Five

Upstairs, the girls have returned, cocktails are poured.
Grace B, “I ordered Chinese, pizza is to heavy, you clowns need to be alert, and monitor your booze intake.”
“Yes Comandante.”
“I do not want to clean up a mess of broken women, the food is here. I did not want to give out room numbers, it is downstairs in the lobby.”
Ellen, “Sarah and I will fetch.”
When they return we spread out the boxes and plates, I recap my chat with Ms. Great Horned. 
“Eloise can get the drone up anytime in the morning and fly it to the owl’s nest. Just wait, she’ll come out eventually and direct you.”
Eloise nods, “It’s all set to go, I already have it tracking the owl,” she holds up a tablet, we see a green dot blinking, it’s about two miles from here, stationary.
“What did Chloe and Zi sense?”
Zi, “The last house the Shadows were in had significant streaks of the viscous inky slime they leave around like snail mucus.”
Sloane, “You can see it?”
“See isn’t exactly right, we sense it, but yes, to us it’s like black streaks in the air.”
Amaya, “Yuck, does it stick to anything?”
Chloe giggles, “Think of it as fog, it doesn’t collect on stuff though, you could walk right through. It’s more of an atmospheric thing. Anyway, the other two houses had traces, but it’s been a few weeks since either had Shadows inside. We came a week after the arrests, and the last session was only two days before that. The Shadows posted the video the same day.”
“Did you get a sense of their ability?”
Zi, “That would take us seeing them live. I think that the fact they controlled six adults and seven children at the same time is power enough. The children say five or six Shadows, so at least one can take two minds at the same time.”
“Or they kept one or two out of it and swapped them later. Tie up a couple of kids until it’s their turn.”
“Good point. I don’t recall, the videos showed several adults and children, is there one with all thirteen?”
Grace B, “Yes, twice. Most of it was more close up of the sex. And while the adults looked zombied much of the time, the children were enthusiastic throughout.”
“Then that answers that. And they managed to make the kids think it was all great fun.”
Ellen, “Wonder how they feel about it now?”
Grace B, “They have been interviewed by social workers and therapists. I snuck in on sessions, they were videotaped. Apparently the interviewers do not realize their devices can be hacked. The children remember it, and they do not express shame or guilt, just the opposite. They want to have another go. ‘It felt good and it made me feel grown up’ were common themes.”
Katya, “Might be better than the alternative.”
Janah, “What an alternative, either depressed and guilt filled kids or sex crazed ones. Even if we get the parents a pass, what in hell will life be like then?”
Daria, “They’ll drug them and do a bit of memory deletion. Our job is to kill Shadows, not to fix the kids.”
It sounds cold, but she’s right. There are a multitude of pharmaceuticals for PTSD, which is almost a thing of the past. Particularly if they catch it fast and avoid constant reliving of the events.
“Are the therapists doing the get it all out stuff, forcing kids to replay the rape?”
Grace B, “No, somebody learned something. The children were guiltless, nobody was stupid enough to try and make them feel remorse. The primary issue is what happens with other friends and relatives, or at school.”
Janah, “Best that can happen is a relocation and name change, but that won’t occur unless we manage to get the parents off the hook.”
“When we go for the three, remember we need at least one of them alive unless we want to sit around and wait for others to show up. And now that they’ve wreaked havoc on three families, there might not be visits from the others for a while. Shadows don’t normally interact much, not sure why three of them live together.”
Katja, “How long have they lived in that house?”
Grace B does one of her faster than light searches, “Rental records show five months, no lease, no record of where they came from.”
“Who was the house leased by, we don’t even have names for them.”
“Wes Marshall is on the lease, funny, lease says three thousand a month but there is no record of any money being paid.”
Janah, “That’s an old Shadow trick. They convince the landlord they paid in cash and that he spent it at a casino or someplace. One Shadow convinced the landlord that she was his mistress and he let her live rent free. The more important point is they just blew into town. At the least moved from someplace in the area to the new house.”
Katja, “Someone mentioned that they may be up to more than family child swap and incest.”
“Sounds like we have more sneaking around to do. Once we have the house located, I think we follow, personally and by drone. They go out, somebody has to shop, put gas in the car, Shadows have errands like anyone else. Suppose we give it a few days, three or four at least, see what happens.”
Nikko, “If they round up another family?”
“No, that’s different, we intervene immediately. We can coerce any other plans they might have with a combination of our drugs and our own mental intervention. Janah, Daria and Dasha are at least as, likely more powerful than any Shadow.”
Amaya, “And you’re no lightweight, Daphne. Not time for humility.”
“Thank you, it is true, I can conjure up a fat load of Qi myself.”
Nikko, “Why not just coerce them in the first place? Why trail around after them for three days?”
Janah, “Every time we watch these clowns, we learn a little more. As long as they aren’t creating more trouble, I would like to observe for a few days.”
Nikko, “Makes sense, I withdraw my question.”
Dinner went while we talked, girls go off to their respective suites. I don’t know who hooked up with whom. I make Janah’s head spin for a half hour, then we snuggle in together and black out for the duration.
I blink awake when I hear the phone buzz, it’s Dasha.
“Gud marning Dahfoney, time for eating breakfast then go to keel Shadowy peerson.”
“Got it, you doing breakfast downstairs?”
“Nyet, Ellen and I are making aig scrahmbulled in my room. She slips wiz sisters last night, we make gud sex.”
“You are always good sex little angel.”
She’s not so little anymore, five seven, but that was my name for her when she was a kid. 
“You will come now Dahfoney,” she clicks off, it’s good to be wanted.
I quickie shower, wake Janah and tell her breakfast is ready. She’ll get moving at the mention of food. Then I head down the hall to Dasha’s suite, Chloe and Amaya are coming the other way.
Chloe, “You going down for breakfast?”
“To the twin’s room, Dasha and Ellen are cooking.”
Amaya, “I’m for that.”
I knock, Mani answers, “Come in, coffee’s hot, tea if you prefer.”
We caffeinate, then Dasha and Ellen fill us up with cream cheese scrambled with chopped ham pieces and warm buttery croissants.
“You guys did a great job with limited utensils and a two burner stove.”
Dasha, “Grace B thinks up everything, and we brought toaster oven from two other rooms. Hotel gave us coffee in big urn with pumping handle. Ees still hot? I can microwave.”
“No, the thing does a good job of keeping it hot, and the coffee is good. Sometimes these places have the brown water stuff.”
Daria, “Where are Nikko, Zi, Sloane and Eloise?”
I mental Nishiko, I see them at one of the tables buy  the buffet, “Eating downstairs?”
“We got up early, Sloane and Eloise got the drone out and launched, Grace B is monitoring it. they showed up a few minutes ago, so we’re keeping them company while they eat.”
“Dasha and Ellen made eggs and found croissants someplace. We’re in the twins’ suite. They dragged tables and more chairs from other suites. Come along when you’re done. I think we’ve just about polished off the coffee though.”
“We’ll bring more.”

We disconnect from our personal ethernet. It is so convenient to be able to pop into her head.
“They ate downstairs, Nikko and Zi were up early, Sloane and Eloise have the drone launched.”
Katya, “Drone found the bird?”
Grace B, “Hovering near the nest, a couple hundred feet up, we don’t want people spotting it. The owl came out to hunt. I watched her snap up a rodent, then she flew back and fed hungry owlets. The male is nearby.”
Chloe, “Is owlet a word?”
Grace B, “I do not suppose a lanky fashion model would know the term for baby owls.”
Chloe giggles, “I’ll take lanky, I usually get skinny.”
Amaya, “The average dress size for American women went from twelve forty or so years ago, to fourteen, then sixteen, not it’s eighteen, the average. Which means half the chunks are bigger than that.”
Janah, “Not necessarily. If a lot of women fall into the fourteen to eighteen range, it might only be a third that are bigger.”
Amaya, “Still shameful. Who wants to tote all that weight. Thank goodness no one in our tribe approaches double digits. We are sleeky, not butt-cheeky.”
We laugh, Amaya is the sugar police.
Mani, ‘I’m a zero.”
Grace B, “Got that shit right.”
Mani, “I was referring to dress size.”
“I know, but it was too good an opening.”
The others come in, Nikko, “Got a location yet?”
Grace B, “Had to feed owlets, ah hah, she’s leaving now. Check your screens.”
We share a half dozen tablets, watch the owl fly, motoring beneath the drone.
Sloane, “She’s out almost five miles, how big are their territories?”
Since my transmission from the owl I’ve done a bit of research, “Varies from one mile to six, depending on the availability of prey. Appears this one finds hunting opportunities over a wider range. Otherwise she wouldn’t know where the Shadows live.”
We see the bird circle a house, not in a neighborhood, on a couple acres of open ground, woods to the rear, about three or four hundred yards from the front to the road.
“How far is the house from the road?”
Grace B, “Three hundred fifty seven yards, two feet, six inches, from the edge of the asphalt.”
“Okay, and how far to the woods in back?”
“One hundred forty yards, seven inches to the base of the nearest tree. The woods are two hundred fifty three yards deep, four hundred thirty eight yards wide, forty four if you count the single tree across the drainage ditch.”
“Difficult to approach from the road, but not so bad from behind. Take the drone to the far side of the woods, can we get in? From there or either side?”
“From the right, right facing the woods, see the forest service road? Not much used since the surrounding area has developed. There is a subdivision, then a small industrial park behind the woods, scrub land in between. Train tracks for the industrial park, but it’s just a single branch from the main line two miles west.”
We wait and watch, it’s not midmorning yet, early, nothing stirs at the house.

Six

The drone circles the property, zooms in on windows, the only one without a curtain or blinds just now is a kitchen window overlooking the rear. There is movement but reflection makes it hard to distinguish a face.
The place is sizable, must run to three thousand square feet, a porch runs the length of the front and down one side. Must not be yard people, no patio, no lawn furniture, no grill, just stubbly grass. 
“At least there isn’t a fence, we could simply walk up.”
Janah, “We need to drive out to confirm Shadows. I doubt the bird is wrong, but we need to see for ourselves.”
“Just as well, it will help us get an idea of their Qi. We don’t all need to go. Amaya can drive Zi, Chloe and me. If one of our armed and dangerous girls comes along, just in case, even better.”
Katya, “Sarah, go with. Any trouble starts, kill people until it stops.”
“I’m on it.”
Janah, “The rest of us will monitor the drone cam, if anything comes along you can’t see, we will.”
“Eloise, is the drone armed?”
“With Shadows in play? Always. Three tranq bullets, three Oblivion,” our name for the virtually instant poison created by David Li and Manolo at the Shaolin Temple. It has the virtue of being undetectable, in part because it deteriorates rapidly once in the body, and in part because the compounds are unique to David Li’s lab, it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world and there is no test for it. Due to its extreme and instant toxicity, we inject ourselves with an antidote prior to handling it. An accidental needle prick and death is instantaneous.
Our drone injection system used to be a form of dart gun similar to those used to sedate animals. Darts have limited distance and are easily affected by wind and rain. Eloise and Lauren came up with a bullet. It’s like a hollow point, except with a thin jacket over the hollow where the poison is located. Pop the skin, the thins shell breaks, poison goes in, target goes down, doesn’t get up. Over any reasonable distance wind or water doesn’t matter much.
Your question is, if we have this stuff, why are we looking to face down the Shadows, why not just shoot them and go home?
Or, barring that, why not let our assassin girls point a laser gun at them and bore a hole in the skull…and go home?
I’d say it’s complicated, but it isn’t. We used to face them down, fight it out. Then the poison alternative came along and we used that in the dart guns. Our assassin girls would happily shoot Shadows with, in former days, standard Glocks, or in current days, lasers.
Janah felt like we were cheating. It’s a fine point, but it’s like killing a deer with a rifle from five hundred yards. It’s not a sport, a sport is when two evenly matched, or equipped, opponents go at it. The deer doesn’t have a .306, the deer doesn’t have a bow and arrow. There are legitimate reasons to thin deer herds, and a legitimate reason if you want to eat it. Killing for trophies is not a legitimate reason.
Consequently, we face down Shadows mano a mano, hand to hand. Considering Qi is involved maybe it’s more mente a la mente.
Do Shadows have a similar version of an honor code? Of course not, unless there’s a psychopath honor code I’m unfamiliar with. A Shadows skill is their weakness, too enamored of their own Qi skill to think they need a weapon. That doesn’t stop them from flying hard or sharp objects across a room at us if something is handy. Fortunately, not all Shadows are telekinetic, we think less than half. It’s a bitch of a thing to learn.
“Let’s get going.”
Amaya drives us to the industrial park, it’s Sunday, industry is taking a break. She pulls to the tracks, I get out with Zi, Chloe and Sarah, short hike through the woods to the rear of the Shadow house. I peer through binoculars. Between those and my eagle sight, I could spot a spider on the wall. 
Binoculars won’t help us tell if the targets are Shadows, I want a feel for where they might be in the house. The only interior visible is the kitchen and a living area behind it. I see the outline of a man sitting on a couch, his back is to me. 
“Chloe, get Grace B to display the front, see how many cars there are.”
We look at the screen, three, two in a two car garage, one sits outside.
“Appears they’re all home, ask her to run the plates.”
We watch the drone shift position slightly, read the license plates, then, “One car belongs to Marshall, one to Li Ling, the third to Rajat Singh. No employment records, no social security numbers, no passports. Sending you copy of driver’s license now.”
Sarah, “No such a pretty group, the Chinese is kind of attractive in a severe way.”
Marshall is big, not fat so much as big. All I can see is his head on the license, but the card says he’s six four and two fifty. Rajat is typically Indian, not too dark, likely Brahmin caste, yes, they still have that stuff in India. Beady eyes behind black frame glasses, little wussy moustache.
“We need one of them outside. I’m going to do a Shaolin creep though the woods and up until I’m pitching distance from the house. If I bounce a rock off the wall, one of them is going to come out and see what’s what.”
Zi, “Keep your distance, they catch the sense of you we get outed early.”
Sarah, “I’m not Shaolin, I’ll go.”
She takes off left, we wait. It’s about ten minutes, since it isn’t that far, she must be going extra stealthy. Then I see a dark object bounce off the back wall, thunk!”
The big one comes out the back door, walks along the wall. He spots the mark, looks down and picks up the rock. Turns to look around. Apparently it isn’t possible to determine the angle the rock came from, he looks left, the right, stares at the woods. There’s no way he can see us, and it’s too far to pitch a small rock.
“Maybe he’ll think it’s a meteorite.”
Chloe, “He’s a Shadow, a big nasty one.”
Zi, “Confirmed.”
The woman steps out, says something, Marshall shrugs, points up, maybe he does think it fell out of the sky. He hands it to her, now she studies it, shakes her head. I see her thumb rubbing the stone, she shows him her thumb. She tosses it to the ground, they go inside.
Chloe, “Her too, well, not big, but nasty.”
“Let’s get gone.”
Back in the car, Amaya, “Well?”
Zi, “Dark as death.”
“Chalk up another win for the birds.”
I’m talking to my phone, “Grace B, continue to monitor the house, maybe their pals come over and we can get a look before we have to drug the details out of them.”
“Drone is good for six more hours, then it will need to be swapped.”
Eloise’s graphene batteries have a heck of a life, and they recharge in under an hour. They’re still not exactly legal, but we know the military uses a version. It’s why our special drones self destruct if anyone attempts to take them apart, or if they crash. They sizzle into ash, the guts anyway, the titanium shell stays intact which is why they don’t start fires.
We gather in one of the suites.
Janah, “Assuming they don’t get up to something, I’m giving it two days. If their pals don’t show, we take the three. The goal is to interview them first.”
Nikko, “If we drug them from the drone, or our guns, what happens when we have the details we want?”
“You mean do we release them and fight it out?”
“Yes, seems pointless. We risk getting beat up or worse, they die anyway.”
“You’re right, especially given Chloe and Zi’s assessment. I would simply administer Oblivion after we get what we want.”
Amaya, “If we’re going to help the families, it would be good to have a hoked up confession, that they drugged the participants and made them helpless to resist.”
“We won’t need that, we have you.”
Amaya is a lot of things, performance artist is one. She can hear a song, replicate it in exactly the singer’s voice. Not just females, any voice. In the early days, she used to do Joe Cocker. Close your eyes and you’d swear it was him doing his cover of  ‘A Little Help From My Friends’. When she writes a book or a screenplay, she acts out the characters in all kinds of voices and accents. Her octave range is absurd.
Amaya grins, “I can do that.”
Sloane, “Do what?”
She’s going to listen to them talk, then she’s going to create the confession and speak it in their voices. She could probably do it in any voices, the DA doesn’t know what they sound like, and they’ll be too dead to give him a sample.”
Janah, “Better to replicate. There’s a chance the defense would hear the confessions and if the families hear it, they can verify that it is the same people. Probably won’t happen, still no reason not to use Amaya’s talent.”
Amaya, “It will be perfect, which, since it’s me, goes without saying.”
Grace B, “Never stops Your Magnificence from saying it anyway.”
Amaya smiles, “I made you sassy, just like your namesake, I have only me to blame.”
Nikko, “Anything at the house?”
Grace B puts the video feed on our tablets, “All quiet. Do you want audio?”
“Yes, what do Shadows jaw jack about when they aren’t being assholes?”

Seven

Shadows don’t like anyone, including each other, full time assholes you might say. They will come together for projects of joint interest, they do their bit, then go separate ways. The sex thing they put together doesn’t merit a long term relationship. They had their fun, exposed the families not only to humiliation and legal trouble, but to real danger. 
They had their fun, but show no sign of breaking up and moving on. We wonder if there are other reasons they hang around in Binghamton. Shadows are only happy when they make other people miserable. What additional misery might they be plotting?
Grace B maneuvers the drone into position, it has a parabolic dish and a booster that can let us hear through concrete walls from a couple hundred yards, a thousand yards if there’s nothing to interfere. The walls of this place are external siding and internal sheet rock. It’s like we’re sitting in the room with them.
Marshall, “If the fucking stone didn’t drop out of the sky, who threw it?”
Ling, “Nobody threw it, it could be anything, flipped up from a tire, or kids playing with one of those things with the rubber band, what is it called?”
“A slingshot? I didn’t know those existed any longer.”
“Maybe they were just playing, and one of them threw it too far, or did it on purpose, just to see what happens.”
Marshall, “I guess, it’s Sunday, kids are out of school. I’ve seen a couple screwing around in the woods.”
Ling, “There you go. Obviously they didn’t throw it from that far, but nearer the house, over to the right maybe. I bet they are at home and scared shitless.”
“Or they’re malicious little fucks.”
“We’re malicious fucks, it’s a calling.”
Laughter.
Singh, “If we caught the kids, we could be having fun right now. That young girl from the last time, she was delicious. Fucking an eight year old, so smooth, so tight, and so not a virgin any longer.”
More laughter.
Marshall, “When we were done, she’d fucked every cock in the crowd, and she wanted more!”
Ling, “They all wanted more, we made them want more. One mommy on my cunt, the other on my ass, delightful.”
After a few more vivid descriptions, they burn out on reliving memories. It’s evident the Shadows got serviced first, then made videos of the adults and children doing each other.
Ling, “When do we meet up with the other two?”
Marshall, “A few days, they went to play in Manhattan. That fuck Corsair likes to pick up girls, then make them pay to fuck him. That bitch he brought, Ariel, is into watching. Like live porn. With all the damn VR around, I don’t get sitting around watching him fuck, but that’s what she does.”
Singh, “That’s what she says she does, who knows what she really does?”
Ling, “You may be right. Corsair is a hot guy, if I was into men, I’d take him on. I suspect she likes threesomes, I even asked her, she wouldn’t say.”
Marshall, “Why the fuck not? Jesus, we made seven kids and their parents do all kinds of stuff, she was in it with the rest of us.”
Singh, “She took the video, she didn’t have sex with anyone.”
Marshall, “Yeah, that’s right, she only played with her pussy while she worked the camera. I don’t know, maybe she likes solo. Worked out for us, she got great shots of the action.”
Singh, “Back to business. I’m needing fresh cash and getting dopes to hand me their wallets is too tedious. Last time out, I only got five hundred for a day of work. People don’t carry cash much now.”
Ling, “Heard that. It’s also a pain to keep them under control while I buy things them have them pay for it with their phone. And most stores don’t have cashiers anymore, it’s not like I can get some kid behind a register to hand me money.”
Marshall, “Corsair and Ariel are scoping targets in New York, Singh. Fuck, it was your idea. When they have them tagged, we drive down and pick them off. Take their mind, they liquidate bank and brokerage accounts, transfer the money to a virtual lockbox, we unlock it and it goes to us. We leave for Manhattan when they have the targets scoped.”
Ling, “I hate sitting around, I did enough sitting around to learn how to mind grab, ten years of sitting the fuck around.”
Marshall, “Tell you what, we go out for steaks and martinis tonight, tomorrow we pick up a bit of juicy young entertainment and take them to a hotel. You can get your ass licked by whatever little girls we can snatch.”
Ling snickers, “Good fuckin’ idea.”
They move off to other things, there’s no more conversation for now.
Nikko, “That moves up our plans.”
Janah, “Sure does.”
“Let me think this through. We have two in Manhattan and three here waiting on a call. We can’t let them have another round of kiddie sex, and they will surely latch onto a couple of kids tomorrow. We either deal tonight, or first thing in the morning.”
Katya, “After a big dinner and drinks, they might be easier to control.”
“Good point. And we can be waiting for them right in their own living room.”
Daria, “What about Manhattan? We do not know what the other two look like.”
Amaya, “Easy peasy, I have a plan.”
She outlines her idea, we go with it. 
Grace B, “Need a second drone up and out, I have an hour left on this one.”
Eloise, “I’ll get it ready,” she and I go downstairs, drive the car around to the back lot and set the drone on the ground.
I check in with Grace B, “Ready to go.”
The drone lifts off, at what I estimate to be two hundred feet, it zips in the direction of the first drone which is hovering over the Shadows’ place. Eloise and I sit and wait for the first drone. The drones can fly a couple hundred miles an hour, it shows up in under five minutes. We load it into the SUV , drive around to the main lot and return to the suite.
“I suggest we get shape shifted, maybe they go to dinner early.”
Girls return to their rooms to slip into battle gear. It isn’t necessary to go full blown disguised, the Shadows will be dead, we aren’t going anyplace where there are other people. Final touches, watch caps, gloves, tinted glasses, will be added on the way.
We have several kinds of protection, a bullet proof polymer vest that resists both punctures and strikes. And a reflective layer that deflects lasers. Our caps are made of the same material. It isn’t perfect, a bullet in the face is a bullet in the face. The polymer isn’t flexible enough for pants, Eloise and Lauren are working on alternatives, less protection with unrestricted movement. 
Shadows don’t use guns, laser or otherwise, at least they never have in any of our encounters. The vests will keep us from getting seriously injured by flying objects, or a Qi strike. They won’t prevent us getting blown across the room if the Qi energy is strong enough.
We have my self-designed knee and elbow protection, a lobster tail sleeve that allows the joints to bend normally but prevents them from being  dislocated by a bat or a hard kick. Our hard sole boots have steel toe caps inside. 
Girls filter back to our suite to wait for the drone show us when our targets have left. For now, the area around the house is quiet.
Nikko, “Chloe and Zi say these people are talented, at least black, which could mean either talented or homicidal psychopaths. Since the exploits we know about didn’t include killing anyone, and since they managed to control six adults and seven children for an extended stretch, we can assume they are powerful.”
Katja, “Would be a bad idea to think otherwise.”
“I think we keep Daphne and Zi parked down the block until the show starts.”
Janah, “Agreed. If they sense Shaolin, they either bolt, or gear up, we lose the small element of surprise. The god news is, two of them are in Manhattan, they won’t have the same cumulative power they had with the victims.”
Katya, “How do we do this? There are fourteen of us, plus Grace B, seems like overkill.”
“Eloise and Amaya don’t play a part, except for driving, but you’re right, we have them outgunned on several levels. Our laser girls stay out of it unless and until something goes bad. Bad means bad, serious injury or imminent death. We brought all the warriors because we thought there were five or six highly skilled Shadows. Turns out to be five and turns out two aren’t here. I suggest we put the gun girls at the exits and any hallway. There’s a front and rear door and one to the garage. That three of you, then bound to be at least one hallway to bedrooms. We want them trapped in the living area once they enter the house.”
Ellen, “Unanticipated eventualities, like two come inside but one diddles around outside in the garage, or they don’t use the garage at all.”
“Good point. Pointing a gun without killing them won’t work. They will take your mind, you will believe the gun is burning in your hand, or they will make the gun really burn your hand. Without your own Qi, you won’t be able to hit them, or even move, you’ll be frozen in place.”
“Then what?”
“If there’s a stray, Zi and I will be around, I can neutralize the Qi and the single will be both confused and angered by the presence of Shaolin. It throws them off, only for a moment, but it’s our window. I’ll take the Shadow on, Nikko, Amaya, the twins and Janah will know I’m facing one down, I mental with all of them. We improvise from there. One thing we know from too much experience, once the crap starts, it’s all improv. And when the crap starts it isn’t every girl for herself, unlike Shadows, who think only of saving their own butts. I know somebody’s got my back, just like I’ve got theirs.”
Katya, “How does the confrontation go down? Three of you going hand to hand with the three of them?”
Janah, “It never happens like that. We do that with Society targets, one to one. Shadows will start pitching Qi shots and telekinetically toss hard or sharp objects at us. We have an advantage this time, we’re going to be in the house when they get home. That means we remove the obvious stuff, vases, kitchen knives, anything that can be used as a flying weapon. Maybe we won’t get to it all, but we can stack a bunch of it in a bedroom closet and lock the door to the room.”
Nikko, “Good idea, I’ve been clocked and cut by flying Shadow crap, it isn’t pleasant. Daphne got a shoulder full of butcher knife once.”
Ellen, “Why don’t you just dart the fuckers with tranquilizer, find out who is in Manhattan, then Sarah and I fill their head full of laser holes. Hell, there isn’t even any blood, cauterizes as it kills.”
“That should be the laser gun motto. ‘Cauterizes as it kills. All you  have to do is dispose of the body.’
Sarah, “We don’t do body disposal, when we take on a contract we leave the body where it falls.”
“You’re assassins, you need to show proof of completion. I’m thinking of do it yourselfers who might be suspects and need to habeas the corpus.”
Mani, “That’s why they should hire a pro, like us, they can be taking selfies in the Bahamas while we take down the no longer beloved husband, annoying business partner, stalker or the guy who got the job you should have gotten. There are all kinds of reasons to kill people.”

Eight

Grace B, “Shadows on the move.”
We load up, drive two SUVs to the industrial park, ten of us and Grace B get out and walk through the woods to the rear of the house. Zi and I stay with Amaya and Eloise. I’m in Janah’s head, I see the back door handle, she turns it..
“Trusting souls, they didn’t lock the door.”
Nikko, “Likely forgot after the rock thing, doesn’t look like they come out here much.”
Inside, they begin to move any objects that might be used as a weapon, there aren’t a lot, Shadows aren’t collectors. A couple of vases from end tables, one lamp, there’s a knife block on a kitchen counter filled with sharp instruments. They take the pots and pans from the cabinets, sweep out cans and bottles from the pantry. That goes directly into the garbage can Sarah dragged in from the garage.
“Nikko must be right, the garage door was down and this door was locked, so is the front door.”
Amaya is driving the us around, we don’t want to be the lone car in the industrial park’s lot, a cruising cop will surely check it out.
An hour passes, the drone shows the car still at the restaurant, a steakhouse called Lefty’s. It’s either good or cheap, the lot’s near full. Twenty more minutes, they emerge and walk to the car, nobody is staggering drunk, too bad. 
“They’re leaving, take us back to the drop off then keep moving.”
I go into Janah’s brain, “Open the curtains in back so they can follow the action from the drone.”
“Janah is opening the curtains, you can follow from the drone.”
Amaya, “Get this done, you don’t need to interrogate, remember to get their phones and remember which phone belongs to which Shadow….and remember not to get hurt.”
“That’s a lot of remembering, could you send me a text?”
“Very funny, now go.”
Zi and I exit, walk into the woods. If we stay ten yards in on the other side the Shadows won’t sense us. There’s a stretch of yard between the woods and the house, and the Shadows will be occupied with their unwelcome guests.
The house is dark, girls are stationed at their posts, Ellen has the rear door, Sarah will block a garage exit when they get inside. Mani is at the front door with Katja, Katya is a few feet down the hallway to the bedrooms.
The first voice is Marshall, he flicks on the kitchen light, “Fucking great steak, think I’ll have a cockta…..well, well, we have burglars, girl burglars at that.”
Ling looks around, “Jesus, hot girl burglars, what a pleasant surprise, which one shall I have lick my pussy.”
Janah, “Your last time was your last time, Shadow.”
They stop and stare, isn’t here supposed to be a priest?
“The Shaolin cunt hiding?”
I step into the living room, “Shaolin cunts, and we’re right here.”
Singh has been silent, he steps from behind the much bigger Marshall, uh oh, he’s already Qi loaded, fires off a shot that catches me in the chest and puts me hard against the rear wall.
“Ouch, if I get a bruise, I’m going to be so upset, Singh.”
He’s perplexed, that was supposed to take me out, then a sneer as he goes for a second shot. Sloane chomps down on his wrist, he howls, twists and bangs her against the pantry door. He’s bleeding something ferocious, positioning his other hand to blast her.
Dasha takes his forearm in her hand, her other on his throat. She crushes his wrist, then crushes his throat. She drops him, the little man is quite the little mess.
Ling is looking around for something to fling, but they stored the flingables in a bedroom and Katya blocks the hallway with a fully charged laser gun in her hand.
“Smart move, you moved almost everything moveable,” she grins, a kitchen chair comes flying toward Zi.
The chair seat smacks her raised palm and forearm, the wooden back clonks her on the forehead. She staggers but stays upright, hurls the chair back towards Ling, who raises her hand, it stops mid flight, then breaks up. Pieces clonk to the floor.
Marshall sends an energy shot at my head, I sidestep…Bang! Now there’s a hole in the wall.
Daria moves on him, he’s surprised, didn’t she just see what he can do? He raises his hand…Thwack! She’s momentarily stalled, then Marshall gets a nasty shock. He sails up and back, all two forty smashed into kitchen cabinets. One cabinet door falls off, another is cracked clean through. Marshall stands, dazed, shakes his head trying to clear the static.
Ling tries another chair, it flies towards Janah and Nikko, they step left and right, it crushes a flat screen TV.
In desperation, she takes Sloane by the hair, levels her hand, fingers point to Sloane’s throat.
Sarah levels her laser, “Fuck this shit,” fires, a small perfectly round hole appears in Ling’s forehead. Sloane twists the dead wrist, hand releases hair, Ling falls face forward on the linoleum. There’s a satisfying smush as she hits nose first.
Ellen is next to Marshall, her laser at his temple, “Sit the fuck down. If I feel a tingle in my head, you join the other two assholes.”
His face is a mask of pure hatred. For a moment I think he’s going for it anyway, Ellen lowers the gun and bores a hole in the top of his foot. A yelp of pain, he stares at his shoe, a little curl of smoke rises. 
She yanks him to the dining table, “Next shot takes your cock, now sit fucker.”
He sits, “Shaolin is gonna kill me anyway, what is there to talk about?”
Janah, “Not much. We know about Corsair and Ariel, we know what the plan is, or was.”
“How in hell? You bugged this place? How did you even find us?”
“A little bird told us, and no, we didn’t bug the place exactly. We have a drone with an ultra efficient listening device. Your chat earlier today was most enlightening.”
“Fuck.”
“And there won’t be any children for you tomorrow either, your future is limited to now, stay in the moment. Tell us about us, what do you know, what do you think you know?”
Marshall, “Why? I’m dead, I’m not getting less dead by giving you anything.”
Ellen, “There’s the quick dead, and there’s the slow dead. See my pal over there,” Ellen nods at Nikko, “she’s got one of the nastier blades on the planet. One guy took three days to die, and we kept him wired awake the entire time. See the little case? It’s got pharmaceuticals to help you enjoy every fucking moment, it’s got pharmaceuticals that will make you believe you’re on fire. Are you grasping your situation?”
Marshall, “I do. Let’s see, God my fucking foot hurts.”
“Tough, use your Qi, just don’t let it wander away from your foot,” Ellen has the laser pointed between his legs.
“Gimmie a sec.”
He focuses, between Janah, Zi and Chloe, if he has intention to cheat, they’ll know. He opts to be a good boy. A minute passes, then he begins.
“You killed an acquaintance of Singh a couple years back. Not that we give a shit. But the stories have made the round of our community for years. One of us runs into another, sometimes we do a joint project, mostly not. But we do swap intel, try to figure out where you live. We take exception to being permanently targeted for death. We’d go after all Shaolin, but that creates backlash, so we settle for taking one or two occasionally, mostly overseas. We don’t count gung fu students, they aren’t monks or priests, only the real deal, most of your monks can’t recognize us anyway. The general feeling is that picking off random Shaolin is pointless, unless it’s a priest who can spot us, he looks at me, “the tall bitch is the most hated Shaolin on the planet. There’s a twenty million dollar bounty on her head.”
Geez, didn’t know how popular I am.
Janah, “Keep going.”
“You no doubt know we have no organizational structure, efforts have been made, but we’re loners. Two days with one of us is all we can stand, it’s a ball busting contest, females are almost worse than men. We hook up when there’s an opportunity that takes more than one, bigger money, the odd sex thing. Ordinary suck and fuck gets boring, take a girl’s mind, make her do whatever, kick her to the curb. Same for those who like it queer, like Ling. We’re a lot of things, judgmental ain’t one of ‘em. Guy would rather have cock than pussy, okay by us.”
Janah, “We know all that, tell me about us, what’s the talk?”
“Like I said, a couple of priests, didn’t know you had so many pals, there was talk about six or seven women. I take it you’re lesbians, this many attractive women, I don’t get the feeling you run home to husbands or boyfriends.”
“Go on,” Janah isn’t going to confirm, I suppose it’s rather obvious anyway.
“They think you live in New York, Manhattan, but nobody’s found you there. Our associates are going for what you overheard, a big payday, but they’re also sniffing around for a very annoying priest.”
He turns to me, “It’s rumored you’re affiliated with the Shaolin Temple there, we’ve had people check out comings and goings from time to time, nothing, just ordinary monks. And here you are in front of me, my lucky fucking day, twenty million down the drain. One of us was killed near that temple a few years ago. There used to be a priest who ran a restaurant with his wife in Chinatown. Figured it was him. We were warned off, they say the fucker’s invincible. I got no interest in finding out.”
He’s talking about Chan, and he’s right. Chan could have taken on all three Shadows and walked away with them dead on the crappy carpet.
“First time a female priest came up was years ago, then the stories about one of us dead by her hand, her and some fucking samurai. But that was a long time ago. If you were that priest, you’d be over forty, maybe fifty by now.”
“I heard about her, we met once, she retired overseas, I took on the job at her behest.”
I’m not getting into our aging thing, even though he’s never going to get to retell the story. It’s complicated and would give him a shot at too many questions.
He nods, since I look mid twenties, his mind defaults to appearances.

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