Chapter Forty Five
Janah turns her attention to Nikko, the cut in her shoulder is not as clean as my knife wound, but not too deep. Janah decides to suture her as well. She Lidocaines her again, sutures, Amaya rebandages the cut. Janah does the tour of Nikko’s body, lots of knots and bruises, a gel pack on her eye since we’d left the farm. Amaya ices up the rest, cleans and Dermabonds the cut on her forehead.
The two girls are asleep, Ashley is sleeping off her energy burst, that level of qi, as we’ve experienced, is exhausting. Annie has no skill, Janah put her to sleep on the way. Depending on when Ashley starts to stir, Janah will either give her a sedative or let her wake up. The determining factor is what shape Nikko and I are in. If we’re reasonably mobile, Ashley gets to wake up.
Nothing to do but let time pass. Nikko, Janah and I sleep, Amaya and Zi keep watch. Nothing happens for six hours, then Ashley is moving. She’s tied, still mentally dangerous.
Amaya wakes Janah. Janah goes to the bathroom, then leads the girl to relieve herself. She gives her qi a go, Janah squashes that, she relents, does the necessity and Janah leads her back to the cot. I’m awake now, and watch as Amaya sticks a load of Phenobarbital in Ashley’s vein, she’s out in a few minutes and won’t be in for six or eight hours.
Janah, “Let me check the wound.”
Amaya pulls off the bandages, the thing is puffy, not infected. Amaya reapplies antibiotic cream and a fresh bandage. The area feels tight, it’s not that painful, after all, I got branded with white hot coals on both forearms. Nothing since has been quite so exquisitely horrid.
I qi myself, with Amaya’s help the wound is super cold, “Go help Janah with Nikko. Janah’s still not full on after last night, you’re going to have to carry the load for now.”
Amaya kisses me, “You kept your promise.”
I stroke her perfect face, she kisses my fingers, goes to Nikko.
Nikko is a bunch of small messes. Amaya works the cut, then the cut on her forehead, Nikko’s eye is a soft yellow, healing quickly. Another gel pack on her less swollen jaw, abs and the twisted ankle.
“How did you twist your ankle?”
Nikko, “I didn’t, the girl did, with her mind. She’s not a novice.”
“Macmillan must have been training her since she was a small child. I wonder how bad her mind is?”
“She thinks her father is her husband, that’s pretty confused. Is Janah going to try and retrofit her?”
“Hasn’t made up her mind yet. Even though she’s fifteen, we can’t let a Shadow with her capacity loose in the world. Janah’s going to surf her brain when she’s awake.”
Nikko, “We made the mistake once before, it nearly cost Manolo his life.”
“Therein lies the problem. For now, we have to get healed up. Ashley will be asleep for several more hours, we need to rest, I’m still feeling drained.”
“Hai. I want more sleep.”
I go to meditation mode, not asleep but in rest. Amaya and Zi sleep, Janah joins me. We sit in silence, no mentaling, no planning. There is nothing to do until we’re functional. We aren’t going to be bothered, there are Minders near. Nobody is getting close to the place.
It starts to rain, a steady drizzle that sounds soothing on the roof, thunder at a distance. Janah and I get up, I want to move a little, loosen up. I have coffee from the thermos, still warm, Janah drinks a couple of mugs of tea, we eat a sandwich and granola. My left shoulder is out of commission for a few more days, everything else is a twitch or a tenderness, nothing more.
“Ready to take on the girl?”
Janah, “Yep. When she wakes up, I look inside, ask questions, she’ll need sodium pentothal at first, I need her compliant.”
“If she stays two more hours, Amaya and Zi will be rested. The young one, Annie, needs to wake up.”
Janah, “I’ll do it, let’s see where she’s coming from while the sister is out.”
“Why don’t we let Zi have a shot. A Sensitive may comfort her, and we don’t need Zi for Ashley. She can deal with the girl in the room on the other side of the bathroom, away from this.”
We let everyone rest another hour, then the wake up call. After they have a chance to refresh and reorient, Zi takes the child to the bathroom and starts to gently clean her up.
Annie puts up resistance, not much, Zi floods her with affection, the girl settles down, folds into Zi’s arms and weeps. She doesn’t ask about her father or her sister.
Nikko brings food, water, Annie eats silently, then out of the blue, “I don’t know who I am.”
Chapter Forty Six
Zi relays Annie’s status, “The child says she doesn’t know who she is.”
Janah, “Explore it. The girl may be screwing around, pretending, confabulating. If she really is that confused, it might be the best thing.”
Zi returns to the room, “What is your name?”
“I am called child.”
“Did you ever have another name?”
“A long time ago, they called me Annie. My owners don’t call me anything but child.”
“The man. He is married to Missus. I am the property of the man and Missus. But I still don’t know who I am. You stole me from my owners, they will be angry, and they will beat me for getting taken. The man, Master he is called, can beat me without touching me. Missus beats me most though.”
“I am telling you, from now on, no one will own you, nor will anyone ever beat you again.”
Annie, “How can you do that?”
Zi nods to Nikko leaning on the doorjamb, “This woman and her companion defeated the man and Missus last night. You will never see them again.”
“How can I live? I don’t know nothing, I got nothing, where will I go?”
“Let’s talk of other things. I promise, you will be cared for, never owned.”
Annie looks into Zi’s eyes, there is suspicion, but the child in her recognizes compassion, barely, but it’s there. Good enough.
Zi asks her about food she likes, how she spent her days, what she likes to do. There is no like. She spent her days cleaning, cooking the last couple of years, doing endless farm work. When outsiders came around, she is confined to the house, sometimes for long periods. Basically imprisoned child labor. The Missus learned to read and write, do basic math, Annie knows how to read well enough to follow directions on a box, she knows about fractions, a quarter cup of this, half of that, quarts and gallons. She’d watched the man fix things and, having no other distractions, she learned about machines. An ugly life, not entirely wasted, still, she could have learned all that without servitude and abuse.
While Zi and Annie explore, Amaya begins to wake Ashley. She’s tied in our familiar way, plain chair, this one metal. Her wrists are bound with picture wire to the metal arms of the chair, her ankles to the legs. She can sit quietly or slice herself up struggling.
Her eyes blink open, hard eyes look around, “Murderers. I will avenge my husband, you do not know what you have done.”
Janah, “We know exactly what we’ve done, and your continued existence depends entirely on what you do from now on.”
She glares at Janah, Janah smiles gently, “There is no fear of your kind here.”
“Then you are truly ignorant.”
“Be that as it may, I have no time to listen to empty threats.”
Amaya pushes the plunger of the syringe in Ashley’s arm. The girl gives it a go, resists the effects at first, cursing like a cracker chippie in a trailer park.
Amaya doubles the dose, Ashley quiets down, in an anesthetic haze.
Snappy comments dwindle, Janah tours her mind, calms the fiery red amygdala, dampens the hypothalamus, leaves her prefrontal cortex functional.
Janah, “When did you become the man’s wife?”
“When the woman left, years ago. He loves me, he sent her away so we could be together.”
“And when did you begin to train your mind?”
“I always trained my mind, he began before the woman left.”
“Where did she go?”
Ashley sneers, “To her grave.”
Janah questions for another hour and a half, the answers sometimes clear, sometimes vague. Ashley starts to fight it, Janah decides to raise the ante.
“Amaya, put her on Ketamine and LSD. Go slowly. First, remove the wire, put leather straps on her, then wire around that. She may get freaky, I don’t want her wrists and ankles slashed, sorry I should have done it that way the first time.”
Amaya does one leg, then the other, Janah keeps her compliant for the process. When she’s sealed up again, Amaya begins, stuffs a cloth in the girl’s mouth, tapes it closed. There will be screams we don’t need Annie to hear. Not that she cares about Ashley, we don’t want her to think she might be next. Zi’s reassurances go against everything she’d known, no reason for her to trust us.
While Ashley rides Hell’s rollercoaster, Janah explains to Zi.
“The sort version is that Macmillan killed his wife, he’d been taking the child’s mind even as the woman was there. Apparently she objected. Why he didn’t control the first wife is unclear. I can only assume it would have been too much work, dealing with her all the time and training his daughter. Plus he had workers around from time to time, he had to spend lots of energy keeping them in the dark. His perverted brain saw a beautiful young girl, a wife who could be trouble, he did the convenient thing. The girl doesn’t know from husbands and wives, she only knows what he puts in her brain.”
Zi, “Why didn’t he take Annie?”
“He gave her to Ashley as a slave. Ashley controlled her and didn’t want Annie to develop the skills. That’s only a problem for her later on. She was the primary physical abuser. Macmillan might have wanted her, but he didn’t want the pushback from Ashley.”
“And having to control two of them is the same problem he had when it was his first wife and Ashley.”
“I’m thinking that’s it. One day he could have tired of Ashley, might have taken her out of the picture, then continued with Annie. The other possibility is that Ashley is his prize creation, he couldn’t destroy her. Perhaps Ashley got too good and there was little he could do but acquiesce to her demands. We won’t really know for a while. I have to get her more rattled first, she was becoming uncooperative. She is remarkably strong for her age, her time in training made her tough.”
“As you said, she had nothing to distract, he could spend a lot of time on it. What happens now?”
“I’ve no idea. If her mind is gone, we have only one option. It’s hard to take, she’s fifteen. Then, she’s not, not really. I let one slide with far less power than she possesses. He nearly killed a young Mexican boy who simply didn’t understand what he said.”
Zi, “Of course, Manolo, who was fortunate enough to come under your care.”
“And unfortunate enough to be victimized by one I should have taken in the first place. So, the question becomes, could I have done more to fix the broken mind of the one who injured Manolo, before the incident? Or after a certain point, is a Shadow beyond hope?”
“Our mandate is to remove them, not become eternal therapists and watchdogs. There are too many others.”
Janah, “Regrettably true.”
Chapter Forty Seven
Janah gives it another twelve hours. Off the hallucinogenic, back on pentothal, talk, questions, answers. Ashley becomes compliant, expresses regret about Annie.
Janah doesn’t believe a word. She brings in Zi.
Ashley smiles, asks Zi questions politely, talks of a new life.
Zi looks to Janah, shakes her head.
It’s all bullshit.
Ashley realizes we aren’t buying it, struggles against her restraints, the syringes and vials of drugs began to fly across the room, Amaya is knocked to the floor, one leg restraint breaks, the left arm is free, right through leather straps and picture wire; her blood red aura radiates hatred.
I fill her chest with shuriken, Nikko takes her head. Discussion terminated.
Nikko looks down at the detached head, “Never attack Amaya, bitch.”
We clean up, gather our stuff and pack the Escalade. The Minders will wait until Cleaners arrive to sanitize the site, the body cremated. Macmillan is already ashes, the house burned down around him, faulty gas line.
Janah is sad, she isn’t despondent. The destruction from these two would have only expanded, Annie perhaps killed, at the least a life in slavery to a deranged sister she does not know as family.
The ride back is quiet, Annie amazed and enthralled at the size of the world, even from the window of a car. Then she asks forty million questions, Zi patiently answers them, specifically or vaguely, depending. She falls asleep. We do not stop. Amaya and I drive, sleep in between driving. Zi, Nikko and Janah spend much of the time asleep. Everyone is exhausted.
Ning takes over the girl as soon as we arrive, a long hot bath, I have food sent from the diner, burgers, fries, various sandwiches.
Annie, kneels on the kitchen floor.
“What are you doing, young one?”
Annie, “I eat from a bowl on the floor.”
“Not any longer, sit at the table, do you want a Coke, juice?”
“Don’t know, never got nothing but water from the tap.”
“Try a Coke Zero,” she’s skinny as spaghetti, but I don’t keep regular Coke around.
Annie’s nose crinkles, “It’s fizzy, I like it,” then she eats like she’d never seen food, starts to clean up dishes.
Ning, “No cleaning child, there are many hands to help. You don’t belong to anyone but yourself now. Go with Miyako to the roof, enjoy the birds, play.”
“What is play?”
Miyako, “We will discover together.”
Days pass, her wonder ceaseless, it is a strange joy to experience her innocence. Everything is new, the sheer size of the city, feeding birds, watching Miyako do amazing things on the Parkour course. Naturally, Annie wants to try. She does okay, only a few falls, nothing breaks.
Chan, ‘Girl is adjusting. She is all wonder and delight, it is beautiful to see.”
Janah, “Is she ready to learn? She knows little.”
“Children always ready to learn. She is far behind, but we will see that she is caught up. She may remain with you, and us?”
“What does Ning think?”
“Ning is a mother, to all children. This one has her heart already.”
“Then she’s in the perfect spot.”
After a discussion with Ning, and lots of questions for Miyako, Annie decides one way to start a new life is with a new name. She doesn’t know who she is anyway, she can create herself.
We watch a movie with Chloe Mortez, 500 Days of Summer. Chloe is a dream. Lovely, unsophisticated, charming and edgy.
“Can I be called Chloe?”
Ning, “We will arrange it, and do you wish a last name? Amaya is just Amaya. You can create your own, or use any of the family names, Shan, Svensson, Murakami, Li or Sylk.”
She asks me, “Can I be Chloe Sylk?”
To my surprise, I tear up, go figure.
Janah, “It’s a beautiful name for a beautiful girl, I’m rather fond of Sylk myself.”
She calls the Society while I call Sis.
“We have a namesake.”
Susan, “You pregnant?”
“Have to be an immaculate conception, which, in my case, is not out of the question.”
“Only if God is a woman.”
“What else could She be?”
“So, explain the namesake.”
“The young lady has chosen to be called Chloe Sylk. You are soon to be a grandmother.”
“Get out! Frick! That’s great. When can I start spoiling?”
“You have to get in line behind Nikko, Janah, Amaya, and me. Ning is more mom, she has the hard work. But she’s Chinese, it’s a piece of cake.”
Susan, “She made her own name decision of course, do you think Ning was disappointed? No, she isn’t. She’s not like that, stupid question.”
“Well, I think it’s kind of you to ask, but no, it didn’t faze her, she thinks it’s a cool name, me too. I asked her what day she wanted her birthday to be, she said the day her name changes. She doesn’t understand legally changed from the day she picked it, so her birthday is today. We don’t celebrate birthdays, but this is a bit special.”
“April 5th. Good as any of the other 365.”
“Kind of what I thought. The party is tonight, at Mrs. Epstein’s, the car will collect you at six.”
“Of course Taylor, she’s family.”
“You make her so happy, she cries sometimes, being included in everything so naturally.”
“We are the world.”
“Is it going to be strange, our name but Ning’s daughter?”
“Our friends know much of our family relationship is strange, I bet nobody even asks. Some of the tangential ones might think we adopted her, but, in a way, we all adopted her like we all adopted Amaya. I call James dad, and Kara mom. C-mom is still my mom living right here in my heart along with Ms. Alva. Ning is not adopting, the paperwork will say she’s the ward or guardian, closer to a mom though. Chloe is staying there for now because there are other kids. She’ll be lots of places, here, you guys, Ning’s. Since she was trapped in a house for ten years, she likes the idea of lots of places.”
Susan, “A grandmother, I gotta call Lacy, she’ll give me fits until I tell her she’s considered Chloe’s granny too. We’ll get whacked on martinis and celebrate our status.”
“Include her if she’s available, she can ride with you and Taylor, we have a full two cars here already.”
Chloe is in girl heaven. Amaya had been on a clothing binge, the kid has a dozen outfits, they hide in Amaya’s room for the dress up.
When they emerge, Amaya has created an entirely different human being. A demure skirt, airy rayon blouse, an simple platinum necklace, cute platforms, sparkly nails and toes, lip gloss and a hint of eye shadow, ivory that sets off radiant violet eyes.
Janah, “Magnificent, just wonderful.”
“Chloe, you make the clothes, love the polish, you dazzle.”
Chloe, “I chose the color.”
“You chose perfectly,” I’m not faking, she is adorably angular.
Amaya had taken her for a haircut earlier this week, the tangle turned into a glossy ginger blonde that hangs straight to her shoulders, parted on one side so that strands of hair cover one side of her face. Rail thin, like me at her age, not as tall as I was, hard to tell what the growth spurt would do. But she has oversized feet and long fingers, a clue that she isn’t going to be short. Her face is narrow, sharp cheekbones, lips shiny, smooth and soft. Her top lip is narrow, her bottom fuller, it’s a great look. I know because mine are the same. A perfect spray of freckles across her soft pointy nose.
“Amaya, she is perfect.”
“And you expected less than? I shall build an empire around those eyes.”
Mrs. Epstein has magically produced balloons, pop music, a grand buffet and a gorgeous cake, ‘Happy Birthday Chloe.’ White icing with violet trim. How she’d pulled it off in four hours is a mystery, but then, it’s New York, and it’s Mrs. Epstein.
Mrs. Epstein, “Chef Villaume had his pastry chef do it, it arrived an hour ago. I don’t know how you get fresher cake. I had to promise to bring Chloe to the restaurant soon, as compensation.”
“She’s been in a whirl since she got here. Other than her shopping trips with Amaya, she’s stayed close to home. A visit to the condo to meet the family, Lacy’s been over a few times. Mostly she’s been with Miyako. Miyako’s been giving her tours of the internet and music. It’s all pure magic to her.”
“Has she talked to James, or Janah?”
“Our policy is not to go looking for problems. If they come up, we’ll do what needs to be done. There’s been so much for her, everything is a revelation. At first we wondered about overwhelming her. She’s young, and unformed, which turns out to be a bit of an advantage, she sucks up everything then tells us all about it over snacks or lunch. Ning has to go to the restaurant, so Chloe is with us while Miyako is in school. Ning has taken off the nights she normally works for now.”
Mrs. Epstein, “And her recent past?”
“She had no father who acknowledged her, her sister was not her sister in any way other than genetics. She has known a life of servitude. Until we appeared, she was a non person.”
Mrs. Epstein, “The resiliency of children amazes me. Amaya, Manolo, now Chloe. All over the world children adapt to things that would horrify us. It’s a wonder they don’t grow up to kill us all.”
“Some of the religious types do.”
Mrs. Epstein sighs, “Yes.”
Chapter Forty Eight
Amaya came to us almost too sophisticated, Chloe came to us completely naïve. Janah takes over lessons, goes slowly, starts with reading the Times online. Chloe reads every line of the home page, mispronounce, correct, until she begins to tire. Amaya does girl stuff, tries on outfits, teach even simple things, she had limited personal care skills. How to care for her hair, scrub elbows and feet, to clean intimate parts. Amaya lets her apply light makeup, explaining how less is more, particularly on a nine year old. Nine is a guess, she could be ten or eight.
Amaya, “Young ladies don’t need makeup, you have clear skin, flawlessly smooth, cute spray of freckles. Keep it clean and your natural beauty is more than enough. We apply makeup only to highlight our advantages, we don’t have disadvantages.”
Amaya begins at home with simple table manners, please and thank you. How to look at others to engage them, not to look down to avoid eye contact. There are a million lessons in her future, polite conversation, to enunciate properly, to read and comprehend, to take her farm bred math ability and turn it into making change, something she’d never had to do. She knows nothing of money. The good news is, we have plenty of helping hands and time.
Susan takes it on herself to personally instruct her in simple transactions, buying things at the store, how much one thing cost over another. Imagine you dropped on Earth at nine years old and had almost no experience with today’s common daily transactions. You’d be lost in seconds.
Miyako is another teaching machine, cell phones, an IPad, the internet, changing channels on a TV. The TV at her former home was only for Macmillan, she was not allowed to watch.
What’s most fascinating isn’t a sponge like ability to absorb, she doesn’t sponge, it takes effort. The fascination is her attitude. She’s not just happy, she’s radiantly happy, like electricity leaving an ultra clean ozone trail behind her. Every mistake is a giggle, a laugh, a grin, then off to try again. Looking at her makes us smile, she’s blissfully brilliant all the time.
After six months, and midway into the fall semester at Chapmans, Amaya takes Chloe to etiquette class. She observes, then the RSGs take over. By Christmas, she’s a twenty first century girl. Accessories, cool hair, fashionable outfits, reading aloud from books young adult to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dickens. She loves books. She spends hours curled up on the couch, totally engrossed, and she recounts what she’d read at the dinner table, enthusiastically telling us about Miss Havisham, Jane Austen and the unique world of Alice in Wonderland.
One day, I pass the couch, she is buried in Crime and Punishment, I have to stop and process what I’m seeing.
“You like the book?”
Chloe, “It’s fascinating, all the Russian names, the darkness in Raskolnikov’s soul, poverty, lies and heartbreak. It’s awesome.”
I move on to make dinner, the girl is getting smarter than me, scary, Janah laughs at me,
“She likes fashion magazines, too.”
“Good thing, I was questioning her sanity.”
“Amaya loves it. Chloe reads novels to her while Amaya paints her toes or brushes her hair.”
“She’s hard to figure. One moment she’s up on the parkour course leaping around with Miyako, the next she’s reading Russian novels.”
“Dad says she borrows his psychiatry books, then asks him a zillion questions, he’s been amazed at her grasp of things. She talks to him about the characters in the novels and wants him to analyze why they do this or that. He said his brain hurts, but he always looks forward to the next conversation.”
“What do we do?”
“Let her run with it.”
And we do. She spends time with Lacy, they dance, finds she prefers that to parkour, she’s at Susan’s, then with Ning, then at Chapmans, then out for shopping and lunch with Taylor and Amaya. She spends one night a week with Mrs. Epstein, they always dine out, Mrs. Epstein does not go to inexpensive restaurants, and Chloe is soon a favorite of several snooty maitre’ds, the wait staff fawns over her. It reminds me of the good old days when Mrs. E took Janah and I out and Janah got fawned over and I was the belle of the kitchen. Life trudges forward, new growth replaces old.
Janah, “What old growth?”