Best Friend For Hire, Entry 347

“Iris, please!” begged Dani, gripping the older girl’s hand in both of hers.

Iris frowned at her before saying, “Haven’t we been inside enough? I helped you with guitar for an hour before band practice. We could go for a run or play basketball.”

“The basketball court is indoors as well.” stated Mila.

“And I promised Kayla that we’d play with her. She’s working hard to finish her courses early today!” exclaimed Dani.

“Why not get some of the others to help? James and Brandon are already in game.” suggested Iris.

“Daddy’s character is waaaay stronger than Luxa or Dreamdust.” replied Dani with a pout.

“How do you know Trixie isn’t level fifty already?” teased Iris.

Dani rolled her eyes and said, “There aren’t any levels in Ancient Tribes of Earth.”

“Oooh. No wonder I’ve been taking so long to level up.” replied Iris with a smirk.

“Mila, how long will Kayla take to finish her coursework?” I loudly inquired after turning back to the game.

“At least an hour, master.” replied Mila.

“Why not go do something with Iris first, and then drag her back for gaming?” I suggested.

“Neither of our characters have skills as good as Kayla’s. We need extra game time.” complained Dani.

“I tried, Iris.” I told her, glancing over my shoulder.

“Daddy! You were taking her side!?” asked Dani, sounding shocked.

“I was simply trying to find a mutually beneficial alternative.” I replied.

Dani pleaded with Iris for another couple minutes before Iris gave in. As I managed my guild and conversed with numerous guild mates, I considered my daughter’s character. Trixie, Iris’ character, was focused in electrical attacks similarly to how I focused on fire magic with Ignus, so she was getting her skill up relatively quickly. Dani’s Luxa was all over the place. She picked up some crafting skills, such as painting and architecture, while also trying to learn several types of weapon forms, every type of elemental magic, two types of enhancement magic, and a large variety of social skills. Before she made her character, I had warned her that every last base skill had multiple branches unlocked through combining skills. She would take far, far longer to get anywhere without focusing some, but she still couldn’t decide on just one thing.

I looked forward to seeing what crazy combinations she would make if she stuck with her current paths, but I worried that she’d grow frustrated. Dani had likely been inspired in her choices by my story of Raine holding off a demon lord single-handedly, but Raine had the greatest number of skills in the household. She also had more hours logged than any of us and was very focused on the incredible multitude of crafting skills. Well, Aaliyah was likely to be the true record holder, having designed the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aaliyah gave her character the effective experience of every player combined, simply trying to be a closer approximation of her real life self.

Raine had a tremendous number of advantages over most players that helped her gain skill ranks. Even before joining the guild, she had a great reputation for her crafting prowess and could level skills without losing time on traveling, since she did so many commissions with materials provided by the commissioner. She also seemed to have everything memorized, so she never had to check her crafting logs to see how something was made. Her incredible reflexes and superhuman awareness helped her achieve a one hundred percent success rate in creating the most perfect example of the item her skill would allow on every given thing she crafted, granting her huge bonuses on leveling the skill. In addition, Raine’s workshop allowed her to do certain types of crafting simultaneously, since some skills such as cooking had wait periods between steps. My daughter was superhuman, but she couldn’t compete on Raine’s level. Even if Raine loaned her the workshop, Dani probably wouldn’t have the incredible sense of timing needed to multitask as Raine did. I didn’t feel Dani fully appreciated how great of an undertaking her choices were, since Ancient Tribes of Earth was so unlike the games she played before.

I watched as Iris and Dani set off on a gathering quest and a kill quest in the same direction. Did either of them have high enough herbalism to even gather dragon lotus? Did they realize the plant got its name due to needing ambient energy from water dragons to grow? I was tempted to warn them, but this could be a good learning experience. Considering for a moment if they were likely to look at my screen, I decided to stalk them, so I’d be close enough to help if needed. I stopped my character seconds later, sighed, and headed back into the guild hall. If they died, I could gather a group to help them reclaim their gear. I had a bad habit of being overprotective with Dani. I did my best to fight the urges. Alma and I trained her to be very capable in the real world, and she could surely handle herself in a game.

“I’m ready!” exclaimed Kayla, bounding into the room. She looked around, gasped, and pointed at Iris’ screen. “You started without me!”

“Kayla, stop by the guild hall before you chase after them. I’ll give you a couple potions to help catch up.” I promised.

“Thank you, James!” she exclaimed, literally jumping into her seat.

“Be careful with the furniture.” I warned.

She sheepishly looked over at me and said, “Sorry, James.”

I looked back to my screen and smiled. Dani was easily as rambunctious at Kayla’s age. Everywhere we traveled, she’d sprint all over, trying to take in as much as possible. Well, unless there was someone with whom she thought she could flirt. Jemal didn’t know how easy he had it. Dani’s species made human teens seem calm and reasonable. I sighed, feeling old as thoughts of the years I spent away flooded my mind.

“Ready and waiting, sir” announced Kayla, making her character, Dreamdust, salute.

I had Ignus return the salute and handed over the potions. Raine would make me more as soon as I mentioned I was low. She saluted again after the trade, drank a potion, and ran off, clipping the door on the way out. Another day, another adventure. I smiled.

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Best Friend For Hire, Entry 346

I let the lift carry me down to the lab as I listened to the sound of water running from below. Soon after, I could see Aurora, Jarod, Maxine, and Mila sitting around Portentia, who was reclining on a table with her eyes shut.

When I arrived at the bottom, I asked “How are things going?”

Portentia looked uncomfortable as she opened her eyes. Seeing me, she said, “James, is that you?” As she spoke, she seemed uncomfortable.

“We’re acclimating her to hearing. She’s getting all these sounds for the first time.” explained Maxine.

“Well, not the first, really. Portentia could hear through the fey’s visions, but she never had time to figure them all out. She’s still lip reading at this point to understand what we’re saying.” added Jarod without turning from Portentia.

“Ah. Sorry. Perhaps the concert was a bit too optimistic.” I admitted, signing as I spoke.

“No. I can do this.” insisted Portentia. She had that firm resolve I remembered from when she learned to use a staff.

“Just don’t overdo it. There’s no real rush. I merely thought this could be nice for you and wanted to give you the option.” I insisted, wondering if I should have waited before guiding her toward this. My arguments now were probably futile, given that Portentia was likely to push herself continuously until she was accustomed to every sound Mila could share.

“James, I’m doing this. Maxine can do it, so I can as well.” stated Portentia.

“I’d love to see you design your own equipment.” whispered Maxine to the floor.

“Let’s see you beat me in a fight.” taunted Portentia.

Maxine’s head snapped up as she asked “Did you understand what I said!?”

“Look behind James. Mila’s still helping me.” she replied.

I glanced back to see that Mila was displaying the conversation as we spoke.

“I didn’t think we’d be able to fine-tune the input to her brain as quickly as we did, but Alma came down and helped us. Portentia was able to compare what she was hearing to what Alma projected into her head, and we adjusted accordingly.” commented Jarod. “ She’s really calmer now, isn’t she?”

“Oddly calm. She didn’t threaten me once.” agreed Maxine.

“She knows you’re working with us now.” replied Portentia.

Maxine flatly stated “Hooray for letting tyranny reign while you stop petty theft and gang wars.”

“You’ll eventually see that we’re doing far more than you currently think. I promise you.” Knowing how Lilly Slayer would improve this world made me perfectly comfortable with the wait.

“What’s that?” inquired Portentia, looking around as the water sound changed to the sound of wind through leafy trees.

“I’ll show you.” replied Mila.

I could tell by the shift in light that the screen changed behind me, so I looked back and watched briefly. Turning back to face Portentia, I signed and said, “Good luck. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

She smiled and nodded, so I departed, jumping back to the garage level the moment the door opened.

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani after taking a step back. “Mila told me you were down there. Are you busy?”

I shook my head and said, “Never too busy for you. What’s on your mind?”

“Mila’s taking me to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce soon, and I wanted to know if you would ride along.” she asked.

“Sure. Let’s go.” I replied with a smile.

“Mom’s busy. She’s on a con-… um… group call, so I just told her I was heading out. I didn’t know she worked.” stated Dani as we walked out of the garage.

I laughed and said, “Before our honeymoon, all she did was work. She’s missed it, though her perspective on it has changed a bit. She’ll gladly come along too if you ask.”

“Nah. That’s okay.” she told me. Stopping and staring at my DB5, she asked “What’s this?”

“A remake of my first car. You’ll find a few more features than in the limousine, though there aren’t refreshments.” I explained.

She nodded, walked around, and hopped inside after Mila opened the door. “Sure is tiny in here.”

“You’ve seen smaller vehicles.” I told her.

“Yeah, but they flew.” she pouted.

I created an illusion over her to hide her alien features. Then I said, “I know, but you can visit your friends as often as you like. Life isn’t so bad here, is it?”

She stared out of the window as Mila drove us along. After a few seconds, she said, “I like it here. Everyone’s friendly, and my band is going to be amazing! I’m not… umm…”. She stopped, biting her lip as she thought of what to say.

“Cheat.” I told her in her native tongue. “Mom’s not around to know.”

She grinned and said, “Accustomed to this world! The technology is quaint! I’m amazed Marco makes such incredible food using that weird kitchen. How does he know when to remove the implements from the heat? What are those things he sprinkles? How does Emma change the size of the uncooked stuff with a touch!?” She spoke more and more rapidly as she went along.

“Emma can control vegetation, even if it’s been dead for years. She was born with the ability, so I can’t teach you to do it as she does. As for the cooking, Marco was a traveler of this world for years and learned various ways to cook wherever he went. You should try it. Cooking here isn’t as expedient as some other planets, but many find the process enjoyable.” I assured her.

“Do you think everyone likes me? I mean really likes me?” she asked, looking adorably serious as she stared into my eyes. “I know they feel happy when we’re playing around, but… what if they’re just happy about something else and I’m misinterpreting something?”

“Dani, you’re adored.” I told her.

“Not like you.” she stated. “Even people you’ve bullied like you.”

I frowned and said, “I try not to bully anyone.”

“I know. You help people, but even my friends know your reputation. Businesses have collapsed when they’ve caused you to frown.” she stated, believing her words to be entirely true.

“I don’t know that things have been that extreme recently.” I assured her. “I simply cannot make everyone happy.”

“What’s ‘recent’ when you’re a time traveler?” she inquired with a smirk.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Fair point, but you know what I mean. Are you happy?”

She smiled at me and said, “Of course! I’m with you and mom.”

I reached over and hugged her before saying, “I don’t want you to feel you’re missing out. We can always go traveling for a bit when you need to escape.”

“Daddy, I’m fine!” she insisted as she rolled her eyes. “Mila’s perfectly capable of helping me study and reminding me of what’s out there. Don’t worry.”

Pretending to be serious, I told her “And you better still be fine when you’re done visiting your friends. If I find it that you’ve caused unnecessary trouble, I’ll… umm…”

“Be grateful I’m fine and hug me till you’re certain!” she exclaimed.

“Probably.” I agreed, knowing she wasn’t likely to get too out of hand. The last time they got too wild, I went a bit overboard in expressing my displeasure, and the lot of them have been exceptionally well-behaved in the years since the fire.

We continued to chat until I dropped her off. She warned me not to come inside, claiming her friends would be too distracted for hours if I did. I nodded and drained the spell on her, so she’d return to her normal colors by the time she stepped inside. I looked forward to hearing what she did.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 345

Between chatting with the twins, Jarod, and the others who gathered in the hall, I watched as my daughter roamed the yard, interpreting clues to understand puzzles and find her gifts. She was up to four now, but my parents were parked already.

I created a telepathy spell based off the design my wife made during our travels and told Dani to join us. She sighed dramatically, but I saw her run toward us on the screen.

“What was that?” inquired Mai.

“Just a little spell I taught him on our honeymoon. He was letting Dani know his parents are here.” explained Alma. “You’d be amazed how much he’s taught me as well.”

Ai flatly asked “What?” as she stared at Alma incredulously.

“Mila, mind showing me of what Jarod’s buckle is composed?” I inquired.

She obliged me, so I studied the compounds and created a spell to alter the composition.

“Have a problem with my… Whoa! Is this real gold!?” questioned Jarod.

“That has to be an illusion. Transforming substances accurately is impossible.” stated Ai.

“You’ll have to change if he doesn’t dismiss it. That doesn’t work with your outfit.” insisted Mai.

“I’ll take some bling!” exclaimed Brandon.

Dejon, who had leaned forward to look, turned to me and asked “Is that how you became so rich?”

“No. I wasn’t nearly so capable with that type of magic before my honeymoon.” I assured him.

“I’ll do an analysis on it later.” stated Jarod to Mai, who was gripping his buckle.

“Should be roughly fourteen karat. I didn’t feel too much gold would be good for a buckle, but I wanted to pay for the inconvenience.” I explained with a wink.

He laughed.

Waving his hand to get my attention, Brandon said, “Seriously. I don’t mind pure gold.”

“And where would you sell it?” asked Brenna.

“Sell it? I really want the bling. I figure Jarod or Mila will probably help touch it up as needed.” he told her as she rolled her eyes.

“You can afford your own bling without troubling my husband.” stated Alma.

“Troubling? He made that look easy!” claimed Dejon.

“The spell was incredibly complex and took a large amount of energy, so not easy by any standard I recognize.” argued Ai.

“You really must get used to watching magic around you.” insisted Mai.

Both sets of doors opened, revealing my parents.

“Good morning.” stated father as he looked around over the present he held.

Mother waved and asked “Where’s the birthday girl?”

I turned to look back at the mirror which had been displaying her to find that she was intercepted by my little fairy friend. When I turned back, Mila was relieving father of the gift. I looked to my wife, who gave me a slight nod. She’d be able to interrupt the excitement with the fairy before Dani became too caught up.

“She has apparently been distracted. Alma and I hid her presents throughout the yard and house with clues where to find them.” I explained.

Grinning, Alma said, “I blame Aaliyah. She’s the one who told us that simply handing over gifts from us was too boring for our daughter.”

“Dani enjoys the puzzles.” I assured my parents, not wanting them to think we were making her do something she found arduous on her birthday.

“Jarod, dear, that buckle really doesn’t go well with your shirt.” stated mother, having apparently caught sight of it.

“Blame your son.” complained Ai and Mai in unison.

“Yeah, well… I felt like demonstrating a spell the twins would find difficult, and turning his belt buckle to gold qualified in my mind.” I explained.

Shaking his head as if he didn’t know what to think, father said, “Your mother’s right, you do have the golden touch.”

Several of us laughed, and Dani finally arrived with my little friend.

“Happy birthday!” exclaimed mother, embracing Dani.

From there, we all went to the dining hall for breakfast. Marco had prepared a feast in breakfast dishes and even ate with us.

With a little pleading, Dani convinced father to join her in finding the rest of her gifts as soon as they both finished eating. He would certainly be getting his exercise today. Kayla joined them as well, not wanting to be left out.

Mother chatted with the rest of us as we watched the trio in their adventure. Well, quartet if Mila wanted to be counted as she arrived periodically to collect gifts as they were discovered.

When they finished, quite successfully, Dani opened her presents from everyone else, thanking them each in turn. Brandon did not understand what he set in motion by giving her a jack-in-the-box gag gift. She enjoyed it, but I looked forward to seeing her retaliation on his birthday. I needed to teach her about Halloween in advance, but we had time.

We then started Star Wars: Episode IV in the theater just after Aaliyah arrived, since Dani was interested in seeing those movies. Jarod had known in advance and had given Dani a fitting costume, though Mila had to help him adapt the design to Dani’s tastes. I had gone too many years without them. Her reactions throughout the movie were priceless, given that her planet was part of an intergalactic community. Thankfully, she didn’t say anything she shouldn’t.

My parents opted out on joining the lightsaber fight which ensued afterwards, but they were happy to act as referees. Far more of my friends were adept at simulating Force Powers this time around, but I still covered for Jarod, Brandon, Dejon, and Jemal while Alma helped Aaliyah, Kayla, and Mila. Dani was a quick study, but she was called out a number of times for cheating when her magic went outside the realm of the Force.

By the time we finished, lunch time was nearly upon us, so we moved back to the dining hall after Marco kicked us out of the kitchen for being a tad disruptive. My parents were going to head out after eating, but Dani persuaded them to stay for the next movie.

After a bit more persuasion, they stuck around for Episode VI as well, but they really did take off when dinner was over. Instead of kicking off the prequels, we then headed to the ballroom. Dani wouldn’t have been satisfied without dancing on her birthday. Her people’s parties were the most energetic in her galaxy, given how they heighten one another’s emotions, and dancing was always a part of them. Several hours later, I felt confident that she had enjoyed her birthday.

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.