One Hundred Ninety Seven

Nothing to do but load up and go, two SUVs, we have drones to cart, plus us, plus drug case and the Rugers. We drive-thru a fastie and get breakfast, a Mexican place with fat burritos filled with scrambled, grilled onion, potato, and spicy chorizo.
Daphne, ‘These are good, they didn’t skimp on anything, Dasha, we can make these for breakfast sometime?’
‘Da, also easy to make vegetarian for Janah, add fake meat grilled wiz maybe habanero to add spice, we will get chorizo sausage for the rest.’
Grace B, ‘Now the car smells of mariachi.’
Daphne, “Mariachi is a musical style, not a scent, you don’t have a sense of smell.’
‘Aliento de tamal.’
Janah giggles.
‘What’d she say?’
‘She called you tamale breath.’
Now Daphne giggles.
Daphne, ‘I wonder how many meals I’ve prepared, I had to cook when I was a kid, thank goodness for Miss Alva. Sis has lots of luscious qualities, cooking isn’t one of them, she can burn water.’
Zero asks, ‘Isn’t she a computer whiz, hacker, security consultant, writes algorithms for bots?’
Janah, ‘A mystery, she can be total geek perfectionist in front of a computer, but we couldn’t let her make toast. Her other expertise is being hot, with elegant legs which gene she thankfully passed along  to Daphne. You haven’t met her have you?’
‘Not had the pleasure.’
‘Soon then, she’ll be the one you mistake for Daphne, they might not be identical twins, but they’re close.’
‘So that’s why she calls her mom Sis.’
Janah smiles, ‘Yep, and Susan loves it, when we’re out and make introductions to whoever, Susan introduces Daphne as her little sister even though little sister is an inch taller than big sister.’
‘I’m beginning to see where Daphne’s alternative logic originates.’
We stop a mile from the RVs, drone shows them in the same position.
Janah, ‘What now Generalissimo?’
Daphne, ‘We launch both drones and look for Shadows lurking in the woods.’
‘The woods are a hundred yards from the RVs, got a bit of ground to cover if they spot us.’
‘There’s that. How about one of our sharpshooters pinging the RVs, they’ll have to pop out and see what’s what. Commandant, you have the most rifle experience, how close do you need to be?’
‘Closer than a mile, I have two Rugers but they aren’t designed for long distances, five hundred yards to hit the RV, if I’m trying for a Shadow it’s more like a hundred yards for a clean shot. Hitting the side of an RV doesn’t need to be exact.’
‘Can you take out a tire? They won’t know it was a bullet, not right away anyway, they will have to deal with dead rubber.’
‘Yes, if I hit the sidewall, an ordinary bullet can’t pierce the tread.’
‘Okay, you and I will do the sneaky creep into the woods from farther along, Grace B can fly one drone, Zi the other. Whoever comes out, nail them with Oblivion. We have extra darts and can load them with more toxin if we need to. If you have a clear shot but have used the Oblivion darts, shoot the tranquilizer darts, it will slow them to a stop.’
I add, ‘If I’m in the woods a hundred yards away, I can pick off any Shadow that shows up. The question is, are there more of them in the woods? And where are the ones in cars?’
Janah, ‘Woods first, launch the drones and we can start surveillance.’
Zero, ‘Don’t want to poop the party, but the trees appear dense, can the drone even spot them?’
Daphne, ‘Infrared, the heat signatures will show up.’
‘Is there anything not on the drones?’
‘Well, they can’t make omelets yet, or marchand du van sauce.’
Grace B, ‘Can’t make a decent margarita either. Why don’t you quite being stupid and let me go knock on the aluminum, fuckers can’t take my mind, I don’t have one.’
Daphne, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’
‘Too busy thinking about masturbation no doubt. I’m off, don’t fucking shoot me,’
the bot exits the vehicle and start towards the triangle.
‘How does she know what I’m thinking?’
Janah, ‘Whenever you think of Sis your fingers go exploring.’
‘It’s the legs…and…the other thing.’
‘At least nobody else can hear our mind to mind.’

Nikko, ‘I can read your incestuous mind.’
Daphne, ‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m visiting Susan, I’d tell her what you thought about but she’s occupied right now, see?’

She looks through Nikko’s eyes, sees Sis on her knees, head comfortably parked between Nikko’s slick shiny legs.
‘This is torture.’
Nikko, ‘Not for me,’ she moans and gasps, Daphne sees Nishiko’s hands behind Susan’s head, hips twitching, then Susan looks up and her face approaches, she can’t see them kiss, but she can see half closed eyes and hear the sound of soft tongue swap.
Janah, ‘Now you’re steamy, and it’s time to kill Shadows.’
‘I want my mommy.’
‘Sheesh.’

Grace B, ‘Six heat signatures in the woods,’ she points to the screen, ‘see, two together, the other four spread along the edge.’
‘Keep that drone focused on the woods, message Zi to take control of it, then go.’
Daphne, ‘Dasha, tell your sister we’re moving to the far side of the RVs near the woods, if more Shadows are in there we’ll deal, she goes to back up Grace B.’
Dasha mentals her sister while I take our car to the far side. The second SUV is behind one of the RVs and can’t be seen from the road.
Grace B doesn’t knock on the door of RV1, she rips it open, climbs inside. Daria, Sloane, and Alice exit their SUV, Sloane and Alice take RV2, Zero goes with Daria to RV3.
While Dasha, Daphne, and Janah walk the tree line, I’m doing dual sniper duty. The Ruger is sighted in, resting on the hood of the SUV, my Glock has a round chambered and nine more Indians resting in the magazine. My head swivels left and right looking for targets. 
A man’s voice, ‘Welcome Shaolin, ready to die?’
Daphne, ‘Always, but not today.’
A rather large man, swarthy, bushy beard, face as round as a pie plate, steps out and faces Daphne. I don’t have a clear shot from here, I know there’s a drone overhead looking for an opening.
Another Shadow emerges, moves behind her, a female, short, stocky, as plain as paste. I turn to shoot, Stocky has her hand raised, I see a disturbance in the air, Daphne ducks, the Qi blast hits Pie Face in the neck, won’t need to waste a dart on him. He falls backwards, neck a bloody mess.
Stocky, ‘Fuck.’
Daphne turns to face her, ‘Oops.’
‘Oops my ass, I got more,’ hand comes up again, then a feathered tail sticks out of her eye, more blood, a short scream, staggers, falls face forward, kisses the dirt, thump!
I hear a scrape, Dasha is hauling a man, so slim as to seem emaciated. He’s not moving, dead people lack mobility. A fourth man, practically a dwarf, trails behind, Dasha doesn’t appear to know he’s there. A Qi shot hits her back, I only know because of the raised hand and her stutter-step, as if she stumbled, she doesn’t go down, turns to see where it came from.
I put a nine in his forehead.
Dasha drops her kill, moves towards Janah farthest down the line. A female and a male visible now, two pointed fingers, two disturbances in the air. The energy hits something I can’t see in front of Janah, sparks fly. Damn, Janah created an energy wall between her and the Shadows, bet that gives them pause.
The female says, ‘You can’t keep it up forever honey, we aren’t near done yet.’
Janah says nothing, I’m shifting from them to events at the RVs, no Shadows have emerged from the trailers, no sign of the bot, Sloane, Alice, or Daria. Alice is armed and her compact Glock silenced, if she shot anyone I wouldn’t hear it at this distance.
Turn to see Dasha next to Janah, the Shadows are wasting their time and draining their batteries, nothing they do has any effect on the two.
I grab the Ruger, sight the female, Janah is between me and the male, Dasha is to her right, okay, nobody move. I get the woman center chest, it’s a .308, decent sized bullet and it’s a hollow point, makes a nasty hole and fragments tear into her heart. She falls backwards just as a dart catches the man shoulder high. He staggers, stumbles, another halting step, he sinks slowly to the ground. It must be a tranq dart, Oblivion would have him recycled by now.
Janah lets him hit the dirt, Dasha picks him up by the belt and drags him to the car.  
Janah, ‘Keep him on ice in the car, Daphne, wrap him good, picture wire, he wakes up and starts his shit, he can slit his own wrists. I want to ask him a few questions, maybe we can get a Shadow update. Where are the others?’
I answer, ‘Still in the RVs, don’t know status.’
Dasha, ‘Sister says she has two, one dead, one waiting to be interviewed.’
‘Then let’s hustle, need to check on Sloane and Alice.’
We load up, I beat a hasty to the RV triangle.

One Hundred Ninety Eight

Janah goes in RV3, Daria and Zero are waiting with one Shadow dead, really dead, his head is missing, she doesn’t ask. 
Daria has cuts and abrasions, one serious slice on her arm, she’s applying Qi, bleeding appears to have stopped. 
Daria, ‘The dead one was talented, I had a standoff for a bit, the one on the couch managed to sail a knife, that’s the cut, the other stuff is minor,’ she waves her hand, there’s broken pieces of what must have been a plate, then glass shards, looks like he threw whatever was handy, like drinking glasses. Zero took a blast and caught a glass or two.’
Zero, ‘The Qi shot was hard, my ribs will complain for a while, the glasses hit me in the chest and nothing penetrated my clothes.’
‘Come on, we need to do more patch-up, get the cuts covered with antibiotic, I’ll do a local with Lidocaine, then stitch you up.’
She stands and they exit, Daphne is coming from RV2, Dasha stuck our capture in there.
‘Sloane has a screwdriver in her gut, not too deep, I don’t think there’s any organ damage, just punctured muscle. I told her to look for blood in her urine. Alice got a hard Qi shot to her shoulder, the Shadow earned a nine in his brain.’
‘Are they mobile?’
‘Alice is, Sloane may need help walking.’
‘Get her and take her to Janah, she’s today’s trauma nurse.’
I go in RV1, Grace B is unmarked, not counting her bloody hands, there’s a lump of something against one wall, organic, I can tell by the blood, and the stench, the lump doesn’t resemble anything human.
Grace B, ‘Fucker tried Qi, when I got his throat, it was over, I crushed everything anyway. Lot of blood for a skinny shit.’
‘Wash up in here, it’s his blood, not…’
‘Of course it’s not mine genius, I don’t have blood.’
I smile, ‘You’re almost too real, I forget you’re a bot.’
‘That’s the idea, Eloise is a mechanical genius, Lauren is an algorithm queen, Amaya is a cultural wizard. By the way, I’ve been tracking the drone, cars are coming down the road, no doubt the rest of the cunts. If you prefer not to die, best get your ass out there and start killing the half human sons of bitches.’
I dash out of the RV, Daphne is with Janah, finished zippering Daria, Janah’s pulled the screwdriver out of Sloane and slathered the puncture with antibiotic.
‘It’s a puncture, not a cut, did you poke the antibiotic into it?’
She holds up a Q-tip, ‘Injection of Lidocaine first, then got the antibiotic in and over. For now she’s pain free, Daphne will Qi it, Alice is under a stack of gel packs. She didn’t complain but the prick got her good with the energy pulse, nearly broke the skin, if she’d been closer it would have.’
‘So the energy is more like a shotgun than a bullet, it spreads over distance.’
‘Right, it’s laser-like for five yards maybe, after that it expands, not a lot, a few inches, not like a shotgun. Most of them can’t be effective over ten or fifteen feet, beyond it’s more of a jolt, not a punch, wouldn’t even bruise.’
‘Most, not all?’ 
‘Some of the talented can extend the range with a tighter pattern, they are far more troublesome.’
‘Zero iced up?’
‘Yep, she’s fine.’
‘Grace B is clear, but there are cars coming, we need to get busy. I suggest we occupy the RVs it’s too late to do much about our SUVs. Alice, can you drive?’
‘Yep.’
‘Then take Sloane, Zero, and Daria to the woods, find a spot you can back in. Not perfect but I doubt the Shadows will spot it a hundred yards away backed into the trees. Get going, you want to be invisible when they arrive and that’s any minute now. Zi goes with, stay put until one of us calls.’
Alice takes the driver’s seat, Zero in the second row, Sloane is on her back in the rear, Daria in the passenger, Zi cross legged in the rear monitoring Sloane.
I turn to the others, ‘Grace B crushed the Shadow, RV1 smells like a backed up sewer, no reason to wait in there.’
Daphne, ‘Grace B, you and Janah in RV2, Dasha and I in RV3. What do you want to do Commandant?’
‘Taking the second SUV to the edge of the forest, the hatch down and facing this way. I’ll pick off whoever I can, the rest is up to you.’
Grace B, ‘I brought the drone in for a dart reload, there it is now, and I’m monitoring the cars with the other, it’s got a full load, there are three Shadows in the first car, two in the second.’
Janah, ‘Cripes, damn glad they weren’t all here at once, what’s that? Eleven in total?’
Daphne, ‘Let’s get inside, Dasha, Grace B, stay in drone control, go with Janah, she wants to interview the one we left alive.’
Janah, ‘Take this tranq dart and reload him, maybe get one more tranquilized, see what their story is. Kill the others.’
I’m prone in the rear of the SUV, hatch open, waiting. 
The two cars roll in, they don’t know they’re the mystery guests in our Shadow House of Horrors.
The car with three rolls in first, two is coming up the road, since they were out on different projects, one grocery, one to create something ugly, they must have met up someplace before returning.
Passenger gets out, a female resembling a Macy’s balloon, she’s laughing. Medium size male exits the rear door, both are on the side away from me. The driver gets as far as stepping onto the dirt, then his head jerks and bashes the top edge of the car. He falls forward, hits his head again on the open car door and winds up half sitting on the driver’s seat. There was no sound from the shot.
Macy Tub, ‘Frank look like he slipped or something, she waddles around the front, before she can see what’s with Frank, her heads snaps left, a wig flies off and lands on Frank, Macy Tub falls against the car door and bashes the dead guy’s ankles.
Medium Man has determined something is weird, but with no sound of a shot he tries to look over the car, craning his neck. The bullets didn’t through and through, he can’t see anything but Frank’s back with an Afro wig on his head, it appears to be upside down.
‘What the fuck? Quit goofing Frank,’ Medium steps to the passenger door, reaches for the handle, a dart in his neck. He crumples to the ground, his body is hidden from the approaching second car, but the occupants must see the fat woman lying at the feet of dead Frank, the driver’s door partly open between him and her.
The car slows, stops. Must be weighing the consequences of coming up or retreating.
Daphne steps out of RV2 and heads towards the car. I wonder what…then it’s clear, she want to be close enough they sense a Shaolin. If what I know of them is right, they can’t resist taking her on.
She gets within twenty feet of the car, engine revs, they’re going to try and run her over. I switch rifles, the one I used has hollow points, no good for what I need, the second Ruger has a full metal jacket armor piercing ammo. I snatch it up, it’s sighted well enough for the hundred twelve yards it needs to cover.
I hit the driver’s side front tire, shift and get the rear, now he can rev all day, but the car isn’t going far. Driver doesn’t know he’s got two dying tires, the things don’t explode, the bullet makes a hole, tire deflates.
He stomps the gas, tires grind the dirt but the car moves a few feet, no faster than if someone were pushing it.
Through the scope I see, driver waving his hands, he’s not a happy Shadow, I put one in the side of his head right through the window. The angle is such that it missed the passenger, it does exit the rear passenger window. The passenger, a woman of indeterminate size, has blood and brains in her hair, she’s frozen, car won’t move, she can’t decide whether to stay put or jump out. 
While she contemplates a strategy, her head shifts from straight on, to her dead pal, to looking out the passenger window. I catch her just then, bullet clears the driver’s shattered window and opens a hole in the back of her skull, exits what I’m guessing is an eye socket.
Daphne turns to me, waves, returns to the RVs. I crank the car and head there myself. To my left I see the second SUV come out of the woods to meet us. The others waited while Janah interviewed the only Shadow left sentient.
Janah comes out, ‘Everyone dead?’
‘Except the one you wanted to interview.’
‘He’s dead too, his neck mysteriously snapped. He wasn’t a fountain of detail, this crew was pasted together, one knew two others, one of those knew another who knew four more, came together specifically to draw us out, which they did. They didn’t know much about each other, par for Shadows.  If there’s a Shadow hierarchy issuing orders to find and kill us, he never heard of it.’
‘You drugged him?’
‘Yes, David Li’s Truth serum, not even a Shadow can lie with that coursing through his veins. We’re done here, let’s go home.’
Driving back to town, we discuss fly tonight or in the morning. With Sloane and Daria injured, and Alice with a fat bruise, they decide to put in another night at the hotel. Normally we might drive a hundred or so miles to distance ourselves from the scene, this time the scene is forty miles out of town, no reason to make a longer drive. 
Janah drives the injured straight to the hotel with Grace B. Daphne, Dasha and I start to a supermarket when we pass a fried chicken restaurant with a drive through. We load up, twenty four mixed pieces, two quart containers of coleslaw, box of twenty fingers in case anyone is extra hungry, spicy dipping sauce. 
To the Wandering Wetback for long showers, then a fat vodka rocks with cranberry, Alice opens a bottle of red blend, we settle in to feed.
Grace B deals with the chicken, ‘You got enough food? We entertaining visitors?’
‘Hardly, better to have extra, we didn’t want to think about portions.’
‘I have it in the oven, Fates Forbid you don’t have the batter crunchy or the coleslaw drowned in mayo, it is in the refrigerator, sauces, plates and utensil on the table, serve yourself, I’m going to hibernate for a few hours, stay the fuck off my case.’
She goes to the far corner and shuts down.
It’s been a brutal trip, we chill, casually nibble away at the food while a movie plays, some action thing with Jason Stratham, Janah calls home with an arrival time, I told her to add another leg. When we get to Arizona, my girls will be at the airport and we’ll continue to Malibu. It’s been a pleasure but there’s being a welcome guest and being in the way, I don’t want us to get there.
Daphne, ‘Think over joining us in Canada, you’re certainly welcome.’
‘Perhaps for a bit, if we do, we have a place we use, it’s on the town side of the lake, we can give you and us more elbow room. I can rent a boat to cruise over.’
‘We have a houseboat and two cruisers, your crew can fit easily in the larger one, I can arrange to have it parked wherever you want.’
‘Great, there’s a launch down the way from the place we use, what’s it, twenty, thirty minutes in a fast boat?’
‘A leisurely thirty, or Dasha speed, which narrows it to twenty.’
‘Perfect. Text me dates you’re there, I’ll need to see about availability but it’s summer, shouldn’t be an issue to get the place, if not, there are others.’
Everyone is tired, I doubt it’s a play night for any of them, I know it’s not for me.

One Hundred Ninety Nine

Home, glad for the visit, glad to be home. Zi whispered a thank you before we got on the plane, I told her if the pregnancy didn’t take I’d be happy to give it another go. She smiled, said maybe it would be nice if it took five or six times, we kissed, not a tongue swap, more than a peck.
Zero, ‘A Chinese American kiddie, two good looking parents, one smart, the other can shoot straight.’
‘Zi doesn’t shoot.’
‘That leaves her as the smart one.’
‘You understand, the child, if it happens, is for Zi and Nikko?’
‘I understand it will live with them, I’m also sure they will welcome your involvement. Otherwise they would have gone to a clinic with an anonymous sperm donor, Zi chose you and wouldn’t have done so without Nikko’s agreement.’
‘We’re keeping it quiet for now, I don’t know how much they’re telling Janah’s tribe, I think they’re playing it low key as well, Zi wants to avoid a million baby questions until the pregnancy is a fact.’
‘Of course, we won’t speak of it again.’
Zero calls Janah to inquire after Sloane, baby doesn’t come up although we’re sure Janah and Daphne know. Daphne can be in Nikko’s mind, and while Janah doesn’t mental with Nikko, she does with Daphne. The rest will remain happily oblivious until Zi makes an announcement.
They chat for a half hour, then ring off, ‘Sloane is good, not great, a puncture is a pain but there are several Qi practitioners, Janah worked on her, as has Daphne and Daria. Daria’s cut is mostly healed.’
‘Good, which reminds me, I found vests that protect against bullets, stabs, and spikes, they run around four or five hundred. Get everyone sized and buy them, enough of this bullshit. We haven’t had people shooting bullets at us, but that’s been just luck. And they make knife proof gloves, we need to give those a try as well. I have an idea for knee and elbow protection, I need to talk to Natasha about that.’
‘Will the gloves interfere with our shooting?’
‘There are several varieties, buy a few and let’s see what works best for us.’
I go off to find Natasha, find her in Zoe’s room chatting, ‘Natasha, I have an idea to protect elbows and knees that are better than the stuff we use for the dirt bikes. You’ve seen a lobster tail of course, how it folds one way but not the other.’
‘Yes, and I see what you’re getting at. I can make them with titanium, harder than steel, lighter too, nearly indestructible. I will find the sheets, might need a bit more equipment for the workshop to cut and shape it. I will get started on it tomorrow, it’s a good idea.’
‘Zero is ordering bullet, knife, and stab vests for everyone, and she’s buying a few kinds of cut proof gloves, we need to know they can be used with the Glocks. This business with Shadows is getting brutal and I want our people to have as much protection going in as possible.’
‘Another good idea, you are on a roll today Commandant.’
‘One idea leads to another, maybe a watch cap with a stainless steel mesh lining, what do you think? Or does that make a blow to the head worse?’
‘You need something to dissipate the force like Kevlar does with a bullet, let me think about it. I will also call Eloise, she likely has the equipment for the lobster tails, she and Daria do a lot of vehicle maintenance, not just electronics.’
‘Good, maybe they want the stuff too.’
I go down with them, the others have come in, except Alice.
Misha, ‘Alice is on a writing roll and won’t be in for tea.’
Phaedra and Fin are in Goth casual, black t-shirts and leggings, black nail polish, fingers and toes. Phaedra has a silver streak in her hair.
‘Fin did it for me, I’m mysterious huh?’
CC, ‘Even to yourself.’
Phaedra giggles.
‘Goths don’t giggle, they’re morose and pouty.’
Fin, ‘Our version calls for sarcasm and cynicism, but the happy kind, we like the look, can skip the attitude.’
Zero, ‘I think you may be onto more than the Buddhist stuff I’ve read.’
Fin, ‘What do you mean?’
‘I don’t find mindfulness to be useful, except in the sense that one might stay with what’s going on right now as opposed to living in the past or future. And I don’t see where running away from my own brain, the thoughts that pop up, is helpful in bringing clarity to anything.’
CC, ‘We use meditation, but more for specific purposes, not to drift away in emptiness, although Janah’s crew, particularly the Shaolin, Daphne and Zi, are part of a Buddhist tradition.’
‘I spoke to Janah about that. Shaolin are warrior monks, not pacifists, they are Buddhists only tangentially, and they have nothing to do with the Buddhist sects that have Gods or systems or believe that Buddha was any sort of divinity. She decided that all the interior looking is merely more self absorption, as is mindfulness.’
Natasha, ‘The notion that humanity is all one is absurd; tribes, races, genders, nations, where is the oneness? Buddhists talk mindfulness, be in the now, but they deal in the future, in attainment according to one path or another, no different than any religion.’
Zero, ‘Exactly, thank you. I have concluded that any belief system of any kind is merely thought trying to enhance itself make itself important, but thought is confused, the product of thousands of past and current influences. If there is no free will, then these thoughts are absurd, and bludgeoning the mind to stillness by meditation is only more confusion. The brain is never still in any case, meditation or not.’
‘We will continue to meditate of course.’
‘I am, as I said, mine is not for imaginary emptiness, it’s to focus on Qi and longevity, intent. If I want to drop out, I can always go to sleep.’

Two Hundred

As they’ve matured the Sisters are, if not gregarious, at least less self contained. That didn’t start today, it’s what I’ve noticed over the last year or more. While their level of trust is non-existent for the rest of the world, being with us and subsequently meeting two more sets of Slavic identicals has expanded their social universe. 
Natasha, ‘Nothing on the Shadow search, plenty of self-defeating human activity, but nothing that indicates people doing anything but stumbling over their own feet.’
‘Good, I’m for a Shadow breather.’
‘Eloise made a set of lobster tail knee and elbow guards, then sent the prototype off to their drone company. They came in today, sister and I are going to pick them up.’
‘I thought they were in Canada.’
‘They are, which is why she had them sent to our mailbox. Janah and Daphne wanted sets for their hunters as well. We talked over head gear but to provide real protection it either has to be bulky or made of metal with maybe a bit of padding on the inside. Walking around with what amounts to a football or motorcycle helmet on our heads seems pointless, there’s no way to disguise that.’
‘We can keep an eye out for acceptable alternatives, I admit nothing comes to mind at the moment. What about the vests?’
‘Those are also in, as are the sets of gloves. This afternoon we can try on the mix and see what works.’
Twins take the Bankruptor to fetch battle gear, I decide a laps in the pool and a bit of sun before lunch is in order. I go to my room, strip, wrap a towel around me and go to the pool. Misha and Micha are already in, I drop the towel on a chair and dive in. Everyone swims nude, girls have seen Misha and me bare butted so many times it’s become ordinary.
A half hour of back and forth, I’ve done my exercise duty, climb out, rinse under the outdoor shower and stretch out on one of the recliners with a bottle of water. Zero and Alice appear, Misha and Micha are done and sitting next to me, Fin and Phaedra come along and the four dive in. 
Micha, ‘Our private nudist colony. Where’s Zoe?’
‘Probably fiddling with lunch, was she in the kitchen?’
‘Not when we came through, likely in her room trading stocks.’
‘Twins went off to collect the protective gear, we’ll have a try it on session this afternoon.’
Zoe comes out, ‘Shrimp salad for lunch, toast or crackers, chips. Tonight white beans and hot sausage, brown rice, cornbread.’
Misha, ‘Yay! What time is it?’
Micha, ‘Only eleven fifteen, you have to wait, I swear you would eat all day and into the night, you should be fat but you aren’t even close.’
‘I’m a growing girl, and we do enough exercise to power a diesel locomotive. Swim, dive, trampoline, gymnastics, running, sparring, nobody here sits around all day. Commandant has the most muscle, but he’s also six five, all the girls have muscle tone, particularly the twins but none of the rest of us are soft.’
Micha, ‘And you’re a mixed breed, getting tall yourself girly-boy.’
Misha laughs, ‘I love being both, Sloane says there are definite advantages to being a girl with a penis, she’s pretty much in constant demand, even in a houseful of lesbians.’
‘They think of her as we think of you, a girl with a permanent strap on, one I take advantage of frequently. I’m not ready for Commandant yet, and he gets spoken for by the others much of the time anyway. For the time being, Alice and I have exclusive use of you, although Phaedra is growing up, we may have to put her in the rotation.’
Misha, ‘She’s ten.’
‘Didn’t stop me from playing with your poker when I was ten.’
Misha giggles, ‘And I was eight, child molester.’
‘A ten year old can’t be a child molester, I never heard you complain.’
‘Pretty girl to snuggle with at night, complain about what?’
‘Thank you.’
‘I’m missing CC, where is she?’
Zoe, ‘Editing Alice’s book, or was earlier, here she comes now.’
CC, ‘The book is coming along, she’s quite talented. She went with stories, the same central characters but each story stands on its own, like the Sherlock Holmes collections. In hers, a young girl is the detective, Goth like Fin and Phaedra, it adds atmosphere, dark and creepy.’
I ask, ‘Has she decided to publish them?’
CC, ‘No, we’re putting them online, a website, free for anyone to read. Not like she needs money and she doesn’t want to be known, in fact she’s using a pen name.’
‘What?’
‘Rainn, two ns no last name, the titles of each story will be Curious Girl, then a word or two hinting at the plot, Curious Girl and the Corpse, Curious Girl and the Diamond Broach, Curious Girl at the Morgue, like that. It’s a bit existentialist, the protagonist is named Curiosity, she lives alone in a Gothic mansion with hidden doors and hallways, like Janah’s place but not as modern, more like you would imagine a huge English manor, with battlements and turrets, but the setting is present day. Curiosity is eight or nine, parents dead, no relatives, her listed guardian is the butler and general factotum, a woman of forty or so, named so as to avoid nosy social workers or other busybodies who would wonder about a little girl living in a forty room mansion. There’s a housekeeper and a cook, housekeeper is a seventeen year old black girl with attitude, the cook is a man, late thirties, oh, and a groundskeeper, a crusty older gent who maintains a maze inside hedges and grows various herbs, some of which are poisonous. He spends the bulk of his time in the gardens or the greenhouse, Curiosity consults him before taking on a case and along the way. The butler is Miss Butler, she also drives Curiosity when she needs to be out investigating. The groundskeeper is Herb Gardner, then Mr. Cook, the black girl is named Flippant.’
‘Ah, the characters are named for what they do, or their personality.’
‘Yes, perhaps too cute but I kind of like the idea.’
‘When does the site go live?’
‘We put up the first stories tomorrow. No idea if search engine optimization will help, we’re giving it a go anyway.’
‘Sounds like Natasha might be helpful.’
‘I mentioned it to her, she’s going to take a look, Alice doesn’t want to add a bunch of links to other sites, it seems distracting to the story so we need to find other ways to get the crawlers to pay attention. It could take some time before it catches on.’
‘Ask Amaya to read the stories, if she likes them a mention from her, or by Chloe on her fan page might give it a kick start.’
‘I hadn’t thought of that, good call Commandant.’ 
‘My brain works occasionally, it can be touch and go.’
I go off to get a real shower, when I’m done I hear the twins coming in, slip on slacks and a shirt and out to see if they need a hand with the packages. Turns out they do.
‘How many of these things did you order?’
‘It was a lot, first we needed different sizes, the straps, the elastic bit for the lobster tails, stretch to hold them in place, there are small, medium and large, large is for you, maybe Sloane but she’s slim, not as muscular as you, nor as tall. Then there are vests of different sizes, those are more adjustable but we have your big chest and the young ones small chests. Gloves are varied sizes as well.’
Zoe, ‘Lunch is ready, you can play with your new toys after.’
We eat inside, big bowl of shrimp salad, butter crackers.
Zoe, ‘Anyone want toast?’
No takers, crackers are fine, there’s Coke Zero and iced tea.
CC, ‘This is good Zoe, zesty.’
Zoe, ‘I added a touch of Ghost pepper, just a hint. The fearless can add more if they wish, Ghost, Habanero, and Scorpion powder are in the little bottles.’
Alice, ‘My brain is dry, writing a mystery that makes sense is harder than I thought it would be. I’m trying to steer clear of prior influences, Christie, Conan Doyle, coming up with unique situations, keeping scenes straight, making it interesting, informative or entertaining is my intent. I read Amaya’s work, she’s so good at dialogue and keeps the story moving. I am stealing her general format, as little lengthy description as possible, but her work is action oriented, mine is more investigation and psychology.’
‘You work from an outline, notes?’
‘No, I have no idea where I’m going, I write a situation, something or someone goes missing, or a body turns up in an unusual place. The main characters have personality, a couple are weird, the housekeeper is a version of Grace B, snappy, sarcastic, gives Butler grief for hiring a black girl to be the housekeeper, she calls herself the house nigger.’
‘You trying for total politically incorrect?’
‘Yes in fact. I don’t pay much attention to current news, but I see enough to know the whole world is caught up in taking offense, looking to establish their rights, wanting guaranteed safety, respect for their views and opinions despite most of them being idiotic. My goal is to offend as many tender souls as possible.’

Let's wrap Book I here, click next for Book II

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