Forty Five

Finally, time to head to the mountains. Fumiko settled and in place, we fly to Banff Airport in Alberta. We need three SUVs to get twenty one of us, Kota B and Grace B to the lodge.
Jan, “Good gracious, what a swarm. How do you cook for this crowd Daphne?”
“Grace B does all the heavy lifting.”
“Who is this one?”
“Kota B, her primary and secondary responsibility is the children.”
Grace B, “She has eight little ones that principally look after themselves, I have thirteen crackpots with endless demands.”
Francisco, “I recall an Emma B also.”
“Uppity British type, imperious to a fault.”
Amaya, “You are such a liar Grace B, Emma is a gracious lady, a state of which you know nothing.”
Grace B ignores her and begins unloading, “Some of you ingrates might lend a hand or we shall never get to the house. The malnourished waifs will need something to eat.”
Charles laughs, “I see her charming personality remains intact.”
“Buzz off monk. Did you clowns get the provisions delivered, or were you on your asses meditating for good fishing?”
Jan, “All done Your Worship.”
While Kota Be introduces the kids to the monks and gets them on one of the boats, life vests snugged up, they look like little orange pillows. We transfer the few things we brought along. Clothes for the children were shipped up earlier to avoid dealing with baggage on the plane. Our Rockies clothes stay here. We’re racing across the lake, then unloading on the other side. 
It’s around fifty eight degrees Fahrenheit, average for summer. At our elevation, seven thousand feet, temps run from low thirties at night to high fifties or low sixties during the day. Highs in the winter run eight to ten, lows are zero, cold, cringing cold. The monks get repair and maintenance done from October to mid December, then hole up for two months. Time for study and meditation. They can get out around the beginning of March, the lodge opens April first.
Dasha checks the pantry, freezer and refrigerator, “Ees all here, Jan always does best job for us.”
I’m lighting burners, I know Francisco or Charles checked, I have to see for myself. Grace B goes around flushing toilets and running taps. She comes back to the kitchen.
“All in order, the dorm is beautiful, better in person than on the cam. Exactly as Amaya wanted, not as big as Manhattan, cozy, with a fireplace right in the middle. The girls will be nice and toasty on cold nights.”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, we will haf snack only for lunch, everyone haf breakfast on the planes.”
We flew out in three separate eight passenger jets, the kids were divided four and four. They handled being separated, when we landed they immediately swarmed together again.
“Sounds good, what do we have for quickies?”
“Variety of chiz, crackers, Kind bars, protein bars. We will put out on the table and they can take as they wish. Grace B, tell Kota B to come down and get something for the girls.”
“Skip it Grace B, I’ll do it, I want to see the dorm. You can ask her if the refrigerator up there is stocked.”
She taps into Kota B, then, “Yes, bottled tea, juice and sodas, all low or no sugar.”
I bring up a platter of cheese, crackers and a variety of bars. Geez, Grace B is right, the dorm is elegant. Amaya circled the fireplace with curved sofa sectionals that will turn into beds at night. The kids will sleep lengthwise, but even if they lay a few feet apart, they won’t make a complete circle. Then again, they will sleep two together, one little one enveloped by one older one. Amaya is surveying the work.
“The monks did a splendid job, and whoever they got to do the electrical, plumbing and finishing did it superbly. Cushiony mat flooring came out perfectly. I am thrilled.”
“I think the children are topping your thrill, we may never get them to leave.”
They’re exploring the room, then stand as a group looking out at the amazing mountain view.
Nikko and Zi come in, “Wow, what a space, it looked cool on the cam, but the thing itself is breathtaking.”
Amaya, “Thank you Nikko, I picked out the parts, the monks and the subcontractors did the work, and did it wonderfully. And now I will let the children enjoy it while I have a glass of Champagne downstairs, is our fireplace going yet?”
“Grace B was stacking logs. I think you have the right idea, Champagne, cheese and crackers, maybe a nap before tea.”
Dasha comes in as they leave, “Children are to haf a snack, then you may do as you wish. No lessons this week, no computing, you will learn about the mountains, the forest and the animals that live here. Eat something, then Kota B will get you ready to go outside. You will not sit in beautiful room all day, plenty of time tonight.”
“Da mama.”
Dasha nods, “Kota B, after snack, they will go and explore, you will watch.”
“Of course. Sloane will be with us, the children will be fine.”
The rest of the family is spread around the living area or out on the porch, fortified with Champagne or wine, Eloise and Janah are having Sapporo. Zi and I are having sparkling water, our Shaolin vows prohibit intoxicants. After all the years, we stick to the promise we made.
Lauren, “Kids adapting okay?”
“Fascinated by their room, but Mama insists they go outside after they eat.”
The swarm comes down the stairs, all bundled with boots and scarves, cute woolen hats that pull down over their ears. Kota B isn’t taking any chances, even in fifty five degree weather.
We go to the porch to observe, Grace B has the drone monitoring the surrounding forest.
Sloane takes them on a tour of the woods that surround most of our home. The front left is the dock and lake, the house itself isn’t much visible from the lake, and only partially visible from the dock itself. It’s become a massive place and we aren’t anxious to attract curiosity seekers.
 Kota B is sending video to our tablets, she pans the area, a half dozen wolves in an arch, Sloane is scratching the alpha male behind the ears.
Kota B, “Should I do anything?”
“It’s okay, they’re Sloane’s pals. They will see the children as her cubs.”
A half hour goes by, we watch Sloane’s pack and the wolf pack roam the slope, then they come upon a den stuffed with wolf cubs. A wonderful interplay of our kids and theirs, particularly the two littlest, Uma and Zofia. They lie on the grass in a meadow while cubs leap on top of them and nip gently at their hair. The girls are giggling so hard their faces are crimson.
The cubs tire and each finds a spot in a child’s lap and naps. In an incredible display of trust, the adults leave their little ones alone with ours, race Sloane up and around the meadow, into the forest and back down twenty minutes later.
Lauren, “They must really trust Sloane.”
Janah, “She put her trust in their ancestors when she agreed to the transmission, this is their way of reciprocating that trust.”
The afternoon disappears, it has a way of doing that here, we can park on the porch, mesmerized by crystal blue water, not a ripple on the surface. One boat churns slowly on the far side of the lake, a dot in the distance. 
Nikko, “Fumiko didn’t collapse in terror the first day. It’s well after closing in New York.”
“Nobody quit yet?”
“I kind of expected a resignation or two. Fumiko knows our policy, someone resigns, we wish them well. We never try to get them to stay on, all that does is teach them the way to a promotion or raise is to threaten to quit.”
Daria, “I talked to her earlier, only to ask if she needed anything. She said staff has been supportive, she will need an assistant to juggle her schedule, answer the phone and handle email. Your policy is all phone calls get a human on the end, callers may be sent to a voice mail, but only after talking to a person.”
Nikko, “Yes, she needs a full time assistant. I didn’t want to make suggestions, and Ren has been with us for years. But she handles our communication and scheduling for all of Murakami Sylk, not just the property management company.”
“Plus Ren has her own staff, Nishiko, an assistant for the various cross company departments, travel, meeting schedules and set up, legal liaison, accounting liaison, and benefits. She will use those as we do. Perhaps Ren knows someone.”
Daria, “I think she wants the man who worked with her in San Francisco.”
Nikko, “It didn’t come up, with all the decisions she needed to make, I’m not surprised. It’s her baby, that’s up to her. I recall him, his name is…”
“Jean, personable, works hard, knows business etiquette and has an MBA. He is gay, not an issue, only an aside. We are all queer, well, I do not have a clue about Fumiko. She never mentioned dating, boyfriend or girlfriend.”
Zi, “Maybe Jean wanted to stay in the Bay area.”
Nikko, “Might be it, I know nothing of his personal life, I know he was diligent. Zi, did you read anything?”
“No, as you say, diligent, no mystery agenda, quite happy at the company. He’s as advertised. Fumiko can hardly do better.”
Time for me to step out of listening in on business and turn my attention to the kitchen. 

Forty Six

Jan made sure we had fresh Walleye to grill. Chloe loves to fish, she’ll keep us stocked as needed. While cocktail girls have drinks, I stoke up my grill. It’s on the side of house, on the front porch extension. A window directly to the kitchen so Dasha and I can pass to be grilled and finished grilled back and forth. We don’t have to haul it out the door and around the corner. The grill smoke wafts away courtesy of exterior fans before it hits the front porch, or me, or gets sucked into the kitchen when the window opens.
Dasha, “We will haf French fry, root vegetable grill in buhter wiz gahrlik and Okonomi sauce. I haf three pans of Ghirardelli brownies wiz fudge topping.”
“There won’t be any complaints, what goes on the fish?”
“Lime buhter wiz Worcestershire, ees already prepare, I will microwave to warm then Grace B will spoon over feesh, sliced roasted almonds for topping. Habanero and Tabasco for spicy girls.”
Janah sips Champagne, “My taste buds drool, I may have to have a bite of fish. Oceane is mostly veg, but she adores fish.”
“If you feel like a change in diet, your body must be sending a message.”
“What I thought, I must need omega 3s or whatever.”
The children flow down from the dorm, spread out facing the fireplace. Kota B delivers cranberry spritzers and bowls of nuts. They are adorably dressed as female goddesses of Greek mythology. 
Lauren, “How much stuff did you ship up Amaya?”
“The children need creative inspiration, outfits are a part of that. Look at how perfect, I am genius. The makeup alone took me hours to figure out for each girl, fortunately Kota B is a quick learner and knows exactly how to apply it.”
Kota B, “The girls will introduce themselves, starting with Uma.”
They line up in front of the fireplace, smallest to tallest, Uma to the far left begins, 
“I am Aphrodite, the Goddess of fertility, love, and beauty.”
Zofia, “I am Demeter, Goddess of the harvest and the fertility of the earth, of sacred law and the cycle of life and death.”
Devona, “I am Athene, the Goddess of War, daughter of Zeus.”
Karol, “I am Hera, Queen of the Olympian gods, the wife and sister of Zeus.”
Jesica, “I am Pandora, created by the Gods Hephaestus and Athena. I opened the box that released all the evil in the world.”
Tasia, “I am Psyche, a woman gifted with extreme beauty and grace, one of the mortal women whose love and sacrifice for the God Eros earned my immortality.”
Valeska, “I am Hestia, Goddess of the hearth, home, architecture, domesticity and family.”
Nadia, “I am Artemis, goddess of the hunt, daughter of Zeus, King of the Gods, my twin brother is the God Apollo.”
Kota B, “The girls love the stories in Greek mythology, although there is a fair amount of sex they tend to gloss over that part. As with Shakespeare, they enjoy the drama and subterfuge.”
Chloe, “They are absolutely adorable, I’m totally jealous of the gowns. Chloe Couture should have a Greek Goddess line.”
Amaya, “You may be onto something dearest. Versions have been tried, they tended towards eveningwear, balls, galas, that sort of thing. Versace had a run at it, elaborate headbands were the thing in fourteen.”
A few minutes of modeling costumes for us and they zip off to the dorm, an elevated structure attached to Oceane and Cassie’s bedroom separated by a hallway leading to the stairwell.
Grace B, “They coming back down for dinner?”
“Ask Kota B.”
A second later, “They are doing Goddess things, casting spells and starting wars then magically ending them.”
“Then we’ll bring them something after we eat, speaking of…,” I go outside, Dasha passes me platters of fish and I get busy.
Twenty minutes later girls are filling plates with Walleye, vegetables and fries. Nikko and Eloise top off the fish with Habanero sauce, Dasha and Daria add a dash of Tabasco.
Janah, “Guess my veg days are coming to a close, the fish is really wonderful.”
“Thank you, Dasha’s lime butter gives it panache.”
Chloe, “Lime butter, a tad sweeter than lemon butter, but still adds the tang.”
Dasha, “Ees experiment, if everyone likes, I will alternate, or, it ees no problem to make both.”
I nibbled fish and fries while I grilled, Grace B is refilling wine glasses, I start stacking fish on a platter, drizzle lime butter over the filets, add a bowl of grilled vegetables and a platter of fries. 
“Grace B, I’m taking up the fish and fries, can you bring the vegetables?”
Dasha, “I will do it, I want to see girls for a minute.”
We haul up the goods, they have utensils and plates already, the refrigerator has condiments, primarily ketchup, there’s a dishwasher and a microwave in their kitchen area.
Girls gather at their table, Kota B serves with an assist from me.
Dasha, “Later you will come downstairs for brownies and spend a few minutes wiz fahmahley. Also take off gowns and put away for another time. Kota B will lay out leggings and long sweater, you may want to go out on porch and we do not anyway want you frozen. Vy ponimayete?”
A collective, “Da mama.”
We sit while they enjoy dinner, Kota B has wineglasses out, she fills them with diet Cranberry and club soda. They’ll get enough sugar hit when dessert is served.
As ever, gentle as doves with one another, Tasia cuts up fish for Uma and Zofia. Nadia raises her glass, “K mame i Dafna.”
How sweet, to mama and Daphne, I’m touched.
Dasha, “Spasibo detey.”
She makes the rounds with a kiss on both cheeks for each one. Amazing, they grabbed her heart from the beginning, and keep it with them, warm and cozy.
Dasha, “They are best children, sisters will be old young ladies wiz old young children. I wonder Dahfoney, they will not grow up, but they will mature, how ees it to be?”
“Guess we’ll find out. They don’t interact with the world, for the most part they live in their own, perhaps they will mature more slowly. We aren’t pressing them to do anything, it’s not like they’re going to go to college, or even high school, or any school.”
“Nyet, no school, only Kota B school, Eemaya acting lessons.”
“They are learning human nature by acting Shakespeare and Greek mythology. They read and act out Sherlock Holmes stories, Jane Austen, the Victorians. Janah says they will know more about people than any contemporary shrink.”
Dasha thinks this over, “Ees best education for them. We will go now and feex dessert.”
Brownies out on a platter, no ice cream. It’s too hard to get here in enough quantity. Our tribe isn’t much for whipped cream, we’ll have brownies in their natural state, baked with chopped walnuts and fudge on top. 
The kids appear and park across from the fireplace. Kota B hands out plates with a brownie and a fork, Dasha has cups of hot chocolate for them, fat marshmallows melting on top.
“Sip chocolate first, ees hot, let it cool or you will haf burning tongue.”
“Da mama.”
Janah, “Did I hear hot chocolate?”
I take a head count, everyone wants a cup, should have guessed. Dasha and I get busy, we use Ovaltine and add Ghirardelli syrup to kick in more chocolate flavor. I prefer the fat marshmallows to the mini kind. We brown the tops in the oven before handing out cups.
“Remember Dasha’s admonition, it’s hot chocolate, not lukewarm chocolate.”
Amaya, “Da mama.”
They laugh at me, I take a sip, dang, it’s really good.
When the kids finish the hive swarms to the porch, Kota B and Sloane out with them. Sloane patrols the perimeter, no scent of humans, good enough, it would be surprising if there were. We don’t want surprises, so Sloane patrols.
Eloise has a drone over the lake, no boats, no nothing. She shows Nadia how to operate it, who shows Tasia and Valeska. They take turns landing and taking off, bursts of Russian-English as they catch on to the maneuvers.
The others are exploring the sky. It’s dark up here, porch lights off, the outdoor heaters cast an orange glow, a crescent moon to the east, otherwise stars. Billions of stars, and asteroid and meteors, which we think of as shooting stars. The children have never seen such a night sky, they are mesmerized. 

Forty Seven

Janah, “We have a stalker outside of Memphis, can’t get it out of his head that his former girlfriend belongs to him. Meant to be together, blah, blah.”
“Belongs? Like chattel, property, a thing to be possessed.”
“That’s about it.”
“And what does the lord and master do while he’s not stalking?”
“Owns a car dealerships, Lincoln and Acura. He’s not poor. Which is how he got the attention of a college cheerleader.”
“She into old guys?”
“Maybe, but he’s not old, daddy started the Lincoln dealership, Sonny grew up peddling metal, daddy dies, then Sonny bought the Acura dealership. He’s twenty nine, arrogant as a Senator, sleek like American Psycho.”
“Want me to fly down and deal?”
“I called Katya, they’re coming up in a few days anyway, she said they’d go to Memphis first and adjust Stalker Sonny’s bad attitude.”
“What’s his name?”
“Sonny.”
“Thought you nicknamed him for simplicity’s sake.”
“Nope, sonny is Sonny.” 
“Always wonder why a big brother or some off duty cop can’t fix these guys.”
“In this case it’s the oldest girl technology stupidity.”
“Geez, he has pictures.”
“And video, some of which is her giving him oral sex, some other intercourse scenes. It’s not deadly, there’s nothing particularly wild, she’s just not ready to have herself go viral. Her father is a pastor, she’s trying to protect herself and her parents from further humiliation. She’s on a treadmill trap, keep performing for him or she’s get her fifteen of infamy.”
“Women never learn, the only rational assumption is that your home movies will show up on the net one day. If you’re good with that, fine, but if you aren’t, don’t make them, the cheap thrill is wildly expensive.”
“When did you start thinking of humanity as rational?”
“In a moment of temporary insanity.”
Sloane comes in, “Yay, Sarah’s up in a few days.”
Sarah has a fondness for Sloane’s boy part, and she’s a racehorse slim runner. She can’t keep up with Sloane, but she’s good, her specialty is the three and five thousand, something between sprinter and long distance. 
“And that means luscious Ellen, crazy Mani and the other twins, Katya and Katja. I wonder what the children will make of two sets of twins.”
Lauren, “Been, what, over a year since we saw the crew?”
“Janah and I made a road trip to New Orleans for two days, remember, the antiques dealer?”
“Oh, yeah, that wasn’t New Orleans though, some burb.”
“Covington. Nasty place, full of white refugees from New Orleans’ perpetual crime wave.”
“And the dealer was getting his antiques the old fashioned way, theft from old people.”
“It was a one day fix, he’s not in the antiques biz any longer, he’s on disability. We went in to avoid Katya’s involvement so close to home.  The rewards were superb, dinner at Galatoire’s, foursome sex with Ellen, Mani and Sarah, Janah took on the twins all by herself.”
Lauren, “You have a magical life mommy. One day I may have sex with someone other than me, just not today.”
Lauren is asexual, she’s not above self-stim with a toy, but she’s never gone girl or boy. She adores her own image too much to be attracted to anyone but herself, which is not my psychologizing, it’s what she says. Her phone and screensavers are…guess who? Many of which are nudes. Not porn spread-legs nudes, demure, flirty, tasteful. I know, I’m her photographer. Oceane has drawn her nude a dozen times, the pictures are gorgeous. We have one hanging in the main room in Manhattan, others in Canada and Arizona.
There’s a bustle down the stairs, the girls aren’t noisy, rather silent actually, but the motion of eight honeybees at once catches one’s attention.
They file out the door, followed by Kota B.
“Grace B, where are they headed?”
“Circling out front, some ritual they have concocted.”
“A nude ritual, they haven’t a stitch on.”
“How fucking observant, you must be a monk.”
“It’s chilly, fifty five or something.”
“A monk and a weathergirl, you never cease to amaze. Do they look cold, are they blue, shivering, curled up in a ball?”
I peer out the door, they’re spinning like Sufi mystics, I decide to make lunch. 
Dasha’s already halfway done with chicken salad.
“Aigs ees ready to peel Dahfoney, some for cheeken, the rest for aig salad. You will make. Grace B, cut crust off bread, stack slices on the table. Then open cheeps, no mahter what kind. Enough for lunch. Tonight flank steak wiz gahrlik mash and grill mushroom, also herb zoup.”
She’s got the soup simmering, she pulls of the lid and stirs, talks to herself, ‘Zoup needs water, also another can of tomato paste, later I will remove herbs, they are anyway only for flavor. What else? Maybe chop onion.’
Grace B, “Insane people talk to themselves you know.”
Dasha, “Get me one ohnyon Grace B, everyone ees insane, eef we are human, we are insane, Dahfoney tells me. Only deeference ees how much crazy one ees over another.”
“Bitch has a point, she is not all legs, there is a brain in there someplace, small, but functional.”
“Dahfoney can go to Janah’s brain, she does not haf to be smart one, only cook and protect fahmahley, haf sex wiz everyone. More than you do, tin pot bot.”
“Here’s your onion, want me to tell you what to do with it?”
“Finish bread Grace B, we haf enough of your bullsheeting. Then go and see what children are doing.”
“I can follow then through Kota B, Dasha, I can do it and slice bread, and create new algorithms for the drone, and follow Daria’s Shadow program, which, by the way, has sorted new possibilities.”
“Alert Daria and Janah.”
“Already done, there, the bread is sliced, I’ll drop the crusts outside for the birds.”
We make the sandwiches, slice them in halves, Grace B has a big bowl of salt and pepper chips and another of spicy fried pork skins. I alert the masses that lunch is ready and go outside.
“Kota B, the children are crummy, which is fine, dirt is good for them. Come and get a platter of sandwiches and chips, I’ll bring drinks. Girls, rinse off under the outside shower, you can eat on the porch.”
Nikko comes from the downstairs office, Zi is with her, she takes a look out the window.
“There are naked children having lunch on the porch.”
“Did some sort of ritual dance they thought up, apparently it goes better clothing free. The Greek Goddesses spent a lot of time naked, perhaps it’s their influence.”
Zi, “The auras are serene and happy, yes Chloe?”
“Totally, not a shadow in the lot, all sparkly crystal.”
Janah and Daria come down the stairs, “Not a shadow on the girls, there are Shadows nearby though.”
Nikko, “Christ, I felt like this was rolling along too simply. Break from business, kids having fun, our friends from New Orleans coming up. Do you know where they are? I can go kill them and get back to chilling.”
Daria, “Not so simple. We are making deductions from spotty activity.  A van reported stolen, but the actual police report reads, ‘victim says she felt compelled to hand over her keys.’ Other reports of ATM withdrawals people do not remember making, but they show up on bank video cams. A convenience store clerk came up short on his register by several hundred dollars. He says he let three homeless people have the food and beer.”
“All in Canada?”
“All in a line from Banff in our direction. Van taken near the airport, ATM withdrawals along the way, convenience store twenty miles from the lodge. The road goes to a variety of fishing camps, homes and a couple of more elaborate lodges like ours. They could be going to any of them.”
“We have a description of the van?”
“And the plate, assuming they kept it.”
“Then get the drones busy, find the van, find the Shadows.”
“Kota B, the girls done with lunch?”
“Almost, Uma is always slow, whispering with Zofia.”
I call Francisco at the lodge, “Shadows are traveling near Banff, headed in our general direction. You have guests scheduled?”
“All season, but the next few days are people already here, after that are returning guests, we know them from last year. They didn’t try to kill us then, I doubt they turned into Shadows in twelve months.”
The lodge and fishing guide business is run by Shaolin monks we brought up when we bought the place. We gave them a business and a lifestyle built for a certain kind of monk. Lots of work, pristine atmosphere and a frozen winter for study and contemplation. Shadows can arise from different sorts of training, but it is all extreme qi energy and takes years to develop. Go too hard, the mind breaks. Shadows are qi energy practitioners with unfixable mental problems. And regardless of how they got trained, they hate the Shaolin. Probably because we vow to kill them. Most monks can’t spot Shadows, it’s an aura thing. Shadows like nothing better than to come on unsuspecting monks, and killing them.

Forty Eight

Oceane, Eloise and Lauren each have a drone up, Tasia and Nadia peer over Lauren’s shoulder. The other girls are staring at tablets watching the video feeds.
Lauren, “You want to fly it Nadia?”
“Da.”
“Here, sit in front of me,” she’s in a chair on the porch, scooches back to give Nadia a spot.
“We are looking for a van, a white van, like a delivery truck, see…there’s a photo of it. It could be on a road, or it could be parked. We have to go slowly. The drone has a photo of the van in its memory, it does the scanning for a match, but it has limitations. If the van is parked under something, it may not recognize just a bumper sticking out, so we watch closely as well. Do you understand?”
“Da.”
“Okay, take the tablet, when it is time to change course, I will show you. Right now it is flying itself on a predetermined grid pattern.”
“There are four screens, why?”
“The drones have four cameras, front, back, left, right. Maybe a drone flies over a space, but the target we want is traveling behind it, hasn’t reached a spot the drone has already covered. Then we would miss it.”
“How to watch four screens?”
“You do not. You are the pilot, you watch what is in front of you. The others are looking at the feed from their own tablet, each one is assigned a camera, so Nikko is watching the rear cam, Zi the left side, Chloe the right. Each drone camera is being followed by one of us.”
Nadia grins, this is fun.
“Tasia, go sit with Eloise, she will let you fly her drone, do like Nadia, just follow the instructions, watch the front camera. Eloise will be there to help.”
The other children are parked next to someone with a tablet, eyes intent on spotting the white van. The house is almost dead silent.
At least until a Great Horned swoops down and lands in front of me on the porch railing.
‘Your family is searching for something.’
‘Shadows, you call them Dark Ones.’
‘Ah, you are the killers of Dark Ones, my father knew of you, he told me, I came to see. You received the transmission.’
‘I was trained by one of your ancestors. She did a good job, I have lost nothing over the many years.’
‘You are not so old, none of your family is, how many years?’
‘Twenty. But we do not age.’
‘There are older ones and younger ones.’
‘Yes, the aging stopped at different times because my companion and I are able to give our proteins to others. When we do, they quit aging wherever they are. Most choose to take the treatment as teenagers. Fourteen to fifteen is popular.’
‘And the children, they are not yours by birth.’
‘No, we are their guardians. One of our family can see bits of the future, she says the children will not grow older at all. We have nothing to do with it, we don’t know why.’
‘I know.’
‘Tell me please.’
‘Their destiny is to see worlds you cannot, to guide you a little, mostly to protect you. The little ones only appear to be children, they are much wiser than you, even than me. They do not come from anyplace, they do not go anywhere, like your Cassandra. I was told of her by my father. It is she who will guide the children to their ultimate destiny.’
‘Which is?’
‘I see what is, not what will be.’

Uma comes over, the big bird does his head bob, studying her, swaying while he shifts from one talon to the other, she mimics him.
“He and his companions will find the white car, they will return and tell my sisters.”
She strokes the owl’s head and walks off to join Zofia.
The owl stretched his wings, one down stroke and the four foot wingspan has him aloft.
Janah, “Entered the world of the strange little girls I see.”
“So it seems, took me forever to learn to talk to the birds. Our six year old walks up and starts chatting.”
“According to the owl, she’s not six.”
“There’s that, maybe they’re mini vampires, but they don’t drink blood, so...what? Vegetarian vampires, can’t be it, they eat meat.”
“We need to talk to Oceane and Cassie, but not tonight, we have other stuff on our plate, whatever explanation they can offer will wait.”

Eloise flew the road that comes to the guesthouse twice, no white van en route. It’s late, the van is unlikely to be on the move now.
“Time for all the girls to go to bed. Uma says the owl will return when they find the Shadows.”
I get no argument from our little girls or our big ones, the heaters do battle with the frigid air, and we’re bundled well. Still, it’s nice and toasty in the house, and toastier under sheets and comforters. And there’s a silky warm girl to snuggle next to.
“Grace B, once the drones have recharged, fly one or two over the sections we didn’t get to. If you spot something, come wake me.”
“Fat lot you care about me freezing outside.”
“When did you start feeling cold? Besides, you can pilot the drones from in the house.”
“By morning, I’ll be an expert in Canadian dirt.”
I leave her to grouse, it’s all an act, Amaya’s sardonic humor and Hit Girl’s crusty vocabulary. In my bed, there’s a blond, but not my white hair Janah blond, Amaya blond.
“Chloe hit on Janah, I found them entangled. Then I thought of several uses for your long legs. Strip, slide in here, I have an idea, several ideas, all good ones.”
She sure does, we make our sensual way through all of them. I even repeat a couple that worked out particularly well on the first go, Amaya even climaxes gorgeously.
“Enough Daphne, I’ve shivered and trembled through a thousand calories. Wrap me up, I need rest.”
I do my duty, bury my nose in Amaya’s soft hair, her adorable butt nestled in my tummy.
Morning already? Cripes, I could snuggle Amaya a few more hours, days, weeks.
Dasha has other ideas.
“You will unplug from Eemaya Dahfoney. I haf already coffee and tea, but more eemportant ees owl waiting.”
“Is Uma up?”
“Nyet, children up late and anyway Uma ees always get up last.”
She turns and leaves, I crawl out of a cozy heaven, quickie hot shower and into sweats, Dasha hands me a coffee on my way to the owl conference.
This one’s a female, ‘Your targets are at one of the places men gather for fishing.’
‘Which way?’
‘Towards the morning sun, other side of the lake.’
‘I can attach a device to you, it will let me track your location. If you go there, then make a few circles, that will tell me exactly where they are. Return here and I will remove it.’
She shifts talons and blinks, guess that means okay human, get with it.
“Grace B, find a….”
She hands me the tracker, “Not everyone is as slow as you, birdbrain.”
“Thank you Grace B.”
I put it on the owl, she takes a couple of test flaps, the device stays in place and doesn’t interfere. She’s bigger than the male who showed up last night, a stretch of wings and she’s up and out.
“Get a drone in the air Grace B, let’s see what we’ve got.”
“And what are you going to do Your Majesty, sit on your royal tuchas?”
“Make breakfast.”
Nikko is up, not unusual, she’s been an early riser like me since we met a million years ago. Zi is here too. A few minutes into my scrambled egg prep, Janah and Chloe appear.
Chloe, “Dasha’s biscuits, yay!”
“One of the owls found the Shadows, Grace B is tracking with the drone now.”
Nikko and Janah pick up tablets, there’s the owl, the drone is overhead and behind the bird. She’s flying the shoreline, water on the left, scrub bushes and trees on the right. Then a lodge appears, with, well, well, a white van parked out front. The bird circles twice. We see the tracking GPS dot returning in our direction. Grace B keeps the drone on location.
While they’re occupied, I tap my screen for Kota B to come and collect breakfast for the kids. Dasha and I load platters, Kota B takes the eggs and bacon, Dasha takes the biscuits and additives. 
Grace B is rinsing dishes, loading the dishwasher and flying the drones. She can juggle more balls than a Cirque du Soleil clown.
Nikko, “Activity.”
I grab a screen, a man comes out of the lodge and slides open the side door of the van. We’ve already checked the plates, they’ve swapped the originals from some unsuspecting soul’s wheels. People don’t pay much attention to the plate, if it looks like the Canadian plate they had, they seldom study the numbers. It could be days before they figure out their plates have been swapped. Or the cops could spot the number and pull the bewildered driver over.
He roots around in the van, yanks out a duffel and returns to the lodge.
“Time for audio, get one of the drones in range Grace B.”
“Heil Hitler!”
Her arm shoots out in the Nazi salute.
Nikko, “Cut the crap Grace B, do what you’re told. I have a katana in my room, you are expendable.”
Grace B, “You would never…,” she looks at Nikko, surrenders, “sheesh, maybe you would.”
Daria, “I will get her recoded to tone down the bullshit in serious situation.”
Grace B, “Program reconfigured, I am now a fucking good girl when the word Shadow is in the dialogue.”
Nikko, “Thank you. I know you only respond as you are programmed. Shadows are dangerous, toxic and nasty. We kill them, hopefully before they kill us.”
“The family is under my protection, there will be no deaths on this team, lots of death on theirs.”
“Acknowledged and appreciated, but multiple Shadows may be able to interfere with your ability to process, even wreck a joint, as you discovered on your last encounter. Be mindful, nobody is going to take a katana to you, not here anyway. We need you fully functional. Your ability to fly three drones and keep track of them all is invaluable.”
“Noted. There is conversation in the lodge, tune in.”
She’s got one drone far overhead monitoring the area, two are closer, on either side of the lodge. Parabolic mikes with amazing sensitivity are picking up the talk.”
Shadow One, “The Shaolin bitch is rumored to have a home, a cabin, something in this area. Six of ours went missing around here, then discovered slaughtered.”
Shadow Two, “This is a fucking waste, they killed a dozen outside Grand Junction, they could be any goddamn place.”
Shadow Three, a woman’s voice, “Dickless Danny, such a pussy. We have good reason to think they’re around. We searched the fuck out of Grand Junction and that RV park, nothing. There are six of us, and we’re all deadly masters of the arts, qi, telekinesis, Freddy and I have melted motherfuckers. We are going to find the Shaolin and her pack of murderers, then we’re going to destroy every last one, massacre, evaporate, explode, whatever it takes. You want to go home fuckface, start walking.”
“I didn’t mean…,”
“Shut it sissy, we need to figure out the quickest way to survey the area. We can’t just ride boats up and down the lake and hope to sense a Shaolin asshole.”
Shadow Four, a man, “We break up, grab a few cars from the locals and hit every lodge, guesthouse, stores and gas stations. We take minds, they tell us if they know any group of broads with a house or a cabin. They won’t advertise that some of them are Shaolin, but it won’t hurt to ask about monks, Buddhists or even priests.”
Shadow Female, “Good, let’s get busy, I have things to do back home, money to steal, children to fuck with, the sooner we turn this priest and her pals into ashes, the sooner I can go back to my fun.”
Shadow Five, new female, “Good enough. Drop us off along the highway, I think we should pair up at first. We can take guests’ cars, none of them are going anyplace, locked in the basement with the lodge owners. I have a list of all the places we need to get to. Just divide it in three and hit the road. Don’t use cell phones. We’ll meet back here later this afternoon and see if we have anything.”
Shadow Female One, “I’ll go alone, one of us needs to keep an eye on the prisoners, it should be Dickless,” she turns to him, “you can keep a few tied up and gagged civilians in one room underground, or is it too much for your pussy ass?”
Shadow Two, Dickless, “Get off my goddamn back bitch. They ain’t going noplace, I’ll see to it.”
“Alright, let’s hit the roads and find the Shaolin.”

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