One

Alice is levitating a tennis ball and making it spin, then it zips off and clonks me on the head.
Alice, ‘Oops.’
‘It’s a tennis ball, I’ll live, you’re getting handy with telekinesis.’
‘Fin is coming along too, she got a plastic plate up for a minute.’
Fin, ‘I was so happy I lost my concentration, good thing it wasn’t the fine china.’
CC, ‘We don’t have any china, fine or ordinary, dishes are Corelle, our glasses and cups are acrylic, dinnerware aesthetics are not on our list of necessities, we have more of a weapons and ammunition aesthetic.’
Zero, ‘Janah called, I told her we have the protective gear. She said when they return from Canada Eloise needs to come over and orient our bots, one is for general housekeeping, the other is our version of Emma B, Phryne B. Amaya watched the Miss Fischer Mysteries, she has the voice down, which is similar to Emma B’s British accent, just a bit more of an Australian version.’
Alice, ‘She’s going to dress like me, Phryne B and I will glamorize the place.’
Nikita comes from upstairs, ‘We haf report of abuse, or suspected abuse, messenger said probable, needs investigation.’
‘Social services? Child Protection?’
‘Investigated, report said nothing of substance.’
‘You think it’s a Shadow? Confuse the investigators?’
‘Maybe, Shadow doesn’t not anyway torture, not that we haf seen, only sex wiz children or eencesting.’
‘Still abuse, rape as we see it.’
‘Da, this one ees more physical, suspected neglect, skinny kid like een starving child photo, burn marks, cuts.’
‘A Shadow could mask all that for the child protection visit, as you say, it doesn’t seem in character for a Shadow, they prefer more psychological abuse. If it isn’t a Shadow, I think the abuse would be evident to child welfare people.’
‘Or maybe abuse child ees hidden someplace.’
‘Not out of the question, we’ve found kids in cages hidden in a basement before.’
‘So do we go for eenvestigating?’
‘Sure, where and when?’
‘South Dakota, there ees regional airport nearby, site ees maybe twenty or thirty miles. We can go in the morning.’
‘Okay, Sisters and me, Zero, the others can go to the range, try out the new equipment.’
‘I will call airline. Ees about three hours een air, central time, pick up two. Eef we fly out at nine, we can be there for ten.’
‘Good, it’s time for a drink, dinner in an hour.’
Alice, ‘You need me to go along?’
‘Don’t know, this is reconnaissance, it may be nothing. You guys go to the range, if we see the need, we’ll call and you or any of the others can fly out. Depends on whether or not Shadows are involved, particularly if it’s more than one.’
Zero, ‘Like you said, this would be new nasty behavior for a Shadow, the four of us can make a determination without having everyone pile on a plane.’
The girls seldom argue for or against inclusion, they get the logic and it isn’t as if they have nothing to do otherwise. Tomorrow they can shoot, ride, and drive the courses. They have the RV for the trip, I had a concrete block building built, like a garage or warehouse, we store the bikes and karts there, saves us from hauling them and they are all on a trickle charge so the batteries are fresh. Our toys are all electric, no carting around gas, and there’s a bathroom with a decent sized communal shower and a couple of stalls. To avoid stagnant water issues, the toilets are on timers and flush every two hours. Solar panels on the roof keep the juice flowing.
At seven thirty we settle around the table for white beans, brown rice, hot sausage and cornbread.
Misha, ‘God this is so good, you have something a little sweet in it?’
Zoe, ‘Touch of Steen’s Cane Syrup, it has a sweet dark flavor, the same stuff we add to maple syrup for pancakes and French toast. I only put a couple of tablespoons, but the hint of sweet comes through.’
‘There’s corn in the cornbread, and jalapenos?’
‘Yes, not too much of either, if I put too much it makes the cornbread fall apart.’
‘I like to slather it with clarified butter. What’s the hunk of whatever in the beans?’
 ‘Ham hocks, adds a smoky ham flavor. When we’re done I’ll cut the ham off the bone, Morshchiny will have her own feast.’
Morshchiny ‘huffs’ when she hears her name, raises her head a few inches, then back down to wait patiently. Not too patiently, she downed a bowl of doggie pebbles earlier, a big bowl,she’s a Mastiff and weigh in at one forty.
Alice, ‘We’ll wait to put up the website until we return from the range. The site is up, the basics, I have to cut and paste the text, add links to go forward or back, readers can bookmark the page when they’ve read enough. The stories don’t have chapters, still deciding whether to put the whole story on a single website page or break it up. I can add photos or video, but I haven’t decided on that, it may be more distraction than enhancement.’
CC, ‘I think we try a few relevant photos, but skip links to anything, except our links to page forward or back. External links move readers from the book to something else. I know links are supposed to enhance the SEO, but we’re doing this for the fun of building a website, don’t much care if search engines like it.’
Alice, ‘Amaya put a book online, she said it got a fair number of visitors, she charged a fee for access, but she’s a recognized name, people paid but it wasn’t like her regular book sales.’
CC, ‘We may go that route, but not at first, Alice just wants to put her stuff out there and see what happens.’
When we left you in Book I, we had received our protective toys, vests, knee and elbow lobster tails, cut proof gloves. Nothing seemed useful for head protection, at least nothing that didn’t resemble a helmet. 
Zero, the twins, and I are flying to the mostly empty state of South Dakota. The others are going to the range to shoot and play, we have electric go-karts, dirt bikes, and for our speed monsters an Acura NSX, two actually. They can get those suckers over a hundred eighty, and they do. Our drivers have been to Bondurant for tactical and race training, been there several times. We don’t have Formula One cars, but they do at Bondurant, along with the SUVs for tactical, and Dodge Challengers for racing.
While they burn gas and rubber, the four of us are on a private flight to a South Dakota regional airport.

Two

Arrival, our SUV is waiting, a Ford Faggot, it tends to lisp in the higher gears, is always going to art galleries, fashion shows, and has every gay bar in the area on GPS, lubed condoms optional. It you hit the brakes too hard, a voice says, ‘stop Thad, you’re hurting me.’ 
Zero, ‘We can’t check in until this afternoon, stay on the highway north for fifteen miles, turn left at the Whoopee Teepee Casino and Buffalo Park, twelve or so miles down there’s a semi-subdivision, part aluminum and part single family ranch styles complete with wheel-less cars on blocks, old tires, and a few dead appliances in the front yard. Some porches will have sofas with duct taped fabric and one broken leg.’
‘Sounds heavenly.’
‘It’s a casual community of financial casualties.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘There’s a Dollar General, flagship of an impoverished neighborhood, and a convenience store with one of the highest beer and Slim Jim sales volumes in the state.’
‘Ah, they have premium beers?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Bud, Bud Lite, and a local craft beer called Redskin Firewater.’
‘The Indians don’t mind?’
‘They own the brewery.’
‘I don’t see the problem with the word Indian, and Native American sounds stupid, first, they never called it America, second, they paddled or migrated here from Asia over fifteen thousand years ago, so they might be Native Siberians, there was no America then. From hunter gatherer’s and nomads they morphed into meth addicts and alcoholics despite owning casinos, Redskin revenge, draining social security checks of ancient white people who think punching buttons on a slot is a way to amuse themselves while they whither away to the happy hunting grounds. Not to mention that, today, there are no pure blooded Indians, they’re all named Jim or George, giving up cool Indian names like White Feather or Running Buffalo and wear cowboy hats instead of fetch feather headdresses.’ 
Zero laughs, ‘Indian casinos are the last refuge of washed up bands clinging pitifully to the gone glory days, now their groupies are sixty or seventy years old. Even worse, tribute bands for people who can’t get enough Stairway to Heaven or Yellow Submarine.’
‘There should be a death penalty for anyone who plays Stairway to Heaven in a public place, but what do I know? My favorite music is none.’
‘Never feel the urge to shake your booty?’
‘White guys dancing should be illegal.’
‘What about freedom of expression?’
‘I prefer freedom from seeing white men dance, one person’s permission is another person’s restriction.’
‘Then what of freedom in general?’
‘There is no such thing as freedom, freedom implies no restrictions, which is impossible under any government, even under anarchy. Just because there are no written laws doesn’t mean there are no restrictions. If I build a fence, the passerby is restricted from entering despite there being no law.’
Nikita, ‘Eff you are feenish writing new Constitution wiz only blank pages, Indian casino place ees coming up.’
So it is, buses lined up after unloading the morning’s suckers and waiting for the fleeced to shuffle up for the return trip to the Shady Operator’s Resident Care Facility where nobody knows your name.
Zero, ‘It’s built like a totem pole, first floor, lobby and slots, second floor blackjack and slots, third roulette, craps, and slots, fourth is for other card games, primarily poker, but they offer Baccarat, five, six and seven are guest rooms, eight is the Geronimo all day buffet featuring General Custer burgers and bloody scalp steak, blackened Blackfoot, all served with tomahawk tomatoes and Cherokee corn. Featured dessert, Flaming Arrow Fondue.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I’m reading it off the website, this tribe has a marvelous sense of humor. They even have a kiddie area called Dances with Wolves, with actual wolves. Children who survive are treated to a double dip ice cream cone, any of twelve flavors.’
We breeze by, no wave of warriors on horseback comes over the hill, we don’t have to circle our wagon, just keep moving towards Heavenly Valley Estates.
Fifteen later, here we are.
Zero, ‘Geez, this is random, chaotic even, no street signs, no addresses, it’s a residential junkyard.’
Nikita, ‘Just hafing a kid here ees child abuse.’
‘What do we know, I mean to find the house?’
Natasha, ‘Message said northeast corner, we’re south of the place now.’
I enter the maze, wind my way around until we’re at the back, or top, of the subdivision, go right. Could be either of two places.
‘Now what, if the source is correct, it will be the one of those.’
Zero, ‘Both places have trucks in front, no driveways, cars are either on the street or parked in the front yard.’
Natasha, ‘Source mentioned a fence.’
‘Set up the listening device, if I move up a bit I can park us behind that van, a little cover. Focus on the place with the chain link fence around the rear. We can’t launch a drone out here.’
There’s nothing in the house, no sound anyway, there are blinds in the windows, not the kind of place to have window treatments, one stretch of rain gutter is barely clinging to the soffit, weighted down by wet leaves.
Zero, ‘It’s two, if there are kids they’re in school maybe, the truck is troublesome, it must belong to whoever lives there, it’s halfway into the yard but I don’t hear any activity inside….wait…TV just came on.’
‘That’s a pretty sturdy looking outbuilding, concrete block, no windows I can see from here,’ I look through binoculars, ‘hell of a lock, deadbolt and if I’m not mistaken, a metal door. They aren’t keep gardening tools or a lawnmower in there.’
Zero, ‘No point, this scrub grass has never seen a blade.’
‘There’s a vent pipe poking out the roof, I don’t see any connection for water but I can’t see behind it. Let’s pull out, we’ve been parked here a while and I want to see the back of the place.’
We drive out of the substandard subdivision, the road to here is just road, no stores or gas stations until it gets closer to the highway. I find a spot to pull off, back in between a stand of trees.
Nikita gets out, I open the hatch, she’s already got the drone assembled, it fires up, out the hatch then straight up for a hundred feet, then towards the house.
She keeps it high and a hundred fifty yards out, the cam zoom takes care of that.
Zero, ‘No pipes running in the rear of the outbuilding, a flat roof and the vent pipe, if there’s no water or gas, what are they venting? It must have a light, see the power line?’
‘Yep, maybe a workshop? A meth factory?’
‘Or a secure place to keep an imprisoned kid.’
Nikita, ‘Someone ees home, key for building will be inside. I will knock on door, shut down peerson, find key and check building.’
Nikita likes straightforward, she brings in the drone, I drive us back to the house, park in the same spot.
‘Natasha, go with, armed, any danger, kill it.’
They dismount and head down the street, ‘Zero, use the listening device.’
She clicks it on, Nikita is knocking on the door, Voice inside, female, ‘Don’ want whatcha sellin’, get gone.’
Nikita kicks the door lock high, it slams back, then back to the jamb, Nikita pushes it openVoice, ‘Got-tam fuck,’ she’s has a gun, except she dropped it when the door slammed into her,
Natasha says, ‘Gun,’ then we hear a soft pop.
Nikita’s voice, ‘Eef you are listen on machine, we are good, sister shot skank nasty woman, she ees no more needing drug. We will find key and check….ah, ees hanging next to back door.’
I see them approach the outbuilding, unlock the door, open and go in.
Nikita, ‘We haf leetle boy in cage, haf to find second key.’
Zero, ‘I’ll go help, keep an eye on the street.’
She crosses the road, goes in the house, the door shuts, sort of, the lock is busted. I see her cross the dirt to the outbuilding.
A reasonably new pickup, Ford Something, pulls in next to the beat to hell truck. One man, he gets out, no good. Zero can read my mind, but I doubt she’s doing it now, focused on getting the kid free. I’m out and across the street, get to the door, now open. A big man, not exactly black, not exactly white, is standing over the body.

Three

I draw my Glock, stick it in the back of his neck, ‘Very slowly raise your hands, don’t get cute, you can see the gun is real from the dead meat on the floor.’
Mixed, ‘Fuck you doin’, look like they’s anythin’ to steal in here?’
‘I got tired of robbing rich people, they always have security systems, gates, some even have dogs but those tend to pint sized, more like rats than dogs.’
‘Why’d you off the bitch?’
‘She’s ugly, even for this neighborhood, I’m with the beautification committee.’
‘Can I turn around?’
‘Sure, step forward two steps, slowly, keep your hands plastered to the top of your head, I get twitchy the gun might go off.’
He steps, turns, if people resemble their pets he must own a bulldog.
He looks me over, ‘Big enough fucker.’
‘You aren’t tiny either. What’s the woman to you?’
‘Whore, was a girlfriend until she fell in love with meth. Now she helps pay the bills.’
‘What do you do?’
‘Haul her to truck stops, back of bars, motels, she’s sucked more cock than ten faggots, some tricks even fuck her if you can believe that.’
‘Some men will stick their dick in anything.’
He actually laughs, ‘True that. Now I got to find a new cunt, I’m runnin’ three, two now, need a third to keep up my luxurious lifestyle.’
My phone dings, I pull it out, ‘Yeah.’
Zero, ‘We have him in the car, boy’s a mess, filthy, bruised, broken wrist taped up with duct tape, other stuff.’
‘Hang on,’ I take a photo of Mixed, send it to her, ‘check the message, does the kid know this guy?’
While she’s finding out, I talk to Mixed, ‘The kid in the outbuilding, what’s the point?’
‘Don’t know about no kid.’
Zero’s back on, ‘Even the picture scared the boy, took me a minute to calm him, your guy uses him for sex, or did, now it’s just beat downs.’
‘Okay, be out in a sec.’
I look at Mixed, ‘Boy tells it different, and it isn’t good for you,’ I park a nine in his foot, he screeches, a second in his other foot, now he’s on the floor next to skank.
After he’s done whining, I ask, ‘Why?’
He doesn’t answer, there is no acceptable answer anyway, I take out both knees, stomp one wrist and put a hole in it, then the other. He can’t move, can’t use his hands, I collect my casings, leave him writhing to bleed out, he can suffer first. We aren’t calling 911.
In the SUV, to the road, then the highway.
‘He good to ride for a while?’
Zero, ‘Natasha put him to sleep, she and Nikita will Qi his wrist while he’s out, we can’t be hauling him to the emergency room.’
‘Our protective gear wasn’t necessary this time, still better to have it, the woman had a gun, the man was big, things could have gone some other way.’
‘Nikita said she was strung out, even if she hadn’t dropped it she’d have trouble hitting a wall in a closed room. Still, you’re right, a stray bullet kills just as dead.’
‘I’m going south on 29, where’s it go?’
She fiddles with her phone, ‘Four hundred to Kansas City, five and a half hours. We can check in someplace and decide what to do.’
The boy sleeps the whole drive, we did stop and ditch the little bit he was wearing, the twins wiped him down with wet towels and put a clean t-shirt on him. He was like a rag doll, didn’t wake up.
We did make a drug store stop, a wrist brace, probably too big but we got an Ace bandage to wrap it, the brace can slip over that. Toothbrush, no need for a hairbrush, he’s barely got hair, it’s military burred.
Then a grocery for our usual travel food, roast chicken, mac and cheese, seafood salad, sodas, chocolate chip cookies, vodka, cranberry and a bottle of red, bottled water. When Zero and I return from the store he’s awake and needing to pee.
‘Can you hang in, I’m checking into a hotel in a minute.’
‘Okay, kind of thirsty too.’
‘Nikita, dig a water out of the bag.’
He starts to guzzle, Nikita takes the bottle, ‘Slowly, you are dehydrated, go easy.’
I get us a suite and a connecting room, I go out to the car, ‘Take the stuff, up, I’ll park around the side and bring him in there, we can get to the elevator without going through the lobby.’
Soon enough we’re all in the suite, Zero cuts up the chickens, the other stuff is ready to eat.
‘Get him in a tub, you can wrap the wrist and use the brace after,’ I ask the boy, ‘How’s your wrist feel?’
He looks at it, it’s not purple anymore, cautiously bends and twists, ‘Stiff, nothing like before.’
‘Good, okay, one of you deal with getting him cleaned up, then he can get fed.’
Zero gets on the phone while the boy is getting a bath, she talks for ten, I click on the TV and look for something the boy can watch, I find a movie about a boy, a dog and a ghost, rated G, can’t be too scary. Considering where he came from, a cage with two dipshits wailing on him, I doubt The Exorcist would be too scary.
Spread a blanket over the couch, get a pillow from one of the beds.
Zero comes out, ‘Talked to Janah, she’s calling the ranches to see where there might be a spot.I told her where we are and that we had to drive since the boy has no ID. She’ll call when she knows something.’
Then she dials home, Zoe answers, ‘Hey Zoe, we finished the job but we have a placement, Janah is talking to the ranches. It may be a couple of days home, we have to drive for reasons you already know.’
She listens then, ‘Doesn’t even have a name, which is okay, it would have to change anyway,’ listening, ‘some, Natasha and Nikita worked on him, he’s doing better, not good, he’s emaciated and was dehydrated,’ listening, ‘okay, sounds good, tell Alice congratulations, I’ll check in tomorrow, I hear them finishing up the bath.’
She clicks off, Nikita and the boy show up, he’s got a t-shirt that hangs to his ankles, socks, looks as if he’s feeling better now that he’s clean.
Zero, ‘Sit, another water, I’ll fix you something,’ she puts a chicken leg on a plate with a couple spoons of mac, ‘it’s not much because you have to get your tummy used to eating, I don’t know what they fed you but it couldn’t have been much.’
‘Sometimes I didn’t even know what it was, mush, didn’t taste like anything, a bowl of water they didn’t refill ut once in a while. I didn’t know if it was day or night until one of them came with the bowls, it was usually dark out when they did.’
‘Take your time with the food, if you do okay for a half hour and want more you can have it then.’
He eats, somewhere along the way he’s used a fork, eats the chicken with his fingers, but that’s how most people eat it. When he’s done, Zero has him wash his hands, then to the couch and the movie, he sits in the corner on the end, the movie starts. I didn’t ask if he’d ever seen TV, we don’t ask how long he was caged, better if he doesn’t have to think about it.
We make drinks, sit around the square table and sip, ‘I didn’t think to get nuts or cheese or crackers, there’s plenty of chicken and the other stuff.’
Zero, ‘Good news for Alice, Amaya has been reading her work, she told Alice and CC to skip the website for now. If Alice can crank our six stories, maybe two hundred pages total, she will get them published. She said they were quite entertaining, and suitable for tweens, adolescents, and adults, like the Sherlock stories.’
‘Who’s the publisher? Or does she shop it?’
‘Amaya has her own publishing company, like her movies, her name is enough to guarantee distribution, and she has a good working relationship with the streaming services. Netflix is always bugging her for more content, they wanted her exclusively but she’s not going for that, it isn’t like she needs their money.’
Nikita, ‘Alice ees too smart, she should be her own main character.’
‘CC said the Curious Girl is loosely based on her, on Alice I mean, just nothing about being rescued or the other business.’
Natasha, ‘She going to use the pseudonym she planned for the website?’
‘Yeah, Rainn, one name, Gothic unisex name, the two ns don’t change pronunciation, it’s rain.’
Phone dings, Zero answers, ‘Hey Janah….good, okay, location?’
She listens, then, ‘You want us to get him paper….no, haven’t discussed a name…good, got it, we should be, let me check….okay it’s around seven hundred miles, all interstate seventy to Denver…yes, send it, I can show him in the morning….he’s doing well as far as I can tell, quiet but he’s undernourished, not sure of his age, I think he might be eight but he’s small due to his prior circumstances….they will? Even better, I’ll check in from the road tomorrow, it’s eleven hours so day after to collect him. Thanks.’
‘Janah said the ranch in Colorado has a slot, someone will meet us near Denver, the ranch is farther north.’
‘Ranch will be better for a boy, they’ll keep him occupied, another dozen or so kids, all of whom are rescues from one kind of hell or another. If you want, I have no problem with him coming with us instead.’
‘Janah is sending a video for the place, I’ve seen a couple of them, he gets a look at horses, friendly dogs, a few chickens and kids going skiing, hiking and camping in the mountains, we’ll be forgotten in a few days. There’s more boy activity, at our place he’ll become little brother and considering the minimalist dress code we employ I think the ranch is better. Oh, Janah said they will do the paperwork.’
‘Sounds right,’ I look over at the couch, ‘he’s absorbed anyway.’
Nikita is sitting next to him, ‘Do you want to try a bit more dinner?’
He says something, she comes over, ‘One more piece of chicken and macaroni, if that goes well, a cookie before bed.’

Four

Sometimes things go as planned, Zero showed him the video while I drove, after more Qi treatment from Natasha and a full night’s sleep in a good bed, he’s a chatterbox. Understandable, he talked to almost no one, now he’s curious and full of questions, a good sign.
We handed him off to a woman and a man, the woman a former rescue who grew up on the ranch and wanted to stay, the man a disciple on rotation from one of the Shaolin Temples. Janah said monks rotate on one year assignments, and she also said it was the most volunteered for job outside the temple. Only advanced Disciples or Masters can participate, students and first or second year disciples still have much to learn before being gone for a year.
We’ve been home a week, the woman called Zero and said the boy was acclimating, peppering everyone with questions, the world is entirely new to him and being one of the youngest he’s been adopted by the rest of the kids. All of them endured abuse, they don’t talk about it, but they understand in a way only a kid that’s experienced it can. She told Zero one of the horses seems to have attached and follows the boy around as if standing guard, occasionally nudging him with a snout to let the boy know he’s there.
He named himself after reading a list online, he’s now Damien, if he chose a last name it didn’t come up.
We won’t see him again, Janah said when they rescue and send to a ranch, they don’t see the kids again and they don’t take the victim to the ranch, only someplace for the house parents to meet and collect them. While Janah’s people and the Shaolin are responsible for the creation and maintenance of the ranches, none of her people have ever been to one. Again, as with us, whoever they rescued the kid from was badly maimed, their minds altered by Janah’s Qi, they were left as the walking dead or wheelchair vegetables. Not sure I see the point, we simply shot ours, seems cleaner, but then Janah has a conscience, my tribe has no such restriction. She did remind Zero that contacts may be less willing to forward names if they think they’re getting someone murdered, she also said given the circumstances we found the boy in, she could hardly object. Like Daphne says, you have to kill a rabid dog, there’s no treatment and saving one victim just opens up an opportunity for the dog to find a new one.
Zero, ‘I’m satisfied with left swiping them, if contacts get gun shy, too bad. If we do mind alteration, Natasha has to do it, maybe me but I’m not as Qi powered as she and Nikita, or even Alice for that matter. It can take hours, or we use hallucinogens and amphetamines to drive them crazy, which also takes time. I prefer kill and go.’
‘That’s fine, except for assignments that come from Janah or Daphne, they don’t do kills and we agreed to their restriction.’
Our Goths float through the main room and out the patio door as if the rest of us are invisible.
Zero, ‘They’ve been up to things mystical, don’t ask, I don’t know, but their aura is like black light. Alice, tell Morshchiny to follow them, they can’t wander off the property, but still.’
Alice tells the dog to go with Fin and Phaedra, to guard, охрана, pronounced okhrana in Russian. Morshchiny trots out and follows them up the hill.
Zoe, ‘That dog is amazing, it’s like she reads our minds.’
The phone dings, Zero answers, listens, ‘How do Nikko and Zi feel?’
Listens again, then, ‘Yes, he’s right here, have they announced to your people?’
A few more seconds, then she clicks off.
‘Nikko and Zi are going to be parents.’
Zoe, ‘Get out!’
She turns to me, ‘It has to be you, the ghost dad so to speak.’
‘Guilty.’
Misha, ‘You got Zi pregnant?’
‘I agreed to her request, it was a most delightful accommodation, Zi is lovely. Let’s remember, the child will be Nikko and Zi’s, one day they may choose to reveal the father, but that’s a future decision and however they decide to handle it is good by me. I may never be mentioned, they could say it was an anonymous donor, I don’t get insulted either way. The child will lack for nothing.’
Micha, ‘And Nikko will have no problem being fatherly, one of her stares ensures instant compliance, I know from our kendo lessons.’
Zero, ‘All the girls at Janah’s will know, they will have to tell the child eventually. Daphne didn’t know her father, but it was a different circumstance, she had two moms, unfortunately her non-birth mom passed away but Daphne was thirteen or so or so as I recall. She told me Chris, she called her C-mom, was the woman who encouraged them when they joined the taekwondo class. They ultimately became 5th degree Masters.’
‘I didn’t know that, I thought Daphne was a Gung Fu Master, a priest even.’
‘The Master at the taekwondo school introduced Daphne to the Shaolin Temple when he decided he had nothing left to teach her. She actually took her 5th degree test while she was in the temple, Janah said the performance was astonishing, she wouldn’t go into detail though. Secret martial arts stuff I assume.’
‘And she got the brands when she passed the final test for priest, Shaolin Priest I mean. Bet that hurt.’
‘Yes, they’re still there on her forearms but now more like scar tissue, still, the tiger and dragon are plainly visible.’
Zoe, ‘So they aren’t tattoos?’
‘No, she was branded, which she had to do herself, but the method is another temple secret.’
‘Not too secret, she obviously had to put her forearms on red hot something and hold them there long enough to fry her skin, you don’t get scars like from scalding water.’
‘Cripes, that took guts.’
Zero, ‘I don’t think there’s much Daphne can’t do once she sets her mind to it, both she and her mom are easygoing, Susan even has a submissive streak but I wouldn’t want to fight either one of them.’
‘Check the exterior cams, where are Fin and Phaedra?’
Zoe clicks on a tablet, taps around the various cameras, ‘Parked on one of the boulders facing the ocean, let me zoom, lips are moving but they aren’t talking to each other, they’re saying the same thing.’
Zero, ‘Chanting.’
‘Chanting? Chanting what?’
‘Beats me, maybe calling up angels or demons, maybe it helps blank the mind and they aren’t calling up anything but emptiness.’
‘On a different subject, do we want to go to Canada for a week or ten days?’
Misha, ‘Absolutely.’
Zoe, ‘I think it would be lovely, getting warm here anyway, what do you think Zero?’
‘I put the idea in his head, what about Sisters?’
Nikita, ‘We like Canada, Sisters will spend more time on Qi.’
Phaedra and Fin come in.
Phaedra, ‘We’ve been practicing chants, don’t worry, we aren’t trying to TikTok Satan, we found several chants in an old text Fin ordered. Witch chants, mystic chants, so far not much but it’s relaxing, blanks the brain after we get going.’
Phone dings, Zero answers, ‘Hey Daphne….yes, we were just talking about that, you’re up for what, two more weeks?…..I’m thinking day after tomorrow, we haven’t booked a cabin but in summer it’s not a problem, I’ll call or text you details….they called about the boy, said he’s doing fine, got himself a horse pal too…..ah, so Nikko and Zi announced, glad to hear it…good, see you soon.’

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