Forty Five

Nikko, “There’s Wegner’s car, wonder why Miller didn’t catch a ride to his conference?”
Then we get an answer, Wegner is headed directly east, away from downtown.
Miller calls for a hire car, Valeria goes to the lobby, Miller appears and gets into a driverless sedan, the car rolls off.
She’s back upstairs, “Took a driverless to wherever.”
“I thought about following with the second drone, but I figure he gets out at some downtown hotel and goes inside, telling us not much. We’re next door to his suite, isn’t like we need to track his every move.”
Janah, “Want to peek in his room?”
“Good idea, Valeria, blank the hall cam.”
She takes a small box out of our supply box, it has tools, duct tape, and a handy signal jammer for cameras. Flip the switch and the camera goes fuzzy. A malfunction light will go on in the security office.
Janah, “Wait for me to get downstairs, I’ll let you know if the security guy gets on an elevator.”
She mentals me when she’s there. Valeria opens our door and turns on the jammer. I slip my universal hotel key in the receiver and wander around Miller’s room. He’s neat, but he wasn’t in her very long. There was no coffee made, no empty water or soda bottles. His suitcase is on the luggage rack, open but unpacked. I dig around just enough to see it’s common stuff, a couple of folded shirts, a pair of slacks, socks, underwear and a separate kit for toiletries. I peek in, maybe he’s a junkie. Nope, razor, deodorant, toothpaste, I zip it up. Take a look, I can’t tell that anything has been moved in my quickie search. The rest of the suite is clean, he didn’t use the toilet. I peek out the door, the hall is empty.
Janah, “Shut it down.”
“Got it.”

I return to our room, Valeria clicks off the jammer. A minute later, Janah shows up.
“Another guard caught him at the elevator, said there must have been a glitch, the camera is back on. They went back to their post somewhere behind the front desk.”
“Nothing in his room, he’s a bare bones traveler, experienced in keeping it light. There was a distinct absence of a Bible, maybe he has it memorized.”
Nikko, “The parts he finds convenient anyway.”
Katya, “Wegner is still on the move, he is past civilization, just turned on a two lane blacktop headed north. If he’s going to the lab, what happens then?”
“We survey the area for the obvious, guards, fences, does everyone leave at night, do they leave a security guard, or do people hang around all night? And what do we mean by people? It can’t be just him, but are there three, five, and who are they? If they close up and go home at night, we’ll have them on video.”
Nikko, “Presuming they do, what then? Torch the place? They would only start up elsewhere, then we’re chasing them all over the place.”
Janah, “Nope, it ends here. First, Grace B assembles all the names and photos we have. We have two meetings recorded where the plan was discussed and more video of the member arriving and leaving. We have a discussion between Wegner and Miller. Nothing happened on the boat trip relevant to the plot. Mrs. Pearson will call the FBI, send them what we have, including the location of the lab and the seven clubs. They take care of the messy stuff.”
“And we clean out everybody’s accounts. We can’t do much about their business interests, or of they have gold bars stacked in the basement, but we can liquidate any stocks, bonds and bank accounts. Speaking of which, I need to tell Grace B to organize, we should do it simultaneously, start when the feds swarm the lab.”
I tap into Grace B, I shouldn’t be surprised at her response, “I already did that, just waiting for instructions to go. A couple of days of financial transactions will have the money bounced around the world then parked in a few shell corporations until Nikko decides what to do with it.”
“Any idea of the amount?”
“Dope, I do not deal in guesstimates. Seven billion, nine hundred forty three million, six hundred thousand eight hundred forty seven dollars and twenty four cents. Of course that will change with market fluctuation and transaction fees. The rest of their net worth is in homes, business interests and real estate. Two own cattle and farmland. They won’t be poor, just cash poor.”
“Uh, okay, happy to see you take initiative.”
“Buzz off, I have things to do,” she blinks out.
Janah, “Don’t tell me.”
“What, that the bots have already lined up the ducks? Okay I won’t tell you that we’re going to have to find something to do with over seven billion bucks.”
Katya whistles, “I remember when we thought it was a big deal to steal a hundred million from drug lords.”
Nikko, “We have to give it away, we need seven billion like the ocean needs water.”
Janah, “Then that’s what we’ll do. Park it in the Sylk Trust and dispense it over time to various educational and research entities.”
“At least I don’t have to do the laundering myself, like the old days. Daria, Zi and I spent hours moving money around, concocting a digital trail of fake transactions. The bots will convert everything to virtual currency and the money will simply evaporate until it shows up in the Trust. Actually we’ll keep it virtual to avoid the Trust showing a huge increase in assets all at once. We can turn it into cash over several years, it won’t make money while it sits, but that’s the price of secrecy.”
Janah, “Good, it’s a plan.”
Valeria, “Must be the lab, there is nothing else for miles. Solar panels and a wind turbine for power.”
“Must have a well for water, septic tank for waste. The building is plain as paste, but it’s composite, takes the weather well won’t burn down, steep pitched roof for snow, not a window in the place.”
Grace B or Eloise is flying the drone, they know what we want. The drone circles the property, no outbuildings, whatever they store, they store inside. Front door, rear door, cameras cover both.
Katja, “Does not appear to have cameras covering the grounds.”
“Considering where they are, I’m almost surprised they have cams on the doors. He drove three miles up a gravel road off the two lane, a two lane that went for forty miles between nowhere and noplace. And the gravel road is barely visible from the blacktop.”
There are two jeeps and a big pickup, the cab kind with a second set of seats, all the vehicles except Wegner’s sedan have fat tires, the pickup has doubles on the rear axle. They must haul canisters in it.
“How’s the drone holding up?”
I hear Eloise, “Battery is good, if you need the other drone it can zip to the coordinates in no time, it doesn’t need roads, just air.”
“Not likely to need it, you’ve captured the plates on the vehicles, we’ll see soon enough if they live there or go home. I suspect they stay in the building, I wouldn’t want to make the drive, the place is fifty miles from anything.”
We’d like to get a body count, but if they stay inside it won’t happen by visuals.
“There are no windows, drop the drone close enough to get a good bead with the listening device. We might get a general idea of numbers.”
Nikko, “If they load up the vehicles, I can’t see more than eight to ten. Doesn’t mean others aren’t off elsewhere. Still, it makes little sense to have a bunch of bodies to make what is essentially automated process. Grow the cultures, keep them nourished, let them multiply. I read that viruses can survive freezing.”
Janah, “They do quite well frozen. We don’t know specifics, how much virus do they need per application for instance. In other words, just how virulent is the virus. For that matter, virus may just be what they call it. The more I think about it, the more I believe it’s a chemical compound that does its bit when inhaled, it isn’t a living virus at all.”
Katja, “Why tell the others it is a virus?”
“Because they can say it dies quickly without a host, and thus can’t spread far. Remember, Miller told them it is a virus but isn’t a contagious virus. Maybe it was just horse crap to calm the troops. The members have no idea what’s being made up there, they only know what they’re told. A chemical is almost scarier, it doesn’t die quickly, it doesn’t die at all. At best it gets diluted to ineffective.”
“And it can float around anywhere once it’s released.”
“Grace B, you monitoring?”
“Of course, you idiots would wander into the swamp without me.”
“When you put together the FBI report, include the maybe not virus part. Either way, they’ll have to hazmat the place, unless they want neutered agents.”
“I shall send you the final before I ship it off, you need to know what Mrs. Pearson said. Next Princess Amaya will have me writing her fucking books and taking credit.”
“Thank you.”
The drone is poking around for the best spot to drop the mike. It decides on a vent shaft.
Eloise, “The composite makes for good soundproofing, all I got was mumbling, the shaft may sound like an echo chamber but you should get better audio.”
It does sound like being inside a cave, not that I’ve spent much time in caves. Once in Lake Havasu Zi and I chased down a cannibal truck driver. That was yucky, barrel of body parts boiling, fat skimming the top.
The little talk there is doesn’t discuss the project. They’ve been at this awhile, everyone knows the routine, they just do it. In short, we figure out five distinct voices, all male. None of them sound particularly young or old, although listening from a vent could easily distort tones. The vent isn’t the toilet vent, that’s more intel than we need, it’s the kitchen vent. We hear kitchen noises, cups and plates, sounds like everything is plastic, nothing clinks.
We make out Wegner, “Miller wants us to dump the stimulant, I didn’t tell him the canisters we have already have it. He thinks we still have to load them”
A voice, “Did he think we’d do everything the day before? Christ. What do we do?”
Wegner, “He’s not going to be in a million miles of the release, he won’t know jack. The compound takes weeks to make, we don’t just put shit in a test tube and boil it. There are enough canisters to do the first wave, we’ll skip the stimulant in the second batch.”
Second voice, “These rich guys, the seriously believe it’s going to sterilize enough people to stop the imbalance of minorities and whites?”
Third voice, “Rich people believe they can have anything. Those assholes are paying us a fortune to enable this crackpot scheme. By the time it dawns on them that they aren’t making a dent, we’ll be filthy enough to pack off to sandy beaches or whatever your vision of nirvana. First million dollar bonus is two weeks away.”
Wegner, “I figure we get a year, maybe ten treatments, then reality dawns.”
First voice, “Jesus, you believe it will take then that long? A treatment might reach ten thousand people, might. Ten is a hundred thousand at most, and that’s counting old fuckers who aren’t cranking out babies anyway.”
Wegner, “I’m going to string them out by telling them we’re close to a breakthrough in the process, all we need is five million to triple capacity. We split that money and disappear. If it works for ten treatments, we each get a total of ten million and a million dollar kicker. What are they going to do? Take us to court for fraud?”
Laughter.
There’s nothing else, and it turns they stay in the building, don’t go home. None of them likely live in the state anyway.
Janah, “Remind me not to hire mad biologists and chemists.”
Katya, “Sounds more like the rich people are the crazies, the scientists came up with a rather interesting way to exploit them.”
Janah, “True. At least our chemists and physiologists are family, Chan’s son David Li and his daughter Miyako. They crank out our pharmaceuticals in the temple, except Oblivion which is made in Miyako’s lab under ultra-tight conditions.” 
Nikko, “I thought David Li came up with it.”
“He did, but he didn’t want it around a temple full of monks, even under lock and key. One mistake and there’s a big problem. David’s lab makes Truth, the hypnotic that makes the target tell it all, Sleep, our tranquilizer, and Trust, our enhanced oxytocin that gets targets relaxed and chatty.”
Big Pharma and the CIA would love to know David Li and Miyako.

Forty Six

We pull off the drone, the lab has quieted down and we don’t think there’s much else to find out. I hear the door next to ours slam, no matter how fancy the hotel, they want the doors to auto-close and can’t seem to find a way to do it quietly. Maybe I should put Eloise on it, we could make another fortune selling to hotels tired of guests complaining about doors slamming all night.
Janah, “Since we aren’t going to snatch anyone, I suppose a glass or two of wine and a dinner plan is in order.”
“We fly out tomorrow at nine.”
Nikko, “I want to review the money details with Grace B. I assume Mrs. Pearson is alerting the FBI tomorrow.”
Janah, “Yep, soon as Grace B tells me what we said,” we because Mrs. Pearson is sometimes Janah, sometimes me, sometimes Grace B. Janah is the Mrs. Pearson that has direct contact with our most important connections.
Her tablet dings a message, it’s the report, Janah connects with Grace B, “Thank you, I’ll read it tonight or first thing tomorrow, then let you know when to send it off and to whom.”
Grace B, “Homeland is going to be pissed if you do not include them, this is a terrorist act.”
“Good point. I will personally call and alert both my Homeland and FBI contacts, send the data to both and remind them to stuff their departmental rivalries.”
Grace B disappears.
Nikko, “They will be arresting a load of wealthy alleged Christians, how’s that going to work?”
“Grace B thoughtfully included the boat ride to the Caribbean. It’s only a few of them, but the implication will spread. And the plotters will be relieved of a substantial amount of cash. I suspect they’ll be stepping all over each other to cut deals.”
Valeria, “Rich men will get up to some other mischief soon enough.”
“How true, we never have a shortage of things to occupy our devious minds.”
Janah, “Occupy your devious mind by opening wine.”
Katja, “I will be Amaya tonight and make cocktails for my sister and Valeria. We are despondent, Valeria never got to electrocute anybody, we never got to shoot anyone.”
“There weren’t any guards either. Probably smart, fewer people knowing what’s going on, and the place is buried in a forest on the side of a mountain. What do you want for dinner, we can just order up from the hotel, half a dozen places nearby deliver.”
Nikko, “Hotel offer a decent steak?”
I look at the menu, “Filet or rib eye. Looks good, they have shrimp fettuccini, lobster, grilled trout, want me to create a selection, we can mix and match when it shows up.”
It’s a go, Valeria and I study the menu, big Italian salad, shrimp fettuccini for Janah, it looks good so I get two orders. Two one pound lobster tails, two filets grilled trout and a ribeye. Entrée’s come with a side, I opt for cauliflower au gratin and baked potatoes. It’s too much, but a nice variety of tastes. I’ll save any leftover steak and fly it home to Morshchiny.
Carts of food rolled in by two waiters, they look around, it’s just me and Valeria.
“We have guests coming,” I sign the tab, they go off to the next delivery.
The others come from the bedroom, more wine, we start in. 
Nikko, “Filet is good.”
“I got yours rare, the other is medium rare, so is the rib eye, “ I crack the lobster tail and peel out the meat, cut a chunk and dip in the melted butter, “yum.”
I cut both tails into bite size bits and pass the plate. Then I work on freeing the claw meat and pass that around. Valeria is working on half the trout and shrimp fettuccini. 
One of the tablets clicks on, it’s the children, “Sister Valeria, when are you coming home? We are having Tetya Ellen’s white beans tonight. Did you have dinner yet?”
Valeria points the cam to the table, “Da, steak, lobster, trout, pasta with shrimp, you see it?”
I hear Amaya, “Good Lord, there aren’t but six of you.”
“We wanted variety, leftovers come home tomorrow, but don’t tell Morshchiny, I want it to be a surprise.”
Morshchiny’s face appears on the screen, she sticks her snout on it and sniffs. Uma is standing next to her, she’s about the same height as the mastiff.
“So you are home tomorrow, when?”
Valeria, “Ten thirty.”
Dasha comes over the speaker, “Go and sit children, your dinner ees ready and they are in the middle of theirs,” the camera pulls back, the children wave, “Dobroy nochi Sestra Valeria, dobry nochi Tetya Dafne, Tetya Janah, Tetya Nikko, Tetya Katya, Tetya Katja.”
We wave, “Dobry nochi deti,” the screen goes dark.
“How sweet,” I take a spoon of fettuccini, add a shrimp, “this is quite well done, Dasha would be satisfied, they didn’t overcook the pasta.
Katja, “Kota B has done a good job with the children, they are intelligent, polite, enthusiastic about their activities and about their family. Never a cross word, which is a miracle.”
Janah, “They see all of you particularly the Mamas and big sister Valeria. There is discussion, never argument. Everyone does their part. We even used to clean each other’s rooms until the cleaning bots came along.”
Valeria, “Why not each clean their own room?”
“It would be easy to slack off if we were just putting our own things in order, like a good enough job. When we do it for people we care about, there is a sense of wanting to do it well, not good enough.”
She thinks it over, nods, “Ya ponimayu ,” she lays her soft hand on my thigh, slides her fingers along the inside.
She understands, ya ponimayu from her touch she would like my services later in a different capacity. I don’t plan on a good enough job.
Janah, “I’m sensing a sensual touch.”
“Funny, me too.”
“You know what I mean. Get Grace B to book a regular room so you don’t have to screw around with the sofa fold out. Nishiko and I will occupy the twins.”

Which is what we do. Valeria and I take a few toiletries and a toy two floors down and spend a lovely couple of hours doing every possible lesbian thing. She has her game down now, had one session I’m aware of with Oceane. I only know because she told me it went well, she was ultra gentle and Oceane was ultra responsive. I’m sure she’s taken a second or even third opportunity, be insane not to. Plus, when there’s Oceane, there’s Cassie. Valeria has been quite well attended to I’m certain. Tonight was my turn to attend and she’s gotten versatile with the strap-on, I was equally well attended to, twice.

Forty Seven

We’re greeted by the children and Morshchiny, who does her sniff routine. I have a piece of steak handy, she gloms it in a gulp. She looks at me hopefully.
“Bol'she ne nado,” no more, she huffs and goes off behind the children.
Children double kiss big sister and follow Valeria up to her room in a buzz of chatter.
Dahlia and Clarissa bounce down the staircase, Clarissa jumps into my arms. Dahlia, more reserved, takes my hand. I snag left and right cheeks, carry Clarissa to the kitchen and park her on a chair.
I sit to listen, they want to tell me what they’ve been doing in our short absence.
Dahlia, “Amaya and Chloe are helping me learn my part for The Scarlett Princess of Edo. I’m second monk of the temple.”
Clarissa, “And I am Gengo, a retainer for the evil samurai Akugoro, it’s so exciting. Amaya makes me laugh with her Japanese accent.”
“You are learning the Japanese?”
Dahlia rolls her gray-green eyes, “It’s hard, Amaya says we will learn the Japanese but do the play in English for the parents, we have to learn two scripts, the same script in two languages anyway.”
Clarissa, “We have to do it exactly as she says, over and over again until she is satisfied. Poor Chloe, she has to keep after us because Amaya is with the other children working on their lines.”
Dahlia, “It is a gigantic project. She is reworking some of the script because it calls for extra cast members who don’t have any lines. She says it won’t make any difference to the story.”
“Amaya writes scripts and rewrites other people’s scripts, she has a talent for it and she works really hard at it to make it as good as possible.”
Dahlia, “That’s what Chloe said. After the play, I am going to write things and try and get Amaya to read them, see if they’re any good.”
“What do you want to write?”
“I have daydreams, stories come into my head. Chloe said I should write them down, that it doesn’t have to be a complete story, and it doesn’t have to be about anything. Just to keep a record of them. She said Amaya does that, and sometimes it turns into a book or a movie. So I started yesterday, I have it on my tablet.”
Clarissa, “My sister writes her stories while I do sums in my head. I can multiply now, and Kota B is starting on division, which is easy, it’s only reverse multiplication.”
Dahlia, “Easy for her, I’m keeping pace Kota B says, but Clarissa is way ahead.”
“An author and a math whiz, makes for talented sisters with big challenges ahead.”
Janah comes in, “Angels keeping busy?”
“Sort of, learning their lines in Japanese and English, math lessons, Dahlia is keeping a story diary like Amaya does and Clarissa does multiplication in her head, taking on division next.”
Janah, “I’m getting worn out just thinking about it.”
Clarissa, “Plus we swim and we’ve been practicing our taekwondo form. Amaya says we’re supposed to call Daphne Master Sylk when we train.”
Janah, “It teaches respect for her rank. Daphne called her teacher Master Kim. When we were in The Shaolin Temple we had Master Sung, Master Chu, Master Zhang, Master Khan and Master Tan. Eventually Daphne also became a gung fu master, so she is Master Sylk three times over, taekwondo, hapkido and gung fu.
Dahlia, “How long did it take to learn all that?”
“Fifteen years, I started when I was five.”
Clarissa, “What is hap…what was it?”
“Hapkido, a form of judo. After you learn taekwondo, I will teach you hapkido if you want.”
Clarissa, “How long to learn taekwondo?”
“Depends on how much you practice. Black Belt in three to four years. Many more to become Master. But once you get to black, I will start on hapkido if you want, it isn’t required.”
Sloane comes in from a run, Sarah behind her, “Yuck, We’re a sweaty mess, I’ll kiss you later, after a shower.”
They hustle upstairs, which makes me think I should introduce myself to Oceane. She has photographic forget, one is never sure if she remembers who you are if you’re out of contact for a day.
She’s drawing, still nude from her morning swim. Cassie isn’t floating she’s on their bed cross legged watching Oceane’s drawing pencils float from their container to her hand. Oceane says the pencils tell he what to draw and the color she needs to use. We have no clue if that’s true or if he’s somehow separated conscious thought from her sense of self. If fact, we’re not sure if she has a sense of self, occasionally she refers to herself in the third person.
I kiss Cassandra, then lean over Oceane’s silky shoulder.
Oceane, “Daphne wants to kiss the girl.”
I smile, not forgotten today, I softly kiss her shoulder twice, she turns her head up to me for a kiss on the lips, then her tongue swipes my upper lip.
She turns back to her drawing, “Valeria.”
Busy admiring Oceane’s personal art, I hadn’t taken notice of what she is drawing. It is Valeria, so far an outline, but definitely Valeria.
“It is going to be beautiful.”
“Valeria is beautiful, you taught her lovemaking.”
Mid-sentence subject change, “She wanted to get it right for when she came to you.”
“She did, Cassandra and the girl are in her heart, like Daphne.”
“As Oceane, Cass and Valeria are in my heart, deeply.”
She smiles, a pencil floats over, light blue, must be starting on the eyes, Valeria isn’t blue anyplace else.
I steal another kiss to satiny shoulder, over to Cassie and am rewarded with a lingering kiss on the lips, “Always a pleasure not taking to you Cassie,” she grins, blinding white teeth the envy of angels.
My next wander takes me to the workshop. Over the years the workshop has become digital quantum everything. Parts come custom made from a printer, there is still metal work with the necessary presses and grinders, but most of her stuff is one of the newer composites, moldable plastics blended with steel or titanium. Drones are made in our factory, Eloise has the patents for the designs and most of the components. For our work, she adds the laser guns, we don’t need that specialty addition to go public. We used to use darts shot from the drones to deliver the drugs, now there is a second gun that shoots a bullet-like pellet and releases the drug on contact. It’s smaller than a twenty-two with a point like a dart and requires no syringe. It has a significantly longer range, laser guided for pinpoint accuracy up to a hundred yards if it isn’t pouring rain or a hurricane. We seldom need a hundred yards, most of the shots are from twenty five to fifty.
“What’s doing”
Eloise is hunched over the bench, fiddling with something tiny, Britt is disassembling a bot with Lauren’s assist.
Lauren, “Maintenance for the cleaning bots, they collect dust and dirt, it builds up and slows the joints if they aren’t kept clean.”
“Cleaning a cleaning bot, you should teach them to clean each other.”
Britt, “Grace B and Emma B do it sometimes, they were occupied with your trip.”
Eloise pulls off her magnifying glasses, “Chip’s ready to go back in.”
Britt reaches for it, then sticks it into the guts of the bot.
Eloise, “In fact, we’re going to adjust the cleaning bots to groom each other. The advanced bots have enough projects.”
Britt, “When did you decide that?”
“When Daphne mentioned it.”
“Well, I’ve made my contribution to the family, perhaps I’ll take the rest of the day off.”
Lauren, “I take it you cleaned up whatever needed cleaning in Salt Lake City.”
“We did, although the authorities involved just got the details today. Even with the Society’s track record, they have the usual legal hoops to hop through. It could be a couple of days. I prefer our way, skip all the probable cause and subpoenas, expensive jury trials and appeals. Just deal with the issue and come home. This particular case lent itself more to the legal system. We did, however, get a substantial involuntary contribution to the trust.”
Lauren, “How substantial?”
“A bit over seven billion.”
I’m being stared at by three dropped jaws, Lauren collects herself first, “Good gravy, you stole seven billion from whom?”
“Technically Grace and Emma B stole it. It came from a hundred and forty quite wealthy donors, or victims depending on one’s point of view. We generously left them with homes, cars, boats, whatever businesses and real estate they own. They’re hardly broke, merely temporarily illiquid.”
“Generous of you.”
“We’d have taken it all, but too many enterprises to unwind. If it’s one guy, we can sell his house out from under him, pull all the cash out of his businesses on top of his personal holdings. A hundred and forty gets messy. I mean, all of them will be indicted, too many people paying attention for us to simply unwind their empires.”
Britt, “You mean people start thinking if it can get done to those guys, it can get done to anyone, then a sort of hacking panic sets in.”
“Exactly. It’s going to be bad enough when the feds figure out the Society sucked so much money away.”
Eloise, “Then what? Will they get more serious about discovering you, you and Janah, Mrs. Pearson?”
“They can get as serious as they wish, they have no idea who we are, where we are, or how many of us there are. More to the point, the Society has handed them cases Christmas wrapped with a pretty red bow. The Society has facilitated a thousand out of the loop conversations between agencies that aren’t supposed to be talking to each other. That on top of going nowhere cases which we figured out and handed to them. Bottom line, they don’t want to know who we are, they just don’t want us to disappear.”
Lauren, “Our family is a clandestine agency for clandestine agencies.”
“Nicely put, and don’t forget vigilantes operating way outside the limits of the law.”

Forty Eight

After breakfast this morning, I have my taekwondo girls for an hour and change. Amaya is ordering doboks for them. Normal taekwondo uniforms are coarse cotton pants and a pullover top of the same material. When I started the class at Chapman’s School for Girls, I got them black uniforms, made from modal fiber, a type of rayon, a semi-synthetic cellulose fiber and spandex. Super soft and stretchy to accommodate the twists and turns of martial arts. It washes well and doesn’t wrinkle. I wear them for both taekwondo and gung fu, Dahlia and Clarissa will be adorable, blond hair in ponytails over clingy black uniforms, screeching like banshees as they punch and kick.
After the girls, Zi and I have Valeria for gung fu, she’s all elegant style, her gung fu like ballet, which she takes with Amaya. A full hour of poetic motion and it’s time for lunch duty. A quickie shower and we’re with Ellen and Dasha cranking out grilled fish filets, finishing up coleslaw.
The announcement goes out over the family net, ‘grilled fish today, lunch is served from twelve thirty until one, then you’re on your own.’
I hear the welcome sound of sixteen little feet on the stairs, led by the thud of four giant paws. The children circle their table, Morshchiny peeks her head around the side of the island in a vain attempt to pretend Kota B can’t see her. I slip her half a grilled filet and tell her to get lost.
Kota B serves the children, the adults pass along the island for a filet and serving spoon of coleslaw.
After everyone is seated, Emma B fills water glasses and brings sodas or iced tea, the bots know everyone’s preferences. The chefs nibble at the island, Emma B hands me my addiction, Coke Zero with a bit of lime juice.
“Thank you Emma B.”
She leans between Valeria and I and whispers, “The lab is being raided now, all quiet, they are scientists not black ops, they simply surrendered.”
“Did you tell Janah?”
“Grace B told Janah, Nikko and the twins. Nothing yet on the others, Servants of the One True God, ridiculous name, where do Americans get such blather?”
“They watch too much TV.”
Valeria, “Oceane is drawing me.”
“She appreciates pristine beauty.”
“You do not need to compliment, you will get what you desire, as will I”
“I was stating a fact. You know you are splendid.”
“All the girls are splendid, I take it to be Janah’s doing.”
“She likes to be surrounded by beauty, who doesn’t? She made it a reality. You will have noticed, that each one also adds unique skills and talents, beyond physical attractiveness. The family appears to be the result of serendipity, a happy accident. Trust me, none of you were accidental.”
“Oceane said there are Shadows, Shadows descending she said.”
“Cripes, when?”
“When did she say it, or when are they descending?”
“Both.”
“She told me a few minutes ago, she did not say when.”
I tap into Janah and Nikko, “Oceane told Valeria that here are Shadows descending, now you know what I know.”
Janah, “After lunch, go to the office, tell Valeria to bring Oceane.”
Twenty minutes later, it’s Janah, Nikko, Valeria, Oceane and me having a tribal council in the office.
I look to Oceane, “As best you can, tell us about the Shadows.”
Oceane looks at me, smiles, “They are coming to kill us.”
“Okay, do they know where we are?”
“They will draw you out.”
“How?”
Oceane is blank, which means she doesn’t know.
“How many Shadows?”
She stares up and left to a universe I can’t see, “This many,” she holds out one hand, fingers spread, five.
“Is there anything else you can tell us?”
“They are not normal.”
“Work with me Oceane, no Shadow is normal. You mean they are different from normal Shadows, how are they different? More powerful?”
She cocks her head,  a few seconds pass, like she’s processing something, “Much.”
Nikko, “Kuso,” she prefers to F-bomb in Japanese.
“Thank you Oceane.”
She rises, takes Valeria’s hand, “You must pose for me.”
They go off. Oceane knows what Valeria looks like, I think she wants to have her nude. 
Nikko, “Now what?”
Janah, “Now we wait…and pay attention. The last time they tried for us was San Francisco with a phony astrology scheme.”
“We won, toasted eight Shadows and got Valeria.”
Janah, “That’s it.”
Nikko, “What’s it?”
“I’d bet my butt we hear about yet another child abuse thing. They’ve learned that gets us in gear faster than anything.”
“Sheesh, I just got started on the expansion in Malibu.”
I sit next to Nikko and slide my hand along the glass smooth thigh, “Look at it this way, the crews are already there, you don’t just build a shell for later finishing, you might get to build out some of it now.”
“A point. We may need to get name tags.”
Janah, “We don’t know if that’s their plan, or that we would bring any more girls home if it is. We just took in Dahlia and Clarissa. I’m probably jumping to conclusions. If they are as powerful as Oceane implies, they may want to do something on a bigger stage.”
“Not much to do but wait and see. I’ll have the local flight crews patrol the area, but Shadows don’t know us specifically, so birds may be pointless.”
Nikko, “Won’t hurt to have a few owls passing over regularly. Eagles have a wider range, maybe you can scare up one.”
Might as well get to it. I go across the property, to the top of the mountain the house is on. There’s a valley behind, what else would there be, then another mountain we own, then national forest. I plop on a boulder and wait. 
Twenty minutes later I’m staring at a bald eagle with a wingspan wider than Morshchiny is long.
“I felt your call. How do you reach out?”
“Intention, You see a rabbit, you track it, your instincts take over, you don’t think about catching the rabbit, you do it.”
“Who taught you?”
“One of your cousins in the north, he gave me his sight. An owl gave me his hearing and the strength of his claws. I can see in light different from humans. All gifts from forest friends in the mountains.”
They saw a human less stupid than the rest,” she rocks back and forth from one talon to the other, “what do you want from me?”
“There are humans more vicious than even normal vicious humans, we call them Shadows, my friends in the forest call the Dark Ones.”
“We all know of Dark Ones, we avoid them, the kill us just to kill, and they do it without your machines, with the mind only.”
“And we kill them when we find them. That makes the ones left angry, they are always looking for us, me and the others you have seen in the house down there.”
“You have many young, how do you feed them all?”
“Four of us cook a large part of the day, we have machines to help us.”
I have seen them, one is always with the children, they look human, but we can see they have no life in them, no blood, do not breathe he air, do not eat, never sleep. They guard your nest.”
“They do. We got word that the Dark Ones are searching hard for us. We do not think they know where we are, they are not even sure who we are. But they are persistent. If you spot any in the area, I would like you to go to the house, no one will hurt you there, just call and I will come.”
She flaps her wings slowly, up, down once, “I hunt around here anyway, and if you kill the Dark Ones, I will be happy to help. You have a big dog, what is it called?”
“The breed is mastiff, her name is Morshchiny. Do not worry about the dog, she won’t hurt you either. She would hurt an enemy, never a friend.”
“I will also tell my mate, he is with our young.”
“Then you need to go, thank you for responding, and thank you for your help. I will also find an owl tonight, they can watch during the night while you guard your young.”
She lifts her wings again, this time with a forceful down stroke, lifts off, gains altitude, circles the property once and zooms off to the north.
I sit for a while longer, the day is gorgeous, the Arizona mountain air crisp and clean. My eagle eyes can see down to the house and the pool, the children are out, no Oceane, she must still be with Valeria, drawing…or something.
Just as I stand I hear a whoosh like a fastball makes at a hundred miles an hour, danged if a Peregrine doesn’t dive bomb out of the sky and park itself on the rock. I sit back down and have the same conversation I had with the eagle. The he zips off, birds are contemptuous of humans anyway, they despise Dark Ones.
Janah is out sunning and watching the children cavort, I plop down in a chair next to her.
“I hit a double, we have an eagle and a Peregrine on board, tonight I’ll find a lovely barn owl who will spread the word to his compadres.”
“Maybe it will be a she.”
“I guess, in the past the owls have all been boys, eagles and falcons have been both. Probably coincidence, I don’t chat with birds every day. I’m thinking of sending the children and some of the others to Canada until we sort out this current development.”
“If you send the children, you have to send Dasha and Daria. That takes two of our most powerful weapons out of the game.”
“I know, but it’s Shadows, we don’t care if Katya’s shooters just take them out with lasers. And the Mamas should be with the children. If I send them, Amaya and Chloe, Eloise, Lauren, Britt, Oceane, Cassie, Dahlia and Clarissa, we have most of the martial artists here and the more vulnerable there.”
“You need Chloe to spot Shadows, which means Amaya stays.”
“Okay, then we send a couple of the shooters to Canada,”
“Better, send the twins, with both sets of twins in Canada, everyone will be safe except the bad guys. Kota B and Emma B go with them, Grace B stays here. Sloane will refuse to go to Canada, she’s not going to leave mommy Daphne hanging out, which means Sarah won’t go either. Mani is an additional protection, she and Sarah would kill people just to do it.”
“Good thing they came across Katya and Katja, the body count would have been…who knows?”
“Might have also been their body count. Mani had discipline, Sarah would shoot first and let the consequences fall where they may. Ellen and the twins kept her in line and kept her alive. Now, she’s not going to go off half cocked, she’s attached to Sloane and the family. It keeps her impulses under control like Mani used to keep her under control with the whip.”

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