Ninety Seven

Zi is circling the house, our boy lives on a few acres, small common ranch style away from neighbors. Better to keep prying eyes and the curious away.
She returns to the car, “One person, the child, in a rear room, no windows. She’s not moving much, like she’s at a desk or something. Couldn’t hear anything. Lucky there was never a fire, she has no way out.”
Janah, “Pick the lock Daria, let’s get this done. Nikko and Zi, keep watch, I moved the Minders from here to the main road. They don’t know from dealing with Shadows.
Minders are Society contract workers who keep people from interfering with our interference. If we’re locked in a warehouse, they discourage anyone who might pass and get nosy. Minders also mind the targets if we need them to. Sometimes we send the target on his way with instructions as to what he can and can’t do. They follow and make sure he minds. The department is called Compliance. It’s like the rest of the Society, department suggests an office, meetings, people who know each other. Our people don’t know anyone else, don’t go to meetings, don’t have an office or even a cubicle. The Society isn’t located anyplace, except in Janah’s head.
Janah and Daria are inside, the place is neat, not obsessively, but things are put away, there aren’t dishes stacked in the sink, beds are made, bathrooms tidy. 
“He’s not a slob anyway.”
Janah knocks on the girl’s door, “Lauren.”
“You made me jump, nobody comes here. who are you?”
The key to her door is hanging on a nail next to the frame.
“I have the key to your door. I don’t think people should be locked up all day. I’m going to unlock it and go to the living room. Come out when you’re ready.”
Janah unlocks the door, goes to the living room, Daria is searching the house.
A minute, two, then a little girl comes tentatively down the hall. Janah does Janah, radiates serenity, smiles at the young face. 
Lauren is adorable in a Chloe-like way. Eyes are a whisper too far apart, nose is narrow but a bit big for her face. Her brown hair is down to her waist and, like kids, thick and silken. Her arms are too long and her feet are too big, a sign she’s going to be tall. Her eyes captivate, Chloe’s are violet, Lauren’s are so dark they’re black. She stares at Janah, blinks, stares. Janah tilts her head, inviting.
Lauren sits next to her on the sofa.
“My friend Daria is here, just so you know, she’s looking around.”
“Who are you?”
“People who don’t think little girls ought to be locked up. When we found out, we decided to come and investigate.”
“Are you social workers, they came by once, but they left right away. I couldn’t talk to them. the man wouldn’t let me.”
“Who is the man?”
“He says he’s my husband, but he’s old. He takes care of me okay, I study, eat, I can watch TV. I don’t remember much about it. He fixes breakfast, I go to my room. He lets me out when he comes home. We eat dinner.”
“What do you do, I mean, when he’s here?”
“I don’t know. I get…like I can’t remember.”
“So it’s foggy, like a fog, you know you’re here but not much else.”
“Yes, I can never remember what he looks like until he shows up, I don’t know what we do, even when he takes me shopping, like to the grocery. It’s like I’m dreaming.”
“We’re going to take you away from here, to a place where you can have a normal life, get to know other kids. No more sleepwalking, no more old man who calls himself husband.”
“Will he look for me, get mad, sometimes he’s mad at people on TV.”
“No, he won’t remember you, and he wouldn’t know where to look if he did. I can arrange that, I promise.”
She thinks it over, “When he’s here, my head feels empty, I always feel weird.”
“That’s over, no more locked in a room, no more alone, you said you watch TV yes?”
“Yes.”
“We’ll life isn’t like TV, but you’ve seen kids with friends, going to school, the movies, playing.”
“I can’t do any of that.”
“You can now honey. Here’s what happens. We leave, you don’t need to take anything, you will get new everything. If you have a favorite doll or toy, take them, nothing else. Can you do that?”
A small gleam in her eye, “I can get new clothes and stuff?”
“Whatever you want, and you will go to a real school, with other kids, make friends, hang out.”
Is it really that simple? Just a few minutes talk and off they go? It’s Janah, she speaks softly, with confidence. This time she didn’t need to tap into the girl’s mind, the child wants to believe. After all, Lauren lives in a kind of cave with no personal relationships. With a man she doesn’t really know and has little reason to like, much less trust.
Janah, “At least he blanks her when he does his thing. Unless she has flashbacks later, she has no idea of sex with him. Safer for him, she can’t go to anyone with stories she has no idea about. Why the doctor didn’t get an answer, she had nothing to tell him.”
“I take it we have a new family member.”
“How can she go to a ranch? Kids there were physically or sexually abused, but they knew it. She doesn’t. They talk about it, and are going to make assumptions about her. Then she’ll make assumptions about herself.”
“I’ll figure out something, Cassie might have to move in with Oceane, but she sleeps there most of the time already.”
Lauren wants nothing, they pack in the sedan and take off. 
Daria’s online with Dasha and me, “I took a laptop and an external drive. Have not had time to crack it yet. He had a video cam setup, I took the camera too.”
“Janah will keep girl occupied, only now, how to deal wiz Jameson peerson?”
“Nikko and Zi are at the house, I’m going back after I drop off Janah and the girl.”
I chime in, “Make sure Zi waits outside, out of range or he night bolt if he senses a Shaolin.”
“She will come in to help with refocusing, Janah wants to know his history and if he knows any other Shadows. We could be a while.”
“Janah needs to be there, I’ll talk to her.”
“Janah, you need to be in on the refocusing. I’m flying out as soon as I can get a plane. I can stick with Lauren. Send me a photo, I’ll bring her new ID with me. Have Daria go through the house for any paper on Lauren, any files, if there’s a safe crack it. Jameson will be dead, but we don’t need stray identification.”
People have seen Jameson with the girl, but they were strangers, no neighbors live within direct sight of the house. Lauren will get a fresh new persona, a name change if she wants, but tons of girls are named Lauren. We’ll give her a new surname. 

Ninety Eight

Nikko is behind Lauren’s open door, which opens into her room like all bedroom doors. Zi is in the SUV down the road in a stand of trees, she has a view of the front door. Daria takes the sedan back to the house, parks behind the SUV.
At five, a truck turns into the drive, Jameson gets out.
Zi is on the phone to me, “He’s a Shadow, tell Nikko.”
I go mental, “Nikko, Zi confirms, he’s going inside now.”
“I hear him.”

Jameson senses something out of order, he heads straight for the girl’s room, charges inside and calls her name.
Nikko shoves a syringe in his neck and presses the plunger.
The tranquilizer we call Sleep is quick, not instantaneous. He turns growling, reaches for Nikko. She bats his hand away, he manages a energy shot but hasn’t had time to load up. Nikko is pushed hard against the wall, Jameson staggers, she kicks him hard in the balls, he crashes to the floor. Steel toe sneakers, he’s going to feel the burn when he wakes up.
She goes to the front door, opens it, Daria is standing outside just about to crush it with a foot.
“No need, he’s out for now.”
They go to the bedroom, Daria picks him up by his belt like a gym bag and throws him on the bed.
Nikko, “Geez, she lifted him like he was a sack of groceries. He must go two twenty.”
“So I saw, Dasha destroyed a qi dummy, now this. Don’t do any arm wrestling with them.”
Daria has the pharma case, she sets up while Nikko does a tour in search of paperwork.
Daria picks him up again, I’m watching through her eyes, she lifts him like a doll and sits him on the girl’s desk chair, straps him in with picture wire. Then she sets to removing anything that can fly around the room. We don’t know his capacity, if he can use telekinesis to make objects fly. Better not to find out the hard way.
“Daria, just keep him under control, I’m in the air, be there in an hour, I have a car rented, but get Zi to pick up Janah so I’ll have wheels at the hotel.”
“Da.”

She calls for Nikko, better not to leave Jameson alone. Nikko waves Zi over.
“Go to the hotel, use the sedan, the dart guns and drone are in the SUV. Don’t know why we’d need them, but still.”
Zi, “I’ll go now, give me a chance to read the girl. Let me get a closer look at the Shadow.”
After a few minutes of studying Jameson, she says, “Not the worst we’ve seen, but not a lightweight. Not sure why he works, he could get money all kinds of ways without driving around an eighteen wheeler all day.”
Nikko, “Maybe he’s got sidelines. Get a few extra boxes of supplies loaded on his truck, then selling them. Surveillance didn’t report anything unusual, but they didn’t follow him but a couple of days.”
“Whatever it might be is immaterial, he won’t be doing it any longer.”
Zi leaves to go to the Hampton, Nikko collects a few paper files from a desk in a spare bedroom. There’s a birth certificate, Lauren Jameson, father unknown, mother Linda Capshaw. Makes sense, a Shadow wouldn’t acknowledge paternity. We’re not doing DNA, no point, if she isn’t his child, he still abused her. Lauren has his dark eyes, there’s no photo of Linda, we have no idea what she looked like.
I show up at the Hampton, Janah and Zi take off for the house.
Lauren, “You’re beautiful.”
My new BFF.
“Thank you, you are totally adorable, what intense eyes, makes you mysterious.”
“Really? That’s cool, I guess.”
“They’re amazing. I have a friend who has violet eyes, you know the color violet?”
“Kind of purple.”
“Exactly.”
Lunch has come and gone, “Are you hungry?”
“Not too much, I only eat breakfast and dinner.”
“I brought Coke Zero, a protein bar and cookies. Take what you want. Tonight someone will bring us pizza, you like pizza?”
My first grin, “Can I have pepperoni?”
“Good choice.”
She opens a Coke, decides on the protein bar, chocolate something or other.
Another good sign, she’s curious, questions about me, where we live. Then she has an insight.
“What did the man do to me, to make me forget everything? He wouldn’t do that unless it was bad.”
“Janah, any ideas?”
“Ask her what kinds of things.

“What things could he have done angel?”
“Made me do stupid stuff, or….touched me. Sometimes I felt funny, down there,” her hands wave towards her lower abdomen.
“If he did, how do you feel about it?”
“Yucky.”
She’s quiet for a while, then, “Do you think he did things to me, like that?”
“People sometimes do bad things to kids, inappropriate things. If he did, it doesn’t make you bad, he was in control.”
She stares at me with her dark intensities, “That’s how I felt, controlled.”
“Time for you to be in control now.”
She yawns.
“How about a nap? Want to lay down in bed? I’ll be right over here.”
She gets a pillow from the bed, comes back and plops it in my lap.
“Here is better.”
“Hang on,” I get up and take the extra blanket from the closet and cover her, sit with the pillow in my lap and she settles, asleep near instantly.
I take the time to follow Janah, Zi is explaining her read.
“Her aura is inconsistent, too many colors, a sign of confusion. There’s a little anger, a lot of frustration, imagine being locked away all day, then blank on what happens when you’re not.”
Janah, “She told Daphne she felt funny, in her pelvis, she’s figured out things were wrong. Fortunately she doesn’t know how wrong. A therapist would say she’s repressing and start with innuendo she might take as fact. Then there’s a whole new mess.”
“The therapist wouldn’t know from Shadows, therapists have their own biases. Her insight confirms my other reading, she’s razor sharp.”
“All day with nothing to do but read, maybe she got something out of it. Her socialization may be a problem, but I’m disobeying my own rule.”
“Don’t make a problem where there isn’t any.”
Janah grins, “And all of our rescues turned out fine. We know what to do, listen, don’t judge, let them come into themselves at their own pace.”
“Amaya, Chloe, Sloane, Oceane and Cassie are the proof.”
They arrive at the house, Jameson is coming around. Daria already has the setup in place. He’s facing a blank wall with three halogen lights in his face, dead on, to the left and right. Any turn of his head is blinding light. We could use blindfolds, have occasionally, we find bright light to be more disconcerting.
Daria is to his right with the syringe and Luer Lok stuck in the back of his hand. He yanks on the picture wire and finds out it’s a really lousy idea. He’s still, awake, obviously gathering his senses. Soon there will be an attempt to generate qi, try to take a mind, or fly crap around the room. Nikko is behind him as a discourager, her two edged serrated blade flicks open. It’s pointed at the end, you don’t want a visit from either edge or the point.
Janah, “Truth Daria, Trust won’t do much, and jack him up a little.”
Daria plugs in a syringe of Truth after she adds a tiny amount of David Li’s super amphetamine. She doses him, they wait.
Truth is our synthetic souped up sodium pentothal. The amphetamine is a plant based drug, a plant David created and grows nowhere else but the temple garden. More than a tiny amount and Jameson’s heart might explode, even though he’s a big guy, six  or six one, muscular. Shadows don’t generally care about appearance, talented ones can make you believe they look like studs or teen porn stars. Whatever his motivation, he’s in shape.
The chair starts to shake, he’s trying to break it apart. It’s a common metal and plastic office chair, if he succeeds things could get difficult.
Nikko solves the problem, her blade taps his eyeball, he howls, “Keep it up, one eye goes, anything but cooperation, you’re blind. After that, fingers, then balls. Get it?”
She flicks her wrist, his ring finger hits the carpet, blood spurts, He screams but keeps it together enough to direct his energy towards the injury. The blood flow slows, he’s more than pretty good. He’s also using energy to staunch the bleeding, which gives him less for anything else.
Daria Dermabonds the stump and wraps it in duct tape. Infection won’t be problem, he won’t be alive long enough.
Janah, “Ready to talk?”
“Y-y-y-y-ou have the advantage bitch. My heart’s racing, what the fuck?”
“The alternative is it stops, which do you prefer?”
He never asks about the child, it wouldn’t occur to a Shadow, people are just tools for amusement or money.
“W-w-w-w-wha you want fucker?”
“Who trained you?”
“Trained? What are you talking about?’
Nikko sighs, his right forefinger falls to the carpet, more howling, more Dermabond, more duct tape. He doesn’t have the juice to deal with the second finger.
“F-f-f-fuck, Thailand. Into kickboxing, except I was losing all the time. Little fuckers are tough, I hung in, but couldn’t win many. Guy comes along, says he can make me invincible. Ten years and fifty grand later, I was. Pain every step of the way, but I learned.”
“Is that where you learned to like children?”
“What?”
“You have eight fingers left, ten toes and a set of cojones. I have a sadistic friend and all night, what’s it going to be””
He shrugs, “They peddle them there like popcorn. You get the taste.”
“You got the taste for your own daughter.”
He doesn’t say anything.
“Let’s go down a different road, you know any others like you, here, in the states anyplace?”
“Ran across a few assholes, most of ‘em barely competent.”
“And the talented ones?”
“Two, one like me, one better, that bitch can melt steel. We had a lotta fun, but in the end, we’re all assholes, our nature, we like it.”
“I’m familiar, you aren’t our first.”
“Fuck me, you’re in that crew hunting us. Jesus, I wish the bitch was here, you’d be died and fried.”
“Several have tried.”
“I heard rumors, you’re tied in with fucking Shaolin, but there’s not one here, why not, scared?”
“No, just not stupid, we didn’t want you tipped off. This is primarily about your daughter, not you. So, where are the other two?”
“I don’t fucking know, we move, change names, they could be anywhere.”
“Where were they when you saw them last?”
“Why should I tell you, you’re gonna off me anyway.”
“True, but we can do it one way, or we can do it another. One is instantaneous, the other takes days, I have a lot of interesting pharmaceuticals. Love to test them on you. Or I can turn you over to the samurai, she has talent with the blade.”
“I’m honored, a samurai.”
“What’s it going to be?”
He coughs up last known locations, names and descriptions. He might be jerking us around, but he’s full of Truth, it wouldn’t be easy to lie.
Janah, “Rest in pieces,” she and Daria back away.
Nikko takes his head with one swipe of her katana.

Ninety Nine

Girls are back at the hotel, Daria will go through is electronics later. It was dark when they finally wrapped. Since the place was secluded, Nikko cut the fuel line on his truck, filled a few containers with gasoline and spread it around the house. She turned on the gas stove and oven and blew out the flame. As she left, she tossed a match, Jameson’s head and detached body were in the oven courtesy of Daria. It will appear he killed himself in a violent explosion. At the least, any papers we missed will be ashes along with the things left by Lauren.
We make introductions, Lauren says, “A lot of girls.”
“Wait until we get home.”
“There’s more?”
“This isn’t quite half.”
Janah, “You have options. First, we take you to our home in New York.”
“New York! Like the city?”
“Yep, Manhattan. If you like it there, great. If you want a smaller family, we can put you with a good one, we’re all girls, you may want something more…normal.”
Her eyes glisten, “Enough men, I never had girls for friends, I never had friends. I never knew any boys even.”
This is over pizza, we park on the couch for a movie, Nikko, Daria and Zi go to their room. Janah and I sit with Lauren for a movie, she falls asleep leaning on Janah.
I take her to brush and flush, then to bed, Janah on one side, me on the other. Next thing I know, it’s morning.
We don’t want her down at the Hampton breakfast, I arranged for a light meal on the flight. We’re at the airport for nine thirty.
Lauren, “I never flew on a plane, this doesn’t look like the ones I’ve seen in movies, it’s only us.”
“More comfortable, and no lines at the airport.”
We have omelets, a roll and coffee, Lauren has apple juice and tea.
“I like this, do you fly like this all the time?”
“We’re spoiled, you will be too.”
She grins, takes a bite of omelet.
Hour and a half in the air, hour lost to time zone. We land at noon, Dasha’s there waiting.
“Hey angel, meet Lauren.”
Lauren, “Wait,” she turns, Daria is coming off the plane, she turns back, “Two of the same people, twins! Cool.”
“Da, seester ees smart one, I am Dasha, cooking twin wiz Dahfoney.”
“Who’s Dahfoney?”
“I am, she has an accent, the twins are from Russia.”
We’re climbing in the Escalade, Lauren, “They look exactly alike, but Daria doesn’t have an accent, maybe a little. Why does Dasha have one?”
“So they can tell each other apart.”
Lauren, “Hah hah, really, why?”
Discussing two bodies, one mind isn’t on the menu just yet, I go with the other, also true, explanation, “Dasha is more outgoing, Daria less so. Dasha discovered that people find her accent charming, so she kept it. Daria doesn’t care about charming.”
Daria, “Have a nice day, thank you for coming, we appreciate your business, you look marvelous, love the purse, coat, hair style, blah, blah, blah.”
Lauren giggles, “Daria is funny.”
Home, we had an elevator installed from the basement parking garage to our condo. Skips hauling cases through the entrance to Chapmans.
Lauren is greeted with a big hug from Sloane, “Let go meet the others, the ones who are home anyway.”
Sloane races halfway up the steps, turns, “Come on.”
Lauren looks up at me, “You’re going to live here, may as well check out the inmates.”
She follows Sloane up, she takes her to her new room, Lauren stands speechless, her jaw trembles, she starts to cry.
“It’s so beautiful.”
Sloane hugs her again, “Cassie wanted you to have it, she stays with Oceane most of the time anyway.”
“Cassie?”
She takes Lauren to Oceane’s room, Cassie is floating over Oceane’s shoulder, Oceane is drawing.
Lauren stares, “It’s a trick, like magic.”
Sloane, “Cassie come down and meet Lauren. Oceane is the artist.”
Cass floats to the floor, walks to Lauren, studies her but says nothing.
“Cass doesn’t talk much, she listens really well though, you can tell her anything. Try it sometime, tell me what you think.”
Oceane turns in her chair, “I am drawing Amaya in Tokyo.”
Lauren Steps closer, “Whoever she is, she’ll be happy, you made her gorgeous.”
Oceane smiles, Lauren has no way of knowing the drawing captures her exactly.
“Amaya and Chloe and a few friends of ours are in Japan.”
“Like a vacation?”
“No, like work, Chloe is making a few commercials for Japanese TV.”
“No way.”
“Way, she’s done it several times.”
“So she’s famous in Japan?”
“Chloe is famous everywhere, she’s an actress, has a fashion website and a fan page, come on, I’ll show you after we finish seeing the rest of the condo. We can go to the roof, right through this door.”
“Wow, look at all the stuff, who does gymnastics?”
“Dasha, Daria, Daphne some. The pool is called an endless pool, turn on the motor and it makes the water flow so you can swim without ever getting to the end. Oceane practically lives in it.”
“I never learned to swim.”
“I’ll show you, it’s simple.”
“I did a little gymnastics at home, but I was by myself, just tumbling. There were weights the man used, but I was only allowed to run on the treadmill. It felt good after being cooped up all day.”
“I run around the roof, those rails and barriers are for parkour.”
“I saw that on YouTube, can I try?”
“Try all of it, you’ll find the thing you like best.”
“You house is a magic playground, like Hogwarts.”
“Harry Potter, wasn’t Hermione just adorable?”
“She’s famous now, and beautiful.”
Sloane takes her to the workshop, Eloise is hunched over robot parts.
“Eloise, this is Lauren.”
Eloise looks over her glasses, “Hello Lauren.”
“She’s so tiny, how cute, what are you doing?”
“Building a robot.”
“Wow, can I watch?”
“Sure.”
Sloane, “I’ll bring you back up after we’re done. She’s at it every day, you won’t miss anything.”
They go past Daria and Dasha’s room and peek in, Daria is on a laptop. If Lauren notices it’s the one Jameson had, she doesn’t say anything. They go down the second circular staircase, I’m in the kitchen.
Lauren, “This place is gigantic and one room is as wonderful as the next.”
“Amaya will be pleased you think so. She designed most of it.”
Sloane, “Speaking of which,” she taps on a tablet, “here’s Chloe’s fan page.”
“That’s Chloe Sylk, she’s amazing. Wait, Chloe Sylk lives here?”
“Amaya wouldn’t have it any other way, they’re….close friends.”
Lauren thinks it over, she looks at me, “Are they….?”
“Girlfriends, all of us are girlfriends. We call ourselves a family, but none of us are related by blood.”
Sloane, “We’ll check out the other rooms, then you can do whatever.”
Off they go, return in a few, Lauren says, “What a dream. Am I really going to live here?”
“Long as you want. And since you are family now, take whatever you want from the refrigerator, if you have foods you like, let me or Dasha know. I didn’t see any medicines at your old place, do you have to take anything, a prescription?”
“No, never been sick. I only saw one doctor, when my, um…”
“I get the idea, you’re okay now though.”
“Yes.”
Sloane, “You want to go back to the workshop with Eloise?”
“Yes, when will you teach me to swim?”
“Anytime you’re ready.”
Sloane takes her to Eloise, she’s instantly focused, Sloane comes back down.
“She’s a nice kid, I’m glad she doesn’t remember much.”
“We’ll keep her busy, Janah’s got to figure out where she is in school. She’s too young for Chapmans, but she can go to Village School.”
Village school for Girls is one we founded. Chapmans is for special girls with unusual talent and it starts in seventh grade through high school. Our school is first through sixth. We take precocious kids, but not necessarily super skilled. Some of our girls go on to Chapmans, and even though we bought Chapmans from Lacy Chapman, we don’t actually run it. We wouldn’t stuff an unqualified girl in, although I suppose we could. Problem is, it wouldn’t be fair to the girl, she likely couldn’t keep up.

One Hundred

Janah tunes in, “I’m with Daria, Jameson had dozens of videos, most of Lauren but he picked up others someplace. It’s the usual slime, blow jobs, vaginal insertion, Lauren has more experience than a porn star. And she was in some vids with other girls and boys, kids, none over twelve.”
“Good thing we didn’t see them until now, Nikko would still be slicing tiny cuts, keeping him wide awake with amphetamines.”
“I wouldn’t have stopped her.” 
“No clue who the others were.”
“None. I doesn’t appear he sent the files anyplace. Her mother went missing when she was four. The videos start about then.”
“Four?! Maybe Cassie can take us to the past and Nikko can get a second chance.”
“Cassie may be able to time travel, but she apparently can’t change anything. Or perhaps she knows not to. Butterfly effect and all that.”
“You’re deleting them of course.”
“Already done, and the laptop and external drive are twisted metal, Daria just ripped thing apart, geez she’s strong. Nobody wants to see that crap, I didn’t want to see it, it’s impossible to unsee.”
“I’m not even replaying it from your brain, I don’t want to know.”
“Open wine, Daria and I need a drink.”

They show up a few minutes later, I have a bottle of red open, hand Daria a Russian Standard shot from the freezer.
“Spasibo,” she downs it without a toast, what’s to toast, child sexual abuse?
I pull the bottle from the freezer and pour her another, then one for Dasha.
Apparently she did follow the videos in Daria’s head, she’s mumbling to herself, ‘Men try to make seesters into whores, Dahfoney rescues and now we are reech American girl, also now Lauren too, she will haf gud life, no more Shadow asshole to make her do pervert sex, we will keel many Shadows, sister haf computing program for finding, we will keel them all, where ees gahrlik, haf to chop up for potato mash, meatloaf ees almost feenish,’ she turns to me, “Dahfoney, you will mash potato, they are ready from boiling, and make gahrlik bread. I will make creamy speenich now. Janah and Oceane will haf garden burgher meat loaf.”
I get on the intercom, “Sloane round up the girls, Eloise, cocktails, dinner in twenty.”
Nikko and Janah are already wined, Zi is with them on the couch. Appears they’re discussing potential entertainment options for later.
Lauren comes along with Eloise, “The robot is going to be cool, I helped start the assembly.”
Eloise, “She has a natural sense of what goes where, and she’s a demon on the computer.”
“Not like I had much else to do. At least he didn’t keep me from the internet.”
I don’t ask why she didn’t use it to contact anyone, the answer is obvious, the Shadow blanked that possibility from her mind. It wouldn’t have occurred to her.
Sloane dives in, “Didn’t you think about Facebook, or sending email? Like to say you were locked in a room?”
“How? I thought the internet was a place to get information from, not that I could send anything out. How does it work?”
Sloane, “I’ll show you,” then, “mom, she needs a phone and a GPS.”
Eloise, “We have spare phones and personal GPS systems, I can set her up in the morning.”
Lauren, “What’s a GPS system?”
Sloane, “We all carry one. Anyone in the family can know where we are, so if I’m out in the Village, mom can track me, or I can track her, or Nikko or anyone else. The world is dangerous, your new family is wealthy, people might try to kidnap one of us for money. All our stuff has alerts, something bad happens, click the button, the family knows there’s a problem and where we are. And it looks like cheap jewelry, a necklace, a bracelet, or just a little box to stick in your pocket or purse.”
Lauren, “And I get one?”
“Yep, and a cell phone, you can text any of us, or friends you make at school, or call Marconi’s for a pizza. Eloise will set up all the numbers and show you how the phone and GPS works.”
Lauren, “This place has so much technology, there are tablet and laptops everywhere, and Eloise said the whole house is wired.”
“Yep, you need to learn how to operate the stuff in your room. You can change the temperature, turn the TV on or off, adjust the volume, the sound system, program you own music, turn the lights higher or lower or on or off, and play satellite TV, Netflix, YouTubes or Amazon movies on your flat screen, right from your phone or tablet. Don’t need a half dozen remotes or a bunch of wires. Tap a message to Daphne and she’ll bring you a snack anytime day or night.”
“Don’t get carried away wolf girl.”
Lauren giggles, “I wouldn’t do that. What is wolf girl?”
Sloane, “I’ll explain later, now it’s time to eat, yay!”
I’m happy to see Lauren hasn’t lost her appetite, she takes a bit of everything, her table manners are good, even eats with her left hand in her lap. She leaves noting on the plate.
“Get enough, want more meatloaf, spinach?”
“No, but it was really good, I never had mashed potatoes with the peel, only the kind from a box.”
“The skin has double the amount of vitamins and minerals, seven times the calcium and seventeen times more iron than the same amount of flesh. It adds texture to otherwise mushy mashed potato.”
Lauren, “Eloise, are we going back to work on the robot?”
“Better if I don’t do technical work after a couple of cocktails. I might attach the hand to the leg instead of the arm.”
“That would be funny.”
“I think there’s a movie scheduled.”
Janah, “We decided on Deadpool, just hit Amazon streaming.”
After clan up, we circle around the flat screens, there are two on different walls. Couches face both, there is the mat in front of one with a bunch of throw pillows. The screens are face high if you’re sitting on a couch, not a problem to see if you’re on the mat cross legged or head propped on a couple of pillows. I’m on the couch, Janah’s on one side, Sloane on the other. Lauren decides to park between my legs and leans against my chest. She pulls my arms around her and the movie begins.
Janah, “She looks cozy.”
“No mom around, I doubt the Shadow was affectionate when he wasn’t controlling her. She learned table manners and hygiene, her room was neat. He gave her something anyway.”

The actions is good, kind of superhero typical, but there’s funny dialogue and Deadpool has a quirky sense of humor.
“Okay little one, time to crash.”
Lauren, “Sloane, will you teach me to swim tomorrow? In the morning, I can help Eloise after.”
Eloise, “I won’t start until you’re done, Daria is going to work with us too.”
Lauren yawns, we go up to her room.
“You’re okay to sleep alone? In a new spot and all?”
“I think so, if I wake up, can I sleep with you?”
“Sure.”
She takes care of going to bed things, brush, pee, she’s already in her nightshirt and socks. I tuck her in, kiss both cheeks, she giggles.
“Never been kissed goodnight, do it again.”
I double up, forehead, cheeks, tip of her nose. Sit for a while she shifts into a comfortable spot. 
“Are you going to be my mom?”
“If you wish, I would be honored.”
She grins, “I’m the baby of the family, you have to spoil me.”
“Not a problem, I’m a pushover. Don’t try to charm Nikko though.”
“Is she mean or something?”
“Not at all, she just doesn’t tolerate foolishness, you will learn a lot from her if you pay attention. She wants girls to be strong and smart, not suckers.”
She thinks that over, “I don’t want to be a sucker.”
Yawns, she starts to drift away. I head for the door and turn the light off. Nightlights click on.
“Goodnight…mom.”
My heart twitches, “Goodnight daughter.”

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