Chapter One

Our little saga, or sweeping panorama, depending on your perspective, continues.
We're in the same place, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, doing the same multi-tasking we’ve always done.
Our friend from Chapman's days, Joan Wayne Moon, who went on to become a forensics expert in San Diego, relocated back to Manhattan eighteen months ago. She loved the weather in San Diego, but she’s not really a beach girl, nor a California one, and since she likes us as sex toys, she decided to return to New York.
Joan Wayne’s folks are rich. They still have the quazillion dollar six thousand square foot condo on the Westside, across from Central Park. Her dad is a retired Korean textile tycoon. They’ve lived in Manhattan and Seoul since we were at Chapman's, a seventh through twelfth exclusive and preposterously expensive girls’ school in the Village.
Joan Wayne has brothers who live in Europe and Seoul who run the textile business. Joan Wayne moved back to her parent’s place. She makes great money and could easily afford to buy her own condo, but it doesn’t make sense. Half the year, her parents are gone, and when they are there, the condo is so big, it doesn’t matter. Joan Wayne works long hours. She’s not sociable, friends, other than us, are non-existent. Joan Wayne is strange, she’s maybe five two, has a taste for her namesake, John Wayne, and likes cowgirl clothes. At least she did from Chapman's through college. At some point, we had only occasional phone calls and texts, she moved to what I can only call upscale Goth. A tendency to black and red, scarlet of a darker shade, like blood. Her alternative is little girl, right down to Mary Janes.  With her stature and youthful Korean complexion, she pulls it off rather adorably, particularly with the disconnect between how she looks and what she says. We gave her our weird DNA and the enzyme that keeps us from aging.
Our telomeres don't shorten like the rest of humanity, telomeres are caps on the end of strands of DNA inside chromosomes. Shortened chromosomes have been linked to age related diseases like heart disease and some cancers. They produce more telomerase, a protein enzyme that repairs telomeres. We also have more active Sir2 genes, which stabilize rDNA, which without the Sir2 genes is typically unstable. It's only a partial explanation, particularly as it began with Janah and me, biologically unrelated people. We don't know much more, just that the relationships between cells and their telomeres and the Sir2 factor on rDNA appear to have life extension effects.
That was two years ago, Joan Wayne is a perpetual twenty seven and looks anything but.
She likes me because I can be weird enough to suit her tastes and she loves Janah because she’s brilliant and can understand what Joan Wayne is talking about when she decides to discuss maggots, body temperature in cold weather, river versus ocean decomposition rates, freezers and overheated rooms. There’s a million other details regarding knife wounds, brain trauma, heart disease, knotty livers, and discolored pancreases I have no interest in. She once talked to Janah for an hour about toenails. Not what kind of polish she likes, but discoloration, fungi, hardness, suppleness, brittleness and that little white crescent moon on fingernails that isn’t on toenails. I took a nap.  
Lacy Chapman became our moms’ pal and is a great friend to Janah and I, gave us space on the fourth floor of the school where she has her apartment. The bulk of the floor was empty. We built out our space, then added to it as our own family grew. Lacy has about three thousand feet in her place, she lives alone. We had near five thousand, then, as you are about to discover, the space we’d built for Chan and Ning came available, we adopted that as well. Of the approximate ten thousand square feet of the top floor of Chapman's, we suck up around seven.
Did I say we’re all lesbians?
Well, we don’t know about Chloe, she’s nearly fifteen, but she came to us from a difficult and ugly life. I won’t recap the whole saga, it’s all in Book VIII.

Chapter Two

Chan and Ning, their daughter Miyako and son David, lived in the apartment we’d built for Chan when he left the Shaolin temple. Chan has known Janah and me since we entered the temple years earlier. He became a priest a few years after me, wears the brands, tiger and dragon, as I do. On becoming a priest, one is sent out to live in the world for at least three years. After that, the priest may return, or serve out in the world, there’s not a rule. I chose to remain out, but Janah became Abbess of the monastery and we spend a fair amount of time there. It’s deep inside Chinatown, most outside Chinatown don’t know it exists. It doesn’t look like a pagoda, it looks like a warehouse with an open roof. While it takes up a half block, the inside seems mysteriously large, with training grounds, dormitories, classrooms, a commercial kitchen, dining hall, meditation hall and gardens for herbs and flowers. There’s a thick stand of bamboo across the back of the garden. The walls are high, the rear wall is the building behind us, a five story warehouse windowless on the side facing us.
Through a long relationship, we inherited a substantial amount of property from our old friend Mrs. Fong, including her restaurant. Her commercial property was already being managed by Nikko. It is something north of two hundred million dollars worth, plus the building housing the restaurant. We own other property in the hundred million neighborhood. All of it paid for, income streams are healthy. Janah, Nikko and I had accumulated another two hundred million in cash we appropriated from drug dealers we’d eliminated, which has grown to three hundred forty or fifty from Nikko, Sis and Mrs. Epstein handling the stocks and bonds. We’re filthy with money. (I call Susan Sis, because she and I closely resemble each other, she had me when she was fifteen.)
We discovered our anti-aging enzymes when we were twenty-ish and appeared to not be aging. Our immediate and extended family all received the injections, my mom is perpetually late thirties, our friend Lacy, forty, Susan’s companion Taylor twenty nine. Amaya is over twenty in years on Earth, she chose to stop aging at fifteen. Chloe wants to wait another year, then she’ll be sixteen forever.
Anti-aging prevents degenerative disease, some cancers, not all. Any of us could get cancer or have a heart attack, be in a fatal accident, or given the nature of our work, killed by a Shadow.
In any case, back to the point. Ning runs the restaurant. Her birth family lives in Chinatown. Chinatown isn’t far from Greenwich Village, but it’s not just a few blocks either, about a mile and a half from where we live to the restaurant, another few blocks to the temple.
Since restaurant hours are long and late, Ning decided to move to Chinatown, they built out space over the restaurant, we own the whole building. Janah gave the restaurant to them, Nikko runs that building as well and we give the income to Chan and Ning. Ning keeps the restaurant running like a quantum clock. Chan is on call for our work, which may be one or a few times a year. He helps Ning, he teaches at the temple, his son David Li lives there.
Technically, Chloe is Ning’s adopted daughter according to records created by the Society. But Chloe has always lived everywhere, Ning’s apartment, our place, Nikko’s parents, Susan’s and the Epsteins. Chloe is learning the sword from Hanshi Murakami and geisha from Nikko’s mom, Ari.
Chloe’s life, when we found her, was essentially a slave to her older sister and a father who were Shadows. Dad had conveniently disposed of mom, taken his daughter’s mind and made her believe she was his wife and that her sister was just a servant. Shadows can do that, make people believe anything, think of a sociopathic hypnotist, then make it worse, one who can capture your mind.
They lived on a farm outside Champagne Illinois. Chloe grew up eating her food from a bowl on the floor and trying to avoid kicks and slaps from her sister, house and farm work twelve to sixteen hours a day.
We eliminated dad and sis, took Chloe in. She didn’t know them as her father and sister, she was glad to be free. Janah and Sis educated her, she was in no way ready for school. Amaya gave her manners, social skills and taught her grooming and personal care. She was eight or nine at the time, there are no birth records. She knew almost nothing of the world, she sucked up information as only a young mind can. It went smoothly enough, in part because we don’t operate by common assumptions. We do not assume that because a child, or anyone else, has lived in ugly conditions that they are traumatized, or need years of therapy to ‘heal’ or find ‘closure.’
We find that lots of hugs, unlimited attention and plenty of reading, writing, arithmetic and vigorous exercise to occupy the mind are far better than hours spent reliving old horrors. It worked with Chan years ago, with Manolo, with Amaya, and with Chloe.
We weren’t guessing, or playing with theories. We’d seen kids come to the temple with every horror story imaginable. Then we saw them learn in a safe environment, fed nourishing meals, given lots of duties and responsibilities, be respected and educated. All while learning gung fu, Buddhism and meditation. Some grow up to become Shaolin priests, not all or even most; many go on to a lay life, teachers, botanists, physicists, the gamut. Some open martial arts schools, many get married, Shaolin in our temple is not a life of celibacy. Good thing, I have as much interest in celibacy as I have in drilling a hole in my skull.
Now, we spend our time chasing Shadows or doing Society work, which involves explaining new rules, called refocusing, to abusers, wife beaters, pedophiles and other assholes, and a specialty in child sellers and pimps running child prostitutes. We help them refocus their energies on something less ugly. We refocus them as hard as we deem necessary. Some of the child sellers get refocused to death, all of the Shadows do. Shadows can’t be fixed, we tried that, it doesn’t work. They will control and manipulate as long as they walk the Earth. When we’re done, no more walk, they’re in the earth.
A Shadow is a human that has learned the depths of qi energy, which, if practiced for a long time, is both mental and physical. Shaolin teach it, teach is the wrong word, it is a skill that happens by intent, focused intent. At lower levels it’s a source of personal energy. The scale increases with practice, to regulate body temperature and heart rate. Then to externalize, send cold or heat to another through touch. A few zillion more hours and one may learn to light candles, or extinguish them, boil water using only energy from within. The next levels enable what some call psychokinesis, the ability to move physical objects with the mind. It’s not just brain power, rather energy that comes through the individual that the mind directs. Finally, at the highest levels, one may be able to capture minds, a kind of super-hypnosis. Unlike common hypnosis, the subject cannot refuse.
The difficulties are several. First, a mind cannot be captured and held without expending a continuous stream of energy. Janah can take a mind, instruct it, then the effect might last a few hours. If she wanted to control someone all the time, she would have to ‘recapture’ it several times a day. Second, channeling the energy is exhausting. We can’t sit and toss stuff around the room for more than a few minutes without taking time to recharge.
What happens with Shadows is simple to understand and impossible to undo. In general, they have psychological problems to start with, or they take on more than their brain and nervous system can handle. In either case, there is a break, the mind overwhelmed. Some only go insane. Others, however, come under their own spell, the desire for power and control becomes their first and only purpose. Think of a psychopath who will do anything to get what he wants, but one that can actually take control of you to do his bidding. There are fewer women, but Shadows can be either gender. We had to deal with a female a few years ago, she’s out of the picture now. Nishiko's katana shredded her.
We have suspected for some time that Shadows, solitary by nature, have formed a loose organizational structure. They have become aware that someone is on the hunt for them, that would be us. Janah thinks the only reason they haven’t narrowed it down to us specifically is that they don’t like admitting they’re vulnerable. A psychopath will never admit he’s not in control, even to himself. Shadows are no different, ultra self confident. Like psychopaths, it’s generally what brings them down.
They know the Shaolin are the enemy. We have vowed to remove any source of abuse to innocents, by death if necessary, theirs or our own. But most Shaolin are not qi masters, nor do they recognize Shadows on sight. Sensitives, like Zi and Chloe do, Janah and Chan as well.
To become a qi master at Janah’s level, she first had to learn all the skills up to mental control of another. The final skill is transmitted by one who has it. In her case, it was Master Tan, a hermit monk that lived in the back of the temple, behind the bamboo in a simple hut. He transmitted to Janah, she to me, then he transmitted to Chan. Janah and I work with Nikko and Amaya. That’s how the skill is passed.
It needs to go slowly, transmission is painful, press too hard too soon, the mind breaks. That’s what happens with Shadows. Like all psychopaths, they want to get from step one to step twelve in one step. It doesn’t work that way. Imagine trying to learn calculus without knowing fractions, geometry, and algebra.

Chapter Three

Now you have the quickie overview, we can move on to current day.
I go to Amaya’s room, she’s sitting on the bed, legs crossed, leaning on her arms.
“Come here.”
I do. She slips my shorts down, nothing underneath. I step out of them and pull off my top, nothing underneath that either. Perhaps I’ll change my screen name to ‘nothing underneath.’
“Up against the wall and spread.”
Happy time, deliriously giddy in fact.
After I’m skyrocketed, Amaya and I roll and cuddle, a knock on the door, “Come in if you’re a girl.”
Chloe opens the door, “I don’t have to ask what’s up.”
Amaya, “You’re not much of a Sensitive if you don’t already know.”
She giggles.
A Sensitive, if you’re new to this, is sensitive to the intentions of others. They can read you in the milliseconds before your brain tells you what you are going to do next. See, you think there’s a ‘you’ mulling over choices, then making decisions. It doesn’t work that way. You’re only a pile of neurons and synapses, which contain pieces of memories spread out over your brain, colors in one spot, sounds in another, things said in a third. There’s no one spot for memories of mom, or third grade.
At any given moment, your brain and nervous system are receiving a hundred thousand signals, yes, really. Your brain is sorting out relevant from irrelevant, then issuing commands about the best course of action. There is no ‘you,’ in the commonly assumed sense, deciding to do A or B. There are only sensations and perceptions mingling with prior experience and hormonal activity. Out of this, your body is given a course of action.
If there was a second step, some ‘you’ that had to weigh all that, then ‘decide,’ nothing would ever get done. There’s too much data to process. If there was a you as operator, your brain would freeze, then crash.
A Sensitive can sense your brain’s decision in the moments before physical action. They can see the energy field your body’s electrical activity generates, it appears to them as colors. Those colors are clues to your emotional state, how the amygdala and hypothalamus are reacting to the given environment. In this way, Sensitives know what you are about to do, and what you are about when you are doing it. For instance, are you complying to a request happily, or resentfully? Are you telling your partner I love you and lying? Are you telling the Sensitive the truth or prevaricating or hiding?
These skills are in lots of children. Common socialization and so called education beats it out of them. Children and dogs read emotional states more accurately than psychiatrists and psychologists, which makes parents nervous, so they dump irrelevancies into the child’s head to distract them. Quite quickly, the skill is lost. Parents don’t want children who can see through their veil of lies, they want obedient little calculating machines who get high SAT scores. Look at your own childhood, then at your child, say it isn’t so.
Chloe is a Sensitive by accident. Her Shadow father and her mind-destroyed sister essentially ignored her education. There were rules, but only insofar as her work duties. They never bothered with religion, so-called morality or social conventions. Strangely, they did Chloe a favor while abusing her. She came to us virtually blank. She knew beating, she knew abuse, but because of the two people involved, she never confused it with love. In her mind they weren’t family, just owners of her body. Abused children can get lost trying to sort out the alleged love of parents from the violence inflicted on them, it’s dissonant and irresolvable. They come to understand love as violence, which helps explain why abused children grow up to be abusive adults. Mommy loves me, she says so, she beats me, love means beating.
Neither her deranged Shadow father nor or her deranged Shadow sister told Chloe they loved her, just the opposite. In a way, that saved her.
Zi, our other Sensitive, did not have Chloe’s horror. She started Shaolin young. Her formative years were spent in an environment that accepted her abilities as normal. Consequently, she developed them normally. No one tried to keep secrets, no one minded if she knew how they felt. Her capabilities were not feared, they were honored and encouraged. Such is Shaolin. We do not fear unusual skill, we expect it, we nourish it.
Chloe comes in, strips off the only thing she’s wearing, a long t-shirt, jumps on the bed and squishes in between us.
“You’re both warm and snuggly, mash me.”
We mash her, she squeals, “That feels sooo good. I know it’s getting on to dinnertime, can I just lay here and feel good for a while?”
“You can lay here and feel good as long as you want.”
“Am I too bony?”
Amaya, “All I feel is soft girl.”
I kiss Chloe’s neck, “You feel just right.”
“I don’t know if I’m a lesbian, but it sure feels good between you.”
“You don’t have to have a label to enjoy affection. If you’re eventually attracted to women, fine, if you want a boy, that will be made plain in time. We don’t have an opinion. You already know that.”
“Yes, I just like to hear you say it. Zi told me she knew girls that didn’t have sexual attraction to men or women. She said that didn’t matter either.”
“It doesn’t. Sex is fun, for some a deeper level of intimacy. Amaya and I like our relationship, but our real intimacy is not sex, nor is it with Janah or Nishiko.”
“That I figured out. Your intimacy is far beyond sexual pleasure.”
“And our intimacy with you has already surpassed anything merely sexual.”
“I am beloved here, by everyone. Nothing is greater than that. I belong, yet free. Nothing compares.”
“Well, you’re cute.”
We collapse into laughter. It isn’t like us to pontificate seriously for too long, we’d rather have friendship and fun.
“Amaya, can you stay and snuggle a little longer while Daphne does dinner?”
“Fabulous idea, Daphne you have been instructed. What’s the menu, we want to anticipate.”
“Roast chicken, Caesar salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans have been cooking all day, southern style, cornbread. Raw vegetables to expand Janah’s options.”
Chloe, “Zi likes raw vegetables, too. I like it better when you sauté them in one of your sauces.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
I kiss her, refresh and pull on a t-shirt, pad to the kitchen. Chickens are already done, they came from the deli, just warm, then a quick broil to crisp the skin. I make the Caesar, put it in the refrigerator to chill, mix cornbread in the skillet and get it in the second oven, then mash potatoes I’d already baked, we like them with the skins. I'm chopping vegetables when I feel Nikko approach, then her hands roaming me, kisses to my neck, I turn, we took a make-out break, she pours herself a glass of wine.
“What can I do?”
“It’s pretty much done. Stack the plates, they can cruise past the counter and pick out what they want.”
The family begins to wander in as rich aromas infuse the apartment. Cocktails are made, soon there are six women talking softly. Wine is poured, the girls queue up to fill plates. Even Nikko, who essentially lives on tea and small bites of whatever Janah and I eat, has a full plate of chicken, mashed and green beans, and, lo’ and behold, a actual hunk of cornbread, with actual butter. Dang, the mystery of the samurai.
She looks over at me, Exaggerator, I always eat when you cook. Your goal is to make me a fat samurai.
 You have always weighed less than I, so who’s exaggerating? We haven’t gained a pound in fifteen years.

Zi, “Chloe, what are Daphne and Nikko doing?”
“Mentaling playfully, the color is pink with a dash of yellow, the play color.”
Zi nods, “Excellent.”
“I’m going to invent aura encryption, at the least a scrambler that blocks the signal. Then what will you do?”
“Get Susan to crack the code. She’ll do anything for me.”
Janah laughs, “That’s an understatement. She calls you, what, three times a day?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, twice at most, the rest are texts.”
Nikko, “How many?”
Chloe looks thoughtful, “Not many, a dozen between us. She likes for me to tell her what I’m doing all day. She says it’s a brain break from writing code and hacking. When we speak, I tell her how she feels about what she’s saying. I get signals from her tone and pace. Of course, everyone does that, except I can do it when she makes a neutral comment. Zi taught me to read tiny nuances, when people don’t use normal pauses between words, when the pitch raises or lowers a little, visual or auditory phrasing. Susan calls me her shaman.”
Amaya, “I use that in my writing. One person says ‘I see’ as a way to show understanding, one says  ‘I hear you,’ a third ‘I feel.’ People feel more in tune with us if we mimic their phrasing.”
“I see hear feel you.”
Amaya, “Chloe, mimicking Daphne’s phrasing leads to insanity.”
Chloe giggles, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Chloe loves talking with us, loves it that Sis is in touch all the time. She spent her early life in a place where anything she had to say was ignored, mostly met with a slap or kick. Simply being able to verbalize, ask a question or express a thought, be heard and replied to, was something of a miracle to her. In the very early days with us, if we reached for her, to comb her hair, or take her hand, she shrank back, expecting to be hit. It was heartbreaking.
We did behavioral training. We touched her, held her hand, brushed her hair, kissed her cheek, gave her a bath. Each of us approached, asked permission, waited smiling for a nod of approval. In three weeks the behavior was extinguished. We began working on conversation. Throughout the day, she was asked her opinion and encouraged to ask questions. She chose what she wanted to eat and drink. Pretty simple stuff, a revelation to Chloe.
Soon enough, she asked for hugs, to be held while she fell asleep, and chattering away with Amaya, Ning or Chan. Chan’s normal conversation is a nod or blink. Ning, Janah, his children and Chloe are exceptions. Nikko and Chan talk, but neither of them is much for long conversation.

Chapter Four

Now, Chloe is happy, grounded, mischievous. She’s hardly bad, not that kind of mischievous, rather poking at us with on-target observations on what we’re thinking. She has inside information and mostly doesn’t open up, but when it’s harmless, she likes to remind us our no secrets way of living is particularly applicable to her. She and Zi have an edge that comes in handy in our line of work.
And our line of work is calling, it’s Mrs. Epstein, “Hello Janah, the girls are well?”
“Splendid, when she’s here, Chloe mind reads everyone. She says Daphne is a children’s book,” giggles, Mrs. Epstein laughs.
“And I assume Daphne ate it up.”
“Daphne has Chloe and Amaya right where they want her, snap their fingers, Daphne snaps to attention.”
“Daphne is the most remarkable woman, I don’t know anyone as loved and appreciated, perhaps you.”
“One is the other, I get all the benefits of her charm and do none of the work.”
“Of course. Even after all these years, I see two girls.”
“If our intention to appear separate works with you, it’s a good sign. Only a few know, and they all see us as separate, the public will never pierce the veil.”
“We have an opportunity, are you available for breakfast tomorrow?”
“Eight, nine?”
Mrs. Epstein, “Could you come at eight? The older Bernie and I get, the less we sleep, we’re up at six most days.”
They disconnect, I relay the arrangement to the others. Chloe is with the Murakamis and will be back tomorrow afternoon. Amaya is free to drive us, Nikko has early appointments at her office.
“Zi, we’re going to the Epsteins in the morning. It’s more important for you to be with Nikko. Flickers of Shadows have popped in and out. None of us should go about alone for the time being. We’ll cover the work when we’re all back together.”
Nikko is training Zi in the business end of our lives and it’s good to have her on appointments. She can read prospective tenants, figure out who’s full of it and who’s playing straight even before we run credit checks. She’s already spared Nikko the hassle of pain in the neck tenants. They lie about why they want to relocate, usually a current landlord dispute or lawsuit, or dance around about their real intention. A plan for the space other than the stated one. Or cash poor but hoping a relocation improves their revenue stream. Since it frequently doesn’t, we’d wind up with the headaches of evictions or workouts. Nikko’s approach is far different from the normal sales job. She meets with prospects first, asks what they want the space for, square footage, asks why they are relocating. Most property owners want to show off all the good stuff in the hope the prospect chooses them. Nikko prefers us to choose the tenant. She doesn’t have to waste time doing property tours for people she isn’t going to accept.
She doesn’t confront them, simply says, ‘We’re not a good match for you, thank you for considering us.’
They don’t pursue it when she simply stares, stands and Zi opens the conference room door. She isn’t going to supply an answer to any questions, the meeting’s over.
We lounge, Janah is noodling on the laptop, I’m polishing Amaya’s toes. I pull her onto the bed and she lays on her back while her toes finish drying to a shiny violet the color of Chloe’s eyes. I take advantage of her immobility to kiss her lips, her face and lightly work my way down her body. By the time I get to her toes, a pit stop halfway down, they are diamond hard and her body radiates a lovely warmth.
A text hits her phone, it’s Chloe, ‘Making sushi in a minute, cooking sticky rice, what’s going on?’
‘Nikko, Zi and Daphne battered a little earlier, all fixed up now.’
‘Daphne painted your toes.’
‘How did you know?’
‘It gets you sexually jumpstarted.’
Amaya giggles, types, ‘Daphne gets me sexually jumpstarted, don’t tell her.’
‘She’s sitting behind you and she can see in your mind, I don’t have to tell her.’
I laugh.
‘She did your toes in violet.’
‘How did you know that?’
‘When I’m gone, you miss me. Violet is your compensation until you can look into my eyes again.’
‘You are a scary little witch.’
‘Daphne’s not afraid of me.’
‘Daphne’s not afraid of anything.’
‘Kiss each other for me, gotta go, bye.’
Amaya sighs, “I’m happy she’s doing kendo and geisha, selfish for her to return.”

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