KINDLE FIRE GIVEAWAY: RETURN by JA Huss
Series: Genres: Dark, Erotic Romance, New Adult, Paranormal, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Thriller
Three years ago Junco Coot was an insane sniper. Three weeks ago she was a prisoner being tortured in a morph tank. Three days ago she was nothing but billions of molecules floating in a sea of darkness.
Today, Junco Coot is the key to saving or ending the world.
Three years ago Raubtier Aves was the captain of the Avian Military. Three weeks ago he was trying to forget Junco ever existed. Three days ago he was given a gift of eternal salvation.
Today, he will give that gift back.
The Angels are here, the end is coming, the Demons have been released and Lucan has a past that ties it all together. Seven thousand years of waiting for revenge is over and there’s just one more question that needs to be answered?
Who will be there at the end?
CHAPTER ONE – LUCAN: Amelia Habitat
You would not think that an artificial intelligence would have a scent, but Amelia does. It’s intoxicating.
Her apartments in the top floor of my home smell only of her. I’m not even sure I could describe it, but the closest thing would be space. Space has a smell. It’s not something you can discern directly because there’s no air in space and scents need to be carried on a current. And I can’t smell it on myself, not even when I come back from space because I’m encased in timeshift shell.
But I smell it on Amelia because she stands out in the dark nothing when she’s thinking. I always know when she’s in a pensive mood because the smell of space permeates everything. It clings to her even when I know she’s not been outside the habitat for weeks.
She smells like the stars.
Like the black emptiness, but the ice of a comet at the same time.
She smells like rocks from the asteroid belt and photons from the Sun.
She smells like mystery, discovery, and answers all at the same time.
I live for this smell. It makes me weak. She makes me weak. She, more than Junco, is my one true weakness because she is my one true love.
And she smells like this right now as she sleeps next to me in the body that Gib and I created. It was a large task—making her mind and body. I’ve nurtured her for more than three thousand years. She’s been my best friend, my confidante, and my lover for most of that time.
She is perfect in every way. Gib’s molecular techniques are unmatched. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, out of place or amiss in my Amelia.
I swipe a strand of dark hair away from her face as I think of our time together. Three thousand years is long by most standards. But to me it’s been fleeting.
Where did the time go?
We’ve raised families. Many families. But that was a long time ago. She was preoccupied with being normal back then. She wanted children. So I gave her human children and we raised them over and over again.
They have all since passed.
She didn’t want any more after the last one perished because the life span is just too short. And she never wanted an avian to raise. Not until I showed her Tier and Ashur. That day Tier was birthed at Clutch was a strange one for me. Gib thought I was losing my mind when I gifted a non-genetic son while he was still in the artificial womb. Gifts before birth are a loophole in the rules. It was the only way to create what I needed. I’d known it since before I was reborn because that’s how I was Chosen by my own father.
And I gave Tier the same gift my father gave me.
It worked for my father. I never did kill him even though sons killing fathers is almost cliché where we come from. Almost like it’s Destiny. But I cheated and shifted my fate so far, my Destiny slipped and I stopped being the son he made and remade myself over into Lucan.
And the rest is history.
I hate my father. Everything that’s happened to me in the last seven thousand years is mostly his fault. But his embryonic gift of unconditional love prevents me from killing him directly.
But I only play by the rules when I don’t care if I lose. When I want to win—and believe me, I’ve never wanted anything so badly—I cheat.
I cheated when I gifted Tier. And this makes me smile, because it was so easy and simple. And it was something my father never understood.
Love is earned, not mandated.
So I loved Tier back.
I pulled out a brother for him that day and created Ashur’s Destiny as well. And the two of them, along with Amelia, have been the closest thing I’ve ever had to a family. Rikan came later, then Lili. But aside from their genetics they were not meant to do my bidding, not like Tier and Ashur. They are my true blood, whereas Raubtier and Ashur are not. Rikan and Lili exist in accordance with the Laws. They are known, their genetics have been recorded in the Book. They should not be High Order because they only have half the required genetics. But I have ways of cheating that rule too.
But only Tier, of all the children I’ve created over my lifespan, only Tier will be the One to make the ultimate sacrifice for me.
And he will do it, not because I order him or force him to love me like my own father did, but because he wants to.
Free will. That is the difference between us and them.
I never take away their choices. My sons do everything they do for me because they want to.
It’s the reason Junco bothers me so much. How much of what she does is real and how much is conditioning?
I’d like it to be one hundred percent real, but she has been manipulated and trained for her moment since birth. It bothers me that she was forced. Truly, truly bothers me. I have accepted the excuse Subjack laid at my feet after she was taken and I felt the need for retribution on her behalf. He admitted that it was the only way to get her past childhood.
I do believe it, because the Rural Republic had been trying to create my Seven for more than two hundred years. Longer than that little country was even a nation. And they failed, time and time again. So when I heard that there was a living Seven, and that she was already of age, it was almost too good. After preparing for thousands of years for my final judgment, it was at hand. I yearned for it. I wanted to end this phase of my cycle and spend my time putting things back together after the fallout.
But she—she is… nothing like I expected.
Oh, I expected the fierce little warrior. That was a given, it was programmed into her DNA. And I expected the crazy. That too was programmed in. All High Order are touched with insanity. We are all born demons and must fight to become calm and rational.
But I did not know she was High Order until after Deliverance when we brought her back from death.
It was a shock. But her vulnerability and emotional attachment to us was even more of a shock. I did not expect to feel anything for her. Aside for my obvious need to use her to get past the final punishment.
I certainly never expected that Raubtier might love her.
Not that I’m complaining. That attachment, and her reciprocal love, are carrying me through this totally fucked-up plan. That is the only thing holding it together. I thought for sure it was over at Deliverance. She’d kill Tier just like she did Isec and I’d be stuck because the High Order would’ve been alerted to her presence by the time she turned seventeen. There’s a biological signal inside her tied to hormonal production. So they’d already known about her existence for years before she came to Amelia. The High Order was already on their way.
The RR had plenty of backups in the tanks. Waiting to see if Junco would fail. That would’ve been messy for Earth if the High Order arrived sans a Seven to complete the Cycle, but since when does the High Order care about the inhabitants of a planet? They only care about the core biosphere, never the sentient beings. And let’s face it, Earth is just fucked no matter what at the moment. There’s no getting around that. Billions will die. Almost no one will survive, and that’s the best-case scenario right now.
Tier defied my order to kill Junco when I saw she was unstable. And then Junco defied everyone. And they came home together. My son delivered to me the one being in this universe who could kill me. It was like an offering. I was stunned. Junco made me very uncomfortable. She looked me in the eye when she spoke. She brushed off my commands like they were requests. She decapitated Fledge members, both friend and foe alike, and she gave up her life for my son.
And she is so, so sweet when she’s calm and still.
How badly do I wish that I had more calm and still moments with Junco?
I might’ve fallen in love with her sitting in my living room watching her play a piece on the piano, so oblivious to the world she never even knew I’d entered the room, even though I came home by the front door that night.
Then I started telling her things, and then she started telling me things. Very, very personal things. And I’m just not sure how I’m supposed to feel about a young woman who was created to kill me, but stole my heart instead. I hate the way she was raised. I hate that she was trained. I hate the fact that she’s never had anyone keep their word and stick by her side.
All of this bothers me. It keeps me restless when I should be relaxed, it keeps me tense and angry, and makes me rage when I’m in private and I think about it too long.
Amelia stirs and brings me back to the present. I lean down into her neck and kiss her just below her ear. She sighs in her sleep.
I love Amelia in a different way. I don’t want to make another Amelia when this is over. I’m not sure I have the desire to spend the time required to fashion another companion. And not because I’m lazy, but because I feel in my heart that Amelia is a soul and she can’t be replaced. Even if I used the same programming, made the same body, that woman would not be my Amelia.
Because souls are not interchangeable.
So what choice do I have? This last task must be done.
I kiss her lips now and she wakes enough to respond to my advances. She rolls over and turns into me, resting her head on my chest.
How long have I waited for this perfect woman?
How long have I waited for my Seven?
My fingers caress the soft pale skin of her neck and this makes her sigh. She’s still half asleep, her breathing less slow now, her heart rate picking up as she sheds her slumber. My palm rests against her windpipe and I kiss her again.
“I love you,” I whisper.
I squeeze, causing her to open her eyes for the last time and look up at me in confusion.
I want to let go of her, take her in my arms, and plead for her to forgive me.
But I don’t. I crush her neck and in a few seconds it’s over. Since she is the entity which controls this entire habitat all the lights go out and all the environmental life support machines cease.
Her perfect body, limp.
Her perfect mind, gone.
I would rather kill her myself than let my father take her as a punishment in my cycle.
Because that’s what love is.
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