Chapter One Hundred Nine

Sloane knows some of our extracurricular illegalities, we rescued her after all. Changed her name, got her a passport. We had to get her a social security number to get a passport. She knows Amaya, Chloe, the twins and Oceane were rescues. She knows there's something called the Society and has a general idea of what it does.
Sloane, "The family does Society work, even Oceane. What do I do?"
"For now, you get an education. Zi and I will teach you basic gung fu and martial arts, or if you want to do something else, fine with us. It's important that you have some strenuous physical activity, you can pick anything you want."
"I'm good with gung fu, it's like dance. Dasha is showing me some gymnastics, I swim. Not for an hour or more like Oceane, maybe twenty minutes."
"Then good enough. Janah says you are progressing with lessons, you are learning Russian, yes?"
"Dasha and Daria help, and I am learning Cryllic from using their keyboard."
Our system is working, keep the kids busy, answer their questions or help them look it up. Stay engaged, listen.
"School starts next week."
"I hope I make friends."
"Clarissa has a bunch, she's in fourth grade this year. She and her mom are coming over Friday so you will meet her before school starts."
"Really? Cool."
Kids always ask 'really,' like we're jacking them around and they need verification, "You really don't need to ask really when we tell you something. Or when anyone tells you something, it sounds like you don't believe them. If you don't, no need to advertise it, the truth will come out in what they do."
She give me a sly glance, "Really?"
I smile, kiss her, "Really."
Friday comes, Sandra Carnes and Clarissa are over for afternoon tea.
"Thank you for taking time Clarissa. Sloane is new to school, she’s new to being around other kids. It's a great help, having you lead the way."
Clarissa, "Sloane, don't worry. I did and it was a waste of time. Village School is not like public school. I took some kidding, a few girls were curious, wanted to see. I refused with a smile like my mom said to do. It worked, they dropped it."
Sloane, "Did they tease you?"
"Some, I made a joke out of it. And Amaya helped, she wrote a short play for me. I performed it for the school in second grade. It was a simple thing, child is born as a boy, but starts to figure out he's got boy parts only, he's not a boy, he's a girl. There was a little drama, but she became a girl with the help of her parents and a great school where she made lots of friends. A little happy song at the end, it made everyone cry."
Sandra, "There is no amount of gratitude sufficient to thank Amaya. She had drama classes for the kids then, Chloe taught tea ceremony, the kids loved it. They had other responsibilities and had to give it up. Amaya did find a replacement for herself and Mattie Sylvester, the head of school snapped her up."
Amaya, "I had forgotten, I have the play someplace, but it is Clarissa's. You can read it if you wish Sloane, not perform it. Clarissa's story is different from yours."
Clarissa, "How did you wind up here? I mean, well,..."
Sandra, "It's none of our business."
"We don't mind, the kids at school are going to ask anyway. Sloane's birth mother passed away. Her father had issues, financial and otherwise. Sloane was temporarily in foster care when we got a call. Janah and I went to meet her and fell in love instantly."
That's the short made up version, Sloane knows it's her story and will stick to it.
Sandra, "How sweet. May I ask, Sloane, how are you with this? Anything you want to ask me, or Clarissa?"
Sloane, "I fell into a magical life. I have six moms, four sisters, five grandparents and a whole Shaolin temple full of monks who see only a girl."
Clarissa, "Gee, I should be jealous."
Sloane asks Clarissa, "You don't have to answer, what's the worst thing?"
"Waiting. I start hormone therapy in a year or so. I think I want the operation, it scares me though. I'm used to myself like I am. They tell me that may change when the hormones start up. I'm sort of on hold until then."
"Is there a best thing?"
"Easy, my parents didn't freak. When I wanted girl things, mom got them. Dad needed time. He didn't make it a crisis, not in front of me."
Sandra, "It was hard for him at first. He thought he had a son, what else would he think? We went from a blue family to a pink one almost overnight. He tried to keep it blue, when it didn't work, he talked to Janah's dad a few times. He had to relent when Clarissa did daughter dad things. Fathers get smitten by their girls, they tend to play more tough dad with boys."
Clarissa, "Now I have a younger brother, a boy who is a boy. Dad says I'm the best possible older sister. Mikey is just four, but he’s all into boy stuff."
Sandra, "We got a few things right, living in Manhattan was lucky. We could have been in a less progressive place. He or I might have turned it into a tragedy if we'd come from different backgrounds."
Clarissa, "This living room is huge, can I see your room?"
Sloane, "Sure, come on."
A minute later there's a screech, "Mooommm, Sloane lives in a palace, I totally hate her."
Sandra, "This I have to see."
"Look mom, her bathroom is bigger than my bedroom, she has her own. Her closet is bigger than my bedroom, look at the clothes."
"This used to be Amaya's room, most of the stuff in there is hers."
Sloane, "Let's go upstairs," they race off.
Sandra, "It looks like Amaya, everything just so. And perfectly coordinated."
"She's that way. Drives Dasha crazy, refuses to let her out of the house if there’s a piece of lint on her shoulder."
Sandra laughs, "The twins, they are well?"
"Yes, Daria and Eloise are in the workshop, not sure where Dasha is right now. Nikko and Zi are at the office, somebody has to make a living for the rest of us, want to go upstairs?"
We pass through the kitchen, "This looks like a commercial kitchen. Guess that didn't come out right, the appliances look like a commercial kitchen."
"It is commercial, Dasha and I cook for eleven women. We order out sometimes, but we do our own thing most of the time. Just breakfast is like a short order diner."
Up the steps, peek in the bedrooms, then stop at Oceane's room, Sloane and Clarissa are here.
Clarissa, "Oceane's room is magical mom. Lavender, and the bathroom, I could get lost in there."
Sandra, "Good gosh, who designed it? Amaya probably."
"She and Oceane," I skip the part where they shopped. Oceane had to touch things, get a sense of how they felt about being in her room. It had to be a happy relocation.
Dasha comes in, " Oceane, u vas budet ryba i krevetki na uzhin.” (Oceane, you will have fish and shrimp for dinner.)
"Kak priyatno, moy lyubimyy.” (How delightful, my favorite.)
Dasha, "Dahfoney, ees feesh and shreemp for dinner, you will fry or grill?"
"Fry I think."
Dasha, "Da, okay, hello Sandra, you can stay for dinner? There is plenty."
"O my, how nice, sorry, we have a thing tonight for my husband's company."
Sloane, "Can Clarissa stay over mom?"
"She is welcome anytime," I turn to Sandra, "it's zero trouble."
Clarissa, "Please mom, they have a pool on the roof, Sloane says we can swim."
Sandra, "You don't have a swimsuit."
"Oceane has swimsuits she hasn't put on yet," I skip over the part about her not using them at all.
Sandra, "Well, I've arranged a sitter."
Clarissa, "Pay her and she won't even have to do anything, she doesn't do anything when she's there anyway."
Sandra laughs, "She's not your servant, she's there to keep you from going to a club, or a rave, or whatever other trouble girls can dig up."
“Mom, I’m ten, not going to a rave.”
"They can have their own rave in Sloane's room. She's more than welcome. I promise to return her safe and mostly sane tomorrow."
That settled, Sandra takes off for home, Sloane and Clarissa are in the pool in minutes. Janah and Chloe volunteer for lifeguard duty. It's an endless pool, primarily for swimming and only four feet deep. But you can drown in a lot less and I promised to return Clarissa more or less intact.
Dasha, "Dahfoney, ees cocktail, you will find Eemaya. I am cut feesh and peel shreemp."
"On the way, thank you for getting started. I'll do fry duty."

I mental Amaya, then head to the kitchen, Amaya shows up when I do.
"Russians have to have their vodka on time, bossy Cossack."
"I don't notice you missing any cocktail hours Queenie. And Sandra is going to blame Clarissa's room renovation on you."
"Dear child has taken Sloane under her wing, she deserves a great bedroom. Here comrade, your drink, exactly as you like it. Now, Daria, Eloise and Chloe's, Daph would you round them up? I'll open wine and champagne, fish tonight, white, Ocean likes white."
"Janah and Chloe are doing lifeguard duty on the roof."
Amaya, "I shall take them their drinks."
Nikko and Zi come in, "Wine on the table, Zi do you want Evian?"
"I'll get it, bottle for you?"
"Sparking, I’m feeling fizzy."
"What are we having as sides?"
"I haf baked bean in oven, mahcaroni and chiz wiz vegetable. Cornbreading wiz chiz, corn and jalapeno."
In the midst of my seafood fry, the family gathers, Janah and Chloe come down, Sloane and Clarissa race through to Sloane's room.
Chloe, "They should be nice and tired, it was a swimming contest, swim against the current. We kept inching the flow up until they started losing ground."
"Almost done, Janah can you get Oceane back on the planet long enough to eat?"
Janah turns to go upstairs, Oceane floats down the circular staircase, "Fish called me."
Might be the smell, but our vents are on and I don't catch the scent of frying. Our vents create a mini vacuum over the stove. Who knows with Oceane, maybe the dead fish talk to her, maybe she's just hungry.
Platters of fried fish and shrimp hit the table, pans of baked beans, macaroni and cheese, big chunks of warm buttery cornbread. Janah, Dasha and Eloise switch to Sapporo. They say beer is better with fried fish, I wouldn't know.
Amaya wipes her eyes, "Cripes, fresh grated horseradish. It's so good and sooo hot."
Nikko adds powdered habanero to hers, Nikko can eat molten steel.
Clarissa, "This is so good. Mom thinks fried food is poison. I can only get fried chicken when we go to Ultra Violet. Dad always orders it, drives mommy crazy. He laughs at her, she always get beignets, fried bread and powdered sugar, they're great."
"Moderation. We don't eat fried food that much, most of the time we grill fish and boil shrimp. Tonight fried seemed like more fun."
Chloe, “Cripes Dasha, you have two vegetables and cheese in the cornbread, it’s like a meal in itself. Is that the cheese we like so much?”
“Da, Wicked River white cheddar, ees best cheddar chiz, sharp bite. Dahfoney, I haf idea, maybe blue chiz cornbread, I will try recipe.”
I try to imagine it, “I think it just might, we’ll a small batch next time we do cornbread.”
After dinner, Oceane goes to her room, the rest of us circle the TV, except for Sloane and Clarissa, who hole up in Sloane's room to plot world domination or watch music videos. I hear muted pop tunes a few minutes later.
Janah, "What are they doing?"
"Probably twerking, I pick up a pop vibe."
"Glad I don't have your hearing, what's the movie tonight?"
"Django, it's as violent as I could locate and the kids are occupied with Miley and Justin."
"Django might be better for them."

Chapter One Hundred Ten

This morning I make pancakes, Dasha handles scrambled and bacon. I figure the gluten in pancakes can duke it out with the cholesterol and fat. It's Saturday, everyone at home. The only faces I don't see are Sloane and Clarissa, probably up half the night.
Amaya checks, comes back with two empty microwave popcorn bags and Coke Zero bottles, "Dead to the world, will not see them for breakfast."
"Why does old popcorn smell like dirty socks?"
"Beats me, it does reek. I'll bury the bags in something before I stick them in the trash. What are you doing today?"
"Kendo with Chloe and Nikko before lunch, have to return Clarissa after. I should call Sandra and let her know she's alive."
Sandra, "Fried fish and macaroni and cheese, you've just made a new best friend."
"They seemed to like it, we had vegetables in the mac, they ate it."
"Should I come and get her?"
"They're still asleep, I think the party went on for a while. I have to grocery later this afternoon, I can drop her off and go to the store. They had fun swimming, might want another go in the pool later."
"I'm around all day, if I go out for some reason I'll call you."
That settled, I suit up and meet Nikko and Chloe. Kata for an hour, the girls show up and park on the floor with apple and banana slices to watch our round robin matches.
Chloe calls shoubu ari. Nikko got match point, again.
Sloane tells Clarissa, "Nikko never loses, her dad is a kendo master, he taught all of them, but mom said Nikko was always the best."
Clarissa, "It all happens so quickly, I can hardly tell who got what point. They do other stuff too?"
"Chloe only does kendo, but Nikko, Zi and mom have sparring matches. They really go at it."
"They fight?"
"Yeah, and hard. Mom says they've trained forever, they're used to it. I don't know how, I see one of them sailing across the floor from a kick, or flipped down to the mat, bang!"
Clarissa, "Like the fights on TV? They call it mixed martial arts."
"Yes, like that, less wrestling on the mat though."
I walk over, "Girls ready for lunch?"
Sloane, "Fruit was enough. Can we go swimming?"
"Get your suits on, I'll bring up something to eat later."
They change and up to the roof. I follow along to make sure Oceane isn't using it, pool's empty, Sloane turns it on and in they go. I pop in to Ocean's room.
She's at her easel, "Clarissa and Sloane, you did them beautifully."
She smiles, "Mixed girls."
Two heads, she's captured them exactly, a color pencil drawing that looks like a photograph.
"Give it to Clarissa. I have another of Sloane over there," she points without looking.
"Wow, amazing," it's Sloane from the side, like you were standing just left of center, Sloane is looking straight ahead, not at you.
"I'm making sandwiches for lunch, be ready in twenty minutes or so."
"Okay."
Don't know if that means she's eating or just an acknowledgment, I'll find out if she shows up.
In the kitchen, Dasha says, "We haf cheeken salad, roast beef or three chiz. I am heating stuff tomato in oven, season bread crumb, olive oil, parmesan on top. You will make sandwich."
I go to my assignment, layer the twelve grain with one of the three options, cut them in diagonals. It's a bit after noon. Family appears, with the normal exception of Daria and Eloise.
Dasha, "I meental sister, they are also coming."
"I told the girls they could eat on the roof," I stack the sandwiches on a plate, pour chips over them and take along two bottles of Evian.
I find them on chairs in the sun, there's a small table in between, put the plate and water down.
"Give it twenty minutes after you eat if you're going back in the pool. And no more sun after that. You don't want to start school with peeling sunburned noses."
Clarissa, "Yuck, no thank you. They might think we're boys," they giggle.
Good sign, it has to be difficult to be them, misaligned gender. Waiting for what must seem like forever to complete transition. I kiss each on the cheek.
"If you want more, it's downstairs, pool service is closed for today."
Sloane, "It's plenty, if I get fat Amaya will kill me."
Clarissa, "We aren't getting fat, I plan on looking like Miley. All the boys will be after me for my flat tummy and pretty legs. Boobs will be a problem," they giggle again.
Boys are a long forgotten term in our house of lesbians; one that's reappearing in the lexicon. I'll have to look it up and see what it means.
Zi, "Girls okay?"
"Seem to be. Clarissa mentioned something called boys, anyone know what it means?"
Janah, "Better get used to it, may not be the last time it comes up."
Amaya, "I best train the psycho twins not to kill them when they show up."
Daria, "Only if boy is mean to Sloane, then not boy anymore."
Dasha, "Da."
Sloane won't be needing the fearsome father to intimidate her dates. She has the twins, Amaya, and Chloe's katana. A glance from Nikko could be fatal.
"She will be a trained martial artist by that time. And well versed by Amaya on the stupidity of accepting drinks in a plastic cup from people she just met, or drinking anything she didn't open."
Why do we think she's going to be dating? Gay is rapidly becoming passé, it's a fact that most people, anyone you would want to associate with anyway, just accept. That includes bi, girls now try on girls all the time. I don't know what men do with each other, but more than admit it quiver over muscle boys, even if just to check out online. That leaves trans as the next frontier. Think of it like this. You're a guy who is basically straight. But when you check out porn, your attention is as much on the male anatomy as the female. It has to be, it's frequently the star of the show, a major part of every scene. Here's a girl, a girl with everything girl, except has a penis. She has a figure, boobs from hormones or the doc, no body hair, a pretty girl face. And the one fascinating addition. Ladyboys are a fixture overseas, not because girls are after them.
Sloane can afford to take the transition as far as she wants. It's expensive, not all trans can pay the freight. Unfortunately, many have other psychological issues. Sloane and Clarissa have supportive family, they live in a progressive city and go to a progressive school. A luxury many, most, transgenders lack. It ain't easy being green.
Janah, "Nikko send a donation to PFLAG."
Nikko, "How much?"
"Something round, a million."
Nikko, "Murakami Sylk can use the tax deduction. I'm also adding twenty million to the Sylk Trust to fund any operating costs for the new ranch. I bought a ten million dollar piece of real estate in Arizona out of the Trust, remember?"
Janah, "That's what the money is for. Do you want to add more?"
Nikko, "No, we bought the property in San Francisco, and now we have to renovate. I got eighty percent of the money from the bank, we still have a substantial cash outlay. We start taking advance lease applications in six months."
Janah, "Any concerns?'
"Only too many applications. We're going to run a hundred percent occupied, that's a given. Our people in San Francisco are proud of the project, birthing their own baby so to speak. Several of our staff want to live there."
“Are you making them meet the income cut off?”
“No, but some of the higher paid also have families, they can’t use just a one or two bedroom apartment. I think maybe ten people who work for us could rent the apartments. It isn’t a lot.”
"Our own people on the property, what could be better?"

Chapter One Hundred Eleven

Sloane and Clarissa come racing down the stairs wrapped in towels, carrying wet suits, "We swam like forever, showered upstairs."
"Put the suits in the laundry room, then dry hair and get dressed. Clarissa has to go home eventually, do you want something to drink?"
"Water," I fill two glasses and plunk in ice, they snag them and scoot off to get dried and dressed.
"I'm going to the grocery after I drop off Clarissa, is everything on the list?"
Amaya, "Updated today."
Dasha, "Dinner ees vegetable zoup, pot roast wiz gravy and garlic mash potato, slow cooking green bean, French bread. I haf apple-cherry crumble for dessert."
Chloe, "Yum, a reason to live until dinner."
Amaya, "And I shall give you a reason to live after dessert. More dessert, me."
Chloe, "Double yum."
The girls are ready, I tell Clarissa, "Oceane made you something, a gift," I hand her the drawing.
She hits a decibel level I didn't think possible, "Sloane! Look! You and me, it's gorgeous, we're gorgeous! Oh My God."
"And she did one for Sloane," I hand her the other one.
Sloane stares, her hand trembles, a tear falls, she says in a near whisper, "She made me beautiful."
Amaya, "Do not be ridiculous. She drew you exactly as you are, now run up and thank her."
They dash up the stairs, gone for ten minutes, then back.
"Clarissa cried, so did I, Oceane said we were in her heart. I was shaking."
Clarissa, "My mom will freak. She's seen Oceane's art at the Silverman gallery. Mom says they sell for a lot of money. Now I have one, of me and Sloane. This is so awesome."
We walk Clarissa a home, Sandra, "Daphne, I have no idea what to say, thank you, thank Oceane. Wait a sec, let me write her a note."
She goes off, Clarissa takes Sloane to her room. The Sylvester condo doesn't scale to ours, but is hardly shabby. Dad Sylvester is a partner in some multi-name law firm, third one on the letterhead as I recall. They live in the Flatiron, near Gramercy Park.
Sandra returns with an envelope, Oceane written neatly on the front, "She is too generous. I'll get Silverman to frame it, it will be Clarissa's prize possession."
Sloane and Clarissa come along, "She has the cutest room ever mom, antique bed and furniture, she goes to Geminola too."
That's a tiny boutique near us, on Perry St., just down from Susan's place. Ms. Kirke makes outfits from antique fabric, colorful, from frilly to elegant. Janah's bought things there for years.
"That's Janah's favorite place."
Sandra, "Again, please thank Oceane. The piece is stunning."
The girls exchange hugs, I earn one from Clarissa, Sloane and I leave for the store.
Back home, I put away groceries, only a few bags this trip.
Dasha is taking a peek at the pot roast, pokes it with a fork, talks to herself, "Gud, it will be ready by dinner, potato cooking at five thirty, green bean done, crumble een oven for six."
"Daphoney. I am going to Ultra Violet now, you will come."
Sloane, "Can I go?"
"Sure," I mental Janah, "Going to Ultra Violet with Dasha and Sloane."
"Okay, I'm on the phone, we have to travel soon."

Uh oh. Won't be a pleasure trip.
It's the slow time between lunch and dinner, Dasha goes to the kitchen, Mariella is in her office, "Daphne, and Sloane, how nice, come in. Dasha doing her visual inspection?"
"How she's built. Daria sees the receipts, we know things are running well. Dasha's not satisfied with spreadsheets."
"I'll take the tour, she may have questions, she's probably in the kitchen."
Sloane and I wander around while Dasha inspects freezers, refrigerators, cooking and prep surfaces. The kitchen crew will be in prep for dinner and busy. Upstairs, the Lobby at Ultra Violet is quiet, it won't reopen until five, one of the wait staff is wiping the various end and coffee tables. This is our upstairs wine and beer bar, we don't serve food here, it's primarily a holding area for lunch. We take dinner reservations, but not lunch, there is always overflow. Rather than hang out on the street, customers can go upstairs until there's a table available. Now, people come early for their dinner reservation to hang out in The Lobby. It’s popular, in part because we charge a flat six bucks for wine or beer, a bargain in Manhattan. It's good mid-level white and red, a half dozen craft beers. Sapporo and Amstel are the only major branded beers. The layout is like a luxury hotel lobby. Couches and chairs with coffee and end tables, the rule is sit anyplace there's a spot. If you don't know someone, good, enjoy your beverage or introduce yourself. A rotating stream of Chloe's Ultra Violet movies and a couple of the better martial arts flicks, like Crouching Tiger, play silently on flat screens. To add to the mix, jazz and Dixieland jazz plays over the sound system. Ultra Violet is designed to contrast. The setting is modern, minimalist and sleek. The staff is in black slacks, ivory or dark lavender dress shirts. We serve drinks in acrylic glasses, white Dansk classic dinnerware and Variation V stainless flatware. The dichotomy is that the food is classic southern with a New Orleans slant and a live jazz band in the evening. They play as background, it's not meant to be a show. Occasionally we get visiting musicians that sit in and improvise, it's quite splendid.
The finishing touch is that customers order from an IPad. Amaya's idea of ultra modern, ultra violet and southern comfort food works, almost too well. It can take three months to get a dinner reservation.
Dasha, "We are feenish Dahfoney. You haf check Lobby?"
"I want to peek in the restrooms, be down in a second."

Downstairs now, "Lobby is as usual, restrooms sparkle."
Dasha, "Mariella, you always haf een order, we appreciate. No staffing problem?"
Mariella, "An embarrassment of riches. Fifteen dollars an hour, a meal per shift, profitability bonuses and free work clothes, I have applications stacked up and no jobs. Staff moves on of course, they graduate college, move, get married, but they almost always have a name for us. All our recent new hires came from employee referrals."
Dasha, "Daria says costs will mean a price increase. She and Eloise are making menu changes next week."
Mariella, "Yes, she called me. It's an unfortunate necessity. She's going to bump wine to seven, leave beer at six. We serve hard liquor in the restaurant, she's going to eight from seven. The most popular entrees will get a bump immediately, the rest over the next few weeks. Sunday brunch is also going up fifteen percent."
"There will be an announcement on the website, including an explanation of the higher food costs. Wage and no tipping policies are there already."
Mariella, "I agree with Daria. The staff is happy, costs were impacting profits and they share in profits, so do I for that matter. What we offer for the new prices is still a better deal than any upscale restaurant in town. If we didn't announce it, only the most regular would even notice. Tourists have no idea. Still, it's better to let customers know, not sneak up on them."
"Nikko likes to be upfront in all our business dealings. Hope you don't have to deal with too much grousing."
Mariella laughs, "Some customers are always grouchy, it's New York. Usually it's the wealthier ones. They always come back, Dasha's food is just too good."
Dasha, "Ms. Alva ees original recipe, except sometimes change ingredient. Like spicy fry cheeken."
Mariella, "Our top selling dinner entree thanks to your discovery of powdered habanero. The Sizzling Fried will take your head off, but they love it. Sells more beer too."
Dasha's satisfied, it's tea time, we head back to our place.
Chloe has prepared, "We have a big dinner coming, I kept snacks to cookies today. Janah says you're going out of town."
"I guess, haven't gotten the update."
Janah, "I'll talk it over with Daphne later, let's enjoy right now right now."
Must be ugly, the family gets it. We aren't protecting Sloane, she's got the general idea from her own rescue. There's no point in a potentially gruesome discussion over tea and family time.

Chapter One Hundred Twelve

Janah and I are in our bedroom, "There's a situation in Salt Lake, well, forty miles south, Provo Utah."
"Brigham Young is there isn't it?"
"Yes, a tightly wound Mormon school, lots of rules. At least they don't have a binge drinking problem, no alcohol permitted, no sex either. "
"Must lead to a lot of tightly wound students."
"One imagines they do a fair amount of praying, either that or lying. From the occasional news story, the religious are a randy lot. The university is only a side note, the problem isn't there."
"Then where?"
"Ten or twelve miles further south, there's an isolated farm. What used to be a farm anyway, no crops now, no animals. A hundred plus acres, in the middle of which is a big house and a barn. There are a dozen people, mostly stick around the place, sometimes a couple leaves, is gone a few days, then back."
"And?"
"Report of a missing child, infant, at the same time the Provo couples were away from the farm. It's happened twice. There are trips that it doesn't happen though. I suspect they either didn't get an opportunity to make a snatch, or it was just scouting potential abductions. There are four adult males and four adult females, two teenagers, one boy one girl. Also two children, appear to be nine or ten."
"If they snatch infants, they must have them on the property, unless they sold them someplace along the way. Isn't somebody, like the authorities, paying attention? Why do we have this information?"
"Cops do have some of it. First, it's different states, kids weren't taken in Utah. Second, circumstances vary. One couple was arrested because they denied they had a child missing. Grandparents and friends knew differently of course. The conclusion was that they killed the baby. Another single mother said she was approached by a woman and felt compelled to hand over her child. No reason, just did it."
"She able to describe the woman?"
"Nothing meaningful, she didn't have a child predator tattoo or a third eye. This stinks of Shadows."
"How did we stumble on it?"
"Blind luck. Service people, a plumber and a mechanic told friends they did work for people from the farm and didn't charge them. Said they didn't know why, just did the work free, only explanation was it seemed like the right thing to do. That’s another point, both used the exact same explanation. Plumber only unplugged a stopped up sink and replaced a pipe, the auto mechanic rebuilt a transmission, a thousand dollar job. Somewhere along the line, one of our people picked it up."
We've trained our Society eyes to report any weird behavior, people saying they did something out of character. Particularly if a person they don't know was involved. Or if they can't explain what they did, or like the mother told the police, she felt compelled.
"And you had the farm checked out."
"Yes, last few weeks. That's when the two abductions occurred. I'm stretching the evidence. What we know is what happened with the plumber and mechanic. That's typical Shadow behavior. I'm guessing they took the kids. All I know for certain is two people from the farm were gone when the abductions occurred. Put together strange behavior by two different service people and the strange stories of different parents, it would be even stranger to be coincidence."
"So we go to Provo for a firsthand look."
"Have to. Even if they have nothing to do with the missing children, the behavior smacks of Shadows. We're obliged to find out."
Yes, we are. If Shaolin have a nemesis, it's Shadows. People who misuse qi to take over minds. Sometimes it's small stuff, free rent, don't pay for purchases. Clerks and landlords can't explain why they didn’t collect. With practice on small stuff their ability grows, escalates up to mental extortion or fraud. People empty bank or brokerage accounts and hand over the cash.
Shadows resemble psychopaths, except psychopaths use persuasion, appeal to greed, threats or coercion. Shadows just take your mind and you do as they command. Our mandate is to kill them. They're broken and can't be fixed, and like a psychopath, they don't think they need fixing. The difference is, to be taken in by a psychopath you have some complicity. They offer something you want, you agree to go along, eventually you realize you've been had. Shadows don't need to entice, you give, they take.
Over cocktails, Janah explains the situation, "Sloane starts school Monday, Daphne will want to be in town, which means I'll be in town. Nikko and Zi are deep into our newest project in San Francisco. I need Daria and Dasha to go to Provo, and we need a Sensitive to verify Shadows, that leaves Chloe since Zi is occupied."
Amaya, "And she isn't going anywhere without me."
Janah, "I've called Blue Sky, the four of you leave tomorrow. Sorry for the short notice, but another two from the farm went out of town today. That could mean nothing, or it could mean a stolen child. This time, I have Surveillance following them cautiously, from a distance. If they're spotted, Shadows will kill them."
Daria, "We need a drone, better to have two. Eloise or Oceane will need to be there, best drone pilots. Two drones have a dozen darts. If we need to kill Shadows, it is more efficient."
Janah, "Of course, should have thought of it myself, take Eloise. Flight is tomorrow at ten. I arranged for you to go to Salt Lake, not Provo. More anonymous, particularly for a private flight. Amaya, please make sure they are well disguised, particularly Chloe. Her face is all over the place."
Amaya, "Maybe a burka. She can be the only Muslim in Provo. No...that would be another kind of attention. The twins know what to do, de-twin. I shall fix the three of us."
"I'll create licenses, do a quickie makeup thing, the license only needs to resemble your disguise."
They go off to recreate themselves, then I take photos. Daria created driver's licenses from Colorado and Kentucky. They'll fly out under those names from a Society account with Blue Sky, not our personal account. The Society account is meaningless if anyone tried to track it back to an actual entity.
Time for dinner, a bit later than usual, we don't finish until nine.
"Need to leave in the morning at eight thirty."
Daria, "Drones are packed, I will prepare pharmaceuticals."
Janah, "I'll help."
Between dinner clean up and travel prep, it's near ten thirty before we're done. At least the travelers are locked and loaded. I'll make a light breakfast, they'll eat a real meal on the flight. I go with Sloane to get her tucked in, curious to see if she has questions."
"What do you think of all this?"
Sloane, "If those people are what you think they are, they have to be stopped. I'm a little worried, they sound dangerous."
"If it's Shadows, they are dangerous. Daria and Dasha are more dangerous."
"But it's like twelve people."
"That's why they're taking the drones, and it’s not likely all of them are Shadows. You understand, you can never talk about this, with Clarissa, or even your grandparents."
Sloane, "No! I wouldn't do that. Probably think I'm making it up anyway."
"Well, the grandparents wouldn't, but they can't know details, for their safety. We deal with people who have no conscience. Our security is that they don't know who we are or where we're from. They can't tie in us with anyone from New York. We’re extremely careful, but we never assume that we’re completely anonymous. It's why I want you to pay attention, be on guard, and why you don't go out alone for. We're not picking on you, you may have noticed none of us goes out alone. Maybe I walk to your grandmothers’ and walk home alone, it's only two blocks away. Otherwise, we go in twos at the least."
Sloane, "I understand. I'm still learning the city, I don't want to go anyplace by myself. And I always have the GPS necklace, always, no matter who I’m with."
"Soon, we will begin training for hard self defense, what to do if someone tries to snatch you. You won't be afraid, you will know what to do. You can't talk about that to anyone either."
She smiles, it might seem strange, but the concern for her safety is, for her, more reassuring than frightening. People taking extraordinary measures to keep her safe. She came from a place where her father hated her for what she couldn't help. Now, she's not just accepted, she's loved, nobody wants her to be somebody else, some other way.
Sloane, "I'm the luckiest girl in the world mom."
My heart melts, not for the first time.

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