“My finger’s dying here. How is this even possible?” asked Jarod, who was repeatedly clicking a button without even looking at his screen. “Mila, administrative override. Take over accepting requests for Brandon, Brenna, Emma, and Jarod.” commanded Aaliyah as she hopped off my shoulders and skipped over to Emma. “Hey!” yelled Ai. “What about us?” asked Mai, who was casually lounging with her sister while their queue of requests already seemed automated. “You’re too evil for assistance!” declared Aaliyah with a grin. I gained focus on the residual energy in the air and spotted the spell pressing the buttons for the twins. Their ability to make such time saving spells on the fly left me envious as I admired how the residual energy was drawn to their spell from the surrounding area. “Our parents weren’t pleased about us trying to use business resources for gaming, so we told them you forced us into it, James.” stated Ai nonchalantly. “They still put a stop to it, but at least they know you’re the bad influence.” added Mai. As I was gaping at them, astounded that they’d put me on bad terms with their parents so casually, Ai inquired “So how did you get this many people? We’ve been explaining you weren’t home yet for hours.”
“Well,” I started, “Aaliyah and I simply did as you guys decided, hitting up game stores.” To which Aaliyah replied “We might have posted the videos of James speaking at each store on the tube as well as sending them to game stores elsewhere.” I looked at her, feeling surprised. I didn’t remember her recording me. Cyborg. Maybe Aalliyah could record anything she saw? “There’s no way you went to London that quickly.” asserted Ai, leaving me wondering where she came up with London. “YouTube, silly.” replied Aaliyah. “Oh. How were we supposed to know you meant that?” asked Mai. “Soooooo sorry, evil ones. I suppose there was no way for you to deduce I meant a website that gets a billion hits a day. Why would anyone think of YouTube when discussing videos casually filmed in public? Jumping to London would be faaaaaar more obvious.” Emma had minimized Ancient Tribes of Earth while Aaliyah was talking to bring up the video. Posted under the YouTube handle, GlobalPrincessEntertainment, was an extremely well-edited video, mixing clips of Aaliyah and I at the stores with Ancient Tribes of Earth gameplay, that could have passed as a game trailer if I didn’t know it to be more of an infomercial.
“No wonder you two were gone so long. When did you find time to cut this?” asked Emma. “With Mila in the car, there’s an amazing number of things you can do on the road.” I explained, earning a grin from Aaliyah. Emma grinned and gave Aaliyah a hug, but I couldn’t help considering how complicated covering for Aaliyah would be if she didn’t already portray herself as an astounding prodigy. I still had countless questions about her, despite all she answered on the way here. She obviously had internet in her head. How fast was it? Did she look up answers while testing, or did she have all the information stored in some sort of database? How much information could she store? The questions just went on and on, each leading to others. Chad already knew that his daughter was one of a kind, but I felt he was missing out, not knowing about the cybernetics. Of course, how would he feel about her killing people? I couldn’t imagine anyone wishing that sort of life for their child, but Aaliyah seemed to deal with it as effortlessly as she did everything else. Back when I first played laser tag against her and lost miserably, I never would have dreamed that she could move with such incredible speed or throw knives so precisely. I no longer believed I had been any sort of challenge for her. She really knew how to put on a show.
“Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaames,” cried the twins in unison, “why aren’t you paying attention?” I had no clue what I missed. “If you mean the video, I was there.” I told them. “Wow, man-slave, zoning out much?” asked Emma with a smile. Ai and Mai each rolled their eyes and turned in opposite directions, leaning against each other as they slumped back. “They were trying to get you to convince Aaliyah that she should stay and plan more, instead of giving Emma her haircut. I don’t really think there’s much we can do while our characters are locked up with accepting guild invites. We already have over twenty thousand people, and I don’t think it’ll let up soon even with Mila handling most of it.” He looked apologetically at the twins after he finished speaking, as if sorry for contradicting them. “Well,” said Mai. “Since the twerp took our game away,” continued Ai. “We might as well go watch a movie.” they finished in synch. “Oh, sweet!” exclaimed Jarod, who then said, “The Dark Knight Rises came out today. Up for seeing that?” The twins shrugged and walked hand-in-hand out of the room. Jarod followed them immediately with Brandon and Brenna coming shortly after. I looked around the room at all the guild requests still being accepted and said, “Thank you, Mila,” before shutting the doors.
“You’re welcome, master.” she said from the mirror around the side. I still couldn’t help taking pause whenever I saw the Alma-like figure of her avatar, although Mila referring to me as “master” again added to it. Emma was utterly gorgeous. The twins were downright stunning. Alma was something else altogether. She was “petite” given life in a nearly doll-like frame. The extraordinary length of her hair would give most girls nightmares in maintaining it, but I never saw a hair out of place even after I had saved her from a bus. When she moved free, there was a surprising strength in the tiny girl, and I never would have dreamed that she harnessed such potent fire magic. Someday soon, I would need to confront her and put an end to her homicidal spree, but could I truly push myself to harm such an enchanting girl? Could I find within me some of Aaliyah’s callousness toward death? A girl like that could easily escape prison with fire alone, so would there truly be a choice when the time came? My heart was heavy as I hurried after the others. This wasn’t the first time these question plagued me, but part of me had hope that it would be the last. If such a magnificent girl as Aaliyah could be a killer, perhaps even I could end a life to save countless others.
I was surprised yet again to find another hidden passage in my home. Jarod opened this one for the twins, having taken the lead shortly before we arrived. Rope lights illuminating the stairway gave no doubt to where we were heading, but I hadn’t expected the depth to which we descended. With several stories of stairs behind us, I understood the need upon seeing the grandness of the room in which we stood. Though immense and magnificent enough in decor to suit an opera house, each seat resembled the cozy chairs which rose from the ballroom floor for our gaming needs, providing perhaps a thousand seats. “I awoke in one of the balconies one time when I was sleepwalking,” explained Jarod, somewhat bashfully. I still couldn’t believe the places I had found him when he did stay over. I really need to arrange for some one-on-one time with him, so we could catch up more. He was truly irreplaceable for me, so I needed to show him. “What about snacks?” asked Mai as she touched Jarod’s shoulders. “Umm.. hadn’t thought of that.” he replied. Ai crossed her arms and sighed, only to jump a second later as Mila’s voice boomed throughout the room, saying, “I took the liberty of informing Marco of the movie. He’ll be arriving with snacks as soon as he can. Please enjoy the previews while you wait.”
I wasn’t the only one who turned when a soft light came from behind us. Marco was rolling his typically laden food tray out of an elevator I hadn’t noticed. “Why did you make us take the stairs?” demanded the twins while glaring at Jarod. “I never noticed that was there,” explained Jarod defensively. When the wall slid down behind Marco, we all could see why. The soft lighting in the theater made any seams impossible to notice. “If I had’a known there was theater here, I would’ve made use of this sooner.” stated Marco as she passed out snacks to everyone. “Sorry, Marco. I didn’t know myself till I was here. Aaliyah must have made some sort of deal to get a digital stream here.” I told him. “That is correct, master. You know the princess so well.” said Mila, somewhat flirtatious in her tone. “Master, eh?” questioned Marco with a wink. “Emma taught Mila how to treat a guy,” said Brandon, earning a punch from Brenna. “I’m starting to wonder if teaching Brenna how to fight is a good idea, James. I’m starting to feel like someone’s there when she hits me,” he said with a laugh as she hit him more. I joined him in laughter briefly, interrupted by the moving starting to play. I wondered if I would ever truly know all the secrets of this house, but I had to admit that most of the surprises were very pleasant. Life could definitely be worse.