I was feeling completely restless as Regina drove us to the garage for practice again. Two weeks had passed, and our progress was not very noteworthy. I was gradually learning more spells, but none of them seemed very useful for combat. I could levitate multiple things at once now, create subtle changes in the taste of food, and other simple tricks. Regina was having even less success, barely even able to see magical energies. Emma claimed that manipulating residual energy was far more difficult for her than “playing with plants,” as she put it. She thought that Regina might have more success in learning to control chance than doing spells as I was, but Emma wasn’t sure how to practice it beyond having Regina focus when a random occurrence, like dice rolling, was taking place. Emma also started teach Jarod how to fight. Regina and I were going to help with that, but Emma proved to be vastly more skilled than either of us when we sparred. The girl was incredibly quick and far stronger than I would have imagined.
Beyond feeling inadequate in my martial pursuits, life was going fairly well. Aaliyah had me doing two or more small jobs per day, somehow negotiating times with each client to allow me consecutive days of exhaustion. I would need to convince her that the occasional break was important too, but I didn’t want to complain when my finances were jumping. At this rate, I would be able to pay for a year of college just working during the summer, though I couldn’t imagine giving up my job for such a long period. I was truly enjoying the diversity of my work and the interesting people I was meeting along the way. Regina seemed a bit frustrated by my inability to do anything with her outside of our practice, but I was honestly relieved in that respect. Even with spending extra time with her every weekday, I had no idea how I should feel about her. Emma ceasely flirted with both of us, occasionally at the same time, which was disconcerting and helpful at once. I had no clue how Emma felt about me still, and Regina was off-balanced enough by Emma’s antics not to flirt with me at practice.
As Regina and I walked into the garage, I was shocked by the silver beauty in front of me. Jarod had apparently done the paint job on my car over the weekend. I was expecting to help him with that this week. I had let go of Regina’s hand — she grabbed mine often these days — and slowly started walking around my baby. The Aston Martin was a thing of pure beauty that looked extremely similar to the one Bond had in the movies. I did a doubletake when I looked in at the dash. The speedometer went up to 380 instead of the expected 180. As I stared longer, I noticed an extra button slightly below and between the wiper knob and fuel gauge. I turned to look at Jarod and jumped as I found myself surrounded. Before I got a word out, everyone started speaking at once.
“If you don’t like the modifications, I’m blaming Aaliyah, but we wanted to surprise you,” said Jarod.
“Surprise! We started preparing to leave as soon as our birthday was over!” exclaimed Ai and Mai in unison.
“I added the button! You should press the button! You saw it, right? It’s my special button!” vociferated Aaliyah as she jumped up and down with enthusiasm.
“You don’t get a day off practice just because your car’s finally shiny.” stated Emma.
Aaliyah had been showing up periodically, so I wasn’t too surprised that Emma brought her again. The twins were a complete surprise, since I didn’t know they were in the country yet. I was also surprised that Emma would bring them to practice, but there was likely more to them than an uncanny ability to speak in unison. I raised my hands, attempting to express a desire for everyone to quiet down, but Ai and Mai were hugging me the moment my arms went up, with Aaliyah squeezing between the twins to hug my leg. “We’re so glad to see you again and are totally psyched for training you!” said the twins. Before I could inquire what they meant by “training” me, Emma piped in, saying, “I hope Regina and you don’t mind, but I asked Ai and Mai to start training us as soon as they arrived.” Emma was going to be learning from them as well? “And after you are done with practice today, you have to push the button. Then you can drive the twins around! Sorry, but the Mastersons don’t really need you. Our clients, the evil twins, wanted you to know you were booked without ruining their plot to surprise you.” explained Aaliyah with a grin.
I was looking around at everyone, trying to keep up with the bombardment of information. Regina was the only one who wasn’t attempting to fill my ears, and to most her expression was probably unreadable. After knowing her for years, I knew that she was coming to a decision about something. I doubted she really cared too much about the car beyond my enthusiasm for it. More instruction would probably please her, especially if she managed to master her abilities more quickly. Then I realized that she was standing there watching two girls with whom she wasn’t acquainted hugging me. Doing my best to speak over everyone, I said, “We probably should get to practice then if no one minds, but first Regina will need to be introduced to our new instructors.” I bent down and asked Aaliyah for a hair scrunchy she had on her backpack. Then I carefully stuck Ai’s hair through it as Regina had taught me years ago and said, “This here is Ai.” I then gestured to Mai and continued “who likes to pretend that she is her sister, Mai. If she takes her hair down, don’t feel bad if you are totally clueless as to which is which.”
Ai rolled her eyes as Mai sighed rather loudly, and then attacked us, throwing me forward. At first, I thought I was keeping up with them, since I was able to block every punch and kick sent my way. Then I was getting hit more and more often as their techniques continued to change. Mai threw me into Regina who then wasn’t able to block a kick from Ai. Emma attempted to land a hit on Ai as she kicked Regina, but Ai was able to twist Emma’s arm and flip her a moment after. Jarod hadn’t bothered getting off the ground since the initial onslaught sent him down. Mai sat beside him and started talking with him as Ai continued to handle Emma, Regina, and me all at once. I had never seen anyone move quite like that girl. Things became scarier after several minutes of fighting when the three of us were thrown to the ground simultaneously by a strong gust of wind. “Well, at least you three know some basics.” stated Mai as she joined her sister in looking down at us. “You still have a long way to go before you want to get in a real fight of any kind.”
The twins spent an hour putting all of us through forms I had never before seen, even Aaliyah, who had been watching the fight with wide-eyed awe, joined us, though she had obviously done these forms before with how easy she made each look. Then Regina, Emma, and I spent another hour working at magic. I had been right in calling what Emma had shown me simple tricks. The things the twins were having Emma and I do was comparable to painting a picture after glancing at a landscape. They only gave us ten seconds to observe how a spell’s unique pattern was formed. Then they expected us to repeat it while they contained misfires, such as Emma accidentally sending a wheel lock flying in the wrong direction through the air. The twins took turns working with Regina, not on manipulating residual magic but on honing her natural skills. After the hour, Regina was successfully getting a coin to land as she wanted it most of the time.
I was exhausted and in need of a shower by the time we finished. The twins emphasized that we shouldn’t try anything they had taught us on our own until they were satisfied that we were ready. With how I accidentally sent a bolt flying at a tire when I was attempting to thread it through a nut, I took their word for it. Jarod, who had been practising forms with Aaliyah while the rest of us did magic, seemed to be in good spirits when I finally had a chance to glance over at him. I was tired enough from the workouts that I had somehow forgotten my beautiful car was finished and started walking out the door before Aaliyah called me back. “James, sir, boss-man! Don’t you want to see what we added to your car!?” inquired Aaliyah. I followed her back to the car where Jarod was popping the hood.
“Ok, so Aaliyah can explain to you how the biometric gizmos and other random electronics work if you really want to know the details. The engine, you may notice, isn’t stock. Hardly anything is anymore, although we kept the stuff in case you were more interested in keeping the car classic than having it functional for your job.” I was more than a little surprised as I looked under the hood and found practically no space between the sleek array of parts. “What is all of this stuff? Is it still possible to work on this if something breaks? How much is still original?” Jarod was looking a little nervous but continued speaking after Aaliyah nudged him. “Umm.. well.. we really can switch things back if you want, but with how we’re planning on causing some trouble after we’re trained up, Aaliyah and I thought you needed a real Bond car. We sort of had to modify the frame for the extra weight and features, and then, well, basically replace everything else also. The engine was my idea. The kiddo did the calculations and ran it through some sort of simulator. Then helped find cheap parts for everything to build it.”
“With your new engine, the car is still extremely fast despite the extra weight from the armor plating and other extras.” Armor plating? Seriously? This was insane… and absolutely fabulous. “Just let him push the button. Pleeeease!?” begged Aaliyah. Jarod shut the hood and hopped in the passenger seat after Aaliyah crawled through. I sat in the driver’s seat with the twins and Regina watching what came next. The leather seat felt extremely comfortable, and just looking through the windshield was plenty to make me happy at this point. “Push the button!” exclaimed Aaliyah. I let out a dramatic sigh for her benefit and then did as she demanded. What happened next was completely unexpected. Most of the dashboard slid, rotated, and transformed into digital screens; touch screens I guessed as the various displays lit up.” This car was more of my dream car than I ever imagined it could be. Jarod and Aaliyah spent the next half hour attempting to explain what everything did. All I could say to them as the shock wore off was “Let me guess. I’m in debt.”
Aaliyah quickly explained that she already had buyers lined up for the parts if I was fine with selling them, so the cost wouldn’t be nearly as bad as I was expecting. I had trouble believing it. There was a satellite uplink for mobile internet. The bumpers could extend out as a ram. Guns could pop out and fire either taser bullets or frozen gas ammunition which the car produced. There were tiny cameras around the car that allowed for me to see any direction from the dashboard as well as have the car turn virtually invisible using countless screens. Supposedly, the skin could electrify to deliver an incapacitating charge without destroying the cameras or screens. There was a fog machine which could create a cloud behind me as I drove. The gadgets seemed endless. How was all of this tech powered? Apparently, Chad complaining about a power bill had led Aaliyah to do energy research over the past year which helped her not only make every device more efficient but create a “safe power source that should handle the load for years before needing replaced.” My car didn’t use gasoline. Jarod’s new engine was electric, making fog the only thing coming out of the exhaust pipe. I was most definitely broke, but how could I turn it down?