Twenty One

Our trio makes it to Sprouts on Hwy 69, gather up the needed ingredients, reverse course up 89 thirty miles, past Chino Valley to the small road that takes us to our private road.
Ellen, “You guys went for ultra privacy.”
“We built, as far as we know, the most elaborate property in the area. Fortunately, most people in this part of Arizona live and let live, wouldn’t bother to try for a peek in any case. But some would. The private road, gate and eight foot walls discourages the curious. A moat around the wall would probably be overkill.”
Ellen laughs, “Ya think?”
Dasha, “Ees gud for fahmahley to be private, we do no anyway associate much, only a few friends in New York and now New Orleans.”
“Come to think of it, we’re the same way, but we’re fairly sociopathic, not likely to have a pile of pals. Sarah even stared down a Shadow, the woman couldn’t get in her head.”
“Sarah has no overt sign of psychopathy, or even antisocial behavior. None of you do, your twins are like ours, insular, but nobody is manipulative, just the opposite in fact.”
“We got rich early, not rich like your crew, but rich enough. We don’t need to manipulate, nobody has anything we want. Then you come along and give us some kind of RNA and we don’t get older. That takes the edge off wanting things right now and running over anyone in our way.”
We don’t get into their shared desire to put a bullet in someone’s head. Technically, we don’t know that, it’s just been implied and we’re happy to keep it that way. We only kill Shadows, or in self defense, which hasn’t happened in our Society work. Our targets don’t know we’re coming, we just show up, avoids the need for much self defense.
We start to unload the groceries, Danika comes out to help.
In the kitchen putting things away, Ellen asks, “May I ask, what’s the deal with not killing Society targets?”
“We have an extensive network of contacts that funnels leads to us. Those contacts often don’t know exactly what we do to refocus targets and targets don’t go around advertising it. If the contacts started reading in the paper or seeing news that the target they referred is dead, murdered, they would back off and we lose the relationship. This way, they might hear about a guy getting his butt kicked, they don’t care about that. That they can justify as tit for tat.”
“I knew there had to be a good reason, it’s not like you’re shy about offing Shadows. Shadows aren’t fixable and they’ll definitely kill anyone who’s on to them.”
“We think most advanced Shadows have killed someone someplace, for any number of reasons. The junior varsity sticks to making people cough up money or sex, but as their skill grows with practice, they become increasingly cruel and violent. When you have a broken mind, zero empathy or compassion, and can get anyone to do anything, the outcome is not good.”
Dasha, “Eemaya teaches sisters how to be fake eempathy peerson, and make small chat wiz people. We learn, haf a nice day, so good for seeing you, pliz come again soon, we appreciate beesness, you look beautiful Miss Smeeth, even if you are fat heifer cow, thanking you for geeving us money for donut to make you fatter, like that.”
Ellen laughs, “I don’t think Amaya taught it exactly that way, but I get the idea.”
“They got quite good at it, customers at the Village Diner loved them. Kind of sad they don’t have time to work there anymore, gave it up a few years ago, just before we bought the building. We still go for breakfast or lunch occasionally, sometimes afternoon coffee and a snack.”
Ellen, “Like we do at EnVie in the Quarter.”
“Exactly, that place is good, relaxed, the manager is a nice guy.”
“Michael, he is pleasant and the place works well, our pal Gerard is there every morning.”
“How is Gerard? He doesn’t know us, he just knows Mrs. Pearson, but he’s a first rate contact.”
“A southern gentleman, with a deep covert background, allegedly retired now, but Katya thinks he keep a hand in the game.”
“So does Janah. He’s intimated a few things, we don’t pry, contacts seldom volunteer personal details. We don’t want to know personal details. They have relationships or data we need, we can offer reciprocity, enough.”
Janah come along, “Buy out the store?”
“Lot of mouths to feed, veal marsala for sixteen and fake chicken for two, tomorrow is fried fish, we had to get catfish filets as well, plus all the produce. The checkout lady asked where the party was.”
“We foraged the fridge for lunch, everyone ate light in anticipation of this evening. Sloane and Sarah near killed themselves on the hill, Cassie hung in.”
Sarah comes down the stairs, “Cassie did more than hang, she’s got the endurance of a mountain goat and runs like she drives, one speed, flat out. Sloane is impossible, she can go twice as fast as my top speed.”
“Where is everyone?”
Janah, “All morning running or swimming, quick lunch and they went to chill, probably naps.”
“What did you do?”
“Chloe and I yoga’d, Nikko, Daria and Zi were in the office most of the time. They put the property people onto finding something for Katya.”
Ellen, “Much appreciated, Katya spends a fair amount of time on the property she has now. We can’t run a big commercial property, it’s a different level of expertise and involves hiring and managing white collar employees, not girls in a donut shop.”
Dasha, “How long ees veal marsala?”
Ellen, “Long?...oh, how long to make, about forty minutes, maybe an hour with this quantity. We will need pans, the sauce uses bits left from cooking the veal and it has to reduce. Doesn’t take long, deglaze the pan with marsala wine, stir in demi glace. Mushrooms, garlic and parsley can be done in ten minutes, like the fettuccini. It’s a simple process, just a lot of veal to sauté.”
“Da, okay, then maybe six thirty, serve around seven thirty.”
Six thirty, cocktail hour, Amaya tends bar with Sarah, we begin dinner preparations, and almost on the nose, ready for seven thirty. The dish is complete in itself, served over fettuccine, with French bread.
Nikko, “Daphne, this has to make it to our regular rotation, it’s superb.”
“Will do, it isn’t hard to prepare.”
Oceane and Janah have the vegetarian version, Oceane isn’t as veg as Janah, she also tries a slice of veal, slides a hunk of bread through the sauce, “soft and silky.”
Ellen, “Butter does make sauces silky, makes everything silky.”
I’m taking pies I’d warmed from the oven, “We have apple or cherry pie, help yourself,” put dessert plates, forks and pie knives alongside, “the heaters are on outside if you care to see the star show.”
Turns out to be a popular idea, dessert, Cognac or wine by the pool. We have a string of outdoor heaters that could fry a steak if we crank them up all the way.
Sarah, “Only one more day in paradise, this place is such a treat.”
“Next summer, you should join us for a stretch in Canada. Not the size of this, but plenty of space for five guests. When Cass came along, she sucked up the guestroom, but we added two more rooms adjoining the back porch.”
Ellen, “I understand it’s secluded, how do you get workers and materials in?”
“When we bought the house years ago, it was an elaborate cabin. Two years of upgrades turned it into a house, essentially we gutted it. Considering the location, it cost a small fortune, but Nikko got the work done. This last addition was completed by the monks who run the fishing camp. Over the years, there’s little they haven’t learned about plumbing, electricity or construction from maintaining the guesthouse and their own quarters. The camp is closed half the year, there’s no shortage of work, Canadian winters take a toll on physical structures. Our place is wired for video like all our homes, you can take an online tour.”
I fetch a tablet and click in the code for Canada, up pops the exterior, “Just click the arrows and it will move from cam to cam.”
Ellen has Sarah and Mani looking over her shoulder, Mani says, “Geez, the living area, how big is that fireplace? Ellen, look at the kitchen.”
“Bet Dasha makes superb fresh fish up there, bedrooms, spacious and cozy, Amaya’s doing?”
Amaya, “Most of it, but Nikko has excellent taste in décor, I only did linens, comforters a bit of interior decoration. Our approach is like yours in New Orleans, best quality, few extras. If we don’t use it, we don’t have it.”
Katja, “Sisters do not like clutter. I meant to ask, what are windows here, how do they work?”
Nikko, “Electrochromic glass, frosts over at the touch of a button for privacy, others darken and reflect the exterior, people can’t see in. Eliminates the need for blinds and curtains. The place in Manhattan had opaque blocks for years until this development came along. We kept some of the blocks, all the new additions use this glass.”
Katya, “Ellen, you will explore for New Orleans, not front window facing street, the others.”
Ellen, “The windows facing the street are bulletproof, upstairs and down. Our front door is sheet steel and the locks go into a steel frame. Blinds are roll down titanium sheets. New Orleans has a fair amount of crime and drunks like to stick their noses in to see if they can get a glimpse of the interior. We sidestepped the problem.”
Eloise, “Remember, we’re coming down soon to install the automation and sound systems.”

Twenty Two

Girls tear up the race track the last day, we never got around to sparring, they were having too much fun, karts, formula one, dirt bikes and the pool.
It’s late afternoon cocktails, Ellen, Dasha and I are battering fish instead of each other. We use Zatarain’s Fish Fry, made of cornmeal, corn flour, spices and lemon juice. Gives a nice crisp, lightly spiced flavor to the fish.
Creamed corn, coleslaw and hush puppies round out the meal. Dasha made flourless chocolate cookies with toasted almonds earlier, those will serve as dessert.
“What time do you fly out?”
“Eleven, short flight to Ft. Worth, take care of business, on to Houston for a couple days, then New Orleans.”
Oceane picks up a chunk of catfish, says to Katya, “Tomorrow you will kill,” takes a bite.
Katya, “Is not a killing, only get a couple of pimps out of child prostitute business.”
“Not them, another, like the one who had Cassandra.”
Janah, “A Shadow.”
Katja, “How does Oceane know already tomorrow?”
“We don’t know, she does this occasionally, makes predictions.”
Mani, “She get them right?”
“Every time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the stock market or interest rates, usually pain or death.”
Ellen, “She do it much? Like once a week?”
“No, once or twice a year, although we think there may be more but she doesn’t mention them.”
“Somebody’s gonna die and she forgets?”
I laugh, “Things pass through her brain like a neutrino through your body, unless it bumps up against something, she doesn’t give it conscious expression. At best, she’s momentarily aware of it, a millisecond later, it’s gone.”
Katya, “Then we should be on guard, how to tell a Shadow?”
Janah, “One of you will feel you mind tingling, or dizzy, or a sense of blank nothing. Be sure to stay in touch, make conversation, look for behavior anomalies, it will likely be apparent with five people looking out for each other. Oh, and take a drone, darts and Oblivion. If Oceane has it right, don’t take on the Shadow if you can avoid it, stick him and be done. Try to retrieve the dart, but don’t risk outing yourselves to do it. Amaya will get you set up, and take the antidote first. Accidentally get the poison in you, you’re gone.”
Sarah, “I know what a Shadow feels like, Janah’s right, and they will feel creepy to you, like the feeling they’re off, slimy.”
Katja, “Sisters feel that way around most men.”
We laugh, it’s true enough. Getting checked out is one thing, lingering eyes and smarmy approaches are another. Unapproved touching is cause for bodily harm.
“Do you need any refresher on the drones and darts?”
Katya, “Not unless you have changed anything, we practice with the ones you gave us, just didn’t bring them on the trip.”
“Not a problem, we keep a supply in all three places, Amaya, include a couple of GPS trackers, may come in handy. Shadows are becoming annoyingly prevalent. A small group has been in contact with each other on the dark web. They’ve figured out we’re looking for them and are trying to figure out a way to find and kill us.”
Katya, “They do not know who you are?”
“Not yet, although they’ve figured out there are a couple of Shaolin in the mix. Shadows hate Shaolin. Don’t know why, all we want to do is kill them.”
Nikko, “They tend to be a cranky lot.”
“Not to mention cruel, violent and perverted.”
Zi, “Another fabulous dinner, a toast to our chefs.”
Good to be appreciated. 
After a round of cookies and Cognac, girls seem inclined to find last evening companions. Katya snags Janah, Mani decides an all Asian fest with Nikko and Zi is a good idea. I see Ellen go off with Amaya and Chloe. Oceane invites Katja and Dasha to her place, I briefly wonder if it will include Sloane and Cassie, then I see them holding hands going to Cassie’s room with Daria.
Sarah, “Daphne, will you do luscious nasty things to me tonight, I promise to get off several times. And I promise you will be delectably delirious when I’m done with you.”
“I can and will, shall we?”
Eloise approaches Danika, “Perhaps we could discuss Buddhism…or something.”
Danika grins, “Something sounds enticing, we might get into Buddha later.”
In the morning, I’m downstairs, must have been something, nobody stirring but me. Sarah made good on her promise, Dani and I made good on Sarah, who shorted out a half dozen times. As I fell asleep I could still feel her buzzing.
I start caffeine machines, Oceane floats down, scores three cups of tea and takes them on a tray upstairs. She must have been satisfied with her halves of the twins, or more likely, they can’t function sensibly. Oceane has unique sensual talents, and she’s a creamy dream.
It’s a half hour and a second cup of Lavazza before my next visitor, dear reliable Dasha.
“What ees breakfast Dahfoney? Already nine and Eemaya haf to take guests to airport at ten thirty.”
“Let’s do something simple, pancakes and eggs or biscuits and eggs. We’re out of exotics like salmon and caviar.”
“I will get eggs cracked and meex, you will make beeskit,” she’s digging around in the refrigerator, “we haf boxes of garden burgher, do not haf to be thawed, just put on griddle. Maybe crumble and add to scrahmbulled aig, no, fry as usual and serve as patty, better.”
Girls begin to stir, come for coffee or tea, I have biscuits in the oven, start in frying garden burger. These are pretty good, made of soy with black beans in the mix, nicely seasoned.
Ellen shows, “Need me to do anything?”
“Grab a coffee and chill, you have to work today, we’re doing breakfast simple, dose of carbs and high protein.”
Amaya sits next to Ellen, “Chloe and I have decided to keep Ellen.”
Ellen grins, “Awww, soo sweet.”
“As long as you’re prepared to take on her twins, Katya and Katja are likely to object.”
“I had not considered that, we shall settle for visits to New Orleans, New York, Canada and Arizona. I know, we will take her to LA, a bodyguard for Chloe.”
Ellen, “I can get with that, hang around a film production.”
“We are doing another Dasha and Daria film, our twin assassins, Nadia and Natasha. Well, we will be, as soon as I write it.”
Katja comes along, “Good morning,” she sits on the other side of Amaya and pours black tea.
Amaya, “Of course! I am brilliance. Katja, do you wish to be in a movie?”
Ellen, “Of course she does, might have to twist Katya’s arm a bit.”
Dasha, “Ees no tweest, sister and I will talk it over wiz tweens, they will make moofey wiz us,” she turns to Katja, “ees easy, we don’t talk much in moofey, only kill people. We act like ourself, direct, no bullsheeting. Vesnushki makes acting expression, not sisters. Eemaya tells us what to say and do, directing person, Harry Cheelder ees nice man. You and Katya will be star.”
Amaya, “And we will have a cameo with Chloe and Matt Damon. Matt and Claudia will love two sets if idents. God, so many ways to go with the plot. Daphne, when we return from the airport I shall be in my office. No lunch, do not think of disturbing me until tea.”

Twenty Three

We are not privy to the exact sequence of events in Ft. Worth, we don’t need to know and can’t testify to things we have no knowledge of. Newspaper coverage reported that two black men, Davidius X and Jamaine Jefferson, had been found in a state of disoriented disrepair. We did know their names, so we know it’s the two we sent Katya after. Combined injuries were, snapped collarbone, broken femur, busted ribs, shattered tibia, crushed left foot on one, right on the other. One popped eardrum, vision lost in one eye. Collectively they were a mess. 
Video of them delivering underage prostitutes to a dozen different men in motels and more upscale hotels appeared online, copies to families and employers. One neurosurgeon, a police detective, a civil engineer, accountant and a judge in the customer mix. The YouTube didn’t last long, but by the time it was pulled a half million people had seen it. The real damage was at home and work, things just weren’t ever going to be the same. Oh well.
Katya reported a Shadow terminated. They checked into an Embassy Suites when it proved impossible to snatch Davidius and Jamaine the afternoon they arrived. The Shadow was a guest in the hotel, there’s a manager’s reception in the early evening, appetizers, beer and wine. He hit on Ellen, tried to get in her head, she suggested a rendezvous in his room later, he bit.
Found dead two days later when he didn’t check out, Do Not Disturb sign still on his door handle. They didn’t need the drone, Ellen knocked on the door, he opened it, she went inside. While he made her a drink, she stuck the syringe in his neck, he was dead in seconds. She left him where he fell, rinsed and dried the glass so it looked like only one drink had been poured, she left no prints. Then hung the DND on the door and went to her room. 
Oblivion is undetectable, first because it takes only a tiny amount to kill, second because it is made by David Li, our chemist and pharmacologist in the Shaolin Temple. The formula is synthetic, a combination of chemicals that mimic various natural poisons found in Box Jellyfish and the King Cobra. It dissipates to nothing in a couple of hours. By the time the check his blood and organs, there won’t be anything to find even if they knew what they were looking for. It will appear he had a heart attack, which, in fact, he did.
Ellen killed the Shadow the first evening, Oceane proved prescient yet again. They took care of the pimps the next day and were in Houston the second evening. The Shadow’s body was found the following day. Naturally, they checked in under false names. If the inquiry went as far as contacting guests, their names lead nowhere. As is protocol, when they work, they look nothing like themselves, the twins didn’t look related at all. The fact that the dead man’s heart clearly attacked him brushed away any deeper investigation.
Janah, “We know what we know and need not know what we don’t. Done with efficiency, they mangled but didn’t kill the pimps.”
“What happened to the string of girls?”
“All six were runaways from abusive homes, thirteen to sixteen. None wanted to return home. Four opted for the ranches right off, one, the oldest, thought she could make a living on her own, as an escort. She talked her friend into taking off with her.”
We don’t force them to ranches or automatically turn them over to social services. We aren’t the state or the justice system. The couple who talked to them gave the two a number to call if they changed their minds. Someone would collect them and bring them to one of the ranches. They could sort out what to do without having to earn a living as hookers, or having to earn a living at all. Our ranches are free, kids learn a bit about raising animals, growing vegetables and take online courses. They go on hikes, camp out, depending on location can snow ski, horseback ride, swim or ride the river.
If they want to go to college or nursing school or learn a trade, we pay for it, full ride, tuition, books, dorm. A few kids went all the way through med school. The program is run under the auspices of the Shaolin, but we gave them the money to do it, we own the land in the Sylk Trust. Monks run the ranches, and some of the former students stick around to help. There are four ranches now, in the west, Arizona, two in Colorado, New Mexico. The number of kids varies but averages fifteen to twenty. Twenty has proven to be a max number, boys and girls have separate dorms, but in the middle there is a large common area. We don’t presume to think there won’t be intimacies, sex ed for sexually abused children may appear redundant, but it isn’t. They get HPV and any other vaccines they need, medical and dental care. The monks negotiate prices, docs and dentists are cooperative when they understand where the kids are from. Doesn’t hurt that we pay in cash, no insurance forms to file, no delay in payment while insurance companies look for ways to avoid covering a treatment or procedure.
“So, nobody sustained any injuries?”
Janah, “Don’t know, Katya didn’t say and I didn’t ask. Nothing happened with the Shadow, it was only Ellen and she dispatched him seconds after she went in. I imagine that a Glock to the side of the head would get the pimps’ cooperation, they don’t know the girls weren’t going to shoot them.”
“Katya was plain, if they resisted, the risked getting dead. Fearing for her life and all.”
“The twins don’t know what fear is. Unless the targets were pointing guns at them, they would have clocked them with the butt of the gun. I don’t find Katya or Katja to be duplicitous, they agreed not to kill, they would do everything possible to hold up that agreement. Ellen, Sarah and Mani do what they’re told.”
Dasha appears, “Katja says peemps were no any trouble, tough guy talk until she takes a few teeth. They don’t anymore talk tough,” she walks off continuing the conversation with herself, “what ees next to do? Eemaya ees locked een office making script for moovey, Oceane and Cassie are een pool being naked girl, I will go to working out room and keek bag.”
A half hour later she’s in my head, “Dahfoney, you will come here and we will haf a fight.”
“On the way,”
she means a sparring or hand to hand session, usually both. Dasha’s tough as rebar, look like I’m in for a few bruises.
Up in the workout room, “What first?”
Dasha, “I am already done for punch and keek on heavy bag and qi dummy. We will haf hand to hand, judo, hapkido, like that.”
We spend a half hour circling, throwing, escapes, arm bars, chokes, the usual menagerie of mixed martial arts. For us, it’s primarily a way to take some pain and stay in the game. It would be unlikely for us to use a lot of it in our work. We generally surprise targets and getting them under control isn’t an issue. 
Sometimes, however, it has been useful for one of us to front a target in public, let him enter denialand, that a girl could do him any damage, then damage him. We consider it like a class, you know, a college course, Introduction to Humiliation, concurrent with the lab, Pain Management.
Dasha, “Enough of wrestling, you will attack me now, I will take keek and punch.”
“Headgear, mouthpiece, chest protector, you can use the light one, but you have to wear something.”
Dasha would let me bash her unprotected, it isn’t happening. No point to busted teeth and broken ribs. I slip on lightweight boxing gloves, sometimes we use mixed martial arts gloves, but sparingly, punches with those are like no gloves at all.
Dasha hunches over in fighting position, but she’s not going to fight, she’s going to receive, I’m going to give. 
I build up to it, half kicks and sharp jabs to her head and chest, then stronger kicks to her thighs and ribs. A hard kick to the chest or ribs hurts, even through the protection, and I mix in jabs and hooks to her head. We don’t go for broken noses, but a snappy bash along the jaw is acceptable.
In the end, I crescent kick and send her tumbling to the mat. Enough fun for one session.
“You always haf good keek Dahfoney, I am see stars wiz that last one.”
“And you are one remarkably tough young lady. I handed out some good shots.”
“Da, I will need gel packs now.”
I fetch a half dozen, we keep them in a freezer in the room, must be two dozen in there waiting to reduce swelling, bruising and pain. She strips, without cold, bruises will develop along the sides of her legs, ribs and a nice swelling on her left cheek.
“This is going to call for ace bandages.” 
I wrap the gel packs with then so we can freeze both sides at the same time. The sooner we ice, the less bruising. She looks like a mummy-wrap in progress.
“You are to freeze me solid.”
“Consider it training, fire up your qi, I’m going to get that jaw fixed,” I use cold qi on her jaw for fifteen, then call in my big gun.
“Janah, come chill Dasha for a bit.”
Janah’s qi could keep glaciers from melting, she finishes off the jaw, I take the gel packs off Dasha’s ribs, Janah works one side, me the other.
After another fifteen, Dasha says, “Da, okay, I am freezer burn, thanking you, ees time anyway for tea. If I need more, sister will feex later.” 

Twenty Four

I find Chloe, “Will you prep tea, Dasha and I went at it and need a shower, Amaya needs to get out of that cave for a stretch.”
“Sure thing, see you in fifteen.”
Family around the low table today, we don’t discuss refocusing or murder at tea, the others only want to know if Katya and crew ‘got home safely,’ I confirm, we move on to other things.
Amaya, “I am suffering from plot overdose, two sets of assassin twins, Ellen and bits for Chloe and Matt. Instead of struggling for a sensible plotline, I have a million ideas.”
Janah, “Would it be worthwhile to simply write all the possibilities down and see if one appears more interesting to you than the others? A second approach I should think is to just start writing, a mind dump and clean it up in the editing process.”
“I usually use the second for books, and more of a prepared plotline for screenplays. You give me an idea. I shall pretend it is a book and start typing. When I do that, I ramble in any direction that comes to mind. The real writing is in the rewrite. The story will develop on its own, then I can distill and turn it into a screenplay. Thank you Janah, I was lost in a jumble of ideas, instead, I will write a jumble of words, then cut and paste.”
Zi, “May I ask what your initial plots or storylines are?”
“I thought to have the two sets of twins as the obvious, adversaries in the assassination game. Then I thought to have them meet accidentally, like at a club, or as romantic interests, only to find out they both do murder for hire. Conversely, only one set does contract killing, the second set gets into it after they meet the first. I also dreamed up a scenario where one set is hired to kill a husband, and the other is hired to kill the wife, or two business partners trying to take over the whole thing, or two business competitors trying to eliminate the competition.
The question becomes, do the twins start out as enemies, acquaintances or friends right from the start, or do I introduce the second set further into the story. For instance, the opening scene could be the four having a drink together, or it could be one set doing a murder, followed by the second set doing a separate murder. Or the second set is broke and turns to murder for hire, or meets the first set and are trained into the business. Then, where does Ellen come in, or does she come in at all. I had not thought of her with a role until I started thinking of plots. She comes screen ready, flawless, the camera will love her. So I began thinking of a role for her, you see the dilemma.”
Zi, “An embarrassment of riches.”
“Exactly. Which is why I like Janah’s approach, I do a brain dump and see how the words process.”
We wrap tea, Janah asks the inevitable, “What’s for?… I like to anticipate.”
“Veg lasagna, manicotti, they have near zero Italian in town, we bought shells and are stuffing them ourselves, it’s no big deal, mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, eggs tomato sauce. Antipasto to start, Italian salad for the vegetarians, ciabatta to accompany, Chianti of course.”
Janah, “Yum, anticipation is good, time?”
“Cocktails per usual, dinner somewhere between seven fifteen and thirty. I’ll put out nuts and crackers, dinner is full of cheese, the antipasto will be out if you want that with cocktails.”
Su, “This is the best possible life, half the year Danika and I eat like ascetic monks, the other half like real people.”
“You know, I never asked what you did for meals when we aren’t here.”
Danika, “Ascetic is a stretch, but we lighten up. All our meals are vegetarian, it’s just simpler. We spend a lot of time in study and meditation, cooking not so much. We can anticipate your arrival, a break from our less interesting nutrition, and a break from our more intensive meditation and academics.”
Su, “Danika is meditation, I’m generally academics, we have interesting dialogue over meals, swap observations so to speak. That’s what she means, good times together alone, good times when your family shows up.”
“We offered the place to Katya whenever, even if we aren’t here, is that a problem?”
Danika, “No, not at all. They wouldn’t come for more than a month, not even that. Even if they did, it’s no reason to interfere with our routines, they would be in the main hose, we do our thing in the guesthouse. Black, Chan and families have come out, of course, they are Shaolin, we have so much in common. Sonia and Ning enjoy the pool, they are delightful company.”
Daria, “Shadows are active, there is talk of police killings, as in several cops go berserk and start shooting citizens. There will be no explanation, people just shot at random. They will say they felt compelled.”
Janah, “The Shadows realize the general population won’t have a clue, but it would surely attract our attention.”
“Da, and they hope is we show up to look for them.”
“And they might even get cops to shoot us, or just any armed citizen for that matter, people would surely start carrying guns to protect themselves from insane cops.”
“If we don’t appear at the first, they will create other disturbances in different cities until we do. Come to think of it, the whole scenario is disturbing. Citizens already wary of cops start shooting them as a first strike. Cops cracking down on any armed citizen, the whole business escalates, people demand martial law, tanks and Humvees roam the streets. It further riles up the already paranoid gun crowd.”
Nikko, “Before Daphne’s doomsday scenario unfolds, did they say what kinds of disturbances?”
“Nyet.”
Janah, “Still, planning of this type is atypical for Shadows.”
Zi, “Fear of us is bringing them together, overcoming their natural reclusiveness.”
“Some anyway, others left the country if we believe the chat.”
“And you haven’t been able to find the footprints?”
Daria, “A couple, three, one is in Hartford Connecticut, two others in Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, the other in Harrisburg. Now that guests are gone, we will find the rest.”
Chloe, “I take it the question is, do we go to those cities and get the birds to search for Shadows?”
Janah, “I think we have to. If we wait and they get serious about the plan, it risks a slaughter we might have prevented. Is there any reluctance in the chat, do some not want to pursue the most violent course?”
“Yes, like Shadows, they argue back and forth. The lead Shadow, mindthief, insists that only something big would get our attention. Others think something like a weird bank robbery, where a bank manager let them into the vault with no questions. If they did enough similar things, they feel sure we would investigate.”
“But they haven’t gotten as far as a date, or mentioned any specific city.”
“Nyet, no definite plan of any kind.”
“Then we have time.”
Nikko, “You and Daphne should go to one of the cities and send the birds Shadow hunting. Daria, is the IP narrowed down, to a section of the city? A street even?”
“Da, they are not being too careful. They use Tor, but they don’t use hotspots much. They should bounce around Starbucks, McDonalds, like that. Some of them do, which is why they are more trouble to find, but not the three we have, same beginning IP.”
Janah, “We could have cut to the chase, all I have to do is call a couple of contacts and we’ll have exact locations. Is mindthief one of the three?”
“Nyet, going for him next, he has been trickier, does not matter, we will locate him.”
“Who is we? Susan in on this?”
“Sloane, helps, but not as good as Cassandra. Show her what to do, she will do it  until I tell her to stop.”

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