Seventeen

Touchdown outside Austin, we use municipal or private airports whenever possible, major airports are bothersome, even if there’s an executive jet area.
Zero got us a Chevy Autistic SUV, it’s not bad, just obsessed with traffic lights and road signs, it can be muted, still obsessed but we don’t have to listen to it repeat stop, go a thousand times. The sedan is a Ford Furious, if you just go the speed limit it calls you names like fucking pussy and wimp asshole. Janah said when Daphne came to a full stop before turning right it called her various unrepeatable names until she threatened to shoot it, then it cried and apologized.
We stop for coffee, Zero has a map on her tablet and she’s highlighted the spots where the aberrant behavior occurred.
‘As you see, everything is in a two or three mile diameter, more of an oval. Apart from that there are no connections I could find. We don’t know who the little girl was, but the others don’t appear to have any business or personal relationships. That’s not a surprise, the Shadow, if that’s what this is, just took what was available.’
Janah, ‘That makes sense, he’s not going to hand us any commonalities, and might not even have thought it through that far anyway, like you said, he travels around until an easy target appears and does his bit. That smacks of trying to draw us out, no…wait, I’ve got it backwards, if he wants to trap us, he’d have taken people who had something in common. Given us a place to start looking, which he would be monitoring.’
‘It’s not out of the question that he’s merely amusing himself and enticing us to find him has nothing to do with it.’
Daphne, ‘Still, it’s a bonus for him to kill a Shaolin. We’ve done more Shadow hunting than you guys, and when we do Zi and I are involved. She’s starting to show by the way, and she’s dreamy happy. Nikko is happy too, but she’s impossible to read unless you know her well.’
‘You going for the birds?’
‘Unless we want to move here and hunt every day.’
‘Then we need a hotel room with a balcony.’
Janah, ‘Rest for the Weary Suites, full kitchen, two bedroom available, balcony with a view of an industrial park and a prison, no, wait, that’s a high school.’
Daphne, ‘Same thing.’
‘Go three miles south, exit fifty, left on Despondent Drive, two blocks down.’
We check in, the suite is entirely gray, including bed linens, towels, toilets, tubs, refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, everything.
Daphne, ‘Wonder why they call it the Foggy Bottom Suite?’
Zero, ‘Pure inspiration, glad we didn’t go for the Fire Engine Suite.’
Janah, ‘It comes with sunglasses, but still.’
‘There’s fog machine over here, warning: use at your own risk.’
Daphne goes out the sliding door to the balcony, got nothing else to do so I make coffee, micro a cup of water for tea, Janah’s a tea drinker.
By the time I’m stirring in additives Daphne has drawn an owl to the railing. A few minutes and she returns, ‘Okay, birds on the search, the owl that came didn’t know about any Dark Ones. She’s going to spread the word. We can drive around if you want, or just wait.’
Janah, ‘I’m for nothing, but if any of you want to go looking we have stumbled on Shadows before, trolling the area where incidents occurred.’
Daphne, ‘I doubt the birds will show up in the next hour. Zero suppose we take a short tour, we can get something for dinner, snacks, wine, you want vodka Commandant?’
‘Wine will do, don’t know when we might have to go out.’
They go off to fish, both of them can spot Shadows, I’m no good for that, Janah can do it, she seems to have other things on her mind. 
Off to one bedroom, a few later she comes out in nothing.
I want to drool, ‘Splendid outfit, skintight, very tight.’
Janah grins, ‘Now you stud.’
We’re still lounging in bed when Daphne and Zero return. Janah in semi-nap, I’m staring at the ceiling, if I stare at Janah I’ll want her all over again. Daphne comes in.
Janah, ‘Thank you for following my suggestion.’
I blink, ‘What suggestion?’
Zero is leaning against the door jamb, ‘Janah told Daphne to get lost for a couple of hours.’
‘When did…oh, mind to mind. Let me add my thanks.’
Zero, ‘Tonight, presuming we aren’t out at all hours chasing a Shadow, you and Janah take this room, I’ll find something to entertain Daphne in the other.’
Daphne, ‘I was thinking of entertaining you for my entertainment.’
‘Perfect, like synchronicity or whatever.’
Janah’s hand is guarding my cock, she releases and rolls out, I’m laying buck in front of three girls with my boy bit at half mast.
Zero giggles, ‘Park the long staff for a while Commandant, geez, you just used it to abuse Janah.’
The toilet flushes, Janah says from the bathroom, ‘Glad it’s regained function, I’ll make it dysfunctional again later.’
I decide a cold shower is in order, then dress and into the main room. Janah thoughtfully allows us the pleasure of ogling perfection while we have a glass of wine.
Janah, ‘I’d dress, but why, I have the attention of three sets of lusty eyes. It seems selfish to cover up.’
Zero, ‘You should be what you are, in this case nude. Red wine and eye candy, better than chocolate.’
A bird, not an owl, this time a crow, a big one. Daphne goes out to the balcony, you can’t tell they are communicating, crows love to crow, but for now this one is silent. 
From outside Daphne says, ‘J, grab the bird GPS please, I think we have a winner.’
She attaches the device to the crow’s neck, I would never have believed that a bird as feisty as a crow would sit still for it, but he does. I also don’t know if it’s a he, how can you tell?
At any rate, the thing flies off, Janah has the phone, we can see the dot making its way east and north. After a half hour the dot circles then stops.
Janah, ‘That’s the spot where the bird sees the Shadow, the Dark One. Now we take a ride, the drone is in the SUV, we’ll only need one if we need to use it at all.’
In the car, I’m driving, Janah is directing, the bird flew a half hour, we take longer, the bird flies in a straight line, driving on roads calls for turns, red lights, yield and stop signs.
Janah, ‘Park on the left by the trees, the house is a mile farther on, Daphne retrieve the tracker, the crow doesn’t need to cart it around for the rest of his life.’
Daphne exits, we’re parked near a stand of trees, a small park, she returns in a few with the device, ‘She said to kill them all.’
‘So, more than one? How many?’
‘Birds don’t count, as in one, two, three, there’s one and more than one, sometimes many. She didn’t say, could have meant kill all Dark Ones in a global sense, but not that there are more than one in the house, that’s what we find out now.’


Eighteen

We watch the drone lift and scoot, it’s remarkably quiet, Eloise’s doing I’m told. This drone is homegrown, don’t think quadcopter, think missile, a missile that can fly straight up and down, or shoot forward at up to two hundred miles an hour. Illegal graphene batteries, chargeable with a plug or by solar shields on the fuselage. On a sunny day it could fly all day, at night Daphne says it’s good for an hour minimum, if it’s not doing much but hovering, then up to two hours. It has a video recorder, a listening device, a rotating cylinder like a revolver that spits out darts loaded with either tranquilizer or a toxic soup developed by the Shaolin that is virtually instant death. 
Now for a sneak and peek.
This isn’t a neighborhood, the house isn’t a prefab ranch. Think seventy year old farm house, barn in back. It’s dark, we can only see by the light from windows. It appears weathered but it’s not in disrepair, no broken steps to the porch, railings on the steps intact, window frames level down and upstairs.
Janah, ‘Half the windows are lit, all of downstairs and one side upstairs.’
‘You’re thinking that’s a lot of lights on for one person, even two.’
She nods, ‘Let’s see what the drone reveals.’
It takes the drone a minute to get from car to house, Daphne’s not running it at top speed, no point, we aren’t chasing anything. She also doesn’t need to get particularly close to the building, the cam zooms, from a hundred yards it’s like we’re standing in front of the window. 
Janah, ‘Do the front and one side, keep going around until we’ve checked all the windows, maybe bring it in closer, it’s dead dark out here, they won’t see anything.’
At fifty yards, she can turn on the mic, better to look and listen.
From the front, we can see a hallway with stairs to the second floor, on the left is a sitting room, no one sitting, on the right dining room, fair sized table, straight back chairs, a hutch with dishes, not displayed like grandma’s, stacked and haphazard. Dining table is empty, not so much as a salt shaker.
To the right and down the side, a smaller window, a man is at what has to be the sink, over his shoulder is a…something…no, not a freak or monster, this isn’t Stephen King territory, his or her back is to us, hair says woman, shoulders say man.
‘There’s also an arm, see it, across the back of a couch? Man’s hand, dark skin.’
Zero, ‘Three so far.’
From the rear, there’s a landing and steps leading to the yard, window on the door reveals zip, appears to be a small hallway, maybe a laundry room to one side, a bathroom to the other.
Farther along the rear is a window for some room, bedroom, office, can’t tell, the light’s off and there are curtains drawn.
‘They’re being awfully quiet. No TV, no talk, no music.’
Daphne, ‘Duh, it would help if I turned off the mute,’ she taps the phone, voices.
Female, I think, she’s not a squeaky soprano female, her voice is gravelly, deep for a woman.
‘Anyone of you assholes getting bored with this tinker toy mindfuck. I didn’t spend years developing my stuff to screw around making fuckers take their clothes off. Even the girl sucking cock in the mall, come on, that’s juvenile.’
Male, ‘Darcy, you know we’re doing warm-ups, practicing working together. I don’t like it anymore than you, but if we’re gonna take on a big job, we need to know our combined capabilities.’
Second Male, ‘Yep, and we want one big score then get gone before the Shaolin and her friends show up and start wasting us.’
‘Pussies, I got no worry about a fucking priest, I want the fucking priest.’
‘If the rumors are true, the last goddamn thing you need is that priest on your doorstep. Or some ninja bitch and her sword, I head they had some kinda poison dart too.’
Darcy, ‘Fuck me, rumors, our kind are full of shit, basically we’re all overflowing septic tanks.’
‘Including yourself in that?’
‘I can talk shit like any of us. We are what we are, selfish assholes, I like being a selfish asshole, hell, I could run for President..and I’d win, but if I had to hang around a bunch of politicians and their toadies I’d eventually kill them all.’
Second Male, ‘Run, please, then call me, I’ll help you. We can get the capitol police to start murdering a few, then when SWAT shows up, everybody dies.’
First Male, ‘Best part is, they have no idea who is creating their nightmare.’
Laughter.
Zero, ‘Amusing group.’
Daphne, ‘She wants the fucking priest, I’ll have to give her the fucking priest. Don’t want her fondest dream unfulfilled, I’m Daphne, the Shadow Fairy, here to meet your heart’s desire.’
New Female Voice, ‘God I needed that nap, still have any whiskey, or did you dickweeds drink it all?’
Male Voice, ‘Got a half dozen bottles courtesy of some old woman at the counter, even boxed it for me before she took the cash out of the till. I made two hundred plus free whiskey, the good stuff, Elijah Craig. In the cabinet to the right of the sink.’
Daphne’s moved the drone so we can see the kitchen, Gravelly Woman is in view. 
‘She’s a big sucker, I thought from behind it might be a man with long hair.’
Janah, ‘New arrival is petite. I’m guessing forty or forty or a shade more, looks to be in good shape, attractive even.’
From what we can see the two men are so ordinary as to be invisible, like any ball cap white guy at his kid’s soccer match, or barbequing in the back yard while keeping a close eye on the neighbor’s twelve year old Lolita lounging in a mini-kini, taking her sweet time applying sunscreen to the smooth tight. 
Paleface Suburbia, where pre and teen daughters run the world and parents are merely annoying ATMs. Their sons inside playing video games and whacking off to visions of one or another tennis dress MILF, big tits favored but any tits will do.
Zero’s in my head, ‘Did you whack off to moms when you were a teen?’
‘Of course, then I grew up and my perfect woman went from mid thirties to fourteen.’
Zero, ‘I’m fifteen, I think.’
‘Close enough, and fortunately for me and several girls, sexually precocious.’
Zero grins.
Daphne, ‘How sweet, you two still flirt.’
‘Keeps us randy.’
‘At our place that’s Janah’s job, she’s quite good at it, one might say pure inspiration…or impure inspiration.’
Janah, ‘Susan taught me, Daphne’s mom could inspire a stone Buddha.’
Daphne, ‘I was well coached.’
I don’t inquire into the meaning of that, my brief meeting with Daphne’s mother did help me understand why Daphne calls her Sis, they look, if not like twins, enough like each other that sisters is more believable than mom-daughter. Susan was fifteen when Daphne was born, now they both don’t age, Daphne is twenty five rather than forty and Susan is forty rather than sixty five. Susan, or Sis, is also a 5th degree taekwondo Master as is Daphne, they still practice hard and frequently, it shows.
‘Think four is it?’
Janah, ‘Daph, take the drone slowly around, look for people noise in the other rooms.’
She does, we listen hard, look hard, if there’s anyone else inside they’re dead.
‘I wonder what scheme they’re practicing for? Guess it doesn’t matter, shall we commence, or do you have anything else Janah, Daphne, any observations Zero?’
No, no, no, ‘Okay then what’s the approach Daphne?’
‘I go to the door and make Shaolin noises, then you guys come in a make a mess. Appears they’ve had a cocktail or two, we get lucky they’ll be slow to register.’
‘Zero and I can just shoot them.’
‘Save it for real trouble, I prefer a good Qi shot dodging workout, but if either of you thinks we’ve lost control, fire away. We don’t have any idea how good this crew is, you see a hand go up towards you, duck and cover.’
‘Zero, got your blade?’
‘Yep, the big one and the ankle buddy,’ she pulls her KA-BAR black straight edge, seven inch blade, eleven and three quarters overall, my ankle is Folts Bowie,’ a two and an eighth inch blade, five inches overall.
‘Good then, I pull out a Gerber Silver Trident, six and a half inch blade, double serrated, my ankle backup isn’t a knife, it’s a small .380 automatic, my waist gun is a Glock 17, with a suppressor. I think Zero’s is a subcompact G26, what she usually carries.

Nineteen

‘Do we count, like one two three go.’
Daphne, ‘We could, do you want to count, or should I?’
Janah, ‘Quit screwing around or I’ll tell Zero to shoot you both.’
Daphne and Commandant, ‘Three!’
Zero giggles.
Janah starts walking to the car, Daphne takes the driver’s, we move closer to the house.
‘What about the drone?’
Daphne, ‘Leaving it up to monitor the road, if there’s another Shadow for instance.’
She parks, we’re maybe fifty yards from the house, I start to get out, Daphne says, ‘Hold up.’
She peering at the door, Daphne can see like an eagle, and an owl, she not only has acute distance vision, she can see ultraviolet shades the rest of us don’t.
‘They have a cam over the door I should have seen earlier, maybe the drone angle was wrong, the porch is covered, or I just didn’t register the thing.
‘Is that a problem?’
Janah, ‘Why would a houseful of Shadows need to know who’s at the door?’ Or approaching the door?’
Zero, ‘Good question, not like they fear any….ah, I see what you mean.’
‘See what? Somebody clue me in.’
Daphne, ‘The Shadows inside aren’t monitoring anything, the cam is being monitored from someplace else, this is a trap, but it’s only a good trap if we don’t suspect a trap, since we suspect a trap, it’s a lousy trap.’
Janah, ‘You can shut your trap now.’
Zero giggles again, ‘You, Commandant and Daphne will be busy, suppose I monitor the done, if trouble comes, we’ll know, I could even pick off a couple with the darts.’
‘You know the controls?’
‘It’s about the same as ours, right Daphne?’
‘Yes, the same.’
‘Alice and I practice with the thing once a week, I’ve got it.’
Janah, ‘All five darts are death darts, didn’t see any point to tranquilizer, we do have the pharmaceutical case, there are more of both kinds, tranq syringe is blue, the other is red.’
Daphne, ‘Tranquil is blue, poison is red, if I shoot you with red, you’re graveyard dead.’
Janah, ‘Idiot.’
Zero giggles again. 
I think, these girls are going to face down four whack jobs who just want to kill them, reminds me of the macabre jokes we made when I was in the jungle killing people my government didn’t like.
Daphne, ‘Janah, you and Commandant go left and right…no…no good, Zero, fly the drone around the house slowly, if they put a cam at the front door, it would be stupid to leave the sides and rear unmonitored. Stay back and just low enough to see the eves, creep it along so I can get a good look.’
Daphne watches the screen, Zero flies the drone, Janah and I wait.
Daphne, ‘One there, now to the rear, there it is, far side now….yep, they have the approaches covered pretty well. Who’s the best shot?’
Zero, ‘Commandant.’
‘Can you take out the one in front?’
‘We’re fifty yards away, only have a pistol and the target is small. I need to get closer but I think that’s pretty easily done, there are shrubs and trees scattered. If I do a crawl, the cam might miss me, all I need is to cut the distance in half. The gun has a suppressor, it’s quiet enough, from twenty five out here, they won’t hear anything inside.’
I get out, edge to the right, guessing what might be a dead spot between the side cam and the front one, it’s dark, I crawl to the first tree, move right again and crawl to a bush, I sight the Glock, dicey from here, I keep moving, a crawl is slow, but that works in my favor, there’s little obvious motion. It takes me ten, but I’m alongside a fat oak, peer around until I spot the cam. I’m already prone and wishing I had the Ruger, I could have got the camera from a hundred yards easy.
Elbows set, two hand grip, sight the Glock, breathe and hold, fire….pop, plink, the glass shatters. I start to get up, realize Daphne is behind me, right behind me.
‘Damn girl, you are flipping silent.’
‘Years of sneaky in the Shaolin Temple, I can’t be seen or heard when I go to stealth mode.’
I shrug, ‘As you have so clearly demonstrated, and I consider myself to have excellent peripheral sense, know what’s around me.’
‘In the temple we used to practice sneaking up on each other, and the monks knew someone was sneaking. The only monks I couldn’t get to were Qi Masters, and Master Hue, Janah’s herbalist pal. Didn’t matter that Hue was over seventy and the Qi Masters nearer eighty, I’d get close, but they always knew I was there.’
‘Glad I wasn’t fighting them in the jungle.’
‘I say with all respect, you wouldn’t be here if you had. Shall we start the mayhem?’
She doesn’t wait for an answer, she starts straight to the door, zips up the wooden steps and bangs on the door, ‘Hello in there, pizza delivery, UPS, Fed Ex, flowers by Daphne,’ she bangs again, ‘Hellloooo.’
She turns to me, ‘When the door opens, best to be off to one side.’
I step left two paces, door opens, ‘Well fucking well, the stench of Shaolin, welcome to hell bitch.’
I see a burst of energy, the air actually waves, a swish as it sails over Daphne’s head. She jumps up, her foot snaps under the big woman’s jaw, sends her back and down, Daphne charges past, cripes, she’s going headfirst into a nest of Shadows, time to man up.
I follow her in, Darcy is recovering, her’s the only name we have, I stop long enough to crush her throat with the heel of my fifteen, Darcy dead.
A face, one of the Ordinaries, he’s already loaded up, a Qi shot whips past Daphne, she’s far too quick for him. I’m not, I catch a blow to the gut that folds me over, ouch! That’s gonna leave a mark.
Out comes my Gerber, Janah walks past me like she’s visiting a friend. Ordinary Two takes a shot at her, the energy again is visible as a disturbance in the air, but it passes left and tight of Janah, she’s put up her own energy shield. I make quick long strides to O-2, my blade in my left, knife fight position, the serrated steel takes his neck, blood spurts then dies, for good measure my left swings back and the blade is buried in his chest. I yank it out and kick him up against the hutch, it and the haphazard dishes crumble over his deadness.
Ordinary One has had time to reenergize, he saw that using it on Janah was useless so he gives Daphne a try. I have never seen a human move so fast, she actually waits stock still while he gears up, raises his hand and I see the wave of power leave but there’s no Daphne. The energy shatters a front window, I look up, Daphne is airborne, feet forward, knees bent, then not bent, shoved so hard into O-2’s chest I hear bone crack. He sails backwards, lands butt first, Daphne’s on him, her hand around his throat. I see what owl claw means, she crushes his neck with one hand. 
The petite woman appears, we’re still in the dining room, she’s come down a short hall from the kitchen-living area. If the she’s afraid or confused it doesn’t show.
Petite, ‘Well, well, I finally meet the Shaolin priest, I heard there are more than one, these two, waving her hand at Janah and me, aren’t even monks, where are your pals?’
Daphne, ‘Busy elsewhere, you four don’t merit more of us, you must be the Queen Bee, the most powerful of this pathetic lot.’
My phone vibes, I sneak a peek, has to be Zero, I read, two cars three in one four in the other all shadows will pick off as many as i can.
‘We have company.’
Petite, ‘Fell right in, cost us three of our own but they were dispensable.’
Daphne, ‘Everybody is dispensable, merely the order of dispensation, you go first, I’ll be along eventually…maybe.’
‘You are sorely outnumbered, three of you, seven more of us, and you still have to deal with me.’
We hear cars, doors opening and slamming shut, then a voice, a man, ‘Fucking fuck, Devon is dead, fucking dart in his neck.’
Second voice, ‘Then take cover, we need to find the shooter before we’re all dead.’
Daphne, ‘Oops, did I mention we have a friend outside, with a dart gun, with poison darts, poison darts so powerful you don’t get a second breath.’
Petite, still calm, no reaction to the news, not good news for her but this isn’t done yet. She flicks a finger towards Daphne, I see the energy wave, I see it hit Daphne square in the chest, I see Daphne grin.
‘That’s it? My samurai girlfriend hits harder than that, come on honey bunch, give it a go.’
Daphne is stepping towards Petite, the woman tries again, this time with more power. Daphne is lifted up and thrown backwards, thrown over the dining table and into the front wall.
Petite, ‘That more to your taste priest?’
She’s occupied with self-congratulation, which means she fails to catch my gloved  fist before it crushes her jaw. I follow up with a flat hand to the throat, hear the satisfactory smush of her windpipe, a left uppercut snaps her neck.
Janah, ‘Incoming,’ the front door is still open, two bodies one behind the other.
Arms outstretch, energy waves everywhere, a third appears, this could be troublesome. Janah’s faced off the last in, he’s hit so hard by her Qi he flies backwards out the door, over the steps. If he’s not dead he’s seriously injured.
I’m struck again in the shoulder this time, it twists me sideways, and I feel it, no pain yet, but soon. 
Daphne takes on First, it’s almost funny, he shoots, she dodges. While Daphnes is draining his Qi tank, Second is trying to figure out who’s more dangerous, me of the white haired girl behind him. He steps to the left to appraise us, when he decides on Janah, it’s a terminal decision, he raises his hand, my Gerber Trident takes it off at the wrist, followed by a thrust up and over into his neck.
Janah, ‘Good job, that leaves four someplace, where’s Zero?’
We go outside, there’s a body in the dirt just past the steps, it has smoke coming from a hole in the chest. I realize it’s the guy Janah blasted. Slumped over a shrubbery, a second body, face eating scrub grass. The third is a few feet from the car they came in.
Zero is still flying the drone, she has what may be a serious injury, one shoulder is clearly out of socket, she’s working the drone control one handed.
Daphne comes up, ‘Janah, fix Zero, she has a dislocated shoulder, here sweet, give me the tablet. Do you know where the last two are?’
Zero, ‘I was searching, when they saw their pals darted, they took off , I heard the engine crank, the wheels throw gravel. That’s what I was searching for, a white panel van with a long scrape on the passenger side, like someone drove it along a guardrail.’
Daphne stares at the screen, ‘You were almost on them. The drone will lock on soon as I tap this tab. Done. Now we see where they go. In fact, we’re done here, Commandant drive, I’ll monitor this thing.’ 

Twenty

Janah is in back with Zero, she’s numbing the shoulder with Qi, ‘You ready?’
Zero, ‘Go for…’, before she can finish Janah yanks the joint.
‘Better?’
Zero rolls her shoulder, ‘Like it never happened, thanks.’
I ask Daphne, ‘How are you? You got sent flying into a wall.’
‘Janah will take care of it later, probably bruised, nothing separated or broken.’
‘How did your shoulder get busted Zero?’
‘One of them got off a Qi shot, not sure who, things were moving fast.’
Daphne’s following the drone video, ‘Geez, these guys driving across the country?’
Janah, ‘If they were staying at the house they have no place to go now. This is different, we haven’t seen Shadows run before. Word of the darts must have gotten out.’
Daphne, ‘Government is obsessed with productivity, am I productive? Productive enough? Is there unlimited productivity?’
Janah, ‘Daphne’s brain wanders where it wishes regardless of situation, she has the capacity to be focused and unfocused at the same moment. Although now that I’ve said it, everyone focused on X is automatically unfocused on Y. Yes, Daph, you are productive, you produce meals, along with Ellen and Daria. Your legs produce lust, any more productive and none of us would ever leave home.’
‘I only wish to protect and serve. Our boys are turning off.’
‘It’s a gas stop, they can’t run on empty, any suggestions?’
Daphne, ‘Pull over.’
I do, to a motel lot just down from the convenience store slash gas station. Daphne waits until they’re both out of the car, one headed to the store, the other fiddling with the pump.
Pop! gas pump falls before he grasps the nozzle…Pop! the other before he gets to the store.
‘Drive up, nobody else around, better to get the darts.’
I take us to the edge of the lot, Daphne pulls a black bandanna out of her pocket and ties it around her head, then a pair of sunglasses, hops out and gets the one from gas pump, then over to the second Shadow, retrieves dart two, back to the car, I take off.
‘Did anyone collect the other darts?’
Janah, ‘I did. Whenever the cops get to the house they’ll see the ones we busted up, then try to figure out how the others died. Eventually they’ll tie the dart dead to the two we just killed. Might even have events on video if they cam the pumps. I didn’t notice any but I couldn’t see under the canopy.’
Daphne, ‘Didn’t look either, if there were, my mini-disguise won’t tell them much, they will see the darts and me collecting them, still doesn’t tell them much.’
“It will baffle them, who shot the darts, a drone won’t enter their minds.
Zero, ‘We cleaned house, eleven Shadows, didn’t make any friends in the Shadow community.’
Daphne, ‘Most gratifying, me being a fucking priest and all. Commandant, we need to get to the hotel, Rest for the Weary is in order.’
Janah, ‘And food, food is in order.’ 
Zero, ‘We have things at the hotel, roast chicken in the refrigerator.’
In our suite, fat glasses of wine, I stick the chicken in the oven, will nuke the mac and cheese after showers.
Clean and shiny, we circle the table, more wine, Daphne doesn’t drink, a Shaolin thing about intoxicants.
‘How’s your back?’
Daphne, ‘Purple between the shoulder blades, not bad, Janah will icy Qi me before we crash. We need a flight.’
Zero, ‘I called, depart at nine, breakfast included, steak and eggs for three, veg omelet for Janah.’
‘I forgot about vegetarian tonight, my bad, sorry.’
Janah, ‘It’s not a religion, the chicken was good and I was hungry. Since we collected so many girls I’ve eased up on vegetarian, Daphne and her co-chefs have three meals a day for all of us, none of the rest are veg. I can do chicken or fish, no beef or pork, except I cheat when it’s osso buco.’
Daphne, ‘She likes to gnaw on the veal shank.’
Zero, ‘I texted both families, actually Nikko and Zoe, they’ll pass along the message to the others. Didn’t mention injuries, only said our shopping trip was successful and we’d be home in the early afternoon.’
It’s gotten late, I clear up, Daphne and Janah to one bedroom, Zero and I to the other, brush, flush, then Zero’s back to me, I wrap her lightly, we go dark.
Back in Malibu, Ellen collects Janah and Daphne, Fin is in the Bankruptor to fetch us, we load our respective rides and home.
Zoe, ‘Cough up the injury report, don’t say there weren’t any.’
Zero, ‘I got a separated shoulder, repaired by Janah, Commandant of couple of bruises, Daphne too. Considering there were eleven Shadows in total, not bad.’
‘Eleven! Was there a convention of assholes? Shadow-Con?’
‘A meeting perhaps, we learned that the Shadow’s know something of us, at least in general, this was, as we thought possible, a trap. Shadow planning is erratic and inefficient, they’re used to taking minds at will. While they know we and Janah’s crew are hunting them down, and they’ve heard about death by dart, they haven’t grasped us.’
‘You mean they can’t grab our minds like they can normals.’
‘Yes, haven’t realized that we’re as psycho as they are, just different objectives. They like to play with their prey, we like to kill. They have varying levels of Qi control, we don’t, not so as to shoot energy across the room. Janah can, Daphne to a bit lesser degree, some of their other girls but they seldom go on Shadow hunts. Oh, include Daria and Dasha, Janah told me Daria melted a Shadow once, she didn’t go into detail, where and when.’
Zoe, ‘No, we don’t discuss it unless it has some educational value for the next encounter.’
‘And it sounds like bragging or gloating, both really. That’s what Shadows do after they’ve mind-fucked a victim, it’s indecorous. I don’t mind being on the long tail of abnormal, I don’t want to be a self aggrandizing fool.’
I call Zi, ‘How are you doing?’
Zi, ‘Still pregnant, the morning woozies have settled, I didn’t find it that bad, mostly a little nausea. It helps to have Qi girls in arm’s reach, they settle my tummy and energize me. Daria and Nikko are studying midwifery, I’m going to have the baby at home.’
‘Then the gender will be a surprise.’
‘Not exactly, Oceane laid her hands on my tummy, then her head, when she stood all she said was brother and sister float in the ocean. We assume she meant the amniotic fluid.’
‘Then fraternal twins.’
‘Yes, Janah just found out, she went off to the bliss.’
‘The bliss?’
‘It comes over her from time to time, washed with joy, Daphne says her mind dances, sometimes it’s a few minutes, other times hours. She’s up in the dorm now,  surrounded by the children.’
‘What are they doing?’
‘Janah, nothing, she’s in a trance, Daphne said the children were chanting in a language she’s never heard before.’
‘Sounds right, given J and the rest of her crew.’
Zi laughs, ‘Nobody here will die of boredom….here, Nikko wants a word.’
Nikko, ‘You did a good job with the Shadows. I followed it in Daphne’s head, which doesn’t break our policy of not talking about events when we weren’t directly involved. Zero’s shoulder okay?’
‘Doesn’t hurt, she’s giving it a few days before she does handstands and tumbling. We have a few bottles of the liniment you gave us, Dit Da from the temple. One of us massages that in, the house smells like damp forest, not bad, herbal woodsy.’
‘I’ve inhaled enough of that stuff, it’s not girly perfume but it works.’
‘How are you with the baby bit?’
‘Hard to glow like Zi, but she’s the one pregnant, I am happy with it and glad the father is you. If Oceane is right, and if she’s wrong it will be the first time, then it’s good to have lots of spare moms around. Once Sis and Janah get involved Zi may never actually see the twins again.’
‘Then they are the luckiest twins on the planet.’
‘Kind of my thinking.’
‘Take care of mom, we’ll be around soon.’
We disconnect, Zoe says, ‘I heard twins.’
‘So Oceane says, Zi is going to birth at home, Oceane is her ultrasound.’
Zoe, ‘They’re twin magnets, Daria and Dasha, Katya and Katja, our own Natasha and Nikita, all identical twin girls, can a boy and a girl be identical, doesn’t sound right.’
‘No, fraternal only, identical have identical DNA, a boy and girl can’t have identical DNA.’
‘When is she due?’
‘She four months in, so five more.’
‘The girls must be starting to get excited, lots of anticipation.’
‘I guess, Janah went off to some dreamland they call the Bliss, she’s up in the dorm with the children circling her and chanting, and in a language nobody understands.’
‘One presumes the children do.’
‘Nobody else then, the children are an exception to everything, even our resident Goths, Fin and Phaedra, don’t go to other worlds accompanied by sparkly entities called Zycyryn.’
Zero, ‘We benefit from knowing them, they erase limitation, something we seek to avoid, still, it’s helpful to see the unlimited in action, or at least what we can see of it.’
‘Good point, the lesson is to get out of our own way, our limitations are self imposed and we’re far less restricted than ninety nine percent of humanity, we don’t care what other people think. It’s fine not to intentionally hurt someone, either physically or emotionally, but to not take on a project, follow up an idea, because we might look silly or stupid is the biggest obstacle to realization.’

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