Best Friend For Hire, Entry 344

After sneaking into Dani’s room, Alma and I crept up to her bed and started to sing Happy Birthday to You for her. We woke her every year like this since we had adopted her ― though she didn’t initially understand the lyrics ― and might continue into her adulthood.

Dani’s eyes blinked open shortly into the song, and the smile she gave us as she stretched, a thing of pure joy and obvious affection, warmed my heart each time. If she ever asked us to stop, we would, but this incredible sight still greeted us this year.

By my planet’s calendar, Dani would be born five years from today. Her biological parents weren’t even acquainted yet, and they had over a decade before they would die during the attack on their new world. Traveling through time and space certainly made birthdays interesting. In galaxies which lacked a galactic calendar, those who tracked age typically went by planet of origin. Dani was young enough not to complain about the switch when we adopted her.

“Thank you!” she exclaimed, standing up and hugging us both.

I dropped the spell I used to hide her present and said, “You are quite welcome. Here’s a little something from your mom and me.”

She lifted my arm and spun under it to the ornate box. Gasping after lifting the lid, she pulled out the sparkling, grey dress.

“I modified the design slightly from the original to better fit our planet’s views on modesty. I hope you don’t mind.” explained Alma apologetically.

“I love it! Thank you both!” exclaimed Dani as she hugged us each again. Then she turned back to the box and mumbled “But where’s the clue?”

Not seeing anything obvious, she carefully set her dress on the bed before lifting the box to examine its bottom. Dani had grown accustomed to our games over the years and knew she was missing something.

“Your grandparents will be arriving in twenty-seven minutes.” stated Mila after Dani plopped on the floor to thoroughly examine the box.

Dani nodded and tried singing, causing her dress to shift colors in spots. Alma smirked momentarily, smoothing out her features when Dani looked up.

“I’m missing something…” complained Dani with a frown. She caught sight of her dress and stood, mumbling “You modified the dress. Was that a clue?”

Dani started singing again and watched the shifting colors. “Mila, what are the English names for these precise colors?” she asked, pointing at one of the modified sections where the pattern repeated.

Mila replied and pointed out that the first letter of each color spelled out ‘labyrinth’.

“Mila, for shame. You gave away a hint.” teased Alma, knowing we hadn’t taught that word to Dani yet.

“Oh. Should I not tell her about convoluted paths meant to confuse those who dare enter such a place?” inquired Mila as she displayed the maze in my yard on the mirror by Dani.

“Obviously not.” stated Alma with a small smile. “Dani will get bored if you make this too easy.”

“Thanks, Mila!” exclaimed Dani as she darted toward the door.

Alma smoothly blocked her path and said, “Clothes first. Your grandparents will be here soon, and I’ve told you that your nightwear is not suitable for public viewing.”

Dani sighed dramatically and said, “Yes, mom.” Then she kissed her cheek and ran to her dresser as Alma and I departed.

Tomorrow Dani would meet up with her friends from school at the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce before spending a day with them to celebrate, but she was all ours today.

Alma and I had barely entered the front hall when Mila curtsied and informed us that Dani had ran out the back. Alma rolled her eyes and sighed, but she smiled when I laughed.

“Good morning!” exclaimed the twins in unison as they walked out of the ballroom.

“Ai was wondering if you had a specific time for giving Dani gifts.” stated Mai.

“There’s nothing written on the schedule, and Mila claimed not to know.” explained Ai.

“I actually told you that I couldn’t be certain when you’d be giving your gifts.” argued Mila.

Mai stuck out her tongue at Mila. Then she said, “We thought we should ask what you wished.”

“I wished for her to be as happy as possible.” teased Alma.

The twins glanced at one another hesitantly.

“She’ll be happy whenever you decide to present your gift.” I assured them. “We did mean what we said when we told everyone that they didn’t have to get Dani anything. Though part of our family, she’s not tied to the Slayer family.”

“I assure you that I don’t mind. We just wanted to celebrate our daughter’s birthday.” insisted Alma.

“As you say, Lady… er… Alma.” replied Ai.

Looking to Alma, I said, “I fear they’re getting even more formal now that you asked them to be informal.”

“I tried so hard to guide them well, and look what I’ve done to them.” replied Alma, pretending to be disheartened.

Ai and Mai looked even more confused, especially after we started laughing.

“Sorry. My joy of teasing you seems to have become contagious.” I explained still grinning.

“Mila, please inform our husband that we’re being mistreated by his friend.” ordered Ai.

“I’m your friend too.” I assured them.

“Yes, but we’re certain you’re to blame for her behavior.” insisted Mai as she pointed at Alma.

Alma’s face instantly became a mask as she inquired “Are you claiming that I am being manipulated by my husband?”

“Well… uh…” started Mai.

“N-no. Of course not.” asserted Ai.

Alma laughed and said, “Good. I’d hate to think we failed to fool you. James manipulates in the best of ways.”

The twins stared blankly at her as Jarod came jogging up from behind me. I ducked and leaned to the left, letting his punch pass over my shoulder as I grabbed his arm.

“I forfeit.” stated Jarod with a grin. “Sorry, my lovelies. I tried to avenge you.”

Ai and Mai hmphed as they turned their heads to look away from him.

“Mila said your folks are almost here, so I thought I should get up here.” explained Jarod as he stepped around to embrace Ai and Mai.

“Thank you. I doubt they’ll want to try chasing Dani down in the labyrinth, so we’ll be entertaining them for a bit.” I told him.

“What’s she doing?” he asked.

“Finding her birthday presents. We didn’t want to make things too easy on her.” replied Alma.

“She flipped over the hedges to go directly at the center, so she’s missed several clues.” stated Mila.

“She’ll figure it out soon enough.” I replied, confident in my daughter’s abilities.

We trained her well.


Best Friend For Hire, Entry 343

After visiting the Storms, I made a brief trip to Deyanira’s school on her behalf to discuss the merit of excusing her from classes over those few days. Though more resistant to the idea than Iris’ parents, Deyanira’s teachers did cave and approve her absence by the end of the meeting.

Next on my agenda would probably be the most difficult part of the day, given that Portentia was perfectly accustomed to life without sound. She was already waiting in my office when I arrived back home.

“James! Mila said that you wanted me to come here and talk with you about something. What’s up? Do you have a new plan for Maxine!?” she excitedly inquired as I walked around to sit at my desk.

Nodding, I signed and said, “You could say that.”

She stood and leaned on my desk as she asked “What’s the plan?”

“I’ve asked Maxine to design a hearing aid based on her sight technology for you.” I told her, continuing to sign as I spoke.

Portentia looked at me as if she didn’t understand what I was saying. Then she plopped back into her seat before asking “What? Why?”

“Given that we’re going to a concert, I was hoping for you to enjoy it with us. You don’t have to use the technology if she succeeds, but I would like you to at least try it.” I explained. “You very well might come to enjoy music for more than the vibrations.”

“But you can’t really trust Maxine! She’s a villain!” she protested. “She’ll probably sabotage the thing to escape me at some point.”

“Jarod will be working with her on the project, and Mila will surely want to be integrated with it. Between the two of them, I’m sure they’ll catch any nefarious activity Maxine might try.” I replied, though I was certain that Maxine wouldn’t risk upsetting me by such an act. “Besides, you’ll always be able to simply remove the device.”

“Maybe but what’s the point? I’m fine as I am. There’s no reason to do this, and giving Maxine more access to Jarod’s lab asking for trouble. She’s surely making some sort of plan to escape.” she insisted with a frown.

“In any other lab, I might agree with you, but Jarod’s lab gives Mila a tremendous advantage on monitoring Maxine’s activity. She’s integrated with everything down there. Right, Mila?” I asked.

“Of course, master. Mother designed every piece of equipment so that I could use it and help Jarod with his experiments. I assure you, Portentia, that I am more than capable of keeping Maxine out of trouble. I do agree with the master in this case that Maxine won’t try anything. As she pointed out to you, we are very well-equipped to catch her again if she somehow did manage to escape the building, and she doesn’t want to face the repercussions.” explained Mila.

“Can you imagine how quickly Raine would catch her even if we gave Maxine an hour lead and an arsenal? There would be no contest. Maxine can’t get away from us, and I assure you that I have my own ways of catching her nearly as quickly through magic. That being said, will you please consider trying the tech and assisting as needed in its development?” I inquired.

“I can try, but I still don’t know if this is a good idea. I also don’t know how I’m supposed to assist them. I’m still not the best at electronics. Mila’s been helping me when needed.” she replied.

“They’ll probably need you for testing off and on, but this will also give you a chance to help watch Maxine. I must ask that you try not to cause a ruckus by getting in arguments with her. This will be a paid job for you, and I expect you to act as an exemplary friend.” I told her.

Portentia looked at me as if I was crazy. “Why would you pay me to help build something designed for me!?” she asked.

“I feel that asking you to put up with Maxine for free would be far crazier. Besides, I’m the one imposing on you with this request. Please help me here. I would very much like being able to discuss music with you eventually if things go well.” I insisted.

“I will.” she assured me.

“Fair warning: Dani might well try to recruit you for her band when she finds out.” I teased.

Portentia nodded gravely and said, “I’ll be cautious. I’ve heard bands take a lot of time, and I can’t get away from patrolling more than I already do.”

“Not even for occasional dancing once you can hear?” I inquired.

“I wouldn’t want to make your wife jealous.” she replied.

Laughing, I said, “She won’t mind if we dance, though she might take a turn with you as well. I’m certain Dani and Emma would want a turn.”

“Yeah… I’ve never really thought about dancing with other girls.” she told me.

“Girls dance together for fun all over the world. Had you gone to high school, you could have seen it at school dances. I assure you that someone would have asked you to join them.” I insisted.

“I doubt that I would have accepted before knowing you.” she admitted.

“Maybe not, but you’ll have to really work on your excuses to escape dancing at Dani’s birthday party.” I warned her.

She nodded, looking as if she was actually working on excuses already.

“Does a hero really need to escape fun? You won’t be saving anyone if you do.” I stated. Without waiting for a response, I said, “Thank you for talking with me. I’m going to tell Jarod about his new commission.”

“Sorry, master, but Maxine and Jarod have already started their planning. She was quite insistent with him after you asked this of her.” explained Mila.

“Oh. Be sure to schedule Portentia with them as soon as she’s needed then.” I replied. “Care to join me in checking on them?” I inquired to Portentia.

She nodded and followed me out of the room. I was certain she’d appreciate this in the long run. She had countless years ahead of her.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 342

“James! Mila!? Is something wrong?” inquired Iris as I stepped out of my car. She was just getting home herself. Barely waiting for me to shake my head, she then asked “Then why are you…”

Interrupting her, I said, “I was going to wait for you to arrive at my home, but I was informed that you wouldn’t have time to stop by today. Sorry for the intrusion, but I thought this was a good opportunity to meet your parents, if you don’t mind.”

Mila had not only informed me that Iris would not be stopping by my house but that she seemed concerned about how to broach the trip to France with her parents.

“First off, I have something to give you.” I stated as I held out the enhancement suit for her. “You’re only allowed to wear this while working for me, at my home, or in route to or from a job. You’ll also be expected to wear this during our trip to France, since you don’t seem prepared to taze someone with your magic.”

“Taze someone? Are you expecting trouble?” She asked, looking concerned.

“No, but I would like to be prepared just in case.” I informed her. “I don’t imagine everyone will be with me at all times. My wife might well want to get me alone at some point, and by now I’m sure you’re well aware that some of our friends can be a bit flirtatious.”

She nodded and said, “That’s for sure.”

Smiling, I said, “Groups may well be split up at times. If you ever find yourself alone, I would like you to feel safe still. You will, of course, be able to contact me if needed at any time. Next time you visit the mansion, be sure to stop by Jarod’s lab for a phone upgrade.”

“Phone upgrade?” she inquired.

“Yes. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we have certain technologies available to us that aren’t mass-produced for the world yet.” I told her, motioning to the suit. “Though altering the hardware will void any warranty you have, I promise that your phone will have increased performance. Furthermore, your phone will be able to connect with my network if ever you decide to switch plans, which I highly recommend.”

“Umm… Okay. I’ll have to talk with my dad about it.” she replied.

The front door opened, and Mick looked out at us. “Iris, you okay?”

Nodding, she said, “Mick, this is my boss, James, and Mila, his umm…”

“Maid.” stated Mila.

He glanced over his shoulder before moving out from the door. After walking over to us, he asked in a whisper “You’re the one who told my sister to warn me not to play our games as much?”

I smiled and said, “Yes. She did explain why, didn’t she?”

Mick nodded and then asked “Is it true that you can… You know…”

“I’m certain you would be amazed, but this is neither the time nor the place. Why don’t you stop by the mansion with your sister when you have time?” I inquired.

When Mick looked at her, Iris shrugged and smiled.

“Today I’m here to discuss the company trip with your parents, assuming they happened to be home.” I informed him.

“Company trip? Where are you going?” he asked, looking surprised.

“France. We’ll be attending a concert as well as general tourist sites throughout the country.” I explained.

“Wow. Iris, have you told dad that you’ll need a passport?” he questioned.

“I have already taken the liberty to acquire passports for everyone needing them.” explained Mila.

“Whoa. Sorry. Maids don’t just clean things?” inquired Mick.

“Mila’s a special case and a good friend. I don’t know what I would do without her.” I insisted. “Are your parents home?”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry. This way.” he stated, turning and heading to the door. After we entered, he called out, saying, “Hey, mom, we have a guest.”

“Coming!” she called.

I could tell by the aroma that she was cooking, and I could hear her hurriedly wash her hands as Mick led me to a living room.

“Would you like a drink?” asked Mick.

“Sure. Orange juice.” replied Iris with a grin.

“I’ll take some as well.” I told him before he could come to his sister.

“Mila, right?” asked Mick as he looked to her. When she nodded, he inquired “Want anything?”

“No, thank you.” she told him with a smile.

“Who’s here?” asked someone just after Mick left the room.

I glanced at Mila who mouthed the name Mike.

“Iris’ boss. Go find dad.” replied Mick.

“Sorry if my brothers get rowdy while you’re here.” stated Iris.

I laughed and said, “If they can be more rowdy than our mutual friends, I will be quite impressed.”

“Yeah… You have a point. Am I allowed to tell them about Mila, or would you prefer that I didn’t?” she asked.

“I don’t mind either way.” stated Mila.

“They probably wouldn’t believe me, so I guess it’s not a big deal.” admitted Iris.

I stood as Iris’ mother entered the room, and said, “Mrs. Storm, please pardon my intrusion, but there is business which I would like to discuss with you and your husband. I am James Michael Somerset III, Iris’ boss.”

“Welcome to our home, Mr. Somerset.” she replied, shaking my proffered hand.

“James, please.” I told her.

I heard the front door open and shut followed by someone running.

Smiling, Mrs. Storm then said, “Call me Mirabella. Pleasure to meet you, James. Iris has been strangely tight-lipped about you, but my husband is excited to have new blood joining his baseball league.”

“We at Best Friend For Hire appreciate the opportunity.” I assured her.

“Have you started practicing yet?” she asked.

As she spoke, Matt ran up behind her saying, “Mom, you’re not going to believe this, but there’s a talking car out front.”

“Sorry if I startled you, Matt, but I prefer that the master’s personal transportation goes untouched without his permission.” explained Mila.

Pointing at her, Matt said, “You sound just like the car!”

Mila smiled and nodded.

“Wait. How did you know that…” started Matt.

“Matt, behave!” snapped his mother. “This is James, Iris’ boss.”

For a moment, he looked as if he wanted to argue, but he took a deep breath and then said, “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize.” I assured him. “My DB5 has had some considerable upgrades, and few wouldn’t be surprised by her.”

Two sets of footsteps were coming down stairs, and I was certain one would be Iris’ father.

“Mila would you mind showing Matt the car?” I inquired. “Mike would probably be interested as well if you catch him in the hall.”

“As you wish, master.” she replied, standing and walking toward Matt.

“Can I?” asked Matt, facing his mother.

“Just be careful.” she told him.

“Sorry about my brothers.” stated Iris.

“She says that even though Kayla nearly ran into her when she came for an interview.” I teased.

As I spoke, I heard Mila introducing herself in the hall and asking if Mike would like to join them. Mr. Storm seemed enthusiastic as well, though he continued walking toward us. Mick returned with the orange juice, beating Mr. Storm to the room.

“Kayla’s ten. My brothers are older than me!” she argued.

I shrugged and said, “Still, things happen.”

“Who is Kayla?” asked Mirabella.

“She’s the sister of an employee who lives at my company headquarters.” I explained. “Many of my employees live there, since we have exceptional accommodations.”

“He’s understating them dramatically. I really can’t explain.” insisted Iris.

Stepping into the room, Mr. Storm asked “Explain what?”

“How incredible Best Friend For Hire’s headquarters is.” stated Mirabella. “This is Iris’ boss, James. James, this is my husband, Grayson.”

I shook his hand and said, “Meeting you is a pleasure, sir. Thank you for inviting my company to join your baseball league. I do feel obligated to warn you that most of my company is young and highly athletic.”

“Iris has mentioned that you do martial arts training each morning. What’s the reason for it?” he asked.

“In addition to being a good general fitness program, I like the idea that all of my employees will be able to protect themselves in case a client becomes less than pleasant.” I explained. “We do, of course, screen our clients before pairing them with any given best friend, so there is yet to be a serious incident.”

“I’m glad to hear you’re cautious, given your unusual line of work. The company doing okay?” he inquired.

I nodded and said, “We’re still expanding, and our profits are quite substantial. Just this past winter, I added a hotel chain to the company’s assets. We also have close ties with Global Princess Entertainment and the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce, given that I’m a primary shareholder in each.”

Looking surprised, Grayson said, “Wow. Impressive. That restaurant chain is something else. We’ve eaten there a couple times.’

“You should see James’ chef in action. That guy’s amazing too.” insisted Iris.

“My wife assures me that Marco is one of the best chefs in the world. As head of the Pendreigh Group, she’s done enough traveling for me to take her word.” I added.

“The Pendreigh Group!?” he asked, sounding shocked.

“Yes. Heard of them?” I inquired.

Nodding, he said, “They’ve been buying up companies all over the city, so I did a bit of research a while back. You say your wife runs it!?”

“Yes. She also manages her father’s estates. He’s the Duke of Caerllion in Wales.” I explained.

Grayson nodded and took a seat, so the rest of us did as well. Talking with him and his wife about the trip to France didn’t take terribly long, but I chose to stay a while and reinforce the idea that Iris was in good hands. As a father myself, I knew how important a sense of security for one’s children was.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 341

Dejon jumped shortly after entering the mansion when he caught sight of me standing in the hall.

I reached him in a small leap. “Sorry to startle you. I noticed you agreed to go on the company trip.” I told him.

“Should I not have?” he asked, looking worried.

“Relax. Take this.” I replied, holding out the enhancement suit I had finally enchanted for him. “Sorry that I took so long. You’ve been a diligent employee since joining us, and I hope you’ll stay with us for many more years. I don’t want anyone attending the trip to be relatively unarmed while we’re there, so you’ll need to practice hard these next two weeks to grow accustomed to the enhanced strength and speed.”

I was surprised when I saw tears start coming down his face as he hugged the suit. “Are you okay?”

He nodded, obviously trying to calm himself down. “I’m just really happy right now. Thank you, James. I won’t let you down.”

“I’m sure you won’t.” I assured him as I reached out and gently squeezed his shoulder. Then I explained “I hope you won’t be offended or take this the wrong way, but I’m planning on giving Iris a suit when she arrives today as well. I meant to wait till she was at least full time with us, but she will be accompanying us to France.”

He nodded and said, “I understand. You want all of us to be safe even when we’re not with you.”

“Precisely.” I told him with a smile. “If you want to go try it out, that was all I needed to tell you.”

He smiled, nodded, and quickly started walking toward his room. I hoped he really understood that I didn’t harbor any misgivings about him anymore. Iris would surely be surprised as well, but I didn’t expect her to cry when I explained the situation. I was astonished that Dejon had. Perhaps he bottled up his emotions too much after all. I might have to work with him after observing his behavior more. I really didn’t pay attention when I was young.

I passed Dejon in the hallway as I jogged over to Maxine’s rooms, the next stop on my agenda. She would be the only person without my enchantments on the trip, but her safety was already guaranteed by her own abilities.

When she opened the door, I smiled, admiring how much nicer the room already appeared. “How are the new furnishings suiting you?”

“Very well. Thank you. I must admit that I didn’t expect them to be crafted here when you spoke of ordering furniture.” she told me.

“Emma is the best woodworker on the planet, and you admitted that our tools for fabrication are exceptional.” I replied.

“Yes, though I hadn’t seen them yet at the time. Care to come in?” she asked.

“I’d be delighted. Thank you.” I told her, stepping in and taking a seat where she gestured.

“About the upcoming trip to France…” I started.

Interrupting me, she said, “I know that I’ll be going. I’m not about to argue with you.”

“I appreciate that. What I came here to ask was actually about Portentia. I want you to help me persuade her to go.” I explained.

“What?” asked Maxine, looking surprised.

I continued, saying, “As you know, Portentia’s deaf. She’s perfectly capable without hearing, but she doesn’t fully understand the joys of music, given that she has never heard it.”

“You want me to adapt my technology to provide her with hearing.” she stated. “As you wish.”

“I haven’t broached the topic with Portentia yet, and I’m not sure how she’ll take it, but if she is willing, yes. Jarod will, of course, be assisting you.” I told her.

“He’s every bit as brilliant as I expected, so I will gladly accept his assistance.” she replied. “Care for tea or some other refreshment? Your wife came by earlier bearing gifts. I understand the tea leaves were grown by Emma as well.”

“Yes, as are all of the vegetables in the house.” I acknowledged.

“What happened to you and your wife?” inquired Maxine.

“What do you mean?” I teased.

“You’re both different, far too different for two weeks spent relaxing.” she stated.

“Well, pregnancy has been said to change a woman, and I am looking forward to having a second child.” I replied.

“You seem to be forgetting that I dealt with her relatives. I know perfectly well that two weeks isn’t enough time for them to be certain about pregnancy, and I’m quite certain your daughter isn’t human.” she informed me.

“Oh. Really? What is she then?” I inquired.

“I would love to know. She doesn’t seem to be fey, given the tremendous difference between the fairy’s communication skills and her own. She’s obviously not descended from the Slayers. I would wager that she’s extraterrestrial if she didn’t appear so human, but her appearance isn’t human enough to really be a decent disguise either. If you discovered a new species wherever you went, why did you take one with you?” inquired Maxine.

“Dani’s an orphan and adopting her seemed easier than trying to find other parents for her.” I explained.

“She doesn’t behave like someone who’s just been adopted. The three of you are far too comfortable around one another. Given that I murdered my parents and brother, you might think I know nothing about families, but my niñera was like a mother to me. Her daughter, Camila, is like a sister.” she insisted. “I could easily believe that you and your wife are two of the best actors alive, but not Dani.”

“I’m sure Jarod’s having equal difficulty finding the truth, so feel free to talk with him about it as you work together. Thank you again for being so cooperative in this.” I told her as I stood. “I must attend to others now. Please do accept Mila’s assistance if you need anything.”

Maxine was obviously frustrated as I left, but I needed to keep those secret and wouldn’t be able to share them had I wanted. Still, things were progressing well.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 340

“How much do you people play this!?” exclaimed Maxine as we ran alongside her horse. “Your stats must be incredibly high.”

“Rather often.” I replied with a shrug.

A thousand of my guildmates were traveling to start a mine for my guild’s use, since one of them discovered a large mineral vein.

“I thought you were supposed to be incredibly busy.” she stated.

“You have no idea. His schedule makes mine look laughable.” insisted Alma with a smile.

“Then how do you have time to be doing this right now?” inquired Maxine.

“I made time for you. Having you moping about was depressing.” I informed her.

She opened her mouth as if to say something but snapped it shut instead.

“I’m g-glad… that… y-you’re playing with us.” stated Raine as she looked over at Maxine.

“This is still weird to me.” grumbled Portentia, who had joined us on Ancient Tribes of Earth after making a fuss when she returned home.

“Oh, yes. Helping Raine hunt down rare ores is exceptionally different than when we normally play and help our guild.” teased Alma.

Frowning, Maxine said, “I, for one, have never done anything with this many people at once in a game. I still don’t understand how the game can operate this smoothly with such a crowd in a small area. One of my old guildmates claimed the game ran smoothly for him in a city, despite playing on an archaic piece of junk that I wouldn’t have taken if he tried giving it to me.”

“You wouldn’t have take the machine to data mine it? Surprising.” I told her. Seeing her frown deepen, I quickly said, “I’m only teasing. I too was mystified by how this game functions, but I’m completely unwilling to listen to Aaliyah explain how she micromanages each type of processor through her code. You’re welcome to ask her if you’re interested.”

“I’ll… consider the idea. She might not be keen to speak with me on it, considering I attempted to hack the game.” explained Maxine.

“Mother entered the contest as well, Maxine. She’s not so petty as to hold a grudge for such a meager maneuver against her.” insisted Mila.

Maxine opened her mouth, shut it for a moment, and then said, “Before coming here, I would have taken offense to someone mocking my technical skills, but I really can’t in this case. Considering you, my efforts must have appeared meager, especially with her being fully aware of my endeavors.”

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani after running into the room with her guitar still strapped around her..

“Yes?” I inquired.

“I want to play too! Why didn’t you ask me?” she questioned, looking at me as if I did something terrible.

“Mila said you were still practicing with Iris and Emma. You really shouldn’t leave your band behind by the way. Iris can’t keep up while you’re wearing your enhancement suit.” I informed her, listening to the sounds of the other two running through the hall. “How are you liking guitar?”

Her expression instantly changed, a large smile brightening her face as she hugged her guitar. “I love it!” she insisted. “Watch this!” She started playing a simple melody from her homeworld. “The sound is better with an amp.”

“Still, you’re progressing well.” I told her, earning another smile.

She started playing another tune as Emma and Iris jogged into the room.

“P-Pretty.” mumbled Raine.

“Really!? Does that mean you’ll join us!?” asked Dani, dashing away from the other two over toward Raine, who was shaking her head.

“Even a little?” begged Dani as she grabbed for Raine’s arm with her free hand. “You wouldn’t have to play in front of people.”

“I’d like to see you play bass.” stated Emma with a smile.

“Come on… we’ll have fun together.” insisted Iris.

“If you don’t mind hearing my two cents worth, I agree that you should try, Raine. When we first met, you would’ve ran away just from this much attention. Playing music with them could be another step forward for you. You’re incredibly gifted in many areas, and I would love to see you sharing those gifts.” I explained.

Nodding, Alma said, “I agree with my husband. You should continue broadening your horizons, and music can be a pleasant form of expression.”

I held back a laugh as my wife shared with me thoughts of the horizons we saw in our travels. Each world has its own fantastic views, and we were blessed with seeing a great many worlds, literally broadening our horizons.

“M-maybe.” mumbled Raine.

“Y’rika!” exclaimed Dani in excitement. “Then we can make pretty music and get Maxine to play piano! Mila showed me videos of pianos being played, and it was so cool!”

“Did she just say ‘eureka’?” inquired Maxine.

“She’s still learning English, but you could consider that to almost be a cognate, given the similar usage.” explained Alma.

“You really should at least try playing piano with us.” encouraged Dani as she strummed her guitar. “We could become the coolest band in the galaxy!”

Smiling at our daughter, Alma said, “Start with the city and work your way up.”

“Fiiiine,” replied Dani, “but we’ll be amazing! I know it!”

“Mila, find a concert Dani might like coming up and book tickets for anyone interested in going.” I stated, thinking my daughter should experience a concert here to help bring her down to the planet. The concerts she had attended were far too out of this world for her to have reasonable expectations.

“Yes, master. Invitations have been sent to everyone.” she replied.

“Wow. Really? That was fast.” stated Iris as she pulled out her phone. Her eyes widened as she looked at it. “This is in France just two weeks from now! How did you write a whole itinerary already!?”

“Please expedite getting Iris a passport if she doesn’t have one as well as one for anyone else who needs it.” I stated, remembering that was an issue here after her exclamation.

“Master, Deyanira is worried about getting excused from class for the trip. Would you mind negotiating on her behalf?” inquired Mila.

“Not at all. Just add the meetings to my schedule.” I replied.

“Is this for real!?” questioned Iris as she stared at me with wide eyes.

“Of course. If your family has any issues, explain that it’s a company trip. If that doesn’t convince them, I’ll come convince them for you.” I assured her.

A small, company vacation wouldn’t hurt my business, and I was quite certain Mila had worked around everyone’s schedules when making the arrangements, knowing Aaliyah had probably cleared those days in advance to align with my request.

“Is Maxine going?” inquired Portentia.

“I will if you’re not.” replied Maxine.

“Mila, mind marking that as a ‘yes’ from both of them?” I asked.

“As you wish, master.” she replied as the two looked like they wanted to argue.

“I have two weeks to convince you both that you’ll enjoy this trip. Relax. Things will be fun.” I assured them.

“France.” wistfully whispered Cosette, who had silently been observing everyone as she played her character.

She was no doubt thinking of her father, possibly her mother as well. I wasn’t entirely certain from where her mother hailed. Either way, we could make time to visit anywhere she wished while we were there.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 339

“A free name change has been provided, and your account has been cloned to a new one.” stated Mila after escorting Maxine into the ballroom.

“I see.” replied Maxine with a frown.

“Apparently so. The new glasses look lovely.” commented Alma.

Maxine glanced at her before saying, “Thank you. As for the name, Theophany.”

“A bit pretentious, isn’t it?” inquired Alma.

“That was the name of her primary exosuit.” explained Mila. “Name change complete. Would you like the full chair tutorial before I start the game?”

Alma used her ability to send a picture into my mind, showing the scene from Avengers where Hulk smashed Loki, but replacing Loki with the Maxine’s exosuit. I nearly laughed aloud but managed not to.

“Your chairs have tutorials?” asked Maxine, obviously surprised.

“Aaliyah designed them. She writes a tutorial for everything in such excruciating detail that most would find using it to be torturous.” I told her.

“I’ll be fine without it then.” replied Maxine as she took a seat.

Maxine probably wouldn’t bother playing in here with us after tonight anyway, since the new model of her glasses could be given a direct feed ― or deactivated ― by Mila. Of course, she could come to enjoy the sensitivity of the digital keyboard and mouse, but we could always provide those wherever she wished.

“Are the glasses working on par with your old model? Jarod seemed enthusiastic about the technology you developed.” I commented.

I had been keeping Dani busy as Maxine and Jarod discussed how the glasses emitted low frequency radiation to stimulate areas of her brain associated with vision. Most people would be at risk of cancer with the design, but that wasn’t a possibility for Maxine. Jarod, of course, had ideas of his own when they discussed it. I wanted to keep Dani away from them in case she had already studied similar technology on her own planet, since she might well slip in her enthusiasm. Luckily, Dani was off practicing with her new band for now.

“Marginally better, actually. Jarod is every bit as intelligent as I imagined. His suggestions were useful, and I admit that I’m envious of the resources here. The various technologies for fabrication are incredible.” she admitted.

“As I’m sure Jarod mentioned, Aaliyah designed most of the equipment he uses, though Mila’s done some software work.” I told her. “Would you like to join my guild, since getting you back into whichever one you had before is probably inadvisable?”

“I’ll take you up on the offer.” she stated, a hint of annoyance coming through. She knew she’d be monitored in the game as well. Once she accepted the invitation, she said, “This is ridiculous.”

I smirked after glancing over at her screen. The unfiltered guild chat was probably far too fast for her, but I was certain she knew how to use the game’s chat features. “Which officer would you like to serve under?”

Alma quickly suggested “You should pick me. We have always enjoyed one another’s company immensely.”

“No. James, can I serve under you?’ she asked.

“Sure.” I told her as I reassigned her character. “You’re free to join Alma’s group when they do formation practice if you prefer a properly militarized group. Mine’s a bit more…”

“Absurd.” teased Alma.

“Fun.” insisted Cosette, who was playing with us.

“Well, we do get our objectives accomplished quickly enough.” I replied.

“What do you like to do on here?” inquired Cosette as she leaned over toward Maxine.

“I’m specialized in armor crafting, so I spend a great deal of time hunting down rare ores.” she replied.

“Really!?” exclaimed Raine, seeming to appear out of nowhere in front and to the side of Maxine.

Maxine jumped clear out of her chair. Then she was caught midair and placed in her chair by Raine.

“James told you that she’s fast.” casually commented Alma as Maxine continued to stare.

Smiling, I said, “Raine’s the guild’s best crafter, so she’s an expert at getting every type of resource you might want. She arranges many resource missions for other players when stocks get low. We even got her a meteorite a few months ago. She’s the one to ask if you’d like a nice house in the guild’s town.”

“Y-you really l-like… t-to craft?” asked Raine as she stared intently at Maxine.

“Obviously. I craft things in real life as well. I thought you considered me dangerous.” stated Maxine.

“N-not to m-me.” replied Raine.

“If something’s dangerous to Raine, you probably wouldn’t enjoy meeting it either. Even in Ancient Tribes of Earth she single-handedly held off one of the demon lords for quite a while, using only crafting skills I might add.” I told her.

“You’re joking.” stated Maxine. When I shook my head, she said, “I had heard a rumor about that but there are many crazy rumors about your guild.”

“Our guild.” corrected Alma.

“I guess I’ll be seeing the truth of them firsthand now.” agreed Maxine.

I heard footsteps running through the halls of my home and saw Portentia round the corner a moment later.

“What’s Maxine doing in here?” asked Portentia. Nearly in the same breath, she inquired “Why does she have glasses again!?”

Raine was suddenly holding Portentia’s hands in hers as she said, “S-she crafts armor!”

“Yeah. She tried blowing me up using some of it.” replied Portentia.

“Maxine wanted to get back to playing Ancient Tribes of Earth and has agreed to help Jarod with some of his work in real life. Raine’s excited to have a crafting buddy in the game.” I explained.

“Oh. What if she tries to escape now that she can see the exits?” asked Portentia.

“She won’t. She made an agreement and will happily be assisting Best Friend For Hire. Besides, Mila will remain as vigilant as ever.” I assured her.

Portentia shrugged and said, “I suppose… but shouldn’t she be paying for her crimes?”

“Other than helping my company, what would you like her to do? We could get her a costume to help you fight crime.” I suggested.

“What? But she’s a criminal! She’d probably turn on me.” stated Portentia.

“How would that make any sense, you imbecile? You’re more than capable of capturing me again if I tried, and I’m not even equipped for a fight, not that I want to go gallivanting around the city looking for trouble with you.” snapped Maxine.

“B-be nice.” warned Raine, suddenly standing in front of Maxine.

“And imagine trying to escape from her!” exclaimed Maxine as she pointed at Raine and stared at Portentia. Turning to Raine, she asked “Did you really do fifty laps around the city at James request when I arrived here?”

“N-no. H-he was c-concentrating… I d-did… extra.” she replied.

I laughed, not really surprised. Raine could have easily checked in on me between each lap without me noticing. I had seen a great many wonders in my travels while on my honeymoon, but very few of them could match Raine in any fashion.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 338

Returning from my travels, I took a seat and started reorienting my mind for where and when I was now. Barely an hour had passed here. I had just finished with the morning training. Oh, yes. Dani will be distracted with instrument designs for now.

“I believe you were wanting to have another talk with Maxine, master.” stated Mila. “Portentia left for a job ten minutes ago.”

Ah, yes. Over a month of literally standing still was too much. I needed to get her motivated. “Thank you, Mila. Please warn her that I’m coming.” I replied. I quickly reviewed the large file on Maxine’s life as I continued to refresh myself on what was currently happening, and then jogged over to Maxine’s room.

“James, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” inquired Maxine with a fake smile. “Feeding time for the prisoner?”

“You are quite well aware that you can partake in truly excellent food at your pleasure. I am here because you apparently need motivated into action again.” I explained as I created spells to prevent sound from leaving this room. Raine did not need to hear this.

“Letting me get back to my life of crime?” she inquired, apparently finding the idea humorous since her smile became more real.

“No. I’d like you to help us improve this world. Your engineering skills are phenomenal, and I’m sure someone as intelligent as you are could provide numerous other contributions as well.” I told her.

“I decline.” she immediately replied.

Shaking my head, I said, “I’m giving you two options: Participate with my company or go with my friend here.”

“Friend? Wha-…” started Maxine, stumbling backward the moment Death appeared. “Wh-who’s there?” She started crawling back into a corner, instinctively knowing which way Death stood.

“Wishing you would have done as I suggested and helped Jarod build new ocular devices for you? Maxine, meet Death. I told you before that she’s a friend of mine.” I explained. “I can be a very patient man, but waiting you out would deny the world all that you can provide until your knowledge of technologies is obsolete. Are you willing to start living a fulfilling life again, or are you ready to die?”

“I’ll w-work with you.” she mumbled, moving her head as if she were listening to something.

I smiled, walked over to her, and helped her up. Such tactics would have made me cringe at best when I was young, but I already knew the results of this action. Maxine didn’t have a choice anymore than the rest of us. Destiny would grip this world for many years still.

While mentally thanking Aaliyah for her time, I said, “Let’s visit Jarod and discuss helping you to see. Then we’ll go about replenishing your wardrobe and ordering furniture. An empty room will never make you feel at home, which is what this will be for a while. No need to punish yourself and annoy me by pretending otherwise.”

Her grip on my arm tightened as she said, “I d-don’t want to annoy you.”

“I felt as you do the first time I saw Death as well. She has that effect on people. Gives ‘the fear of Death’ a whole new meaning, doesn’t she? Took me over a month to start feeling like myself again, but you tend to recover far more quickly than most. Let’s hope that holds true in this case too. Please don’t mention this encounter to anyone.” I replied. Then I dismissed the sound dampening spells and guided Maxine out of her room.

“James!” exclaimed Kayla, nearly running into me as she turned into the hallway. She caught herself by hugging me. “Whatcha doin’ with Maxine!?”

“Maxine has decided that she wants to be a good girl and help people, so I’m going to ask Jarod to help her see.” I explained.

“Can I tell Jemal that she’s safe now!?” she questioned, smiling up at me with wide eyes.

“People tend not to change overnight, so be wary and let me know if you think she’s up to something diabolical.” I told her.

Nodding, Kayla said, “She might be up to something right now even!”

“I-I’m really not.” stated Maxine with a quaver.

“Mila, has Kayla finished today’s schoolwork?” I asked.

“No, master. She begged Jemal for a break and is late returning.” she replied.

“Sounds like you’re up to no good at the moment.” I chided, staring down at Kayla.

She lowered her head and said, “Sorry, James.” Hopping backward, she smiled and called, “See ya!”, before darting off toward her room.

“Ever wish you could have kids?” I inquired.

“No.” stated Maxine. “Th-they’ll age and die.”

“True. I’m not looking forward to seeing Dani grow old, but she’s already bringing me great joy.” I admitted.

“D-do you… C-can you… really think of her as y-your child?” asked Maxine.

“Yes. No matter her age, she’ll always be my daughter, and even after she’s gone, my life will have been made better by her existence.” I insisted.

“You c-can’t know that.” stated Maxine.

“Actually, I can. The little you have witnessed of my home and of my friends isn’t nearly enough to really know me.” I assured her. “Though your only family life was a disaster, they don’t have to be that way.”

“W-what do you know of my family?” she asked, practically snarling.

I shrugged, despite knowing she couldn’t see me, and said, “I know they never showed you an ounce of love and were murdered by you in a calculated maneuver to seize their assets. Your father’s nefarious business dealings were childlike compared with yours, and your mother aided him in her own way while pretending to be the charming trophy wife.”

“You mean to say she seduced men to steal their secrets and feed them to my father.” replied Maxine, sounding slightly more calm.

“Your older brother, though relatively young when you murdered him, was already a sadist who took pleasure in torturing you when he managed to sneak in to see you. There were other victims as well, but he managed to keep his twisted ways out of the public light with the help of your parents. I think we’re all lucky that María raised you instead of your parents.”

“Where do you get your information?” she inquired.

“The book of life is incredibly detailed, so I do a great deal of reading.” I replied, knowing how watered down my account of her family was.

“More secrets then. Perhaps you’ll share this book in time.” she stated.

“Just behave, and you’ll be satisfied with your life.” I assured her.

We managed to make our way to the garage without further interruption, and I heard music playing as we descended.

“Daddy! Look what we made!” exclaimed Dani before we were even a third of the way down.

I lifted Maxine and jumped down, carefully setting her beside me when we landed.

“The criminal too!” exclaimed Dani over the music as she hugged a multi-colored guitar.

“Dude, you brought Maxine down here!?” exclaimed Jarod, looking as if he wanted to hide everything.

“Mila, please adjust the volume.” When she did, I said, “Maxine’s agreed to behave, so I was hoping you’d do as we discussed last night.”

“Uh huh… I suppose she’s not going to figure out where everything around her is simply by sound.” he replied with a frown.

“Are you suggesting that I shouldn’t touch anything either?” inquired Maxine.

“Mila, please make sure Maxine doesn’t touch anything she shouldn’t.” stated Jarod.

“As you wish.” replied Mila as one of her two bodies down here stepped up behind Maxine.

Seeing that Dani was pouting, I told her “I love the guitar. Have you tested how it sounds yet?”

“Not with an amp, but Mila’s confident. Jarod’s been doing a bit of research for amp design.” explained Emma.

“I can’t believe we have these already. I’ll never buy a guitar again.” stated Iris, who was practically caressing a Maya blue guitar.

“Maxine, do you want to play in our band!?” inquired Dani.

“No, thank you.” stated Maxine.

“But Jarod said we need a bad element to give our band an edge, and you’re the worst person I know!” insisted Dani, obviously not understanding the distinctions in meaning of all that had been said.

Resisting a sudden urge to facepalm, I said, “Sorry, Maxine. Dani’s still working on her English and misses some nuances of the language. She’s not trying to pick a fight.”

“I was actually encouraging them to get Raine involved, since she could probably pick up an instrument with mind-blowing speed. I had said that a half-demon would be the bad element the band needed to complete their image.” explained Jarod. “Do you actually play an instrument, Maxine?”

“My niñera taught me piano, but I haven’t played in years.” she stated.

“Daddy, make her practice with us!” exclaimed Dani.

“No, Dani. If Maxine is interested at some point, she can talk with you about it.” I replied.

Maxine looked surprised by what I said, but she’d learn eventually that I truly meant well for her.

“We’ll just have to make a song that umm… makes her want to.” insisted Dani.

Iris looked hesitant about the idea, but Emma was clearly amused. I would enjoy seeing how things came together.