Returning from my travels, I took a seat and started reorienting my mind for where and when I was now. Barely an hour had passed here. I had just finished with the morning training. Oh, yes. Dani will be distracted with instrument designs for now.
“I believe you were wanting to have another talk with Maxine, master.” stated Mila. “Portentia left for a job ten minutes ago.”
Ah, yes. Over a month of literally standing still was too much. I needed to get her motivated. “Thank you, Mila. Please warn her that I’m coming.” I replied. I quickly reviewed the large file on Maxine’s life as I continued to refresh myself on what was currently happening, and then jogged over to Maxine’s room.
“James, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” inquired Maxine with a fake smile. “Feeding time for the prisoner?”
“You are quite well aware that you can partake in truly excellent food at your pleasure. I am here because you apparently need motivated into action again.” I explained as I created spells to prevent sound from leaving this room. Raine did not need to hear this.
“Letting me get back to my life of crime?” she inquired, apparently finding the idea humorous since her smile became more real.
“No. I’d like you to help us improve this world. Your engineering skills are phenomenal, and I’m sure someone as intelligent as you are could provide numerous other contributions as well.” I told her.
“I decline.” she immediately replied.
Shaking my head, I said, “I’m giving you two options: Participate with my company or go with my friend here.”
“Friend? Wha-…” started Maxine, stumbling backward the moment Death appeared. “Wh-who’s there?” She started crawling back into a corner, instinctively knowing which way Death stood.
“Wishing you would have done as I suggested and helped Jarod build new ocular devices for you? Maxine, meet Death. I told you before that she’s a friend of mine.” I explained. “I can be a very patient man, but waiting you out would deny the world all that you can provide until your knowledge of technologies is obsolete. Are you willing to start living a fulfilling life again, or are you ready to die?”
“I’ll w-work with you.” she mumbled, moving her head as if she were listening to something.
I smiled, walked over to her, and helped her up. Such tactics would have made me cringe at best when I was young, but I already knew the results of this action. Maxine didn’t have a choice anymore than the rest of us. Destiny would grip this world for many years still.
While mentally thanking Aaliyah for her time, I said, “Let’s visit Jarod and discuss helping you to see. Then we’ll go about replenishing your wardrobe and ordering furniture. An empty room will never make you feel at home, which is what this will be for a while. No need to punish yourself and annoy me by pretending otherwise.”
Her grip on my arm tightened as she said, “I d-don’t want to annoy you.”
“I felt as you do the first time I saw Death as well. She has that effect on people. Gives ‘the fear of Death’ a whole new meaning, doesn’t she? Took me over a month to start feeling like myself again, but you tend to recover far more quickly than most. Let’s hope that holds true in this case too. Please don’t mention this encounter to anyone.” I replied. Then I dismissed the sound dampening spells and guided Maxine out of her room.
“James!” exclaimed Kayla, nearly running into me as she turned into the hallway. She caught herself by hugging me. “Whatcha doin’ with Maxine!?”
“Maxine has decided that she wants to be a good girl and help people, so I’m going to ask Jarod to help her see.” I explained.
“Can I tell Jemal that she’s safe now!?” she questioned, smiling up at me with wide eyes.
“People tend not to change overnight, so be wary and let me know if you think she’s up to something diabolical.” I told her.
Nodding, Kayla said, “She might be up to something right now even!”
“I-I’m really not.” stated Maxine with a quaver.
“Mila, has Kayla finished today’s schoolwork?” I asked.
“No, master. She begged Jemal for a break and is late returning.” she replied.
“Sounds like you’re up to no good at the moment.” I chided, staring down at Kayla.
She lowered her head and said, “Sorry, James.” Hopping backward, she smiled and called, “See ya!”, before darting off toward her room.
“Ever wish you could have kids?” I inquired.
“No.” stated Maxine. “Th-they’ll age and die.”
“True. I’m not looking forward to seeing Dani grow old, but she’s already bringing me great joy.” I admitted.
“D-do you… C-can you… really think of her as y-your child?” asked Maxine.
“Yes. No matter her age, she’ll always be my daughter, and even after she’s gone, my life will have been made better by her existence.” I insisted.
“You c-can’t know that.” stated Maxine.
“Actually, I can. The little you have witnessed of my home and of my friends isn’t nearly enough to really know me.” I assured her. “Though your only family life was a disaster, they don’t have to be that way.”
“W-what do you know of my family?” she asked, practically snarling.
I shrugged, despite knowing she couldn’t see me, and said, “I know they never showed you an ounce of love and were murdered by you in a calculated maneuver to seize their assets. Your father’s nefarious business dealings were childlike compared with yours, and your mother aided him in her own way while pretending to be the charming trophy wife.”
“You mean to say she seduced men to steal their secrets and feed them to my father.” replied Maxine, sounding slightly more calm.
“Your older brother, though relatively young when you murdered him, was already a sadist who took pleasure in torturing you when he managed to sneak in to see you. There were other victims as well, but he managed to keep his twisted ways out of the public light with the help of your parents. I think we’re all lucky that María raised you instead of your parents.”
“Where do you get your information?” she inquired.
“The book of life is incredibly detailed, so I do a great deal of reading.” I replied, knowing how watered down my account of her family was.
“More secrets then. Perhaps you’ll share this book in time.” she stated.
“Just behave, and you’ll be satisfied with your life.” I assured her.
We managed to make our way to the garage without further interruption, and I heard music playing as we descended.
“Daddy! Look what we made!” exclaimed Dani before we were even a third of the way down.
I lifted Maxine and jumped down, carefully setting her beside me when we landed.
“The criminal too!” exclaimed Dani over the music as she hugged a multi-colored guitar.
“Dude, you brought Maxine down here!?” exclaimed Jarod, looking as if he wanted to hide everything.
“Mila, please adjust the volume.” When she did, I said, “Maxine’s agreed to behave, so I was hoping you’d do as we discussed last night.”
“Uh huh… I suppose she’s not going to figure out where everything around her is simply by sound.” he replied with a frown.
“Are you suggesting that I shouldn’t touch anything either?” inquired Maxine.
“Mila, please make sure Maxine doesn’t touch anything she shouldn’t.” stated Jarod.
“As you wish.” replied Mila as one of her two bodies down here stepped up behind Maxine.
Seeing that Dani was pouting, I told her “I love the guitar. Have you tested how it sounds yet?”
“Not with an amp, but Mila’s confident. Jarod’s been doing a bit of research for amp design.” explained Emma.
“I can’t believe we have these already. I’ll never buy a guitar again.” stated Iris, who was practically caressing a Maya blue guitar.
“Maxine, do you want to play in our band!?” inquired Dani.
“No, thank you.” stated Maxine.
“But Jarod said we need a bad element to give our band an edge, and you’re the worst person I know!” insisted Dani, obviously not understanding the distinctions in meaning of all that had been said.
Resisting a sudden urge to facepalm, I said, “Sorry, Maxine. Dani’s still working on her English and misses some nuances of the language. She’s not trying to pick a fight.”
“I was actually encouraging them to get Raine involved, since she could probably pick up an instrument with mind-blowing speed. I had said that a half-demon would be the bad element the band needed to complete their image.” explained Jarod. “Do you actually play an instrument, Maxine?”
“My niñera taught me piano, but I haven’t played in years.” she stated.
“Daddy, make her practice with us!” exclaimed Dani.
“No, Dani. If Maxine is interested at some point, she can talk with you about it.” I replied.
Maxine looked surprised by what I said, but she’d learn eventually that I truly meant well for her.
“We’ll just have to make a song that umm… makes her want to.” insisted Dani.
Iris looked hesitant about the idea, but Emma was clearly amused. I would enjoy seeing how things came together.