I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 9
"You had to—what?"
"Stash away that man and fight with that nanotech inside you."
I stare at her with my mouth open. "What?"
"That man. Isten. And a Sera."
I swallow. "What did you do with Isten, HOUSE?"
She gets up off the floor and pulls me up with her. I teeter for a second and she steadies me. "I just packed him up, that's all. He was taking up space and—"
I turn away and she stops talking.
"I still have him," she says quickly.
"Is he retrievable?" I ask, turning back.
Her little-girl face scrunches up, making her nose crinkle. I wonder if my nose used to crinkle like that. Her eyes dart around a little, like she's about to lie. No wonder my dad always knew. "HOUSE, I'm not interested in a lie. Just tell me the truth, OK?"
She swallows. My AI friend who should not have a body, but who absolutely does have a body that can come and go as she pleases, just swallowed.
My life is not normal. Not normal at all.
"I still have him, if that's what you mean."
That's not what I mean. I check my vision screen for my scope sight.
I check for my invisibility gift.
"Fuck, HOUSE! You took away my gifts! Twenty minutes ago I could make myself invisible, and now I can't." She's very pouty now and I'm too tired to think about what this means, so fuck it. "Sorry. I'm sorry, OK? It's just, those gifts were pretty valuable."
She puffs out her lip like a child. "I still have them, Junco. I can let you borrow them when you need to."
I doubt that's even possible but she's upset now, so I drop it. "What about Sera? She's not supposed to be inside me anymore."
"There is nanotech in your blood, it has a tag that has an alert that states, ‘I am Sera’. I tried to corral it and put it aside, but it won't let me.”
HOUSE shrugs. "That's all I know."
I take a deep breath. "Yeah, all right. We'll sort that out later. We gotta get out of here before people spot the truck."
I grab her hand and my pack and we go back up top. It takes almost thirty minutes to fill in the hole and half-ass some concealment with the scant vegetation and rocks. We reach the truck just as the sun is coming up and I fight off another wave of stomach cramps.
"Shit, why do I feel so sick?" I look down at her and she winces at me. "What?"
"I'm making you sick, I think. Me being inside you. I need a lot of energy, Junco. I'm sorry. I have to take your nutrients to make energy and I think it's making you sick."
Just perfect. I push down my rising annoyance and smile. "OK, well, we'll figure something out as well, OK? I can handle it for a little while." But this makes me wonder at all the nausea I had when Sera was inside me on ship and during the Sibling mission. Was she the cause of all my sickness?
"Where are we going, Junco?"
Her question pulls me back from my thoughts and I look down at her in the new dawn and take her in. She's still about eight years old and looks just like I did at that age. Straight auburn hair a little past her shoulders, wide hazel eyes that match her heart-shaped face, and that upturned mouth that makes her look sweet.
I wasn't sweet and neither is she.
"Peak City. You always did want to see Peak City and I never got a chance to take you. So that's where we're going."
I push her into the passenger seat, get in my side and drop the pack of weapons between us. The codes make the truck come alive and I back up, turn around, and head back towards the road.
"Junco, my sphere access says Peak City was destroyed in a nuclear bomb initiated by your father."
"Yeah, it was. But they're rebuilding it, aren't they? They have parts up, don't they?" I know they do, partly because I can see the massive construction going on over there in the early morning light and partly because when I accessed the sphere at Gid's house I looked it all up. The entire project is almost a blueprint for the planet pad in Dallas, with thousand-foot-tall pillars sticking up out of the ground and the beginnings of a train system hanging from the underbelly.
She's quiet as she searches. "Yes, the city center, called the Circus, is open for workers and their families and there are several pods for housing. But no outsiders are allowed in."
"Well, we just became locals, HOUSE. Because I'm going back to Peak City before I leave this place. I don't give a shit what the regulations are."
We drive in silence as I make my way south. HOUSE hijacks a satellite to get the lay of the land and charts a course that almost takes us all the way back to Trinidad before we find an illegal entrance to the highway and start heading north again.
We're still a good thirty minutes from the new city and my stomach is roiling with nausea when she disappears. The cramps almost make me veer off the road. "Where'd you go, HOUSE?"
She flashes back. "I'm tired." She even rubs her eyes for emphasis. Where did she pick up all these human mannerisms? I don't recall her being so child-like before. "I want to go to sleep."
"What's that mean, HOUSE? Sleep? Where do you go?"
"I need rest, Junco. I'm tired. I don't know where I just was or where I go and I don't want to talk about it. I've never been a body this long before. It makes me tired."
Hmmmm. This might be a problem. She blinks out again and the cramping in my stomach returns with a throbbing headache to match.
I make the first checkpoint with no problems. It's just an automated station that scans for vehicle credentials and since this is a government truck, we cruise right through. The second checkpoint requires a personal scan by a real human and HOUSE has to rig the tags coded into the truck so we're not linked to the asshole I left in that sleazy hotel in Trinidad.
We park the truck in the structure reserved for workers, then grab my pack and hike to the hotel HOUSE procured through the sphere. HOUSE says she's got us covered as far as security goes, and frankly, I'm exhausted and if you can't trust your AI to keep things secure, well, who the fuck else is there?
We check in remotely and by the time we enter our room codes and walk through the door, it is well past noon.
"Oh, shit! HOUSE, what did you do?"
She stands there and says nothing but when she turns around to look at me she's got a cheesy smile that is nothing but trouble. "I love it! Can we shop here?"
I let the door slam behind me and bend down to her. "Look, I'm fucking tired right now and I'm not in the goddamn mood, OK? So, tell me right now, how did you get us this suite?"
She sighs and frowns at the same time, then turns her head. "We are important people as far as the hotel is concerned, we had to have a nice room. Besides, if this is my only chance to see Peak City, I'm gonna see it right."
The place is huge. The living room is bigger than the one at my old house in Council 3, the terrace is massive, and the faint smell of chlorine tells me there's a pool in here somewhere.
"You're gonna get us caught."
"I promise, I'll keep an eye out, OK? We won't get caught. I promise." She crosses her heart with a fingertip.
I'm really too tired to argue with her so I drop it. "I'm taking a shower," I say, dumping my pack of weapons on the dining room table, then fish around until I find what I need.
I grab the little black box I took from the bunker and go into the bathroom. The weapons inside clank back and forth as I move and I feel my heart rate speed up. I don't control it. It's exciting and I want to experience it the way it's supposed to be.
I open the lid and smile.
Inside are two small wands.
One blue and one black.
I slip the blue SEAR knife into the dock on my belly and wait for the charge to take hold. I feel the electrical current and breathe a sigh of relief. There was no telling if it would work after my extensive transformation. But now to the really critical part. The test to see if it's still coded to me. I find the little plastic baggie hidden away under Gideon's SEAR and pull out the small
I touch the SEAR to the hardened blood.
Purple smoke puffs into existence.
I fall to my knees and count the tiles on the floor to stop the tears.
Count or cry, Junco. You can't do both. It's count or cry.
I don't cry.
I know I'm exhausted and the rational part of me never expected it to still be coded correctly, but my frustration overtakes all that and I lie down on the bathroom rug and count everything in sight. The tiles on the floor and the shower, the cabinet doors, the knobs, the points of stucco plaster on the walls and the number of times I hear the air conditioning kick on above my head.
And then I count them all again.
At some point HOUSE comes in and drags me to the bed, then she disappears back inside me, both of us just too exhausted to care that she's making me sick.
Letting HOUSE choose our clothes from the sphere was a mistake waiting to happen, but I turned on the screen and saw myself leaving the suborbital station in Dallas wearing Selia's bustier and my jeans.
A disguise was in order.
I just never thought she'd choose a sun dress. With girly flowers in shades of pink and tangerine. "Not orange," HOUSE corrected me. "Tangerine."
And we match because she got herself an outfit just like it. If it wasn't so goddamn funny to look at the two of us standing in the mirror, I'd cry.
She got me a purse too, a big one like that Cora chick was hauling around with her on Sargassum. And this is lime green.
"Ya know…" I turn to look down at her standing next to me. Her smile is big and I almost forgive her. "This whole let's-stick-out-to-blend-in disguise never works. I mean, you do understand that, right? I'm the freaking master of this stealth shit and I'm telling you, the lime-green bag will not hide us in plain sight."
She shrugs and messes with her hair, pushing it off to the side, then tilting her head to look at herself.
"Who the fuck are you?"
This pulls her back to me. "HOUSE. I'm HOUSE."
"Well, you're not acting like HOUSE. You're acting like a child."
She stuffs a small straw hat on her head. "I am a child." She never even looks away from the mirror.
"You"—I pause for emphasis—"are an AI. Living inside me. You're not a child."
She shrugs and I grab my lime-green bag of weapons and we head out the door.
The hotel is situated on the very eastern edge of the current city center so we walk west, towards the foothills of the Front Range which announce the new border of the Mountain Republic. Texas is not to be fucked with, and the Mountain Republic was in no condition to wage a war over the radioactive land which was the former capital city of Peaks, so they gave the former Peak City over with zero compensation and just as much resistance.
This area is filled with young families, and maybe it's just me, but if I was a mother I wouldn't be raising my kids in a place that was glowing just two years ago.
But maybe that's just me.
My vision screen says the air is clean. No detectable radiation beyond the UV light of the sun. And the ground we walk on is thirty feet of reinforced concrete more than a thousand feet up in the air. But even if it was on actual terra firma, there is now another twenty feet of concrete covering every square inch of what is now referred to as Old Peak City, but when the new city is complete, will be just another underbelly like Low Dallas.
The afternoon is late by the time we walk down the mall leading to the place HOUSE referred to as the Circus and the air is finally cool now that we're directly in the shadow of the mountains.
We walk all the way to the edge of the concrete platform and peer down. The red rock monoliths have been here for millions of years. A nuke was not enough to bring them down, nor did it deter the powers that be from replacing the outdoor amphitheater that has hosted famous musicians for almost two hundred years.
I watch the hologram show on a megalith-sized screen that has been somehow attached to the mountainside. A few thousand families are sitting down below in the actual amphitheatre. The music is nothing I recognize, but HOUSE does a quick search of the sphere and pulls up a name of some children's performer. The giant red sandstone rocks are each more than three hundred feet tall and together create the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the entire world.
"They are streaming a Cora concert here in a few hours," HOUSE says.
"Wonderful." I sigh. "Well, what do you want to do, HOUSE? We gotta leave here soon and we might never be back, so this is your one and only chance to take in the city."
I can barely make out her pouty lips over the brim of that ridiculous straw hat, but then she turns her face up to me. "This isn't the same, you know. It's not really Peak City."
My smile comes out automatically. She missed it and this poor substitute will not make up for what it once was. I can relate. "I know, but it's all that's left."
"Your father is bad, Junco."
I drop her hand and turn away, my face getting hot with anger. "I know that, HOUSE. I have no excuse for him." It makes me angry, that I'm compelled to defend him, but can't. What do you say? Yup, my father killed six million people, but he's not all that bad?
"Sorry," she says.
I let out a sigh. "Forget about it. You wanna go play in that fountain over there?" I point my finger and her gaze tracks it, then she turns to beam up at me when she realizes the kids are squealing with excitement. She's not an AI anymore. She's a child.
My arm is suddenly being tugged and I let her pull me over there, then stand on the sidelines like a parent and watch her giggle and splash.
The fountain is massive, easily a hundred feet in diameter. Room for a whole city of kids to splash on a hot summer day. I study it for a moment and then realize it's a miniature version of the red rocks amphitheatre. A woman vacates a small-scale red rock replica and I swoop in and claim the good seat. HOUSE drifts away from me and starts playing with a small girl, no more than four or five years old, and I watch the kids in the water and let myself relax a little.
Cheers erupt from the real amphitheatre and then I hear that bitch's voice.
Cora. The liar.
The crowd starts to migrate over to the wall that allows a view of the amphitheatre down below and that's when I see him. Just a flash through the crowd. A face, then he's gone. I get up off the rock and cross the fountain, my green bag slapping against my hip as I pick up speed, and the bottom of my sun dress getting wet as it drags through the water.
I push through the thick crowd of people, not even caring that I'm moving against the tide of bodies or that I'm in a sea of strangers. When I get to the spot where I saw him I stop and turn in a slow circle.
HOUSE comes up to me and tugs on my dress. "What are you doing, Junco?"
I look down at her and let out a deep breath. "I thought I saw someone, that's all. It was a mistake, it wasn't him." I grab her hand. "Come on, we gotta get outta here." We begin to walk briskly away from the annoying voice of Cora, who is even louder and more obnoxious than I ever thought possible, when HOUSE blips out of existence and pops back up on my vision screen.
They are looking for you, Junco. They know you're here.
A wave of nausea almost make me double over, but I keep it together. To not keep it together means detection. Detection means death. For someone who was recently accused of having a death wish I have an extraordinarily well-developed sense of self-preservation.
Texas Rangers ahead, Junco. There's been a general alert in the city about you.
"Junco Coot. You will not get away this time, honey."
I stop dead and turn to look back towards the jumbo screen. Cora has stopped singing and is addressing the crowds, both the live one in the venue she's currently playing in across the Atlantic Ocean, and this one.
"Your heinous crimes against humanity will be stopped, no matter what the cost. We will not let you murder billions of people just to satisfy your sick scheme of revenge."
My holographic image from the flight over to Dallas, in every three-dimensional detail, is spinning on every outdoor screen in The Circus.
"She's in Peak City at this very moment. Look around, find her. Find the girl who will betray the entire planet and I will personally reward you."
HOUSE appears next to me and hands me her straw hat. I plop it on my head and pretend to search for that traitorous bitch, Junco Coot.
A hand grabs my shoulder and I spin, ready to fight.
But the eyes that look back at me are familiar.
"Rikan? Where're your wings?"
He puts his arm around me, pulling me close like a lover. "Just act natural, Snowbird. I've got a flier waiting."
We walk up the mall and with every step my heart thumps in my chest as Cora continues her tirade of hate against me. It is the longest fifteen minutes of my life and I am eternally grateful that HOUSE picked this stupid frilly dress and lime-green purse that allow me to blend in. To hide in plain sight. Because I look like every other Peak City woman celebrating one final flirt with summer.
I can see the flier waiting at the valet parking for the hotel HOUSE walked out of just an hour or so ago, only now it's overrun with Rangers.
The driver opens the door as we approach and I have just enough time to catch Cora's final threat as I slip inside and take a seat in the bucket on the far end.
"We will find you. And we will kill you."
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