Shadows are humans who have learned Qi skills, that is to project energy.
Janah and I learned from the Shaolin, and were allowed to receive enhanced skill via mental transmission from Master Tan, an adept. He was in his nineties when he taught us.
The transmission is painful, it takes numerous session over weeks, even months.
Some people, being people, want more sooner. The mind has to be built up, like a muscle, but they press and their mind breaks. Unfortunately the skill remains, they just use it to take advantage, or worse.
Imagine being able to get into anyone’s head, make them do what you wish, anything from handing you money out of the register to having sex with their children for your entertainment.
Shadows trade in anything that creates misery, they like it, the more you suffer, the happier they are.
Shadows hate Shaolin, with good reason, we kill them when we find them. They do the same to us. They can sense us, we don’t have to be in robes, we don’t have to be in the same room. They have a radar range of about fifteen yards to pick up a Shaolin presence. Some of us can sense them. Sensitives, Shaolin adept at reading auras, see the black outline. And, they need not be face to face, the Shadow could be on the other side of a wall, or in a room overhead. Others feel the presence of abundant Qi radiating from the Shadow.
The animals call them Dark Ones, predatory animals are particularly good at spotting Shadows. We use the term Shadow because they are only a shadow of a human, with neither conscience nor compassion.

One

What will people do when most jobs are done by bots? Well, think of clunky old 2016, when people still had jobs to show up for. 
As Kevin Kelly pointed out in The Inevitable, back then there were well over 50 million blogs, two new ones appearing every second. Sixty five thousand videos were posted on YouTube…every day. Alerts, tips, headlines from user created channels that make no sense economically, but there they were. Even then, only 40% of the web was commercially manufactured, the rest fueled by duty or passion.
Today, you wonder why you ever wondered how you would fill your days, or why your parents filled them with the tedium of work.
When we parted in Book XVI, it was 2016. Now, it’s 2030, things have changed. 
All our vehicles are electric. Unlike the early versions, these suckers can fly, not in the air, go fast. Our homes were off grid back then, now almost everyone is.
Today, cars self drive, eighteen wheelers are all driverless, most airplanes pilotless. The manufacturing jobs politicians cried about in twenty sixteen that moved to Mexico are now done by bots, the Mexicans don’t have those jobs anymore either.
Most restaurants are bot driven. As we automated at Ultra Violet and the Down Homes, we employed our people until they moved on or retired, we just didn’t add any replacement workers.
America finally got its act together on health care. Health insurance companies are gone, there’s one health care system, much of the diagnosis and treatment is done by machines. Prescription drugs are near free, and are free if your income level is below a certain point. Instead of a minimum wage, there is a basic income for everyone. You can’t buy a home on the hill with it, but you can get a livable apartment, buy food and use a state of the art transportation system, do I need to say run by bots?
How was it financed? Higher taxes on big incomes, fifty percent of every dollar over two million, from any source, including dividends. Seventy percent over five million. Capital gains are a flat thirty percent, you can still write off losses against gains. No deductions for home mortgage interest over a hundred thousand, collectively, not per home. Corporations no longer get any federal or state subsidy of any kind, either in reduced taxes or direct payments. 
Municipal bonds are still tax free, which drives down the rates municipalities have to pay to borrow and funded the city transportation and infrastructure improvements. College is free to any qualified student, paid for by fixing the insane property tax structure. There are no longer tax giveaways for agriculture, no business of any kind gets an exemption or a property tax holiday. The politicians finally figured out that the Earth belongs to everyone, but that development, for homes, apartments and commercial interests is also necessary. Property tax is now viewed as a payment to the people for the right to own and develop property. The rate is ten percent of the true value of the dirt, not the value ten years ago, or because you grow corn on it. Just factor it into the cost of doing business. Yes, prices went up, but not by ten percent, far less. 
Churches are no longer tax exempt, there is no tax deduction for religious donations, or any other charitable contributions. No deduction for educational donations, the 501c3 is a thing of the past. No more 401k, all pensions are paid via Social Security. The government simply confiscated all the money in corporate pension plans and stuck it in the Social Security Trust. Congress is also unable to borrow against the Trust for any reason, including war or other national emergency. Baby boomers began to die off and the social security burden dies off with them.
Military expenditures are less than a third of mid twenty teen levels, the army is automated, no soldiers go off to kill people. We neither interfere with nor subsidize any country, including Israel. Any catastrophe gets direct aid to the people, we no longer send money, food or other necessities unsupervised. That’s essentially what our military does now, disaster relief.
Energy is either nuclear, hydro or solar, wind didn’t catch on quite as predicted. Nobody liked those giant fans. Less than ten percent of the gird is fossil fuels, and is predicted to be zero in ten years. There are a few gasoline or diesel vehicles, but no new ones can be manufactured, and there is a steep tax on fossil fuels which makes it impractical to own a fossil fueled vehicle anyway. Gas pumps are being phased out, you won’t be able to buy the stuff at all in ten years. Coal hasn’t been dug for over a decade.
There is a surplus in the budget, debt is some miniscule amount of GDP.
How about that? A system that works for everyone, and rich people like us still don’t miss any meals, we can still afford upscale everything and we are happy to pay our share to do it.
Since our cars, dirt bikes and carts have all gone electric there isn’t as much maintenance. And batteries aren’t like early twenty first century batteries, everything is graphene. Lightweight, charges in minutes, even better, self charges off the motion of the vehicle just like our bots charge by moving around. We don’t plug them into anything, computers have no wires, flat screens have no wires. Power cords for them are only necessary for a quick charge. You pull the retractable cord out of the device, plug it in, retract the cord when you’re done. 
Sugar has been largely replaced as an added sweetener. The sugar industry is the tobacco industry of a decade ago, virtually nonexistent. Executives outed for fabricating research claiming it was overall calories, not sugar, that causes obesity. There are dozens of sugar free alternatives today, and they are better than sugar used to be. Children today are seldom overweight, diabetes is a thing of the past, nanobots roam our veins fighting disease, aging slowed to a crawl. It is thought that reverse aging will be possible inside of a decade. 
There is no more pregnancy, children are produced by combining a couple’s genes, there is no gender distinction, couples are two people together, although couples are not required. Single people can have a child based on their own DNA, no egg or sperm donor necessary. One child limit per person. The reason is obvious, people age more slowly, perhaps eventually not at all. Population has to be managed. Another reality helps control the population, since people are living longer and healthier, many find that not having children is better, surely easier and less complicated. They would rather enjoy the new virtual realities than stand around waiting for little Annabelle’s dance class to end.
Even better, you can have virtual children, take care of virtual babies, which is one factor in the lack of interest in real kids, a second reason is you can also try out virtual teenagers. If the baby part doesn’t discourage you, the teen part will.
In lieu of children, you can go on any adventure you want, climb mountains, deep sea dive, drive Formula One, play chess with grandmasters. If it used to be a real life experience, now it’s a virtual one, the challenges and feelings are identical, you are in the spacecraft touching down on Mars while sitting on your couch.
We have adopted the technology as well, but we still go to real places in real time. We don’t have virtual sparring matches, Sloane runs the real mountain, not a virtual one. We practice kendo with real bokken and shinai, not virtual images. 
And, yes, you can have virtual sex with any gender or body type you wish. In fact, we own a virtual sex service. Sis, Daria and one of our Algo-Bots wrote the algorithms, Eloise and Lauren designed the interface and created the hardware. There’s no helmet sized headset, a small pair of goggles provides the audio and visual; the sex partner, or two, or three, look, feel and sound real. 
Nikko said we netted forty million last year, this year is on track to exceed that. Sex sells.
Blogs, art, literature, music and virtual reality answers the question of what people do to fill time when jobs evaporate. They can also do any real physical or mental activity, hike, swim, play chess or Go. Thousands of new games have come to what used to be called the internet. Now, there is no internet as such, access is just there, everywhere. It’s called the Quant, because all processing is done by quantum computing. 
Our Society sideline of abusing abusers still exists, some people are programmed for violence. The good news is, the extent of abuse is shrinking. New generations are genetically modified more for cooperation than competition, the abuse crowd has thinned, but the ability to slow aging has come with downsides. Abusers are ineligible for the treatment until they agree to an implant that modifies their violent tendencies, but they have to be convicted of abuse first, and many aren’t. That means they can get the anti-aging treatments, the nanobots that roam the circulatory system fighting disease. Now, not only do they continue to abuse, they aren’t aging and don’t accommodate society by dying. The Society is still in business.
Shadows remain a problem.
We have killed dozens, over a hundred. They still hunt us, but our real identities remain unknown to them. We know that because if they knew who we are, we would have been attacked en masse by now. That hasn’t happened, and Daria’s monitoring system has gotten even better at spotting Shadow activity. Her AI system learns with every encounter. Every camera in America feeds into it, as does the feed from the thousand surveillance drones flying around the country. News streams from every city, county, state and the nation flows into it. Anything of interest, our screens light up, what happened, or is happening, where, often video of the incident as it’s happening. 
The old days of Shadows coercing store clerks to hand over money or merchandise are over. All those jobs are done by bots, and bots won’t cooperate in illegal activity or respond to mental commands to hand over cash.
What Shadows can do is interfere with the bot’s operation. Shadows direct energy, lower energy to take a mind, higher pulses to inflict injury or death. That energy can disable the bot. Cash isn’t much in use now, but the Shadow can take merchandise at will and the disabled bot cannot immediately report the theft. That’s the bad news. The good news is the theft is eventually discovered, the owner of a disabled bot is notified it is no longer in service, that information also  comes through our system and we frequently have the Shadow on a video feed. Reporting the incident to the local cops will get the Shadow busted, at least until he, or she, takes the arresting officer’s mind. If the arresting officer is a bot, it’s the same problem as the store. The Shadow disables the cop-bot and walks away.
Shadows are still in the same business, creating misery. 
Virtual reality would allow Shadows the same experience of control and domination, but they prefer to cause real people real pain. People can buy VR programs that will let them believe they’re having sex with children, or watching a mother have sex with her thirteen year old son, or daddy with his daughter or any other combo. But those are consequence free. Shadows get off on real suffering.
As an aside, our VR service doesn’t offer child sex, incest or farm animals, but others do. Since it isn’t real, it isn’t illegal. Some argue that letting pedophiles experience their desires in the virtual world helps keep them from stalking children in the real world. The evidence seems to support that view. Reports of child sexual abuse are less than half what they were fifteen years ago. Based on the declines, convicted pedophiles are not prohibited from participating in virtual pedophilia.

Two

Grace B, “Shadow activity in the San Diego area, probability level ninety seven point two percent. Appears to be a team of two. One targets the wealthy for cash, virtual cash and property. The other spends his time abducting children for intense sexual activity.”
Janah, “Intense? How intense?”
“Children torturing children intense enough for you?”
“More than.”
“How do you know it’s a Shadow, with the children I mean? The other is more obvious.”
“He’s not killing them, they show up on the street when he’s had enough fun.”
Janah, “Shadow mentality, not only make the victim suffer, the family and friends get to suffer too. At least now fixing broken parts isn’t as hit or miss as it used to be.”
Nikko, “I’m in, send me and the twins, the asshole will be in the ocean, alive, while we watch the sharks feed. We might cut the thief some slack and kill her with Oblivion.”
Grace B, “Probable Shadow power level eight.”
We measure them on a ten point scale. Only one has been a ten, most are fives, some sixes. Eight is a badass.
Nikko, “So what? Daria alone is a twenty, the twins together are nuclear. Those two are double overkill, me included is triple overkill.”
Grace B, “I report, how Daphne assigns the troops is not in my purview. I will be happy to tag along as quadruple overkill.”
“Nikko and the twins are sufficient. I have to cook for everyone with Dasha gone, I’ll need you to help.”
“As you wish, Commandant. When should I schedule their flight?”
“Work it out with Nishiko. I suspect she will want to leave yesterday.”
Which is accurate, I’ve known Nikko longer than any of our family except Janah and my mom. Nikko has a Japanese two hundred year perspective and shibumi, keep it simple, subtle, nothing extra or intrusive. Then there’s her samurai sense of honor and justice. When there is abuse, her samurai nature demands action, she’s partially shibumi. She will torture the abuser most elegantly, and kill the Shadow with style. It just won’t be subtle.
Amaya takes them to Prescott Municipal for a ten o’clock flight to San Diego. Nikko isn’t much for luxury hotels when she’s working, the twins have no preference, they’re booked at Courtyard Marriott. I did get them two one bedroom suites, they need a little elbow room after all. And the windows open, which means they can fly the drone from the room.
The system tracked the female Shadow to a car, got the plate before the Hyundai got on I-8 towards Hillsdale, then to a residential neighborhood of mid range homes. Mid range in California these days is over a million. I guesstimate the Shadows’ neighborhood to be in the two million range. That will get you twenty six hundred square feet of house built over forty years ago. It will have been upgraded to voice activated environmental controls, with a home bot that cleans. Most common helper bots are designed to go with the house, they orient themselves via sensors on the walls. If you move them someplace else, they are lost for a while and have to reorient. When people move, they generally leave the bot with the house. Our bots are entirely different, they don’t require external sensors to navigate.
From the Marriot, it’s about fifteen miles to the Shadows’ house. In the past, Shadows seldom settled in. Most lived in apartments or home rentals. They like renting houses from private owners, take the owner’s mind, live rent free. The owner believes he’s been paid in cash, and believes he spent it on something irretrievable, like gambling. 
Around the late twenty-twenties and the advent of bots doing almost everything, the unemployed were given stipends, essentially a salary for nothing. Subsequently, virtual reality exploded, people take classes in art, drama, creative writing. The age of the programmer and code is over. Algorithms are written by the machines, we are at the birth of the Singularity predicted by Kurzweil. And, as predicted, the machines made everything better, there was no attempt to take over the planet and eliminate humans. In fact, we are becoming them, bioengineered for physical and mental enhancement. Eighty year olds run five or six minute miles and well under three hour marathons with the bodies to match. Hardly elite, but they’re far more vigorous than fifteen years ago.
Which complicates dealing with Shadows, they can walk into any genetic alteration clinic and get treatments like anyone else. Everyone can apply for and receive free anti-aging treatments. Mental and physical enhancements cost, they’re considered cosmetic and not covered by universal insurance. The wealthy spend over a million bucks to be all they can be.
Relative to the current situation, it means that our two Shadows may be mentally sharper and physically stronger than the average citizen, significantly so. We don’t know if they’re in the twins’ Grizzly category, we doubt it, but it’s not a certainty. 
When the twins got the transmission from the bear, they also got his muscle and sinew. They look like the shapely sensuals they always did, but they weigh over two hundred pounds each. Their muscles are hard, granite hard, they can carry around refrigerators, lift the business end of a Humvee. Yet they remain gymnastic flexible.
Physical enhancement via genetic alteration doesn’t give humans superhuman strength, they still have joints and cartilage like any human, muscles may be bigger, lungs may work like a much younger person, but the advances are mostly within the realm of human physical capability. That won’t be forever, research is already being done to bioengineer physical enhancement. The Olympics have been discontinued, they have no meaning anymore.
Daria and Dasha underwent a different kind of transformation, like Nikko did with the snake. No human is as fast with a strike as Nishiko, despite genetic or hormonal manipulation. Their muscles just won’t twitch as fast. 
Still, they need to be cautious. It’s a good trial for us, a chance to explore what challenges enhanced Shadows will present. Is it dangerous? Sure, sort of. We still have darts with powerful tranquilizers, and the ultimate permanent tranquilizer, Oblivion. No amount of gene tinkering can overcome David Li’s synthetic poison for a simple reason. To alter the genetics, you have to know what you’re attempting to neutralize. Oblivion is produced only in David Li’s lab in the Shaolin Temple, and the formula is in his head, and one copy in an old fashioned and unhackable format. An encrypted drive Eloise created. It requires Janah’s eyeball and mine, followed by a thumbprint from both of us. That gets you to the password step. Get it wrong once, you get one more shot. Wrong again, the drive disintegrates. Of course, the formula is also in Janah’s eidetic memory, the ultimate fail safe.
Our hunters are in Nikko’s room.
Nikko, “We know where to find them. We have enough proof that the woman is busy stealing merchandise and cash, we don’t know for a fact that the man is doing the other.”
Dasha, “Why ees matter? He ees wiz Shadow woman, she ees not living wiz a man who ees not a Shadow.”
“Unlikely, but we’ve seen it before, many years ago. A Shadow woman and a boyfriend who gave her a veneer of respectability. In this case, Daria’s system predicts he’s involved in the child, child abuse thing, but how do we link him to it?”
Daria, “Nikko is correct, sister. The system is connecting his presence with her and the suspicious activity with the children. It reduces the possibilities to the most logical conclusion. That does not mean it is the correct conclusion.”
Dasha, “Then we will find evidence.”
Nikko, “Yes, and before another kid goes missing. None of the released children recall details, which is one reason the program tagged him a Shadow. They could give no description of a place, just that there was a man. Some said tall and slim, others said heavy, black hair, blond hair, balding, glasses, no glasses, the details have no consistency.”
Daria, “Which also points to a Shadow, he is confusing them, planting false descriptions in their head.”
“Apparently he isn’t torturing the children himself. The children say they do it to each other. The reports vary one other child, two others, even three others. I assume it depends on how many he can grab.”
Daria, “If he is controlling four, he is good. Controlling children is easier than adults, but it still burns energy. The children do not mention the woman. If she is not involved, he has no helper, he is doing it all himself.”
Nikko, “Let’s get the drone to the house, tonight we can send the second drone and do more intensive surveillance. For now, we just keep our distance and get a feel for the house and surrounds. If we have to go there in person, it will pay to know the territory.”
Drones help avoid hanging around the neighborhood in a car, they can spy from a distance and not arouse curious eyes wondering about passengers in an unfamiliar car lurking in the neighborhood. It’s a common subdivision, no mega mansions, or even mini ones. The house has a double carport, one story, and takes up three quarters of the small lot. 
Power these days is solar, nuclear or hydroelectric, all overhead power lines are gone. The days of blue squares over sections of the roof are over. Electricity is too cheap to meter. There are no satellite dishes or cable lines, connectivity is everywhere, like mobile phones fifteen years ago. 
They watch a quiet neighborhood, there is one car in the drive, the woman’s. Cars recharge while they’re in motion, graphene batteries weigh almost nothing, have a long life and recharge quickly. The man drives a Tesla SUV, one of the first converts to graphene power units and consequently the leading car maker in the world. 
Nikko invested in Tesla twelve years ago, her hundred million toe in the water is now a billion. We reek of money, our cash flow is stupid. Janah gives away much of our income but the principal grows. Last count, forty seven billion and rising. 
Nikko, “Zoom in on any open windows.”
Dasha goes to the most obvious, the rear patio. The place is privacy fenced, today that means metal that appears to be wood, it doesn’t rot, sag or need repainting. The yard is too small for a pool, only a patio. A bot is outside blowing leaves and wiping down the furniture. The woman appears, she’s nude except for sunglasses. She plops down on a recliner with a glass of wine and a book. Yes, we still read books, the old fashioned kind, with paper and bindings. People find the ancient technology comforting.
Nikko, “Attractive woman, too bad she’s a psychopath.”
And she is, not petite, but not my five ten either. She’s got boobs, the taut kind, not fat bags sloshing around her chest, nothing sways when she walks. Her legs are firm, cellulite free, she’s either gone in for a bit of upgrade or she has good genetics. She appears relaxed, a pose, Shadows are never relaxed. Still, she sips wine and reads, the bot goes inside. Common bots clean, they don’t cook, some can do laundry and fold, that’s their limit. If the woman wants another glass of wine, she’ll have to fetch it herself.
Dasha, “We can take care of this one now, one dart, she ees dead.”
Nikko, “Except if the man is a Shadow. He comes home, finds her with a puncture wound, he’s going to figure out we’re around and bolt.”
“So what? We follow wiz drone, he cannot anyway escape.”
“You’re right, but if he has children parked someplace he isn’t leading us to them. We take him out, we don’t know where the children are.”
“Maybe he does not haf children now.”
Daria, “Missing children have been reported in the San Diego area, but there are missing children every day. They may be unrelated to the Shadow.”
Nikko, “Or they may be. The woman is only taking money and merchandise as far as we know. She’s not harmless, but children aren’t being brutalized. We can take her anytime. First, we find out what Arthur Poindexter is up to, what’s the woman’s name?”
“Althea Jackson.”
“She doesn’t do anything except her Shadow bit, he have a job?”
“Owns an art gallery.”
“No doubt takes the mind of customers and gets them to overpay, then tells the artist it sold it for much less. Art in a gallery is on consignment, the gallery owner has only rent and display costs, no expense for inventory.”
“Send drone to gallery, if he ees there, we can follow him. If he goes home, okay, but if he has captured children, he will go to them.”
Nikko, “Then get to it. I’ll round up coffee and tea, we may be in for a long stretch of surveillance.”
The twins are Russian, black tea is their coffee, Nikko is Japanese, but prefers coffee as a stimulant.

Three

Arthur’s black Tesla is parked behind the gallery. The drone can’t get an angle that gives them much of a view inside. It appears to be contemporary, which today means movement. Lights, moving parts, not art in the old sense of static and hung on a wall. This is more like sculpture in motion, some of it even moves itself to different locations in a room, or hovers in the air like our drones.
Dasha, “I haf idea.”
They’re in the car, headed to the gallery, Nikko finds a spot down the block, away from the street. Daria flies the drone into the hatchback of their SUV. 
Daria and Dasha are dressed identically, cut off jeans, sung t-shirts and platforms. They’re sixteen in our immortal years, with a ribbon in their hair and no makeup, they look even younger.
Daria goes around the back while Dasha waits, her sister mentals her, “Back door is not locked, go in now.”
Dasha opens the front door, the shop is empty, a bell dings. A bot is vacuuming. Poindexter comes from someplace in the rear.
“Shut down Rodin, I have a customer,” the bot stops in place.
He turns his smarmy grin to Dasha, “Good afternoon, Miss. How can I help you?”
His eyes say a lot more than help, they don’t leave curvy tight legs.
Dasha, “I am decorating my apartment, a friend told me you had unique art, ultra modern, she used the term avant-garde. I see she was correct.”
“She sent you to the right place young lady. I don’t mean to presume, but our prices are….”
“Price is not an issue, one of a kind is. Your works are not duplicates I trust.”
Poindexter feigns shock, “Of course not, my clients would desert me. Each work you see is the only one that exists, and I include a guarantee in the provenance that it will never be duplicated. Exclusivity comes at a cost however. Nothing here is less than fifty thousand, for the smaller or less complex pieces.”
“I do not see much of interest, it is tourist crap, you have more?”
“A discerning eye for a girl so young. The better works are in the other studio, just along here,” he holds his hand out in the direction he came from, towards the rear.
Dasha feels an energy, her brain twitches, he’s trying to get into her mind.
She mentals Daria, “He is a Shadow, I feel his energy working my brain.”
“You are good?”
“Da, he is powerful though. I felt dizzy until I countered with my own.”

Dasha sways, her hand reaches for the wall to support herself, she wants him to think he’s taking control but it’s not all an act, he has juice, “Lead the way.”
She follows him down a short hallway, he punches in a code, her sister has seen the code though Dasha’s eyes, the door clicks open.
Inside, he shuts the door, Dasha hears the lock engage.
He loses the pretext of showing her art, instead, he jacks up the energy. Dasha can feel him in her head, she also feels her sister’s qi flooding into her to counteract. She plays her part.
Poindexter has a control panel on the wall, he locks the gallery entrance door and the sign on the door reads closed, “I normally like my children younger, but you are most special, a delicacy. What are you fourteen?”
“And a half.”
“We’re going for a ride young one, I have two other children, a boy eight and girl seven, you will enjoy meeting them, so delicate, at that age they are flawless. As are you I must say.”
Dasha fakes blank, “I will meet children.”
“Yes, and you will have fun with them…and they with you.”
Dasha, “I should take off my clothes now.”
“Yes, yes you should. I want to see you nude, not watch you undress. Disrobe behind the curtain, then come and tell me what you want to do for me.”
Dasha disappears, Poindexter turns, humming to himself, delighted at this surprise development. He’ll get his cock sucked, fuck the girl and turn her over to the children for some tough, and gory, love.
He’s unzipping his trousers when Daria appears in front of him, he steps back, how did the girl get here? He turns to the curtain, Dasha steps out, still dressed.
The twin shocks give him little time to focus, but he gives it a go. Daria has her hand around his throat, lifts him like a toy and slams him against one of his more expensive offerings. It’s not going to sell for anything, it’s in bits, some of them embedded in Poindexter’s back.
Poindexter regroups, or tries, despite Daria’s death grip, he manages to make things fly across the room. Unknown to him, the twins feel near nothing when chunks of exhibits bonk against their granite muscle. Expensive mobile sculpture shatters, around them. Poindexter turns up the heat. Daria’s hand reddens, it must hurt, but she won’t release him. Dasha clocks his nose with the heel of her hand, a smushy crunch and a gush of blood. 
Nikko’s in, nearly bashed by a flying something, she’s not happy, has her blade to his eyeball, “Cut the crap or go blind, one eye at a time,” she pokes the white with the pointed tip of her knife, he screams, things quit sailing around.
Dasha has him lashed to a support post with picture wire. Around his neck, his wrists, his ankles. Any jerky movement, he earns a painful slice. 
Daria preps syringes, one goes into Poindexter’s arm, a load of Truth.
They wait, it takes only a minute to flood his brain, when it does, Shadow or no, he will spill his guts. 
He does a credible job of fighting it, “You can’t control me, not…my…mind,” the fact that he had to stammer out his bluff hasn’t registered.
Nikko, “I already have control Shadow, but I can move things along if you prefer,” she grabs his hand, yanks it against the wire, quick slash of the blade, his index finger plops to the floor.
Poindexter makes an unusual noise, a cross between a high pitched scream and a gurgle, the wire around his neck cuts a nasty slit. Blood drips down his synthetic silk shirt.
Amaya is watching through my mind, which is watching through Dasha’s eyes, “Nikko should kill him for bad taste, putting hardworking silkworms out of business.”
I mental Nikko, “Amaya says you should kill him for wearing synthetic silk.”
“If I killed everyone that Amaya thinks has poor taste, I’d be murdering people day and night.”

She has a point, Amaya is fussy about couture.
Nikko, “Poindexter, you have children someplace, tell me where.”
“Why should I? Wha’s…in…for…,” he seems to lose his train wreck of thought.
“Die quickly, or over several days, I prefer the latter, but I’m giving you an option.”
Daria jacks him with another dose.
Nikko, “You need to listen asshole,” she takes his left ear, it joins his finger on the floor.
He’s fogged and lost the ability to scream, he whimpers well though. They have an address and his key to the place.
Nikko, “You two go. I’ll keep him alive long enough for you to confirm. Tell Daphne what’s what, she’ll pass it along to me.”
They leave through the rear door and lock it with Poindexter’s key.
Along the way, the twins shuck the tiny shorts for baggy jeans and pullovers. Fedoras and fat sunglasses disguise their faces. Before they enter the ramshackle house, they pull on latex gloves. The place is devoid of furnishings, there’s a locked door which Daria pops open with a sharp crack of the heel of her hand. Steps leading to a basement. Two children are there.
Both are nude, lying in their own blood, cuts along their arms, legs, face, buttocks. The boy has a thin line of congealed blood along the shaft of his little penis, cross cuts line the small girl’s bare vagina. Deep enough to bleed, create searing pain, not enough to kill, unless the bacteria have taken over. They’re in a stupor, likely shock, don’t have the energy to respond even when two girls show up unexpectedly. 
Razor blades litter the floor, most smeared with blood. Once beautiful children are facing a nightmare recovery, a poor word, recovery may be more wish than fact. We’ve experienced the incredible resilience of children, I can only hope these two haven’t been broken beyond the capability of current pharmacology. 
Dasha, “Dahfoney, you are seeing?”
“Yes, Nikko is looking through my eyes. Poindexter is in for a nasty afternoon.”

Nikko, “You can count on it. Tell the twins to go and deal with the woman, I need a couple of hours, wish it could be days.” 
I know Nishiko, Arthur Poindexter will suffer the death of a thousand cuts. Jacked up on amphetamines so he’s awake and fully appreciating the skill of the samurai in shredding him of the last of his sick life.
I’m back online with the twins, “Get them covered, drink of water if they can take it. Get gone in five, Janah’s on the phone now with her contact, EMS and every cop in San Diego will be there soon.”
I watch while they take blankets from the cots and cover the two children. Daria has them sip water, reassures them that help is on the way. She can’t tell if they’re registering anything. They go to the car, drive to a secluded spot and launch the drone. The woman can wait until they verify the children are being looked after.
Minutes later, an ambulance screeches to a stop along with a half dozen cop cars. Janah told her contact not to have them blast sirens and make any more of a scene than necessary. Fortunately, the neighborhood is a trash heap of people unlikely to wander around in front of the police and open themselves up to questioning.
Satisfied the children are safe, Daria returns the drone and they take off to deal with Althea Jackson.

Four

The woman isn’t on the patio now, but her car is in the carport. 
Dasha, “Knock? Bust in?”
Daria, “Try the patio door, she may have left it open.”
They hop the fence, ease around to the rear. In luck, she didn’t shut the door at all, just a sliding screen door. Daria opens it and they step inside. Nothing in the living room or the kitchen, they move down a hallway and hear water running.
“Taking a shower, perfect.”
Daria has the dart gun set, follows Dasha as she sneaks through the bedroom, the door to the bath is open as well, a little fog of steam wafts out. Dasha moves to the shower, Althea’s outline is visible through the opaque glass door. Dasha pops it open.
Jackson turns, small shriek, then a look of sheer hatred, “Cunts from the Shaolin, she didn’t have the guts to come herself? You bitches are in for a world of pain.”
Final words she wouldn’t want on her tombstone, a dart in the chest. Althea stares, wavers, slumps back against the tile wall and slides unceremoniously to the floor. Dasha turns off the shower and pulls the darts.
Daria, “Turn the shower on, they will think she had a heart attack.”
Dasha cranks it up, they go to the front door to make sure it’s locked.
Dasha, “I will lock the patio door, we can leave through the carport door and lock it. Nobody will know anyone was here but her.”
A minute later they’re heading back to Poindexter’s gallery. It was forty minutes each way, less than five in the house, Nikko’s had Arthur for near ninety minutes.
When they arrive, Nikko is standing in front of her prey. She’s cut him loose, he’s a mass of red meat lying on the floor. Even the soles of his feet are lined with cuts. He’s quivering, agonized, he makes a gurgling sound, his tongue lies next to his face, eyes are empty red pools, blood oozes from both ears, or where his ears were, now they’re bits of flesh lying either side of his head.
They wait, Poindexter has drawn bad cards, the three most unforgiving humans on the planet. Blank dispassionate faces watch him fade to oblivion.
Nikko, “Let’s go before I try to revive him so I can do it again.”
Dasha, “He ees no reviving, no mahter how much drug we geev. Woman was easy, sister stuck a dart, we left her to feenish shower. She will be cleanest dead peerson ever.”
I get in Nikko’s head, “It’s only five o’clock, I can get you on a Blue Sky for seven, hour twenty flight, home by quarter to nine.”
“Do it.”

They pass by the hotel, pack up and head to the airport, zip to Prescott Municipal, Amaya and I collect them. I arranged cheese and crackers for the short flight, the twins downed a couple of vodkas, Nikko had a split of red.
“You had no lunch and only cheese on the plane. We had grilled fish, there’s three filets in the oven warming and a baked potato each.”
Nikko, “I shouldn’t be hungry after dealing with the Shadow, but I am. I know the twins are, all that dense muscle needs calories.”
Dasha, “Sisters are for sure hungry, we do not anyway care about dead Shadow, the man deserved worse, what of children?”
“Janah’s gotten updates, they’re in intensive care and sedated. Early prognosis is a long period of physical recovery. Today’s cosmetic surgery can eliminate the physical scars, it’s just that there are so many. She says pharmacology will blank them on the actual event. If this had happened ten years ago, they may have never recovered.”
It’s also good news that the Shadow is dead. Nobody has to testify, there isn’t anyone to prosecute. 
Dasha, “They haf found bodies?”
“Not yet, we wanted to be sure you were home before she pointed cops to the bodies. In fact, it won’t be local cops, it will be Feds. They will genetically code Poindexter and pick up his DNA at the house where he kept the kids. Once the children are treated, they won’t remember two girls, and Janah made sure they won’t be questioned. The DA will piss and moan, too bad. There will be a crush of psychiatrists, the parents will refuse to allow questions to children who have suffered such incredible trauma. The perp is dead, what’s the point of questions? The cops and the DA will be instructed to stand down, way down, as in invisible.”
Nikko, “Fish is good, I’m hungrier that I thought.”
“I have brownies and ice cream.”
Nikko blinks, “Not that hungry, you’ve been trying to fatten me up since we met.”
“And you weigh exactly what you did when you seduced me in the Chapman’s gym years ago.’
“I recall being an innocent Japanese girl influenced by a slutty gaijin.”
“Memory is a tricky thing. Perhaps after you’ve had a warm shower and I’ve lathered you up, you can join me in bed. We can reminisce.”
Nikko blinks, “We’ll do everything but reminisce, I have a plan.”
Janah looks at Zi, “Appears you and I have a free evening, anything I can do to elevate your consciousness?”
Zi’s turn to blink, “I’ll think of something.”
Dasha is off to visit the children, they flock to her when she enters the dorm, “Mama! Where is Mama?”
They mean Daria, Dasha mentals her, Daria shows up a minute later. They are surrounded by little girls recounting their day. They have been off with the Zycyryn, who they call the Guides, or in Russian, Gids, soft ‘i’, as in id.
Dasha, “And what do Gids tell you?”
Tasia, “They give us skills, we see bits of the future, like Cassandra, and make things happen.”
“What things?”
Jesica, “We hear the sound of the universe, then make things rise in the air, or stop them from moving. We cannot kill, but we can keep others from killing. They are the sparkles, can you not see them?”
“Nyet, only daughters and Cassie.”
“Oceane too, they help her paint, even hand her the brushes.”
Sheesh, finally an explanation of what goes on with Oceane. For whatever reason, she never mentioned Zycyryn, or Guides. Then again, Oceane has never been much for explanation.
Time for rest, the children snuggle together at bedtime despite practically being glued to each other all day, precious and precocious. They’ve been with us over fifteen years, we got them when they were six to eleven years old, they look exactly like the day they came to us. Then again, we look exactly like we did then too.
I’m flooded with lust hormones while I create erotic mayhem on Nikko’s body. She responds appropriately, rather enthusiastically even. At the moment, I’m tingling her tush with my tongue, something Janah is particularly fond of. Janah also likes one of us to strap up and take her analy, I take a quick peek in her mind. What a coincidence, Zi is doing that very thing to her now.
Janah, “I love to get ass fucked.”
“You and Amaya, the Butt Sisters.”

I hear her moan, I get back to the tush at tongue.
Nikko shivers through a third orgasm, breathing hard, “I need oxygen,” she slumps to her side.
We cuddle for a time, then she steps to the bathroom, returns all strapped up. I’m more than sufficiently hydrated, lotion would be overkill. She kneels between my parted legs, my brains disappear.

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