Chapter Twenty One
We spent much of the summer in Canada, two months of it anyway. Susan, Lacy and Taylor came up for two weeks, James and Kara for another two. Then it was time for Sloane to go the school, now it's between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We're flying to Prescott at this very moment.
Su picks us up, "Flight good? Where are the others?"
"Always, Blue Sky does a great job, on time, good meals, comfortable surroundings, don't have to disrobe, no full body scan and we can use our portable electronic devices the entire flight. Amaya and Chloe are in LA, Nikko and Zi in San Francisco. Saturday the flight will collect Nikko and Zi, to LA for Chloe and Amaya, then to Prescott."
Su, "Sloane! You are growing up young lady, wow, she's gotten so lovely Daphne."
Sloane squeezes my hand, such a delight.
Sloane, "My hormone treatments are working as expected. Hair where it's supposed to be, none where it isn't. I'm getting little boobs too and my voice isn't sinking. Have to wait until I'm eighteen to get altered though."
Su, "Does it bother you?"
Sloane, "Not really. It's there, you know, always was. Probably feel strange when it isn't, still making up my mind. Janah's dad and my transition docs say I'm doing great."
"And how is Chapmans?"
"Super, except I'm not a novelty item, we have two other trannies, one is my friend Clarissa, the other I don't know too well, Samantha, she's in her senior year, I'm in eighth."
Su, "You're thirteen."
"Yes, fourteen soon."
The house is pristine, refrigerator stocked with the requests Dasha sent over last week.
Dasha is talking to me, I think, she may be talking to Dasha, "Su and Danika do gud job. House ees perfect, tonight we will make maybe vegetable lasagna wiz Italian salad, she has fresh Ciabatta, we will haf garlic bread."
"Dahfoney, tonight we will make..."
"I heard you, I'll get vegetables chopped later, while you layer the lasagna, I'll do salad."
"Da, okay," she wanders to the pantry to inventory, comes out with a bottle of Russian Standard, "maybe a drink, da, a drink, where ees beeters?"
She's back on her own channel, I go to our room, Janah is wrapped in a towel, "I figure to get a bit of sun while I keep a close eye on Oceane."
Oceane will be swimming and diving in moments, Janah will enjoy the scenery of our lithe space cadet. I decide to enjoy the scenery of both of them. Oceane is doing laps, she swims unrestrained by such a mundane thing as a bathing suit, Janah drapes her towel over the lounge chair, she's also unrestrained. This is working out nicely for me.
Danika comes along, "Daphne, Janah, welcome home. Everything good?"
"Great, you guys keep this place looking new, and Dasha is in heaven, all her groceries stocked, tonight we're doing veg lasagna and Italian salad."
When we're here, Su and Danika eat meals with us, come and go as they wish. They live here, we pay all expenses, I guess it isn't a salary, Nikko keeps cash in a local bank account, they have credit cards. If they want to fly someplace they can do it, we keep an Escalade, a Ford Ranger and Amaya's Corvette here, they use those when they wish. Other than routine errands, I don’t think they go many places. Su is a contemplative, she is into her studies. Danika is a mystic monk and spends a great deal of time in the mountains that surround the property. Danika has extraordinary Qi skills, that's what a mystic monk does, but I've never seen her demonstrate them. It isn't something one does for show, like the fake Qi guys on YouTube, or to take advantage like Shadows.
We actually own the mountain a couple hundred yards behind the house. They aren't so much mountains around here, not like Canada or the Rockies, but it's more than a hill, a mini-mountain maybe. Elevation here is just over a mile.
Oceane does a half gainer from the ten meter, the water envelopes her like a cloud of mist, there's barely a splash.
"She must not do it right, when I dive there's a much bigger splash, a tsunami."
Danika laughs with Janah, "She is a water child and under its protection."
"That's what she says, I must be a concrete child. Let's see if I can do a respectable flip or two."
I strip, dive in the deep end to get acclimated, swim a few laps. I use the one meter board to warm up, simple stuff, then a front one and a half, manage to get in head first. Take a turn on the ten meter, a straight spring and dive. Oceane and I alternate, I do whatever dive she does, not as well, but I don't kiss the water face first. After a dozen variations of front or back flip, doubles, twists, gainer and half gainer, pike and tuck, it's time to sit and sun.
Danika, "You do well Daphne."
"We go to an aquatic center in Manhattan every few weeks, Amaya, Chloe and Oceane more often than that. Dasha usually goes when I do, she still has her gymnastics equipment on the roof at our place and we have a trampoline, which is like diving without the water. It's primarily for fun, keeps our proprioceptive sense tuned. Oceane was approached by a college coach, but that went nowhere. She's not in it for competition."
Dasha brings out iced tea with lemon, she makes it half and half, sweetened with a blend of Splenda and raw cane sugar.
Danika, "This is really good, I'll have to keep some around, takes a lot of lemons I guess."
Dasha, "I use bottled lemon juice, not concentrate, one hundred percent. Add a bottle to a half gallon of tea and maybe a liter of water. Add Splenda and cane sugar brown while tea ees hot to dissolve better."
Danika, "Any kind of tea?"
"Sometimes green, sometimes black, even mix green and black. For iced, any green or black tea bags. We use loose for afternoon tea."
"I don't recall buying loose tea, was it on the list?"
"No, I ship it out, Dahfoney likes certain kind only. Su must have picked up, ees in pantry already."
"Oceane, take a break and have a glass of tea, you need to hydrate."
She sits, Dasha pours her a glass, "So glad to have the big pool."
Danika, "How long are you staying?"
"Sloane starts school the second week of January, but only Janah and I need to go back with her. Others may want to stay longer, Nikko won't be content to be gone from the office that long. As a precaution we don't all fly together anyway."
Danika, "I would like to go to the temple for a few days, can I hitch a ride?"
Janah, "Of course, you may want to stay in the temple but you are welcome to stay with us."
Dankia, "Thanks, I just want to reconnect, see a few friends. We e-mail and Skype, but it's not the same as being there."
"Does Su want to go? Guess I should ask her."
Danika, "I told her I wanted to visit, she didn't say one way or the other. We love it here, the mountain, the garden, a giant pool for swimming. We are spoiled Shaolin."
Janah, "Not too spoiled, this place is not so simple to maintain even when we aren't here, and you got Black, Chan and their families for a couple of weeks. Our parents came out twice."
"It was so good to see everyone. Miyako and David Li are doing such interesting scientific work, Chan and I did Qi meditation every day. Black, Chan and I spent two nights on the mountain in silent contemplation. And Black and Ning are great chefs, we only ate out once, Prescott is nice, but it isn’t into fine cuisine. Black makes a big breakfast like Dasha and Daphne. We did more restaurants with the parents or Su got prepared food from Sprout’s or Fry’s."
I laugh, "None of them cooks squat. Sis is actually dangerous in the kitchen."
Danika, "That's what she said."
"They finished the track, Amaya will be delighted."
In a fit of wretched excess, but with some nod to practicality, we had a race course installed on the far side of the property. It's a formula one style track, twists and turns, two long straightaways, a brake and skid area, the whole thing about the size of two football fields. We spent time at Bondurant, we don't want our tactical driving skills to atrophy. She also bought two used SUVs. I drew the line at letting her practice one eighties with our Platinum. What she does with her Vette is her business.
Chapter Twenty Two
The others fly in Saturday afternoon, Dasha and I drive out to collect them, she drives the Corvette so Amaya can drive it back.
Amaya, "How thoughtful, I miss my wheels. How's the track look?"
"As you designed it, two long straightaways, a hairpin, a ninety degree and four less sharp curves. Plus the brake and skid surface."
We don't have quite the acreage Bondurant has for a track, but it isn't much smaller. A circular track just for speed is fun, but not useful for what we need, evade and escape on real streets.
"And helmets, fire suits and extinguishers are all in?"
"All set. Nobody practices alone, at least one non driving observer always. A blown tire and a rollover is bad enough, no one to jump on the situation is unacceptable."
All our vehicles have roll bars, reinforced bumpers and side door panels, including the Corvette and our Escalades in New York. We've been chased by bad guys in Columbia and Brooklyn, got out clean due to our training. If we never use the skills again, good, but we're going to have them if we need them.
Amaya, "Drive it yet?"
"Nope, it's really your baby, we thought you should christen it."
"How very sweet, thank you."
I don't mention the other toys we have for her, and us.
We get to the house, unload the luggage. Then Amaya wants to take the Vette for a turn around the track. It’s a quarter mile from the house, out in a flatter open stretch. We pile into Ranger, Amaya drives her Corvette. The two used SUVs are in a garage, more like a small hangar.
Amaya takes a slow turn around the track, Chloe is with her, she's just getting the sense of it, then a couple more laps at speed. Not flat out, but fast. She pulls up to the hangar.
"Car sticks to the surface, the bank works well, the hairpins are ugly, but that is the point. It is just fabulous. We may need to buy our own gas pump. Want to take the SUVs around Daphne?"
"Maybe later, take a walk," she follows me into the hangar, three formula one cars are lined up against the side wall, "we thought these might be fun."
Amaya screeches, "How did you keep this from me? Amazing, oh God, this is just incredible. My heart races, what fun. Who thought this up?"
Janah, "You have Chloe and Daphne to blame for that. Chloe thought of getting you a car, Daphne said it would be more fun to race, which required a couple more. Three on our track is enough."
Amaya cries, hugs Chloe, then me, "You are so bad, I am a mess, the Russian mobster will never let me forget it."
Dasha, "Seesters will beat you around track, you will see."
Amaya grins, "Challenge accepted. Are they ready, at least for a familiarity run?"
"Sure, we got them through Bondurant, ready to rock. Gear is in the locker."
I pass on the initial run, Daria, Dasha and Amaya take them around for a warm up, then second, third and fourth laps, picking up the pace each time. It isn't a race, Amaya leads and the twins follow, the fifth lap they run bumper to bumper. Down the straightaway, Daria and Amaya finish in a dead heat with Dasha on their tail.
Amaya is buoyant, "There are no words, our own flipping race course."
"Bondurant is also sending up tools and equipment for suspension and tire changes. The rubber for these things is like the national debt."
Amaya, "I do not know from tires or suspension, do we hire a mechanic?"
"We have one, two, Eloise and Daria. They go to school for a week for basics, or I should say, we hired people from Bondurant to come here and train them. If we need more elaborate work, they'll send people up or we'll send the car down."
Amaya looks at Eloise, "Do you mind? I mean, you are mostly electronics not grease and heavy stuff."
Eloise, "I don't mind the grease, Daria can handle the heavy stuff. It will be fun to learn the mechanics. Nikko said we can put in a full shop if we need to. That's our project for this trip, Daria and I would rather be with tools and software than most anything else…well, sex."
"Tomorrow we can start refresher tactical with the SUVs."
Sloane, "Can I take a ride with Amaya in her Corvette?"
Amaya, "Get a helmet."
Amaya takes her around for six laps. On the straightaway at one forty, it only takes twenty seconds to go a half mile. Essentially, by the time she hits a hundred forty, she’d have to start braking if we didn't have a long banked turn at the end. With our set-up she can run the car at speed into the curve. The Corvette will actually do one eighty, and there's enough bank to allow for it, but not enough distance after the turn to maintain that speed. She knows this, and isn't going to press her luck.
Sloane screeches as she bounces out of the car, "We did a hundred forty miles an hour mom. Things just zip by at that speed. When can I drive?"
"Out here, whenever, come to think of it, let's go see something."
We go back in our hangar-garage, in the far corner is a covered something, I pull off the cover, "This is yours."
Sloane's mouth opens, nothing comes out, dinner plate eyes tell the story, she looks up at me, all tears.
"Wasn't supposed to make you cry, wrong color?"
She punches my arm, "Mine? Really?"
"Really, soon as you learn how to drive it."
Chloe, "That is so cool, I may have to borrow it."
Sloane, "When can I go?"
"How about now?"
I get her in my lap, it's basic stuff, press accelerator and go. It's a TAG kart, which means touch and go, an electronic push button start, no shifting. There's a clutch for let the engine run while you're stopped.
We take a slow turn around the course, her hands on the wheel with mine, I'm doing the brakes. After the third go, she touches the brakes, gently as I'd instructed. We pull to the side, I show her how to keep the clutch depressed until she's ready to go. Ease off the clutch, give it gas, the kart starts forward.
"Okay, you can't screw up. If you take your foot off the accelerator, the kart will slow to a stop on its own. Go slow, practice using the brakes, easy on them. If you want to stop, just take your foot off the gas pedal and ease down on the brakes. If you want to keep the engine running, you have to press the clutch. For now, just go around the track without doing much but steering. When you get back here, slowly brake and let it stop."
Sloane putts off, probably doing ten or fifteen, if it starts to go faster, she lets off the gas. There are a couple of not so simple turns, she runs off track at one point but recovers. There's no way to get the feel of the turning radius without learning it live. She comes towards us, I see her tap the brake pedal. She stops it without running anyone over.
"That is so cool, can I go around again?"
"Have at it. If you stall it, like it turns off, press the clutch, then the starter button, let the clutch up slowly and gently press on the gas. You'll get used to it."
After a few jerky stops and starts, she's getting it and speeds up. Not racing speed up, but faster than putt-putt speed.
Amaya, "I have to try it, Sloane, in my lap, let's take a ride."
Amaya zooms the thing around the course, top end is eighty, then cuts to half speed and I see only Sloane's hands on the wheel. She's got the turning part down.
Amaya starts with various braking instructions, up to speed again, brake to a stop engage clutch, then disengage and get going again. The last two laps, Amaya isn't doing anything but riding. They come to the start and shut down.
Sloane bounces out, takes off her helmet, "Amazing, it felt like I was going pretty fast mom."
"You did fast enough for the first day. Amaya is a experienced and talented driver, won't be too long before you can zip around like she does."
Oceane, "Amaya, I will fly."
Back in the Corvette, and fly she does, Amaya is fearless behind the wheel, tires scream and strain, but the car holds the road like it's glued.
Nikko, "Hope she didn't give Oceane a heart attack."
Oceane exits the Vette, "Sailing through the air, car loves speed.."
Nikko, "Guess not."
Chapter Twenty Three
We're having dinner, tonight flank steak, protein up for tomorrow's tactical refresher. Our drivers are pumped.
Daria, "When do Bondurant people come up?"
"Day after tomorrow. You have two full days to learn basic maintenance. If you need more, we'll send you to them later on. Probably good to learn how to maintain the SUVs sooner or later, and Amaya's Corvette. Right now the kart and the formula one cars."
Daria, "We have studied the specs for the Corvette. Tomorrow for Mazda Formula One, kart is simple."
"If you say so, it looks like a pile of metal and plastic to me, with lots of electronics, which I suppose makes some sense to Eloise."
Eloise, "After we learn these cars, we will build one that drives itself, like the Google car. Except ours will race Amaya around the track."
Amaya, "Like IBM's Watson, except for race cars. Can you really do that?"
"I think so, it's sensors and electronics, sort of like a drone with wheels."
Janah, "You fly the drone though, it doesn't fly itself."
"Each new version flies more and more on its own. We put in the target, the drone follows the target. Next step is to program it to return to base if it loses the target or the target is destroyed. Eventually, we'll just upload instructions and let it fly. It will always be sending back video, we can override at any time."
Zi, "I continue to be amazed by technology."
Eloise laughs, "A woman who can read intent, spot a Shadow behind a door, Danika, Daria, Chan and Janah can levitate inanimate objects and sail them across the room? My humble technology has a long way to go."
Zi, "Point taken, still, electronics have finite processing capacity, the human brain knows no such limitations. I think the things you get silicon and graphene to do are near miraculous. Some of us can do incredible things with our minds, but we can't create machines that do what you make them do."
Dasha collects empty plates and replaces them with cheesecake filled ones, "We haf fruit topping, cherry, blueberry and raspberry."
Sloane, "Can I have them all?"
She doesn't wait for an answer, takes a spoon of each and plops it on top of her cheesecake. It looks rather tasty, I do the same.
"Genius Sloane, like three desserts."
"Inspired by my go-kart ride, we should have night racing."
Amaya, "What? Like giant halogen lights on poles uglifying the property?"
Sloane, "Maybe not."
Janah, "You don't need football stadium lighting. It's a design challenge, Amaya might take it on as a creative opportunity. If it won't work aesthetically then don't do it. It may not hurt to have more lighting around the property anyway, it's dark as death out there at night. I don't mean lit up like daytime, not even on poles, something that hugs the ground."
Amaya, "Challenge accepted. It makes sense to have the drive lighted as well. I shall work on it. We do not even need to run wire, each light will be solar powered. Hugs the ground is perfect, that would work on the track, we just need to see the track, not what is around it."
Janah, "Wait...what did I see? Look at this video," she taps her IPad, "we could do this for the track and the driveway."
It is a video of a phosphorescent roadway in the Netherlands.
Amaya, "An elegant solution. I shall contact the manufacturer."
Guess we'll have glow in the dark roads. Good thing we don't have neighbors nearby, running Formula One at night would likely stir up hostilities.
Nikko, "You people can think up more ways to spend money than a Congressional pork fest."
"The track has some relation to our outside interests, but yes, I admit it is also entertaining. We have gobs of cash, spending it is good for the economy. We're like...job creators."
Nikko, "Rationalization fabricators is more like it. I'm being hypocritical, I want to drive the cars as much as anyone."
Sloane giggles, "You should drive my kart, it's fun."
Nikko, "I plan to do that too."
Zi, "Samurai Kart, I have to get video of that and send it to Hanshi Murakami."
Chloe, "Speaking of which, can we get kendo in soon. I may have forgotten which end is the tsuka."
Nikko, "Good idea, do we have kendogi here?"
Amaya, "Yes you do thanks to Chloe, she sent new ones a month ago, plus bokken and shinai."
"Thank you Chloe, it escaped me in the list of things to duplicate here."
Sloane, "What's the movie?"
"Tonight Catch Me if You Can, a movie version true story about an infamous con artist. I think it's pretty accurate, not too much dramatic license. Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, plus Christopher Walken, who's usually fun to watch."
And it is quite a good flick, we enjoyed it.
Sloane, "Man, there's nothing that guy wouldn't try, and it turned into a career helping catch other con men."
Amaya, "I would be a great con artist. It is performance art, make people believe what they see and hear."
"True, particularly with your ability to replicate any voice in any tone."
Sloane, "I hear her singing, I think she's playing something from ITunes. Then she acts characters in her books, she sounds like Serbian criminals, old Italian ladies, little girls and Yakuza mobsters. Everyone in this family is so talented, I should feel intimidated."
"Why? You speak Russian, can write code and hack, do flips off a ten meter board and are learning to drive at thirteen."
Sloane smiles, "And I have something no one else in the family has, a penis."
A wave of laughter, Danika says, "None of us can replicate that, no matter how much we train."
Chapter Twenty Four
We spend the next two days rocketing around the course, Sloane is so excited. She's learned the footwork, now she blasts past at sixty on the straightaway and skids around turns. A kart is so low to the ground and its track (axle length) so wide it's almost impossible to roll over, same with the Mazdas.
The Bondurant people, Chip and Frankie, arrive and huddle with Daria and Eloise in the hangar for two days.
We're having an afternoon tea break around the pool, Chip says, "Gotta say, I never met two people who could grasp mechanics like Daria and Eloise. They work on your cars all the time?"
"No, but Daria is a reader, she studied whatever she could find on the Mazda specs, I mean the mechanical manuals. Eloise does all our other technology, our homes are completely automated. In her mind, one mechanical thing is like another."
Frankie, "Yeah, but she sniffs the parts, it all smells like hot metal, gasoline and grease to me."
"You should see her sniffing our electronic connections, like a mouse. She finds potential flame outs before they flame out."
Chip, "We could use her in Phoenix. Stuff is always flaming out, we're pretty hard on the metal."
"Are they up on the basics? Do we need to send them to Phoenix?"
Frankie, "Depends on how much you want them to handle. Your cars get a good workout, but nothing like ours. We use them almost seven days a week. And to do anything deep or complicated, they're going to need a lot of equipment, none of which is cheap, and more extensive training. I think, if it's major, call us with the problem, we can bring the fix or we can tell them what to buy if they have the tools to do it themselves."
"Good, they have other obligations, if they can do basic maintenance, we're happy to have pros come up and fix things, or probably better to send the cars to Phoenix, easier for you repair them there."
Frankie, "But then we don't get to come here. Every mechanic in the place wanting this gig. I hadda pull rank. And after I tell them about the rest, perfectly fried fish dinner last night, breakfast biscuits the size of a salad plate, pancakes today, lunch by the pool, they gonna wonder why we aren't paying you."
"Tonight is your last evening, after cocktails, how do steaks on the grill, creamed spinach and stuffed baked potatoes sound?"
Chip, "Like I never want to leave."
Dasha and I get them and everyone else fed, Frankie, "Daphne, this might be the best steak I've ever eaten. What do you do to them?"
"Marinate overnight in soy and Worcestershire, a little salt and nutmeg, touch of onion and garlic powder. Get the grill to a thousand degrees and sizzle them. Melted butter over the top before serving."
Frankie, "And the creamed spinach was amazing, I always like it, but his was something different."
"Nutmeg again, Dasha discovered it reading about the recipe the New Orleans and Food Channel chef, Emeril, created. It's absurdly simple."
Chip, "I may never walk straight again, the apple-cherry pie was a capper to a perfect dinner. Thank you all, and thank you Dasha."
They say goodbyes and return to the hotel. They drove up, it's only a hundred miles from Phoenix to Prescott, no biggie.
Amaya, "Bondurant has such great people."
"We've been there, what, five or six times? Always polite, professional, know what they're doing and know how to explain it. Really is a first class place."
"Daria, you get what you needed?"
"Da, enough to do basic maintenance. Better to send broken car to them for repair, we would need too much equipment ant it would not get much use. We can fix kart easy."
Nikko, "I like Sloane's kart, I think we should get more or Sloane won't get much time on it."
"I'll get them. I didn't realize how much fun racing them is. Oceane loves it."
Oceane, "Fly in the air, fly on the ground, I am a flying girl. I made a drawing of Nikko on the kart."
"Well where is it?"
Oceane, "My room? Someplace."
I go to her room, it's on the floor next to her drawing table, essentially a drafting desk like an architect would have.
I bring it down and show it to the others, Amaya says, "Oceane, it looks like you photographed it, almost like a video even, Nikko really seems to be moving, this is truly spectacular artwork."
Oceane has forgotten the drawing, she's off by the pool talking to moonbeams. We decide it's too late to start a movie, and too enjoyable an evening to stay inside, we move to chairs around the pool. Outdoor heaters keep us warm, it’s chilly at night, and will be cold soon.