I let the lift carry me down to the lab as I listened to the sound of water running from below. Soon after, I could see Aurora, Jarod, Maxine, and Mila sitting around Portentia, who was reclining on a table with her eyes shut.
When I arrived at the bottom, I asked “How are things going?”
Portentia looked uncomfortable as she opened her eyes. Seeing me, she said, “James, is that you?” As she spoke, she seemed uncomfortable.
“We’re acclimating her to hearing. She’s getting all these sounds for the first time.” explained Maxine.
“Well, not the first, really. Portentia could hear through the fey’s visions, but she never had time to figure them all out. She’s still lip reading at this point to understand what we’re saying.” added Jarod without turning from Portentia.
“Ah. Sorry. Perhaps the concert was a bit too optimistic.” I admitted, signing as I spoke.
“No. I can do this.” insisted Portentia. She had that firm resolve I remembered from when she learned to use a staff.
“Just don’t overdo it. There’s no real rush. I merely thought this could be nice for you and wanted to give you the option.” I insisted, wondering if I should have waited before guiding her toward this. My arguments now were probably futile, given that Portentia was likely to push herself continuously until she was accustomed to every sound Mila could share.
“James, I’m doing this. Maxine can do it, so I can as well.” stated Portentia.
“I’d love to see you design your own equipment.” whispered Maxine to the floor.
“Let’s see you beat me in a fight.” taunted Portentia.
Maxine’s head snapped up as she asked “Did you understand what I said!?”
“Look behind James. Mila’s still helping me.” she replied.
I glanced back to see that Mila was displaying the conversation as we spoke.
“I didn’t think we’d be able to fine-tune the input to her brain as quickly as we did, but Alma came down and helped us. Portentia was able to compare what she was hearing to what Alma projected into her head, and we adjusted accordingly.” commented Jarod. “ She’s really calmer now, isn’t she?”
“Oddly calm. She didn’t threaten me once.” agreed Maxine.
“She knows you’re working with us now.” replied Portentia.
Maxine flatly stated “Hooray for letting tyranny reign while you stop petty theft and gang wars.”
“You’ll eventually see that we’re doing far more than you currently think. I promise you.” Knowing how Lilly Slayer would improve this world made me perfectly comfortable with the wait.
“What’s that?” inquired Portentia, looking around as the water sound changed to the sound of wind through leafy trees.
“I’ll show you.” replied Mila.
I could tell by the shift in light that the screen changed behind me, so I looked back and watched briefly. Turning back to face Portentia, I signed and said, “Good luck. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
She smiled and nodded, so I departed, jumping back to the garage level the moment the door opened.
“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani after taking a step back. “Mila told me you were down there. Are you busy?”
I shook my head and said, “Never too busy for you. What’s on your mind?”
“Mila’s taking me to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce soon, and I wanted to know if you would ride along.” she asked.
“Sure. Let’s go.” I replied with a smile.
“Mom’s busy. She’s on a con-… um… group call, so I just told her I was heading out. I didn’t know she worked.” stated Dani as we walked out of the garage.
I laughed and said, “Before our honeymoon, all she did was work. She’s missed it, though her perspective on it has changed a bit. She’ll gladly come along too if you ask.”
“Nah. That’s okay.” she told me. Stopping and staring at my DB5, she asked “What’s this?”
“A remake of my first car. You’ll find a few more features than in the limousine, though there aren’t refreshments.” I explained.
She nodded, walked around, and hopped inside after Mila opened the door. “Sure is tiny in here.”
“You’ve seen smaller vehicles.” I told her.
“Yeah, but they flew.” she pouted.
I created an illusion over her to hide her alien features. Then I said, “I know, but you can visit your friends as often as you like. Life isn’t so bad here, is it?”
She stared out of the window as Mila drove us along. After a few seconds, she said, “I like it here. Everyone’s friendly, and my band is going to be amazing! I’m not… umm…”. She stopped, biting her lip as she thought of what to say.
“Cheat.” I told her in her native tongue. “Mom’s not around to know.”
She grinned and said, “Accustomed to this world! The technology is quaint! I’m amazed Marco makes such incredible food using that weird kitchen. How does he know when to remove the implements from the heat? What are those things he sprinkles? How does Emma change the size of the uncooked stuff with a touch!?” She spoke more and more rapidly as she went along.
“Emma can control vegetation, even if it’s been dead for years. She was born with the ability, so I can’t teach you to do it as she does. As for the cooking, Marco was a traveler of this world for years and learned various ways to cook wherever he went. You should try it. Cooking here isn’t as expedient as some other planets, but many find the process enjoyable.” I assured her.
“Do you think everyone likes me? I mean really likes me?” she asked, looking adorably serious as she stared into my eyes. “I know they feel happy when we’re playing around, but… what if they’re just happy about something else and I’m misinterpreting something?”
“Dani, you’re adored.” I told her.
“Not like you.” she stated. “Even people you’ve bullied like you.”
I frowned and said, “I try not to bully anyone.”
“I know. You help people, but even my friends know your reputation. Businesses have collapsed when they’ve caused you to frown.” she stated, believing her words to be entirely true.
“I don’t know that things have been that extreme recently.” I assured her. “I simply cannot make everyone happy.”
“What’s ‘recent’ when you’re a time traveler?” she inquired with a smirk.
I rolled my eyes and said, “Fair point, but you know what I mean. Are you happy?”
She smiled at me and said, “Of course! I’m with you and mom.”
I reached over and hugged her before saying, “I don’t want you to feel you’re missing out. We can always go traveling for a bit when you need to escape.”
“Daddy, I’m fine!” she insisted as she rolled her eyes. “Mila’s perfectly capable of helping me study and reminding me of what’s out there. Don’t worry.”
Pretending to be serious, I told her “And you better still be fine when you’re done visiting your friends. If I find it that you’ve caused unnecessary trouble, I’ll… umm…”
“Be grateful I’m fine and hug me till you’re certain!” she exclaimed.
“Probably.” I agreed, knowing she wasn’t likely to get too out of hand. The last time they got too wild, I went a bit overboard in expressing my displeasure, and the lot of them have been exceptionally well-behaved in the years since the fire.
We continued to chat until I dropped her off. She warned me not to come inside, claiming her friends would be too distracted for hours if I did. I nodded and drained the spell on her, so she’d return to her normal colors by the time she stepped inside. I looked forward to hearing what she did.