t know about you, but I do not care who they say this bitch is, she looks like Junco to me. And if she dies, I will kill you myself. So yank the fucking tube. Now!”
Hando obeys my command. He grabs the corrugated resin tube and yanks, but it stays firm. Iliana’s mouth opens to gasp and her expression turns to panic when she realizes she can’t breathe. “Again! Harder, man! In about five seconds she’s gonna vomit and then she really will die!”
Hand lets go of her arm and she swings to my side of the tank, almost going back under. Now her hands are flailing, and she’s fighting against us, spraying red goo everywhere. He grabs the tubing with both hands this time, puts one foot on the side of the tank to use as leverage, and pulls. There’s a moment when it looks as if it won’t budge, but then a sickening sucking sound erupts from the clone’s mouth and it comes sliding out, blood and puke shooting out after, projectile-style.
“Pull her out, Hando! Pull her out!”
We lift together, he with one arm, me with another, and we pull. She barely moves. “Fuck!”
“What’s wrong, why is she so fucking heavy?”
“The morph gel, it usually takes a team to get them out. Pull again, Hando.” By this time Iliana is choking and gasping, not strong enough to really fight us, but not at all cooperating, either. “Iliana,” I try to reason with her. “Stay still, girl. We’re on it!”
We pull again and this time I feel a physical sucking from the bottom of the tank as the seal is broken. Her body is thrust forward with our effort and then we lift again, pulling her out of the tank, her feet dragging on the floor, dripping that disgusting red gel everywhere.
“In the shower, Hand.”
“Where the fuck is the shower?”
“Fuck!” It’s got to be here. Who would have a morph tank with no shower? I look around and spy a familiar symbol. Restrooms. “There.” I point to the door. “In there.”
We drag her over to the bathroom and I lean on the door until it swings inward. “Lights?” I command hopefully.
“Lights, activated,” comes back from the ceiling in a pleasant female voice.
“Oh, thank God. Shower?”
The sound of spurting water leads me through another door and we let her sink to the ground. “OK, out, Hando. Sometimes the morph makes them crazy, so we gotta wait outside. Voice in the ceiling? Is there a lock for this door?”
“Yes, Annun. Would you like me to secure the shower room?”
“Yeah, do that.”
We exit and the mechanism on the door clicks and beeps.
“Locked and armed,” the voice says.
I look at Hando and he’s got his eyebrows up high on his forehead. “What the fuck?”
I shrug and let out a long huff of air. “Never a dull moment, right? Hey, uh, voice in the ceiling? Is that you, Deb?”
I can almost hear her smiling. I know it’s not possible, but I think I can almost hear her smiling. “Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure. But this one is not right, Annun. You need to be very careful with her. She is Junco in every sense of the word.”
“OK, then.” I look over at Hando. “Fun times ahead, huh? Do you know where in Peaks we need to take her?”
“Yeah, the Circus. The rocks in the middle of the fountain.”
“Well, we should give her about thirty minutes in there to wake up and wash off. It’s all automated.”
Hando just nods and takes a seat on a rolling stool, his legs kicked out in front of him. He sits there with his arms crossed, just looking at the floor for several minutes. Thinking, I guess. He finally looks up at me and it’s my turn to shoot him the eyebrow lift. “What?”
“You guys, Annun. You don’t seem to really know what the fuck you’re doing.”
“Well, you know, secret plans are tricky like that, right? Which is why I just follow orders. There is only one person in existence who knows what’s going on. Just one. And that’s Lucan. I’m guessing Tier doesn’t even know what’s going on. Not completely anyway. I mean, he knows a lot more than I do, probably more than almost everyone else, but he’s not in on all of it. You see, I’m not sure if you know this, but some of us can read minds. And when you’re trying to fuck up the punishment cycle that was handed down to you by beings who not only read minds, but also see the future, you gotta hold that shit tight. Understand? If I knew the plan and Aesin came and got me, he’d see the whole fucking thing. So secrets are your friends in our world. Lots and lots of secrets. That’s why when we get an order, we follow it.”
“And Junco can’t know either? Because she’s part of the end game?”
“Yup, pretty much.”
“So you don’t know what’s going on with this clone? But how come Gideon does?”
“Well, Lucan can’t do it on his own. He needs every one of us to play our parts. Gideon works for Inanna—like you, I’m guessing, since you’re in charge of this building and it belongs to her. Inanna can see the future and read minds, just like Lucan. If I had to guess, I’d say Lucan can’t see Inanna’s secrets and she can’t see his. Which is perfect, really. Because if Aesin—”
“Wait, who is this Aesin guy?”
“A bad, bad dude. I’m not sure like, who exactly he is, or what the fuck he does. But if Lucan’s afraid of him, he’s bad. So anyway, if Inanna knew Lucan’s plan and he knew hers, then Aesin would be able to see it and that’s not gonna help save Lucan. Or Earth,” I add. “But Inanna’s powerful enough to have her own plan. I’m guessing this is her contribution to the whole end-of-the-world thing.”
“So why are we giving her what she wants? If she’s bad?”
“Because you said it was important. Tier said to go get her. It’s all about orders, Hand.” I think about this for a moment, then amend my statement. “And faith.”
A loud beeping noise pulls me back to the job. “What’s that, Deb?”
“She’s complete, Annun. You can see her through the security glass before going in, if you’d like.” Deb pauses briefly before adding, “I’d recommend that.” Another set of beeps comes from the far wall and it whooshes open.
“All right. The moment of truth, then.” I get up and Hando follows. I stop short a few paces from the glass, not sure I should go any further. “Fucking. Shit.”
Iliana is a motherfucking demon.
Letting Isten leave is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve done some difficult things. But this, this feels like my whole body and mind, my soul, is being ripped apart from all directions.
He walks down the dock as I wait on the porch of the cabin. “Isten?” I call out one last time.
I want him to turn. I want to see his face one more time, I want to run to him, and hold him, and kiss his cheek, and tell him secrets, and memorize his laugh and the way his lips pull up a little when he’s stifling a smile.
He stops but he doesn’t turn. “See ya soon, OK, Juncs?” he calls back instead. “See ya soon.”
And then he just vanishes.
I turn at the sound of Irin’s voice, but there’s no one there.
I whirl again, this time to look for Moju. “Guys?”
“Guys? Moju? Irin? Are you here?”
And then the world… wavers. Shimmers. Blinks. Skips. Shudders.
“Guys?” The ground begins to tremble and my heart beats faster. “Are you here?”
The sucking feeling is back, the one where I feel like I’m being pulled by some invisible force, like when I was inside the blackness of the Pillar. “Guys? Is this you?” I try to walk away, back into the house, or down the porch steps to the dock, but my feet are stuck. I can’t move. I struggle harder, my heart rate picking up beats like crazy, my skin suddenly wet with sweat.
“Guys!” I call out, trying my best not to panic. “Help!” And then the force… sucks.
It sucks me down, and my lower body begins to sink through the wood slats of the porch. I’m translucent as I pass though the decking, and then my feet enter the dirt-covered ground.
“No! No, no, no!” I grab onto some tree roots sticking up our of the soil and then…
I’m in the dark and it’s pulling me.
My mind races with insanity, a jumbled mess filled with hate, and sadness, and anguish, and desperation, and revenge, and I become her again.
That other Junco.
Not this Junco. This Junco is normal. Is capable of love and friendship, and loyalty.
But that Junco.
She is evil.
And I am her.
The sucking feeling increases and my hate and anger grows with each passing fraction. It fills me, pouring into me, all the death I’ve caused, all the jobs completed without any remorse or emotion. All the training. All the raging prairie lions, and night dogs, and guns, and knife throwing. All the cave tests, and the mutants, and the procedures at the Stag Camp where my body was altered. All the emptiness and loneliness, and endless, endless, endless fucking days of self-loathing and confusion.
I explode into a shower of white light, pain radiating out from my core, until I feel like I’m going to lose my mind for good and never make it back.
I cry as my pieces float away into the nothing. The tears flow down my cheeks. “I don’t want to be her anymore,” I whisper to no one. I am alone, so I whisper to no one.
“Irin! Where are you?” I have no eyes now. I’m pieces. I’m shattered. I’m how I should’ve been the last time I was here. Just nothing. I have no body, I have nothing.
“Junco! Come back!”
I can’t, I say. But I can’t say it, because now I have no mouth. I have no voice. I have no say in anything.
“That’s not true, Junco.”
Inanna! You bitch! I will kill you!
“OK, I’ve had enough.”
And just as she says those words the shudder is back. The skip, the blink, the shimmer, the wave.
Something slams into me and the pain, beautiful pain, rockets through my whole body.
I want the world to go black, but it won’t. Because it’s white. I’m in that white place again.
“Let’s try this again, daughter.”
I’m lying face down on a hard cold floor, something like polished white marble. My arms flail out, reaching, searching for something to ground me to this reality when my fingers bump into something hard and cold.
I wrap my palm around it.
“Flick it on, Junco. Fight me again if you want, but I assure you—I’ve already adapted to this reality. I will win, I will win easily, and we don’t have the time to fuck around with your childish revenge schemes. So pick that weapon up, flick it on, and let’s get this over with if that’s what you need.”
I roll over and look up.
I tip my head to my right.
To the left.
That fucking bitch.
I’m on my feet in an instant, my SEAR knife out, high ready stance. “You!”
She looks down at her manicured fingernails. “Let me know when you’re reasonable. I can wait.”
I close my eyes, suddenly very tired, then power down my knife and slip it under my shirt where it docks on my body with a soft sucking sound. “What do you want? Why do you do this to me? You are nothing but an evil, evil bitch!”
She yawns. “Yes, yes, yes. Anything else? Just get it all out, Junco. We’re on a strict time schedule and you’ve already wasted three days. While you’ve been vacationing in the Pillar, flirting with Isten and sleeping off your self-imposed insanity, everyone else has been working. Lucan is gone, you know. He’s on trial as we speak and you’re thinking about revenge? Really? I thought the two of you were close. Didn’t you tell me that? He loves you?”
“He does love me,” I say quickly. “He loves me.”
She rubs her nails on her yellow gown like she’s got nothing better to do than think about her manicure. “And you him?”
She stops her pretenses and looks at me hard. Her eyes are blue, too, her hair golden like mine. Her shape is different. She is very tall, and strong-looking. She has her weapons on her, those arrow things, and her SEAR is in her palm. It’s white, I see now. Not blue like mine. “Then prove it. Stop thinking about yourself and think about him. He does love you, I suppose. In his own way. This whole scheme depends on your actions, Junco. And I expect your compliance.”
“You stole me,” I whisper. “You stole me away. You took my wings. You tortured me.”
“It was necessary, Junco.” She eyes me coldly, like I’m data. Like I’m nothing but a result one gets after a science experiment.
“It hurt,” I reply.
She shrugs. “It was necessary. You understand these words, Junco? It was necessary. When you killed the Peaks mayor—which, by the way, I had no idea was for securing that extra weapon you showed up with. Well done. Your secret-keeping is exceptional because I never—”
“Shut. The fuck. Up.”
She stares at me.
“Just shut the fuck up. I can’t take it anymore. Isten says I have to leave the Pillar, and since you’re here and Sera is gone”—I leave out HOUSE because maybe she knows about her and maybe she doesn’t, but our rule has always been deny, deny, deny. Tier was the only person I ever trusted with that info, Sera learned about her by default—“I can only assume you’re my ticket out. So get on with it.”
She smiles like she’s won. But she hasn’t. I’m not done yet, she’ll see. “You will activate your Pillar, the Halo will form, and we will leave together, go to Peak City, and await the arrival of the High Order and Lucan. There you will complete your mission. I have a little surprise for the one responsible for stranding me here on this rock of a world for all this time.”
She shrugs. “I’ll deal with him after.”
“But—this is supposed to be his end? We’re supposed to be punished? Dissipated, for real,” I add, since I obviously fucked that whole thing up doing it inside a Pillar. “And then… what?”
She smiles. “You know, your perception of what’s going on here is
My eyes narrow. “Is that right?”
“Your hate for me is unreasonable. I’ve done all this to save you, Junco. I am the one who will save you. I am the one with the brilliant plot, I am the one with the surprise at the end.”
“Well, you have a funny way of saving me. You stole my wings!”
“You’re not avian, Junco. You are High Order. Wings are temporary and unnecessary. Tell me you were attached to them in some way and I’ll apologize,” she says lifting her head and one shoulder at the same time in defiance to my accusations. “But if you take a good hard look at it, you’ll realize you never even know what to do with them. They’re not part of you, Junco. They’re like hair. Something to be cut off.”
My whole body shivers.
“Like hair,” she repeats.
And before I can stop them, I’ve reached back to my shoulder blade and slipped my fingers in under the neck of my shirt. The bumps are still tender, the skin still feels bruised. I bet if I looked in a mirror it would be discolored. Cut off like hair.
I don’t even know where to go with that and it takes me several seconds of staring at her mouth to realize she’s still fucking talking about useless appendages. How her morph went, how I was lucky one of those fucking High Order things didn’t get here and find me with wings, because believe her, the way they lop them off can be cruel.
I shiver again.
And all of a sudden I need to get out of here. I don’t care if she keeps this Pillar, I don’t care if she’s on the wrong side, I do not care one fucking shit about any of this. I just need to get the fuck away from this monster.
“Take me back, I’m ready. Tell me what to do, to get this Pillar thing going. What do I do?”
“First of all, I need that knife.” She nods down to my stomach.
“Like hell,” I practically snort.
And then she pulls out another knife from the folds of her yellow gown. And I know immediately. Because that one is vibrating with a frequency that calls my name. It hums Junco. It sings to me with a soothing melody that reminds me of the piano. “Give that to me,” I demand.
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