I wake early, happens when I’m in an unfamiliar bed, my familiar Zero is curled against me, still solidly out maybe she dreamed of tools. I slip out, pull on my bathing suit, nothing exciting, it hangs halfway down my thighs, I noticed towel in a cabinet by the pool shower, don’t need to bring one down.
The house is quiet, even Morshchiny is nowhere to be seen. Outside the air is brisk but not cold, I dive in and start to lap. A half hour of traversing the gigantic pool, I’m ready for coffee, climb out, get under the shower, look around, if anyone is up they aren’t out here. I strip off the suit and lather up, wash my hair, rinse, and reach for a towel.
Janah is there, hands me one, ‘You have a hell of a body Commandant, and a hell of a body part,’ she’s looking down at the boy bit dangling. 
‘Thanks, appreciated,’ Janah’s in a short chemise that is so nothing as to be nothing, I take her in, perhaps a bit longer than necessary, ‘sorry, don’t mean to..’
Janah, ‘You’re supposed to stare, why do you think I wear it?’
I laugh, ‘Then let me say, whatever you’re missing, isn’t worth mentioning, no wonder Daphne is a happy girl.’
‘Are you available, tonight I mean?’
‘I’m available when you want me available, morning, night, anytime in between.’
‘Then I shall come to your room, via the inner hallway, I’ll see you go up, that will be my cue to take full advantage,’ her hand circles my cock, ‘very full advantage, wow.’
‘Wow yourself, I look forward to the day flying by, or maybe not, let the anticipation simmer.’
‘Good thought,’ she pulls the chemise off her shoulders, steps out of it and hands it to me, ‘you can return it tonight.’
I stare, she wants me to stare, I want to stare, so far we’re on the same page, same paragraph, same sentence, same word, lust.
I sigh audibly, my lower brain has started to engage, Janah strokes it, ‘Until then.’
She turns and goes to the house, I wrap myself in the big towel before my half hard gets past the point of no return, take myself and the chemise up to my room.
On the way I pass Daphne, she looks at the chemise, ‘I recognize that, Janah give you an eye opening morning?’
‘More than, damn near brought tears to my eyes, her skin, the way things go together….’
‘Tell me about it, I found her irresistible when we met, and she manages to get more irresistible over time, see you at breakfast.’
When I dress and go down, Dasha is in the kitchen with Daphne and Ellen, Ellen asks, ‘Coffee?’
‘Please, just point me to a cup, I’ll do it.’
Grace B is there, ‘You trying to take my job? You don’t look like a fucking immigrant. Sit your ass down, Emma B will haul the pot over, read the crappy news, there’s a tablet. If you see a bot in your room it’s making the bed and whatnot. But I sent it just now, so the dumb piece of metal will likely be finished before you get up there again, you aren’t a slob are you?’
‘Actually I’m quite neat.’
‘A fag then?’
‘Not that neat.’
‘Good, everyone here is queer, most of them are tidy, although Janah leaves cups of half drunk tea all over the goddamn place, not to mention stripping off her clothes to parade around when she gets horny, which is most of the time, leaves her crap right on the floor for me to deal with.’
‘She doesn’t want to kick you out of a job.’
‘Touché fuckwad, here’s Emma B with the caffeine, don’t have a heart attack, they’re messy and I’ll be sorely pissed if I have to drag your butt outside and bury you.’
‘I’ll do my best.’
‘Piss off dork,’ she strolls off to browbeat someone else.
Daphne and Ellen are laughing, ‘You should be honored, she only gives grief to people she finds interesting, she ignores anyone she doesn’t.’
‘What about the little girls, the mystery little girls, you sure they still live here?’
Daphne, ‘They come out when they do, I’m sure they’ll make an appearance during your stay.’
Amaya takes our girls to their track, they have go karts, Amaya’s Corvette, and Audi 8, two Formula One Mazdas, she found out we have a couple of Acuras, the NSX, she’s been thinking of getting one. Zero and I stay in the house, we’re meeting with Janah, Daphne, and Nikko in a half hour. Zero’s in a far corner, she walks past the cat tree and a mahogany ball of fur leaps of, bonks her on the shoulder, then leaps to the tree. Zero peers around, discovers the cat and reaches up, I presume to give her the required scratch.
One I haven’t met, Mani, takes the stool next to mine at the kitchen island, which is the size of Manhattan.
‘I’m Mani, you are Commandant, interesting name.’
‘Zero made it up, it stuck. You’re Thai, yes?’
‘Yes, not a Ladyboy, that’s Sloane’s department, I understand you have one of your own.’
‘Misha.’
‘Yes, I saw her with the other girl, they seem attached.’
‘We got them at the same time, they aren’t related but are something between sisters and playmates.’
‘Ah, I see. Sarah, Ellen, and I aren’t any of the abused, Ellen worked for Katya and Katja, then I came along, dropped out of college to work for them as housekeeper, they have a house in New Orleans, the French Quarter, it stays mostly empty now but we return once in a while and it’s a place to stay. We like the Quarter, don’t do much in the rest of New Orleans, it’s too burdened with tradition. Eventually they’ll sell, one day New Orleans will be a lake. They do have flood insurance, so if anything wet happens before they sell, it’s not a loss.’
‘Sounds smart, and how do you occupy yourself now, I mean now that there are bots to do the housekeeping.’
She smiles, ‘There are no shortage of things to keep me busy, I learned French and need to shift to the language frequently, at least think in it, to stay fluent. I grew up speaking a blend of English and Thai, but I’ve lost most of the Thai. Sarah I met in the Quarter, her mom owns a boutique there, her dad is a retired surgeon, she came from money, not Murakami money, but upper middle. I was her disciplinarian, then it got too silly and we dropped it.’
‘A light slap with a riding crop lose its appeal?’
‘Sarah liked more than a light slap, she wanted me to draw blood, the thrill wore off and I wasn’t going further, no broken bones, she likes me to give her a golden shower once in a while. Is that too much information?’
‘She likes what she likes, preferences change over time. I’m no good at rough sex, either to give or receive, the army was rough enough.’
‘Ah, yes, someone told me you were a soldier, that you quit and started a business.’
‘Yes, simple stuff, apps. I got stupid lucky when tech companies were paying outrageous sums for anything that smelled new. I sold it and didn’t look back.’
Mani looks over my shoulder, ‘Janah’s giving me a wave, you have a meeting this morning, nice to talk to you, I’ll be around if you feel like…whatever you feel like.’
I catch the not too subtle suggestion, ‘If we can’t visit privately here, then Malibu, but I understand you’re going to Canada after this.’
‘Yes, but it doesn’t matter, does it? We’ll both be the same age when I get back to Malibu.’
‘Then sooner, or later.’
I get up and cross the room, follow Janah down a first floor hall to an office. Nikko and Daphne are there, Zero comes in behind us.

One Hundred Ninety

There’s a circular table, we take seats, Janah says, ‘Let’s recap what we’ve learned from our encounters with Shadows.’
Zero, ‘Before we start, do you know how they originated, nobody is born a Shadow, at least I don’t think so.’
Daphne, ‘We think it started with Qi training in Shaolin temples. In part, that’s where Janah and I trained, much more extensively than the bits we did on our own. Qi Master Tan, already old when we went to the temple, made us work with two Qi Masters before he agreed to train us personally.’
Zero, ‘By training…’
‘We demonstrated a few telekinetic skills, then learned hot hand cold hand, then to light and extinguish candles with Qi only, invisible energy we learned to direct. When Tan was satisfied, he started with Janah, he made her do simple stuff, break a rock with her energy for instance. Then get a plant to grow faster than it would on its own, a gentle Qi stimulation, too much and the plant would die. The final stage was a direct mental transmission, from Tan to Janah. Over time it wiped her, she had to pull out for a rest. After she regained her strength, she returned and he finished the transmission.’
‘So Shadows, what’s different?’
‘Too much too fast, Janah has a strong mind and, as I said, she had to withdraw and regroup. The Master doesn’t say stop or continue, it’s a decision of the student.’
Zero, ‘Ah, it comes together, they insist on continuing right up until they short out, permanently.’
Janah, ‘Some die, some go insane, as in unable to function, others descend into a state we might call psychopathic, they fall in love with their own power, free money, free food, we’ve found them getting free homes and apartments by messing with the landlord’s mind.’
‘We’ve seen that, guy gets a full tank of gas, junk from the store and the clerk hands him cash on top of it
Zero, ‘Besides that stuff, they seem to have a thing about illicit sexual behavior, incest, child rape, bestiality, although we’ve only seen one example of that.’
Janah, ‘Dog licks kiddie puss is popular, we ran across one housewife who had sex with her mutt, was caught on video thanks to a Shadow and he made her send the video to friends, colleagues at work and family. There’s no way to undo that.’
Zero, ‘And we can’t go around telling authorities the event was staged by a Shadow.’
Daphne, ‘We’d get written off as cranks.’
‘So killing them is the only option, an observation, not a judgment, we don’t care about murder.’
Nikko has been quiet, then, ‘I don’t either, Daphne and Janah require a reason to kill unless it’s a Shadow.’
Daphne, ‘Darling Nishiko would slice up every abuser of any kind, no question, no discussion.’
Zero, ‘Where I’m at. Why don’t you use guns?’
Daphne, ‘We don’t need them, if the katana doesn’t work, Janah can punch a hole in a brick wall with her mind, her Qi anyway, which is mind-body.’
Zero, ‘Not a luxury we have, thus the guns.’
Janah, ‘I can’t make rules for anyone but me, to a certain extent the rest of the hunters. Not all our girls are involved, most of them can’t use Qi as a weapon, can’t use Qi at all, it takes a certain temperament.’
Daphne, ‘She means the ability to sit for hours doing what looks like nothing.’
‘We are familiar, Zero does it, I’m useless, I meditate with Zero but Qi escapes me.’
Janah, ‘Have you been drawn into a trap, by Shadows I mean.’
Zero, ‘Oh yeah, we figured there must be another group hunting them, I think they believe it’s one coordinated group, not two separate ones, separate until now anyway.’
Nikko, ‘How do you go about finding them?’
‘Zero, Alice, and Zoe can spot the black aura, and the misty residue if one’s been around recently.’
Daphne, ‘Good, a few of us do the same, we have a search algorithm that looks for unusual police reports, that occasionally unearths Shadow type behavior.’
Zero, ‘Seems we’ve traveled similar paths, Natasha created one that surfs news for the same thing. We travel to whatever city and look for patterns, then hope to get lucky. It’s worked fairly well, a lot of time spent in a vague surveillance, it’s paid off a few times.’
Nikko, ‘I don’t see any other way to do it. On the matter of abuse, how do you handle that? Unless there’s more on Shadows we need to discuss.’
Janah, ‘One thing, you have noticed that Shadows have varied ability, some are either new or don’t train much, others are dangerous.’
‘Yes, and they run out of gas differently, some can throw a mediocre Qi shot, then are done for a while, others can keep it up for a couple of minutes. We haven’t come across any that don’t need some form of recuperation.’
Janah, ‘That is correct, my own Qi is the same.’
‘To Nikko’s question, Zero tracks publically posted RSOs, sex offenders, we go after the more egregious. And we have a website for the abused to message us. If the story checks out, we don’t just take their word for it, we deal with the abuser.’
Nikko, ‘You kill them?’
‘Sometimes, and we kill all the RSOs.’
Daphne, ‘Our method is to disable them, it’s a dilemma, disabling can be worse than death, your way might be more compassionate, in a loose sense of the word.’
Zero, ‘True, we go back and forth on it. If you’re dealing with abusers, how do you find them and verify?’
Janah, ‘A network of cops, DAs, social workers, nurses, and doctors. They call or message, but they don’t know us personally, they know it’s someone who will do something about it. Then we relocate the abused if possible, find a job, give them money for a while. All of which is handled by others who don’t know anything except what we pay them to do, some find jobs, others arrange transportation, others monitor the abuser for a year, leave reminders to let them know someone is watching, people who find us an empty warehouse or other building to deconstruct the abuser.’
‘Ah, you can’t kill them, it would cause many of your sources to drop out.’
‘Exactly.’
Zero, ‘We’ve recently started gathering a network, but we don’t have all the other services you provide, relocation of the abused, housing, employment.’
Janah, ‘We can supply it, do you want us to send you opportunities? Our teams are generally two people, we call them Social Workers. The do the nasty bit, abuse the abuser. Social Workers do only that, they don’t have anything to do with relocations, what to do with children, nothing but what we call refocusing, change the abusers focus on being an asshole to being a nothing, not dead but not much functional either.’
‘I don’t see why not, what do you think Zero?’
‘Better for us, one job, no surveillance, fix the problem then go.’
Janah, ‘We pay our Social Workers, plus transportation and hotels if they need an overnight.’
‘Don’t pay us, money isn’t an issue.’
I don’t get into Nikita and Natasha’s conflict resolution sideline, it isn’t relevant to our discussion and might turn into a distraction. Plus it isn’t my job to talk about what the twins do, particularly since we’ve added Misha and Micha. When the twins travel it’s simply ‘for business’, no details. 
Janah, ‘Interesting, isn’t it? How people with similar interests find each other, even if they aren’t looking, or making an effort.’
Grace B comes in, ‘Lunch will be available for the next hour, after that you can starve,’ she turns and walks out.
Daphne, ‘Grace B likes to keep things straightforward.’
We return to the main room, the other side of which is the kitchen and dining area. In this house, that’s separate from the main room, the spacious hotel-like lobby. Girls are here and there tapping tablets, reading, I haven’t seen any video games, they do have chessboards, Scrabble and GO boards, several girls are playing one or the other. 
Daphne, ‘I tried GO against Emma B, she trounced me, Daria can give her a run for the money in chess, a game that’s part of Russian DNA.’
‘She ever win?’
‘No, but she says it ups her game because traditional moves frequently don’t work.’
‘Does she make notes, or keep track on a tablet?’
‘Not necessary, she can tell Emma B to replay it and to print out the sequence of moves. All three bots can play chess with one girl and GO with another simultaneously, the Shadow Search program runs continuously as well.’
‘Multitasking at a whole new level.’
‘For chess against Daria they don’t need a board, they play verbally, obviously the bot stores the moves, but Daria keeps the board in her head. It’s weird, they sit across from each other and call out moves.’
Zero, ‘Wait…she, Daria I mean, can keep track of the moves with no board?’
‘Yep, crazy isn’t it? She sees the board in her mind and manages to keep all the pieces in order with every move.’
‘Geez, I have a good memory, not eidetic, but quite good, I couldn’t track a chess game.’
Dasha is laying out a platter of deviled eggs, ‘You could, ees a mahter of practice, but wizout photograph memory ees harder, not eempossible.’
The table is covered with nibbles, smoked salmon, caviar, the eggs, rolled up pieces of roast beef, chicken, ham, all with a smear of mayo or brown mustard, a platter of various crackers. 
Dasha, ‘Dinner ees buffet style, tonight roast chicken, flank steak wiz au jus, mash potato wiz garlic and crim chiz, creamy corn, cocktails will be served wiz appetizer of fried vegetables, mushroom, broccoli, cauliflower.’
Zero, ‘Zoe makes that, we love it.’
‘Da, she thought of it and wants to make it herself, I will help, we haf before.’
Kota B passes rolling a cart with a platter of the same roll-ups, plates, forks and a variety of sodas, all sugar free I notice.
Chloe is next to me, I ask, ‘For the kids?’
‘Yes, they decided to choreograph a dance, they do it every few weeks. It’s why we haven’t seen them, their performances are minutely precise, takes a bit of practice despite their natural synchronicity. If we’re lucky, they’ll decide to ride the karts while you’re here. I won’t spoil the show, you have to see it for yourself.’
‘I don’t know much about children, they don’t get fidgety in the dorm all the time?’
Chloe smiles, ‘They don’t spend as much time there as you’d think. Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re in the dorm, they travel the internal hallways, frequently at night, sometimes to paint, or they teleport.’
‘Teleport? As in move through space unaided by machinery?’
‘I know, sounds bizarre but I’ve gone to the dorm when they do it, the bodies are there, cross-legged in a circle, but the girls are elsewhere.’
‘Like losing themselves in meditation.’
‘No, like their minds are traveling the multiverse, the children have seen other worlds, other universes, they live here because they found a place that doesn’t question or interfere, anyplace else would have them in therapy or put away in an asylum. Here they are free to be what they are.’
‘And they are?’
Chloe giggles, ‘I haven’t the slightest idea, Danika, our mystic monk, is closest to understanding, even she can’t explain everything. She says the children are a thousand years old, maybe older.’
Zero, ‘With multiple lives?’
‘Not quite, they have always been how they are, at least according to Danika. They’ve been with us for years, none of them has changed, not an eyelash or a fingernail.’
‘Zero’s had a dozen lives, but different times at different ages, she doesn’t remember much, she says snippets only. She says she’s never been anything but a child in those lives, she aged since I met her but has stopped, stopped when she was twelve or thirteen, that was a few years ago.’
‘Janah told Amaya you were immortals, it’s why we connected, difficult to have friends when they age and you don’t. As tuned in as Janah is, even she didn’t realize your people lived a few miles away in Malibu.’

One Hundred Ninety One

I ask Zero, ‘Have you been tracking Phaedra? I see her at meals, but she disappears in between.’
‘She’s fine, been exploring the inner halls with Fin, they’re determined to figure out what goes where.’
‘They aren’t popping up in anyone’s room are they?’
‘Fin wouldn’t do that, perhaps accidentally, but I don’t think it’s happened. She told me the hallways are magical, they appear to go beyond the house itself.’
‘How’s she know that, or why does she think that?’
‘She stepped off the length and width of the house, she said when she and Phaedra walk the inner hallways, it takes twice as many steps from one end to the other. And if she enters from her room on the third floor, she might come out anywhere, the first, second, or third, but they didn’t climb any steps up or down.’
‘So the hallway slants?’
‘She says she has no sensation of uphill or downhill, no sense of a hallway circling in any direction either. I suppose the turns could be so gentle that she might not notice in the dimly lit maze. She did say they pass a connecting hallway here and there, and there are connections to those connections. Some hallways just end, they have to turn around and retrace their path.’
‘You ask anyone about it.’
‘No, she doesn’t want me to, said she and Phaedra were having too much fun getting lost.’
‘Is it just an empty hallway? Is there anything besides the electric candles?’
‘Just the children’s art, and that’s only on small stretch of the hallways, and to make it more difficult, aside from the art, there is nothing that distinguishes one hallway from another. She even took her phone in, used the compass function, it didn’t work.’
‘Janah said they can Faraday the house, would that block or interfere with a compass, one built into a phone?’
‘Yes, the compass feature uses GPS, not a magnet, must have cost them a bundle to build a Faraday Cage around the entire house, but the technology itself isn’t too complicated, basically it’s just wire mesh. A microwave uses a similar system so the microwaves stay inside the appliance. It’s also incorporated into cable so the signals don’t leak.’
‘I did ask how they make or receive calls, the system isn’t on much of the time, or I should say it can be activated and deactivated by room. Some rooms, like the office we met in, have it on nearly all the time. The kitchen and dining area it is off most of the time, and they can always go outside.’
Zero, ‘Mysterious place, Fin also said in some spots the inner halls are painted to make it seem like the hallway continues but it doesn’t, or that there’s a connecting hallway but it’s just a three dimensional painting. Janah’s mom Kara does that kind of art. Some of it’s on the walls in Janah’s room and a few others, that is, the art is painted on the wall. I looked at one, you would swear the thing is 3D, but it’s just paint on a two dimensional surface.’
‘Talented then.’
‘They sell for nearly a million a pop, the ones she does on canvas, she only does walls for the family. And more interesting is her style, Daphne told me she stares at a blank canvas until she sees the entire painting complete, only then does she slap paint on, it looks like she’s tracing something but there’s no pencil in first or any other measurement, it’s all in her head until it shows up on the canvas.’
‘Janah comes from talent, sensitivity, perception, explains a bit anyway.’
‘And her father is a consulting psychiatrist, he gets called on to diagnose the complicated patients. I looked him up, James Svensson, several articles about him, the word brilliant gets thrown around a lot.’
‘Like to meet him, and her mother, they sound interesting.’
‘They all live in a house on the Malibu property a half mile from Janah’s place, we haven’t met them, I was told they travel a lot.’
‘Are they immortals?’
‘Yes, Susan, Daphne’s mom, is over fifty, but she stopped at thirty nine, I understand she and Daphne get pegged as sisters, I presume she’s a youngish thirty nine.’
Grace B comes past, ‘Cocktails in fifteen, dinner in an hour, don’t be late, we won’t wait.’
‘Thank you Grace B.’
‘Bite me,’ she strolls off.
Twenty minutes later, I’m talking with Katya and Katja over a refreshing vodka.
Katja, ‘Nikita says they do contract killings, conflict resolution. Sister and I used to do that, then the Shadow thing came up, we haven’t taken a contract for a few years.’
‘Get your fix with Shadows then.’
‘Da, yes, and we do not anyway need money. Now we serve as bodyguard for Chloe and Amaya when they go to make movies, sometimes also Dasha and Daria.’
‘Is it fun, interesting, boring?’
‘We do not get to watch the actors much, just when they are inside on a set. Most of Chloe’s movies are action and happen outside or in one building or another. Then we watch the crowd, there are always people who find out where things are getting filmed, they come to see famous actors and are harmless. But there are also the crazies, men who think they are in love, or men who think they will be famous if they kill famous celebrity.’
‘It happen much?’
‘Three or four times, they never get close. We are good security, see everything, also one of us flies drone over the scene, they can zero in on suspicious person.’
‘What do you do if you spot one?’
‘Tell him he must leave area, if he objects, we help him understand consequences as easy or as hard as necessary. They always go away, nobody wants to take on Katya or Dasha, if they try, then hospital.’
‘Chloe’s in good hands.’
‘Da, plus Chloe is sixth dan kendo girl, she can beat man to death with a broomstick, even an umbrella. She does not have to have a katana.’
‘Anyone try to get to Amaya?’
‘Not so much, she is well known to people who read books, but she does not have a fan page like Chloe with a million followers.’
‘Paparazzi a problem?’
‘Nyet, Chloe’s fan page has so many photos, plus it is updated if she does something in public, paparazzi do not have anything to sell. Chloe does not go to bars or to parties, she does not get drunk or take drugs, no boyfriend, everyone who knows anything about her knows she is with Amaya.’
‘Their relationship is exclusive?’
‘Nobody has exclusive relationship, she is with Amaya mostly, but they enjoy other girls also, no shortage of girls to play with here.’
I laugh, ‘True, every time I turn around there’s another girl who looks like a fashion model or movie star.’
‘Janah has a deep appreciation of beauty.’
‘She sure does.’
Emma B announces dinner, the island and part of the dining table is covered with, fried vegetables, deboned roast chicken, strips of flank steak, boats of au jus, creamed corn in a crock pot to keep it hot, another with mashed potatoes. 
At some point while I was talking with Katja, the mystery girls came from the dorm, they’re seated around tables by the pool, pushed together to make one big table, there are nine of them, and for the first time since we arrived I see Morshchiny lying behind the two youngest. I don’t know names, guess it isn’t important, they are in animated conversation with each other, the rest of us might as well be invisible.
While we fix plates, Kota B and Emma B serve the children, who are in identical dresses, flowing white ankle length, I don’t know from fabric, theirs is clearly lightweight, practically sheer.
I park at a table with girls I’d nodded at but never actually met, Britt and Lauren, then Sloane and Sarah join us.
Sarah, ‘Britt and Lauren are buds, Britt has taken gung fu from Daphne and Zi for years, she’s also incorrigibly athletic, as in gymnastics. Lauren helps Eloise with hardware design, her other preoccupation is admiring herself in the mirror.’
Lauren, ‘I am admiration worthy, skinny,’ she turns to me, ‘Sarah is a middle distance runner, a fast one, which is why she resembles a stick. The only girl she can’t outrun is Sloane.’
‘Why would I want to outrun Sloaney? She provides me with…things.’
Lauren, ‘One thing anyway, slutilicious.’
‘I have…needs, Sloane’s job is to meet them.’
Sloane, ‘I had a nice visit with Misha, we talked over the pros and cons of a full transition. I was going that route until I discovered the benefits of being…um… equipped differently than the other girls. Misha is still young, twelve I think, she has time to decide.’
I don’t reply, but it crosses my mind that Micha will have a say, much like I suspect Sarah had influence with Sloane, as well as the luscious Janah. If I was a girl with a cock and those two as play buddies, I’d keep the thing attached. I recall Janah saying Oceane was an occasional intimate, with that supple addition it doesn’t sound like any decision at all, or a decision to do nothing.

One Hundred Ninety Two

Dinner done, bots start clearing, Amaya announces a performance by the pool, or the stretch of grassy ground behind it. We find chairs and benches, Zero comes alongside and sits.
‘Before they start, Janah is visiting you later, I’ve been invited to bed with Sloane and Sarah. I’d say our luck is definitely holding.’
‘Do tell, is my grin idiotic enough?’
‘Just about right.’
There is singing, more like a chant, in a language I’ve never heard, or perhaps it’s no language at all. Eight little girls in white dresses begin to dance, something between a line dance and ballet. I say that because the moves are balletic, but also identical for each dancer. They swirl, like a field of wheat on a windy day, then a tornado of spins, arms out, so fast the dress hems spread, each dancer is her own inverted flower, the chant is mesmerizing, young voices but not little girl soprano. I don’t know enough about music to say what octave they’re in, but it isn’t screechy, it’s joyful, kind of like the Hallelujah Chorus, the religious one, not the Cohen song.
The song/chant and the dancing become intense, I have no idea how they move so fast and so identically choreographed, but they do. Zero even gasps.
After what seems like a quarter hour, the children spin into a circle, tiny lights appear in the circle, like fireflies but spinning along with the girls. Think of sparks from a fire twirling up, wider near the ground, then Christmas tree to the pointed top.
The chant stops but the girls keep dancing, another sound fills the air, it sounds, I realize I don’t know how it sounds, static but the volume changes, like a million bees buzzing.
The circle of sparks rises higher and higher, then it becomes a white laser, no sparks, as if it were lightening but without the zigzag, straight from the ground to the sky. If that’s not amazing enough, the light splits into eight laser-like streams, one directly down to each child, then spins around each, encasing them in eight cylinders of pure white light, clear enough that we see the children within, now still, except for long hair blown straight over their heads, the children chant again, the cylinders explode into another sparkling shower. The light fades as the chant softens then ends.
Zero, ‘What in hell?’
I’m still mesmerized but I manage to mumble, ‘Maybe someone explains later.’
The children form a line, smallest to tallest and zip past into what looks like a blank wall and disappear.
Zero, ‘Where’d they go?’
Daphne appears next to us, ‘That’s one of the inner hallway doors, take a look.’
She walks us over to the spot, taps on the wall, ‘Solid now, it opens as the children approach, then closes soon as the last one goes in.’
‘How does it know, a sensor?’
‘No, to us it’s the wall of the house, the children will be in the hallways for a time, there are things inside only they can sense or see. You and I could walk those hallways for days and only see hallways, dimly lit hallways.’
Zero, ‘What are the lights, sparks?’
‘Zycyryn.’
‘Okay, I’ll bite, what are Zycyryn?’
‘A name the children gave them, if you say it over and over, it’s the sound they make, the whispery hum you heard.’
Zero, ‘zycyrynzycyrynzycyrynzycyryn…yes, got it, audible whispering. But what are they?’
'The children’s guides to other universes, they also like to play and they like to play with the kids. When they take the children off to wherever, they are guides and protectors. Physical bodies remain, the being, the non-physical being, is what travels.’
‘What do they see in these other universes?’
‘The children don’t talk about it, as in describe, they do paint, and the painting in the hallways reflects what they saw. The art is quite beautiful, sometimes bizarre, weird, strange. Much of it looks like the exact opposite of what happens on Earth, ice is fire, oceans are deserts, rain falls from the land to the sky,and all manner of beings, fascinating, disturbing, ugly, beautiful.’
‘Do they time travel?’
‘Not as in to the past or future, at least not Earth time. I think of it like starlight. The light we see was emitted by stars anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of years ago, we see the star’s past, not its present, by the time the star’s present gets to us we may not exist at all. Even immortals, we aren’t surviving the death of our star, the idea we’ll all jump on spaceships and live on Mars won’t matter, the sun blinks out, or I should say explodes, the planets are gone.’
‘How, if you have any idea, did the children come to this?’
‘Innocence.’
‘Most of us left that state when Santa Claus died.’
Daphne, ‘The children understand what the rest of us don’t, no human endeavor is serious, it might be fun, or interesting, or even dangerous, never serious.’
‘A child with cancer isn’t serious?’
‘Everything living on Earth dies, even immortals, even viruses despite being dormant for decades or even millennia, pour a little water on it, it pops up ready to kill again. Eventually, it, too, dies. My prediction is that we will all die of a virus unless some other mishap or illness kills us first. All the drilling for oil, the melting of the permafrost and glaciers, releases dormant viruses humans have never seen. We are our own executioners.’
‘Then as they say down south, laissez les bons temps rouler.’
‘Let the good times roll, gets my vote.’
The crowd has broken into smaller groups, there’s laughter, an occasional screech, as will happen when girls have a bit of wine and the conversation turns to sex. Music plays, sounds like the stuff Zero listens to, trance, hip-shaking vibes, the girls turn the patio into a rave, a laser show plays in the sky. 
I’m not a dancer, the number of white guys that should be dancing is limited to a handful, I’m not in the hand. I do however, have an intense interest in watching. I make a drink, park back in my spot and try to decide who has the most sensual moves. None of them are bad, not hardly; Janah and Amaya, though, give new meaning to sizzling sensuality.
I’m just exiting the shower when Janah comes, using the door that opens to the mystery hallways. I haven’t ventured in, not too anxious to find myself lost in what the Fin and Phaedra call a maze.
She’s deliciously nude, did bring a bottle of Champagne in a bucket of ice and two glasses, I pop it open, pour. She takes the towel I have wrapped around me, ‘You won’t be needing this,’ we sit on the couch, bucket of bubbly on the coffee table. 
I offer a short toast, not so much a toast as a compliment on her collection of family.
Janah, ‘We have, like yours, common interests and a diversity of interests. I’m amazed and pleased at the activities they enjoy, it’s not all hunt Shadows or reprogram abusers, or even the sexual variety, they keep coming up with brilliant stuff, like Eloise and Lauren.’
‘Agreed, I thought having wealth and the freedom to enjoy it might lead to ennui, even laziness. Not the case, they stay occupied and engaged, part of it is Zero and our, for lack of a better word, vigilante pursuits. That they voluntarily train, both sparring and weapons, less brutal training like swimming, the trampoline, tumbling, dirt bikes, the range, racing around the track. Amaya said she and several others go to Bondurant once a year.’
‘Yes, and we’ve taken advantage of those skills, not we, I don’t take the courses, they love it, particularly Amaya, if it goes fast, she’s up in it.’
‘The twins, Zoe, CC, Zero, and Fin go, which led to us building our own oval, much the same as the one you have here. they still go down to Bondurant for refreshers.’
Janah scoots next to me, refills our glasses, she lays one hand on my cock, sips with the other. I lay my hand on a solid silken thigh.
‘Your skin is satiny smooth,’ I slide my hand down and up, the man brain starts to rise to the occasion.
Janah strokes slowly, ‘Time to put the big boy to good use.’
We stand, kiss, I follow her to the bed, comforter and sheet already turned down, she slips in. 
I’d describe the play, but it’s beyond mere description, suffice it to say I manage to help her along to three lovely orgasms, first oral, then two straight missionary. 
Janah, after catching her breath, ‘When you’re ready, I want it in my mouth,’ she giggles, 'I’m a swallower, I like the stuff.’
I have no particular preference, I’ve had girls who did, others who spit, a few that didn’t want the creamy in the mouth at all, it’s not a thing with me.
She kneels between my legs and gets to it. Obvious even if she hadn’t said so, she’s done it before, and with style. No gulping slurps, kiss, lick, then in for a slow slide, I give it up, she takes it up.
She shifts to lay next to me, ‘Three swallows, the phrase like a horse comes to mind.’
I laugh, ‘Too much?’
‘Never, well, I’m not interested in an actual horse, you are a more than sufficient stallion.’
‘Saddle me up anytime. Should I call, or you can ring me of course.’
‘Either way is good, I’m not shy, I don’t require romancing or to hear I love you.’
‘How about I love sex with you.’
‘That’s fine, good even, not necessary though, the sex speaks for itself.’
‘Want to finish off the Champagne?’
‘Stay here, I’ll fetch,’ she rolls out and returns, there’s enough left for a glass each, I offer another toast, ‘Amazing evening with an amazing woman.’
She smiles, I hope she stays the night, I’d welcome the opportunity for another go.
Janah, ‘If I sleep here, think you could thrill me again in the morning?’
‘Suppose I get a thrill right now, then again in the morning?’
Janah grins, tosses back the champagne, ‘Bring it on, stud.’

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