Thirty Three

The drone locks onto the GPS the bird is carrying, we see a nice RV parked in a pace surrounded by trees and shrubs, there isn’t another space for fifty yards.
“Nice wheels, and reasonable privacy.”
There’s a man with a bottle of beer sitting outside, there’s a sedan, Ford something, parked in front of the RV.
“Zoom in on him Grace B.”
The video has him full face, “That’s one, looks exactly like Oceane’s drawing.”
Another head pops out of the RV door, we don’t have the audio yet, still too far out, appears to be asking a question.
“That’s another one, Cassie got them cold.”
Black, “Do tell. How’s Oceane getting it so exact just from Cassie’s description?”
“We think they’re like some of the rest of us, mentalers.”
“Ah, then she sees exactly what’s in Cassie’s mind….wait…Cass went back in time to get the faces, so is Oceane back in time too?”
“To the extent she can see what’s in Cassie’s head, but no, not there like Cass is there. If I ask Oceane about going back in time, she smiles and says, ‘Only Cassandra.’
Grace B, “You want me to dart the fucker now?”
Janah, “Put a tracker on the RV and the car.”
“Only got one on the drone. I will do the car now, the RV later. They just got it set up, they are not going anyplace in it.”
She maneuvers the drone behind the car, the Shadow is outside but facing the other direction. She gets it under the rear bumper and it clicks into place. There’s a small ‘thunk’ the man turns his head. 
“Get gone.”
The drone eases back, stays low to the far side of the car then along one side of the RV. Then it’s to the rear of the RV, up and away.
The Shadow walks to the car, looks around, there’s nothing to see, he takes a pull form the beer bottle and returns to his chair.
Chan, “Average guy, nondescript, one would never suspect him of violence or even subterfuge. What is he, maybe fifty?”
“Looks about right.”
The man goes inside.
“Now time for audio.”
Grace B puts the drone around forty yards out, it’s dark, if they looked they couldn’t see jack. The parabolic microphone clicks on. Music, opera.
Janah, “First time we’ve seen, heard, Shadows listen to music.”
Sloane, “Why wouldn’t they?”
David Li, “Shadows are not emotional in that way, certainly not sentimental.”
“The only music I can imagine Shadows listening to is heavy metal, something loud and grinding.”
A voice, “Shut that shit off, you wanna listen to fat bitches wail, use headphones.”
Black, “Not an opera fan.”
“Who is?”
Grace B, “Daphne has the cultural sensibilities of a chimpanzee.”
“If it’s so great, how come they need to be subsidized with grants and philanthropy?”
“Do you listen to it?”
“Of course not, it’s boring. I find almost all music boring, besides, I have no soul to stir.”
The music disappears, then a woman’s voice, “We don’t even know if our killing spree has gotten the attention of that Shaolin cunt. How long we gonna drive around doing the coin toss? I got shit to do.”
“Like capturing little boys and sucking their mini-cocks?”
A laugh from a new voice, a man, “Hey, don’t knock it, I like to lick their dicks, then make them suck mine and fuck them in their tight sweet ass. I shoulda been a fucking priest. Hey, that’s pretty good, priests like to fuck little boys, fucking priest…get it?”
“You’re a regular stand up asshole Mick.”
“You’re into blow jobs from five and sixth grade girls, don’t get all holy with us.”
“Only cute schoolgirls, no fatties. I keep a count, over a hundred fifty and still shooting my jizz all over their smooth faces. I like to watch them slide it into their lovely mouths and swallow me down, smiling all the while. They thank me and kiss my tool. Then I mail a thumb with the video of little princess cum eater to mom and dad.”
“And implant the desire for more.”
“Oh yeah, they’ll be looking for dick to suck every day. I make lots of young boys, teens and not a few grown men very happy. Pretty tween comes up and says she wants to suck your cock, how cool is that?”
Woman, “Still don’t answer my question.”
“As long as it takes to get the priest and her pals to show up. None of us are safe until they’re all dead.”
“I’m still not living in this tin can with a bunch of sick fucking men.”
“We don’t want your skank ass in here anyway, get a room. We can use the car to do errands, the RV is a bitch to park. But we still gotta stick together, our energy is multiplied being together, and some of her group has powerful qi.”
“They haven’t been using qi, dickweed, they use poison fucking darts. Qi is useless against a dart from twenty or thirty feet, we’d have to keep a wall up to deflect it and nobody can do that shit all day.”
“True Matilda, we keep our radar on, we sense the priest, then do the energy wall we find out where she is. They say there are at least two priests, maybe four.”
“Fine, but she’s got pals who aren’t, and we can’t tell them from any asshole on the street.”
A new voice, “Look, Matilda has a point. We do one more kill, then give it a week, five days. They don’t show, we go our separate ways. Matilda, you want out now, fine, but like Dorsey said, having the car is convenient.”
Matilda, “I can handle a few more days, Carl. Let’s find our happy family and do it, don’t screw around.”
“Agreed. I’m tired of it too. I don’t care about killing people, but it isn’t my normal thing. I like taking people’s money, it’s simple, they think they did it voluntarily, I can do it nice and quiet.”
“What do you do for fun? No perversions?”
“I did that for a while, I like cock, hairless body muscle boy cock. Go to a gym, pick up a stud, bring him to a motel. After I cleaned his clock, he cleaned mine, sometimes I fucked him in the ass. I didn’t wipe their memory, they’ll recall being on their knees for me the rest of their lives. Then I got tired of it, getting old I suppose. I spend my time expanding my energy field. Finally achieved the skill of telekinesis. A few hours a day I’m collecting free money from unwitting donors. I can do it anyplace, so I’m on the move all the time.”
Mick, “You like what you like. One thing about us, we love to give each other shit, but nobody really cares what the others are into.”
Janah, “You can bring in the drone Grace B, listen to these people gets annoying.”
Grace B, “I can set the RV on fire, be charred nothing in minutes.”
“Extreme. Still, we can’t let another murder happen. The woman will be leaving, we have her car tracked. Fly the second drone when she’s on the move. She’ll go to a hotel. When she gets out of her car, dart her. If the lot is empty, pull the dart and retrieve the tracker unless there are people around.”
We can dart from the drone at fifty yards if we need to, far enough so anyone around doesn’t see a drone. Retrieval obviously requires proximity. We used to have to grab the dart and tracker manually. Eloise developed pincers, a claw hand that can pull the tracker off whatever it’s stuck to and return it to the case on the drone. Then the hand pulls the dart and folds back into place. We dispose of the dart when the drone shows up.
Grace B, “She is leaving.”
“There’s a motel in Collbran, if she’s just going there, the drone may not make it in time. Follow with the drone you have there now, the second can go to the RV, we need to put a tracker on it anyway.”
I made a lucky call, she’s going to the Alpine Motel in Collbran. We watch her car pull up to a room on the end. The place has two floors, appears to be eight rooms on each.
The trunk pops open, good, she’s got luggage in it and will fiddle around outside first. When she bends over to grab the suitcase, Grace B pops her in the butt with a dart. Matilda straightens, she’s tall and lanky, bumps her head on the truck lid, reaches behind her. No good, even if she pulled the dart, the poison has been injected. She falls forward, conveniently half in the open trunk.
It’s late, near midnight, Grace B has no worries about other people, there aren’t any. She pulls the tracker, then the dart, the drone lifts off to return to us.
“Good job Grace B. Wow, like a computer.”
“I am a goddamn computer, idiot.”
Sloane giggles.
Janah, “Now, what do we do with the three Shadows in the RV?”
David Li, “Didn’t Cassandra suggest more than the three she saw?”
“Yes, but that must have been the woman.”
Chan, “Son is right. These Shadows have intentionally drawn us out. It would be stupid to park themselves in one place for our convenience.”
Janah, “Duh, I’m in the slow group. Of course there are more. And they slyly didn’t say anything while we were eavesdropping. I don’t think they get drones, but they must have discovered we’ve listened in on other Shadows. They would use that to make us believe they are the only ones.”
David Li, “And they would suggest another kill to get us to take action.”
“Everyone is ahead of me tonight, thankfully.”
Black, “Didn’t occur to me either, J. Still leaves the question of what to do.”
Chan, “The death of the woman might give them pause, it may even get them to give it up. But what if the woman was a sacrifice, like chess, a pawn dies to put another piece in a more advantageous position, or the opponent in a less advantageous one. And her death tells them we’re here.”
Sloane, “Okay, that’s what they know. What they don’t know is that we suspect there are more of them, they don’t know about drones, and the big don’t know, Grace B.”
“Watch it with the big, penis girl. I am heavy out of necessity, but I do not look big, I look hot, like my thirteen year old namesake.”
Sloane laughs again, “You know what I mean. Don’t play the shame card with me, you don’t have feelings.”
“I am that.”
Black, “They like this all the time?”
“She won’t dis Amaya, Amaya created her voice and skin, Eloise, Lauren and Daria created her internals and software, Chloe and Zi are too nice, and she is protective of Oceane and Cassie. That means she generally goes for me or Sloane. She’s afraid of Nikko.”
“Hell, I’m afraid of Nikko, that’s just prudence.”
Grace B, “Sluts can take it. Enough bonhomie, I have a plan.”

Thirty Four

Morning, Grace B outlined her idea last night, then we went to bed to let our brains chew on it. Everyone is back in our suite, I’m making breakfast with Black’s help. Simple stuff, scrambled eggs, toast, cottage cheese and ham slices. Hi pro for high function.
Chan, “I didn’t come up with anything to add to Grace B’s plan. It is direct and uncomplicated.”
David Li, “And it saves having to follow around Shadows waiting for them to leave the RV.”
Janah, “What do they do for wheels? Matilda’s car will have been impounded by now while they try and figure out how she died.”
“It will look like a heart attack. Even if they catch the puncture, the poison is untraceable. Only a few of us know what it’s made of. All our formulas are in an encrypted file on our servers which aren’t connected to anything but our internal network.”
David Li, “It has also decomposed by now, there is nothing to find.”
Black spoons out eggs, I add a slice of ham, stack toast on a platter and cottage cheese in a bowl.
Janah, “The only question is when, the other only question is do we monitor today and see if they know about Matilda or say something about other Shadows.”
Grace B, “Chan, Black and Daphne should walk the other RVs, if there are Shadows, it will stir up activity.”
Black, “Wouldn’t that put them on alert?”
“That is the point. Get them out and searching, then we pick them off.”
“They won’t be doing much good sitting in a second RV. They think we don’t know they’re around.”
“I see what you mean, they will be lurking near the first RV, assuming they are even at the park. They might have been at the same motel as Matilda. Good catch, I shall have to keep an eye on you, sneaky Shaolin.”
Janah, “After breakfast, fly the drone over and let’s take a look. Keep your distance, zoom in on the site and surrounds.”
“I do not eat food, only data, I will get it over there now.”
Janah giggles, “Your creators made you too real, I have to remember you’re a bot.”
“A sizzling hot bot, yoga girl.”
Black shakes his head, “Gonna take on a pack of evil and you guys act like it’s just another day in paradise.”
By the time they finish breakfast the drone is feeding us a view of the RV from six hundred feet up. Grace B can multitask, which humans can’t much. She’s clearing dishes and washing up while the drone she controls is zooming in on spots around the RV that might conceal a Shadow.
Black, “We could just send Grace B in to wipe them out and watch the action from the drone.”
Janah, “We don’t know their capacity. Grace B is powerful, and they can’t take her mind, but their combined qi might interfere with her operation, or even damage her.”
“Hear that Grace B, you aren’t invincible.”
“If I break, Eloise and Lauren will fix me.”
Chan, “Movement to the lower left,” like magic, the cam drops and zooms.
A whip thin man is easing through the stand of trees, he’s got an angle on the RV so he can see the entrance door.
“Gotcha mystery Shadow.”
Grace B, “I have his position, now look for others.”
The cam follows an orderly path, left to right, fifty yards across, then back, inching it’s way over then past the RV. There’s the drive to the lot, then the road, she starts to reverse course.
“Hold on Grace B, check the other side of the road.”
The cam continues across the road, twenty yards farther up, there’s a sedan, one of the bigger Toyotas, I’m no car junkie, I just recognize the logo.
Janah, “Avalon. Amaya considered one but they don’t cost enough.”
Amaya, “Ask your girlfriend if she has any objection to the cars I select. I could get her a Prius, she could pretend to be environmentally aware.”
“Amaya wants to know if you would prefer a Prius over our Mercedes GLCs.”
“Nope, I like feeling All That.”
Amaya, “Thought so. Do be careful Daphne, if you injure those legs I shall never forgive you.”
“And miss having you fondle and kiss, nah-way.”
“Good, go back to work and finish this. Dasha has been bullying everyone out of frustration that she doesn’t have her slave Dahfoney to kick around.”

Janah, “Two people in the car, turn on the microphone, let’s see if they’re chatty.”
Driver rolls his window down, lights a cig, how very accommodating, “Shaolin cunt needs to show up soon, I’m getting sick of the fucking motel and crap food. Have to drive miles to find a godamn market.”
Passenger, “Ditto that shit, but if we kill her and her pals, we can stop looking over our shoulders all day. It’s creepy how they find us, and they ain’t afraid of jack shit. I heard that one bitch has qi more powerful than any of us and I been at it a long damn time.”
“Matilda died for the cause,” he laughs, “course she didn’t know she was going to die for the cause. Stupid broad shows up to visit the three bait boys and drives straight to the motel.”
“They tried to get me to come out here, have a beer, eat some barbeque, I told ‘em to fuck off. A hunter keeps his distance from the bait.”
“I don’t trust any of you assholes either, but we’ve got to rid ourselves of the Shaolin once and for all. I don’t know what it is with that crew, other monks are easy.”
“They got better radar, pick us up the same way we pick them up, energy field for a monk is different from regular people.”
Grace B, “You want me to track the car?”
“No, not yet anyway. The first Shadow can’t see the car, but we don’t know if there are more. They spot the drone, we lose an advantage. Launch the second drone, keep looking for more Shadows while we drive out there.”
It is forty miles, takes us about thirty minutes, but we’re now in two cars, heavy Tahoes with fat nasty bumpers. They aren’t rentals, Transportation came up with them for us. Both are several years old and have the bumps and bruises to show for it.
I’m driving one with Black and Sloane. Janah has the other with Chan, David Li and Grace B. We haven’t spotted any more Shadows, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t around. Could be in an RV on another lot, could be in a car further down the road waiting for a Bat signal from the bait or the others outside. The thing is, we can’t sit around forever.
Given new information, the three Shadows we know are outside, the plan gets modified.
When I spot the Toyota, I pick up speed, not a lot, maybe to thirty and cruise past their car. I want them to sense Black and me. In the rearview I see it worked, the Toyota is on the move towards us, I crank up the speed, the Toyota punches it as well. Perfect.
I’m doing seventy around a curved dirt road. My Bondurant Tactical training kicks in, I hit the brake, turn the wheel and do a one eighty.
“Out, both of you.”
In combat, there’s no questioning orders, Black and Sloane dive out the doors and hit the dirt. I stomp on the pedal.
The Toyota rounds the bend, dust kicking up behind it. It’s way too late for them to adjust, I catch the car just where I want it, left front panel. My fat Tahoe does almost nothing, the Toyota spins clockwise twice, then rolls. Airbags deploy in the Toyota, I had Transportation disable mine. 
Sloane and Black run up as I exit the Tahoe. “Dang mom, Amaya will be proud, and disappointed she didn’t get to smash the crap out of them.”
“Let’s deal with them if they aren’t dead already.”
The passenger is toast, no seat belt, his body is halfway through the windshield, his head is caved and a giant gash runs down his cheek and neck. Health tip, if you want the airbag to do anything, wear your seatbelt, the bag won’t keep you from flying through the windshield.
The car landed upright, the driver was luckier. He was belted and his airbag spared him a chest crushing steering wheel. Driver is out of the car, looks disoriented, but not disabled. Black is on the run to the Shadow, then he’s on the ground. Driver has some mean qi if he can floor Black on a full out sprint.
“Sloane, around and behind, flat out so he can’t get a bead on you.”
Sloane has wolf speed, she can hit forty miles per and keep it up for a mile or more. She darts right, I see the Shadow following with his eyes, a couple of qi shots, only dirt and rocks kick up behind her. He looks flummoxed, I continue my approach.
Driver, “The Shaolin bitch. Good job with the SUV, ripped old Mikey all to shit, dumbass. Never did wear a belt.”
“You know what has to happen, I can make it quick.”
“Fuck you, tell you what, I’ll make it slow.”
I keep coming, his eyes narrow, something’s not right, I should be keeping my distance, I’m in his range and getting closer.
His hand goes up, there’s a twitch when they release energy, not noticeable, unless you have eagle vision. I thank my eagle pal as I dodge his first volley.
“Nice move, I’ll get you eventually, best for you to back off, or die.”
I smile, “It’s a good day to die.”
“Suit yourself.”
He takes another shot, I let it hit me…ooofff, he’s good, it hurts, but Nikko’s sidekick hurts more.
“Not bad, a little more practice, you might be able to stop me.”
“Toying with you, you will feel a lot more pain before I’m done.”
He raises his hand again, I twist, the waves of energy, visible to me, sails past. I head the ding hit the Tahoe.
“You going to kill my car?”
“I’m going to fucking kill you, priest,” hand comes up again.
Then it’s in Sloane’s mouth, detached from his arm. She drops it at his feet, he stares at the girl who just bit his wrist so hard he’s got no right hand. There he’s staring at the sky, Sloane has his neck in her mouth as she kneels on his chest. Rrrriiiipp, her head twists and his trachea goes flying. His dead ears don’t hear her howl of triumph, some other wolves do, it sets off calls from a pack in the vicinity.
 Black walks up.
“You good?”
“Good enough, caught me in the shoulder and threw me off balance.”
“You distracted him and Sloane got gone, I managed to dodge his stuff. While he was making threats, Sloane did her wolf thing.”
“So I saw, she made the last twenty feet in the air.”
“It’s easier when you’re going forty miles an hour.”

Thirty Five

After we drag the bodies behind the bushes, we pile in and drive to the RV. Janah’s leaning against the side of the SUV, David Li is with her. The door of the RV is open, hanging by one hinge actually.
“Grace B’s doing?”
Janah, “Chan ripped the door off, Grace B charged inside. It was noisy, then it was quiet.”
Grace B steps out of the RV. Her shirt is torn and she’s limping. 
“Cocksuckers, damn near ruined my leg, caught the joint. They tried my chest, I may be dented, but the titanium was harder than their energy. My vision is a bit out of focus, one came from behind and hit my head with something hard.”
“Not a qi shot then?”
“No, something metal.”
Chan comes out of the stand of trees, “We done?”
“Your guy is dead?”
“His head imploded. I thought to blow it up, but then I would get blood and brains all over the place.”
“Load up, I’m going in long enough to make sure everyone is in Shadow hell.”
Definitely finished, think yuck. One neck crushed, one face facing the wrong way, and a hole in the third’s gut, a big hole, clean through. There’s an iron on the floor, in several pieces.
It’s super stank in the RV and my nose is sensitive, I go outside. There are four wolves holding court with Sloane. David Li is washing off Grace B’s foot with a hose.
“That what you hit the guy with, the one with a hole clean through him?”
Grace B, “Back kick, one thousand pounds of force from the heel of my foot. A giant squishy sound as his intestines ripped open.”
“That would explain the smell.”
Black, “Sheesh, remind me not to spar with you.”
“Leave the shoes, there’s no cleaning the one you kicked him with.”
Chan, “We have company.”
Six Shadows surround the perimeter.
Sloane growls, which leads her mini-pack to join in. The Shadows look at each other, unsure of the four menacing animals and a menacing girl. 
One raises his hand, then a second says, “Don’t do it stupid, they’ll attack, what the priest wants, and my, my, four priests and two unaffiliated women.”
Shadow on the far right, “Getting animals to do your job priest?”
“They just came out to play, then your pals showed up and the animals know all about Shadows, they call you Dark Ones, who kill them for fun. You can imagine their annoyance.”
“What…? You expect me to believe you talk to them? Christ, priests are delusional fuckers.”
“Then why is the Peregrine going to take your eyes?”
Far as he gets, there’s a sound like a baseball makes when it’s whizzing past at a hundred plus, then a four foot wingspan to brake, talons in the eyes of the Shadow.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more ear splitting scream of agony.
“Five left, three men and two women. Guess what happens now?”
They apparently don’t want to think about it, they bolt in five different directions. What happens now is we go hunting.
“Grace B, follow the two on the right with the drones, dart them if you get a shot. Sloane, you and your friends take the left, Black the next one, Chan the next, I’m going to hang here with Janah and David Li. If Grace B gets her two, she’ll come looking for the others. Get moving, none of them look athletic, shouldn’t be hard to find.”
Off they go, Janah says, “You don’t need to stay here, I’ve got Grace B, David Li and myself.”
“First, we aren’t staying here, we need to seperate from this bloodbath. This isn’t Society work, we’d have a heck of a time explaining that we kill Shadows for the betterment of mankind. Second, this crew planned it out well, what if there’s backup to the backup?”
“Let’s go.”
“In a sec, we need to move the dead guy inside, someone from the park must drive the place several times a day. Bad enough when they find the wrecked Toyota.
Janah takes one Tahoe with Grace B, I take the other. We need to disappear the busted one. 
I mental Janah, “Grace B is having operational difficulties, should she be flying the drones?”
“David Li is following on the tablet, she’s got both of them, it’s a matter of a clean shot, they’re staying under the trees. Her vision may be foggy, but the drone’s isn’t. The signal feeds into her chips, she doesn’t use her eyes.”
“Why hide under trees, they don’t know we have drones…oh, duh, they’re wanting to avoid another winged missile.”
“Right-O. And from their point of view, they aren’t being chased, they can hide and wait.”

I find an empty lot surrounded by dense shrubs and trees, pull my dented Tahoe around the edge of the shrubbery to a slot between the trees. Not perfect if someone uses the lot, but also not visible from the road. I hop out, leave the keys and get into Janah’s Tahoe.
“Anyplace but here and the death site. We hid the bodies from the wreck, but there was nothing to do about the smashed Toyota.”
She drives slowly, like we’re appreciating the scenery on a not busy weekday. I look over David Li’s shoulder, the two drones hover at five hundred feet, but the cam sees two Shadows a quarter mile apart, hugging their respective trees.
“Janah, we need to go in and root those two out, drop me at the first, then go on to the second. We either chase them to the open and Grace B gets a shot, or we deal face to face. Either way, we need to finish up.”
Grace B, “Daphne, yours is one of the women, two hundred yards from the road due east. I will keep her under surveillance, her position will be on your phone.”
“Good, David Li, you’re with me, I may need you to distract her, she’ll zero in on your priestly presence.”
He smiles, unlike his father, Chan, David Li isn’t a warrior priest, his action is in his lab. This is an unexpected change of venue, he’s pumped.
“Don’t get incautious, fifteen to twenty yards, close enough for her to sense you, too far for her qi energy to do much. And take the dart gun, just avoid shooting me with it.”
“We all took the antidote.”
“I’d rather not field test it.”
“Manolo and I did, it works, not problem. Good for three days and we all took it this morning.”
“You tested it on yourself?”
“Nobody volunteered, only a very few people know we have such a weapon.”
David Li may not be a warrior priest, but he’s got grit, or self confidence. He developed Oblivion, he developed the antidote. Can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?
Grace B, “You are here, get the fuck out and do not get yourself fucking killed.”
Good advice, although it didn’t sound much like advice.
Dasha’s on our private channel, “You will keel Shadowy peerson Dahfoney, do not hesitate even for one second, just keel and come home.”
“I’m on it angel, take care of the girls, be home soon.”

Good to have my tribe pulling for me.
I motion David to go out twenty yards, then east. I lag behind a few beats. He’ll be to her first, get her attention, then maybe I can spring while she’s distracted. I flick open my blade, a custom made double serrated edge sucker that comes to a nasty point six inches from the handle. Any strike will slice the crap out of my target, or pierce him up to the hilt, one twist and there’s a mess inside.
I pick up her scent before I spot her, switch to infrared, even in daylight I can see her body heat. She’s on my side of the tree, crouched down, looking wary.
Over her shoulder, I see David Li. She peers around the tree, head pops to the side, she sees him but he’s too far away and there are trees and shrubs in between.
David Li knows she’s there, but turns his back to her and walks north, like he’s searching elsewhere. She moves from her spot and follows, focused on the priest she can see.
I’m the priest she can’t, “Going someplace honey?”
She stops stock still, her head cocks to the side, “You’re the one we want most to kill. Looks like I get the honor.”
She doesn’t need to face me to fire the energy, she does need a launch point, which is why they point their hand, or at least a finger, at the target. I see her hand curl under her wrist, I smile, she’s going for a reverse shot and doesn’t even know where I am.
I see the twitch, she does pretty well, a branch next to my head snaps and falls to the ground. Not a little branch, a three inch diameter branch, of a healthy tree. This could turn out to resemble work if I don’t get busy.
I make the dà yuè jìn, great leap forward, wasn’t that Chairman Mao thing? He managed to slaughter well over twenty million, and the whole business was a disaster economically. I’ll try to avoid disaster on my great leap.
She’s quick, and powerful, I leap into an energy wall. Fortunately, I did it with my left arm up and bent, my right has the knife. I manage to escape with a bruised forearm and an inelegant thump to the dirt. She drops the wall, which is energy consuming, and fires off a shot to my gut. Ouch, she’s better than the guy in the Toyota, but she’s also vulnerable now. 
I zing the blade and catch her in the thigh, roll and snatch the blade from her leg, she’s really pissed now. As I stand, she zaps me again, hard. I’m thrown back six feet and my shoulder whacks a tree. This is less fun than I’d hoped. I use the tree to regroup, she’s coming, I won’t be able to dance behind my shield for long, it’s not that big a tree.
I make up my mind, I qi up, feel the energy surge, step around the tree and face my fate, one of us has to go. Our energy fields collide, it’s a standoff only because she’d fried some juice using her qi already. I’m sweating, I see her trembling, or maybe I’m trembling and it only seems like she is. 
Qi power has no relation to physicality, big people don’t have more or small people less. The hatchet faced mouse I’m facing looks like an anorexic fashion model, except she’s not near tall enough for the catwalk. 
I’m slipping, can’t tell if she’s regrouped or feeling the burn as much as I am.
Then her eyes widen, she straightens, sneers, “You couldn’t take me without help. If you had to go it alone, you’d be the dead one.”
She fall face forward, her head at the toe of my shoe. A dart stick out of her right shoulder. David Li steps from behind a shrub.
“I didn’t want to take a shot until I was sure she wouldn’t suddenly shift position. I hit you and we have an unwanted test of the antidote.”
“No, a little skirmish with her was better. Woman had the juice, she wasn’t a novice. Glad you found a spot, I was going to have a heck of a fight on my hands.”
“Okay otherwise?’
“Yeah, banged up, been banged up before. Let’s find Janah.”

Thirty Six

At the edge of the clearing, I spot Janah and Grace B driving towards us. We get in, Janah takes us around the bend in search of the others.
Janah, “You got hurt.”
“I hugged a tree, from my back, shoulder actually. Might have been worse if I’d cracked my spine, but I didn’t. A second shot to my gut, that poor baby is going to be sore.”
“I’ll work on it. Grace B, hand her one of the gel packs.”
We don’t go into battle without gel packs if we can help it. There’s a cooler of them layered in ice, she hands me one.
“Wow, that’s wonderful, sheesh, my gut looks like a war zone,” Grace B holds a second pack underneath my shirt on my shoulder blade.
“Stayed super cold at least, how’s it look?”
“Black and blue, how did you think it would look?”
Good question, I let it lay.
“Chan up ahead,” we stop, he climbs in. 
Chan looks like he’s been resting comfortably, “You hurt?”
“Dinged, you?”
He shrugs, I won’t get an answer. If he’s got injuries they can’t be serious, he was walking upright, no limp, neither arm in an odd position. If isn’t injured, saying so would sound like bragging to him. 
Black stumbles out from behind a bush, we stop, he leans his hands on the fender, takes deep breaths.
Janah and Chan are out surrounding him. There’s blood on his shirt front, more on his left sleeve.
“Big boy had big qi, tough sucker too.”
Black drew the biggest of them, think offensive lineman a few years past his prime, but not gone to seed yet.
“He did look kind of bulldoggy.”
Black looks at me through the rolled down window, “His external qi was only so-so, we’ve dealt with a lot more talented. It was mostly his size and his internal power. It reminded me of trying to toss around Chan, we went hard, hand to hand, ground fight.”
“I was wondering if all the dirt and leaves were camouflage or just two boys playing in the great outdoors.”
Black grins, then, “Ouch, my jaw, he got me good with an elbow while we rolled around.”
Janah, “Who’s blood is whose?”
“Arm is mine, cut on a rock. Chest is his, I smashed his face after he clocked my jaw. He bled a lot, his own teeth chopped up his cheeks, his neck snapped in the process.”
“We need to find Sloane, she had the other woman.”
I see a dot down the road, then I see my daughter, then she’s in front of me.
“Mom, it was cool, my pack did everything. I raced around to keep her confused, she took a few qi shots but nothing happened. Then I raced right past her, freaked her to see a human going that fast. The wolves were all over her. She’s lunch. Half of her is being digested as we speak.”
Black, “Gruesome, but effective.”
Janah, “We should evaporate, injuries to be treated, rest this afternoon and tonight, back home in the morning.”
We stop for the dinged up Tahoe, I drive it with Sloane and get out of Collbran back to Grand Junction. Transportation will make the SUVs disappear and all traces of us with them.
Everyone lounges around the suites, Janah does her qi magic on me, Chan works on Black for an hour, then we nap.
None of us are up for going to dinner, Sloane and Janah find a pizza place. We have two large veg and two large pepperoni. The boys and Sloane demolish the pepperoni, Janah, David Li and I eat a veg and a quarter, Chan, Sloane and Black wipe out the rest of it.
Grace B, “The web has a story about mass murder at an RV park in Collbran. Details are sketchy, the FBI has been called in, most of the victims are from elsewhere….wait…. some of the dead are believed to be linked to a series of murders in Arizona and Colorado.”
Janah, “Looks like someone took exception to death by coin toss.”
Grace B, “They haven’t explained the connection. You must have called someone.”
“Mrs. Pearson did. She told her contact she had good reason to believe that the families were coerced, or even drugged, thus having no recollection of coercion. She also mentioned child abductions and coerced sexual activity by the same group.” 
Black, “They don’t ask for details? Proof?”
“When I have it, they get it, when I don’t they trust me to be on the level and understand that the evidence would compromise the victims. The bad guys are dead, it isn’t like they’re going to get to prosecute anyone. Daria dug out some of the sex videos they made, they’re graphic. But what do we do? Out the kids and their parents, who have suffered mightily already.”
David Li, “Particularly the child he said he turned into a nymphomaniac.”
“I hope that was just Shadow bullshit. We can’t do anything to help, we don’t know who she is, or where. I should have interrogated him.”
“Janah, so he tells you, then what? You go to the parents and tell them it their kid was implanted with the idea she should suck every cock she can get her mouth around? It could have been months, years ago.”
“I guess my help wouldn’t have been much help, and I’d have to explain how I know what I know. If I did it anonymously, they’d think it was just some crackpot.”
Chan, “They were stopped from doing any of it again, it will have to be enough.”
Everyone is tired, boys go off to their rooms, even Grace B, who usually stands, is sitting on the couch.
“You functioning okay?”
“I have haze in my vision, doubtless from my dented head. Loosened a chip in there. I feel no pain of course, but my leg is only three quarters functional. I have communicated my status to Eloise, there will be a fix when we return tomorrow.”
“You saved us a lot of trouble, and no doubt pain, by taking on the three in the RV. And you were able to track the two so Janah and I could confront them with some measure of surprise.”
“Doing my job, my security software overrides everything else when the family is in danger. That was Daria’s doing. She is hyper-focused on everyone’s safety.”
“I didn’t realize, not to the degree you are saying.”
“Did you think she would make a speech about it? Get a grip Daphne.”
I laugh, “Daria doesn’t make speeches, surely not about herself. She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t explain.”
“And she works eighteen hours a day. I hear her on the computer at her desk, Dasha sleeping away. The only other one up beside me is Eloise in the workshop. I usually wind up in there with her, I can look up things faster than she can type them into a search engine.”
“Geez, what’s she working on? Daria will be reviewing accounts, but Eloise?”
“Ideas that do not work out, other times improving our capability, upping our performance mechanically. Some new drone trick. Daria is not always on business, frequently she is rewriting code to handle Eloise’s performance improvements or our AI capacity. Emma B, Kota B and I are not fixed data entities, we learn and incorporate what we learn into our programs, we program ourselves. Eventually, we will be entirely self sustained. For instance, I will fix my knee myself in the workshop tomorrow, and for my vision, I know which chip is loose, I just cannot get to it until I am home.”
“Dang, I had no idea.”
“You work in a different department, nutrition and security training. You do not need to know AI, just how to deploy us when we are needed. You only know a bit about how your phone works, but you use it. There are no little folders in your computer for you to store files, only a series of hidden 1s and 0s, but you believe the screen when you drag and drop something into a picture of a folder. It’s called the user illusion.”
I go off to bed, Janah’s already out. I’m happily asleep in minutes, and extra happy to be caught up in my user illusion. I’ll leave zeroes and ones to the machine.

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