All too soon, I needed to leave Ancient Tribes of Earth again, though Eseld and the twins protested. Brandon assured them and me that he’d be able to take care of them just fine, but his character started taking a beating from the three as I logged out. In the real world, he was laughing and yelling at the twins, claiming to be on their side. “Have fun with your parents!” called Brenna from her seat. I smiled and assured her I would before collecting Aaliyah from where she sat on Emma’s lap and heading to the door. “Where are you going, boss-man, sir?” asked Aaliyah as I started down the hall toward the garage. “I hope you don’t plan on us walking to my parents’ house. We’d be entirely too late for lunch.” I told her. She sighed and rolled her eyes as she responded “Of course not, but Mila’s already waiting out front. Having her drive back to the garage would be silly!” I obviously wasn’t entirely accustomed to my self-driving car yet, but Mila was waiting when Aaliyah tugged the door open with both hands on the elegant door handle. Even if I hadn’t witnessed Aaliyah being exceptional most of the week already, I probably should have been accustomed to her always being several steps ahead, but her adorableness was so overwhelming that I continually forgot the staggering intellect behind those large, blue eyes.
Aaliyah skipped out the door and hopped in the driver’s side as if she could even reach the pedals. When the door shut, I stepped back from Mila in shock, seeing a thuggish man through the window, sitting where Aaliyah should have been. I cautiously opened the door to find Aaliyah giggling at me. “What is that?” I asked, feeling confused as I glanced at the image of a man still on the door’s window. Aaliyah crawled over to the passenger’s side before telling me “I wanted to see what you’d do, so I asked Mila to make it look like someone was in here.” I stepped inside and found that Mila’s dash was in digital mode, displaying various options for who could appear to be inside the vehicle. “Okay, I admit that I haven’t gotten through all of Mila’s manual yet. I might get there eventually,” I said with a wink. We both knew that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. There was simply too much on my plate for me to add anything else in the near future. I reached over Aaliyah and then buckled her seatbelt. “I know you’re twelve and can legally sit in the front now despite your size, but have you ever read about problems with airbags and short people?” I inquired. She grinned, nodded affirmatively at me, and said, “Uh huh! That’s why Mila knows not to turn on the airbags with me here. You’re not planning to get in a wreck, are you, boss-man, sir?”
I rolled my eyes and couldn’t restrain a smirk as I put Mila in gear and set off down the drive. Before I even reached the road, I was distracted by Aaliyah logging back into Ancient Tribes of Earth from the passenger side. Without thinking, I asked “Is using up Mila’s processing power for a game while we’re on the road really safe?” Aaliyah stopped what she was doing to stare at me incredulously. Then she asked “REALLY, boss-man, sir? Mila runs your entire house while we’re all logged into her systems to play, and you question if she can handle it?” Mila’s Alma-esque avatar appeared on the windshield and said, “I suddenly can relate to Marvin from the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Brain the size of a city and my master questions if I can make tires roll while a little game is being played.” Master!? I told her “I’m truly sorry to have offended you, but that’s no reason to call me ‘master’. ‘James’ is fine if you’ve given up on using Aaliyah’s terminology.” The arms of Mila’s avatar crossed as she stared at me, a grin blossoming on her face. “Oh great master,” she said, “a thousand apologies for displeasing you.” I looked over at Aaliyah and commented “I would worry that you’ve let Mila spend too much time talking with Emma, but she’s not calling me ‘man-slave’ yet.”
Mila then said, “Oh master, please don’t think I, who struggles to make wheels roll, would ever be so impudent as to call your great personage ‘man-slave’ in the manner of sweet Emma, my dear friend who you dragged into this conversation against her will.” Aaliyah’s toothy grin was accompanied by Emma’s laughter which came through the car’s speakers. As I sat dumbfounded, Emma said, “My padawan’s doing well! Virtual high five, Mila! Why don’t you just log in and join us, man-slave?” I hadn’t considered that Aaliyah logging into Ancient Tribes of Earth would turn on the game’s voice chat. “Jaaames,” cried Mai, “why aren’t you back in the game yet? You’ve been gone for six minutes already!” I started to tell her that I was attempting to safely drive a young girl to my parent’s, but Ai interrupted, saying, “Just let Mila drive! We want to explore this cave. The twerp said the next material for our armor is in there.” I sighed and considered an obstinate approach, refusing to give into what I wanted to do out of pure spite for Emma turning Mila against me. On the other hand, I really did want to keep playing and was curious about the gestures Aaliyah used to control her character in lieu of a keyboard.
My considerations took the whole of twenty seconds, after which I asked Mila to drive. “Thank you, master, for allowing me the privilege of driving you while you ignore me to play your game.” she responded. Aaliyah and Emma were both giggling. After allowing myself another sigh, I said, “Well, Mila, you have done well at proving yourself a woman, ganging up with the rest of the girls against me.” I heard Brandon snicker at that before saying, “I’m right with you there, man. You’re lucky you don’t have a sister!” A moment later, Brandon was laughing as I Brenna swore at him. “Umm… Brenna,” I started, “Aaliyah’s sitting here too.” Brandon’s laughter grew as Brenna started apologizing, “Sorry, James! Ignore what I said, Aaliyah.” Aaliyah then asked “How does a person…” ― the rest of her query was lost under my hand as I covered her mouth and gave her a stern look. When I removed my hand, her eyes spoke of earnest inquiry as she said, “I was just curious, boss-man, sir. That didn’t sound remotely possible to me!” I managed not to laugh, but Emma’s giggling was perfectly audible. I quickly logged onto Ignus and said, “We better get spelunking before the twins abandon us.” I realized my choice of words was poor when the twins started protesting and explaining how I was the one who always abandoned them.
Aaliyah explained to me that the gestures she was using to control her character were the same as what she had programmed for Jarod’s tablet. I barely felt like I was learning any of them by the time we arrived at my parents’ house, and the twins were a bit irritable at my declined skill with my character, since I was nearly useless in combat. I wished everyone well and logged out. Aaliyah was happy and completely energetic as we stepped out of Mila, but I looked at my once home with a sense of dread. I still had no idea what to say to my parents about my month’s absence and was surprised to find that being here felt odd to me. Though I lived in this house for nearly all my life, I no longer felt that warm comfort of knowing I belonged when I looked at it. My old room no longer was filled with my possessions. Father might not have even set my bed back up, having hauled it to my new residence before we realized it wasn’t needed. The computer on which I spent a large amount of my time was now in my new room, untouched. With Mila running my entire house as well as my car, I didn’t really need any other computer. Perhaps I should have brought it along and offered it to my parents. Aaliyah broke my thought by taking my hand and pulling me forward. Ready or not, I needed to see my parents again.