Over lunch I continued marveling at how easily Aaliyah passed off our extraordinary activities as more mundane ones, albeit heightened by the imagination of a child as far as anyone would be able to tell. She mentioned me training Brandon and Brenna, leaving out magic while still referring to things I did as “magical.” My parents were surprised by the news of new hires, but appreciated Aaliyah’s tale. If I wasn’t so very aware of how vastly more intelligent Aaliyah was than me, I would think she was idol worshiping me, which was probably what she wanted my parents to believe. The most I was able to do during the entire conversation was comment occasionally on how she exaggerated my abilities, which I feared sounded like a vain attempt at modesty. My parents should know too well how very real my limitations were, but Aaliyah had quite the way with words. That combined so well with her ingenuous demeanor I hardly would be able to deny her interpretation of events if not for her speaking about me specifically. Nonetheless I felt far more comfortable with the conversation when mother asked if I had tried “the new game” she keeps hearing about. Apparently, Ancient Tribes of Earth was already popular enough that even mother, who stayed at home painting more often than not, heard of it.
“Considering that Aaliyah wrote the game, not playing some would be in very bad form. I don’t think she’d ever forgive me!” I told them, winking at Aaliyah. She giggled and said, “James and the others have been playing with me often this week! We fight monsters, explore the world, and do all sorts of magic in the game! James is sooo good at it too! The evil twins keep bothering me about crafting stuff though.” Father, looking amused, said, “I thought James had mentioned the twins not liking video games before. How did you get them involved?” Aaliyah gave him an enormous grin as she explained “Well, they were picking on James again when we were trying to play, so I grabbed them by their hands and forced them to join us! Then they took FOREVER designing their characters, because they wanted to look half as cool as mine. They failed.” I interrupted there, saying, “Aaliyah’s character looks identical to her in real life, so the twins tried designing themselves. They did fairly well really.” Aaliyah rolled her eyes and said, “Boss-man, sir, you shouldn’t defend the evil twins!” My parents were chuckling, so Aaliyah continued, saying, “After they gave the game a chance, the twins learned the awesomeness that is adventuring! Even Brenna’s getting the hang of it, though Brandon and her don’t really keep up that well yet.”
Father asked a surprising number of questions about the game as Aaliyah went into greater detail, explaining how the NPCs would respond to player voices, how the crafting system allowed you to duplicate real world things with the right skills, and how the economy was set up with a finite amount of resources. I found myself listening intently, since I was learning even though I had already spent hours on the game. I thought I caught mention of housing available in the game before, but I didn’t realize you could recreate real houses down to the paint with the right skills. New crafting skills apparently became available when certain prerequisites were met, such as needing some skill at blacksmithing before you could design weapons and armor, but to a greater extent. Aaliyah made the game sound as if it could eventually evolve to such a point that planes, trains, and automobiles might be available, though probably magically driven instead of by their mundane means. Assuming there were people who got into crafting as Aaliyah seemed to anticipate, wars could break out in the game world over what technologies should be allowed. In other MMOs, I often had heard debates about whether pure fantasy games were better than sci-fi or other genres. What would Ancient Tribes of Earth be like when people with enchanted bows and arrows faced off against people with magical guns?
Hours passed as we sat around chatting. I told my family more about the new hires and how my business was progressing. Mother told me of her latest commissions and gossip from her commissioners. Father talked a little about how his business was at a bit of a decline. This wasn’t the first time I had heard about things not going as well as he would like, but he seemed more strained over it than I remembered from previous occasions. Perhaps he and mother needed to take a vacation. They hadn’t gone on one for quite some time now. Before I asked, Aaliyah inquired about plans for dinner. That barely gained traction before she said that she happened to have three coupons for the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce. My parents made poor attempts to convince her that she really should use the coupons for her father, but Aaliyah merely countered with descriptions of elaborate food to dissuade them from further argument. Apparently, their experience at the restaurant had been equally as enjoyable as my own. Father offered to drive us, but Aaliyah wanted them to see Ancient Tribes of Earth. Having never mentioned to my parents that Mila had a digital interface along with the more typical DB5 interior, I hesitated briefly. Then I decided that Mila being amazing had nothing to do with the supernatural, since she was designed by a tiny girl with no magical abilities. What harm could a little show and tell do?
Before letting my parents inside, I leaned in and hit the button to switch back to the standard dash, not wanting to spoil the effect of the change. I felt a little awkward having my parents get into the backseat of my vehicle, but I knew the seats to be far more comfortable than the original ones. “Please, boss-man, sir? Pleeeease can I hit the button?” begged Aaliyah after everyone was situated. I laughed and told her “Only if you promise to buckle up afterward and stay buckled for the whole ride.” After she promised, I watched my parents through the rearview mirror. As panels flipped and screens lit up, the shock and wonder that filled my parents’ faces tickled me immensely. Before this year, I rarely saw my parents caught off-guard. Since my business started, surprises just kept pouring into our lives. “I know that classics are generally best kept in their original state, but Jarod and Aaliyah surprised me with this one day.” I explained. Mother just nodded, but father said, “Son, it’s a Bond car. I totally get it.” His enthusiastic smile made the experience completely worthwhile. I almost wished I would have shown them earlier, but I never would’ve been able to explain how I paid for it, not that I felt I remotely paid Aaliyah back yet.
As I drove, Aaliyah demonstrated how Mila was able to bring up displays on virtually anything one could imagine. She even mentioned that Mila had driving software that allowed her to take control if the driver needed his hands. Mother and father started firing off questions at the same time, and I enjoyed their continued amazement as answers came from Aaliyah, Mila, and the various displays. Even I was surprised after father asked Mila to turn on his favorite radio station, a local one that played virtually everything. A very familiar tune was playing, one that I heard countless times this week. The questions stopped as we all started listening to the entrancing melody. “What was that?” asked mother in an awed hush after the song ended. In near perfect unison, Aaliyah and I responded “Hmm?” Father then said, “Your mother’s asking about that song we just heard. Do you know the name?” Aaliyah started giggling, so I explained “Aaliyah wrote that to wake me up earlier this week. She named it ‘Hmm?’ to confuse me.” Aaliyah then crossed her arms and gaped at me for a moment before saying, “Boss-man, sir! I didn’t name it ‘Hmm?’ to confuse you. I named it that because the name really captures the emotional undertones! Emma understood.” The last part was said in a pouty sort of way, as if Aaliyah started sulking when my parents chuckled.
Since my parents wanted to hear the song numerous more times, I asked Mila to find other stations playing it. I was hardly surprised when one of the stations called “Hmm?” the number one most requested song of the day, but I had to ask Aaliyah when she copyrighted it, submitted it, or whatever other legal stuff was needed. “Oh, I took care of the boring stuff yesterday, and then I submitted it to the radio guys today. I know people who can get stuff through the system faster.” she explained. Hearing the diminutive girl talk about how she “knows people” in such a serious manner was irresistibly cute. She could’ve been impersonating a mobster with her tone. My parents repeatedly complimented her as we finished the drive to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce. Neither I nor my parents were expecting to see Carl standing in a parking spot by the door as we pulled into the packed lot. Aaliyah, however, simply stated “See. I know people.” and hopped out of the car to hug Carl the second I stopped. The elderly man, still dressed in robes, patted Aaliyah’s head as he greeted the rest of us. Then he guided us inside while telling us that our food was ready. I wasn’t certain that I’d ever be accustomed to the restaurant, but I was already anticipating divine flavors gracing my palate. The Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce was in a league of its own.