Seventy Seven

This morning I make a simple breakfast, croissants and scrambled eggs. Natalie takes McKenzie and Akiko to the dentist. Long as Mac had to go anyway might as well have Akiko checked out. 
Eloise shows up with Daria and Daphne, I help them unload the bot and wheel it in on a hand truck. Eloise turns it on, I thought it would take some time to boot up, but it blinks its eyes and turns its head almost instantly. 
Elle, “Hypatia is beautiful.”
The bot turns to her, “Thank you. I need to walk the house and grounds now.”
“First meet Zelda and Cilia, they need to know you, and Burma will be around eventually, she’s a Burmese cat.”
“I look forward to meeting her,” the dogs do what they do, sniff. Zelda stands on her hind legs and puts her paws on the bot’s shoulders. 
I thought she might push the bot over but it stands firm, strokes the mastiff’s head while Zelda catches the scent. Of course the bot has no noticeable scent, unless you’re a dog.
Daphne, “Eloise can smell wiring or electronic problems, she catches potential fails before they happen, saves us down time because fixing one small thing early prevents a cascade of other problems.”
Zoe C in my head, ‘These people, cripes, every time we meet there’s another new amazement.’
‘True, and they are without pretension, plain spoken, genuine and companionable.’
‘And aside from Amaya’s and Chloe’s fame, almost nobody knows who they are.’
‘A bigger version of us, we don’t mingle with outsiders, Natalie has to once in a while but she mostly runs her company over Skype, Facetime or email.’

I ask, “Daphne, have a moment, Zoe C and I in the office.”
We sit in a small circle, our desks face the windows, desks are for working. I don’t want any of our tribe or visitors to have to talk over a desk.
“We have work, I’ll simplify by letting you read the message exchanges first,” I click on the search bar, go to the Tor site, log in and hand the tablet to Daphne.
The inquirer has responded with the data I asked for, she’s in, or just outside of, Shreveport Louisiana.
She scans the text, “The endless supply of abusers, like mushrooms after the rain. Shreveport thinks it’s Texas, it has the requisite number of shitkickers. What can I do?”
“We just returned from the Shadow thing in Lubbock, is there someone you can send to deal with Shreveport?”
“Sure, Katya and Katja, they didn’t go to Lubbock, frankly I think they could use a road trip. They get antsy without work, we don’t want our resident psychopaths  idle too long.”
Zoe C, “They seem normal to me.”
Daphne grins, “They’ve settled being with us, and they take jobs for…um, other reasons. But nothing has come up in the last couple of months. A road trip for an abuser is just the thing.” 
“They gonna take him out…permanently?”
“Do you care?”
I laugh, “Not really.”
“Actually, it depends on what they see when they get there. If he’s just a redneck bully-boy, probably not. If he’s getting up to other stuff, perhaps that the victim doesn’t know about, they will do as they see fit…or as the mood strikes. If they go, you live with what they do, you good with that?”
“Better than, you want to handle it with them?”
“Simplest way, I show them the messages, they fly out tomorrow, couple of days, your victim’s abuse problems are over.”
Hypatia comes along, ignores us and walks the office, eyes left-right, up-down, the it, she, walks out as if we didn’t exist.
Daphne, “The bot already knows you, its mission is to upload every space in the house, then outside to record the property.”
Zoe C, “What if we move things, big things like a couch or smaller things like, I don’t know, we move around flameless candles all the time.”
“Not a problem, it’s perfectly capable of adjusting to changes in the environment. I know it’s difficult to believe, but in a week or less, you’ll be talking to it like another human. And it will answer appropriately, it blows away the Turing Test.”
“Let’s take it outside to yet another perfect SoCal day, coffee.. tea? We’re making pizza for lunch, actually they’re made and waiting for the oven, margherita and one with pepperoni and peppers…and here’s our dental dear, everything go okay?”
Natalie hugs Daphne, “Fine, McKenzie has a beautiful new tooth, Akiko is a beautiful smile with no cavities, gum issues or any other dental whatever.”
Daphne, “Congratulations, obviously have no tooth brushing issues.”
“All of us are good about it. I bought Fairywill, like the ones you have.”
They take seats around the patio table, I bring coffee, we stir in additives and sit sipping.
Daphne, “McKenzie still satisfied with her decision?”
She’s referring to the protein injections all our adults took, “Yes, I guess, she never mentions it, and she’s the same as ever, there were neither physical or psychological changes, no different than the rest of us.”
“Good, if there are no problems by now, there won’t be any side effects, we never had any. Never aging is the purpose, it’s not a side effect, it’s the point.”
Marissa and B come down with Susan.
Zoe C, “Hugs angels, how’s the coding going?”
B, “We’re hacking our way along,” Marissa giggles.
Susan, “Not yet, someday. They must practice a lot, when I come over they have made ground not lost it.”
Elle, “They ask McKenzie questions occasionally.”
Susan, “Smart, they also text me.”
“Not bothering I hope.”
“Children are never a bother.”
Daphne, “I tried to bother her for years, it didn’t work.”
Susan laughs, “You were practically perfect, a little rambunctious occasionally but hardly rising to bother.”
Natalie, “Nice compliment from mom.”
“Kara, Janah’s mom, and Sis, I’ve called her Sis forever, are the two best possible parents. They encouraged, I never heard a raised voice, much less a harsh one. I suppose you could say it was a joint effort between mothers and daughters.”
Elle, “You could be sisters.”
“She was only fifteen when she had me, scary for her at the time, but Miss Alva took us in and we were safe, warm and I got great cooking lessons. I still have Miss Alva’s cast iron skillets, I think they might be a hundred years old by now and still cranking out superb dishes.”
“Pizza’a going in, be ready in fifteen or so, anyone want wine? Or soda, beer?”
Diet Coke gets the nod, “Okay, and pizzas out in a bit, there’s plenty, take your preference and find a spot.”
Lunch is relaxed, the six kids take the smaller table, Daphne, Susan and I go to the patio table, Eloise comes along from somewhere on the property with Hypatia.
“What to drink Eloise?”
She looks at our glasses, “Soda is good thanks, I’ll get it.”
She returns with a slice and a glass of Diet Coke, I left a plate of lemon slices, she has one in her glass.
“Daphne does the same, lemon or lime wedges, adds a little bounce to the Coke.”
Daphne, “Eloise’s idea of food is soda, Red Bull and protein bars. I make her eat real food under threat of taking away her soldering iron.”
Eloise pushed her glasses up her nose, takes a bit of pizza, they slide down again.
“My nose is tiny, Amaya got me contacts, which I use, but glasses are simpler, particularly when I’m grinding stuff in the workshop, the glasses are safety glasses, they won’t bust if something goes wrong.”
Zoe C, “Amaya is quite a character.”
Daphne, “She makes a fuss, but only in our best interests. Her fashion eye, from hairstyles, makeup to casual and dress outfits, is twenty-twenty. None of us buy clothes, she gets them from Chloe Couture, everyone’s sizes are in the database. Since we don’t age, there’s no need to adjust anything. She orders nail polish from OPI, our makeup is from MAC, she even buys our shoes, heels to sneakers.”
Eloise, “Amaya is beyond amazing, I have no idea how she keeps up, writing screenplays, coaching Chloe, keeping her on schedule, buying our stuff, a fresh novel every year.”
Daphne, “She’s got the bots doing routine things, remember, before bots we cleaned each others’ rooms. Amaya did her part including pitching in on the common areas. We don’t have to clean anymore, don’t do laundry, don’t change sheets, bots free up a fair amount of time.”
Eloise, “Funny how we habituate. It seems like we always had the bots when in fact they are fairly recent. “
Elle, “Why did you clean each others’ rooms instead of doing your own?”
“We tend to clean good enough when it’s our own room. When we do someone else’s, good enough isn’t good enough.”

Seventy Eight

Katya and Katja take off for Shreveport, stupid bastard who likes to beat up women then threaten them with worse is in for a lousy day. A meet and greet with psychopathic twins who like to kill just to do it. Daphne and Janah have them reined in, giving them enough work on men like Shreveport, and the occasional Shadow demolition. 
They aren’t ‘bear’ strong like Dasha and Daria, but they don’t use much physical force, their expertise involves Glocks and Ka-Bars. They are instructed not to kill the abusers, only get their painful attention unless circumstances demand otherwise.
Meanwhile Marissa and B discover a fascination with Hypatia, that a mechanical device can be so close to a flesh and blood person. One that can bring them sodas or tea while they work on code. Susan is teaching them, Hypatia stands in to watch, Eloise says the bot can already code, it is code that runs her after all. But Susan has so much fun working with the kids, Hypatia stays silent. The bot does play McKenzie in both chess and Go, and she wins, the only time I’ve seen Mac lose.
After today’s game I ask McKenzie if it bothers her, losing to the bot.
“No, Hypatia comes up with strategies I’ve never seen, then I can incorporate them into my games. I learn more by losing.”
“Good attitude, I suppose Eloise could dumb her down a bit but that defeats your purpose.”
“She is obliged to bring her best game. I may never win a game, she can work on strategies while she’s folding clothes, or patrolling the property at night.”
“I hadn’t thought of that, of course, the bots can multitask without losing concentration.”
“Plus, she’s connected to Emma B, Kota B and Grace B, they are essentially one operating system with different personalities.”
“Didn’t know that either, but now that I do I can see it would be a waste to do it any other way. Eloise is most efficient, or I should say Eloise along with Susan and Daria, they wrote the algorithms that run the bots.”
McKenzie spots Akiko on the patio, she walks off to join her pal, I’m instantly forgotten. That’s how it goes with Mac, she’s not being intentionally rude, she’s an Asperger, focused on one thing at a time.
Natalie, “My precious amazing, she’s already engaging Hypatia, she adores Akiko, but then who doesn’t?”
We hear Susan, Marissa and B giggling from across the room. They huddle in the far corner, the side with Burma’s cat tree. If the Burmese is around, she likes to curl up and watch them type code into the program. When the mood strikes, she eases over to the keyboard and taps a key. They figured out it’s a clue, one of them is supposed to pick up the cat and settle her in one lap or another. Once when I passed Burma was laying over Susan’s leg, head and forepaws dangling over one side, hind legs over the other, asleep as if this was the most natural position for it.
Then again, considering Susan’s taut elegant legs, I could see myself draped over them too.
Daphne calls, “We’re going to our Arizona home, where most of the toys are. Want to pack up the kids and join us? There’s plenty of office space, satellite internet, Natalie and Elle can do their thing…ever ridden a go-kart? The kids love it.”
“What do we do with the animals?”
“Bring them along, but that property has a rail fence, no interior fence to keep the cat from going off. I ordered a mega cat play land, enclosed for outdoors, and a cat tree for inside. The dogs can go wherever, they can’t squeeze through, rails are only four inches apart, like here.”
“When?”
“Most of us leave when the twins finish, probably day after tomorrow, but if they find and capture, it might be tomorrow. Katya and Katja don’t waste time, they’ll have the target located today but it could take another day to snatch him and do the interview.”
“Interview…interesting way to describe it.”
Daphne laughs, “That’s what they call it, it will be the interview from hell.”
“I can speak for us all, suppose we give you a few days to settle in, then we’ll fly over.”
“You said most of you, somebody not going?”
“Everyone eventually, Janah and I, Grace B, Emma B, along with a half dozen others are going tomorrow to assemble the cat playground, and tree. You can bring Hypatia or leave her to look after your place, your call. Our live-ins, Danika and Su will collect us, then the rest when they come in. You can fly with them if you wish. You’ll fly into Prescott Municipal, from there it’s around forty odd miles. Flagstaff is about the same, we’re sort of in between. Hypatia will have flight details.”
We leave it like that, I go to help Mac with lunch, I can tell them about the trip then.
“What do I do McKenzie?”
She’s taking a meatloaf out of the oven, “Loaf needs to rest fifteen or twenty, I have brioche buns to make sandwiches, shredded cabbage, sliced onion. Chips for the side. You can set out plates and utensils…no..wait, Hypatia will do that. Have a seat and relax.”
Lovely, I park on the patio to enjoy the cooling fall air.
When she has things laid out, we make our own sandwiches, settle around the dining table.
“Daphne has invited us to go to their Arizona home. She mentioned go-karts and other toys.”
Zak, “So cool, watch out, blind kid driving.”
B, “Susan mentioned a home in Canada, how many places do they have?”
“Three, the Canada place is fairly close to ours but on the other side of the lake.”
“When do we go to Canada?”
“Summertime, we had a short trip earlier this year, you and Marissa weren’t here yet. I want to get us up there in the winter so everyone can learn to ski, or snow board, which I understand kids like better.”
Mickey, “Is Susan going?”
“I don’t know, she and her friends like to travel, they may take the opportunity to go off elsewhere, Daphne didn’t say.”
Elle, “Twenty eight of Daphne’s tribe, two live-ins, and eight of us, maybe three more with Susan’s crew, the place must be gigantic.”
“Daphne said the house is now fifty thousand square feet, basically a private hotel. Their friends from New York go occasionally, Janah’s mom and dad like it in Canada, I don’t know if they’re going to Arizona.”
“When do we leave?”
“Hypatia will get the flights from one of the other bots and add our names to the list.”
“Is Hypatia going?”
“I want her here, none of us will be around. We can see the house and grounds from our video feed, but if there’s a problem that needs immediate attention Hypatia needs to handle it. Daphne has three bots, she’s taking two, leaving one for the same reason.”
Mickey, “Wait, what about the dogs, and Burma?”
“Them too.”
Zoe C, “How long we going for?”
“We didn’t discuss it, but I think a full week, maybe two, I need to ask. They may have other guests coming later, she didn’t say. This is a fun trip, casual clothes, don’t over-pack, they must have a fairly large laundry room. Their place is isolated and miles from any restaurant, we don’t need any dress clothes. Our job is to have fun, but also pitch in and help with cooking for a million people. But Daphne has Ellen, Dasha and Mani, plus herself, we contribute me, McKenzie and Akiko. Plenty of kitchen help.”
Hypatia takes over clean up.
Elle, “How nice for Zoe C and me. Chef originally brought us in to take care of the household chores, now we have cleaning bots and Hypatia. We’re living here under false pretenses.”
“Your roles have morphed, you have a trading program that’s making us good money, Zoe C has become essential in other ways,” I’m thinking of our forays to rearranged the brains of abusers, “you both do most of the grocery shopping and any outside errands, I have no complaint.”
Elle, “Maybe I’ll dust something once in awhile, keep in practice.”
The day cruises along, I tell Mac that I’ll make mashed potatoes, we have plenty of gravy from the first pass, “We’ll finish up the meatloaf as an entrée plus mashed, shredded purple cabbage with Goddess dressing.”
This evening we watch The Sisters Brothers, based on a novel by ‎Patrick deWitt. I’d read it a year ago, it’s dark and funny. They work as hired assassins for a man who goes by Commodore. Anybody Commodore doesn’t like, or sees as a threat, no matter how remote, he sends the brothers to kill. It makes me think of Katya and Katja, except they work for whoever hires them. If their surname was Sisters, they’d be the Sisters Sisters. It occurs to me I don’t know their last name, maybe they’re like Cher, or Eminem.




Seventy Nine

Katja and Katya must have snagged the target right off, they stayed overnight then fly from Shreveport to Prescott. I don’t think it’s my place to ask questions, so I don’t.
Daphne and her smaller party left in time to meet the twins at Prescott Municipal, then on to the compound. The rest of us are going up tomorrow, two jets with families split between the two. Daphne says they always fly in smaller groups in case there’s a problem with the plane, better not to have the whole crew killed in a crash. Not an enjoyable thought, but a prudent one.
Our day is spent hanging out, no messages about either Shadows or nasty men. We have a light dinner, watch a bit of a Netflix series called Godless, then to bed. Our plane leaves at nine, flight is an hour and a quarter, an hour time change, we will be there at eleven fifteen, then the ride to the compound.
We’re up and out by eight, boarding prep takes a bit of time, we have twenty five bodies and three Burmese to situate. Daphne took Morshchiny with them to avoid crowding the SUV for the ride to the compound. The cats board in cages, but when we’re in the air we let them roam the cabin. Private flight crews are most accommodating, and it is impossible to find the cats anything but adorable. After a cabin search, they wind up in laps, Mickey, Susan and Amaya are honored with curled up cats enjoying a morning nap. Zelda has gotten used to flying, she lays flat in the rear for the short flight.
Amaya, “Zelda is so good, the mastiffs are even tempered. Cilia is more active, she’s so dignified though, it wouldn’t occur to her to make a fuss.”
“Our dogs, like Morshchiny, see their job as protecting the children, everything else is incidental and of no consequence.”
“Exactly, Morshchiny acts like a big love sponge, but she’s always alert to anything or anyone that isn’t familiar.”
Land, unload plane, load SUVs, we meet Danika and Su, two Shaolin monks. No, they don’t wear robes. Daphne knew them from the temple, Su is a scholar, Buddhism and Shaolin her primary interests. Danika is a contemplative and mystic, both like the house sitting job, plenty of time for study or nothing. I was told Danika spends a fair amount of time up the mountain in a shallow cave. Enough to move around in and keep the sun off. I don’t know what mystic means, decide to pass on asking, one of the kids, Zak or Mckenzie, will find out.
The exterior cat cage is complete, as is the giant cat tree full of landings and places to hide. Exterior cage has a Plexiglas roof that extends an extra two feet over all four sides, tinted to reflect the sun. The Burmese are exploring the cat tree, something similar to what they have in Malibu just bigger. They’re busy chasing each other up and down.
Amaya, “They do love those things, I expect another half hour and it will be nap time again. It’s also lunch time for us, Danika started white beans yesterday, full of ham and hot sausage, I did cornbread this morning.”
I spot Susan, Lacy and Taylor by the pool, answers my question as to whether they were coming. I’m glad, Marissa and B like Susan, and enjoy her coding lessons.
Lacy is small, like Eloise, blond, pretty. Taylor is a former fashion model, she got Chloe started years ago. Since nobody ages, including Taylor, she’s as runway hot now as she was when she met Susan. I understand that Susan’s first companion was also a taekwondo master, a fifth degree. She died of an aggressive cancer, leaving a hole and Daphne and her mother’s hearts. I don’t know more, Lacy Chapman mentioned it in passing to Zoe C. No point in dragging up the past, they grieved, moved on never forgetting.
Zak, Mickey and the dogs went straight outside to explore, they show up as the crowd is queuing up fill their plates. Even with three bots, it’s just simpler to self serve.
Zak, “Chef, you should see the place,” he laughs, “then you could tell me about it.”
Mickey, “I gave him an overview. After lunch we’ll go around the pool area and the house so he can get a feel for what’s where.”
Sloane, “I’ll join you if I may, Sarah too, we’ve hiked the property, dirt biked the property, run the property.”
Zak, “Dirt bikes? Can I ride along on one?”
Sarah, “Sure, just not with Cassandra.”
I ask, “Why not Cassandra?”
“Whether it’s bikes or go-karts, Cassie has one speed, flat out. She spins out on the sharper curves and flies over the hills on the dirt track. Daphne makes her wear protection. They all wear helmets, even on the karts, but Cassie has to wear knee braces, elbow and wrist braces, Daphne even got a neck brace for her. She seldom crashes the bike, but it happens. So far she’s escaped serious injury, broke a finger once though. Janah Qi’d her up, set the finger and put on a splint, she was on the bike the next day.”
“No fear.”
“None. Daphne finally made her agree that if she lost control she should levitate and let the bike go. The track is fairly soft and Eloise and Daria have a workshop in the storage building. They get the bikes fixed up in no time.”
I’m shoveling in deliciously seasoned white beans, hunk of ham slice of sausage, bite of cornbread.
“Great job Dasha, have any secret tips?”
Dasha, “Anything like beans, chili or soup, ees best to make one day and refrigerate overnight. Something about sitting and letting flavors mingle makes for a better dish. Also, for white beans only, add molasses near the end for a hint of sweet, or maybe brown sugar, not both.”
“Molasses, I’m going to remember that.”
“Tonight will be lighter, shrimp and crab cocktail wiz seafood sauce or Asian dipping sauce, soy sauce wiz wasabi and ginger, like sushi wiz no rice. Salad of some sort, maybe three bean and beets wiz onion, poppy seed dressing. Shreemp here ees frozen, can’t be helped, no ocean in Arizona.”
“I promise no complaints, we’re not hard to feed.”
Sloane comes over, “Zak, we are taking the children to the kart track, they will ride, then turn over karts to older kids, you, Mickey, Marissa and B. Adults have to wait.”
Mickey, “Chef, you have to see the track, it’s huge, with banked turns and crossovers so you can just speed around the oval or make more turns in the infield.”
“That big?”
Amaya, “A mile and a half around, average NASCAR size. Each turn offers an exit to the crisscross track inside the oval. It also serves as the formula one track, and my racing course. I have a cherished Corvette that I like to rev up to the max. I can get one-eighty on the straights and lose almost nothing on the banked curves.”
“You take it on the open road?”
“Sure, the road from the highway to our place is private and it’s two miles long, no speed limit. If I drive Dasha or Daphne to one of the groceries either in Prescott Valley or Flagstaff, we make excellent time.”
“Cops a problem?”
She smiles, “We let them use our firing range for practice. We have a variety of moving targets, popups, a star, plus a rifle range. No charge, they have access whenever. Tickets don’t happen, they know the car, don’t even pull me over.”
Zoe C, “Can I give it a go? Elle and I did Bondurant, tactical and racing, we have experience.”
Amaya, “Get out! Several of us trained there, Chloe, Daphne, Dasha and Daria, myself, then the Twins II, Katya and Katja first went three years ago, now we go annually to retune.”
“Ever had to use the tactical?”
“More than once, we had an amazing run in Columbia, bad guys tried to kidnap Chloe’s costar, we escaped, but I banged up the Tahoe in the process.”
Zoe C, “This was for the movie?”
“No, that was for real, kidnap a big star, collect a fat ransom. Didn’t work, in part thanks to our training.”
“And your role as author, working on anything? Or is it something not to ask?
“No, not at all. Chloe is hugely popular in her film roles. After two Ultra Violets, she did a psychologist planted in a mental institution as a patient, uncovering layers of abuse and corruption. Not my script, but it was a juicy role for her and the dialogue was right. Then a movie about a gay PI who connects with Chloe to solve a crooked cop problem. It’s been five years since Ultra Violet II, I’m just finishing three and selecting her supporting cast. The film will be amazing, Chloe front and center, I’m intentionally hiring a cast of little or complete unknowns. I would like McKenzie to play young Chloe, if she will and her guardian approves.”
I look at Natalie, “Well?”
“Of course, assuming McKenzie is willing.”
“We start shooting in three or four months, I have a cast to round up, all the support people most of whom I know already. We self fund, have our own distribution network, theaters get half the ticket sales, we get the other half, no sharing with studios, we are a studio.”
“They bitch?”
“No, studios used to control practically everything, then Tarantino, the Coen brothers and Sofia Coppola came along, that all changed. Independents can use our studio and distribution network, fees are reasonable, we even throw in a drone.”
Natalie, “My kind of girl, works it and turns out premiere product.”
“Thank you.”

Eighty

After lunch we laze around the pool. There are three circular staircases inside, two stairways on either end of the rear balcony that overlooks the pool. A guesthouse to one side, Danika and Su live there in two bedrooms, there are three more bedrooms for visitors. I take one, Zoe C and Elle in a second, Zak and Mickey in the third. McKenzie and Akiko share one in the main house, Marissa and B in another. I haven’t toured the whole place. I know there are five bedrooms downstairs, plus a sizable office. The living area and kitchen one massive room. I figure even if the upstairs bedrooms are roomy there must be ten of them plus the dorm. All Daphne’s people are doubled up by choice. For the adults, most sleep with the same person, but I get the idea that intimacy partners change frequently. Variety rules.
The dorm children come swarming down the left balcony staircase, Morshchiny trailing behind. Zelda and Cilia are already outside with us. They head past the guest house.
“Where they going?”
Britt, “To the track. Want to see something fun? Come along.”
Britt I just met today, it’s entirely possible to visit Daphne’s homes and not see everyone who lives there. I’ve seen Britt in Malibu, briefly, I can only assume she’s another rescue from some point in the past.
Behind the guesthouse I see the track about a quarter mile off, it’s set down the hill, low and far enough to keep engine sounds negligible. To the left is clearly a dirt bike path, complete with low and high bumps and hills. Most of the families are here, I don’t see Susan and her pals, nor Dasha or Ellen or the two live-ins, Danika and Su. Dasha and Ellen are likely busy planning meals, don’t know what the others are up to.
The karts are lined up practically wheel to wheel in a line across the track. The children pile in, so cute with little heads in helmets complete with face masks. Sloane and Sarah check seatbelts then move to the side where we’re standing. I notice roll bars despite the karts having such a wide wheelbase and so low to the ground they’re practically sitting in it. They appear near impossible to turn over, but the safety precaution is only sensible.
Britt, “The karts are electric. Originally we had gas powered, which is why the track is located here. A couple years ago, we went electric, no loss of speed, in fact they perform better than the gas karts, and we don’t have engine fires to worry about.”
As if there were a starting pistol, the karts take off side by side, then immediately fall into a straight line. They complete the oval, bumper to bumper, the karts have wheel guards to prevent locking wheels. As if on cue, the first four spread apart, the rear four fill in the gaps.
I tell Britt, “They go flat out and don’t touch, there can’t be two inches between one and another.”
“Just wait.”
The karts return to a line, then they weave back and forth, the rear passing the next and up the line. All of it at full speed, not so much as a tapped wheel cover or bump from the front or rear. I see it, but I have trouble believing it, yet, there they are, zipping around with smiles from ear to ear. They make the top of the oval, then the turn but take the inside track this time. They flow like starlings taking off from the trees in a what’s called a murmuration, the fancy name for a flock. I don’t know why I know that.
Finally they zip to the original starting line and stop. Spontaneous applause while the children unbuckle, exit the karts and pull off helmets. In a group they head up the hill to the house.
Britt, “Going to the pool.”
“They don’t race then, just synchronized driving, which is more amazing than a race.”
“They would never compete. You know Pando, the quaking aspen forest in Utah?”
“No.”
“Aspens grow from a single seed, all the aspen trees in Pando have identical DNA, they all grow from the original tree’s root system, which spreads as more trees develop. It’s called the world’s largest living organism, covering a hundred six acres, eighty football fields. The root system is estimated to be eighty thousand years old.”
“And how is that connected to the children?”
“While they are not biologically related, the children function like one organism, any one of them can sense the internal state and movement of the others. Not connected by roots of course, rather by Qi energy, although they don’t call it anything.”
“I am dumbstruck, every time we get together, there’s another thing.”
“We don’t age, we do change, mature in our attitudes and experiences. Except the children. We took the injections, the children have never had them, they don’t age, they seem to be maturing slowly though, or at least increasing their experience with the world. It’s been five years and if you knew them five years ago, you’d have difficulty seeing any difference. We do because we live with them, see them every day..”
I shake my head, “So little we know, or understand.”
I see Mickey take a kart, Zak the one next to her, is he going to drive? He’s blind.
Cassandra is in the third, she stomps it and burns rubber, I wonder about the torque, the bit that controls how fast a car can accelerate. 
Britt, “Amaya’s Vette does zero to sixty in just under two seconds, and a quarter mile in nine.”
“Damn. My RDX has a head snapping three seconds to sixty, top end of one ninety.”
“Still impressive for a street legal car.”
“What are you, sixteen? You must be into cars, fast cars anyway.”
She smiles, “Totally, Amaya is getting me the same car you have, I love it, sleek and sexy. Amaya needs someone to race, I won the job.”
“When do you get it?”
“Up to Amaya. I’m not going to keep it here, I want it in Malibu. We can have it shipped back and forth or I could just make the drive myself. Lauren will go with, she’s into fast cars to the extent she looks hot riding in one. I’m not telling tales, she’d say the same thing. Her idea of gorgeous is looking at herself in the mirror.”
I laugh, “There’s not a single girl here that isn’t hot.”
“Janah’s picky about her living environment, she prefers being surrounded by beauty.”
“She’s flipping succeeded.”
A grin, “You haven’t done so bad yourself.”
“Most of that is Zoe C, I’m not complaining but I’m just an innocent bystander.”
“Is she exclusive?”
“Nope, in fact, we aren’t lovers, but we can talk to each other mind to mind, so maybe closer than, that’s how it feels sometimes. Sexually she’s about girls, I have Natalie, but she’s not exclusive either, she visits Elle and Zoe C frequently.”
“Sounds like us, we don’t have a man of course, Sloane is trans but has kept her boy part.”
She doesn’t get into details, which is admirable, besides, it’s none of my business.
I don’t know if Mickey, our trans, has talked to Sloane about it, she’s older and seems quite happy, sensible and straightforward. Another thing I’m not getting into, it’s up to Mickey. It’s not like she needs an intervention and certainly not one by me.
Zoe C pops up, ‘You’re pretty smart for a straight guy. You let people be whatever they are.’
‘I have you to bonk my brain if I drift off course. Did you catch the aspen reference Britt made?’
‘Yes, the children are like the trees, maybe we should call them the Aspen kids.’
‘Or just the Aspens.’
‘Better, maybe I’ll mention it to Daphne. I have a bedtime appointment with her.’
‘Geez, lucky her.’
‘Lucky me.’


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