Chapter Forty Nine

Nikko, Zi and Daria gone, Chloe and Amaya too, the house is hardly empty, but it seems hollowed out, empty spaces where there ought to be people. Janah is at the temple today, Dasha drove her over. It's only a two mile walk but I don't like her on the street alone, particularly since the advent of Shadows in our lives.
Dasha returns, "Janah ees in temple okay. She will let us know when to get her, ees for sure staying through lunch."
"Okay, then lunch for four, Sloane will have something at Chapmans. We have cold cuts, sandwich bread, cheese, pickles. The four of us can self construct later."
Oceane comes down, she pours a cup of tea, there's always green tea. She microwaves it a half minute, adds a spritz of lemon.
"Where is everyone?"
They've been gone for a couple of days, trust that to escape Oceane entirely, "Three in San Francisco, two in Los Angeles, one at the temple, one in school."
"Which one has the ocean?"
She's thinking of Venice Beach, "Los Angeles, but Chloe and Amaya are in Hollywood, not Venice Beach."
"Too bad."
"They're doing okay, staying at the Beverly Hilton, it's not Shutters, but what is?"
She finishes tea, I take the cup, "I'm going to fly my drone."
"Lunch will be out later, couple of hours."
She heads upstairs. Spacey as she is, she's our best drone pilot next to Eloise, who is scary. Eloise played video games for years, still does. Oceane wouldn't know what to do with a video game, she insists the drone tells her what to do. I have trouble with that, why wouldn't the drone just do it itself? Although the thing still needs a person to touch the screen, issue a command. She's working on a face recognition system though. Upload a photo of the target, or take his picture with the drone, then issue a 'follow' or 'tranquilize' or 'kill' order and the drone takes over. The driverless death drone. Hope Google doesn't get any ideas.
Shortly after Oceane went up, Eloise comes down, "Seems empty in here."
"Yeah, it does. Oceane is on the roof, said she wanted to fly the drone."
Eloise, "Oh, good. I want to test the new one, the mini, she can follow it and record how it performs."
"What about the self flying one?"
Eloise, "Susan and Daria are doing code, they say it's a bitch but Susan is intrigued by the challenge, they'll figure something out."
"Lunch is sandwiches, stuff will be out in a couple of hours."
Dasha, "We will go see how mini drone works."
We're on the roof, it's September, the weather is pleasant, partly cloudy, maybe eighty degrees. Oceane is doing a video of the mini, Eloise buzzes it around the roof, then off down 10th, up 7th Avenue. On one IPad we see what the mini sees, then see the mini itself on another. Then Eloise does a one eighty and we see the two drones faced off videoing each other.
Eloise zips the mini under Oceane's drone, Oceane turns to follow and they both land on the roof a few seconds later.
Eloise, "The mini is faster by about half. I'm going to make a half dozen more. Here, Oceane, you fly it for a bit, get the feel."
Oceane zings it off the roof a couple of blocks over to Bleeker, then across to the Village Diner, back our way, makes a tight loop de loop before landing it on the roof ledge.
"It loves to fly, and it's so fast, can I have one?"
Eloise, "Take it, I can crank out the rest in a few days. I need more parts though, maybe more like ten days. I think I can streamline the fuselage some, might add to maneuverability."
"Geez, it turns on a dime now."
Eloise, "Yeah, but it's fun to make it even better. When we have more, we can do a follow the leader and see who can keep up."
Both drones take off, Eloise says, "What the....?"
Oceane is flying one with her left hand and the other with her right. They do a side by side hard right, then left, then the mini flies corkscrew over and under the larger one. She sends them straight up, then back our way upside down, then completes the circle and lands them both on the ledge.
Eloise, "Daria is going to love it. Oceane, that was incredible."
Oceane walks to the pool, turns it on, strips off her t-shirt and starts her endless swim. Drones are forgotten, I'll have to come up later and get her out or she would waterlog.
Eloise, "She's amazing, mind shuts down one thing, fixates on another. Each moment is new place and time, I'm surprised we don't have to reintroduce ourselves every day."
"That would be tedious. She remembers what she thinks essential, we supply food, shelter and sex, I guess we fall into the essential category. About the drone, if she were strapped into one of those virtual reality helmets, maybe it would be like flying."
Eloise, "I should have thought of it, I will make one for her, thanks Daphne."
"We might never see her face again."
Eloise, "I'll battery operate it, she'll run out of power eventually, or a twenty minute timer she can't adjust."
Eloise returns to her heaven to build whatever, Dasha and I go downstairs, vacuum and dust until it's time for lunch. As predicted, I have to fetch Oceane. She rinses under the shower next to the pool then comes along with no complaint and eats two turkey cranberry sandwiches, a slice of dill and a few chips.
Oceane, "I was hungry."
"I guess so, you swam nonstop for an hour. Let's dry your hair, then maybe a nap for you."
After which, a nap for me. Dasha comes in, crawls into bed with me. She doesn't want sex, she misses her sister and wants me as substitute snuggle. I wrap her up, kiss smooth shoulders, we zone out for an hour or so.

Chapter Fifty

Dasha drives to the temple to fetch Janah, I have tea and snacks ready when they return. Eloise joins us, I don't know what Oceane's up to, Sloane comes tearing in from school.
"What a day! I barely got in lunch, cup of yogurt and an apple, I'm starving," she looks over the snacks, today I went with crackers and cheese, or for a sweet option, pieces of milk and dark Godiva.
She opts for a chunk of milk chocolate, I pour her tea, black or oolong today. For tea, we always use loose in ceramic pots. Cups are oriental style, no handle, I prefer plain white.
"What kept you so busy?"
"I spent two hours coding, my brain shorted out, so I went to drama. We're doing a play one of the girls wrote, it's pretty funny, about anxious driven parents, touchy siblings and the madness of boyfriends. Chapmans girls aren't a bunch of lesbians, but most don't do the normal ‘have to have a boyfriend’ angst."
"I thought that had kind of gone away, isn't it the thing to have hang out pals and hook up when the urge strikes?"
"I think some of them do, others know guys, but it isn't a life quest, there's a fringe of girls who live in boyfriend mode. They stick together, nobody else wants to hear their drama."
Janah, "About the same as when we went there."
Sloane, "What's new at the temple?"
Janah, "The temple isn't exactly about new."
Sloane giggles, "You know what I mean."
Janah, "David Li is Abbott now, I'm figurehead Abbess. Manolo tests for priesthood soon, he just doesn't know it yet. Daphne and I will need to attend. That ritual is, not so much secret, but for those in the temple only. We have five visiting monks, three from China, one from France and one from Australia of all places. All of them are here for gung fu and qi training, no visiting scholars just now."
"How are they, in gung fu?"
Janah, "The gung fu master says three are good, two are adequate, I didn't ask which was which. I applaud them for coming regardless. We have rigorous sessions, our monks live at the temple full time. They come from places that teach gung fu, but it's more like a dojo, they go to class, train, go home."
Sloane, "They should have to fight mom."
Janah, "No, we have plenty of competition at the temple. It would be improper to put them up against her, like we were showing off. We never let our best fighters work with visitors. Well, I shouldn't say never, once in a while we get a visitor who's there to make a reputation. They've heard about our fighters, and when they come in the spirit of testing themselves, we have no difficulty. When they come to prove something, then we give them an opportunity to learn their limitations."
Sloane, "You mean you bring out the best and they learn a lesson in humility."
"Something like that, yes."
Eloise, "Does anyone ever, what's the word? Beat everyone?"
Janah, "Master Sylvan, the gung fu master, watches. If there is one really good, as a master he can spot their talent and poor attitude just watching their kuen, before they even fight. He might let them spar with a talented disciple. Then Chan mysteriously appears as if he's just happened to stop by."
Sloane, "Ooooh, bet the visitor gets a surprise."
Janah, "Yep. Chan lets them kick and punch to their heart's content. He just stands there. The opponent generally just gives up, bows and takes a seat. Chan never lays a finger on him. I was told one day the visitor lost it, grabbed a long staff and gave that a go. Of course, Chan snapped it like a matchstick, put a hand on the opponent's chest and sent him flying. Match was over. Visitor left that afternoon."
"We could send Black, or me, but Chan is down the street at Fong's most of the time. It's three blocks from the temple and Chan doesn't mind the not workout."
Sloane, "Still, doesn't he get hurt, taking all the punches and kicks?"
Janah, "Sure, a few bruises, but that's the difference, like with Daphne or Black. They feel the pain, they use it rather than succumb to it. Chan has the most powerful qi, but Daphne is no slacker and Black's pretty good. They use it to deflect the pain, or in Chan and Daphne's case, use it as a weapon."
"I'm not as good with it as Chan or Janah, but it serves me well enough. Master Tan used to give me grief, he thought I was too distractible to generate it externally. I can do it okay on the qi dummies, or to play the qi circle with Dasha and Daria. Chan is in a class by himself, Janah has the same power, but she's not a fighter, if she took punches and kicks like Chan or me, she would suffer more physical injury. We practice getting hit, Janah isn't allowed to get hit."
Tea comes to a close, Dasha announces, "Dinner ees burgers, Dahfoney will grill, maybe a gud night to eat on roof. Eemaya ees gone, I will make cocktail at six thirty, go away now, bye bye."
Eloise giggles, they move along to kill an hour and a half or so. Dasha and I clean up tea leftovers and I pull out the ground sirloin that's been marinating all day.
"I haf garden burger for Janah, fresh tomato from garden, purple ohnyon, pickle. Do we make fries or cheeps?"
"They like fries. While I make patties, cut potatoes, we'll bring the condiments and stuff upstairs. I can grill while you fry the fries on the side burner. We have buns?"
"Crustini, favorite."
Our partial family enjoys a lovely cool evening on the roof, burgundy, construct burgers, sit and enjoy. We have a big table under a stretch of solar panels, the led lighting is on low. Perfect.

Chapter Fifty One

Manolo tested, which means walked the gauntlet, got beat up but passed. We didn't allow him to take the brands. Manolo was severely injured as a child, by a Shadow.  It was stupid, the Shadow was angry because Manolo, who spoke little English at the time, was slow to move when the asshole wanted him to. Manolo wound up with a brain injury. Nikko and I helped him learn balance by teaching him simple taekwondo forms, then to improve his slow, stuttering speech by making him talk to us. Then we took him to the temple and he was hooked. He became a solid gung fu student. He liked working the garden and David Li taught him about plants and herbs. Now, he is a master and master herbalist.
Amaya and Chloe are back, our business girls have another few days in San Francisco.
Amaya, "Manolo passed, good for him. What is he going to do?"
"Go out in the world for three years, after which he may return or stay. Most of our monks stay out in the world, they want to have jobs, find spouses, have children. Manolo is going to college to study botany and chemistry. He's well up on the subjects, David Li has a chemistry degree, and we have a fully equipped lab at the temple. I doubt very much he will do anything but return, he has a girlfriend there, she's only seventeen, Manolo is twenty two."
Chloe, "So they're on hold for a while."
"He can't be in the temple, but she can go out if she wishes. They're Shaolin monks, patience and self discipline are essential to make it to disciple much less master. We have a coed monastery, people get attracted to each other."
Amaya, "How long has it been since you changed the child policy?"
Janah, "Gee, what? Ten, twelve years."
Sloane, "Child policy for what?"
"She means as in pregnancy. Sometimes a monk gets pregnant. They had no way to take care of infants, but nobody had ever really looked into it. How many infants there might be, were we encouraging abortions? We don't require celibacy. If a monk got pregnant, she had to leave, that was the deterrent. It worked okay, but we also knew there were quiet abortions. We have no rules on abortion, but don't want to encourage it either."
Janah, "Consequently, we changed the rule. A pregnant monk can remain if she wishes. We created a space for parents. I don't think it's been used but three or four times. Life there is not life out here. Monks tend to be less focused on sexual matters, but hormones are hormones, there's nothing special about Shaolin hormones. The old policy of forcing them to leave the temple was ill thought out. It assumed they had someplace to go, or could find a place."
"Janah argued against dismissal, finally prevailed and things have been fine. After she talked them into providing access to birth control, pregnancy is a non-issue."
Amaya, "I suppose even Shaolin can have blinders."
Janah, "It's like all policies and procedures, they get entrenched and no one revisits them. Like a book written two thousand years ago, or a constitution written over two hundred years ago, should be in stone for all time. As if nothing changes in the world."
Chloe, "I doubt the guys who did the Constitution thought citizens should have assault rifles."
"Exactly, they had no conception of assault rifles, they had no conception of a gun that could fire more than one small round bullet before it had to be reloaded. Not even close to perfectly round, notoriously inaccurate and hardly ever deadly. People died from infection more than the wound itself."
Janah, "And the proof is in the news every day, but enough foolish politics, what's for dinner?"
Dasha, "Feesh, you want fried or on grill wiz lemon butter sauce?"
Amaya wants grilled, Oceane also prefers it that way.
"We can do both, it's catfish and will cook up fine either way. Baked potato with all the options, vegetables with Szechuan sauce."
Amaya, "Yum, and now it is time for adult beverages, while you two cook, I shall fashion cocktails. Janah, Sloane, white wine?"
Janah, "Good with me."
Sloane, "Can I have it with bubbles?"
Amaya, "Spritzer for Sloane, alien person, you want bubbles or straight?"
Oceane, "Fizzy."
Amaya, "Matches your head. Eloise tells me you are a drone pilot extraordinaire. Do you want to help us film Chloe's movie?"
Oceane, "What movie?"
"I assume that means you signed the deal, how'd the negotiations go?"
Amaya, "Fine, after I tore up the first contract."
"She really do it Chloe?"
"Beats me, I'm not allowed in the meeting."
Amaya, "Do you think I will subject Chloe to arguments and idiotic demands? Besides, she would start agreeing just to be nice and I would have to talk her down."
"What did they want?"
"They are used to temper tantrum actors, so they have morals clauses, fines for tardiness, lack of cooperation, unprepared, as in not knowing the lines, drug use. Limitation on expenses, no unusual food requests unless there are allergies. Everything under control. I told them no."
"Just no?"
"No, not just no. I said Chloe is to be paid five million for signing. Anytime they want to fire her, for any reason, okay by us. She is paid five million on completion of filming or by a date one year from the start of production, whichever comes first. We don't care how long it takes them to edit, or if the film is released in a year or ten years or never. They also have to pay me half a million for essentially rewriting the thing, or the script reverts to me in full ownership."
"And they went for it."
"Not immediately, more like 'that's ridiculous.' My reply was, have a nice day gentlemen, and I walked out.”
"But they called you back in."
"It took a few minutes, I was getting in our car when I got a text, 'agreed', so I went back upstairs, signed the deal, collected the checks and we left."
Chloe, "Tricia Wentwood, our lawyer in LA, was there; she thinks Amaya needs to work for the law firm."
Amaya, "I like Tricia, she is razor sharp, but be a lawyer? Where is the fun in that? We went to Spago and dropped a several hundred on champagne and cote de boeuf, a fancy name for a bone-in ribeye, but the Armagnac peppercorn sauce was divine."
Dasha, "What ees armyak?"
Amaya, "Brandy, better and cheaper than cognac, you should look up a recipe, Nikko will love it."
I'm poking my phone, "I found one, it does look rather tasty, reduce beef stock, brandy, peppercorns, whipping cream, shallots. That will be tasty."
Janah, "Does sound good, but it has beef stock in the sauce."
"Yes, but I can see how to do it veg. You can have Armagnac peppercorn sauce potatoes, or mac and cheese, or sautéed vegetables and brown rice."
Dasha is done with potatoes, time to grill fish and vegetables, we have a gravy boat of meunière to pour over the fish. Simple to make, butter, parsley and lemon, we add Worcestershire sauce, and chopped pecans or almonds, tonight almonds.

Chapter Fifty Two

Nikko, Zi, and Daria are home. Dasha didn't say anything, but I'm in her mind and she's happy to have her sister back in arm's length. They can mental, but I know from experience with Janah, it's not the same as physical presence. Skype is ok, but not the same as across the table with cups of tea.
Which is what we're having now.
Nikko, "Business is good, our residential property still has a waiting list, people can't quite believe we charge twenty five percent below market. They thought it was a come on, that we would jack up rents when the leases came up for renewal."
Zi, "When we didn't there was a collective sigh of relief."
"People playing by the rules?"
Zi, "Yes. No students trying to stick four people in a one bedroom apartment. We can't police everything, but tenants have to demonstrate they are employed full time, and that they make no more than sixty thousand a year. We take photos of tenants, if faces show up coming and going regularly that aren't tenants, we address the issue quickly."
Nikko, "Our own people live there, they pretty much know who is who. Apartment stuffing has only come up a couple of times."
"Can you just evict people?"
Nikko, "Fire code says so many people in such and such square feet. We made the apartments just slightly larger than the code. Our places aren't roomy, they are well designed, efficient and affordable. There's not really any room for more than two in a one bedroom, or four in a two. Kitchens and living area are compact for that reason. Most of the one beds have a single tenant, and most of the twos have only two."
"And the property management side?"
Daria, "Managers say we can expand, we are deciding."
Nikko, "We have enough to do now. Expanding means more employees and more management. It might pay for itself, but that's not the issue. There are three of us to run both New York and San Francisco. We can't stretch ourselves any further and stay on top of things. For now, we're maxed out."
Janah, "Then that's that. None of the rest of us have skin in the game, no day to day operating responsibility. We don't need more money anyway."
"You make a crummy capitalist."
Janah giggles, "A badge I wear with pride."
"There is no calamity more serious than wanting to get ahead."
Amaya, "Who said that?"
"I did, just now."
She eyes me suspiciously, Janah outs me, "Lao-tzu."
Dasha, "Who ees loudsuh?"
"Founder of Taoism, alleged to have written the Tao Te Ching, the Way of Integrity. There is some influence in Chan Buddhism. You can look up lots of quotes on Google. He wanted people to live an honorable life, it didn't catch on."
Janah, "Daphne is the Shaolin Master of Cynicism."
"I prefer to think of it as the Dharma of Daphinity."
Janah, "We need to take a road trip, all our Social Skills teams are either on required hiatus or involved in other projects. Nikko, Zi and Daria just got home."
Dasha, "What ees job?"
"Drugs, which we don't care about, but our targets have moved into the child prostitution business, which we do care about."
Chloe, "I can go if it's right away, we start filming in a month."
Amaya, "She goes, I go."
Janah, "It's a gang, with a rigid hierarchy, probably need more than Daphne and me. We also can use Oceane, a drone pilot will come in handy."
Dasha, "I will go."
Janah, "Let's see what we're up against. You need to be here, Daria just got in and the rest of the family needs to be fed, Sloane to school. You have to take on those jobs."
Dasha sees the logic, and I know she's not anxious to go off just now anyway.
"Daria and Eloise have projects in the workshop, the mini drone, facial and voice recognition applications."
Nikko, "What's the mini drone? What facial and voice apps?"
I explain recent developments, "Oceane can take both the mini and a regular drone. We'll need both kinds of darts and we're out of Oblivion. I'll get it from David Li tomorrow. Amaya, will you please pack the pharmaceutical case?"
I turn to Janah, "Where we going anyway?"
Janah, "Sorry to ruin your day, Biloxi Mississippi."
"Cripes, I remember passing through that pit years ago."
"I doubt it's improved any."
We don't stay up late, business traveler girls need a solid night's rest, Janah and I are on the roof with Oceane, everyone else in their bedrooms.
Oceane, "What is Biloxi?"
"A city in Mississippi, which is a state in the south, the bottom of which is on the Gulf of Mexico."
"Is it an ocean?"
"It connects to the Atlantic ocean, I'm not sure why they call it something else, but they do. Don’t be disappointed, it's not good for swimming, the water is gunky brown."
Oceane, "A shame, did they ruin it?"
Janah, "Yes, not entirely maliciously. The Mississippi River runs into the Gulf. Fresh water mixes with salt water and the river dumps a lot of silt, keeps the water kind of murky. The river also brings a lot of fertilizer runoff from farms all the way up to Minnesota, a state to the far north. The nitrogen kills off some of the marine life, parts of the Gulf have no fish at all, entirely dead. What that didn't destroy, oil companies did."
Oceane, "They treat the water badly, the water is our life."
Janah, "That's humanity, always crowing about how smart we are and destroying everything that nurtures us. It's okay, in the end, the environment wins. Humanity will be gasping for air, asphyxiated by carbon dioxide it stupidly caused to accumulate. We're equally guilty, we eat beef, fly around in jets, drive SUVs, even have race cars in Arizona."
"It's always darkest just before it turns pitch black."

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