Twenty One

There’s another New West in Bozeman if we decide to stay. Right now we’re wandering the small city in search of a blue van. The neighbor said it was a dark van, that turned to dark blue when Chloe got her sign.
She’d seen the event itself, replayed in her head, courtesy of the Zycyryn we assume. As a Sensitive, Chloe, like Zi, can sense Shadows, if they see them in person, there’s a black aura. If they’ve been in a place recently, they leave what she sees as a stain in the air. That would last for a few hours, maybe twenty four, less if a lot of people pass through. 
In this case, there was more. Chloe saw nude bodies strapped to the chair, one with a bloody knee. Then there was screaming, flashes of kitchen knives, cuts, the knife drawn slowly across the body so as to prolong the pain. She didn’t see the attackers, there were three, but she did see small hands…and giggling with each agonizing slice. Giggling over the howls and moans of the tortured couple. That’s what shook her so badly, the murderers were children.
Two other presences, she didn’t see but felt. Shadows. In her words, ‘as black as we’ve ever encountered, the air was filthy with them.’
Janah, “They kidnapped the children, so the kids aren’t Shadows, which means the Shadows are controlling them, forcing the kills.”
Amaya, “Going to be massively messed up kids.”
“Unless they wipe them between kills, although I think it unlikely. To clear their minds means regaining control afterwards. Alternatively, keeping them in control requires more energy. Wiping their minds means there’s no fun for the Shadows in watching the children suffer over what they did.”
Chloe, “If they stay controlled, they remember the event, but are they happy, horrified, neutral?”
“Unknown. The Shadows would prefer them to suffer. But, at least what Chloe saw, there were giggles, like kids just doing something naughty. It doesn’t….wait, let me walk through it.”
Janah’s quiet for a bit, Amaya and I search for a blue van, “Amaya, pull over. I’m going to get the drones in the game, they can cover more ground while we drive around.”
Launched, the two drones head off in different directions. They’re programmed to fly separate grids looking for a dark blue van. I can load a photo of any dark blue van, set them to a general setting as opposed to specific. I’ll get a lot of vans popping up, but that’s okay. The drone will download a location and we can check it out ourselves.
Janah, “Okay, we know Shadows want to maximize suffering. And we know from past experience they don’t use weapons, they are weapons. If they want to bludgeon someone, a Shadow will do it with qi energy. In this case, it isn’t the suffering of the victims that’s of much interest, it’s the suffering of children who don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Don’t understand where the impulse is coming from.”
Amaya, “When did laughing get to be suffering?”
“The giggles could be nervous energy, or it could be part of the mindset the Shadows implant to get the kids to do the butchering….that’s it!”
“What is it?”
“The Shadows are recording the kills. At some point, they’ll release control of the children, then play the video. And they’ll send the video to the parents.”
Chloe, “Perfect, maximum pain for the entire family. Your eight year old is the Shadow version of a Manson family murderer.”
Amaya, “That is horrid, macabre.”
“That’s a Shadow. Blue van, take the next left.”
I’d gotten four vans, but tossed out three as too big, like delivery vans. This one is smaller, probably not what we’re looking for. It’s got rear windows on the double doors, and windows for the back seat, more like an SUV. For hauling kidnapped kids, better to have no windows except for the windshield, the driver and passenger doors. We use panel vans to kidnap Society targets. Sliding side door makes it easy to toss the target inside, nobody outside can spot him tied or unconscious on the floor.
“This isn’t it, but Chloe should take a look anyway.”
She steps out, circles the vehicle, gets in, “Nope, full of kid junk, but little kid, and a car seat. A standard mommy-mobile.”
Four more blue vans, one dark grey and an older black one that’s faded.
Janah, “Stop, I need tea. They may have moved on, the small ranch was only ten miles from town and I suspect they want distance.”
Amaya and I collect coffee and tea to go, couple of apple and cherry turnovers, while we drive, we sip, Janah’s studying the map on her phone.
“I’m going to take a shot in the dark. They’ve been traveling I-90, even been tagged the I-90 killers. That means the police focus is on the interstate. I think they might get off the interstate for a while. If they head north on 89, it doesn’t take them to any interstate or to any sizable cities. But if they drive east to 287 and go north, they wind up in Helena and I-15. We need to get moving up 287.”
Amaya, “About time for them to switch cars isn’t it?”
“Yes, it would be stupid to…well, maybe not. Cop stops them, they’re Shadows, they can make the cop think they’re in anything. But you may be right, it’s also no trouble for them to dump the van and get some citizen to hand them the keys to another vehicle. So far, they have no reason to believe the police know anything about a van.”
I’m scrolling news, “Actually they do, cops just announced they are looking for a dark van, unknown license, may be blue, grey or black.”
“Then they’ve dumped the blue van and are in something else. Get Grace B to search for stolen or missing cars, switched license plates, anything within fifty miles of Bozeman. And any reports of finding an abandoned blue van.”
I zip her a message, receive an acknowledgement, which in Grace B’s case means a text that says, ‘Keep your panties dry, I will find that fucker.’
I show it to my traveling companions.
Amaya, “I may need to tone her down.”
“I like her sassy and vulgar.”
“She’s around the children.”
“Who are hardly children, the oldest in years on Earth is mid twenties, they’re just biologically kids.”
“They don’t act twenty.”
“You know why.”
“Yes, they like being the children, having the Mamas and everyone else fuss over them.”
Janah, “I think of them as prodigies. They are smarter than a smart twenty year old, but they have little girl bodies and favor little girl activities, performing plays, dress up, having their Russian family, all their Tetyas, drawing and swimming. They don’t want to grow up anymore than we want them to grow up.”
Grace B dings my sat phone, “Blue van found in Belgrade, eleven miles from Bozeman on I-90. Small town, eight thousand. They must have swapped a vehicle, but nothing’s been reported stolen. Anything else?”
“Not yet, thanks.”
I relay what we have and don’t have.
Janah, “At least we know they’re headed towards 287. Press it Amaya, don’t attract cops, we don’t have time for a ticket.”
“Pull over, I’ll send the drone ahead to spot patrol cars and whatnot, they’ll show up on the screen and ding us an alert.”
‘Grace B, is it possible to have something on a drone that blocks radar, like cops use?’
‘With me, everything is possible. I will get the specs to the midget.’
‘Eloise made your hardware, and she’s not a midget, she’s elfin.’‘Oh fuck, everybody is on PC lockdown, okay then, the elf.’
Amaya keeps it to eighty on the interstate, then we switch north to 287, it’s a two lane, but it’s also empty, she kicks it to a hundred.
Janah, “Highway 287 runs almost eighteen hundred miles from Port Arthur Texas to the northwest of Montana, place called Choteau. Gulf of Mexico to near Canada. Who knew?”
First car we see going our way is in front of us, several trucks had passed going south. At Amaya’s hundred per, the SUV shook in the wake of the big rigs’ draft. Didn’t make her ease off any.
We are approaching the vehicle ahead, a red Ford something, not a panel van, a mid size SUV, electric like ninety percent of cars today. It would also be self driving like ours. Amaya has no intention of turning the wheel over to the car’s computer system.
It’s a no passing road, double yellow lines, that makes no difference to her, the road is clear ahead and the drone reports no lurking patrol vehicles. Out here, most of the ticketing is done in little towns. Speed limits drop to twenty five and local cops pick up extra revenue catching the unaware in speed traps.
“Slow down when you pass him Amaya, we don’t want to arouse his attention, you can crank it when we’re down the road.”
“Good point,” she backs off to sixty, the limit is fifty and the driver of the Ford is just at the limit.
I’m in the rear seat with Chloe, she’s on my right, the passenger side. We ease past the red Ford.
Janah, “See that?”
“Yeah, rear seat passenger windows have sun shades, and the rear window is covered with a couple of boxes.”
“You might think they didn’t want people to see inside, if you were the suspicious type.”
Chloe, “They’re in there, the interior of the car is ink, like smoke from burning rubber.”
Amaya, “What do you want me to do?”
“Step on it like we just want to get gone. When we have a decent lead I’ll drop the drone back and pick them up. Then we see where they go. You’ll have to slow to the speed limit, but we’ll have a lead, he won’t catch us. He’s not going to risk a traffic stop, even to screw with the cop’s brain. He’s not going to risk a traffic stop, even to screw with the cop’s brain. Before they get the chance, the cop will have called in the plate and a description of the vehicle. They would have to ditch the car, find another, and move the cargo. Better to keep to the limit.”
When we can’t see them behind us I drop the drone back, the Ford is now its mission. Amaya rides us along at fifty, after a hundred, it feels like we’re walking. We’d passed Toston, a damp spot in the road, population a hundred, and are coming up on Townsend, more like a town if you credit two thousand inhabitants a town. More than that live on Bleeker Street in the West Village.
There’s small town stuff, local shops, diner, couple of hotels. Our cars don’t need gas, and mostly self charge as we drive. But there is a charging station that will fully load the batteries, so we stop. 
Charging a car isn’t an overnight thing anymore, it’s a ten minute stop if the battery is near zilch. Ours is at fifty percent, where it would hold for another three hundred miles before it begins to fade.
There’s a store attached, Janah goes in and locates bottled tea and sodas, protein bars are everywhere these days, she picks up a few. I fill plastic ups with ice, we pay for the stuff and the charge, load in the car and disappear down a side street to wait.
We’re watching the drone feed, the red Ford must need a charge as well, he pulls into the same place. That was close, if he’d tagged me as a Shaolin, we’d have had a mess right in the station.
As it is, he’s agitated when he comes out of the store. The passenger rolls down the window, but we can’t see who from this angle. I adjust the drone and zoom in.
He’s having a conniption, waving his hands, and looking around. I click on the audio and direct the mike.
“There was a motherfucking Shaolin here, and recently. The stench of purity is thick in the fucking store. Kid behind the counter said the only people by recently were two women, they got drinks and a charge, just left ten minutes ago.”
“SUV passed us coming in, I didn’t pay any attention to it, what kind of car was here?”
“Black Tesla SUV.”
“The one that passed us was black, I remember that much. It’s gone now, fuck it, let’s go. You get something for the girls to eat?”
“No, I caught onto the priest, questioned the guy and left.”
“Jesus Freddie, get in and keep the kids under control. I’ll get them something. They need to keep up their strength if they’re gonna slice up assholes,” they both laugh.
She’s in the store for five, out with a couple of bags. In the car I can see her handing bottled drinks and candy bars over the seat. They drive out of the lot and head towards Helena.

Twenty Two

We hang back, the drone has them and we don’t need to be spotted following. In Helena, they stop at the Indispensable Inn. The woman gets out and goes inside, returns and takes the small girl and the fourteen year old. The man pulls off and parks, then walks what appears to be a boy of ten or eleven to the lobby.
Janah, “See if the drone can spot the room they’re in.”
It’s dead at the hotel, I use both drones, one to cover the rooms facing left side, the other facing right.
Curtains rustle on the second floor left, the boy’s face appears, he’s yanked back and the curtain drawn.
“Okay, we have the room, let’s catch the conversation.”
Amaya takes over the second drone and brings it back. I have the mike of the first directed at the window. 
“Going to be tough, someone clicked on the TV. We can hear CNN going on about a typhoon in the Philippines.”
The man appears out of the lobby and goes to the car.
“Follow him with the drone Amaya. My guess is he’s gone to scope out the next kill. They aren’t taking the kids to a restaurant, maybe he’s just picking up groceries.”
He drives the streets, but not randomly, “I think he’s looking for a stand alone, and he must have some ideas, like he’s been scoping out locations from satellite images.”
These days, there are a half dozen satellite services, Google Earth is still in business, and there are others. He will have looked for isolated homes, maybe with a single car, two at the most. Now he has to find out if there is a couple living there.
“Why did they decide they need couples?”
Amaya, “Increases the chance of kids maybe. Be simpler to follow a parent home from day care or elementary school. Or trail a school bus and see where the kids go when they’re dropped off.”
“I guess they aren’t novelists like you, they don’t think up possibilities, alternatives, figure out what makes it interesting, or just easy.”
At the hotel, the TV is off. 
The woman says, “Kids, get in the shower. And wash your hair, clean little pussies  and butts, you know the drill.”
“This isn’t sounding promising.”
Janah, “I’m going up, the children are in the shower, they won’t be a factor. Daph, follow me but stay out of range. We have to pull the plug now. Amaya, this shouldn’t take long, but if our target starts to return, mental Daphne.”
“On it.”
Janah and I get out, take the stairs to the second floor. Janah has a laser gun, as do I, they look more like penlights with handles than guns. She knocks on the door.
“Who is it? Whaddya want?”
Janah answers in Spanish, she stands in front of the door staring at the peephole.
The hole darkens, Janah sticks the laser on the eyepiece and fires. Aside from the clink of broken glass, the only other noise is a Thump!
We both blast the lock with the lasers, I kick the door open. It bangs against the woman crumpled behind it. I squeeze in, slide her body away, Janah comes in and shuts the door behind her.
The woman has a missing eye, just an empty hole of bloody goop. I snatch the blanket off the bed and roll her up.
The bathroom door opens, fourteen year old, naked, “Who are you?”
“I’m not important, you are Tanya Douglas, yes?”
She’s stymied for a bit, blinking at me like she’s processing, then she comes to herself. I don’t recall a look of horror, terror, on any face quite like the one on hers.
“We’ve been killing people, I murdered people I din’t even know. I din’t remember, but they showed us videos, we did it, all three of us.”
She sinks to her knees, head in her hands, sobbing, shuddering, “They gonna put me in jail forever, that little girl, Dena, and the boy, Jake. We sliced up those people, we saw it on the videos.”
The boy peeks out the door, “It’s okay Jake, bring Dena out. We need to get you dressed and home. Everything is going to be okay, nobody is going to be hurt anymore.”
He’s still vague, the little girl is out of it, just following instructions. 
“Amaya, send Chloe up, keep an eye on the asshole.”
“Will do.”

Chloe helps the kids get dressed, then she and Janah get them downstairs to the car. 
I’m still in the room, take the woman’s phone and a tablet computer. No room safe, I check closets, under the mattress, all the drawers and cabinets. There are no other electronics either on her person on in the couple of pieces of luggage. I leave, hang a do not disturb sign over the fried lock and hustle downstairs.
The youngest two are silent, spaced, Chloe turns on an animated film, they watch from the second row. I take over the drone, Amaya pulls off while Janah talks to Tanya in the third row.
She’s explaining that they were drugged, something in the sodas or water they were given. The videos they saw weren’t real, the drugs made them believe they were real.
Tanya, “So, nobody was killed, cut up? My parents are okay?”
“People were killed, unfortunately. Murdered, but not by you or the other children. By the man and woman who took you. I’m sorry.”
She takes time to absorb it. 
Janah, “We know you have an aunt and uncle, your mom’s sister.”
“Aunt Minnie and her husband Robbie. I stayed with them lots of times, their daughter is a year younger than me, Dawn.”
“We’re going to get you to them, and get Dena and Jake to their families. Dena’s parents were killed too, Jake was taken off the street.”
“So his folks are okay?”
“Worried sick, but yes, okay.”
“That’s somethin’ anyhow. He’s a sweet boy, kinda’ slow, you know what I mean?” 
“I do, he went to a special school, those people stole him from there.”
“I don’t remember much, cept watchin’ the videos. We laughed, I don’t know what was funny.”
“You weren’t in control of yourself. They gave you powerful drugs that could make you believe anything they told you.”
“What about the videos we saw?”
“You didn’t see any videos, you were told there were videos, under the influence of the drugs, you visualized the story you were told and thought it was true. There are no videos, they don’t exist.”
They exist, but nobody else has seen them yet. We need to get to the man and make sure nobody ever does. 
First things first. We hand the kids off to Minders Janah had in place for this or other complications or eventualities. Society contacts will handle quietly getting them back to family. They will be told the same story Janah told Tanya, drugs, high suggestibility, no video, children sliced up nobody. Of course, they were there, Tanya and Dena have dead parents. But their recollection of who killed them is fabricated as far as anyone knows. 
Amaya, “It’s after seven, Freddie is at the supermarket, he scoped four houses, if he has a target it wasn’t apparent just watching from the drone cam. Where do we take him?”
“The hotel is no good. The woman will be undisturbed until checkout tomorrow, assuming they only took it for one night. If Freddie finds out his pal is dead, he’s on alert and more dangerous. Supermarket lot crowded?”
“We can’t take him there easily.”
“And we need to search his car, if there’s any kid incriminating evidence it needs to go.”
Janah, “I’ll have the car disappeared. We only need a spot to quietly zap him.”
“How far to the market?”
Amaya, “Two miles.”
“Drive, we don’t need to chase his ass around Helena.”
Ten minutes later, I’m pushing aside dead Fred and driving his car out of the parking lot. We let the drone hover until he had groceries in the Ford, Amaya plugged him as he got in, just before he pulled the door to.
I follow Amaya to a to-be-developed subdivision, apparently to be developed for some time. One of those places where streets are laid, and a sign that says ‘Something Acres, Affordable Luxury Homes, except the sign is faded and the grass overgrown on the ‘Estate Size Lots.’
Chloe and I search of the car, take anything portable and electronic, take Freddie’s no doubt fake ID, roll his skinny butt out of the passenger side and drag the body into a lot full overgrown weeds.
I drive the Ford to a convenience store, park it in a far slot next to the dumpster. In less than an hour someone will pick it up, switch the plates and take it to be mashed into a three by three cube of plastic and metal.
Back in our Tesla, Janah’s digging through Freddie’s groceries.
“We’re having roast chicken, mac and cheese and brownies. He also bought beer and a bottle of vodka. No olives though.”
Amaya, “Philistine, here’s a market, be right back.”
She hops in, “No garlic olives, but pimento stuffed, good enough. I need a cocktail.”

Twenty Three

We’re on a plane the next morning, zip back to Prescott Municipal, Amaya drives us home.
Danika and Su don’t ask, they know we were after Shadows and they can see we are injury free. 
So much better with the lasers. When we used to have to duke it out mind to mind or physically deal, then spend the next few days healing. Now we do the Shaolin sneak and Zap! Gone.
The kids swarm down the steps, “Teyta Dafna, the Gids sent a message, we told you.”
“Chloe saw the sign, just like your promised. And it helped us find the Shadows and save the children.”
Tasia, “Are children coming to live with us?”
“Two have relatives, better to go with their own family. We aren’t sure about the little girl.”
Nadia, “Better to come here, but we understand there are complications if there are relatives.”
Janah, “The boy’s parents weren’t killed. The teen girl has relatives she told us. The little girl, Dena, we aren’t sure. Her parents were killed, our contacts are looking for family. They are going to let me know what they find out.”
“Have you talked to Nikko, or one of the others? I haven’t been in their minds, we were pretty focused, they are building the house. How’s it going?”
Grace B, “I am in control here and Nikko is on the ground there, how do you think it is going?”
“Damn straight. Two and half more months and it’s move in ready.”
Amaya, “What? I have not ordered furniture yet.”
Grace B, “Bedrooms are more or less identical, and the dorm is a replica, should be simple.”
“True, we like our beds, the bedroom furniture arrangements. But we have more bedrooms and I am going to change the living area. And I need to buy towels, linens, bath accessories, not to mention the kitchen.”
“I am taking care of the kitchen with Dasha and Ellen’s input. You don’t have to do anything kitchen related. You can get a mega dining table.”
Amaya, “Are you taking care of utensils, dishes?”
“Same things we use here, I’m just ordering more of it since we are adding five girls. If you need me to help with the other stuff, say so.”
Grace B, “And put my ass out of work? You do not seriously believe the Queen Bee is going to tap in orders with her elegant fingers? She is going to give me a list and I will do the heavy lifting.”
“Good, then I will give you a list for the kitchen. When is Emma B coming?”
“Eloise has to send a generic bot to Manhattan to run the condo. Katya is bringing their bot here, she is used to how they like things.”
“What’s her name again?”
“Salt, after an old Angela Jolie character, a Russian assassin. Fitting, considering the their day job.”
“That’s it, I recall liking that movie, she kicked everyone’s butt.” 
Uma, “And Salt B speaks fluent Russian, like Kota B.”
Grace B, “As do I midget, net nikakikh sekretov ot Grace B.”
Zofia, “We do not have secrets.”
“Then what is all the whispering about, little liars?”
The children giggle, Valeska, “Tol'ko malen'kiye sekrety.”
“Da, little secrets from little sneaks, always creeping around in the dark. You think I do not know about that?”
Devona, “Kota B is with us, when the Gids want to take us to new worlds, they do not care if it is day or night. Gids do not sleep.”
“And bots do not sleep either, we work and watch sneaky little Russian time travelers.”
Amaya, “I have real work to do, I shall send details over the next few days Grace B.”
Grace B, “Yes, Your Worship, my purpose is to grovel to Your Majesty. Daphne, get me specs on the kitchen appliances, they need to show up before we move in. It would be helpful for the cabinet and counter people to what damn size the stuff is.”
“Where’s my Your Majesty?”
“Just get me the specs dork.”
Janah laughs, “Get busy Your Holiness, lunchtime approacheth, I need food.”
Danika, “Su and I can help. We bought crab claws and cooked shrimp, it’s been thawed and is in the refrigerator.”
“Thank you, anything I need to deal with for dinner?”
“We have garden burgers, buns, pickle, onion, condiments and fries.”
“Perfect. When is Ellen coming? Dasha out of town is making cooking a full time job.”
Sloane, “Sarah said they can come anytime, they wanted to make sure it was okay.”
“Sure, we have extra rooms, they know that, and even more room with six girls in Malibu building a house. Call Sarah while I get lunch organized.”
Danika sets the table, I lay out platters of crab claws, chop romaine and cover with shrimp. There is ketchup, horseradish, Kewpie mayo, sliced lemon, chopped onion for additives. Each place has a ramekin of clarified butter for crab claws. Crackers and Melba toast round out the light lunch.
Janah, “Perfect, now for a nap. I’m taking advantage of Sloane before Sarah gets here and monopolizes her.”
“Enjoy dessert.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

My honey has her most innocent girl visage pasted on, but I can see the flush of anticipation underneath. She’s fond of the crème fraiche that appears as the finale of her ministrations to Sloane’s boy part. And she’s fond of the part that leads to the finale.
I decide a short nap is a good idea and head to our bedroom, Janah is upstairs with Sloane. I’m trying to resist the temptation to peek through her eyes as I slip out of my clothes and refresh in the bathroom. As I’m unfolding the comforter, there’s a knock.
“Door’s open.”
Danika appears, smiles, “Just the way I hoped you would be. Mind if I take advantage, you need do nothing but lay there.”
This is a splendid idea, Danika is a languidly thin Dane, blonde as blonde gets. She strips off her t-shirt, I take in the ripped tummy and taut thighs. Like the rest of us, there is zip between her legs except the bare necessity.
I walk over for a kiss, then push her back on the bed, “My room, my rules,” and I go straight to the point of attack.
Danika is a mystic Shaolin and spends a great deal of time in meditation, not blank brain, active meditation. She see the things most of us miss since consciousness filters extraneous material. Exactly what those things are is vague, Danika doesn’t talk about her visions and experiences. I do know that if Chloe is the template for happiness, Danika is the one for serenity.
We spend an hour doing mystical lesbian things, serenely at first, then enthusiastically. Did you know it’s possible to direct qi through your tongue? And it’s better than a toy, electric almost, sizzle and spark.
Janah comes in, Danika and I are post multigasm, lying wrapped up in each other. Ange must have left her t-shirt on Sloane’s floor, she’s in nothing.
After a Sloane session, Janah is frequently charged, today is one of those frequents.
She kisses up Danika’s leg, then down the other, parts them and gets busy. I occupy Danika’s lovely lips, while Janah occupies her other lips. By the time Danika’s frenzy subsides, she’s gasping. I find a bottle of water and hand it to her.
“Here, hydration is important.”
She’s propped up on her elbows, washboard tummy still quivering, I decide kissing it is a good idea.
Then there are three bad girls snuggled.
Danika, “I need to visit more often, meditating on Daphne’s legs is far more enlightening than universe junk.”
Janah, “I’ve found that to be the case, I’ve found it to be the case since she was fifteen. I continue to find that to be the case. Your legs don’t lack appeal either.”
“I’m more like Chloe, long and angular. Amaya seems to like long and angular, she is kind enough to invite me to join them regularly.”
“Amaya is kind, despite her faux posturing. But I don’t think kind is why you’re a regular participant. She adores Chloe, part of her adoration is the long lanky you both embody. I imagine, when the fun’s done, she takes the middle and sleeps wrapped up in endless limbs.”
Danika smiles, “And no girl in her right mind would miss the opportunity to wrap up half of Amaya. Dear Chloe gets to wrap up the whole splendid girl most nights.”
“When they’re alone, Amaya does the wrapping, Chloe is the wrapped.”
Danika, “I’d say it explains Chloe’s perpetual joy, but that’s not it, is it?”
Janah, “No, I mean of course she loves Amaya’s attention. The reason she gets it is her perpetual joy, it infuses everyone. Amaya is with her the most, she’s the most infused. Amaya likes to play cynical and sassy, it keeps her sharp. And her imagination is unbounded, as a performance artist she can inhabit worlds and characters as if she is there, and she becomes those characters. Chloe keeps her sane.”

Twenty Four

Our pals, and new housemates, are here. Katya and Katja are in the office with Janah and me.
Katya, “We are most appreciative of your agreement to our joining you. New Orleans is disappearing, it will be nothing in a couple of decades at most. Too many powerful hurricanes in the last ten years for technology to keep up. If they manage by some miracle to hang on, I can only think it will be by moving the entire population north of Lake Pontchartrain.”
Janah, “Not just north as in Covington.”
“No, Hammond maybe. Everything south will be Gulf of Mexico. We got healthy prices for our properties, right now the people are in denial of the inevitable. Although the money doesn’t matter really.”
“No, we’re all stupid rich. It just keeps adding up. Janah keeps Nishiko busy finding property and building ranches for abused kids, we fund the entire operation and it doesn’t dent our net worth. A few years ago, we built homeless subdivisions. If the people take care of the property, they get it free after five years, our deals with the states grant property tax waivers for the first five years the residents own the property. There is always child care, schools and a clinic nearby, subsidized by us. So far the financial impact has been negligible. We dedicated two billion to the project. It’s been so successful we’re doubling our commitment. Other companies got on board, many of which have businesses there, others for the goodwill.”
Katja, “Do people take advantage? Trash the property, or just sell after they take ownership?”
Janah, “Some are lousy at maintenance. But today’s building materials don’t require the upkeep of wood frame or brick. The polymers are near indestructible and fireproof. We offer help, so do the neighbors. That usually fixes things. If it doesn’t, we evict. That is, find them shelter in a more communal place. Strangely, the ones less sane, not particularly violent, just mentally ill, get looked after by the neighbors. It has been quite gratifying.”
“And we are just getting to the stage where people are taking ownership, we don’t know about sales, but it is their property, free and clear, they can do as they wish.”
Katya, “We have mellowed as the years passed. Whatever proteins are keeping us young haven’t interfered with brain plasticity. Not that we are commonly sociable. Our relationship with your people has calmed us. We are less inclined to kill just to make money. I confess, it does not bother us when we do.”
“You are what you are, like Daria and Dasha. In any case, you have been helpful to us, and we have no issue with your predilections. Our hands are not free of spilled blood, we don’t presume to be holier than anyone.”
Amaya’s on the intercom, “Cocktail hour.”
Katya stands, “The children have prepared one of their plays I am told.”
We leave the office and head to poolside. Sheesh, it’s like a small theater out here. Eloise built a stage in manageable pieces that the Bs can roll out and click together. There are sometimes sets with furniture or props, not tonight. The children look like Greek actors, from the Virgil days at the end of the BCs. 
Nadia, Tasia and Valeska are playing the Erinyes, the Furies. The others have roles as Cronus, Uranus and Aphrodite. Uma and Zofia, the youngest, are Zycyryn, not of Greek Mythology. The play isn’t meant to be an exact representation of the myths. For instance, the Furies of mythology are described as having snakes for hair and other rather less appealing characteristics.
The general theme of the play is that Cronus, ruling Titan, who came to power by castrating his father Uranus and dropping his testicles into the sea. To ensure his safety, Cronus ate each of the children as they were born by his wife Rhea.. This worked until Rhea, understandably unhappy at the loss of her children, tricked Cronus into swallowing a rock, instead of Zeus. Best not to mess around with a woman and her children. When Zeus grew up, he revolted against Cronus and the other Titans, defeating them, and banishing them to the underworld.
The Greeks weren’t lacking in imagination.
The drops of genital blood became The Erinyes, the three Furies of retribution.
Alecto Unceasing (alêktos)
Megaera  Grudge (megairô)
Tisiphone Murder Retritution (tisis, phonos)
Their job is to punish the guilty. Reminds me of someone.
Aphrodite, played by Jesica, was born of the crests of sea foam, the Goddess of love, who wore a girdle that magically made everyone who gazes on her to fall in love, or under her spell at any rate. Amaya doesn’t need a magic girdle.
Amaya, “Bonus points for you Daphne.”
In this play, the Furies are transformed by the Zycyryn and become eternal symbols of peace and serenity.
Of course, all the players have speaking parts, I’m summarizing. The funniest not so funny part is when Cronus (Devona) neutered Uranus (Karol) and two tennis balls dropped and rolled into the pool, the sea substitute. 
The play lasts an hour, with a break to refresh cocktails in the middle. A standing ovation follows, with many Bravos! and curtain calls, despite the lack of a curtain.
Around the dinner table, tonight is pulled pork, garlic mashed, creamed corn and French bread, the discussion is about the play.
Ellen, “Did you write the play Amaya?”
“I added a bit of dialogue. Kota B taught the children the mythology from Hesiod and subsequently Virgil. The children discussed a modified version and framed out the plot, some of it directly from the original stories, and some of it from their experience with Zycyryn, the Gids as they call them.”
“So the Gids had a part in the production?”
“No, Gids were the inspiration, the children wrote the outline, then much of the dialogue, a few actual modified quotes from the original. I read the first version and made suggestions. One might say the play was written by Hesiod, Virgil and the children in mixed proportion, with edits by me.”
Sarah, “I doubt the original had much humor.”
“Hardly, unless you think cutting off genitals and torturing bad people in Hades is humorous…hold on…I forget to whom I am speaking.”
We laugh, torture is the kind of thing Sarah would find hilarious, she’s a psychopath after all.
Sarah, “Making a God a eunuch sounds delightful.”
I can’t judge, I’ve done it, well they were hardly Gods. If I ever stumble on a God with balls I’ll see what I can do.
“Dasha and Daria had a video call with the children today. When the house is nearer completion, we’re flying them out to work whatever magic they will on it and the grounds. I also spoke to Nikko today, the house is coming along, framed, all titanium, as will be the roofing shingles. No maintenance, no termites, no problems.”
It’s a Gothic Victorian mega-mansion complete with hidden hallways, a maze of connections, some of which lead nowhere. That was for the children, tunnels of adventure lit only with electric candles, however we can use them to go from one room to another. The trick is to remember the passageways, there are no signs wither for direction or individual rooms, you have to know your way around by exploring, there’s no map. The interior of the place is modern with electronics, kitchen appliances, laundry room and individual rooms. The common areas, mainly the vast living area and the library, are a blend of Gothic and old world hotel.
Mani, “What will the children do, magically speaking?”
Uma, “The Gids will fill the air, the plants and trees, all the spaces inside. Everyone will be protected.”
“Good to know, thank them for us.”
Su, “Janah, have you heard about the girl in Montana?”
“Yes, Dena has no living relatives, currently she’s a ward of the state and bound for foster care.”
“You cannot be okay with that. The things she endured.”
“Of course not. Amaya has agreed to become her ward.”
Danika claps, “How marvelous.”
Janah, “We have to assess her mental state. We thought about one of the ranches, but her case was a mix of sexual abuse and murder she committed while under the Shadow’s control. My contacts convinced the authorities, well, with no little coercion, to leave her alone. Alone in the sense of therapists and social workers. She’s been in hospital, but that ends tomorrow. Amaya and Chloe are flying to Billings to collect her.”
“Has she talked, asked about anything?”
“Hasn’t said a word.”
“And the state has no idea of Shadows.”
“No, none at all. They went with the drug story. Of course, no drugs were in her system, or in the other two children. There were no drugs administered, but the authorities don’t know that. They believe the drugs cleared their bodies before they were tested.”
“Won’t she recognize Janah and Daphne, or Chloe?”
“Highly improbable, we were disguised, Dena was out of it. Fact is, I may have to do a brain flush anyway, remove all memory of the events and replace them with other memories.”
“How do you decide what memories to use?”
“I only need to supply vague details, an outline, her brain will fill in particulars. The brain doesn’t like holes in the narrative, it helpfully supplies enough detail to make the story cohesive.”
Yes, we take a girl who was being mentally controlled and do a version of the same thing. The difference is, we aren’t going to sexually abuse her or make her slice up people. Qi energy is like any energy. Nuclear power can provide cheap electricity or it can wipe out civilization, depending on the intent of the person at the controls.

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