One Hundred Seventy Seven

We never got around to a hotel room, Zero drives us thirty miles to the city where our plane landed. I’m in the passenger with an eight pound bag of ice melting on my ribs.
Zero, ‘Alice, call the airline and get us gone in the morning, say nine, then send a text to CC and Janah, no specifics, just that our business is finished and our arrival time.’
We check in to the Bridgewater Inn, there’s no bridge or water, maybe they anticipate climate change and rising seas. Zero makes me a healthy vodka rocks, I can breathe but not deeply, may have a fractured rib or two, but nothing inside was punctured.
Zero, ‘Sit up, let me get this elastic bit around you, maybe it will offer some relief.’
‘Alice, did you order breakfast on the plane?’
‘Yes, veg omelets, potatoes, croissants, figured that’s enough.’
The girls have a short vodka, take the edge off, time to sleep. Alice and Sloane take one room, we have connecting rooms, Zero gets me situated in bed, ‘I’m on the couch, you need uninterrupted sleep, don’t argue, the couch is bigger than I am.’
A couple of ibuprofen, another short vodka, once I find a position that doesn’t press my ribs, I settle and fade away.
Zero taps me awake, ‘Move around, see if you feel like traveling.’
I stand, she takes off the elastic bandage, nice softball sized purple, I touch, press lightly, ‘Good enough, I can kick back on the plane, pass by a drugstore and get a few packs of instant cold.’
When I’m dressed, Alice and Sloane come through the connecting door. I’m no aura reader, but it seems to me that Alice is looking particularly dreamy. 
I wonder.
They take their suitcases and the gun case down to the car, Zero stuffs my clothes from yesterday into a suitcase, the roller kind, she has a handle in each hand.
‘Good to walk?’
‘Yeah, won’t be jogging.’
‘Alice isn’t a virgin anymore.’
‘Sloane? Stupid question, who else would it be? How do you know, aura?’
‘Yes, but she told me too, she didn’t say to keep it a secret, I suspect she wants it to leak, but she can hardly make an announcement.’
After we eat, I settle back in the seat, seats on private fold near flat, all in all it’s quite comfortable. Alice and Sloane have heads together, talking, a laugh and a giggle. 
Zero, ‘First time must have gone well.’
‘Sloane has intimacies with a couple of Janah’s tribe, Janah included, not sure who the others are, none of my biz anyway. Point is, she’s experienced.’
‘Janah tell you?’
‘Obliquely, enough for me to get the idea, explains why Sloane doesn’t transition, she’s got what none of the others have.’
‘Maybe Misha, she’s nearly eleven, and I know Micha likes her with the boy part.’
‘Misha’s thirteen, have they…?’
‘I know Micha likes to play with it, they sleep together, Alice might know if they’ve gone from fondle and stroke to intercourse. If they haven’t it’s only a matter of time. Alice said she was attracted, but didn’t want to jump into Micha’s fun.’
‘Considerate, and now she’s found an occasional play buddy, maybe she’s straight.’
‘No, she’s both, she’s been with CC and she has her eye on a couple of Janah’s girls, Oceane in particular.’
‘Oceane is gorgeous, willowy, not to mention strange.’
‘I wouldn’t turn her down, Daphne said Oceane decides to play with one or another girl, she doesn’t respond to advances, it has to be her decision to initiate, they don’t know why.’
‘I doubt she gets turned down.’
‘Nobody in Janah’s tribe is stupid, a sylph like Oceane shows up at bedtime, or any other time, go with it. It’s like being anointed I’m told, Oceane is extremely sensitive, the barest touch, soft kisses, no passionate intensity, more like sublime subtlety. Daphne gives her an orgasm by blowing on the sensitive spot, not tongue touching until the moment of release, and then just lightly.’
‘That sounds rather exotic, and erotic.’
‘With so many girls in Janah’s collection, there is something for everyone. I think it’s cool, a girl can be in the mood for hard, soft, slow or fast, a toy or not, a threesome, even a foursome, it’s like a girl buffet.’
‘Is there drama, jealousy?’
Zero smiles, ‘Why? We don’t have any of that silliness, and I know from talking with Janah and Daphne, that bullshit would never be tolerated. Again like us, girls are given everything they need or want, to get pissy would be stupid.’
Land, Fin is there to collect us, ‘You guys work quick.’
‘Part reasonable guesses about tracking the target, part dumb luck.’
‘You’re treating your left side gingerly, what was it?’
‘Qi shot, by a woman, if she had the time to work up a better one, I’d have a hole instead of a bruise. Our sparring helped, I get my ribs bashed by you, the twins, or CC, or Zero regularly, built my tolerance.’
‘Me too, the twins don’t take prisoners, I can handle Zero and CC’s stuff, got to be more wary when it’s Nikita or Natasha.’
Morshchiny checks us out, satisfied we’re the same people who left a couple days ago. She takes a couple extra sniffs at the spot of my injury, a small whimper, I pull up my shirt, she gives the bruise a sniff, turns to look at Alice, then the bruise, then Alice.
She pats the monster’s head, ‘He’s okay Morshchiny, good girl for sniffing it out,’ I stroke the dog’s head, give her a good scratch, ‘I appreciate your concern girl, you’re the best.’
I get a ‘huff’, a deep one, almost a growl, ‘The bad person is dead, it’s all over.’
‘Misha and Micha home yet?’
‘No, we need to take Sloane, I’ll swap her for the kids, well, not so much kids anymore.’
Nikita comes from outside, towel wrapped around her, ‘Ah, travelers are home, sister and I were swimming, you haf injury Commandant?’
Nice to be the recipient of so much caring, ‘I’m good, been bruised before, thanks to you and your sister, I’ve gotten thick skin and dense bones.’
Natasha shows up in a towel as well, ‘Did Zero use Qi?’
‘A bit, mostly cold packs.’
‘Go to your room and lay down, we will fix you.’
On my back in bed, shirt off, the twins alternate sending healing energy with their hands. I zone out, when I rejoin the conscious the bruise is barely visible.
Nikita, ‘Better, we will haf vodka. Zoe ees grill filet steak wiz mash and creamy corn.’
‘Sounds perfect, I need a shower, thank you for the fix, you’re both getting quite good at Qi.’
‘Da, and we are to work wiz Janah and Daphne, they haf powerful Qi, you will see.’
They go off to dress, somewhere during the treatment they took off damp towels, now they’re in nothing, I regret not staying fully awake. 
‘Take off pants, we will bring to the laundry.’
I do, including my boxers, hand the stuff to Natasha, Nikita strokes my cock, ‘You haf best equipment, sisters will visit soon, we will haf sexy time.’
‘When you’re ready, I’m ready, don’t bother to knock.’
The two exit, I get in the shower and contemplate a future evening with splendid duplicates, and I can even breathe normally.

One Hundred Seventy Eight

Zero, ‘CC and I took Sloane home, Nikko said her new students are alert and attentive, all she can ask. They also have practice assignments, she asked me to be sure they stick to the assignment, progress in kendo is in small increments with lots of repetition.’
Misha, ‘Chloe and Daphne had a match, well, three matches, we didn’t even see some of the points, the shinai moves so fast, then they demonstrated kata, watching them is inspiring.’
‘Did Nikko demonstrate anything?’
Micha, ‘Hanshi doesn’t do demonstrations, Daphne did tell me later that Nikko is far better than she and Chloe, I don’t know how that’s possible, but that’s what she said.’
Zero, ‘Nikko is pure Japanese, and her father is a legend, the blade is in her blood, she does out of instinct what Daphne and Chloe had to learn.’
Misha, ‘Every time we’ve seen Nikko she’s been in pants, after our lesson she changed to little white stretchy shorts.’
‘Legs?’
‘Long, curvy slim, and glass slick, I nearly choked on my Coke.’
Micha, ‘Not an exaggeration, and we met Zi, another Shaolin like Daphne, except she’s Chinese. She was traveling before, some business thing. She shares a room with Nikko, lucky girl.’
‘I understand there’s family we haven’t met.’
Misha, ‘Lauren, Sarah, Ellen, Mani, she’s Thai, totally adorable, Valeria, and Britt. They were in Arizona, they all go there in the summer. It’s near Flagstaff, a compound in the mountains. Two more Shaolin live there full time, Danika and Su.’
‘I’m going to need nametags, how many girls?’
‘Thirty counting Danika and Su, but they don’t come to Malibu often, Chloe said they are contemplatives, prefer solitude most of the time. They take care of the Arizona property and live free, including expenses for food, clothes, all the household stuff.’
Micha, ‘Janah likes a lot of girls handy. Oh, and we met Susan, Daphne’s mom, who looks more like a sister, and her two companions, Lacy and Taylor. Lacy ran the school Daphne and Janah attended in Manhattan, Taylor was a fashion model, she got Chloe into the business. When they all moved to California, they dropped modeling, Chloe made a few movies and is doing a new one soon.’
‘Sounds like they stay busy.’
Zero, ‘Oh, Eloise said for Natasha to come by, she’s building us a bot like Grace B.’
‘The bot going to curse and call us names?’
‘How about that lady detective in Australia, the one Alice got her outfit ideas from?’
‘Miss Fischer. I’ll ask if Amaya can do the voice.’
Alice, ‘And dress her like me, or Phryne Fischer anyway.’
CC, ‘Soon as you have dimensions, I’ll order the clothes, we’ll have two style-babies, Phryne B and Alice N.’
Natasha and Nikita come in, ‘We are going to see Eloise, it will be most of the day.’
Zero, ‘We were just talking about that.’
‘Eloise called and asked Natasha to look over a string of code.’
Zoe, ‘Okay, no lunch for you then, be home for dinner?’
Nikita, ‘I will text you by five one way or the other.’
They go off on scooters, we have a couple of Yamahas, more power, better for the highway than the Vespas, which have been appropriated by Misha and Micha.
I’m taking a couple of days off from my treadmill, ribs aren’t sore, but if there’s a fracture I want it fully mended. I go out to the pool, park on a lounger with a book. CC, Fin, and Zero brighten up the scenery, they dive in and start laps.
Alice pulls up a chair next to me, ‘Your bruise has nearly disappeared.’
‘Thanks to the twins.’
‘Did Zero tell you…about Sloane and me?’
‘She mentioned it.’
‘We took precautions, I won’t be popping out any babies. I’m going on birth control though, I have no idea if we ever get together again, but it was fun. Once I’ve taken the pill for awhile, maybe I can borrow you from time to time?’
I smile, ‘Your decision. If my intimacy partners ever out me, I’ll be in jail.’
She giggles, ‘No happening Commandant. Besides, CC, Fin and Zero are all eighteen, in fact if not in appearance. I’m not aging past where I am now, depending, it may be a year so I might make it to sixteen, although in the last year nothing has changed, same height, same weight, same no boobs, well, little boobs.’
‘What about Misha?’
‘Maybe when she’s older, right now she’s…well, you know Micha.’
‘Are they intimate?’
‘Sort of. As far as I know, no intercourse, but they do…other stuff.’
‘Can’t get pregnant with other stuff.’
‘No, and I told her if she does, she needs to be on the pill too. She’ll tell me or Zero when she’s ready.’
‘She can’t get pregnant unless it’s near her first period, as in the month before. The problem is, how can she tell if it’s a month before her first menstruation? And she’s about thirteen, we aren’t really sure of birthdays around here, her period could happen at any time. Be sure she’s protected one way or the other.’
Alice, ‘Will do, Zero and I will make sure she understands, might be better to get her on the pill soon, I’ll ask Zero what she thinks.’
Alice crosses her legs, she’s nude, like the swimming girls, I’m in a baggy bathing suit, not trying for sun, still under the umbrella. When I want to refresh my light tan, I undress like everyone else, they’ve seen me in the buff so much it’s not a thing. Considering where they came from, they’d seen more naked men by age eight than most teenagers. Live, I mean. Today any girl with a phone, laptop or tablet has seen dozens of nude men, and a fair amount of intercourse, blow jobs, lesbian sex, gay male sex, threesomes and those horrid ones of women getting a half dozen cumshots on the face. Hell, if you type ‘dog licks pussy’ in the search bar, you get video of that and more. Why a woman wants to give head to a horse escapes me entirely, but it’s out there, and in quantity. Strangely, in America, land of the uptight, where showing a woman’s nipple is a cause for outrage, bestiality is only illegal in a few states. On the other hand, without hypocrisy nobody could get through the day, the entire system would collapse, which may be what we need.
The swimmers have exhausted themselves, they use the outdoor shower to wash hair and de-chlorinate, Alice gets up and dives in, I decide to try a few laps and see how my ribs hold up. 
Not bad, I wouldn’t want Nikita to kick me, but swimming seems fine. I do a half dozen laps, get out, sit on the edge and watch Alice motor back and forth. When she’s had it, we stand under the shower, I wash her hair, then mine, we lather and rinse. 
Zero hands us both big towels, ‘Commandant, we have an abuse inquiry, appears to be a kid, mom is the abuser, no dad around. Could be a petulant teenager, some of them think abuse means taking away the phone for a few days, but I don’t think so. I asked for more detail, any photos they can send, and reminded whoever it is to be careful, if bad mommy catches them it will make things worse.’
‘Any reply?’
‘Still waiting. If that doesn’t pan out, we have RSOs that need adjusting, and the volume of child porn video is on the rise despite alleged crackdowns. We can’t do much about them, most come from out of the country.’
‘Okay, and no, we aren’t going out of the country to chase them down, see if Natasha can track where they came from, the dark web isn’t as dark as people believe.’
We laze for the afternoon, Zero gets a text from Nikita, the twins are staying over at Janah’s tonight, Zero replies and we get about the business of evening cocktails.
Zero, ‘I didn’t mention the dark web thing to Natasha, I’m sure she’s been up to her neck in code and Eloise is showing them the bot assembly.’
‘The dark web search doesn’t mean much, if the videos come from wherever, knowing that doesn’t help any, at least we can’t do anything about it. Drop that for now.’
‘Just as well, they have a full plate anyway.’
‘Did you talk to Alice?’
‘Yep, and I talked to Micha, she’s on top of things, nobody is getting pregnant, I keep morning after around as well, the girls all know that.’
Zoe has meatloaf, mushrooms brown gravy, green beans cooked all day with bacon, onion, and ham pieces, baked potato halves, purple cabbage, goat cheese and carrot salad with choice of peanut sauce or goddess dressing.
Fin, ‘This is so good, in a past life I must have been a southern girl.’
CC, ‘I’m going against my best interest and having another serving of potato, um, and beans, we had a good long swim, I was hungry.’
I cut a hunk of meatloaf and set it on a small plate for Morshchiny, it disappears in less time than it took me to cut and set it on the floor.
‘Morshchiny is a big fan too, no, that’s it for you girl,’ I get a huff, but she circles the table and parks next to Alice.
‘That dog is smarter than most people.’
CC, ‘Of course, dogs don’t try and change the world, don’t have religion, don’t do politics, they take what comes, Morshchiny does it with calm dignity, people seldom do anything with calm dignity.’

One Hundred Seventy Nine

Zero, ‘Got more detail on the abusive mother, the kid even got her on video, looks like she set up a phone to record. Take a look,’ she turns her laptop towards me.
A girl, appears to be nine or ten is sitting on a bed, a woman’s agitated voice, ‘what in goddamn hell, I told you to take care of the dishes and they’re still in the sink’.
‘I was finishing my homework and going to get to it after, you yell at me about school, so I spend more time, then you yell at me about a few dishes’
A big woman enters the room, not big fat, big boned.
‘She must go six feet.’
Zero, ‘Here it comes,’ the woman grabs the girl by the hair and yanks her to standing, then slaps the crap out of her while yelling, ‘don’t sass me cunt,’ open handed palm, backhand, palm, backhand, hand around the girl’s neck, pushes her against a wall, ‘get the fuck to the kitchen and do what you’re told, Ronnie’s coming over, run the fucking vacuum after the dishes, then get in the shower and clean your ass, put on something nice.’
‘Ronnie is always grabbing me, sticks his hand down my…’
‘Men are men, be happy he thinks you’re pretty, skinny bitch,’ then a punch to the abdomen, the girl curls over tries to catch her breath, the woman shoves her out the door.
The next bit is just the girl talking to the camera, ‘This happens all the time, what did I do to deserve it? If I had done the dishes she would have found something else, then she hits me where it won’t show too much. The boyfriend is nasty, grabs my butt, up my skirt, says he’s going to break me in. My motherfucking mother thinks it’s funny.’
‘I asked her what night the man comes over, she said Saturday, she must have made the video on a Saturday.’ 
‘She’s got some proof anyway, why not go to the cops? A teacher?’
‘The woman is a cop, so is her boyfriend.’
‘Ah, that would be a problem. When do you want to snoop?’
‘It’s not a flight, bit of a drive, six hundred miles give or take.’
‘Who goes?’
‘The twins are busy with Eloise, Alice traveled for the Shadow, I think we take CC and Fin, they haven’t had an outing for some time.’
‘That leaves only Alice here with Misha and Micha, I mean the twins will be gone at least part of the day.’
‘Let me talk to Janah.’
She calls, explains the situation, listens, disconnects, ‘She said send them with Nikita and Natasha, the kids can have extra time with Nikko and she and Daphne will do Qi training with Alice if we agree.’
‘Good, lets tell the girls, pack the usual, we’ll head out after breakfast. Tomorrow is Thursday, driving will chew up that, we can sneak around Friday, get a feel for the neighborhood and plot an approach, I assume you want to do both of them, which means Saturday evening.’
Zero, ‘We’ll need the extra day, have to figure out how to get the girl gone before we show up.’
‘Reply to the girl, you think she’s monitoring the site?’
‘Yeah, I’ll send a vague message tomorrow while we drive, to check it every couple of hours. She’s learned to be sneaky, had to considering, and I told her to clean the history after every message, the site is on the dark web, Tor is supposed to delete cookies and browsing history from your computer, but there are holes, particularly with Windows. And she should use DuckDuckGo, not Chrome or Firefox. Our site encrypts all messages coming in or going out, but that’s on our server, the visitor’s side is unencrypted, otherwise they couldn’t read it.’
‘I’ll leave those mysteries to you and Natasha.’
CC and Fin show up from outside.
Zero, ‘We travel tomorrow, driving, but it’s six hundred miles north and east. Alice and the kids will be at Janah’s with the twins. Zoe may visit or she may prefer to be here on her own, well, on her own with Morshchiny.’
Zoe comes down from her room, ‘Zoe is staying right here, I have a ton of things to do, and I need to tell…,’ phone buzzes, Zoe picks up, ‘Hey Nikita, got it, let me know if you’re coming home for dinner….okay, see you then.’
She repeats, ‘Staying at Janah’s today to work with Susan and Daria, the other geek. They will be home maybe in time for tea and will pick up dinner for us on the way.’
Zero, ‘We going to knock around the two cops, or terminate them?’
‘Let’s see what we uncover, dig into the cops, do we know names?’
‘I’ll get them,’ she taps a message into the site, sends it, ‘included the instructions I was going to send tomorrow, if she hasn’t already she needs to delete the messages.’
It’s a school day, late afternoon before she replies.
Zero, ‘Here we go, Loretta Long and Charles Mengele. Wasn’t a Mengele part of the Nazi hierarchy?’
‘A doctor at Auschwitz, the concentration camp, he did experiments on prisoners, many of whom died.’
‘Nice, let me get Natasha on it when she shows up.’
Twins arrive at five with a couple buckets of fried chicken, coleslaw, mashed with gravy.
Zero asks Natasha to check up on the two cops, it’s evening before Natasha is done, ‘Between the two, a half dozen complaints about excessive force, Mengele beat a suspect so bad he died the next day. There were no witnesses, none who came forward anyway, he said he was attacked during an arrest and had to defend himself. Mengele is six two and two twenty, the suspect was a hundred fifty pound junkie. Exact circumstances of complaints against Loretta are vague, she was exonerated, no judge or anything, exonerated by Internal Affairs.’
‘That’s a joke, cops policing cops, what do they expect?’
Natasha, ‘There are photos,’ she turns her laptop towards us.
Loretta we saw on the video, Mengele is typical cop, all beefed up from steroids and the weight room, bulldog face, close cropped dishwater brown hair.
‘Might be a handful.’
‘Nobody’s a handful with a Glock in their face. I’m for bed, tomorrow we’ll rent something, the twins can drop us at the rental agency.’

One Hundred Eighty

It takes ten hours including coffee stops and a drive through fastie lunch. We get in town around seven, stop for a few groceries and check into the Hell’s Bells Hotel, the owner an AC/DC fan based on framed posters in the lobby.
We’re in the Back in Black Suite, white walls, black furniture, black sheets and pillowcases, black comforters on the beds.
CC, ‘It’s kind of Gothy, like your room at home.’
Fin, ‘Yes, it is, complete with a pentagram rug on the floor.’
Fin leans to Goth, black leather bracelet and heart choker collar, stainless steel Baphomet Satan Ram Head ring, or a black lace choker with a Lolita pendant, onyx earrings. If it’s cool out, an ankle length lambskin duster, black of course. She must have a dozen pieces of similar jewelry, rings, bracelets, chokers, dresses, and jackets, skips the black lipstick and eye shadow. Fin tried on witchcraft, but she found it silly and pointless, not Satanic enough for her.
‘You like Satanic, but you aren’t a believer.’
‘No, no devil worship, another religion, not for me. People are their own Satan but it seems a universal characteristic of humans to point the finger anyplace but themselves. Goth styles appeal to my dark side.’
CC, ‘We are the dark side.’
Fin grins, ‘Our tribe is neither masochistically pessimistic nor as simplemindedly optimistic as the Wicca crowd.’
Zero hands me a vodka, ‘I think it’s okay to have cocktails, we aren’t chasing Shadows tomorrow, only a couple of steroid infused storm troopers.’
After showers we deconstruct roast chicken, macaroni and cheese and a bottle of red, it isn’t late, just past nine.
CC, ‘Excepting Commandant, we were all subjected as children to one form of abuse or another. We see what seems to be a daily story, parents, foster parents, uncles, older siblings not just hitting a kid, which is bad enough, but torturing them. I understand that not all children are obedient little mice, children can be quite vicious and it is at least understandable that people get intensely frustrated with them. How does that degenerate into torture, even murder?’
Zero, ‘What do you think, Commandant?’
‘I saw some of it in the army, both in military families and in otherwise ordinary families in the countries where I was stationed. There was always some excuse, the most lame was authoritarian, my house, my rules. When the kid veered off the path set by daddy, it was simpler to hit rather than talk. Immediate cooperation out of fear works only for a little while. It’s a form of laziness, or a result of tired, frustrated parents. They reach a breaking point.’
Zero, ‘Think of porn, the titillation of soft porn, photos of nude girls for instance, 
The original Playboy magazine, before any internet, had demure nudes, that is, breasts but no puss. The other magazines came out showing everything, which eventually turned into girls spreading their legs for the camera.
Even that lost excitement value, so next up are photos of younger girls, and videos of sex. Oral gets common quickly, so introduce cum shots, on the face, in the mouth. Always more extreme to get the same dopamine hit, no different than some people with drugs, the next high has to be higher than the last. Not everyone who uses drugs gets addicted, but many do, addiction is never over.’
Fin, ‘So in the case of whacking a kid, the same sort of behavior manifests, yelling becomes a slap to the butt which becomes a slap to the face, then a belt or a fist, and with it comes a sense of power. The brain is rewarded and it needs more violence to get the same reward.’
‘Yes. And the behavior gets handed down, the pro football player says his daddy hit him and look, now I’m an absurdly compensated professional athlete, so hitting my kid will ultimately be good for him.’
We drop the psychology of violence, the girls click on a movie, the most recent James Bond I think, I take up my latest less than thrilling thriller, the alternative being the first in a series by Javier Marias, Your Face Tomorrow, I find it both brilliant and tedious, well turned phrases, spots that leap out a grab you, then pages of what seems like someone mumbling incoherently to himself. That one I can only read a chapter at a time, and in the afternoon before I’ve dropped a vodka or two.
Fin comes in, slips under the sheets, ‘Zero and CC are having either a wrestling match or sex, would you mind if I borrowed the fun stick, you can keep on reading, I’ll take care of myself.’
I put the book down, Fin is easily more thrilling than any thriller.
We sleep entwined, stone still for the duration. A tap on my shoulder, it’s Zero.
‘Here’s two coffees, time to guzzle and go.’
Fin blinks awake, ‘Coffee, thank you, Commandant tried to torture me with orgasms, but I endured.’
Zero, ‘You should be, as many times as CC has gone at you with that strap-on your girl bit should have calluses. Get going, today is surveillance and snoop. I figure a box of doughnuts and more coffee will steer us through to or even past lunch.’
Twenty later we’re at a doughnut shop, doughnuts, not pastries, although they have fat crusty turnovers, we get a dozen mix of glaze, chocolate glaze and cherry turnovers.
‘Where am I going?’
‘Interstate east five miles, exit seven, take a left.’
We get to the subdivision, pass a few cul de sacs, ‘It’s this one, house is first on the right.’
‘This is the last street, nothing behind but a stretch of meadow and forest. Unless Loretta has the night shift, nobody will be home. CC, roll down your window and get photos of the front.’ 
Since the privacy fence blocks both sides, we leave, launch the drone and get the whole place from the air, particularly the backyard. It doesn’t take but twenty minutes, the machine records just over the six foot fence, with the zoom it doesn’t need to be close. From the ground it could be doing anything, the camera is so small it’s invisible. Likely immaterial, we haven’t seen so much as a moving car.
‘Good idea to come Friday, this is a neighborhood of worker bees, people are someplace else. Anyone that’s a stay at home is staying at home.’
Zero, ‘That was simple, drive around while we look at the video.’
They play it a half dozen times, Fin says, ‘Standard suburbia, sliding glass door to the patio, table, umbrella, chairs, lawn.’
I find a park, empty for now, we dismount the SUV, a Ford Forgettable, distinguished by its lack of distinction.
CC, ‘How do we get the kid out?’
‘I was thinking that over while you looked at video. First, we have to return tonight when Loretta and the girl are home, listen in, see what happens.’
We stop at a market, pick up chicken salad, head of purple cabbage, chips, then to our suite.
Zero, ‘This is good chicken salad, bite sized chicken pieces, green onion, a bit of paprika, almond slices, sesame seeds, not drowned in mayo. Good call putting it on a bed of chopped cabbage, nice crunch.’
After the late lunch, we go down and out of the hotel. There’s an expanse of well kept lawn bordering a small lake, a gazebo and benches that someone keeps clean.
Temp is mild, a slight breeze coming over the water. We have the space to ourselves, this time of day most guests have checked out, arrivals haven’t yet arrived.
Fin, ‘Pleasant out here, no road noise, no noise at all unless you count the occasional duck announcing her presence.’
CC, ‘Got a text from Alice, they did an hour of Qi, she has a headache, which Daphne warned her about. Misha and Micha had a session with Nikko. They told Alice the worst part was when Hanshi growls ‘no good, go again’ and gives them the death stare.
Zero, ‘From my short contact with her, I’d say Nikko is a serious person, but I also caught her aura when she deals with the children, I would call it protective, her demeanor softens as well, microscopically, but it does.’
‘I suspect Nikko sees herself as protective of Janah and Daphne, the rest of the family by default since Janah was instrumental in collecting most of them. For her it’s natural, she is samurai, serving her master is the point.’
‘Those kids are interesting, I haven’t asked Janah any specifics, she only said they are not of this world…no, wait…she said they have their own world, one that encompasses universes, plural.’
CC, ‘I thought we were weird.’
Zero, ‘Be interesting to see if our girls pick up on anything, about the children or other family members. Don’t suggest they look for things, let’s see what they find without prompting.’
Fin, ‘Text from Nikita, done for the day, going back tomorrow, good progress.’
‘Succinct anyway. I have the sense this will be mind opening for our girls, the twins included. We made the connection because of Shadows, referred to New York via San Francisco Shaolin. Janah is super smart, rather than meet us first, she had us make the trip to be vetted by Chan.’
Zero, ‘She did the right thing, once she found out we were also in Malibu she wanted to know if we were serious, or dilettantes playing around after somehow stumbling on Shadow World. May have crossed her mind that we were Shadows hunting for their nemesis,. She wouldn’t subject her family to that risk, having us see Chan first solved her problem.’

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