Forty One

Our vigilantes are back, happily unscathed. Nothing to tell, those of us interested saw the carnage on the video feed. It isn’t pleasurable, watching. For most of us it isn’t pleasurable doing, but we watch to make ourselves absorb the gravity of what we do. Vengeance is a tough racket.
I hear Sarah tell Mani, “I need the whip.”
Mani, “Let’s do it.”
They go off to Mani’s bedroom, where she keep the tools. Sarah is strung up, naked. Mani gives her a dozen sharp stinging swipes with a cat o’nine tails, Sarah whimpers.
Mani uncoils the bullwhip. It’s about half size from the normal thing, less than an inch thick at the base, tapers down to the end. Six hard strikes draw blood, Sarah has tears dropping, moans inn sweet agony. Mani sticks a dildo in her and flips it on, then a vibrating butt plug. She leaves them until Sarah trembles twice in climax. Finishes up with backhands across each cheek, leaves a bloody cracked lip. Then she lets her down. Sarah collapses on the floor trembling.
“Thank you.”
I go in and qi the injuries, apply a healing antiseptic cream. Janah will qi her again in an hour, by morning, there won’t be any marks of consequence.
Evening passes quietly, bed, morning arrives on time. The cooks are cranking out breakfast. Sarah comes in.
“That qi thing is amazing, look,” she pulls up her t-shirt, barely a line, lip is healed, bruised cheeks gone.
“Back to your hottie self,” I kiss her, let it linger.
“Now I’m for sure all better,” she run her hand up my thigh, swipes her finger along the sensitive spot, “I’ll finish you later,” she licks my lips.
Dang, lucky me, Sarah is sexually enthusiastic, and liquidly gymnastic.
Ellen, “Sarah managed a whole day and night without intimate stimulation, such discipline, practically celibate for her.”
Sarah, “For some of us, S&M is sexual stimulation.”
“Sheesh.”
Grace B, “Your flight to Topeka is at eight, Surveillance will have the Shadow’s location, they also got a tracker on his car.”
“Good. Make sure they keep their distance, I know they know, tell them again.”
“Message sent.”
Geez the bots are quick, like our mentaling.
Breakfast comes and goes, everyone is busy at something, then a light lunch, we chill for an hour, the children nap or at least lay quietly. Then Britt, Zi and I gung fu for a couple of hours, wrapping with a fierce sparring session between Zi and me.
Britt, “You guys go at it, like a real fight.”
“You play like you practice. If we half strike in practice, that’s what the muscle remembers. Light padding keeps us from breaking bones, mouthpiece from broken teeth, contradicting what I said, even with headgear, head shots are only half speed. Next time, you get thrown around, falling without injury has to be practiced like anything else.”
She grins, “I’ve been working gymnastics with Dasha, she’s not much for fooling around. I can do handsprings and a back flip, still not quite there on the standing front. I can hand walk, watch.”
She curls into a handstand and takes halting steps across the mat, gets to ten and falls, she giggles. 
“Not exactly Janah yet.”
“Janah’s been at it since she was eight, cut yourself some slack.”
“She goes up the steps on her hands, I’m gonna do that one day.”
“Never doubted it.”
Zi, “You have intention, keep it in your mind, results are inevitable.”
Britt smiles, “I get unconditional support, it’s great. Well, everyone gets unconditional support around here, guess I’m not special, but it’s still great.”
Zi, “It means everyone is special to all of the others, that makes you special too.”
Britt, “I hadn’t thought of it that way. Wait…is it wrong to want to feel special?”
“That’s different, do you know why?”
Britt thinks it over, “When Su talks to us, the children, about Buddhism and other philosophies, she always comes around to all is one.”
“What does that mean about wanting to be special?”
“If we’re all one, we are either all special, or nobody is special, if everyone is special, how can anyone be special?”
“Think it over.”
“Um….let’s see…everyone in our family has different skills, and different personalities, and different interests. So they can be special because of that.”
“Quite so. Everyone can be special and not be cancelled out because they are special in different ways, but are still part of the whole, the one. What does that mean about wanting to be special?”
“There’s no reason to want to be special if you’re already special. What wanting is, is to want to be different than you are. Su says there is no reason to want to be different, that is desire, which leads to fear. I kind of get what she means.”
“Then take a moment during the day, like quiet time after lunch, and reflect on it. How does desire lead to fear? Don’t answer now. Be still with it for a while.”
“You sound like Janah.”
Zi, “Daphne is Janah.”
Britt scrunches her lips, “I’ll work on desire and fear, Janah is Daphne and Daphne is Janah will have to wait, my brain hurts when I think about it.”
I laugh, “Muscles ache went you work them hard, your brain is more complicated muscle. But one thought experiment is enough, desire and fear is a good one.”

Forty Two

Janah’s looking around Topeka while I drive, “Topeka is as ordinary as it gets. Flat too. The state is flat on the right side, more elevation on the left, towards Colorado.”
“You don’t care about Kansas topography, something’s happened, you’ve had a change of heart.”
She smiles, “Yes. I’ve decided our approach to Shadows is wrong. It’s tickled the back of my brain for a while, but for the safety of the family, I let it slide.”
“Killing from a distance.”
“If we’re going to kill, we owe it, not to Shadows, but to ourselves, to do it personally. The current approach, formerly darts, now laser guns, is like a man with a rifle shooting a deer from five hundred yards out. There’s no risk for the man, he has nothing at stake.”
“Katya and crew kill, sometimes from a distance, sometimes close up, but they don’t give the target a chance to fight back.”
“They are who they are, both sets of twins were horribly mistreated as children, then abducted and were meant to be sold. Through the same Russian network coincidentally, just several years apart. If they weren’t sociopaths in the first place, they became so as a consequence. Sarah and Mani, I have no idea. Sarah’s childhood was idyllic. Mani had a bossy aunt who raised her, but lots of kids have far worse upbringings. Ellen’s mother attempted to use her as a dick magnet for the younger men she preferred. She managed to escape actual sexual abuse, but only because she was cunning and smart. In any case, they do what they do, why is almost immaterial.”
“In more than a few cases we’ve left Society targets so broken death may have been preferable. We actually did kill some, not physically, psychologically. They had no idea who they were after you remodeled their brains.”
“Consistency is not a virtue, and human consistency is impossible in any case. You once said the only consistent people are the dead, you were correct.”
“Okay, so we face off going forward.”
“Yes, and face injury, perhaps death.”
“You going to have a confab with the girls?”
“Of course, and anyone who wants to refuse the work can. It makes no difference in my view of them, they are our family, not our soldiers.”
“Actually, Nikko will be happy, her samurai spirit prefers physical confrontation. I think she went along for the reasons you mentioned. It’s safer for everyone, Shadows aren’t gentle souls, they don’t fear anyone. We also took the position they aren’t exactly human, which is mostly true.”
“Agreed, but we are. Long distance murder makes us more like Shadows than humans. I’m not getting touchy feeling, this isn’t spiritual, whatever that is. And in case you’re wondering, I’m not wallowing in regret for the ones we took out with poison or lasers. Shadows are nasty and without conscience, they deserve death. I am changing the rules for our sake, not theirs.”
“Glad we decided to take on this one by ourselves then. If one of the others had come, they may have felt compelled to go along. Frankly, I was starting to wonder if all my martial arts practice had become just habit, I wasn’t using it much, either for the Society or Shadows.”
“You’re going to be glad you kept the habit. Besides, for you, ditching martial arts would be like deciding to quit breathing. It isn’t going to happen.”
I’d called off Surveillance when we landed, they escaped notice, no point in risking a forewarned Shadow. He’ll get his chance to deal with me, we don’t want our Surveillance people taking unnecessary risks. They take enough necessary risk following bad people in risky neighborhoods and breaking into homes to plant bugs and cams.
Janah, “Here’s his love nest, car’s in the drive, how do you want to confront?”
“He’s alone in there, Surveillance said when he came home last night nobody was with him. The GPS tracker on his car says it’s been right here. Unless he’s had a teen girl delivery since Surveillance pulled out an hour ago, he’s on his own. Why don’t I arouse his Shaolin sense, you hang out as backup?”
We park two houses down on the street, get out of the car. Janah stays twenty yards back while I approach his front door. He lives in a cookie cutter residential, middle class two thousand square foot homes, small yard, no pools, no McMansions. Shadows keep a low profile, chances are neighbors have little idea who he is.
Nothing at first, I walk around to the rear, only shrubbery separates the houses, small stuff, waist high. If you want privacy in this hood, close the blinds, which appears to be the case with most of the places. 
The rear door is standard sliding glass opening to a patio that gets no use. No grill, no furniture, not so much as a lawn chair. Leaves are piled agains the door, looks like it hasn’t been opened in weeks. The vertical blinds are, however, open. I see the target peering out. He’s not happy.
The door lock clicks, door slides to the left.
“Fucking Shaolin priest, how are you stupid enough to be here?”
“It’s Shaolin Cookie Month, haven’t you heard? We decided Girls Scouts were getting all the dough, we want our share of the carb market.”
“Quite a flip attitude for one about to die. Where’s the robe honey?”
“Dry cleaners, may I come in? We don’t want to upset the neighbors.”
He steps aside, I go in, keep my back to him like I’m unconcerned about his next move.
“You’re a neat psychopath anyway, place is all spiffy. What do you pay the housekeeper?”
“She gets to suck my cock, she’s fourteen, lives right down the street. Horny little cunt, comes around two or three times a week. Tight little pussy, tighter ass, cheerleader with the legs to prove it.”
I turn to face him, “I have a rather pressing schedule, too many of you, only one of me. Shall we begin?”
“Don’t be so anxious to die. I know there’s more than one of you, I presume you have your battalion of bitches around, where’s the dart? Or lately, the laser gun? I’m a bit confused as to why I’m even seeing you.”
“Well, we don’t really care if you die, but on reflection, we care about how you die. Lasers are too impersonal, we’re going DIY.”
“That’s really stupid, allow me to demonstrate.”
His hand comes up, I’m suddenly propelled across the room, splat! against the far wall. Janah would have to change methodology right when we deal with a particularly powerful beast.
Now I’m warned, I leap up, see his hand move…wait…wait…catch the twitch in his finger, I twist left, feel the energy shoot past. A lamp disintegrates behind me.
“You’re quick, I seldom miss,” he gives it another go, right to my gut. 
I leap, spread my legs like an in-air side split, a vase on an end table turns to dust.
It’s my moment, he’ll need to recharge after three hard energy shots, as least I hope so. One foot hits the floor, the next a step closer, then I’m airborne, flip and come down on his collarbone with my right heel. Crunch, snap! He gasps.
My left foot catches him on the side of his neck, he cartwheels against a bookcase. It’s more like a display case, Shadows don’t read much. Trinkets stacked on the shelves clatter to the floor.
I move in to finish up, he has other ideas. A spray of broken glass flies from the rubble next to him, I do a one eighty, take the glass in the back of my jacket, underneath is the polymer vest stopping the shards. A few bits catch the back of my head, a watch cap made of the same flexi-polymer as the vest and my thick hair keep the glass from getting to skin.
I turn, he’s finding his feet, I crescent kick his jaw, follow up with a rising front kick. The steel toe of my boot double dislocates his dislocated jaw. He manages to send a wooden statue off the mantle, it clonks me on the side of the head. I feel it, the cap saves me from a seriously dented skull, but I hear little tinkling bells.
He’s standing now, disoriented, face must hurt like hell. His eyes carry the intense hatred Shadows feel for Shaolin, and it must make it worse that he can’t speak, jaw flops uselessly to one side. I decide we’ve had enough fun.
I squish my fingers together into a duck bill and strike him heart high with a heavy dose of my own qi. Dim Mak takes a minute to work, nerves that operate the heart go numb, then dead. Blood stops circulating, he’s dying on his feet, staring at me. Eyes flutter and go blank, he’s dead before he hits the carpet.
Janah’s at the patio door, “Nicely done, let me pick the glass out of your  cap and jacket and we can get gone.”
“We need to lift his electronics, see if he’s got files.”
After she pulls out the hunks of glass, we look around. He’s got a low end phone, but low end these days includes lots of photo and video capacity. I fiddle around and find his photo stash. Fair number of young girls but more like potential targets, nothing sexually explicit. 
Video file is different. 
“Must be twenty different girls, wait, make it more like thirty. We’ll find out what he did with them later. Let’s see, disable the locate function, turn off the phone. Can you get the tracker off his car?”
“Did that first. He has a tablet, a laptop and external drive. Daria will figure out if he has stuff in the Cloud.”
We bag it up, Daria can hack it later. If he sent files to girls’ families, nothing we do now will change that.
On the drive to the hotel I ask, “We keeping the schedule or flying home tonight?”
“It’s only three, we have nothing interesting to do in Topeka. I’m changing our flight, we didn’t make a hotel reservation.”
I mental Amaya when we’re airborne, three hour flight, we gain two in time zones, home in Malibu for seven.

Forty Three

Dasha is miffed, “Why take on Shadow peerson hand to hand combating Dahfoney? You have brain bashed, maybe glass in face.”
“Mind to hand is more like it, I’m sure Nikko explained. And you followed in my head, so you know the outcome was successful. And all of you know that no one is obliged to take on Shadows face to face, mind to mind.”
Nikko, “I’m glad Janah made the change, makes life more interesting.”
Dasha, “Sisters will anyway fight Shadows, they cannot deal wiz us no mahter how much qi energy they haf.”
Zi, “I’m obliged as a Shaolin.”
“Danika and Su are not warrior priests, we wouldn’t ask them to go Shadow hunting anyway.”
Katya, “We don’t much Shadow hunt, what if we happen to be along though, for any number of reasons?”
Janah, “Don’t get hurt following my made up rule, shoot them. You are not in a position to fight Shadows hand to hand so to speak. You and your sister have developed a certain qi energy ability, but not so as to take on a Shadow. It’s possible, but in general, you won’t be on Shadow trips. We do come across them in other situations. Like I said, if it happens and any of our lives are in danger, don’t hesitate, laser tag them. This isn’t a religion or a morality play.”
Ellen, “I think the change is admirable, put yourselves at risk. You realize we have no intention of putting ourselves at risk on other….matters.”
“Of course not. Look, this is something I think is best for how we think of ourselves in the matter of Shadows. As I said, we might face death, but I have zero intention of letting any of us die screwing around with a Shadow. Picking them off like fish in a barrel…I can’t go that route any longer. They need to die and they will, but by our hand, not a drone in the sky. Your thing has nothing to do with Shadow hunting.”
Katja, “We are taking fewer contracts. We do not take forty thousand dollar contracts anymore. Our minimum is a quarter million, we have done three one million dollar resolutions in the last couple of years.”
“I haven’t read about any political assassinations….wait, there was one two years ago, some Congressman. It was a big deal then, never found the shooter. I know you can’t confirm, not asking you to.”
“Most of our work is corporate, the rest is wealthy spouses, sometimes children of the wealthy. We get solicitations to target politicians, almost always refuse. It is noisy, gets all the agencies involved, most parties cannot afford it. A national level politician would be a million or more.”
“How do they take being turned down?”
“We do not know. It’s an anonymous contact to our anonymous site. If we don’t like the job, we don’t reply. The site is clear, no reply in forty eight hours means we are not taking it, does not say ‘we’ of course. Contracts are paid via lockbox in virtual currency, same as always. Nobody knows us, we do not know who hires us.”
We break up the informal meeting, the children are upstairs, they don’t need to be a part of this discussion.
Little ones pour downstairs, Uma says, “You killed the bad man Tetya Dafna.”
So much for that notion.
“Zycyryn?”
“Da, we watched it from the vual'.”
“What’s the vual'?”
Karol, “There is a veil, the space we travel in. We can see, but are invisible to others, like the windows on our house, we can see out but nobody can see in.”
“It never came up before.”
Britt, “I can’t travel with them, they told me about it after.”
Nikko, “What prevents you from traveling?”
“I’m still a kid, but growing, not like the children. I think it has to do with their eternal youth.”
“None of us age except you, why just the children?”
“Beats me.”
Janah, “It isn’t their age, it’s something else. They are the next gen of humanity, a future evolutionary development that arrived early. Not growing beyond their current ages I can’t explain.”
“You will have a decision to make in a few years.”
Britt, “Yeah, when to stop aging. I think I’m going the Oceane and Cass route.”
Amaya, “Fourteen, sheesh, everyone is younger than I.”
Ellen, “You’re flipping sixteen, been sixteen over twenty years, what’s the problem?”
“None really, I thought I would get bigger breasts, did not work out that way, I got a little more, not much. I briefly considered enhancement, but it is impossible to enhance perfection.”
Chloe, “I’m glad you didn’t, I’m a size nothing.”
“You have breasts, the modeling agencies didn’t want heavers when you were in that line.”
“Well I wouldn’t have been a Victoria’s Secret angel.”
Amaya, “Gosh, no pimply teen boys gawking at your tits, what a tragedy. Just think, you could have been arm candy for some hedge fund flunky, or worse, a professional athlete.”
Chloe giggles, “No, that wasn’t in the cards. I could get enhanced now though, if you wish.”
Amaya, “Do not even, Vesnushki. I do not need two softballs smashing me in the face.”
“Guess my bust dreams are busted.”
Chloe doesn’t need enhancement, she’s one of the most popular film stars on the planet. Our main problem is she’s been one for twenty years, but hasn’t aged a day. She quit doing cosmetic commercials in Japan because customers assumed she looked young because of the product. None of us use that stuff except Janah and she only uses it because it feels good. Better to condition dry skin with coconut oil. That’s not to say we don’t use makeup, we like lipstick, gloss, eyeliner and shadow, it’s a girl thing. We don’t wrinkle, or age, serums serve no purpose.
Time for bed, Janah works my bonked head until my brain feels frozen, then I’m drowsy, asleep in minutes.

Forty Four

The kids have polished up the play, Amaya’s rewritten version of Rocky Horror Picture Show from over fifty years ago .
The parents have flown in, my mom, her companions Lacy and Taylor, and Janah’s parents James and Kara. If you’ve followed our endless story, you know we gave them our weird life extending proteins and RNA years ago. My mom is perpetually forty, as is Lacy, Taylor is eternally thirty, Janah’s parents late forties. Good thing we’re rich, expenses go on just like our lives.
Mom is a part time computer security consultant, or was, then quantum computing came along and brought quantum encryption. It’s better, still not perfect. Like Daria says, if it can be encrypted, it can be decrypted. She and Susan, my mother who I call Sis, developed a decryption program. Plug into an encrypted drive, the encrypted Cloud, encrypted files eventually are readable. It takes longer than the old hack days, but your stuff isn’t safe from them. corporations and the government are hard, regular folks still are lax about encryption, it’s an extra step, and people are lazy.
James is a psychiatrist, a consulting diagnostic expert. Tricky diagnoses are his specialty and business is brisk. Virtual Reality has added a whole new layer to psychological train wrecks, a plethora of designer drugs didn’t help either. Pharmaceuticals are freely obtainable, either legally, or via new improved versions of the old Silk Road. How does a psychiatrist help? It isn’t figuring out what drug they took, toxicology today is a near exact science. It’s what the drug did to the brain that’s the problem. Getting the neuronal connections tied in a knot is the easy part, untying them is far more difficult. In many cases, drugs don’t help fix the damage. 
Janah’s mom, Kara, is a noted artist. Her work is three dimensional, not stuff stuck on a canvas, the painting itself. You would swear the picture has actual depth, or I should say, parts of it leap out at you, like the old 3D movies. She worked with Oceane when she first started drawing her pencil sketches. Oceane’s work looks like a photograph, it’s that crisp. She works in colored pencil primarily.
Lacy, “Christ, you think the house is big enough? Does it come with road signs?”
“Ask one of the bots if you need to know where you are or need to go. You can access them on your phone, they are available twenty four seven, bots don’t sleep.”
“That I get, the one Eloise sent us is amazing, condo is clean, all our schedules, restaurant reservations, plane tickets, hotels, I haven’t booked anything in years. We tell her we want to go to London from date X to Y, she knows all our preferences, arranges flights, a hotel, transportation.”
James, “Down to the right single malt in our room, it’s wonderful.”
“So Dad, how’s the shrink biz?”
Janah and I call her parents and mine mom and dad. My father was only a sperm donor, story in Book I. I’ve never met him, never wanted to.
“More complicated now. Fortunately our databases and treatment regimens are more sophisticated as well. I spend about as much time entering symptoms and their pharmaceutical history as I do actually talking to them.”
Kara, “Baloney. I have to make him travel to see him. He’s in one psych ward or another seven days a week, and when we do travel he’s on some electronic device.”
Susan, “Let’s get to the important part, where are the children?”
“Still in their dorm I presume, unless the Zycyryn have them off across the universe.”
Taylor, “Is that for real? Or kid fantasy?”
“If the mood strikes, they may let you have a peek, but don’t be disappointed if not, they don’t pop out much. Ah, here’s Britt.”
She’s only met the parents a couple of times, Susan has talked on video calls frequently though.
Sis, “Hey sweetie, you’re growing up, not as obvious on video calls.”
Britt hugs her, “Mom says I need to decide on an age eventually, right now I’m thinking fourteen or fifteen, maybe in between Oceane, Cass and Lauren on the young side and Amaya on the old side.”
Amaya, “Careful.”
Britt giggles, “Older side, you know what I mean.”
Sloane comes in with Lauren, Oceane and Cass, lots of hugs. Oceane is only vaguely aware of who these people are despite seeing them every year or so. Cassie, we don’t know, she never says anything, just smiles. The parents know this and introduce themselves again. 
Oceane says what she always says, “I am Oceane, I am of the water, Cassandra is of the sky,” then tells Susan the same thing she always tells her, “You look like Daphne.”
Cassie looks at Oceane, smiles, floats up over her shoulder, the drift off to a table by the pool.
Lacy, “I will never get used to that.”
Sis, “At least I still look like my daughter, my annual reminder.”
Amaya, “Our strange angels are born into a new world every day.”
It’s moving to cocktail hour, Amaya tends bar, Grace B and Emma B serve.
Taylor whispers in my ear, “Lauren is gorgeous,” she laughs, “then there’s Oceane, and of course Queen Bee Amaya. Frankly, the whole crew is breathtaking.”
“Janah prefers to be surrounded by beauty, it’s an aesthetic thing.”
“She started with you and got spoiled.”
“Thank you, compliments from a hot blond fashion model are always appreciated.”
“So glad I took early retirement. You mom took me in and has been a dream, Lacy was icing on my cake.”
“You did your bit, made a lot of money modeling, it isn’t like she supported you, which wouldn’t matter, she’d be happy to support you.”
“And you guys gave Lacy a ton of money for the building the school is in, she says you paid twice the market rate.”
“I guess, Nikko says the building is worth multiples of our purchase price. New York went crazy and except for a blip when terrorists blew up Times Square, it kept going crazy. Nikko sold off much of our property in Manhattan, and we took a buyout on the property management company. She made us…it’s embarrassing to say.”
Taylor, “You’re multi billionaires, Nikko was right, there’s no point to continuing with the hassle of running companies that had grown to the size of Murakami Sylk. You guys are private people. Owing that much real estate, or managing it for others, kept the name circulating. You still have some businesses.”
“Film company, drone company and virtual reality. Chloe Couture is in there but that’s Chloe and Amaya’s, like Amaya’s publications. Black has the restaurants, we’re just lazing along.”
The hive swarms down the steps, captured by parents full of questions, the rest of us are forgotten, we spread out around the pool. The children fill them in on Tetyas and Mamas, hard to have secrets around here, the Gids are everywhere and channel right to the children.
I see Susan eyeing me, they’ve spilled the beans on something  I’ll have to answer for later.
Just before dinner, she sidles up to me, “Are you insane?”
“I think so.”
“Taking on Shadows personally? You had a safe system.”
“The kids said something.”
“Uma, ‘Tetya Dafna killed a bad man with a black aura. She is a fearless warrior’. Why are you doing it the unsafe way?”
I explain Janah’s discomfort.
“What about my discomfort? Now I have fresh new things to worry about. You came home injured.”
“And the Shadow didn’t come home at all, well, let’s say he never left home again, not alive anyway.”
“That is no comfort whatsoever. I understand Janah’s point, but still…”

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