Alma’s birthday was a success, though remarkably low-key. I knew the party would be low-key, but I thought low-key for her would involve a much larger number of guests, considering the piles of gifts that were sent throughout the day. Even with all of our friends gathered, the room she had picked seemed spacious ― she had insisted on having the party in her wing, probably to keep us from going overboard with the decorations.
Today, the other birthday girl was returning home. I had caught a little of Portentia’s exploits on the news. Mila was being rather tight-lipped about what all happened, claiming that Portentia insisted on telling me everything herself, which I couldn’t doubt. Portentia loved talking about her adventures when she felt safe to do so. When we returned home, we were going to have a welcome home slash belated birthday party for her, mainly as an excuse to give her the presents from everyone.
For Alma, I had handcrafted a large necklace out of platinum and gems that Aaliyah had procured for me. She seemed to like it well enough. Alma and I ended up designing a new backpack for Portentia with concealed compartments for her superhero costume. When inserted properly, the costume would just seem like padding. To be honest, Alma had done most of the design work. I merely made an enchantment on the backpack to help protect it and improve the concealment aspects.
Well, there was also a little spell that helped people ignore the backpack existed. I had tested it on Brandon, who tripped over the backpack repeatedly without realizing why he was tripping. I did explain to him what was happening afterward. He playfully hit me. I probably deserved worse for putting him through the ordeal, but I was happy the enchantment worked properly. With his enhancement suit worn, he was able to notice the backpack just fine, so the suit’s enchantment was working as well.
Noticing Alma frowning, I asked “What’s wrong?”
She pursed her lips before stating “I don’t know that you’ll approve of Portentia’s souvenir.”
“Souvenir?” I inquired. Did Portentia bring back part of Maxine’s armor again? “Oh. I see.” I stated when Portentia rounded the corner with Maxine in tow. She was wearing one of Portentia’s hoodies with the hood up and white-rimmed sunglasses, but that was obviously her. I stepped out of the limousine to greet them.
“James!” exclaimed Portentia, running over to me and giving me a hug.
Maxine, who had been holding onto Portentia’s arm, stayed where she was. “Hello again, James.” she told me.
“Why isn’t she in prison awaiting trial?” I asked, mouthing the words.
Mila had stepped out and taken their luggage cart to the limousine’s trunk.
“Can I keep her?” asked Portentia in a whisper.
“What!?” I replied, not expecting Portentia to say that of all things.
“James, let’s discuss this in the car.” called Alma.
She was right. There had already been enough people periodically watching for who’d step out of the limousine. I didn’t want anyone to realize Maxine was with us, though no one should be looking for her here.
“Lady Pendreigh, I should have known you’d be here as well.” stated Maxine.
I stepped back into the vehicle to sit by Alma and waited as Portentia guided Maxine into the other side. What had happened to Maxine’s glasses or even her cane?
Once they were situated, I asked “What’s this about?”, pointing to Maxine.
“I don’t believe I can age, so prison would raise numerous questions.” stated Maxine.
Oh, yes. She was apparently like Portentia.
“You’re colder than normal.” observed Alma.
“Portentia confiscated all of my tech. I assured her that some of it was perfectly harmless, but she doesn’t trust me.” explained Maxine.
“No one trusts you.” argued Portentia.
“Camila does. You know they don’t really have enough evidence against her to keep her very long. My lawyers will see to it.” stated Maxine.
“Even a year apart will do you two some good. Besides, you only have one lawyer left practicing in that area. We did our research.” insisted Portentia.
“Oh, yes. The mysterious ‘we’ again. I can’t imagine that James supplies your intel.” commented Maxine.
Grinning at the blind girl, Portentia said, “No, he’s my sidekick at times.”
As the two continued to bicker, I considered what to do. They were right about Maxine being in prison if she bothered staying very long. If she truly shared Portentia’s abilities, I had no doubt that she’d break out long before people could notice her lack of aging. Even if she didn’t, Maxine was intelligent enough to earn Jarod’s grudging respect, and guards would probably underestimate a blind girl even after hearing about her criminal career. Mila, however, could watch Maxine’s every move continuously.
“You could seal her away in your vault, James.” suggested Alma. “Even I couldn’t escape it for a very long time if I ever did manage to figure out those bloody enchantments.”
“Coarse as ever.” muttered Maxine with a small smile.
“I wouldn’t want any of my collection damaged when Maxine grew bored.” I replied.
“Maybe I should keep her under my personal supervision.” teased Alma.
At least, I was hoping she was teasing.
“Oh, yes. That would be marvelous. I’m sure neither of us would grow bored, even when you’re old and gray.” replied Maxine.
“Funny, but I don’t seem to age either. We’ll have a very long relationship.” stated Alma.
Maxine scowled as she said, “This is the most insufferable run of bad luck in all of history.”
“Maxine’s used to being lucky. Very lucky. I think… we may be opposites in that regard.” commented Portentia.
“Do things really go wrong for Portentia all the time?” asked Maxine. “Some of the stories she told me seem highly improbable.”
“No. Portentia’s learned to be meticulous in many areas to avoid problems in advance.” I argued, thinking of how careful she’s grown with her gear.
“I help too, master.” stated Mila.
Maxine tilted her head, facing her ear toward Mila as she said, “That voice… you’re the mysterious informant.”
“I’m the one who crippled your communication throughout the city and performed the DDoS attacks against you.” happily replied Mila. “You are a skilled techie for a near-human. Mother found your attempts to fight me adorable.”
“And who’s your mother?” she asked.
“Aaliyah T. Sypher.” stated Mila.
“What? That child!?” exclaimed Maxine.
“I’m an artificial intelligence designed by Aaliyah to assist James in all his needs. The master allows me enough free time to aid in other endeavors as well.” explained Mila.
“What? You’re a machine?” inquired Maxine, sounding mystified by the notion.
“You’re hearing my voice from an android body that was a joint project between mother, Jarod, and me. The upgraded versions will be deployed in the near future. When we arrive, you should thank Jarod for his part in your machines.” teased Mila.
“I suspected he was the one after I saw some of his car designs. He’s very gifted.” replied Maxine.
“He also designed the physical part of Calamity’s enhancement suit. The master handled the magical end.” explained Mila.
Smiling, Maxine said, “Camila would love to learn from you, James. She was quite confused by how Portentia seemed to ignore her spells.”
“I’ve seen Camila’s attempt at spells. She lacks the capacity to even understand James’ enchantment, much less cast it.” argued Alma.
“Disappointing, but understandable. The little escape trick James pulled on me was extraordinary by itself.” she insisted.
I didn’t bother telling her how simple that was. As well-meaning as I felt Maxine was, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of her staying in my home. I was half-tempted to see if Aaliyah would take her off planet, but I worried what mischief she’d cause unobserved. Using sign language, I informed Mila that I wanted Maxine’s quarters to be as far removed as possible from the others. Whether or not she’d be confined to them would depend on how well Maxine behaved. Mila would need to be physically with her at all times, just in case.