Five

Morning, my precious Cossack is standing next to the bed, “Do not be lazy Dahfoney, girls must be fed, you will come and make omelet wiz me.”
She turns and leaves, I rise to follow orders, to the bathroom for morning ablutions. I check on Janah. Looking through her eyes, all I can see is Zi’s back and water running down. Good gravy, Janah’s on her knees in the shower servicing Zi’s tush. Some girls just can’t get enough, thank goodness. I check out and head to the kitchen.
About half the tribe is there already, “Where are the kids?”
Dasha, “They were asleep when I checked, Kota B said they were up until after one, doing some kind of trance dance.”
“I didn’t hear any music, but I was conked out by eleven thirty.”
“There wasn’t any, Kota B said they hear it in their heads, maybe the Zycyryn do something. Anyway, there are aigs, griddle ees hot. I am chopping peppers for filling omelet. Girls can add chizz, bowl of shredded four chizz ees on the table.”
We got a table big enough for everyone, including the kids. They like to sprinkle themselves among the adults for meals. Over the years and many mealtime conversations, they’ve learned about each of us, and we them. Our magic sprites have individual personalities despite their hive behavior. A hive with no queen, just eight princesses. 
Amaya, “When do we return to Manhattan?”
“A week maybe, haven't decided, you need to go sooner?”
“No, just wondering. I’ve come to prefer it here frankly. New York is horrendously crowded, and unlike the past, I have no need to go to boutiques or department stores. Virtual stores have caught up to the original Chloe Couture site. Post your photo, try on anything from the comfort of your home. A day to make it, a day to deliver it, done. I haven’t been to any retail outlet in five years.”
Nobody goes to department stores now, they’ve all closed, or shrunk to a shell of themselves. Malls have been converted to VR outlets and restaurants. Many were razed and replaced with apartments or condos. There is no such thing as a movie theater. There is no such thing as a school, which began to look like prisons after the mass shootings started. Now, students are online, they can do subjects with a group, listen to a teacher or professor like a class, but not in a classroom. Or they can play the lecture some other time. They can also have virtual instruction, do the chemistry as if they were in a lab, with chemistry paraphernalia, or botany, biology, geology or physics.
No bullies at school, no cliques, no mean girls. They’re still out there, but if you encounter one, just shut them off and they don’t exist for you any longer.
Tests are taken online, pupil scan verifies identity. Students answer questions verbally, voice recognition further verifies that the person answering is the student.
The camera monitors the student and the immediate area. 
Can they set up elaborate cheating mechanisms? Maybe. But testing is random, any day is a potential test day. The questions asked are random as well. Some are multiple choice, some true-false, some require calculations, others a verbal explanation. They get five seconds to answer. In sum, students have to know the material well enough not to have to think much before they respond. There’s no time to Google, or get hand signals from a friend off camera.
Once a student demonstrates basic proficiency in reading, math, statistics and  simple probability, they are free to continue with more challenging coursework, or to quit attending classes. Shakespeare is great, but nobody has to read it, algebra is interesting, but nobody has to learn it. Strangely, some kids still do. Or perhaps not so strange, once nobody makes them, once they aren’t graded and have as long as it takes to learn it, they learn it.
Over the next half hour, everyone shows up, I’m cranking out omelets, Dasha adds the peppers, then I roll them into omelet shape and onto a plate. Grace B delivers, refills coffee and tea, clears plates when they’re done.
I hear the soft patter of little feet, “Dobroye utro Mama, dobroye utro Tetya Dafna.”
“And good morning to you dear ones. We have omelets today, do you want plain, cream cheese or with peppers?”
Nadia answers for all, “Slivochnyy syr pozhaluysta.”
“Cream cheese it is.”
Grace B spoons out cups of fresh fruit while I pour more eggs on the griddle. Dasha dabs a spoon of softened cream cheese and I fold the eggs. We cook on a commercial style griddle, not frying pans. I can pour out a half dozen, when the eggs begin to firm, add the filling, flip the edges of the eggs over, voilà, l'omelette.
Valeska, “Perfect Tetya Dafna, spasibo.”
“My pleasure dear one.”
I let them eat undisturbed. Kota B has some educational agenda for the bulk of the morning, then physical activity, swim or the karts, light lunch, nap, creative time in the afternoon until tea. Maybe more pool time or a trip up the mountain with Sloane, Oceane and Cassandra. Back in time to shower while the adults have cocktails, then dinner.
We don’t the plan, the children do it for themselves. Recall, we say children, they aren’t anymore, but mini-adults sounds forced, so I go with children.
Over twenty five years of Society* contacts and Janah and I have a ring of contacts that covers practically every major city and a fair number of smaller ones across the country.
I hear a phone ding, the tone tells me it’s one of our Society numbers, an Eloise encrypted Frankenphone. God can’t figure out where the phone is or who it belongs to.
I’m serving tea to the troops, Janah goes off to take the call. We’re almost finished when she returns.
“Must have been complicated, or interesting.”
Janah, “Both. A virus, that’s their term, has infected a few virtual reality systems. They systems and hardware are unrelated, that is, not from the same provider or the same manufacturer.”
“So it isn’t a defect in the equipment or software.”
Daria, “What is it doing?”
“Driving players insane.”
“Doesn’t that happen to some users already?”
“Yes, but instances are few, the numbers are miniscule, primarily temporary disorientation. Of course people get addicted, but people get addicted to all kinds of things. If they followed the program settings, they’d be okay.”
The regulations require the programs to shut down after an hour, and remain shut down for at least an hour. When you return to your game, adventure or sex play, it picks up where you left off. Average time in the virtual environment is actually under an hour, but people have been known to hack the systems, sometimes with a bad outcome. Like motorcyclists who don’t want to wear helmets. Nobody has a monopoly on stupid.
Daria, “Then the virus is spread across multiple servers that host the programs. And if it isn’t infecting lots of users, it’s designed to be both random and infrequent.”
Janah, “Appears to be the case.”
“They want us to find the bug?”
“If we can. Whoever created it could be anywhere on the planet. Something is happening in the individual user’s experience that’s different from others using the same program.”
Daria, “It could be in the soundtrack, the colors, maybe subliminal, something that triggers a bad psychological reaction but only in some people. Others who saw the identical program would be fine.”
“So it’s like LSD used to be before the formula was tweaked, some people had bad trips, paranoia, hallucinations, raw fear. I don’t think it made people permanently deranged though.”
Grace B, “Have they done neuron tracks, hormone readouts? This isn’t twenty fifteen, there are a lot more sophisticated procedures now, not just a clunky fMRI reading lighted up sections of the brain.”
Janah, “Underway, not much so far, but finding out what brain connection went wrong doesn’t pinpoint how it went wrong. It’s not like tracking down bacteria  by white cell blood count.”
“You never said what the symptoms are, crazy covers a lot of ground.”
Amaya, “Yes, Oceane, Cassandra and the weirdo midgets for instance.”
Oceane is outside, sitting cross legged near the pool, surrounded by the children. Cassie floats just above. When I learned to tune into the hum of Zycyryn it became clear where the name came from. They sound like the word repeated rapidly, ziserin-ziserin-ziserin-ziserin….the girls gave them a name based on the sound. Zycyryn don’t call themselves anything, it isn’t like they’re an ethnic group or a rock band. We’re not even sure ‘them’ is right, Zycyryn could be an it.
“They may be the only sane people on the planet.”
Amaya, “I hope not, I adore them weird, they are endlessly fascinating. One of my favorite spaces in the week is working with them on a play. They follow half my direction and ignore the other half, so kew-tah.”
Janah, “The question was symptoms. Some of what used to be called schizophrenia, voices in the head, disorientation of time and place, they don’t know where they are or what time, day or year it is. Some are catatonic, just stare off into space. Other have perpetual conversations with no one, or I should say, no one anyone else can see.”
Amaya, “Hah! I am correct, that is what the children do, have conversations with entities no one can see or hear, that leave no finger or footprint.”
“I  hear them, it took me forever, but my owl ears finally tuned in. Unlike the kids, I don’t speak the language, but the energies are there.”
Janah, “The children can make them appear, you’ve all seen the tiny sparkles, from as long ago as when we were in Koyasan.”
Amaya, “At first, I figured it was Cassandra messing about, she is a mischievous little witch. But the kids made them appear when Cass was elsewhere, stalking Oceane someplace.”
Nikko, “This sounds like something for the Bs.”
Grace B, “Nishiko, at least, shows a bit of insight. We can cut through millions of lines of code while you stir your coffee. We will compare the original code of the original programs to the programs used by the victims. If it is identical, then it is not in the code, it is in the minds of the affected. Something about how they respond to VR that most people do not. Janah, to verify, the programs were different, not just violent war games, sex play, physical adventure, a walk through London?”
Janah, “That’s right. It runs across genres, and of the forty eight individuals affected so far, there are a variety of ages, sexual orientations, even races. It isn’t all white females between the ages of thirty five and forty five. Gender isn’t a factor, about sixty percent are male, forty percent female. But more men use VR than women, which more than accounts for the numerical difference.”
Grace B, “Then what the fuck are you waiting for? Download the stuff.”
Janah giggles, Grace B is her own bot. An hour later, the three Bs are working at the speed of light to discern any slight modification of the original program to the one used by the victims.

Six

Janah, “Whatever is making people crazy, it isn’t in the programs themselves. The bots found every line of code to be identical, every algorithm the same.”
Lauren, “Then it has to be the device, the headset or goggles, whatever hardware they use to see the virtual world.”
Eloise, “In ancient times, the device was part of the virtual package, specific to the program. Now we download a program to any VR headset and off we go. Do you know what brand headset they used?”
Janah, “No, everyone assumed the trouble was in the program itself.”
Grace B, “The program contains the colors and sounds, but the headset controls the motion and speed. Different units display colors differently, the audio is different as well, not to mention any adjustments the user makes. Even how the user moves can be a factor.”
“We can’t ask insane people to stick on headsets and play again, but we can get the units I suppose.”
“Do not worry about that for now. First thing is to find out what headsets they used. If the majority used one brand, probability that the unit is the trouble is eighty eight point three percent.”
Eloise, “Brands use most of the same manufacturers. There must be twenty or thirty brands, quality and features vary. And there are a wide range of apps you can download to enhance the experience.”
Grace B, “Correct. Change of plan, it will help to get a sample of the headsets, we do not need all of them, ten maybe. If you can get a list of the others, we can narrow it down.”
Eloise, “While we wait, I’ll match up brands and manufacturers.”
Grace B, “Already run the list, check your messages.”
“That was easy.”
“I multitask.”
Janah, “I have calls to make then, best get on it,” she goes to the office.
Nothing to do until lunch, which gives me something to do, make chicken salad. 
“Chicken salad for lunch Dasha, do we have enough cans?”
She peers on the screen attached to the pantry, it lists everything inside. When we put something in, it reads the bar code and adds it to the list. If we take something out, it subtracts it from the list. If the can, or bag or bottle of whatever falls below a set quantity, it adds the item to the grocery list. Same thing in the refrigerator and freezer.  If the item has a bar code, it gets noted. It isn’t perfect, it tells you there is a carton of milk, it doesn’t know how much milk is in the carton.
“Da, we haf enough if we add boiled aig, celery, ohnyon.”
“How many eggs do I boil?”
“Haf a dozen ees plenty. We will make feenger sandwich on multi grain, wiz cheeps and peekel slice.”
Boil eggs, let them sit in cold water for a while, makes them easy to peel. Dasha is chopping celery and onion, I open cans of chicken breast, drain the water and dump the chicken into a big glass bowl. Add Kewpie mayonnaise, a Japanese brand that has a better consistency than American, made with rice vinegar. 
Stir in ingredients, add pepper and a touch of salt, chopped eggs, mix well. Let it sit in the refrigerator and mingle flavors, when we’re ready to make sandwiches, we’ll add toasted sesame seeds for a little oriental taste and chopped almonds for a nice bit of crunch.
Janah returns, “They will have brands for us later today, and shipping a dozen headsets for delivery tomorrow. What’s for lunch?”
“Chicken salad finger sandwiches, salt and pepper chips, pickle slice.”
“Dinner? I like to anticipate.”
Dasha, “Vegetable and veal lasagna, ciabatta, one course only. We will haf snack wiz tea.”
“Guess I’m pushing it to ask about breakfast tomorrow.”
“That inspiration hasn’t struck yet, any requests?”
“Everyone likes waffles, you can think up whatever protein.”
Janah’s a lapsed vegetarian. When there were fewer of us, I made her veg dishes. She started eating fish, then chicken. When we got over twenty in our immediate family, she threw in the towel, decided Dasha and I cooking three meals most days was enough to think about.
The day buzzes by, our place is roller coaster activity through lunch, then a break to zone out, followed by more busy, usually physical, showers then tea. We spend time communing, there are pockets of grooming each other, nails, hair, qi for any tense muscles.
Amaya announces cocktails, lasagna in the oven. I let the clarified butter for the ciabatta soften. We started using clarified butter several years ago, which is yet another cooking process, but it’s a simple one. Let unsalted butter simmer until the milk solids fall to the bottom, take it of the low heat and let it cool a bit, then strain through cheesecloth. Basically it evaporates much of the water, butter is twenty percent water. Straining takes out the milk solids, you’re left with pure unadulterated butter, creamy and delicious.
They’re out by the pool sipping, Dasha and I take a break and join in. The real cook time is simmering garlic until brown, add ground veal, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. That simmers for an hour and a half, stirred occasionally. Layer the ingredients in between lasagna noodles, in the oven for twenty five or thirty minutes. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for fifteen so the chunks don’t mush down when I cut it. Shredded Parmesan Asiago to sprinkle over the top. Tabasco Habanero to stimulate the taste buds, probably an insult in Italy, but we aren’t in Italy.
While Grace B hands out plates of lasagna and girls butter Crusty ciabatta, Nadia asks, “Kota B was telling us about the VR thing you are looking into. It is driving people insane?”
Janah, “It appears to be related to immersion in virtual reality, yes. We can find no anomalies in the actual program. Tomorrow we’ll have a chance to look into the headsets.”
Tasia, “Will you go crazy?”
Grace B, “I shall review the headsets along with Kota B. Most of the humans here are, to one degree or another, insane enough already.”
Uma giggles, “Tetya Dafna for sure.”
My friends find this insanely humorous. My self confidence is, however, impenetrable.
Valeska, “How will you know the headset is causing the problem?”
Grace B, “We may not know. If there unusual color or sound anomalies, or something is getting inserted that is questionable, we will find it.”
“If you find nothing?”
“On step at a time. We have eliminated the programs themselves, tomorrow we examine the hardware. After that, we shall see.”
Amaya, “I do not suppose the Zycyryn have a solution.”
Zofia, “They are reality, virtual does not concern them.”
“What if all the VR is creating craziness, some of it obvious, most of it subtle?”
 Devona, “They have seen thousands of societies rise and disappear over millions of years. There are thousands of societies now, there will be thousands in the infinite future. Zycyryn make no judgment, they observe.”
“But you can see them, use them even.”
Karol, “They are accessible, sometimes they assist, sometimes they ignore. We have no control over them, nor they us.”
Amaya, “What do you mean? I have seen you make them appear. According to Oceane the Empty Headed, they speak to her all the time. Who knows what Cassie is tuned into?”
Oceane is conducting a careful study of lasagna before she feeds a forkful to Cassandra. For the time being, we don’t exist.
Jesica, “They like us, we dance for them, and perform our plays. The Gids find it enjoyable.”
The children are Latvian, they speak Russian. They call the Zycyryn ‘Guides,’ or in Russian phonetics, Gids.
Amaya, “Why do they find that enjoyable but not the multitude of dances and performances all over the world?”
Uma smiles, “Because we know they are there and they know we are performing for them.”
Amaya, for once, is momentarily speechless, but she recovers, “Duh Amaya, having trouble grasping the obvious, are we?”

Seven

The evening passed enjoyably, no Shadows tried to kill us, we weren’t alerted to an abuser somewhere in the country. No doubt abuse was happening, but every domestic disturbance doesn’t count in our tabulations. The abuse has to be one way, that is, the abused can’t be complicit.
What does that mean? When a woman deliberately provokes a man she knows to be violent, and does it again and again, we don’t intervene. If there are children involved, then we do.
The abuse has to be persistent, not a one off drunken slap. That’s not good, and may be a harbinger of things to come, but we don’t jump in, not then at any rate.
Children are abused everyday in almost every way. We consider forcing religion on a child to be abuse. But we can’t go around beating up religious parents, too many of them, not enough of us. We do intervene if there is severe psychological abuse, and always if there is physical abuse. Since most of it occurs at home and is never reported, it doesn’t rise to our attention. Our Society contacts do reach down to emergency rooms, pediatricians and nurses. When stories of suspected abuse float up to us, we send Surveillance out to investigate. They use listening devices, even break into homes, plant cameras, and their own observation to help us determine if the child or children are being abused. 
As I come from the bathroom, I see Janah brushing her hair, she’s nude, facing the three way mirror. 
She check herself out and asks me, “What do you think?”
“Luscious.”
“I made salacious suggestions to Sloane earlier, I felt the urge for a boy part. She appeared pleased. I’m going to her now.”
“Lucky Sloane.”
Janah smiles, “Lucky me.”
Sloane is transgender, a boy who was always a girl. We took her from an abusive dad who couldn’t grasp the idea that his son wasn’t. Sloane grew up with us, got hormone treatments, grew apple sized breasts and silky brown hair. She was considering the full transition until Oceane decided her hard cock was interesting, and fun. So we have a beautiful daughter with a dick. 
Janah, always curious, decided some years ago to explore. She too found the extra appendage fun, and like Oceane, discovered a fondness for the creamy surprise at the end. 
Janah give me a kiss, she won’t be back tonight. When it’s a Sloane night, there’s the initial playtime, then sleep, then Janah has another go in the wee hours, and usually a third round in the morning, usually in the shower.
I voyeuristically peek through Janah’s eyes while they play. She knows I’m in her head, so does Sloane. She even teases me about it.
Janah’s on her knees, I know because she’s looking up past a tight tummy and firm breasts at Sloane who is looking down at her.
Janah’s gaze moves to the mirror, now I can see the straight shaft as it slides between Janah’s lips. She stops and licks it a few times, then pops in back in.
I’m self vibing to a knobby dildo while I watch Janah move to the bed, spread her tight yoga thighs and see the cock slip in. Janah’s slow soft groan of pleasure gives me my own slow soft groan.
I can’t help it, I stick with the show until Sloane releases the creamy white on  Janah’s lovely lips and into her mouth. She licks the remaining bit off the end of Sloane’s cock.
I hear her giggle, hear her say, “I love that stuff.”
I go off for the third time, walk wobbly legged to the bathroom and refresh, clean up the toy and collapse in post-o bliss.
When Janah shows up the next morning, she’s adopted her look of 'who, me?' innocence that can only mean there was nothing innocent about follow-up follies that happened when I was asleep. I even missed the morning show.
“I started to wake you for the shower scene, but you were so out I let it pass.”
“Get what you crave?”
“Three times, the one you saw, then around two thirty, then again in the shower. Sloane’s girl hormones don’t reduce her ability to produce the juice.”
I laugh, she says, “I know you want to give it a go, Sloane would love doing you. Yes, you adopted her, but she could have easily been a ward, like Oceane or Cassie. You aren’t biologically related. Daria and Dasha are twins, doesn’t keep Daria from jumping her sister.”
It’s true. Daria has a thing for Dasha, who is intensely protective of her sister. If it pleases Daria, it pleases Dasha, that’s how they are.
“I know. It’s kind of fun, the tease, it isn’t like Sloane has a shortage of intimate partners. I think it’s partly because we don’t age. We’re biologically about twenty five, Sloane is bio sixteen. It isn’t the age part, you and I were lovers at fifteen, Oceane was fourteen when she got sexually active, and she will always be fourteen.”
“So you mean it’s because there’s no rush, ten years from now everyone will be the same age they are today. You and Sloane can extend the tease part.”
“Yes, like with Lauren. She’s different from Sloane, she likes showing off and being lusted after, and she knows she isn’t going to get older, so she can shift to physical intimacy anytime. She and Amaya have kissing encounters, and they get themselves off together. Lauren loves that.”
“Amaya’s biding her time, she’s going to get to Lauren sooner or later, even Lauren can’t resist Amaya.”
“Who can? Amaya is working her magic slowly, a performance, she allows Lauren to believe she’s the tease.”
“When it’s Amaya luring her on.”
“It’s their fun. Chloe loves it, Amaya gets so hot after a Lauren session, she jumps Chloe in a frenzy. Chloe’s learned to drop comments about Lauren, she tells Amaya that Lauren breezed by nude and stopped to chat. What a sensual sylph she is, stretched out on their bed talking of nothing, wearing nothing, just taking in Chloe’s gaze.”
“And that gets Amaya warm.”
“She has a vivid imagination, and at some point in the day she’s in with Lauren doing their mutual admiration thing. Afterwards, Amaya’s back with Chloe, gorgeous head buried between Chloe’s lean legs.”
Janah laughs, “Our group of sex maniacs has a dozen different plots going at any given time.”
“Isn’t it great?”

Eight

The headsets arrive via drone, most things are delivered by drone now. Grace B, Kota B, and Emma B in Manhattan are playing all the programs the owners had downloaded. Funny looking at bots with VR headsets on, they resemble those old Steampunk photos, the goggles, not the other gear.
They flash through three dozen hours long programs in fifteen minutes, comparing them to the same programs downloaded elsewhere.
They check color and audio variations, different brands might show colors differently a redder red, a lighter blue, bright yellow, dull yellow. The visual field of an original versus a download, the rate of change and the action.
Grace B, “Nothing is significantly different, the color variations are slight, probably because there are so few manufacturers. Quality of image allegedly varies by price. High end, like this VirtuWorld, claim better image sharpness and contrast. It is like audiophiles, the real differences are imperceptible to ordinary users, but if they paid more, they think the visual quality is better. Our video acuity tests showed no difference in a six hundred dollar base set and a three thousand dollar high end set. Same with audio.”
“Glad I didn’t buy one of any quality.”
Nikko, “Our lives are extra-reality already, we don’t need heightened experiences.”
Sloane, “That’s true. Then, regarding the affected people, what’s the next step? There must be something.”
Janah, “Not necessarily. Over a billion people have these sets, a billion more go to VR vendors and use their sets, which are the same as these. I would expect a subset of people to have adverse reactions. Should I call my contact and tell her there’s nothing unusual about the set or the program? Actually, I think they’ve come to that conclusion already.”
Daria, “Nyet, do not call. I have an idea, let me run some of the programs. It could take a while, I am not using them at bot speed.”
“Try not to go insane.”
“Sister can be in my mind, a backstop if I begin to unravel.”
“Grace B, go with them and monitor the programs as they play.”
 “Sieg Heil Comandante,” she clicks her heels together, arm raised in the Nazi salute.
Nikko, “Haven’t seen that since that fathead Trump lost the election back in twenty sixteen.”
“He did us a favor, so idiotic that the progressive movement got a toehold, then a foothold, then the majority as the boomers started to expire.”
The twins and Grace B go up to the twins room in a last ditch effort to see if there is anything else we’ve missed.
Amaya, “What can they find that the bots did not?”
Janah, “Daria didn’t say, but I suspect she’s planning on using a visual quirk of hers. Long ago, we discovers she can see things in stop action motion. She doesn’t do it much, it was just a brain thing of hers.”
Zi, “I recall that, how did it work?”
“She can see movement like an old celluloid film. Movies used to be a series of frames, individual pictures, that when played rapidly through a projector gave the brain the illusion the action was continuous. Daria can see live action as if it were a series of frames, she can stop the motion and examine the individual frame. She can also mentally replay it in reverse. In her brain, it is possible to go from omelet to egg.”
Lauren, “Wow, I didn’t know that.”
“Before your time. Like J said, we never found a use for it, it was just another mental anomaly, we have a lot of those.”
Amaya, “True, Lauren believes she is as gorgeous as I. That is not possible in any universe, but she insists it is true. One of her many mental anomalies.”
Lauren crosses one lean long leg over the other, Amaya studies her lovely limbinosity, “I grant, nearly as perfect, very nearly, approaching but not getting to the zero point of difference.”
Lauren grins. Those two flirt via innuendo and insult, which has its attractions. My libido is stimulated by Dasha’s bossiness and my obedience to her and, of course, to Janah. Janah isn’t as pushy, but she has me trained to obey, we like it that way.
She does acquiesce to me in matters of security, a necessary reversal of roles for the safety of the family.
“It’s going to take a while for Daria to review the programs, maybe a couple of days or more. I suggest we revert to our normal daily activities, Sloane, with Grace B and Dasha occupied, you’re fill in associate cook.”
Chloe, “I’ll help as well.”
“Thank you. Dasha had begun to think over lunch, we’ll have black bean soup with pork sausage. Tonight is pizza night, I’ll make crust this afternoon, cheeses and sauce are already prepped. We’ll have margherita, pepperoni and veg.”
Chloe, “I’ll be in the pool, give me a shout when I’m needed.”
Janah, “Bit of sun sounds nice,” she goes outside, strips off the only thing she’s wearing, a thigh high t-shirt, and plops onto a recliner. Girls go off to do whatever. Sloane and I are left in the kitchen.
Sloane’s looking out at Janah, “She’s amazing, what a sensualist, what a body,” she says to herself,  “okay Sloane, don’t get started, you’ll be walking around the house with an erection.”

*The Society by Department
Our area is Social Skills, refocusing, as in, ‘Mr. Asshole, you need to work on your social skills. We’re here to help you refocus your energies, so you will cease being an malicious abuser.’ 
Others do the pre-planning, learn target habits, document bad behavior. We deliver the message and keep targets occupied so innocents can be extracted and relocated. 
Opportunities funnel into, the Identification Group, which decides if the problem rises to the level calling for a closer look. It’s their job to investigate circumstances, verify information, make sure it’s not embellished or overstated. The Society’s sources don’t advertise themselves in any way, they just hear stories. The stories are independently confirmed by Surveillance, which gathers physical details, what the target is up to, is the reported behavior accurate. They follow the target, get his routines, suggest the most logical time and place for the refocusing. We may override suggestions based on the situation. With few exceptions, Social Skills teams don’t appear until show time. 
Each arm is critical to the mission, Surveillance has to be more devious than Social Skills, they have to be on the ground near the target without raising suspicion. For that reason, it’s made up of the most innocuous people imaginable. No trench coats or private eye types, instead manned primarily by seniors, men and women. Often the targets themselves are quite helpful in providing information leading to their own refocusing. Nobody thinks twice about a nosy old lady. The men, expert at adopting a kind of slow dopey drawl, pretend to perfection that they could barely remember the answer to their last question. The old guys ask the same stupid questions two or three times. How could a guy who can’t remember two seconds ago be any kind of threat? The success of the Society is based on the premise that people see what they expect to see and act accordingly. It would be a long stretch for targets to connect a barely noticed old lady a month earlier with my fingers in their throat today. Targets lack the imagination.
Transportation and Travel arranges flights, cars, lodging. They deliver fake driver’s licenses, passports or other ID, a valid license saying Janah is a brain surgeon if it came to it. There is so much work in the states, international travel isn’t a part of it. Passports do come in handy as alibis. The Society could supply a passport verifying that we were in Venezuela, or Paris, or Uzbekistan if we were ever charged with anything. Additionally, Travel arranges rooms to park targets if we need them quiet for a while. It is up to Social Skills to convince them to go there.
Extraction removes any innocents and takes them to wherever they need to go to be finished with the target forever. Extraction details what will be done for them, and what won’t. Running back to the place they came from is a choice, but there wouldn’t be another offer to escape. The Society concluded that the only convincing that they would do is to convince the target to quit being an asshole. If the innocents couldn’t get a grip and take advantage of the chance for a new life, they aren’t considered innocents any longer. They become accomplices in their own misery. C’est la vie.
Placement sets up the innocents in new locations, new jobs, gets them needed medical or psychological care. Placement never sees them, never sees the new employers or landlords. They might be ghosts for all anyone knows. Placement personnel don’t know they are Placement personnel. They don’t know why they are setting up jobs, or apartments, arranging to buy used cars or calling for doctor’s appointments. They don’t have a clue about the Society or any of its activities. They work individually from home, off a set of online instructions. One might set up a job, another person across the country might arrange to buy a used car, someone else schedules medical appointments, a fourth arranges for an apartment. Once their role in the process is done, the site they log into disappears. When it’s time for them to do another job, they’re  contacted, given an online address with a new set of instructions. They are paid very well, in cash. None of them complains about their employer. None of them have the slightest idea who employs them. They are told they are working for a company that provided the services they are asked to perform. Despite the answer being completely circular, the rate of pay trumps any curiosity. 
Compliance, also called Minders, monitor targets for whatever time it takes to ensure the refocusing is effective, no less than a year, sometimes longer. Compliance personnel are also older, retired. No one asks why they aren’t at work or school, or how they can just hang out all day. Targets are followed from time to time. They get an occasional postcard reminding then to be a good boy, a phone call with a similar message, a note stuck under a windshield wiper. 
If the target moves, they get a call or a note within a day or two after settling in. There is no place to run unless they leave the country for good. People think about doing that, they mostly don’t. Too much new language, finding employment, even illegal employment, is a problem. In movies, people move around the world like everything is as simple as a plane ticket. It isn’t. 
The Society incorporated a new millennium solution. If it thinks a target has the means or the intent to bolt, it supplies Homeland Security with information that the target is involved with terrorists. Now he’s on a watch list. He’ll never get a passport, if he has one it will be revoked. Moving out of the country is not an option unless they wanted to be an illegal in a far less friendly country.
No Society department knows anything about the members of the other departments. Teams within departments don’t know other teams. There are four Organization people. Planning calls one of the four Organization personnel. Organization contacts Travel and Extraction. Once details are sorted out, they’re put on an encrypted site, which is what Janah ultimately reads. Social Directors, such as the Epsteins, each have their own Social Skills team. Only the Epsteins know Janah and me. If a Social Skills team needs something at any point during the job, we call an encrypted answering system from a phone with a scrambler. We leave a message with requests and get a message when the requests are fulfilled. Transportation and Travel handle these requests. Request is polite terminology, Social Skills teams get whatever they ask for in superhuman speed. There is no second guessing requests, no chain of authority.
The Epsteins are long deceased, Janah and I took over the reins of the Society. We are known to the extensive network of contacts as Mrs. Pearson. Nobody knows there are two, we’re both just Mrs. Pearson when either of us are on one end of the phone conversation. Janah handles most of the networking, I am most of the connection between departments.

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