“Okay. Time to spit it out. You’ve been dodging for over half an hour already.” claimed Jarod. I wasn’t entirely surprised to find he was right when I looked at the time. When we left, I had gotten Jarod talking about his most recent jobs as well as some of the toys in the subfloor of the garage. I found out that between the 3D printing and carving tools down there, Jarod was able to machine virtually anything he wanted. There was even a machine that produced circuit boards, so he really didn’t have to wait for parts to arrive, even when creating something as original as his suit. Mila was, of course, a huge asset in the process, running most of the machines herself, though there was apparently standalone software as well. According to Jarod, Mila was able to study existing programs and then write her own extensions to utilize them how she wanted, which wasn’t so much surprising as it was a confirmation of Aaliyah’s success in creating an intelligent machine. Mila and her creator were absolutely remarkable. “Yo! James! Come back to me. Seriously, what’s eating at you?” asked Jarod. I nodded, still uncertain of how I could tell my best friend that I had been inadvertently manipulating his emotions for years. I let out the breath I was holding, took another deep breath, and told him “I’m sorry. This has been bothering me for a while, and I have been trying to think of a way to tell you ever since my birthday, when Aaliyah revealed some things to me.”
“Whoa. This isn’t one of her secrets, is it?” he asked looking a bit startled. “Huh? No. Of course not. By the way, how does it feel knowing you were trained by the world’s only assassin?” I asked him, since the subject would probably never be so easy to broach again. “Bit strange, really. Makes sense when I think about the forms she taught me, but don’t get sidetracked.” I nodded again and said, “Yeah, well… Aaliyah unloaded a bunch of secrets on me. Remember how she promised me answers if I gave her the ‘right cake’? Turned out that I was supposed to give her ‘birthday cake’. Figures, doesn’t it?” Jarod was laughing as he said, “That’s Aaliyah for you. She’s very good at telling you things and not telling you a thing at the same time.” That was for certain. “Well, Aaliyah somehow figured out why I absorb residual energy. My body utilizes it in a number of ways, apparently. Unfortunately, I can’t control how I use the stuff. I just do… and… I’m sorry.” I told him. Jarod glanced at me long enough to roll his eyes. “Sorry for dragging this out? Say it already!” he exclaimed. “Yeah. Sorry. One of the things my body does is to… umm… make people like me.” I confessed. Jarod laughed and said, “That’s great stuff!” He didn’t believe me!? I said, “Jarod! Seriously. I don’t know the specifics, really, but I give off some sort of enchantment that grows more powerful as I absorb energy. Anyone affected by it is forced to view me more favorably.”
Jarod kept laughing. “Dude, that’s the coolest ability you could ever want! That’s great! Seriously, you have the perfect magic for your job.” he insisted. “But I don’t want to manipulate people!” I exclaimed. He grew more serious, but was still smiling as he looked at me and said, “I know. That’s one of the great things about you.” Jarod was brilliant, so why wasn’t he taking this more seriously? “How do you know you don’t feel that way simply because my magic’s messing with you?” I asked. “First off, that doesn’t matter, James. Relax. You have magical charisma. That’s just part of you whether you like it or not. Your actions, however, are made by your own choices. I know you’re a good person because I’ve been your best friend for years. I’ve seen the things you do to help people. From the day we met, you’ve always helped me, and I’ll always be grateful for it. If you weren’t such a great person, Aaliyah probably would’ve been hired to take you out by now, since you’d make one exceptional villain. Think about it… no judge or jury would want to find you guilty!” he explained. In regard to my magic, Jarod was obviously on the same page as Aaliyah. Even with two of the brightest people I knew telling me not to worry about the effects of my magic, I still wanted to argue, but I also felt relieved that my best friend wasn’t upset.
“So what else can you do?” asked Jarod. “Huh?” I lamely replied as his words sunk in. “Oh! I can tell if people are lying.” I told him. “Wow. Really? I think that power’s broken.” he claimed. “Huh? Why?” I asked. He then said, “You rarely say anything even if people are obviously lying.” I supposed that was true. “Calling people out all the time would be a bit rude, and I haven’t always trusted my gut, although I have more often of late.” I explained. He nodded and said, “I take it that there isn’t some flashing warning light in your head then.” I attempted to elaborate, saying, “I just get these feelings when people are talking with me. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I think it’s how I tell the twins apart. After some time with them, I just developed a feeling of which was which.” Jarod laughed and said, “Wow. That’d be handy and yet is so odd.” I had to agree. Even after being told what I could do, I still doubted myself at times. There was always a chance that I could be misinterpreting things. I was about to say something to Jarod, but he seemed lost in thought “Jarod, what’s up?” I asked. “Nothing really. Just thinking about all of the games I don’t want to play against you now, like poker.” he claimed with a laugh. After a moment’s silence, he asked “So was I telling the truth?” I shrugged and said, “No clue. Seemed partly true.” He nodded and told me “Yep. Was also thinking about how to test you. This is pretty awesome!”
“Oh great. I’m going to be a lab rat now.” I told him. “You bet! At least you know you’ll be treated well, since everyone will like you!” he exclaimed. I attempted to sound dry as I said, “Har har. Very funny.” I didn’t quite keep the laughter out of my voice and ended up laughing more afterward, spoiling the effect entirely. “I knew you wouldn’t mind! Now let’s cut you open and see how this works!” suggested Jarod with a maniacal grin. He did that all too well, but I still was laughing. “Okay, okay, okay! I’m relaxed now.” I told him. “About time. You have these wonderful, useful abilities which make me insanely envious, so please don’t make them a burden. That’d drive me nuts! I would absolutely love to be able to use magic. I’ve sought the supernatural for most of my life and can’t quite be a part of it even now that I know it’s real.” he admitted. I knew that was eating at him, and I felt bad for being a bit insensitive about it at times. “Sorry. I really don’t mean to rub your face in it or anything.” I started, but he interrupted me, saying, “Please, just relax. I’m not all brokenhearted over here. I’m glad to be part of your business, and I love getting to see all the cool spells people do. I was just wanting to emphasize the point that you should appreciate what you have, not let it drag you down. As I showed Duncan, I’m not precisely defenseless anymore, and I’ll be even less defenseless after I create a suit to my liking. If you manage the magical defenses for me, my second suit should give me the strength needed to keep up better.”
“I’ll do what I can. Mind if I consult with Alma some? She has been teaching me of late.” I told him, not wanting to involve her if he didn’t want her to be. “Not at all. I’ll gladly take whatever help I can get. Besides, she might be willing, since you can magic her into liking you more if she refuses.” he claimed. I shook my head and told him “No, not really. Alma can block that enchantment to some extent. She’s known about it longer than I have.” Jarod nodded but insisted “Still, she obviously likes you. That’s gotta help your chances.” I shrugged and said, “Maybe. Maybe not. I have a horrible time understanding her. Seriously, why would someone that incredible see me as anything other than a… a… well, lab rat to be studied?” Jarod suggested “Maybe she likes good people? I don’t know. I’m not entirely certain what you see in her either.” I only paused a moment before saying, “What do you mean? I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with her on a number of things, but I really think she means well. You should see her talk about saving people. That’s really what she’s into. Kinda like Portentia, but with a different outlook on who needs saved. I know you may not have noticed with a twin on each arm, but Alma’s incredibly beautiful. When I look in her eyes, I have trouble looking away.” Jarod laughed and said, “I’ve noticed. You can’t seem to take your eyes off her half the time.”
I had to roll my eyes at that suggestion. I told him “I’m not that bad. I’m being serious here! I believe Alma’s a good person at heart. She just has to deal with far more than an average person.” Jarod nodded and said, “I’m being serious too. You’re obviously into her. Admit it to yourself at least. For me, she’s a bit creepy. I’ve seen werewolves and werelions. I commonly hang out with a guy who can change his shape to some extent. Brenna can change her hair, skin, and eye color. Emma’s practically the goddess of plants. Yet I still feel that Alma is the most inhuman ‘person’ I’ve ever met. Her eyes and skin don’t look natural at all. She barely seems to have a sense of humor. Plus, her movement seems to defy physics with her speed and strength. Oh yeah. She also has a temper and tends to combust things when annoyed.” I couldn’t exactly argue on any given point, but I felt an urge to try. I told him “Yes, she has a temper and doesn’t always keep it in check. I know she’s extremely fast as well as strong. Though not a shade of violet I’ve seen in nature, you have to admit that her eyes are quite remarkable to behold. As for humor, she’s British aristocracy. You can’t expect her to laugh at the same things we do, but I assure you that she’s quite beautiful when she does laugh. I’m not planning on dating her or anything. Even if she is still willing, there’s just so much of a gap between us.” Jarod laughed and said, “Keep telling yourself that, but she doesn’t seem like the type to take ‘no’ for an answer.” He might have a point there, but I didn’t want to admit it. At very least, she hadn’t tried to force me yet. Was she even still interested? Alma was complicated.