Best Friend For Hire, Entry 340

“How much do you people play this!?” exclaimed Maxine as we ran alongside her horse. “Your stats must be incredibly high.”

“Rather often.” I replied with a shrug.

A thousand of my guildmates were traveling to start a mine for my guild’s use, since one of them discovered a large mineral vein.

“I thought you were supposed to be incredibly busy.” she stated.

“You have no idea. His schedule makes mine look laughable.” insisted Alma with a smile.

“Then how do you have time to be doing this right now?” inquired Maxine.

“I made time for you. Having you moping about was depressing.” I informed her.

She opened her mouth as if to say something but snapped it shut instead.

“I’m g-glad… that… y-you’re playing with us.” stated Raine as she looked over at Maxine.

“This is still weird to me.” grumbled Portentia, who had joined us on Ancient Tribes of Earth after making a fuss when she returned home.

“Oh, yes. Helping Raine hunt down rare ores is exceptionally different than when we normally play and help our guild.” teased Alma.

Frowning, Maxine said, “I, for one, have never done anything with this many people at once in a game. I still don’t understand how the game can operate this smoothly with such a crowd in a small area. One of my old guildmates claimed the game ran smoothly for him in a city, despite playing on an archaic piece of junk that I wouldn’t have taken if he tried giving it to me.”

“You wouldn’t have take the machine to data mine it? Surprising.” I told her. Seeing her frown deepen, I quickly said, “I’m only teasing. I too was mystified by how this game functions, but I’m completely unwilling to listen to Aaliyah explain how she micromanages each type of processor through her code. You’re welcome to ask her if you’re interested.”

“I’ll… consider the idea. She might not be keen to speak with me on it, considering I attempted to hack the game.” explained Maxine.

“Mother entered the contest as well, Maxine. She’s not so petty as to hold a grudge for such a meager maneuver against her.” insisted Mila.

Maxine opened her mouth, shut it for a moment, and then said, “Before coming here, I would have taken offense to someone mocking my technical skills, but I really can’t in this case. Considering you, my efforts must have appeared meager, especially with her being fully aware of my endeavors.”

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani after running into the room with her guitar still strapped around her..

“Yes?” I inquired.

“I want to play too! Why didn’t you ask me?” she questioned, looking at me as if I did something terrible.

“Mila said you were still practicing with Iris and Emma. You really shouldn’t leave your band behind by the way. Iris can’t keep up while you’re wearing your enhancement suit.” I informed her, listening to the sounds of the other two running through the hall. “How are you liking guitar?”

Her expression instantly changed, a large smile brightening her face as she hugged her guitar. “I love it!” she insisted. “Watch this!” She started playing a simple melody from her homeworld. “The sound is better with an amp.”

“Still, you’re progressing well.” I told her, earning another smile.

She started playing another tune as Emma and Iris jogged into the room.

“P-Pretty.” mumbled Raine.

“Really!? Does that mean you’ll join us!?” asked Dani, dashing away from the other two over toward Raine, who was shaking her head.

“Even a little?” begged Dani as she grabbed for Raine’s arm with her free hand. “You wouldn’t have to play in front of people.”

“I’d like to see you play bass.” stated Emma with a smile.

“Come on… we’ll have fun together.” insisted Iris.

“If you don’t mind hearing my two cents worth, I agree that you should try, Raine. When we first met, you would’ve ran away just from this much attention. Playing music with them could be another step forward for you. You’re incredibly gifted in many areas, and I would love to see you sharing those gifts.” I explained.

Nodding, Alma said, “I agree with my husband. You should continue broadening your horizons, and music can be a pleasant form of expression.”

I held back a laugh as my wife shared with me thoughts of the horizons we saw in our travels. Each world has its own fantastic views, and we were blessed with seeing a great many worlds, literally broadening our horizons.

“M-maybe.” mumbled Raine.

“Y’rika!” exclaimed Dani in excitement. “Then we can make pretty music and get Maxine to play piano! Mila showed me videos of pianos being played, and it was so cool!”

“Did she just say ‘eureka’?” inquired Maxine.

“She’s still learning English, but you could consider that to almost be a cognate, given the similar usage.” explained Alma.

“You really should at least try playing piano with us.” encouraged Dani as she strummed her guitar. “We could become the coolest band in the galaxy!”

Smiling at our daughter, Alma said, “Start with the city and work your way up.”

“Fiiiine,” replied Dani, “but we’ll be amazing! I know it!”

“Mila, find a concert Dani might like coming up and book tickets for anyone interested in going.” I stated, thinking my daughter should experience a concert here to help bring her down to the planet. The concerts she had attended were far too out of this world for her to have reasonable expectations.

“Yes, master. Invitations have been sent to everyone.” she replied.

“Wow. Really? That was fast.” stated Iris as she pulled out her phone. Her eyes widened as she looked at it. “This is in France just two weeks from now! How did you write a whole itinerary already!?”

“Please expedite getting Iris a passport if she doesn’t have one as well as one for anyone else who needs it.” I stated, remembering that was an issue here after her exclamation.

“Master, Deyanira is worried about getting excused from class for the trip. Would you mind negotiating on her behalf?” inquired Mila.

“Not at all. Just add the meetings to my schedule.” I replied.

“Is this for real!?” questioned Iris as she stared at me with wide eyes.

“Of course. If your family has any issues, explain that it’s a company trip. If that doesn’t convince them, I’ll come convince them for you.” I assured her.

A small, company vacation wouldn’t hurt my business, and I was quite certain Mila had worked around everyone’s schedules when making the arrangements, knowing Aaliyah had probably cleared those days in advance to align with my request.

“Is Maxine going?” inquired Portentia.

“I will if you’re not.” replied Maxine.

“Mila, mind marking that as a ‘yes’ from both of them?” I asked.

“As you wish, master.” she replied as the two looked like they wanted to argue.

“I have two weeks to convince you both that you’ll enjoy this trip. Relax. Things will be fun.” I assured them.

“France.” wistfully whispered Cosette, who had silently been observing everyone as she played her character.

She was no doubt thinking of her father, possibly her mother as well. I wasn’t entirely certain from where her mother hailed. Either way, we could make time to visit anywhere she wished while we were there.


Best Friend For Hire, Entry 339

“A free name change has been provided, and your account has been cloned to a new one.” stated Mila after escorting Maxine into the ballroom.

“I see.” replied Maxine with a frown.

“Apparently so. The new glasses look lovely.” commented Alma.

Maxine glanced at her before saying, “Thank you. As for the name, Theophany.”

“A bit pretentious, isn’t it?” inquired Alma.

“That was the name of her primary exosuit.” explained Mila. “Name change complete. Would you like the full chair tutorial before I start the game?”

Alma used her ability to send a picture into my mind, showing the scene from Avengers where Hulk smashed Loki, but replacing Loki with the Maxine’s exosuit. I nearly laughed aloud but managed not to.

“Your chairs have tutorials?” asked Maxine, obviously surprised.

“Aaliyah designed them. She writes a tutorial for everything in such excruciating detail that most would find using it to be torturous.” I told her.

“I’ll be fine without it then.” replied Maxine as she took a seat.

Maxine probably wouldn’t bother playing in here with us after tonight anyway, since the new model of her glasses could be given a direct feed ― or deactivated ― by Mila. Of course, she could come to enjoy the sensitivity of the digital keyboard and mouse, but we could always provide those wherever she wished.

“Are the glasses working on par with your old model? Jarod seemed enthusiastic about the technology you developed.” I commented.

I had been keeping Dani busy as Maxine and Jarod discussed how the glasses emitted low frequency radiation to stimulate areas of her brain associated with vision. Most people would be at risk of cancer with the design, but that wasn’t a possibility for Maxine. Jarod, of course, had ideas of his own when they discussed it. I wanted to keep Dani away from them in case she had already studied similar technology on her own planet, since she might well slip in her enthusiasm. Luckily, Dani was off practicing with her new band for now.

“Marginally better, actually. Jarod is every bit as intelligent as I imagined. His suggestions were useful, and I admit that I’m envious of the resources here. The various technologies for fabrication are incredible.” she admitted.

“As I’m sure Jarod mentioned, Aaliyah designed most of the equipment he uses, though Mila’s done some software work.” I told her. “Would you like to join my guild, since getting you back into whichever one you had before is probably inadvisable?”

“I’ll take you up on the offer.” she stated, a hint of annoyance coming through. She knew she’d be monitored in the game as well. Once she accepted the invitation, she said, “This is ridiculous.”

I smirked after glancing over at her screen. The unfiltered guild chat was probably far too fast for her, but I was certain she knew how to use the game’s chat features. “Which officer would you like to serve under?”

Alma quickly suggested “You should pick me. We have always enjoyed one another’s company immensely.”

“No. James, can I serve under you?’ she asked.

“Sure.” I told her as I reassigned her character. “You’re free to join Alma’s group when they do formation practice if you prefer a properly militarized group. Mine’s a bit more…”

“Absurd.” teased Alma.

“Fun.” insisted Cosette, who was playing with us.

“Well, we do get our objectives accomplished quickly enough.” I replied.

“What do you like to do on here?” inquired Cosette as she leaned over toward Maxine.

“I’m specialized in armor crafting, so I spend a great deal of time hunting down rare ores.” she replied.

“Really!?” exclaimed Raine, seeming to appear out of nowhere in front and to the side of Maxine.

Maxine jumped clear out of her chair. Then she was caught midair and placed in her chair by Raine.

“James told you that she’s fast.” casually commented Alma as Maxine continued to stare.

Smiling, I said, “Raine’s the guild’s best crafter, so she’s an expert at getting every type of resource you might want. She arranges many resource missions for other players when stocks get low. We even got her a meteorite a few months ago. She’s the one to ask if you’d like a nice house in the guild’s town.”

“Y-you really l-like… t-to craft?” asked Raine as she stared intently at Maxine.

“Obviously. I craft things in real life as well. I thought you considered me dangerous.” stated Maxine.

“N-not to m-me.” replied Raine.

“If something’s dangerous to Raine, you probably wouldn’t enjoy meeting it either. Even in Ancient Tribes of Earth she single-handedly held off one of the demon lords for quite a while, using only crafting skills I might add.” I told her.

“You’re joking.” stated Maxine. When I shook my head, she said, “I had heard a rumor about that but there are many crazy rumors about your guild.”

“Our guild.” corrected Alma.

“I guess I’ll be seeing the truth of them firsthand now.” agreed Maxine.

I heard footsteps running through the halls of my home and saw Portentia round the corner a moment later.

“What’s Maxine doing in here?” asked Portentia. Nearly in the same breath, she inquired “Why does she have glasses again!?”

Raine was suddenly holding Portentia’s hands in hers as she said, “S-she crafts armor!”

“Yeah. She tried blowing me up using some of it.” replied Portentia.

“Maxine wanted to get back to playing Ancient Tribes of Earth and has agreed to help Jarod with some of his work in real life. Raine’s excited to have a crafting buddy in the game.” I explained.

“Oh. What if she tries to escape now that she can see the exits?” asked Portentia.

“She won’t. She made an agreement and will happily be assisting Best Friend For Hire. Besides, Mila will remain as vigilant as ever.” I assured her.

Portentia shrugged and said, “I suppose… but shouldn’t she be paying for her crimes?”

“Other than helping my company, what would you like her to do? We could get her a costume to help you fight crime.” I suggested.

“What? But she’s a criminal! She’d probably turn on me.” stated Portentia.

“How would that make any sense, you imbecile? You’re more than capable of capturing me again if I tried, and I’m not even equipped for a fight, not that I want to go gallivanting around the city looking for trouble with you.” snapped Maxine.

“B-be nice.” warned Raine, suddenly standing in front of Maxine.

“And imagine trying to escape from her!” exclaimed Maxine as she pointed at Raine and stared at Portentia. Turning to Raine, she asked “Did you really do fifty laps around the city at James request when I arrived here?”

“N-no. H-he was c-concentrating… I d-did… extra.” she replied.

I laughed, not really surprised. Raine could have easily checked in on me between each lap without me noticing. I had seen a great many wonders in my travels while on my honeymoon, but very few of them could match Raine in any fashion.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 338

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.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 337

“Iris, pair up with Dejon.” I called out after spotting her enter the gym where we were doing morning exercises.

“Sure thing, James. I…” she started to say.

I turned back to her, and found her staring at my daughter. “Oh, yes. Iris, meet Dani, my daughter. Dani, this is Iris. She works here part-time.”

“D-daughter!?” exclaimed Iris as Dani ran over to her, leaving Cosette smirking behind her.

“Hi, Iris! I’ve been told that you can teach me guitar!” exclaimed Dani.

“Uh… Sure. I don’t mind.” she replied, still looking confused.

“You’ll be paid for your time. Dani’s not familiar with songs from this country. Hers was a bit secluded from here, so feel free to introduce her to new music.” I told her, using a spell to carry my voice to her.

“We could form a stone band!” exclaimed Dani.

“Rock band.” I stated, using another spell to convey my voice instead of speaking up. I glanced over at them, not surprised that Iris looked confused. “English isn’t Dani’s native language, so please excuse her lapses.”

“That… actually could be fun. We could easily have an all-girl band if some of the others were interested.” stated Iris as she seemed to consider the idea. “Umm… Your skin… and hair.”

“Is real!” insisted Dani. “Well, not the black tips.”

“What are you?” she asked.

“I don’t even know how to respond in this language!” exclaimed Dani, still grinning.

“Complicated.” I muttered, sending my voice to them again.

Cosette jumped at Dani from behind, and Dani dropped backward onto her hands as she tucked her legs in, pushed up, and kicked Cosette hard enough to send her flying several yards. Cosette rolled and stood as she landed, openly looking surprised. I hadn’t warned her that Dani already had significant training. Pairing Dani against Ai, Mai, or Portentia would be more fair, since Cosette was still holding back to keep up her ruse. Portentia was with Maxine, still paranoid about leaving her alone despite Mila’s continuous surveillance. Ai and Mai were out with Alma, catching up with one another.

“Dani, that wasn’t very controlled.” I told her.

“But daddy… I was surprised!” insisted Dani.

“Not so surprised that you weren’t able to respond. You need to control your strength if you want to keep the suit.” I chided.

“I’m sorry.” she mumbled.

“Don’t worry about him, worry about me snacking on you!” teased Cosette as she kicked at Dani.

Iris stepped back, still staring as she made her way around to Dejon. Emma was helping him work on basic punches and to improve his positioning.

“I’m up for playing some music.” stated Emma. “I already know a bit of guitar, but I was thinking of learning to play drums. I could always do bass if someone else is interested in drums.”

“Oh. Sure. Either’s fine by me. We’ve got time. I’ve never tried teaching someone guitar before, so Dani will probably take a bit to pick it up.” claimed Iris.

Grinning, Emma said, “I wouldn’t bet on that. She knows music. She’ll easily be able to sing lead if you aren’t interested. Could do a karaoke night to get us all singing together.”

“You might want to do something about your hair, Iris.” suggested Dejon.

“Huh?” she asked.

“Look at Emma and Dani. Throw in Raine, and they already look like some punk band.” he told her.

“Eh… I’ll worry about it if we sound good. That’s too much work otherwise.” she told him as she adjusted her ponytail.

“Okay. Just a suggestion.” he told her before going back to working on his stance.

The three continued talking about what sort of band they could have, distracting Dani as Cosette continued to play with her. I wasn’t really worried about either of the latter two training hard, since both were quite capable of defending themselves. Dani just needed time to adjust to the enhancement suit, so she didn’t seriously injure someone on accident.

When training was over, I used a spell to clean everyone off. Then I asked Mila and Emma to work together on crafting instruments. Dani would want to paint her guitar, so there was little point in purchasing one, especially considering the resources we had for crafting our own. Jarod might get involved if he had interesting ideas for sound equipment. Either way, my daughter would be able to get acquainted with my planet’s music and to get to know the others.

I left them to their discussions and headed to my office, so I could get some work done.

“I still would be amused if you showed them your skills.” claimed Aaliyah, who was sitting on my desk when I arrived.

“They don’t need to think that I’m good at everything.” I replied.

“They already do, so why pretend?” she argued.

“You know I’ll play with them some after they find their groove.” I told her, lifting her and depositing her in one of the chairs.

“Yes, but you don’t know what I have planned for this year’s convention!” she exclaimed.

“No spoilers, please. I want to enjoy the moment when it arrives.” I insisted as I took a seat and brought up my schedule.

“As you wish, boss-man, sir. Ready to be off?” she inquired.

I nodded, wondering how long I’d be away.

“Not long, really.” claimed Aaliyah with a grin.

“Your view of what constitutes ‘long’ still differs from my own.” I stated, knowing that my honeymoon hadn’t been long in her estimate.

Now that my business was intergalactic, I had far more duties to attend than most beings could manage. Not aging and having a secretary that allowed me to travel across time and space helped, as did having Mila take care of most managerial duties, but I was still going to spend years away from home on a monthly basis. Alma would certainly join me periodically, but she wasn’t really interested in accompanying me for the more tedious parts. My life was far more complicated than I had ever imagined possible before venturing into the universe, but I was happy, knowing that my work was making life better on thousands of worlds.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 336

“James!” exclaimed Jarod before looking up to see how many of us were on the lift. “And more visitors!”

“Sorry to intrude, but we knew Dani would love to see your lab and needs her suit to keep up around here.” explained Alma. “Aurora works this late?”

“Occasionally, though not frequently. Don’t worry. Her parents are informed.” he explained.

“I wasn’t worried, just surprised.” she replied.

Aurora was piecing together the prototype vehicle… or just napping inside of it. I couldn’t really tell from this angle, since I couldn’t see her head.

“Aurora? Oh! I remember!” exclaimed Dani leaning precariously over the lift’s edge to try looking at her.

My little fairy friend flew down there and started circling the vehicle.

Smiling up at us, Jarod told her “I loved your painting earlier, Dani. Sorry that I didn’t stick around longer, but I wanted to get some more work done.”

“Where did Ai and Mai go?” inquired Dani, jumping off the lift before it reached the bottom, using a spell to slow her descent, and glancing around. “I thought they’d be with you.”

“They’re probably doing their own work. Alma likes to keep them busy.” he replied, shrugging.

“Mom? Why!?” asked Dani as she spun to look at Alma and jumped over to her as we touched down.

“Dani, you know that civilizations need workers to continue developing.” stated Alma as she brushed back some of Dani’s hair from her face.

“But they’re so happy around him!” exclaimed Dani, practically pouting.

“And I’m happy when I’m with them, but they don’t really enjoy watching me work and can be a bit distracting.” insisted Jarod.

“But… but…” started Dani before stepping closer to Emma, staring into her eyes. “What’s wrong? I know what you’re feeling… that you sense what I feel as well. Don’t you think they’re better when they’re together?”

Emma looked shocked, actually stepping back slightly and looking away.

Cosette stepped up between them and said, “What do you feel from me?”

“Amusement, among other things. You’re hiding something.” stated Dani, reaching up to place her hand on Cosette’s face. “Daddy! She’s cold!” exclaimed Dani as she glanced at me.

“Didn’t notice earlier?” I inquired.

“No, we never touched till now. She’s too fast.” complained Dani.

“What..!?” exclaimed Cosette, quickly stepping away from Dani.

“Dani, behave.” stated Alma.

“But… I was just…” she started, but then said, “Fiiine.”

“What were you doing to me?” questioned Cosette.

“Showing you what I feel.” pouted Dani.

“You can do that?” inquired Jarod. When she nodded, he asked “Mind showing me?”

Dani grinned and so did Jarod.

“What sort of range do you have for… whatever you call that?” he inquired.

Dani shrugged

“Several hundred feet at least. You should try hide-and-seek with her.” suggested Alma

“I wouldn’t stand a chance against either of you.” he admitted.

“Still could be fun to try. There’s nothing wrong with practicing stealth.” claimed Cosette as she eyed Dani curiously.

“Sure. I’d like a couple weeks to prepare first. I have a few things I’d like to test out.” replied Jarod.

“I don’t suppose we can add ‘no gizmos’ to the rules.” teased Emma, though she was still watching Dani as well.

I hoped she was doing as I asked, trying to observe my daughter before becoming attached. Her discomfort seemed to indicate she was.

Dani spun around and attempted to hug Aurora, who had wandered up behind her, but Aurora stepped out of the way too quickly, grabbing one of Dani’s arms and examining it. The little fairy had followed Aurora and started doing circles around both of them.

“Daddy, I need my suit!” complained Dani. Then she slowly reached over and touched Aurora’s golden brown hair, grinning when Aurora didn’t move this time.

“Yes, but you need to go over designs with your mom first.” I told her.

“Designs? Planning a modification without me?” inquired Jarod.

“No, you’re here.” I teased. “Alma and I have been talking about the possibility of reducing the suit’s bulk by decreasing the synthetic muscle mass. If I’ve successfully fine-tuned my spells for it, there shouldn’t be too much of a drop off compared with the enhancement currently provided.”

“I’ve honestly wondered if the suit’s even needed or if most of the work is done by your spells.” admitted Jarod.

“My spells enhance what’s there first and foremost. Unfortunately, flesh can’t hold the enchantment, or I’d be able to use this directly on people. I did add spell layers which should further enhance the muscles of the suit’s wearer as well as general durability of the wearer’s skin, muscles, and bones, but there still will be a net loss compared with what the enchantment would do on the current suit design until you come up with even more incredible fibers.” I explained, having already seen what the suits will eventually become.

“I would have thought the spells used to add the morphic quality on my suit could be used to reinforce muscles as used. The effect seems to be rapid enough.” suggested Cosette.

I smiled at her as several of the others stared.

“What?” she asked. “I study and pay attention.”

“I’m actually going to be using something of that nature on Dani’s suit.” I promised.

Cosette nodded, not seeming surprised.

“Dani, let’s start looking over possible designs.” stated Alma, pulling Dani away from Aurora, who had moved onto examining Dani’s hair.

I didn’t know what Alma conveyed to Aurora with her telepathic ability, but Aurora seemed to understand, meandering back toward the vehicle prototype.

“I still am not used to the idea of you being called ‘daddy’. Might take a few weeks.” suggested Jarod after stepping closer to us. “Do I get to tell my parents?”

“Of course. We’re not going to hide her, though we are going to disguise her in public.” I explained.

Smiling, he inquired, “Don’t think the pink skin will go over well?”

“She’d certainly draw attention.” I agreed.

“What’s on your belt?” he then inquired.

“Pardon?” I inquired, confused at first. Realizing what he meant, I said, “Oh. Well, Excalibur draws attention as well, so I started using an illusion over it.” I hardly even thought about carrying it anymore. “How did you notice?’

“I wasn’t even aware that you decided to take the sword on your honeymoon. The way you move gives away that something’s there. You turn or step around people now as if you’re keeping them from hitting something.” he explained.

“Ah. At least I no longer rest my hand on it. That was a bit awkward for a while.” I admitted. “Care to show me the designs for this new project of yours?”

He grinned again and said, “Sure thing! I was hoping you’d be willing to work out a spell to power it.”

“Happily, though you won’t be able to market them with a magical power source.” I stated, curious what his plan was.

“I know, but I still haven’t found a solid solution yet. Aaliyah keeps telling me to give myself time, but impatience has been winning out lately.” he explained.

“Why not take advantage of Maxine’s knowledge?” suggested Cosette.

Nodding and smiling, Emma said, “Portentia and Mila seem to be keeping her out of trouble.”

“Has she inquired about making a new optical device yet?” I questioned.

“No. I really don’t want to work with her on principle, but she’s brilliant. I know discussing designs with her could be nice if she was forthcoming about her achievements.” he told me.

“She’s probably planning on waiting us out still, but I can try to persuade her if you aren’t opposed to giving her a chance. I’d like to believe she can change.” I assured him, already knowing she would change eventually.

He nodded, so I made a mental note to talk with her again soon. In my travels, I saw part of this world’s future, a future without strife for those who stayed behind, and Maxine was one of those who remained here. Things would work out.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 335

“What’s up, man-slave?” inquired Emma as she stepped into my office, glancing around. “This looks incredible.”

My parents had left shortly after mother finished her painting. Surprisingly, they accepted a ride from Mila, who also drove father’s car back for him.

“Mila certainly knows how to choose interesting landscape.” I replied with a smile. Mila contained an incredible amount of information from my travels. “Please, take a seat.”

“Is something wrong?” inquired Emma, nervously poking what appeared to be a rock with a chair carved into it.

Nodding, I said, “Yes, Emma. Doom is upon us. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save this world. You must cross the inescapable labyrinth, attain the heart of the world, feed it to the nearest creature you find, and then do five jumping jacks while singing Never Gonna Give You Up.”

“Man-slave, you suck.” she replied, crossing her arms and plopping into the chair she had been poking.

I laughed and told her “Sorry. I couldn’t resist.”

“So do I have some incredibly awkward job coming?” she asked, lounging backward.

“Oh. No. I just wanted to give you a warning.” I replied with a shrug.

Sitting up in surprise, she inquired “Like a formal ‘don’t do it again’ job warning?”

“No. This isn’t precisely work related. I wanted to warn you not to get too attached to Dani.” I explained. Seeing her slump, I quickly told her “I’m not saying you can’t date her if you really want or anything of the sort. I’m concerned that she might hurt you on accident. Dani is from a very, very different culture, one that doesn’t practice monogamy… or the idea of personal space, for that matter. She’ll follow her emotions wherever they go if her good sense doesn’t catch her in time.”

Emma frowned, not looking particularly convinced as she watched the little fairy napping on my desk.

“I know this isn’t the easiest thing to hear, but please trust me enough to guard yourself for a while. Make observations and come to your own conclusions. I’ll be taking Dani into the forest soon, and I would very much like for you to join us if you’re willing.” I told her.

“Are you nervous?” she asked.

“Of course. I don’t want you to get hurt.” I told her.

“You don’t really seem nervous. Something’s changed about you.” she told me.

“Marriage can have strange effects on people” I replied with a smile.

She nodded and asked “What do you think will happen with Dani in the forest?”

“She’s going to be swept up in the emotions of the fey. You know how overwhelming they can be for people. Imagine getting a double dose of their emotions. Dani’s empathic abilities are an inborn magical trait that she cannot shut off. If she gets too caught up in what the fey are feeling, she might start projecting her own emotions on them as well. Things could get out of hand very, very quick.” I insisted.

“Can’t you do anything to stop it?” inquired Emma. “I know you’re way ahead of me in magical knowledge these days.”

I shrugged and said, “I’m capable of dampening what she feels or even cutting off her sense entirely with spells, but I promised not to do that to her again. She was quite clear that it’s far worse than being blinded or deafened to her.”

“Really?” asked Emma, seeming dubious.

“She connects with others through their emotions and is accustomed to that just being part of her.” I insisted.

“I mean, the idea makes sense. I can kinda empathize, given how I feel when communicating as the fey do, but I’ve never wanted that feeling all the time.” she replied.

“If you’ll join us, I’d suggest using that ability on Dani while we’re in the forest. You’ll see.” I assured her.

“Sure, man-slave. I’ll join you. First, I’ve gotta ask how Dani convinced Alma to let her wear that outfit.” she insisted.

“That’s modest by her people’s tastes, though I’m sure my parents will be asking me about it and others later. You can just ask Alma yourself.” I replied.

“Will your wifey be joining us?” inquired Emma with a grin.

I laughed, pointed to the doorway where Alma stood, and said, “Really, just ask.”

Emma jumped and looked.

Rolling her eyes, Alma told me “James, you’re terrible. Let’s be off. Dani is already out back.”

I shrugged and followed her with Emma in tow. When we arrived outside, Cosette and Dani were doing tricks on the zoomies that would make the average human feel alarmed.

“You’re not trying to lure my daughter away for a bite, are you?” I teased.

“What’s wrong with a bite in the moonlight?” inquired Cosette, grinning at me with elongated fangs.

“I would very much appreciate having Dani intact when she first meets the rest of the fey.” stated Alma.

“But I can have a bite afterward?” teased Cosette.

At the same time, Dani asked “Where’s my little friend?”

“She’ll be along soon, I’m sure. Are you joining us, Cosette?” I inquired.

“Of course. I’m intrigued.” she insisted.

I nodded and led the way with Dani and Cosette flying circles around us. We were nearly there before my little fairy friend caught up with us, complaining that I didn’t carry her with me.

“Let’s leave the zoomies out here.” I stated.

Dani sighed dramatically before saying, “Yes, daddy.”

“What happened with Kayla?” inquired Alma.

“Jemal came to get her. She apparently hadn’t finished her homework today.” explained Dani. “He’s really umm…” she started, moving her hands all over while wiggling her fingers.

“Fidgety?” suggested Alma.

“Yes! Fidgety. He seemed to like me though.” she replied, casually hugging Emma after stepping off the zoomie.

Emma grinned at first, but the grin faded as she looked at me. Cosette came around to Emma’s other side and draped her arm over Emma’s shoulders as she leaned into her.

Spotting some of the fey already lurking near the edge for the forest, I said, “Well, here we go.”

Stepping into the forest, I heard Dani gasp. Her planet was filled with residual energy, but not like this. They used far too much of it and produced far less per person.

“Emma, is that you!?” exclaimed Dani.

Emma nodded, smiling as Dani hugged her.

“That’s so cool! I knew mom could do it, but I didn’t realize you could too!” exclaimed Dani.

Dani’s grin widened as she stared around. Numerous fey were coming to greet us. Flying, tunneling, rolling, and skipping, they were eager as ever.

“What’s wrong?” asked Dani, practically bouncing as she watched Emma stiffen slightly.

“Nothing. I just need a moment. Wasn’t quite ready for all of them.” claimed Emma before glancing at me.

I hugged my wife as the fey surrounded us. Dani, however, was already engulfed in their glee, chasing after one who looked like a small, rolling stone. As the minutes ticked by, her energy only seemed to grow. I quickly retrieved her when one of the fey started kissing her hand.

“Daddy, why!?” exclaimed Dani when I set her down a ways out from the forest. “They’re so… so…”

“Passionate?” I inquired.

“Maybe!” exclaimed Dani, obviously not understanding the word.

Alma was quick to join us, and Dani started calming down.

“That was interesting.” commented Cosette as she came towards us with Emma. “I never expected to see anyone receive half as much attention from them as you, James.”

“Dani has a way with people.” I told her.

“Magical way?” she suggested.

“More chemical, though I suspect her magic plays a part.” replied Alma as she hugged our daughter.

“Chemical!?” inquired Emma.

“Potent pheromones.” I explained. “She exudes a large variety.”

Dani stuck her tongue at me. “I hate that explanation. Can’t I just be likable?”

I laughed and said, “Sorry, but many here have inquiring minds.”

Cosette, who was nodding, obviously did. I wondered if she actually felt any of the effects from my daughter. I would guess not, given her biology, but there was always a chance.

“Let’s go see if Jarod’s in his lab. We need to get Dani’s enhancement suit started, and my wife will surely want to help debate the style.” I announced.

I already knew he would be, since Mila had shown me a little of his latest experiment. Jarod, Mila, and Aurora were building a sort of flying vehicle. Mila had seen enough on other planets that she could easily give numerous pointers, but I doubted she would be too forthcoming with alien technology. Dani, however, might get a bit enthusiastic.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 334

“James, can I show Dani the zoomies?” begged Kayla, mere minutes after finishing her meal.

The two were instant friends after meeting.

“Later. Mila, remind Dani not to take apart the zoomies when she sees them.” I stated, worrying that she might.

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani. “I haven’t done anything like that for… days at least.”

“But does she know how to put things back together?” inquired Jarod.

“Of course! Everyone takes…” she started, hesitating before saying, “note of what they take apart.”

She was probably going to reply with one of her courses at school, something akin to an advanced physics or engineering course here I’d wager. Luckily, she remembered not to explain how she knows as much as she does, though Jarod would surely ponder the pause in her response.

“Dani will probably want to hang out in your lab off and on if you don’t mind.” I told him. “I assure you that she will surprise you.”

“What about her hasn’t been surprising?” teased Jarod with an ear-to-ear grin.

In response, Dani started singing a pleasantly lilting melody about the surprises found wherever they’re sought. Unfortunately, the song was in her native tongue, so only Alma and I would understand why she started singing.

“Dani, you might consider asking Mila to acquaint you with more music here when you get the time. You’ll probably like some of it.” I informed her.

Grinning she said, “I know I will. Mom and you sing beautifully. Aaliyah’s songs are a dream.”

“Or a nightmare.” teased Alma with a small smile.

“I quite liked what she was singing. What did it mean?” asked mother.

“Oh… umm… The title means… Something Wonderful Can Be Found, I think.” replied Dani. “The song’s about finding surprises wherever you go.”

“Maybe you can teach it to me when we paint.” suggested mother.

Dani grinned with excitement and nodded. “I’d love to!”

“Is there anything she can’t do?” questioned Jarod.

“Control her excitement.” I frankly replied.

“Daddy!” exclaimed Dani, looking indignant.

“You know he’s just being honest.” stated Alma.

Dani sighed and said, “I know.” Then, grinning, she told us “But there’s so much to see and try! And this little lady keeps showing me fantastic things!”

Yes, my little fairy friend hadn’t even stopped showing us her adventures for our meal. Life here would certainly be interesting while Dani grew acclimated to it.

“Mom, I want to paint something now. Can I?” inquired Dani, looking to Alma hopefully.

“Of course. I think the others might be entertained by watching.” she replied. “Mila, is Dani’s studio prepared?”

“Yes, Alma. You know I don’t slack off.” insisted Mila.

“Sorry, Mila. Everyone who’s interested in seeing my daughter paint, please follow me.” stated Alma as she walked toward her old wing. “I assure all of you that you’re in for quite a treat.”

“Mom, you’ll make me blush.” complained Dani, though she was still smiling.

“What does blushing even look like with your skin tone?” inquired Emma, smiling mischievously. Then she noticed me watching her and said, “Er… sorry. I’ll behave.”

Looking forward again, I said, “Just like Dani will stay calm for an hour.”

“Daddy! Don’t em- umm… oh… wait… I know it! I really do.” insisted Dani.

“Oh, the suspense.” teased Mai.

“Yes, it’s killing me.” replied Ai.

After kissing Mai’s head, Jarod said, “Don’t make Alma roast you for teasing her daughter.”

Alma laughed, shocking Jarod, and said, “I’m planning on leaving incinerations to Fridays now.”

The twins stared at one another past Jarod, looking equally shocked, and were probably communicating telepathically again.

“Don’t worry. She’s fine. My wife is simply happier than ever.” I assured them.

“I really am.” agreed Alma.

“You certainly seem to be in good spirits. Ai and Mai must be wondering if you’re a different person entirely.” suggested father.

“Are you claiming I was dismal company before I was married?” teased Alma.

I heard the smile in her voice, but I doubted my father could, not with his relatively little experience around her and inferior hearing.

“Well… uh… no. I was just meaning…” he started.

Interrupting him, Alma said, “I’m only teasing. I was well aware that I could be more than a little moody at times.”

“But why, mom!? This place is fantastic!” insisted Dani, hugging Alma from behind.

“I worried over too many things.” she replied.

Though two of Mila’s bodies had stayed behind to clear the table, having shooed Marco after us, another waited ahead by the door. When I peered into the door, the hallway that met me was incredibly different than what I had remembered. The woodwork was the same, but the furnishings were far, far brighter. Paintings of forests, meadows, and stuffy-looking nobles had been replaced with vibrant pictures that were quite obviously some of my daughter’s works.

The painting she had made me when she was eleven, showing me one of her favorite nebulas in extraordinarily vibrant hues, was off to my left. On my right, a “family portrait” she made a year ago showed us standing on the shadow moon of Ternitus IV. There was a branch of my company now where we had been standing. I doubted even Jarod would recognize it as something more than an artist’s fancy. Mother was certainly interested in the paintings as they continued, but the studio was just a couple rooms inside on the left.

Dani’s excitement was boundless as she entered the room and looked around. Mother gasped as some of the paint canisters flew toward one of the empty canvases, leaving their lids behind. Dani grinned toward the rest of us, still filing inside. Then she began to sing again.

Alma walked over and leaned against me as we listened and watched. This song had no meaningful lyrics. All of Dani’s people were taught it as an expression of their dreams and desires. Humans couldn’t have the vocal range to manage many of the runs throughout the song. Dani’s people had a more complicated vocal structure than ours.

The streams of paint seemed to dance with the music, twirling through the air and lightly touching the canvas as Dani directed them. Part of my forest was appearing on the left half of the canvas in bright blues and greens while the right half seemed more of a collage between parts of my home. In a pink far brighter than Dani’s actual skin tones, she was appearing in the center, larger than life. In her arms, the rest of us were forming. I hoped she left room for the ones she hadn’t met yet, or she’d probably insist on repainting the entire scene.

Our positions and expressions obviously reflected what Dani thought of us. Alma and I were centered and closest to her with my parents just in front of us. The rest were taking interesting poses, such as Emma attempting to kiss Dani’s arm. Jarod was portrayed as holding back Ai and Mai by their shirt collars as they grinned viciously and reached toward Dani’s thumb. Kayla was doing a handstand on Dani’s right forearm while Jemal looked up at her with a worried expression. Marco casually balanced a tray of food on his head, balanced another in each arm, and smiled widely. Raine’s hair was impressively enormous where she crouched down to poke at one of Dani’s fingers. Portentia gripped Maxine’s arm, giving her a stern look while Maxine appeared annoyed. Cosette casually leaned against Dani’s left forearm, smiling as she seemed to watch the others. Brenna appeared confused, staring up at Dani’s smiling face while reaching behind her for something that wasn’t there. Aaliyah appeared on Dani’s head, laughing and pointing at the scene below.

“James, dear… this… this is incredible.” muttered mother, her eyes glued to the painting in progress.

All at once, the paint that had been twirling around the canvas dove into their cans as the cans headed to the floor. Dani stopped singing and rushed to my mother.

“You should paint with me. Please!” begged Dani, staring up at her and gripping her hands.

Mother looked hesitant as she glanced around. Then she nodded and said, “I won’t be nearly as quick, but okay, dear. I’ll try.”

I smiled as mother started examining the brushes mounted on the wall. She and father would probably need quite some time yet to fully grow accustomed to Dani, but things would work out.