Series: I Am Just Junco Dot Com
Author: J.A. Huss
Publisher: Science Future Press
Description: Lies and Luck, they’ll both get you in the end.
There’s a new twist on an old prophecy and this one brings the End of Days. Junco must make a choice – human or avian? Only one race will survive.
Lucan has secrets and the lies are flowing like a mountain river during spring thaw. But he needs Junco to cooperate just a little bit longer or it all falls apart.
The Siblings on Earth are waiting for the Seventh to return and pull their clutch together. But Earth has secrets too – secrets that change everything.
Junco has survived against impossible odds, but the cost of survival is higher than she ever imagined. Luck is about to catch up with Junco Coot and her debt must be paid.
"Abso-fucking-lutely not, Lucan." I turn my back on him and shake my head as I take in his office. I've never been in here before and it's got my interest up. Focus, Junco. "I'm not gonna be stuck with those girls!"
He shuffles around some tech devices on his excessive desk and then answers a call on his com, spitting out short, curt responses that don't give me much of a hint at what he's actually talking about. My eyes scan the books on his shelf.
Mythology? Jasus fuck, you've got to be kidding me.
I pace a little and throw him a few dirty looks at being made to wait for his conversation to be over. Finally, I slump down in a chair. He doesn't even look up from whatever he's entering into his tech. I lean my head back and groan as he abruptly ends the call.
"Junco, I was on the com with the Archer of Clutch, please try and act like a grown-up."
I scowl at him and whine as my arms go up in the air in exasperation. "I want to be with a team, Lucan. Why are you doing this to me?"
"You don't need a team, you're going to Earth in a week and you'll have a team then. But for now, you'll babysit the girls and teach them what it means to be a warrior." He pinches the bridge of his nose and I know I'm giving him a headache. He looks up at me as if reading my mind. "Just to clarify, Junco – it's not you who is giving me a headache, it's them."
"Them? Them who?" I say, squinting my eyes.
He groans. "Those girls. Get rid of them."
I laugh. "What? But you promoted them so I wouldn't have to be the only one. Or the first."
He looks up and his eyes are dead serious. "Junco, you are the first, like it or not, that's the fact. Everyone knows it, there is no way around it. And these girls are complainers. They don't want to work, they don't want to fight, they don't want to get hurt. What good is a warrior who can't do those simple things? Test them, get rid of the ones who disobey or fail. There are only about a handful of good ones in that group, weed them out."
I just stare at him as he fiddles through the various tech items. "Here is your com back." He hands me the flexible little card. "I've coded it for access to the private quarters until your biometrics can be updated. Go find your room and get settled."
I don't move or speak.
"Get out, Junco. We're done."
"Yes, sir." I salute and leave.
Tier is down the hallway talking to a few guys I don't know. He smiles as he spots me and leaves the group.
"What did he say?"
"I'm stuck training the girls for a week, Tier. And I have to live at his house!"
Tier scowls down at me with his green eyes, a little glow of annoyance in there. "So he told ya no?"
I shake my head. "No, not really. He said he wanted me to get rid of the girls. He's not happy with them. I'm supposed to cut them down to a handful and then I'll have my team when we go to Earth."
"But ya can't come live with us?"
I look up at him as he directs me to start walking with a firm hand on the middle of my back. "Right. He said I'm to go to his place and find my room and settle in." I pout a little, I admit it. I was looking forward to moving in with Tier's team, my old Fledge team. To seeing Annun and Tessen again and settling in there for a week before we leave for Earth.
Tier just shrugs at me. "Well, OK then. Let's go."
"That's it?" I look up as we turn the corner of the hallway and start walking towards the elevator.
"Junco, you don't get to debate orders." He stops us to consider this for a moment. "It was an order?"
He laughs at me and pulls me in. "It's only a week, ya know I'll be on the Earth team, so–" The elevators open and he pushes me away. "Do you have credentials to get to Lucan's quarters?"
I pull out my com. "It's on here for now."
We enter the elevator and Tier waves my hand across the biometrics and asks for the top floor. "It's a nice place. You won't be unhappy there, Junco."
"He's punishing me for breaking up the 039, I know it." "You didn't do that, it was all Ashur and Braun. He knows that."
The elevator stops and the doors open. Tier waves me through and I stand in a giant lobby. "Where do we go now?"
"This is it, Junco."
"Oh, it looks like a hotel."
"It's the president's home. What did ya think it looked like?"
Not a hotel, obviously. It's furnished much like the 039 – minimal, reflective white tile floors, chrome. It's got a traditional estate home layout that I'd find on Earth. Large foyer that contains an elaborate stairway made up of thin cables and floating glass steps. On either side of the foyer are two large rooms, the one to the right a formal living area and the one to the left a formal dining area.
A cocktail party house.
I've been to a few of these with my father as I was growing up. He dragged me all over the world, not only for competitions and assassinations, but also social stuff. Probably to show me off for a possible future sale.
I peek into the living room and spy my black baby grand.
"What the fuck?" I look over at Tier who just shrugs. "Obviously he's had this planned."
"Come on, let's find yer room." He drags me up the stairs, which actually make me nervous because I don't care for the whole floating step thing, and then puts his palm out for my com. I hand it over and he starts waving it in front of biometric pads outside the various doors.
In the end we don't need to look so hard for the room because there's a small ankle-high servo standing guard at a door chirping Junco's Room over and over again until Tier swipes my com at it and kicks it out of the way. He laughs despite my scrunched-up annoyed face. "Feel at home yet, darlin'?"
"I don't get what this is."
Tier smiles and squeezes my shoulder. "Junco, there are worse things than being treated special by Lucan. Indulge him, he likes ya and he hates everyone. Let him spoil ya. He's treated me special my whole life and take my word for it, it's not a bad deal if ya can get it."
I'd forgotten about that. "Did he make you live with him?"
He shakes his head and waves my com in front of the biometrics on the door and it clicks open. "Nah, boys don't need protectin', Juncs. Only girls."
The lights go on as I walk in and it's my same room from the 039, only in a much bigger space and a much bigger window. In fact, the window is an entire wall on the opposite side of the room and it leads out to a terrace.
I smile and look back. "Well, if I must make do, then…"
He laughs and pushes me over to the bed. "And now, little snowbird–"
My com buzzes and Tier hands it over. "Hello?"
"Is Tier there, Junco?" It's Lucan.
"Yeah, he's here. You wanna talk to him?"
"Yes, put him on."
Tier takes the com and answers a bunch of yes and no questions, then says yes, sir and hands the com back to me.
"No visitors in the bedroom, Junco."
And the com goes dead.
I just stare at Tier. "Are you fucking kidding me? He sent us on a private vacation to have all the sex we wanted for weeks, and now you can't come in my room?"
Tier shrugs and makes for the door. "Orders, darlin'. I'll pick you up tomorrow at six, be in the lobby." And then he gives me a little salute and he's gone.
I go outside to smoke off my annoyance. It's actually a nice terrace and there's a porch swing off to one side near a fountain that is quite spectacular. I flop into the swing and let it move me by momentum only for a few seconds, then dip my foot down to make it keep going as I puff on my cigar.
The terrace wall is transparent so the view is uninterrupted. From this high up there's not much to see really. Just the tops of lower buildings down below. No traffic up here, and I suppose there wouldn't be. It's the president's house after all. Privacy is probably a concern.
What it does show is a pretty fair layout of the capital city proper. I can see the rows of tall buildings, like I've got a bird's eye view of a map.
I flap a little and fly upward, then settle on the roof and pivot slowly so I can look around. Aves headquarters, and by extension Lucan's quarters, is smack in the middle of everything on all sides. The city is big and spread out far enough so that the urban center is still sprawling as the torus-shaped habitat rounds out in the distance.
I don't even finish my stogie before I get the princess in the tower feeling. I go back inside and grab my com from the bed and leave the room before I get trapped.
Out in the hallway there is no one about, just the methodical hum of cleaning servos. I go back the way Tier and I came and make my way carefully down the damn stairs. They even jiggle a little as you step. In the lobby there are only a few options so I head for the piano.
I pluck out a few tunes that have stuck in my fingers for whatever reason over the years, then switch to what I always end up playing once I take a seat at the keys. Asgarth. Maybe there'll be time for an opera when I'm on Earth?
This makes me laugh out loud. Yeah, sure, Junco. Between rounding up the saviors of the avian race you can just slip into the opera. Wings and all.
I dip into the deeper notes of the opening sequence, then stop.
Why do I always play it from beginning to end? I can start wherever I want and I'm sick of the unhappy scenes. I hardly ever play long enough to get to the sweetest part of the tale. His salvation. I switch gears and begin playing the melody of the ascension and stop again.
Asgarth just isn't doing it for me tonight.
My mind goes back to the Enki and the World Order nargala and I begin the tedious recall of putting the notes from the Inanna scene onto the keyboard. It's a nice song. Of course I can't play all the notes the Ilat Nargalist sang, that was like an orchestra of instruments coming from her mouth, but I get a pretty good approximation going and before long I can almost play the whole thing. I am playing the high notes at the end that made me cry when I hear the applause behind me.
I jump a little and turn. "Shit, Lucan. You don't have to sneak up on me."
His face is bright and he looks happy. "I've been sitting here for thirty minutes, Junco. I didn't sneak up on you." He points to the piano. "You were engaged." Then he gets up and pushes me over and begins to play the song I just finished. "That's a pretty good approximation you did there, how do you do it?"
"How do you do it? I didn't know you played."
He grins but his fingers keep moving. "I don't, Junco. It's just a gift."
"Oh, programmed learning? My father wouldn't let me do that. He made me practice."
"Yes, I can see that. But your skill at finding the notes and putting them together is quite good. Why did he make you learn the hard way?"
I shake my head, but I know the answer so I say it anyway. "He always said, 'Things worth doing are also worth learning to do.'"
"He's right. No one cares that I can play this song. Because I cheat what it takes to really make it worthwhile. You, on the other hand, you just pulled it out from your memory and matched every single note with a key and then put them all together. That is something worth doing."
Yeah, I get it. "I agree."
"You will not see Tier this week, Junco. You will spend it with Ashur and the 039."
I scowl up at him. "Ashur is ignoring me, I've tried to call him a million times. He won't answer."
"I instructed him to stay away from you, but now you need to patch things up. He will be on the team for Earth. So you will spend this week with Ashur and the remaining 039."
"Well, I'm not sad about that." I smile up at him. "You're not going to get a fight out of me. I miss them."
He just points to my left hand. "Do you know why you can play with that disability and not hear the difference?" I look down at my missing fingers. "Why?"
"Tier gifted you this when he healed you back on Earth. It's a special gift, Junco." He stops and sighs a little. "One I would have preferred he saved for something bigger, perhaps. But nonetheless, this is what he gave you."
"What did you give him?" I look at him as he raises his eyebrows, maybe deciding if he will tell me or push it off.
"Too many to list. But I am an Archer, so I have more to give away. Tier only had the one gift to give away and he gave it to you at that moment." He looks away for a second, then glances back at me. "It must have been some special moment."
I think back to the hot springs and smile up at Lucan. "It was life-changing for me, really. I don't know what he thought about it, obviously, but everything turned for me in the time leading up to the nightdog attack. My whole world just – changed. It went from being one thing to being something completely different. And he told me the story of Inanna and her trip down below. And how she had the power of making decisions so she decided not to be a victim. That was my interpretation of that sequence, anyway.
"Plus," I add, "he washed the blood out of my hair for me. It was unexpected and nice. And then when we were fighting the nightdogs, I jumped down from a cliff and killed the one that had hold of his arm with my little boot knife. So," I shrug, "I helped him out there."
"You say that like it's nothing."
"He saved my life after, so we were even anyway."
He changes the subject abruptly. "Why did your father really make you learn things the old way?"
I shake my head and huff out some air. "Look, I know what you want me to say, Lucan. But I'm not going to. Maybe he did love me in some sick, twisted way, but it doesn't matter anymore. He ruined everything."
I tap a few keys and wait to see if he answers but he doesn't. "I'm not saying I'm unhappy here, because I'm not." I look up into his blue eyes that remind me a lot of Kush. "But I would've been just as happy being Charlie's wife and raising his child. And given the chance to turn it all back and have that be my life, I'd take it."
He puts his arm around me. "If I could gift you that, Junco, I would. But I can't. "Thanks. Things are going to turn out OK. The syrinx – I mean, Sera – said so. It's part of my payment for taking her to Earth. She promised me that I'd be 'if not happy, at the very least satisfied' when I meet my end and that's good enough for me."
We're quiet for a minute but then he grabs my elbow and I twitch a little at the sudden movement. He holds firm and stares down at me with a serious expression. "Junco, I would like you to consider the possibility that you don't understand what your father's intentions were when he did those inexcusable things to you."
I make a face at him. "Either they were inexcusable or they weren't, Lucan. Which do you think they were?"
He lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. "I have no idea, they were certainly not the best solutions, however I've never had the opportunity to meet your father, so I can't know. But let's move past the horrific way in which he handled the situation of your boyfriend. And then let's move past the barbaric abortion. And take a minute to ask why? Why would he do these things to a girl he raised with care for almost two decades?"
I look away as the chills climb up my arms. I hate that he mentions my baby. Hate it. "He wasn't that careful, Lucan. I think you've got him mixed up with someone else."
"He put a lot of effort into you. Not just as a soldier. But as a child. Why teach you that horse sport? Why teach you to play an instrument? Why give you a God? He took you to church? Every week?"
I swallow and nod as my face begins to feel hot.
"Men who want to kill their grandchildren don't do those things, Junco."
"I can't explain him, Lucan. He took me around the world to kill people, for fuck's sake."
Lucan nods. "Yes, and I've looked into every possible job. There was a pattern to it. They were all" – he stops to think – "necessary."
"I really don't want to talk about it, OK? I just want to forget it."
"Well, you will have to face your past when you go back to Earth, so it is better to be prepared. Consider the idea that your father had another motive. What kind of man was this Charlie? How long did you know him?"
I shrug. "Six months, I guess. He was a good guy, Lucan." I look up at him. "We had something nice."
"What if your father was worried about what the baby might turn out to be? Especially since he saw firsthand what was happening out at the Stag camp. You're not really human, Junco. Yes, you have parts that are biologically human, but who knows what would have happened to that baby. It might not even have survived."
I'm not really human. I say it in my mind, repeating it over and over. I'm not really human? There are no babies in my future, that's what he's hinting at. I swallow down the lump in my throat and look down at the piano keys, searching for a way to avoid this new revelation. "So I killed him for nothing?"
He shakes his head. "You can't change that, so just let it go. My point is not to make you feel guilty but to allow you to explore the idea that while he failed miserably by forcing you to submit to him, he might have had reasons for his actions."
I sit quietly for a second and begin to get angry. "The end justifies the means? Is that what you're telling me?"
"No. This is true for the avian. But that's not how it works on Earth. I learned my lesson with you, Junco. After the second fight when we came to get you for testimony. I had no idea you'd react that way – it's just the way it's done with us." He forces a smile and swallows.
I look away as he becomes uncomfortable.
"So, if that was his intention with you, justifying the means he used to achieve his desired result, he was wrong."
"So, why are we having this bullshit conversation then?"
"I would like to teach you a lesson in perspective, Junco."
"Really?" I laugh.
"You see, life is a challenge. It presents you with problems all the time. Big problems, little problems. In-between problems." He looks down at me to see if I'm listening.
"And you can deal with all problems in two ways. You can look at things objectively and make a decision based on logic and reason. Or you can look at things emotionally and base your decision on feelings. But no matter how you choose to deal with the it, the problem always stays the same, correct?"
I nod at him as my eyes watch his lips and his eyes.
"The problem doesn't change, only your reaction changes. So know that there are two perspectives to solving problems. And your success in dealing with problems depends on which perspective you choose to accept in the moment you make your decision."
"Which is better, logic or emotion?"
"Neither, they both have a place."
"So what's your point?"
"Why don't you burn wood infested with wheat beetles, Junco?"
I blow out some air as I remember our conversation outside of Fledge. The day he smacked me down to the ground for being unreasonable. I swallow. "Because it gives off poisonous fumes that will kill you."
"Why do some people burn the wood anyway?"
"They're freezing to death and they need to get warm."
"But they know they'll die if they stand there in front of the fire to get warm?"
"If they grew up in the RR they do."
"So they have two possible outcomes. Die or die. Which do they choose?"
"If they're logical they turn away and keep going. And if they let the fear take over they stop and burn the wood."
"I don't see the smile in this, Lucan. So which is better?"
"Neither. Sometimes life just isn't fair, Junco. And you have to either move on or stay. Either way can lead you places you'd rather not go or they can lead you to success. Maybe you find better wood just over a hill and get warm or maybe you burn the wood and there's hardly any beetles in it and you don't die."
"I didn't really need you to tell me this. I already know life sucks and sometimes you gotta fight for it. And that last part is just luck anyway. In most cases you won't be lucky."
"True. Most cases, but not all. So when you're down on Earth, Junco, always look at both perspectives if you have the time."
I groan loudly and look away. "What if I don't have the time?"
"Choose your heart. It knows what to do."
He pauses and I look up and meet his eyes. They are kind and I lean my head into his shoulder.
"You will spend this week learning, Junco. You have a lot to learn." And then he taps me on my shoulder and we're standing in a restaurant. A fancy-looking guy smiles at us and motions to follow him towards a private room in the back where the other Archers are waiting. I recognize most of them, but they all stand and formally introduce themselves, taking me by the elbow and doing that weird squeeze greeting.
"Junco rewrote The Lamentation of Inanna for the piano today," Lucan beams. They oooh and ahh at me and my mood improves immediately. Poor guys, they really need to get a life.
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