One

Here we go again. Thirty girls, counting Danika and Su when we’re in our Arizona home. Eight are children we saved, who never grow up, we don’t know why. They run from just over six to twelve, but they’ve been on Earth for almost twenty. That makes for an interesting dichotomy, they are not immature like little girls, but they look like little girls. 
The rest of us don’t age either, but for reasons we partially understand. Janah and I have proteins in our blood that don’t deteriorate and keep us from aging. I’ve discussed it in more detail in prior books. We found we could transfuse those proteins to others. Our parents don’t age, a few close friends from our days in the Shaolin Temple, the girls who make up our biggie family. 
Janah, Nikko and I are twenty five, but we should be over forty. Danika and Su about the same. Other girls came to us younger and range from fourteen to eighteen biologically. We let them choose an age to receive our protein markers, but they have to reach puberty first.
I have one daughter, Sloane, who is transgender. (I have no biological daughters, they were all rescues from abusive situations.) We took Sloane from a father who couldn’t get the idea out of his head that she could be ‘fixed.’ He got angry, which led to beatings, we don’t countenance hitting children for any reason.
Sloane is permanently fifteen, but of course she isn’t psychologically, she’s been alive for almost thirty years. She started to get the whole gender reassignment, but discovered some of our girls like the boy part, as long as it is attached to an otherwise girl. None of us have sex with men. We don’t hate men, we have male associates and friends, when Nikko ran our real estate mini-empire, she hired qualified people however their gender identity was packaged.
You may wish to explore prior books, if you haven’t already, to get more detail on how girls came to us. We don’t just rescue girls, we’ve pulled a lot of boys out of situations over the years, but it is better for them to go to one of our ranches. We don’t take every rescue into our family, lots of girls wind up at the ranches as well. We have eight spread out over the west, run by Shaolin monks. Children are educated, Instruction in Buddhist principles is available but entirely voluntary. The kids work in the small vegetable farms, raise horses, cows and chickens. Always a couple of friendly dogs, and a few cats to keep the rodents moving along. 
There is no cost, we pay for everything. The children at the ranches don’t know us, they know the monks. Since we rescued them in some cases, we want distance from that, even though we never do the interventions as ourselves, but in disguise. Once they are eighteen, they can go to college, or learn a trade, or just go out on their own. We pay for that as well, until they either graduate or hit twenty one. Often, they return to the ranches and work there with the fresh crop of abused children. They’ve been there, they know firsthand. The kids bond quickly with people who went through what they went through. More importantly, they see that others made it, clear headed and happy adults.
There’s no therapy, other than listeners, not sympathizers, but no critiques either. Our therapy is to keep the children busy, not to stick them in a clinical setting and revisit the abuse over and over, as if that helps. It doesn’t. The only sympathy is being told there are bad people in the world, you got stuck with one of them for a while. Now, you’re not.
We also refocus the abusers, just not in front of the abused child.
Refocusing is what we call our chats with abusers. It could be domestic, man on wife or girlfriend, or child abuse, either physical or sexual, we don’t discriminate. We refocus their attention to the cost of continued bad behavior. 
Abusers understand control and pain. We speak to them in the language they understand.
Aren’t many abusers abused as children?
Yes. And that’s sad. It doesn’t give them a pass, an excuse to beat their wife, their kid, stick their penis anyplace they want. And when we’re done, the impulse to abuse is gone. Fear has replaced it, with good reason.
We are the investigators, the arresting officers, the judge and jury, there is no appeal. You may call us vigilantes, ‘cause, you know, that’s what we are. Our organization is called The Society. Details of its initial formulation and its operational structure are in prior books. Things may be more clear if you at least skim those before you plow into this one. I will also, as we go along, offer more detail about our complex and strange family.
When I left off in Book XVII, we had returned from a refocusing in Oklahoma City, only Nikko, Janah and I went, it was one woman, we hardly needed an army.
This was an unusual but not unheard of case of a female abuser. Nikko sliced off four or Roberta’s fingers and stuck a blade through the other hand after the target was stupid enough to pull a butcher knife on a kendo master who is quick as a snake. 
Janah and I pasted her together enough to prevent her from bleeding out. I read the rules, essentially explaining that if we had to find her again, she’d be, at best, blind with no legs. We also discovered an additional bit of bad luck for Roberta. Not only did she beat up and stalk former girlfriends, which was our original reason for descending on her, she had a laptop full of child porn of a different sort. It was children on children, no adults, at least not in the videos and photos we saw. We didn’t interrogate her on her choice, at the trial her defense was that she had been put in sexual situations with other children by her mother and others. There was no evidence of that, we have no idea if it was true or just a rather obvious defense ploy. She did time, registered as a sex offender, got her fingers replaced along the way. Our Compliance people monitor her, she gets anonymous notes, texts and emails reminding her of the consequences of renewing her interests in sadism or child porn. 
We also relieved her of her trust fund, a bit over two million, and took out a loan on her home, leaving her with no equity and no means of paying the loan. 
She caught a break of sorts by going to prison, she was fed and bed for six years. We understand that her prison experience was not a good one, prisoners and the guards have children, and they hate child predators. She was lucky to get out alive.
We have inside information that she had to lick a lot of ass to survive.
How do we afford these things, and three homes the size of hotels, and private flights? We inherited a ton of money from an old feisty Chinese lady in New York, and her properties, which were rather extensive. The we stole money from drug dealers back when drug dealers made wads and the government spent wads chasing them around. Nikko laundered hundreds of millions in cash, which created our network of shell companies sprinkled around the world. We inherited money from the Epsteins, who created the Society we now run. We bought more property in New York and San Francisco, and Nikko, Zi and Daria ran a property management company which printed money.
Ultimately, Nikko sold off almost everything. Good thing too. New York has a climate change problem, lower Manhattan floods regularly, and with bigger storms, the rest of the city gets water problems as well. We retain the drone company and a virtual reality business. Amaya still does the occasional movie, Chloe made a lot of money as a fashion model, and in cosmetic and accessory commercials, much of which was in Japan. Chloe is a major thing for Japanese girls. Now Chloe Couture, which is actually run by Amaya (Chloe has limited fashion sense, Amaya is a fashionista) makes millions from its unique concept.
Customers stand in front of any cam, then put on our glasses. The program reads their height and measurements precisely. Women can ‘try on’ outfits virtually, order what they like, and the clothes are custom made and shipped in two days. We carry no inventory of clothing that never sells, bots do the actual cutting and sewing. That level of engagement makes for a lot of repeat business.
To cut to the point, we have something like fifty billion in brokerage firms and banks. Our tax free income from bonds alone is a billion a year. That pays for a lot of stuff, even today, in 2035.
Drug dealing is a thing of the past, people woke up to the fact that locking up addicts, spending billions of tax money chasing around dealers, gunfights over territory and vengeance, was a major stupidity. Drugs got cheaper, and dealers got more creative with the drugs themselves. Now, if you want your head messed with, you can go get the stuff at a pharmacy and have all the hallucinations you want. 
What happened is an overall reduction of drug use and the state makes money instead of spending it. Part of the decline was the rise of virtual reality. People can wear what looks like simple glasses and have any sort of experience they wish. Climb a mountain, surf the big waves, watch porn, cook like a master chef. We don’t sell them, but there are even child porn VR programs. Turns out, it reduces the incidence of actual child rape. Why risk prison when you can have the sensation of the experience and no kid gets hurt? And, like all porn, at some point, people get enough and lose interest. I admit it’s creepy, but it works. If the user gets busted for real child porn, VR cannot be used as a legal defense. 
Do people still do it, with real children? Yes, there continue to be videos and photos on the dark web. We have a highly sophisticated search engine that tracks them down, ultimately to wherever it came from and who goes to the sites. If it’s in America, we visit the purveyor or the pervs. Then we give them a limited number of options, only one actually, quit. They spend the next few months in recovery, with altered or missing body parts. Vengeance is mine sayeth Daphne.

Two

We’re at our place in Malibu, just returned from our home in the Canadian Rockies. It’s mid September, in Canada since July to escape the heat in both Malibu and Arizona. Global warming has popped up temps all over the world. A hot summer day in our home near Prescott used to be ninety, now it’s over a hundred, about the same for Malibu. At our elevation over the Canadian lake, it’s never over eighty in the warmest part of the day.
Sloane comes in from her run with Cassie, Sarah and her wolf pals. Sloane received a transmission from a wolf years earlier. She has pointed teeth and a bite that can can snap a man’s forearm clean through, which she’s done more than once.
Sarah has been a middle distance runner since forever, but she can’t keep up with Sloane, who also got another wolf gift, speed. She can hit forty and keep it up for a mile if she wants to. Top speed for a human sprinter is about twenty five for a hundred meters.
Of course, when they’re out playing on the mountain, Sloane doesn’t run flat out, she’s required to keep close watch on Cass, who would start running in one direction and simply keep going. When she runs with Sloane, she follows Sloane’s lead, Sarah runs behind her to make sure she’s doing just that.
Sloane, “Water.”
I hand her a glass, she hands it to Cassie, one for Sarah, then one for herself.
After it’s chugged, Sloane says, “The kids are doing one of their witch things tonight. Should provide a nice evening’s entertainment.”
“Do you know what’s on the menu?”
“Nope, but they usually chant and dance, my brain goes blank, it’s relaxing to watch.”
Sarah, “They’re so graceful, between Amaya’s dance classes and your gung fu instruction, it’s like ballet.”
All the runners are grubby. Oceane comes down, takes Cassie’s hand, leads her upstairs for a shower. Oceane and Cassie are our designated weirdoes. Cassie doesn’t talk, but she communicates with Oceane and Sloane. Oceane talks a little, but not necessarily anything to do with the subject under discussion. She also has no clue what happened yesterday, or earlier today, or in the last ten minutes. For her, living in the now is an understatement.
She can, occasionally, see into the future, and she can hold an object and tell you how the person who created it was feeling at the time. It could be a thousand years old, or made last week. She can also tell you about people who have handled it recently. She once led us to a cannibal by sitting in a hotel room one of the victims occupied.
We speculate that she came to this ability because of the situation we rescued her from. She was the property of a Shadow, more on them later. He didn’t sexually abuse her, she was like a toy doll. He dressed her as he liked, he made no effort to  educate, no TV, no internet, no books. She stayed in the house, except for being allowed to swim in a backyard pool. Now, she swims every day possible, and can go for miles without tiring, like a dolphin. 
Her solitude, we think, put her in touch with parts of the universe the rest of us miss. We’re sent to school, told how things are, our brains are filled with somebody’s else’s experience and opinion. She had no brainwashing. The Shadow didn’t care about filling her head with anything, he just wanted the beautiful young girl as an occasional distraction. Her name at the time was ‘girl’. After we killed him, Oceane came to live with us. When we discovered her affinity for water, Amaya suggested the French spelling of ocean, thus was Oceane reborn. She quit aging at fifteen, a guess since we don’t know her actual date of birth. She is lithe and lovely, stunning really, no massive shoulder and back muscles you might see on Olympic swimmers. When Oceane swims, it appears languid and effortless, unless you’re trying to keep up with her.
When Cassie came to us, she and Oceane bonded wordlessly, and are inseparable except for Cassie’s runs, or time on the dirt bikes or karts. We have a full size race track in Arizona, in part to feed Amaya’s need for speed, and in part to keep us in practice. Several of us took the Bondurant tactical driving course in Chandler Arizona. Tactical means escape and evade, how to knock a car out of control, how to one eighty and three sixty, how to shove the vehicle through a roadblock. We revisit those skills whenever we go to Arizona. We ultimately took Formula One  and NASCAR style racing as well. We built a huge oval track, and another one with the twists and turns of Formula One.
Cars, karts and bikes these days are electric, no noisy gasoline engines, no pollution. They can go as fast as the extinct gasoline powered cars. The karts will do sixty, the dirt bikes as well, the race cars will hit one eighty, the SUVs we use to practice tactical maneuvers will do one thirty. On the track or the dirt bike course, Cass has one speed, flat out. I don’t recall ever seeing her tap the brakes. On the Formula One course, she’s always spinning out her kart. They’re so low to the ground and the axle track is so wide the karts are nearly impossible to roll over. Despite that, they have roll bars and Cass wears a helmet, elbow and knee protection.
It’s the same for her dirt bike, she flies off the bumps, sails through the air and usually makes the landing. Usually, once in a while she dumps it, so far the thing hasn’t landed on her. She wears all the same gear as for karts, the worst injury aside from scrapes and bruises was a sprained wrist. 
What else might you want to know? Oh, Cassandra can levitate. Don’t ask, we don’t know, she just does. She doesn’t fly as such, but she can follow Oceane around. Funny thing to see, her cross legged in the air, floating along over Oceane’s shoulder.
Janah pads in from the office, “All quiet on the Shadow front. I sent two teams of Social Workers out to deal with a bad daddy and an internet predator.”
Social Workers are what we call the teams of two that handle refocusings for the Society. They don’t know from the Society, they know they are well compensated to explain to the targets that their abusing days are over.
Other personnel are paid to relocate the abused, find them a job, rent a place and provide a used car if necessary. They get enough money for about six months, the job will cover living expenses. Two things have to happen. They have to agree in advance to relocate, although sometimes we force the target to relocate and the victim stays put. Second, they are clear that if for any reason they return to the abuser, or find a new one, we offer no further assistance. They make their hospital bed, they can lie in it. We don’t do therapy.
Our people know Janah and I as Mrs. Pearson, as do our network of contacts around the country. There’s no Janah or Daphne, just Mrs. Pearson. Society personnel are paid in cash, travel arrangements are made by Transportation. Minders, also called Compliance, Transportation and Surveillance don’t know each other in any personal way, they talk on the phone or receive text instructions on encrypted phones. Transportation only knows they are paid to find hotels, vehicles and flights, often on a moment’s notice. They create and maintain their own network of contacts. It’s amazing how quickly they get stuff done for Social Workers, or us. Need a motel room and a panel van with fake plates in Toledo? It shows up in an hour or less, with the key card in the van, all checked in under an untraceable name. Kind of a vigilante concierge service.
Let’s see, where am I, got distracted explaining the Society….oh yeah, the internet predator.
“Cripes, haven’t teenage girls figured out half of social media participants are not what they claim to be?”
“When did reason ever trump teen hormones? Or anyone’s hormones? Teens are more vulnerable because all the flood of feeling is new to them.”
“And they aren’t going to rush to tell mommy about the hot guy that’s in love with them, or that he really likes her little tits in the photo she sent and maybe she could send one full body frontal.”
“Um, nope, that isn’t happening. Little teenie is sure this is the real thing, and mom wouldn’t understand the depth of their love.”
“No Shadow activity, not even suspicious stuff?”
“Our search and surveillance program comes up with something a couple of times a week as you know. Most of it turns out to be some weirdness, not Shadow activity. If we go around killing weird people we’ll be too busy for sex, that’s not acceptable.”
“Your hormones stay spiked, but you were never vulnerable to social media trolls.”
“I had you, then we had Nikko, Joan Wayne for a while, then Zi, then the floodgates opened. We have so many girls now, if I wanted to pursue relationships on the net, I’m not sure when there would be time. Besides, ours are hand crafted artisanal girls, delightful in every way. Why would I take a crapshoot, it’s already like the girl of the day around here.”
I laugh, “Sometimes girls of the day when we get multiple players involved, tag team sex.”
Janah grins, “Solo is fun, several is fun, our intimate life is…fun, and nobody gets pregnant, even after a session with Sloane, our sole girl with a cock.”
Today, there is at-the-moment birth control and morning after birth control. No need to take a pill a day. 
Tea comes and goes, our inviolate tradition is tea and a small snack at four to four thirty, no talk of abusers, we never talk politics, during tea we frequently don’t talk at all. Just commune. Other times Amaya has a screenplay update or the children tell us about a recent Zycyryn adventure, more on that later.
Tonight we’ll have a simple homemade pizza dinner, Muffuletta pizza. The kids are going to conjure up magic afterwards, or something occult or witchcrafty, I’m not sure. Usually nothing happens, which is fine, like Sloane said, watching the children dance and chant is its own witchcraft.
Janah’s in the office after tea, comes in while Valeria is rolling out the dough for pizza crust. 
Valeria is our latest, we rescued her from Shadows along with other children. We were able to track the others to parents and get them reunited, Valeria, a name she acquired when she came with us, had no parents we could find, even through a DNA database. We suspected she was a throwaway. Now she’s a Dasha clone without the accent, learning to be a chef from Ellen, Dasha and me, the resident cooks.
Janah, “Appears my comment about quiet was a bit premature, or I cursed us.”
“The kids are doing a witchcraft thing later, maybe we can ask them to lift the curse.”
“Wish it was that simple. Three sets of parents have been arrested for child rape in Binghamton New York.”
We used to call it child abuse, never used the lame term child molester, which sounds like someone who sets out to irritate children, not to fuck them. Now we call it what it is, rape.
“What are the odds?”
“That three sets of otherwise normal parents all of a sudden start having sex with their own and each other’s kids? Probability zero. Well, not zero, Grace B says there’s a two percent chance that people who never knew each other before decided to get together and rape children.”
“I’ll take her software’s word for it.”
Grace B is a bot, Eloise builds them, Daria and my mom Susan developed the stuff that runs them, algorithms they say. Our three bots, the other two are Emma B and Kota B, are quantum computers that were built to resemble girls we favored back when the first versions were built. Grace B looks like Chloe Grace Moretz, the young version that did Kick Ass and Hit Girl. Emma B looks like Emma Watson about the time she did a film called The Bling Ring. Kota B looks like a former ‘doll’ that had some notoriety as Kotakoti, who worked primarily in Japan in a crossover cosplay and makeup video girl. Back then, in the two thousand teens,  the bots weren’t quantum, but we kept their look when our geeks upgraded their capability. They look like the girls they portray, if you saw them walking around, you wouldn’t suspect they weigh a couple hundred pounds each and can lift the heavy end of a Humvee. The titanium shell is covered in a remarkably soft exoskeleton that feels like smooth skin.
Grace B and Emma B handle our staff of service bots, which look more like robots and don’t have personalities. Those bots do housekeeping, including cleaning the rooms, changing sheets, bath and laundry, lots of laundry. Grace B and Emma B take care of our pantry, we go through a lot of food, keep the common supplies stocked. Emma B orders wine and liquor, our cellars are extensive. Everything is delivered by drone these days, otherwise I’d spend my life in a grocery store.
Kota B has one basic responsibility, the children. She is the teacher, the bodyguard and keeps them on schedule. That last job is pretty much null now, the children organize themselves. Since they were Slavic, Ukrainian we think, they spoke Russian when we got them. Dasha and Daria are Russian and Russians are quite family oriented. They became the Mamas, Mama is a Russian word, and the Mamas word is law. The rest of us are Tetyas, aunts. They call me Tetya Dafna, the Russian pronunciation for Daphne. 
Another guardian was added a couple of years ago. The girls came across and abandoned pup near the ocean in Malibu. The pup was a purebred mastiff, and now is a practically a Shetland pony, she’s huge. Mastiffs have wrinkly skin around their heads, the Russian word for winkles is morshchiny, so the children’s pal is named Morshchiny. She follows them everywhere, with the daily diversion of nudging me in the kitchen when she detects the scent of something good to eat.
Kota B and the children trained her well, she is obedient, dogs prefer to know what they’re supposed to do, if they don’t they get hyper. Mastiffs don’t get hyper in any case. But they are hyper vigilant regarding their charges. Morshchiny does not relate to strangers unless she hears the right Russian code word. Any stranger approaching the children will have to get around the massive beast, and if they are dumb enough to try, they’ll find their neck uncomfortably locked in her powerful jaws.

Three

It’s just after eight in the evening, the children are adorably outfitted in ankle length form fitting silk dresses that flare out at the tops of their thighs. Cassandra is above us looking down on preparations, the rest of us are circled around one part of the pool deck, children in the middle. In the middle of the children’s circle is a large metal fire pit, with actual logs stacked up and burning. They crackle and pop as the wood reaches ignition point.
Tasia announces, “We are the Coven of Maleficarum, our chants are to bring down 
The power of Ashé and Miko, the Japanese Shrine Maiden. She will tell us secrets and prophesies.”
“Sounds rather impressive.”
Janah, “They have the Latin ecclesiastical name for witches as the name of their coven, a Japanese Shrine Maiden, and the concept of Ashé, which we call qi, metaphysical energy, powering us and everything else. At least they’re a cross cultural coven.”
Nikko, “Cut the mental chatter, you’re distracting me.”
We never have to guess where Nikko’s coming from. The performance begins.
The first part is similar to the dances they do to attract the Zycyryn, or the Gids as the children call them. Russian for Guides, soft ‘i’, as in id.
They spin and twirl like Sufi dancers, dresses flare revealing taut thighs and bare feet. The circle makes waves as each girl in turn moves from what looks like Warrior pose in yoga, up to en pointe as in ballet.
There is chanting in a language they made up, which sounds much like singing, then, in English:

I am the white dove who seven times flees.
I am pure and fleet, for I know capture is death to my soul
I am the violent wind that stirs the depths.
I am the sun spike rippling through the clouds.
I am cunning and canny to give shelter to my children.
I am the night-crow of battle.
I guard my boundaries and seek the enemy in his corners.
I am the fire-forged sword whose blade gleams pure.
I strike in defense, and leave my foes in terror.
I am the snake who burns with the fires of creativity.
I am the hound that runs by Diana's side.
I bring my prey down quickly, proving my place
I am the rose that blooms in the Garden.
I am the thicket that hides fox and stag alike.
I am the thunder that splits the night.
My voice calls with power into the universe. 
I am the doorway through which life flows.
I am the Priestess who comforts and calls.
Hear me call my name. I am woman. I am witch.

The spinning is now almost a blur as they repeat the verses three times. Just as they get to the final ‘I am witch’ the fire blazes up some twenty feet in the air. At least Cassandra is over and behind us, not over the fire, she’d be toasted.
It mysteriously continues to burn high and bright, how that happens is inexplicable. There are a fair number of logs, but hardly bonfire material.
A crack like thunder, there’s not a cloud in the sky, then a blinding flash followed by a million sprinkles of twinkling light we recognize as Zycyryn.
Each child is enveloped in sparkles, hair flying as if in a windstorm.
A figure appears overhead, the fire has receded to a normal blaze, the figure is hazy, but clearly an oriental female in a robe with billowing white sleeves, she kind of resembles Nikko. The girl spots Cassie floating, studies her, head nodding left then right as if trying to figure out how a human can levitate. If the Goddess Miko doesn’t know, I’m sure I’m not figuring it out anytime soon.
The children move to the edge of the pool, stare down into the still water.
Valeska, “The Shrine Maiden Miko has told us to scry. We will see the future.”
I look at Janah, “What is scry?”
Janah, “Divination by gazing into a clear surface, crystal ball, any smooth surface, I suppose the pool counts.”
I have no idea why she knows these things.
They stare for a while, fifteen minutes passes in silence, Morshchiny is staring into the pool with them. Does a mastiff prophesy? I doubt it, Morshchiny is more an 
in-the-moment mastiff. I decide she’s doing it because the children are, although I didn’t see her spinning around earlier. In fact, she took in the show lying down next to my chair, I suspect in the hopes of a late evening snack.
The water starts to swirl, like the pool is being flushed, then a waterspout rises up dead center. We’ve seen weird stuff in our lifetime, this is right up there with the weirdest.
Then it’s all over as quickly as it came, Zycyryn went wherever Zycyryn go, the children say the Gids never go anyplace, they are everywhere and everywhere else across the universe.
They turn to face us in a line, Nadia, the oldest, says, “Teyta Dafna, Tetya Janah and Tetya Nikko are traveling to the east tomorrow. There is danger.”
Tasia, “The Shadows are more powerful than you have ever encountered before. You must take the Mamas and others or you will surely die.”
Zofia, “All the warrior Tetyas must go.”
Nikko, “How many Shadows, do you know?”
Valeska, “It is not the number, it is their power. There may be five or six, no more. The Shrine Maiden says they will be hard to kill. Tetyas must go with their weapons. Even that may not be sufficient.”
Katya, “Why not?”
Karol, “The Dark Ones will become invisible to you, truly Shadows that you may only glimpse for a moment, like black ghosts.”
This isn’t sounding appealing at all. Still, I am Shaolin and have vowed to kill Shadows, who gain their power by misusing Qi. They can’t help themselves, they’re irreparably insane. They got that way originally from trying to take on too much Qi transmission too soon. Then the crazies starting training others, for a price of course.
The children scurry inside, Morshchiny on their tail, I guess she’s given up in a treat from me. The kids keep Kota B approved dog treats in the dorm, she’ll score there.
Janah turns to me, “You’re the field commander, what do we do?”
“Saddle up and go kill Shadows. If they are as powerful as the children say, they are up to more than family kiddie sharing. I suspect that to be more of an amusement, a distraction.”
Lauren, “The children didn’t mention anything else.”
“They didn’t mention child rape either, but I may be off base, it’s not like coerced incest and kid swapping isn’t bad enough.”

Four

Sheesh, we’re like an army. Two flights, with this many we don’t travel on the same plane. 
Sloane was torn between staying around for Oceane and Cassie, and not content to see us go off to dangerous duty. Grace B chided her for thinking Emma B and Kota B couldn’t handle it. I further relieved her concerns by enlisting the moms, whose home is on our compound less than a half mile away. Sis, Lacy and Taylor will just move into our place. Britt, Lauren and Valeria are there as well. Valeria will get help with meal prep from Lacy and Taylor, my mom can’t heat up soup. An ongoing mystery since she’s a crack computer security analyst and wrote much of the code for our quantum bots. 
Grace B is with us. The bots are bulletproof, fireproof, waterproof and any other kind of proof Eloise could think of. Part of their programming is family protection, think of a weapon you can’t disable without an RPG and can crush your head with her hands.
On the plane, Eloise asks me, “Do you think the Shadows are really invisible, or just good enough to take a mind and make it believe no one is there?”
“Real invisibility is unlikely. Janah can block my presence to others, but only for a few minutes. It takes a ton of energy, we only use it when I’m breaking and entering, keeps any observers from noticing me picking someone’s lock.”
“Then it supports what the children saw, this group of Shadows isn’t run of the mill trouble.”
“Decidedly not, and I need coffee to magically conjure up an idea of how to deal without getting us murdered.”
Janah is chatting with Nikko, Grace B updates on accommodations and transportation.
“There will be a small bus at the airport and two SUVs. More vehicles than we need probably, but we will not have to track down something else if we need to split up. I took seven suites at the Homewood Inn, two girls to a suite. Room keys will be in the vehicles. There are full kitchens in each. Refrigerators will be stocked, easy to fix food, cold cuts for sandwiches, condiments, accessories like chips, crackers and cheese. Breakfast is complimentary or you can make something in the room, there’s a stove, oven and microwave. Restaurants nearby will deliver.”
She hands out our new identities, driver’s licenses from all over, photos more or less resemble us, like all DMV photos. The rooms will be rented in one of our shell corporation names, the vehicles in a different nothing corporate name.
Dasha, “You haf already vodka?”
“Russian Standard, red and white wine, Coke Zero and sparkling water, it’s all there.”
She knows us, most of our girls like a cocktail or wine, sometimes beer. Zi and I don’t drink, a Shaolin vow to avoid intoxicants. We will sometimes have a sip or two of Champagne or wine, but not enough to get close to a buzz. I don’t know what a buzz feels like unless you count orgasms, in that case I’ve been buzzed thousands of times.
“Thank you Grace B, you spoil us.”
“You can thank Amaya for that bit of my programming. Left up to me you would all have to go out and fucking forage.”
Grace B, as I mentioned, looks like Chloe Moretz in the decades ago movie Hit Girl. A thirteen year old girl that curses a blue streak. She doesn’t wear the cartoon costume, but has the rough dialogue as part of her speech pattern. Emma B is the opposite, proper and British. Kota B is more neutral, except for speaking fluent Japanese and Russian. All three could learn any language in minutes just by downloading one of the zillion language programs in the Cloud. And to think of the years I spent learning Mandarin.
We get in and settled, the two sets of twins review details of the criminal investigation into what is politely termed child abuse and endangerment. 
I outline my thoughts on strategy for the others.
“Binghamton metro is about three hundred thousand, not enormous but too big to drive around and hope we stumble on Shadows. I do suggest Zi and Chloe pass by the homes where the incidents took place and see if they can pick up any residual traces.”
Chloe and Zi are Sensitives. They can read auras, get a feel for what a person is about, how they feel and their intent. Shadows read as black to them, no empathy or sympathy, all intent is evil. A Sensitive can stand outside a room, house, anyplace with people inside and get a sense of how many bodies there are. It only works for fewer than six or so in any given room, after that the energies comingle and all they can tell is there are people inside. If a Shadow has been in a place, often they can sense it, depends on how long ago the Shadow was present and who came and went since.
“Not holding out much hope, it’s been a while and the parents have been bonded out of jail for now, cops and forensic teams have been through the homes as well.”
Janah, “The parents are at the houses for now, the neighbors were hostile, and there was other vandalism and threats. They moved to temp quarters until the trials are complete. It’s going to be a long slog.”
Zi, “How did they get caught?”
Daria, “Video posted anonymously, work of the Shadows no doubt. They were on social media for a couple of hours before they got taken down, long enough to get downloaded and sent around. Their preliminary defense is that someone took control of their minds, perhaps with a drug. All three families report persons participating that they did not know, descriptions are vague, and none of them appear in the videos.”
Amaya, “So, in the families’ favor is they all tell the same story, even the children. The evidence, however, shows what appears to be willing participation and no sign of a controlling party. I did not see the video, what is your sense of the attitude during the activities?”
Katya, “The adults gave instructions, but in a kind of monotone and with little expression. The seven children were more animated, even giggling, asking to try this and that.”
“And it was kids on kids, or what?”
“Everybody participated, oral, intercourse, the adults appear to be mid thirties to forty, the children were six to twelve, four girls, three boys.”
“The flat affect of the adults may give them a bit of cred.”
Janah, “A little. People are not disposed to grant accused child abusers much leeway. Even if we off the Shadows, I’m not sure what we do to give the parents any relief, legal or otherwise.”
Nikko, “Coercion.”
Janah, “There’s that. If we can get a couple of Shadows to say they drugged the defendants, made them helpless to resist, or even simply threatened to kill some or all of them.”
“That won’t wash, it hasn’t come up in the investigation, it would have been the first line of defense, gun to the head of a child or whatever.”
“True, so we’re stuck with drugs. Fortunately, we also have drugs that do exactly what the defense will argue happened to the defendants.”
Amaya, “See, a start. The families will have screwed up lives no matter what, but they do not need to be jailed for becoming Shadow victims. Once we deal with them, we leave behind some of the drug, diluted, and syringes.”
“Do we have the addresses?”
Grace B, “Right here, I can plug them into Amaya’s GPS. Assume you want her to haul Chloe and Zi around to the crime scenes.”
“Yes, Sloane, go with please.”
They take off for a hour’s tour of Binghamton, one of the homes isn’t far from the hotel. The three places form a triangle on a map, I’m curious to know how the Shadows decided on these people.
“Why those people?”
Katja, “You didn’t see the video did you?”
“Nope.”
“Pretty people with pretty children, not a fatty in the lot. Moms and dads trim and athletic, social media show the kids in a variety of kid athletics, a gymnast and a dancer in the mix.”
“Sounds like a Shadow. Funny, Shadows we’ve encountered are less than attractive, then again, most people are less than attractive.”
“Why they go for attractive, it isn’t them, they get attractive by proxy.”
“I need to find a winged friend.”
Janah looks out of our window, it looks over the rear of the hotel, “Nothing going on behind this place, and there’s a stretch of woods beyond the parking lot.”
If you’ve waded through some of the prior books, you know I was privileged to be trained by an owl and an eagle. I can understand their language and they gave me enhanced sight, the ability to see on both infrared and ultraviolet. Due to the eagle, I can spot a rabbit on the run from a thousand yards, and due to the owl, I can hear snowfall. I have to turn it down most of the time, it’s a noisy world.
I walk ten yards into the woods, it’s not quite dusk. How do I get a bird to appear? Intention, I intend for a bird to show up, better if it’s an owl or an eagle, a peregrine will do as well, even a crow. Crows are fussy, but quite intelligent, eagles are hard to come by in the middle of a city.
It takes about fifteen, I’m in luck, a Great Horned shows up and perches on a branch just overhead.
'Thank you for coming.'
The bird blink at me, her head bobs, trying to figure out why a human can communicate with her.
'Where did you learn?'
'One of your ancestors taught me, in the north where the sun goes in the evening.'
“I have heard of humans who can understand, not many, I never knew one.”
“I need your help, and perhaps help yourself at the same time.”
She doesn’t respond, understandable, I haven’t said what I want.
'There are dark humans, evil, perhaps you have heard of them, or even seen them.'
'All humans are evil, most of them. Yes, I know the ones you mean, they are black, they kill without conscience, just for sport, and they can do it with no weapon. Most humans kill with some machine, they lack courage.'
'Quite true. We kill the Dark Ones when we find them. But we do not have your range, and no experience in this part of the world. We know they are here, we need to find them.'
'And you will kill them?'
'Absolutely.'
'You have courage, or are just stupid. We know of Dark Ones here, we stay away, they can do to other humans whatever they wish.'
I’m not sure if she means ‘we don’t care’ or if she means the Shadows have the skill to do what they wish. I don’t pursue it.
'I do not want you in any danger. I have a suggestion that avoids you needing to get near, but will tell us where the Dark Ones are located, we call them Shadows.
'Shadows, a good name. How do I direct you without taking you to them?'
I explain about GPS devices for birds. How she only needs fly over the area. We have a machine called a drone that can follow her. Fly over the Shadow’s nest, circle it a couple of times, our machine will record it and the location.
She thinks for a bit, I guess she thinks, she’s silent, then, 'Humans create such magnificent machines, can grow and store food while most of us have to hunt daily. You have other machines to clean your nest. Why are you always killing for no reason? Are you all stupid?'
'Pretty much. It has to do with religion and nations.'
She flaps her two foot wingspan, “'Idiotic. Show me the device.'
I take out the tracker, it’s tiny, weighs almost noting and fits easily around the bone connecting to her talon. I put it on.
It will not affect your flying, try it.
She lifts off and circles the hotel, zips down the same branch, 'Barely notice it.' 'Good. If you will remain here, I will get a drone in the air, it can follow you.'
'I have a brood to feed. I will come again tomorrow, this spot, when the sun is directly overhead. Your machine can follow me then.'
'Don’t trouble yourself. The drone will find you by the device, when you see it, fly to the place where the Dark One nests.'
'Good enough. This place has three, but there are more, I do not know where the others nest.'
'Not a problem, we will make the three tell us.'
'If they do not kill you first.'
'We’ve done this before, besides, as you already know, every day is dangerous for the inattentive.'
'Maybe not all humans are stupid.'

She lifts off and is gone.

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