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Whenever I do signings of my Winter Agent Juno books, I’ll be accompanied by this little cutie: a Pinky Street I cobbled together of Juno, herself! She’s rather fearsome for a little fashion lemming.
She’s compiled from the parts of at least five different Pinky Street dolls, plus an eyepatch I had to make myself out of felt. In the future I may try making a few more and using them in giveaways.
Later tonight I will be a guest author for the Written Apocalypse Podcast, for fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic writings, where I will talk about the Winter Agent Juno series. Here’s the promo link. I’ll post the podcast when it goes up.
The Radcliffe house was a two-story home in the middle-class suburbs of Bifrost. It was one of the few homes in the neighborhood with a driveway and garage (Juno had converted the garage to her personal gym), and one of only three houses on the entire street that still had lights on that late in the evening. From the street, the stumbling shapes in the windows suggested a party in progress, attended by thirty out of the four hundred valkyries that worked the Valhalla.
“The ante’s three bites,” said Devon.
“I’m givin’ you two, so deal with it,” said Echo.
All of the Valhalla workers — the lot of them giggling drunks — were gathered around the ovular dining room table. Devon stood in the middle of the crowd, collecting square sections from everyone’s Midgard Ration Bars and adding them to a large pool at the center of the table. Each bar was divided into twelve square “bites” and sealed in a white wrapper bearing the Bifrost Biodome logo in blue ink — a variant of the Valkyrie Guard emblem with ears of wheat replacing the laurel wreath. Across the room, a short, stout valkyrie was hanging up a dart board on the wall.
“The ante is three, dumbshit,” Devon said to Echo, reaching up to bop the towering Latina on the head with her small spiral notepad. “That means you toss in three or you don’t bet.”
“Dontcha got any faith in the Warden?” said Skye, hitching her hands on her round hips. The pretty platinum blonde teetered a bit more than the other girls, two drinks in and already flying. In her high school yearbook Skye was probably named “Most Likely to Wear a Lampshade at a Party.”
Juno sat at the table with a tipsy and amused smile on her face as she listened to them argue. She idly spun her sleek ballistic knife on the tabletop, its red firing switch locked under the safety pin. The was a souvenir allowed to all Amazon Force troopers who served during wartime.
Echo groaned and tossed three bites into the pool. “Awright, awright, fine!”
Devon shooed Echo away and scribbled everyone’s bets on the notepad. “Okay, show of hands for hitting six to three.” She took a hand-count and jotted it down. “That’s four nay-sayers. Three to bullseye?” Another hand-count, more scribbling. “Twelve o’ ya. And for bullseye?”
Juno turned around in her seat with the ballistic knife in her hand, facing the wall opposite the dart board, where her tall vanity mirror was erected. Reflected in the mirror’s center was the dartboard, reduced to the size of a drink coaster; to the side, Juno in her seat, knife in hand. From her position the board was thirty feet behind her.
“Nobody?” said Devon in mock-shock. “Okay, bitches, clear the runway and keep quiet!”
Juno pulled the knife’s safety pin and set it on the table. She adjusted her eyepatch. Using her reflection to aim, she pointed the blade over her shoulder in the dartboard’s direction. The girls all gathered around the table on the mirror’s side, watching with wide, drunk, child-like eyes. Only Devon was smirking with confidence.
When the knife was as still and steady as a mountain, Juno’s thumb caressed the red switch.
The blade launched off of the handle with a metallic hiss and buried its nose perfectly in the center of the dartboard. The house erupted with frustrated curses and giddy squeals of amazement.
Things calmed down slightly after Devon finished distributing everyone’s winnings, again arguing with Echo over how much she was supposed to get. Juno frequently vanished from the living room to avoid further group activities, especially when Skye insisted on karaoke. After a few off-key renditions of songs new and old, Skye, Echo, and a few other girls returned to giggling about Juno’s neighbors, in particular the woman next door who lived with three handsome young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six. The girls kept peeking at their house through the blinds, and laughing when the boys peeked back at them, waving and smiling. Skye joked that Juno had never mentioned them in order to keep them for herself. Juno insisted she had never noticed them. Skye suggested inviting them over for a drink, including the woman so Devon wouldn’t feel left out. Echo joked that Devon had her heart set on someone else, which brought on a red-faced Devon rant about how her personal life was nobody’s goddamned business. When Juno left to refresh her glass of bourbon, Echo and Skye boldly went next door and knocked.
“Hello,” said Skye when the oldest of the three men answered. “We represent the Committee Against Valkyrie Prejudice. Our goals are to increase public awareness and put a stop to valkyrie stereotypes, such as the misconception that valkyries hate boys. Would you be interested in partaking in a study we’re conducting next door?”
The young man smiled timidly with a mouth full of perfect teeth. His open tunic displayed his smooth, marble-like pectoral muscles, and his skin was golden-brown.
“What would I have to do?” he asked.
Skye said as casually as possible, “Only come next door and fuck us.”
The homeowner suddenly appeared, a husky, round-faced brunette in her thirties, who angrily pushed the man aside before he could reply and slammed the door in the valkyries’ faces.
“We’ll pay for it!” Skye shouted hopefully through the door.
“Tolja it wouldn’t work,” said Echo as she headed back to Juno’s house.
Juno promptly ordered them not to bug her neighbors and to keep the party within Radcliffe boundaries. After another round of karaoke, two more awkward conversations, and another Devon rant, the phone rang. Juno walked into the kitchen — barely in a straight line — and reached for her wall-phone while her girls continued fooling around in the living room.
“Warden, where ya goin’?” said Devon.
“Getting the goddamned phone!” she said, taking the receiver from the cradle, then pausing to shout at two new recruits who were beginning to make out in the back of the kitchen. “Not in my house, for god’s sake! You got a car! Go do it there!”
The two shieldmaidens nervously apologized and wasted no time scrambling out of the house. Shaking her head, Juno held the receiver to her ear and said, “Hello.”
Her irritation quickly melted into dread when she heard a familiar voice say, “Heyyy, Juno! Long time no talk.”
Juno said quietly, “Freya…?”
“I’m outside,” said Freya Skuld. “Come say hi.” Then she hung up.
Juno returned the phone to its cradle and peeked through the kitchen blinds. An armored limo sat in front of her driveway, the engine running, the emblem of the Valkyrie Guard painted on the doors.
Juno hesitated. She walked out of the kitchen to the closet by her front door and put on a plain brown longcoat and white woolly scarf. She looked up and found Devon and Echo watching her.
“Now where ya goin’?” said Devon.
“Be right back,” said Juno. “Keep everyone inside,” she added ominously as she went out.
Devon and Echo stared at the door for a moment. Devon’s almond-eyed face was at its cutest when it was glum, like it was now. Her band-aid was coming loose.
“Wassup with the Boss?” said Echo, smoothing the band-aid on her superior’s cheek.
Devon brushed her hand away. “Prolly anxiety. Party was supposed to help her open up.”
Echo laughed and took another swig of her hard cider. “We’d need an acetylene torch for that miracle.”
Juno folded her arms and hugged her coat tighter to her body as she marched toward the waiting limo. Few things put her on edge more than being in a battlezone, and dealing with Skuld was at the top of the list.
Butch Siri stood by the back door on the driver’s side, waiting for her. Another valkyrie climbed out of the driver’s seat to greet her: the driver had wild brown hair that was buzzed along the sides, and a smarmy look on her face.
As Juno approached the back door, Siri roughly stopped her, spun her around, and began to frisk her. She wasn’t gentle.
“Oh what the fuck is this?” groaned Juno.
“Just relax and enjoy it,” said the driver.
When Siri finished, she backed away and opened the door. Juno straightened her coat as she climbed in. “Where’d she find you, the zoo?” she said.
Juno had never been in a limousine before, but she had seen them on television, and the backseat was exactly what she had expected: two wide seats facing each other, a mini-bar sitting between them, along the wall opposite the door.
Sitting in the right-most seat was Skuld in her purple Freya overcoat, enjoying a stout glass of blood-red liquor — no ice — and smiling at Juno the way a person would smile at a dog that’s done something cute or amusing. Her ornate eye tattoo always made her mean smiles even meaner.
“Maybe it’s the liquor talking,” mused Skuld, “but something about your sexy ‘pirate captain’ vibe just gets me all hot n’ bothered.”
“Excellency,” said Juno with as little enthusiasm as possible.
Skuld rolled her eyes. “Aw, don’t get all reverent and shit. You can still call me Thea. We’re still sorority sisters, right?”
Juno didn’t return the Freya’s smile as she sat across from her. Siri slammed the door behind her.
Thea pressed the button on the intercom next to her. “Phoebe, drive around the block ’til I say stop.”
The snowfall became heavier as the limo turned up the end of Juno’s street, reducing the surrounding neighborhood to a living static of dancing white specks against a black canvas, with the occasional yellow square of a backlit house window. The limo’s sleekness clashed hideously with its soiled suburban surroundings, as if it were from another world: the only other car in Juno’s neighborhood was a jury-rigged salvage job from the Old World, owned by a burly old woman who smelted recycled scrap at the smithies. Everyone else either walked or used scooters or dog sleds.
“Wanna drink?” said Thea, gesturing to the bar.
“I’ve had enough tonight,” said Juno, suddenly sober.
Thea looked into her glass as she swirled it around. “It’s Lernean blood wine. Not bad. Doesn’t beat the local mead, though.”
Juno said nothing, watching her host with a deadpan expression.
It got a chuckle out of Thea. “Never were much for chat, were you, Juno? All action, no talk. You’d think we’da got along better in the academy.”
“I’m trying to imagine what could be important enough to bring my new Commander-in-Chief all the way down from her tower to my level. Last time it was to brag about your recent promotion to the Right Hand of Matron.”
An ugly grin slithered across Thea’s boyish face. “Ohh, it gets better.” She raised her glass to Juno. “By next week it could very well be ‘Matron.’ Period.”
Thea tossed back the last of her wine, relishing the growing look of horrified disbelief washing over Juno’s face.
“Matron’s been bedridden for the last two weeks,” said Thea. “Brain tumor. Malignant.” She looked hard at Juno. “The people don’t know yet. And it’ll stay that way for awhile, so take note.”
“Her paranoia has gone through the ceiling and straight to the sun. I’m looking forward to the phase where she just lays there, unable to speak or convey much of anything but silent agony and madness.” Thea crossed her legs. “When she kicks it, Midgard will fall either to me, Governor Urd, or that prissy-ass Propaganda Minister Denny. Chief Justice Odessa was in the race ’til her date with the firing squad last night, thanks to a…” She rolled her free hand in the air while searching for the right word. “…misinterpretation of her last letter to Matron.”
Juno didn’t react.
Thea shrugged with an expression of mock-sadness. “My fault, I’m afraid. But what can ya do?” She filled her empty glass at the mini-bar, this time foregoing the blood wine for a crystal bottle of amber liquor; the car instantly filled with the scent of honey as she poured it. “Since she fell ill, I’ve been managing her affairs in her absence. My personal staff tends to her every need, and keeps me updated on anything that happens at her house, including visitors. Basically, I decide who sees her and who doesn’t.”
“So you’re the best-suited successor,” said Juno.
Thea gave her a cautionary look. “I’ll tell you when it’s okay to interject.”
The Freya sniffed her drink like a connoisseur before taking her first sip. She smacked her lips with a stupid grin. “That’s more like it.” She crossed her legs. “I’m getting into position for a takeover as smooth as my youngest daughter’s bottom, but there’s a snag. Since most of Midgard’s population relies on the Bifrost and Lernea biodomes for their food, having Lernea as a friend is kind of important. Suffice it to say, having Lernea as anything less than my best friend would seriously fuck up my game.”
Thea’s free hand pointed to Juno, who reacted with alarm as if it were a loaded gun.
“You’re gonna help me win them over,” said Thea, “before Denny or Urd does. I’m setting aside our differences ‘cos I know you’re dependable.”
Thea sipped her drink with one hand; with the other she passed Juno a sealed, half-inch-thick file folder stamped “CLASSIFIED.” Juno reached for it hesitantly; she broke the seal when Thea nodded at her.
“The governor of Lernea is Dr. Cecilia Helstrom,” said Thea, “the hospital director and owner of the West Biodome, which she inherited from her mama. Surgeon, radiologist, field medic for four years. Saw so much bloody action in pre-treaty Normandy, the old bitch could probably stand toe-to-toe with the likes of us. These days she just plays messiah in her own little private kingdom. Her subjects lovingly call her ‘Mama Doc’.” Here she rolled her eyes. “Her niece, Hilda, is a decorated army vet — ‘scuse me, formerly decorated, ‘fore you got her court-martialed — who runs the Lernean Gendarmerie. Basically the Helstroms run the entire west coast of Midgard, mostly as they see fit. We send a liaison over there every six months to make sure they’re paying their taxes and upholding Matron’s law. They’ve been revolutionizing the science of bone marrow transplants and making impressive progress.”
Juno’s anxiety went into overdrive, kicking the inner walls of her stomach. She knew Hilda Helstrom, and looked forward to their reunion like she looked forward to a mammogram. She glossed over the file’s contents as she listened attentively, awaiting the part that would potentially screw her over. As if having the Right Hand of Matron use her as a pawn wasn’t screwjob enough.
“A few years back, the late Freya Dane sent them a choice marrow specimen named Helios, who helped cure a lotta sick people. His son Apollo resides in your Valhalla. He’s my trump card: I promised him to Helstrom the day he came of age, but she can’t wait any longer. And neither can I, given the current political climate. I gotta deliver on my promise now. Helstrom gets her dream boy, shuts out Denny and Urd, and paints me as a saint all along the west coast.”
The file contained Apollo’s entire history in Bifrost, and that of his father Helios, most of which was old news to Juno, their photographs clipped to the documents. Her eyes lingered on the photo of Helios — it instilled a sharp pang in her chest which she quickly suppressed.
“I’m tasking you with a simple, but nonetheless important, errand: deliver the kid safely to Lernea.”
Juno looked at her over the file, stony-faced and mildly perplexed.
“‘Safely‘ means air travel is outta the question,” said Thea when Juno, as usual, said nothing. “Blizzards are unpredictable this time o’ year, so I got you booked on the Wasteland Rail. It’s two days’ ride straight to Lernea. You’ll travel plainclothes so no Ragnarok dykes try to take a shot at you. You won’t look like a Valkyrie Guard escort: just a cute li’l mommy taking her cute li’l son on a trip. You can say you’re takin’ him to see his daddy, which wouldn’t be a lie. They won’t allow guns on the train, but I got ’em to okay your magic knife. If they give you any trouble over it, have ’em call my office.”
“Permission to interject?”
Juno held up the file in one hand. “Any valkyrie could do this. Why choose me?”
Thea looked long and hard at Juno over her glass. “Boys don’t fuck with you. Girls don’t fuck with you. That’s why you’re the warden of the Valhalla, and that’s why I choose you. I’m not gonna entrust this to some dumbass greenhorn, especially in light of recent events.” Thea scoffed. “A Valhalla riot and a failed attempt on Helstrom’s life, both in the same goddamned week. Right now Ragnarok is lookin’ for any excuse to keep the people whisperin’ about our shortcomings instead of singin’ about our virtues. Any other questions?”
“When do I leave?” said Juno, searching for anything but Thea to look at.
“Wasteland train gets back in four days. It’ll stop at the depot early in the morning, stick around just long enough to change passengers. You’ll be on it when it leaves. The tickets are in the dossier.” She pressed the intercom button again. “Phoebe, stop here.”
The limo left Juno standing in a growing blizzard with the file in her hands. Juno watched the car vanish into the darkness of the city, her face dripping with resentment.
It seemed the shooting would go on forever.
Juno hadn’t moved from her corner of the ration bank lobby for the past hour, curled into a ball so tight that every muscle and joint in her body whined in agony. Her head was bleeding and glass chips clung to her hair. Several other people were huddled in various nooks and crannies around the bank, too scared to utter a sound. The bullet-riddled curtains blocked everyone’s view of the carnage in the streets outside.
In her arms was a sobbing child of about five years — Aldo, son of the woman who lived across the street from Juno. The boy would sometimes run up to say hello before Juno left for work, giggling like the precocious star of a wholesome cartoon.
His mother was now a smearing of limbs and entrails two blocks away. It dawned on Juno that she didn’t know the woman’s name.
She was shaking so badly she almost dropped the boy. During nuclear winter it was always cold, but not enough to give violent shivers to an ex-soldier dressed head to toe in synthetic wool. Her panicked breaths came in spectral white wisps.
Just outside, bedlam still wracked Lithas District. All the gunfire and screams had melded together into unholy white noise, along with the inhuman hum of the robotic drone rolling down the street, targeting and firing at anything that moved. Its hideous flanging voice echoed throughout the city, cackling and cursing its victims in a barely intelligible foreign dialect. It sounded like the god of war on holiday.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. The attack began mid-morning on Bread Day, when every Bifrost citizen received her universal basic rations for the month. The streets of Lithas District had been packed with civilians collecting their shares from the bank, paid in the form of ration bars to use for sustenance, paying off debts, or trading for real food for their families.
Now those streets were paved with corpses. Juno had almost tripped over a body on her way into the bank, splayed across the sidewalk ten feet from the entrance, half the head blown clean off. The half that remained belonged to a barista who had served her coffee the previous morning.
Something exploded further up the street and rocked the walls of the bank. The drone’s autocannon roared in reply; then another blast shook Juno, and she held the boy tighter. As suddenly as it began, the city fell into silence. The city gendarmes must have finally taken the metal monster out.
Uneasy life returned to the city. Sobs, moans, and bewildered questions joined the somber song of the growing wind. A block away a child began to cry. Through the ringing in Juno’s ears filtered the shaking voices of law enforcement shouting orders, calling for paramedics, warning each other not to touch the drone.
Her conscious mind was useless. The subconscious had led this human wreckage across the smoldering street, through the back alleys, into the dark safety of the bank lobby. The subconscious was all that remained on high alert, waiting for the next terror to send her running. A kind of autopilot that her dry tongue hadn’t tasted since her first battle in the army.
Someone removed the sleeping boy from her arms. It was like pulling a drain plug. The moment he was taken away, all her strength flooded out, and she fell unconscious.
The hospital was a kaleidoscope of nightmares. A young college student Juno frequently saw at her favorite cafe had to be led through the hall by a nurse, spattered with someone else’s blood and hopelessly lost in a thousand-yard stare. A middle-aged man with only half his limbs was wheeled through the crowded waiting room, howling in agony. On every floor of the building children wailed for the parents and siblings they would never see again. When Juno was first brought in, the sights, smells, and sounds plunged her back into the war. She had wept all the way to her tiny white bed.
She imagined a loud fanfare when the Deputy Freya entered her hospital room: a stout redhead in her late thirties by the name of Rebecca Heimdall, who commanded the Valkyrie Guard of Bifrost and answered directly to the Freya herself. A plain gray overcoat was draped across her shoulders — far less conspicuous than the ornate blue and gold of her office.
“The coroner requires your presence,” she said, appraising the tiny stitches on Juno’s brow. “Hope you can walk.”
Juno didn’t argue. She slipped her eyepatch on, tied her boots, and grabbed her coat on the way out the door. As they descended to the rear of the hospital, Juno’s face was stoic, but her eye betrayed the maelstrom behind it. She was still drifting in a sea of bloody memories. Snowy earth erupting from mortar blasts. Noxious air reeking of cordite and smoke and blood. Friend and enemy alike exploding in clouds of entrails. Scream-filled infirmary tents.
“Is it the boy?” she said.
Heimdall sighed. “No, thank god. Physically he’s fine. But mentally, after a nightmare like that…” She cursed under her breath as she led the one-eyed soldier into the mortuary.
The middle-aged coroner saluted Heimdall before gesturing for both women to follow her into the frigid morgue. She was pale and a bit distracted — uncharacteristically shaken for one in a profession steeped in gruesome sights. The source of her affliction was sitting on the floor in the middle of the morgue.
In one piece, the drone was the size of a small buggy — four feet high, eight feet long and wide. Three robotic arms allowed each of its weapons — two 20mm autocannons and a small rocket battery — to fire in any direction independently of the others. The arms encircled a black dome that must have been the thing’s eye, granting it three hundred sixty degree vision: she had seen it fire upon simultaneous targets in all directions regardless which way it was facing. An oversized toy tank, and yet it had killed and maimed close to a hundred people in the span of a half-hour.
That was the mechanical horror Juno remembered from the massacre. In its current state, it was a pile of charred slag oozing hideous black ichor from its chassis. The ruined treads had been removed, as well as the weapons and armor plating. Its remains were little bigger than a wheelbarrow, its appendages bent and disarmed.
“Where the hell did it come from?” said Juno.
“Air-dropped by an unmarked plane,” said Heimdall. “A Harbrok seaplane, or some derivative. Coulda come from any port on the continent. The robot kicked on the moment it landed, opened fire on the first person it saw.” She spat on the thing. “Bread Day, of all days. Height of the fuckin’ morning rush. Some sick sonofabitch sure knew how to maximize the body count.”
Juno had hoped for more than what she had already witnessed. The monster’s birth from the plastic crate replayed in her memory with horrific clarity, along with the ghastly death of Aldo’s mother — the unlucky first person Heimdall spoke of. She couldn’t take her eyes off the thick, noxious substance leaking out of the broken drone. The stench was assaulting her with battlefield flashbacks.
“Have they caught whoever was controlling it?” said Juno.
Heimdall shook her head. “Fully autonomous. No radio control, apart from this.” She offered Juno the burnt shell of a small radio receiver hand-made in someone’s basement workshop. “Connected to the power supply. Someone on that plane woke it up. It did the rest all on its own.”
Heimdall knocked on the thing’s ruined casing. “Armor is dense as hell. Took two RPG’s at close range to slag it. Even then, nobody could safely snipe the thing without gettin’ her head blown off, ‘til they doused it with a fire hose and froze the turrets solid. Cost those firemen their lives. Media’s honoring their heroism by roasting the fire matron for not having any women heroes among the dead.” She spat.
“Why did you request me?” said Juno. “Why did they take it to the morgue, anyway?”
Heimdall’s face was grim. She gestured to the coroner, who choked back her bile and popped open the drone’s chassis for the third time that day.
Inside — installed like just another mechanical part, plain as day amid all the wires, gadgets, and plastic tubing — was a human head.
The lovely CravenWild posted a lovely review blurb about Kingdom of Famine! Check out her website!
The Sequel to Project Einherjar, based on Winter Agent Juno
11 maps for Gzdoom 3.7.2 (strobe effects don’t work in later versions).
Now retired after saving the world from nuclear disaster, Juno Radcliffe is asked to help escort dangerous war criminal Dietrich Drogo to Normandy, to be tried for crimes against humanity. Once in Normandy, the caravan is hit, Drogo is rescued by his fellow war profiteers…and Juno takes the blame. Now Public Enemy Number One in a foreign country, Juno must hunt and recapture Drogo to clear her name.
I had thought about a sequel to Project Einherjar for some time, but more importantly, a game experience that better encompassed the essence of the book series it was based on. Whenever I edit my fiction, I listen to a music playlist that suits the mood of the piece, to fuel my drive to finish the project. I thought it would be cool to use that music in a game project to help bring Winter Agent Juno alive the way I envisioned it. So I built Midgard Outlaw around the dynamic music mechanic, using music directly from my WAJ inspirational playlist, and toned down the sci-fi elements considerably. I’m really happy with the end result and hope you guys and dolls enjoy it, too.
This does mean that youtube will likely de-monetize videos of this mod due to the music used, so Let’s Play only if you really feel up to it.