Best Friend For Hire, Entry 399

A month had passed since the birth of Mariasha, who started calling my son “Four”. He called her “Messy or Mar” instead of Mariasha, so I had been really tempted to say something. My wife considered the lot to be friendly nicknames. Dani had taken on babysitting them, spending time with my parents as they visited, which was frequent.

Today, those who were home had gathered in the ballroom again. Kayla, James, and Mariasha listened to Dani telling them stories on the floor. Most surely thought those stories were made up on the spot, not truths from other worlds, but James would surely learn one day. The rest of us were playing Ancient Tribes of Earth.

The front doors opened, and I could hear excited whispers from Ai and Mai as they accompanied Jarod toward us. Finding their reassuring whispers odd, I quickly retreated from battle and sought safety for my character at the top of a large tree. The nearby predators in the game couldn’t climb.

“Everyone…” started Ai as she entered with Jarod and Mai.

“We have an announcement.” added Mai, elbowing Jarod.

The twins were both smiling, looking completely happy. Jarod seemed… resigned? Relieved? I wasn’t honestly certain how to take his current expression.

He smiled as he spoke, saying, “We’re having children.”

“Both of us.” announced the twins in unison after a wave of congratulations.

There were more cheers.

“Not everyone here seemed to have guessed as of yet…” started Ai when the cheers died down.

“But my sister and I have an incredible telepathic bond.”

“So much so that we feel everything the other does.”

“You’re accustomed to seeing out of one set of eyes.”

“We see out of two. We taste from two mouths and smell with two noses.”

“Every thought is shared and every feeling.”

At first, they were taking turns speaking, but the last sentence was smoothly said with each alternating words. As they continued speaking, they spoke with perfect unison.

“We only ever share this information with our closest family, so we ask you, our family, not to mention this to others. We decided the time had come to share our secret because we’re expecting to be a bit touchy in coming months. Pregnancy can be rough, and we’re getting a double dose, so please bear with us.”

Grinning again, Ai said, “Maybe even forgive my sister if she snaps at you.”

“Not Ai. She’s doing it on purpose.” insisted Mai mischievously.

“So that’s why you both married Jarod!?” exclaimed Brandon, having been gaping at them for half their speech.

Mai nodded. “We can’t help loving the same person. Every feeling is shared.”

“When I touch his cheek, she knows how rough his whiskers are.” explained Ai as she demonstrated, grinning up at her husband as he kissed her head.

“I feel his lips on her hair and his arm around her. As we told you, we share everything.” insisted Mai, grabbing Jarod’s arm and pulling him roughly toward her.

Not resisting, Ai said, “Imagine reading a book and laughing during the death of your favorite character because you are also watching a comedian miles away who just told the best joke. This is our lives. This might be the lives of our children. We don’t know.”

“I’m going to have to rethink every conversation I had with you.” suggested Maple. “Can we talk with Iris, Dejon, Noelle, and Brenna about this?”

The twins laughed.

Jarod smiled and said, “Of course. Everyone who lives with us will be in on our secret, though I don’t expect Noelle to remember in the first place.”

“This is probably the most accepted the two redheads will ever feel.” teased Ai.

“Poor Brandon… Poor Brenna…” added Mai.

“Hey now… I still say that Alma’s borderline ginger.” he argued.

“Careful, Brandon. I haven’t incinerated anyone in a while, so I might be itching for a chance.” teased my wife with a devilish grin.

Brandon nodded, holding up his hands defensively.

“Dani, what does ‘incinerate’ mean?” questioned James.

“To eradicate through burning.” replied Mariasha immediately. “Don’t interrupt the story!”

Looking horrified, James said, ”Messy! Mother wouldn’t do that!”

“She was making a joke! Don’t get mad at me for what she says.” snapped Mariasha.

“You two are wonderful!” exclaimed Dani, squeezing the babies a little tighter for a second.

Only a month after Mariasha’s birth, and I didn’t think my daughter could injure Mariasha or James without effort. The two would need to be careful when their new playmates came into this world.

“Dani, more story!” complained Kayla, reaching over to take Mariasha. Kayla was really enjoying the babies as well, marveling at their ability to speak.

“Aren’t you too old for stories?” asked James.

“You can’t get too old for stories!” insisted Kayla. “Dejon reads constantly! I bet your daddy does too.”

“Father.” corrected James, but he seemed to be considering what she said.

“No one reads more than my mother.” argued Mariasha.

Reaching over to poke her belly, Dani said, “She prefers when you call her ‘mommy’”

“My sister calls her ‘mother’, so I will too.” insisted Mariasha.

“Your poor mommy is going to be sooo discouraged!” exclaimed Dani with a grin.

“Not possible. Mila told me.” argued Mariasha, crossing her arms.

Dani seemed to consider for a moment before saying, “You might be right. I don’t think Daddy’s ever managed to discourage her from anything.”

“But if courage helps you to do things even when they frighten you, why does discourage not involve fear?” questioned James.

“Hmm… I think that discouraging someone can involve making them too afraid of the consequences to hold onto courage.” replied Dani. “But good question!”

“Consequences? What could happen?” asked Mariasha.

Without a moment’s consideration, Dani said, “Daddy gets mad.”

“I don’t have a daddy.” replied Mariasha with a frown.

“Just don’t make my daddy mad.” insisted Dani with a grin.

“Our father.” stated James.

“Never make big James mad.” agreed Kayla. “But for now… more story! Please, Dani.”

Nodding, Dani continued telling them of the time we visited the Seething Marsh of Mor’gadlu Seven, making everything sound far more eventful than I remembered. Of course, even Gandalf from Lord of the Rings said that good stories deserve embellishment.

As I watched the children, the others had continued questioning Ai and Mai, who were being far more generous than normal in demonstrating what they could do. How many more children would be born here in the coming years? How many weddings would I host? New friends would surely join us, and some might already have kids of their own. The future was going to be a very lively place.


Best Friend For Hire, Entry 398

Sighing, I watched Aaliyah, Mila, and Alma step behind the white curtain, wearing doctor’s outfits. All of this was purely theatrical. Having been present when Aaliyah brought up the relevant part of the artificial womb’s delivery system, I knew that a child really could pull off this delivery. Aaliyah wouldn’t have needed effort anyway, of course, but she loved her theatrics.

All of this was for Chad’s sake. He was a nervous wreck. The poor man had missed Aaliyah’s birth, unaware at the time that she had even been conceived. The curtain had been put in place because he was confident he couldn’t handle watching childbirth. He did, however, try to take the day off work, not knowing he wasn’t scheduled in the first place.

“Is there something we should be doing?” he inquired, looking at me with wild eyes as he brushed his hand through his hair. He looked away again the moment I started to speak.

“Just waiting. You know my wife is a highly skilled doctor, and your daughter is the best at everything she tries.” I reminded him again.

He didn’t seem to even hear me as his hand feverishly worked through his hair. Focusing his gaze on me again, he asked “Do you think I’m a bad father?”

“No. Not at all. Look how incredibly happy your daughter’s been.” I replied, smiling at him.

“Keeping a child happy isn’t all it takes. I know you’re new to fatherhood, but… there’s so much work.” he insisted, staring at the canopy around us. We were sitting in the forest-themed section of his home next to the castle.

“Your daughter’s told you of what her life was like before, hasn’t she?” I questioned.

He shook his head at first, then shrugged. “Some. I try to listen when she’s willing to talk, but that man, James…” he replied, his hand tightening into a fist around his own hair. “Her grandfather was wicked. Had I known, I would’ve fought for her. I would’ve done everything I could to get her away from him.”

Chad didn’t even understand how true that was, not knowing that Aaliyah’s grandfather had taken her apart and rebuilt her as a cyborg purely for his research. Being who she is, Aaliyah wouldn’t even hold that against him, but the man had mentally tortured her mother for years before paying a man to kill her. Unfortunately, I was aware that his torture continued even today, trapped in his own hell indefinitely. I liked to think he’d be released eventually, removed from existence, but I doubted that would happen.

“Did you know that she considers Mila her first daughter?” questioned Chad. When I nodded, he said, “I never thought of it like that. When the house would occasionally speak, I simply thought my daughter had invented something nearly miraculous again. With her, a miracle a day is commonplace. I didn’t realize how miraculous Mila is, a sentient being constructed by human hands. Now she looks so… human.”

He stared at the white curtains as if trying to pierce them with his sight. “Another granddaughter is coming into the world, and I still have trouble relating to the first. I understand that as my daughter’s creation, she’s effectively my granddaughter, but… I know she’s not flesh and blood.”

“Well… the skin is living tissue.” I commented on Jarod’s behalf. My friend would want to give a full explanation on how beautifully Mila’s bodies mimic human life, but Chad didn’t need the full story. “Chad, you know that the baby was artificially created as well, right?”

He nodded and said, “But she’ll grow… She has DNA… some of my DNA.”

“Mila might actually in her skin. I never asked for the details, knowing how your daughter’s explanations can be.”

Chad barked a laugh, smiling for a moment. The moment quickly faded as Chad returned to mussing his hair, not that there was any still in place at this point. “Mariasha will be having the gear room. Aaliyah doesn’t think they should share a room.”

Nodding, I told him “That’s not a bad idea. Mariasha will be monitored constantly by her sister, so you don’t have to worry about anything going wrong.”

“But…” he started, his eyes showing worries over unseen possibilities.

I knew that feeling. Even today, my plate was full of things over which I worried, but I hadn’t worried at the birth of my son, having years of experience raising a child and countless resources to help him. Knowing with absolute certainty that I’d be able to arrive in time if he ever needed me was also reassuring. There was so much Chad didn’t know.

His granddaughter would be perfectly healthy, probably never even feeling ill. As a daughter of Death, Mariasha would be immortal in one way or another. She’d probably have abilities that would terrify most who knew of them; such was common in my home.

Chad couldn’t handle the truth. Like with Mila, he would struggle with anything outside of his perception of normal. Aaliyah squeaked by with her “miracles” because Chad felt geniuses were part of normality, some people being more intelligent than others. He never completed more than a cursory investigation of her claims, assuming that the project of a genius was beyond his understanding. Aaliyah’s descriptions of her father amused me, but I also felt sorry for him.

Years from now, Chad would die, and then he would be subjected to a practical joke. He’d move on to a blissful realm where he wouldn’t even think of this world, having lost his connection to those memories. His family would visit, of course, but even in death, he’d never fully comprehend how awe-inspiring his daughter is.

Though my children would eventually die, I wanted to know them as well as possible. Chad wouldn’t ever know more than the tiniest fraction of family’s lives. Of course, he wouldn’t have to outlive them either.

Both of us were pulled from our thoughts when a cry was heard. What would my son think of his new playmate crying on her first day? I wasn’t going to tell him and see. Standing, Chad and I moved closer to the curtain. Over a minute ticked by, and the crying stopped, leaving Chad looking worried. Finally, the curtains parted.

Grinning ear-to-ear, Aaliyah stepped out with her baby looking enormous in her arms. “Daddy, look what I found!” she exclaimed.

Chad was crying as he knelt down and touched the head of his granddaughter. If he looked up, he might notice Mila removing the gaming equipment that rested near the artificial womb. I mentally noted that I should ask my wife tonight about the fluids that covered her clothes. Though the womb did make use of an amniotic sac, I knew Mariasha had been cleaned before ever leaving it. Noting faint scents of lemon and tea, I decided that Aaliyah had probably spilled a drink on her for dramatic effect.

“Mariasha Evelyn Sarina Sypher, meet your grandfather!” exclaimed Aaliyah.

I frowned at her, feeling that “M.E.S.S.” was a bit cruel for initials, but Aaliyah merely winked at me. Alma had certainly caught on as well, but looked more amused than anything.

“Two middle names, are you certain?” questioned Chad.

“The paperwork was submitted immediately.” stated Mila as she joined us.

“I see.” he mumbled, staring into his granddaughter’s golden eyes as those eyes seemed to study him. “Her eyes…”

“Yep! Neat, huh!?” replied Aaliyah, passing her baby off to Chad and hugging him.

“She’s beautiful.” he admitted.

“Yes, she is.” I agreed, wondering what Aaliyah had done to create such an effect with her eyes. From any angle I looked, Mariasha’s eyes seemed to shimmer with a golden hue slightly lighter than pure gold. Part of me worried about Chad panicking once he saw his granddaughter in the dark, but Aaliyah was involved… he’d probably pass that off as a trick of errant light. I looked forward to seeing what our friends would think.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 397

Knowing that our son wasn’t likely to be tracking days in a week just yet, Alma and I didn’t bother mentioning to him that we’d be arriving on the day we left in England. Dani was sure to notice if she thought about it upon our return to Somerset Estate, but she was quite accustomed to oddities in time by now and knew better than to mention anything.

Expecting us this trip, the staff had gathered to greet us before our arrival and were now listening to my wife’s speech, introducing the next heir of Caerllion to everyone. There would be a press conference later today to introduce our son to the rest of the United Kingdom, but the staff—being as close as friends to Alma—were more important to her. Following the press conference, we were to dine with the royalty. Other royalty? I still felt the notion that I was a king seemed a little weird, given that I really did claim the title simply by pulling my sword from a stone.

Nonetheless, the royal family was dancing a thin line, given that Godric was against us, but he’d hopefully understand the importance of tradition here. If not, my wife and I would be paying him another visit to discuss the matter, which I was quite certain he’d want to avoid.

When my wife’s speech was finished, Alma and I descended from the balcony to let everyone greet James, who surprised many with his good manners. Even for someone of Slayer blood, being able to speak quite so well at one week old was unique, but most didn’t have my wife’s advantages.

“Poppy, move along.” stated Sebastian after the poor girl tripped upon her approach, staring with wide eyes as my son greeted her. She couldn’t seem to decide whether she was more shocked by my son or by my daughter, who was in her natural colors.

“Y-Yes, sir.” she stated to Sebastian. Curtsying quickly to us, she said, “Your majesties.’ Then she hurried on her way.

I didn’t see any need to send her off quite that quickly, but Alma had spoken well enough about Sebastian over the years that I wasn’t about to say anything.

“Have the preparations been made to visit my father?” questioned Alma.

Nodding, Sebastian said, “Yes, ma’am. I will tell the staff that you are indisposed.”

“Thank you.” she told him.

“Yes, thank you.” muttered James from her arms, earning a smile from Sebastian. As we walked away, James asked “Why were we thanking him?”

“For his service to our family, for his prompt execution of my will, and for his discretion regarding your grandfather. I have mentioned that your grandfather will be more like the fey in behavior, but please try to treat him with respect.” explained Alma.

My son nodded, staring around at all of the new sights around him. In the past week, his strength had noticeably increased. On the day he was born, he was able to hold himself up and exert considerably more force than the average small child. Now he was closer in strength to an average tween.

James could already sense magic, always watching the casting of spells near him. Now he watched as his mother disabled the traps protecting the area below. The long descent was equally exciting for him, but the fire startled him.

“Father, we’ll burn like that creature grandmother roasted!” exclaimed James.

“No, we won’t. No fire will harm me, and I imagine that you’re rather resistant to heat.” stated Alma reassuringly.

“You imagine!? Doesn’t that mean you don’t know!?” he complained. “Father!”

“Yes, son?” I asked, adjusting my spell to turn toward him.

“We’ll burn!”

“Only me!” teased Dani with a grin.

Smiling, I assured him “If we were to burn, I’d enjoy the shock on your mother’s face, and not a hair on your sister’s head will be singed.”

“Aren’t you worried!?”

“Not particularly. I’ve been here before.” I replied, patting his little head.

“Burning seems like a terrible way to go, doesn’t it!?” asked Dani, her smile taking on a wistful look.

“Your grandfather has sensed us. The mist around him is just for propriety’s sake, so please ignore it.” stated Alma as we reached the ground.

“What is…” started James, his head whipping to the side as Gruffydd came running toward us.

The feeling of excitement entered my mind along with a vision of Gruffydd gently holding his grandson.

“Hello, Grandfather.” stated little James as he was passed over from Alma to his grandfather.

“Hi, Grandfather!” exclaimed Dani, grinning at him.

“Father, this is James Michael Somerset IV.” mentioned Alma, though her father didn’t seem to hear her as he danced around with his grandson held out in front of him. “And you, of course, remember Dani.”

He casually took Dani’s hand with his free one. Aaliyah had thankfully helped him know Dani as family when they were introduced on one of Alma’s business trips to England.

“He responds before I even talk!” exclaimed James in surprise, leaving me curious what had been asked and said.

“Like the fey… and me,.. your grandfather can follow your thoughts to an extent, so he knows what you’re thinking.” explained Alma.

“But you told me I needed to talk after birth.” complained James.

“Generally, you do.” she assured him.

Gruffydd was hugging James and meandering away, so we followed him. After reaching a larger cavern, a fire appeared, taking the shape of a beautiful woman who danced across the floor. Dani, unwilling to miss a dance, joined the fiery beauty and started to sing.

“Mother so rarely danced.” commented Alma.

“But Grandmother doesn’t look like that.” argued James.

“She looked similar to that once.” replied Alma.

“Will I look like her eventually?” he questioned.

“No, you won’t.” insisted Alma. “Only Slayers transform into dragons.”

“Flying is scary.” complained James.

“You mean wonderful!” exclaimed Dani, returning to singing immediately afterward.

“Scary.” muttered James, trying to watch us as his grandfather spun around in dance.

Dani stopped her singing again and skipped over to him. Grinning, she said, “There are many, many things in the universe that are far more scary, but our parents will always arrive to protect us if we’re in danger. You don’t have to be afraid of anything.”

“Except your father.” teased Alma. “He has the worst temper when pushed too far.”

I crossed my arms and frowned at her, but she only grinned.

“She’s right. Never make Daddy angry. When he’s angry at you, you’ve really messed up.” agreed Dani, much to my chagrin.

Alma hugged me and said, “Don’t worry. Your father isn’t easily upset.”

“I really don’t think I’m that bad.” I told them all.

“No, my love. You typically have good reason to be angry when you are. We’re just wanting James to know that he has to be well-behaved, not scared.” claimed my wife.

“Or Daddy will be there, frowning sooo hard at you!” exclaimed Dani, still smiling.

Gruffydd seemed oblivious to the conversation, completely focused between his grandchildren and his fires, now depicting even more dancers. My wife and I joined in on the song and dance, knowing that everyone would enjoy themselves more if we participated too. Visiting Gruffydd was always a strange experience, but helping our children to know their other grandfather was important too.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 396

I covered my son’s eyes as I carried him through the closet door with my wife and daughter by my side. In that step, we traveled from our world to the planet of the dragons. My wife had said that not introducing our son to her parents within a week of birth was pushing propriety, but her mother wouldn’t know that we were at the edge of the week unless we told her.

“Wh-What!?” exclaimed James, staring around with wide eyes. “Where’s the house?”

“We told you. We’re visiting your grandmother’s home. Just remember not to talk about this visit with the others.” warned Alma.

“Or else Daddy might have to destroy their world!” exclaimed Dani.

I frowned at her.

“B-But… you stepped through, and now there’s no house.” he mumbled, still straining to look around. His eyes widened even more as the dragon mother landed by us.

“We’re back!” exclaimed Dani, hugging an enormous leg of the dragon mother.

“Welcome back, Dani. We were told of your coming.” replied the dragon mother. She angled her head, so one of her eyes was staring down at my son. “So this is the son of James and Alma? He seems timid.”

Few sensible creatures could stand before a being whose teeth made a human look small without feeling a certain sense of dread. Fortunately, my wife, daughter, and I ranked among the few. My poor son, however, was shaking.

Holding James over my head, I said, “This is our son, James Michael Somerset IV.”

Another dragon landed by us. Adelina pushed into the dragon mother, trying to get a better look at her grandson.

“James, this is your grandmother.” stated Alma as she motioned to her mother.

Our grandmother.” corrected Dani.

“Yes. The grandmother of you and your sister.” conceded Alma.

“Isn’t four people named James too many? That must get confusing.” stated the dragon mother.

“Sorry, but I wanted to continue the tradition.” I told her, wishing I could tell her how far I had seen that tradition stretch among my descendants.

Adelina gave my son a toothy grin. “Want to go for a ride, little one?” she asked.

“My head feels funny.” mumbled my son.

“They’re probably speaking with telepathy to you as well, but you’ll have to allow it due to a block you’ve inherited. When you get that feeling, try to push at it with your thoughts. Then you’ll hear their words in your mind.” stated Alma.

“I won’t see anything?” he questioned.

Shaking her head, Alma said, “No. This is the type of dragons and Slayers. What I use with you is the telepathy of the fey, like the fairy who often visits.”

“Fairy? Through my foolish descendants, I had witnessed the death of the fey.” stated the dragon mother.

“Only some. Just a moment.” I told her while mentally getting permission from Aaliyah to retrieve my little friend. In a few seconds, I was back to the dragons with my little friend.

The tiny fairy’s excitement was immense when she saw who was around her. She showed us a dragon flying off, but the memory obviously wasn’t her own., being from a body much larger than her. As normal with her, the stream of images, impressions, feelings, sounds, tastes, and sense of touch came in chaotic bursts, but the surprise in her was very evident.

Sadly, I wasn’t certain that she’d get to keep these memories. My impulsive desire to let the dragon mother see a fey once more brought her here, but the fey wouldn’t be allowed to share these experiences with my other friends. Suddenly, I knew what would happen… Aaliyah was just going to lock away these memories until Lilly’s time.

Adelina sighed and said, “Others are coming. If I don’t steal away my grandson soon, I might not get the chance.”

“Don’t worry, James. Your grandmother will keep you safe as she shows you her world.” explained Alma, reaching for our son.

I handed him over, feeling again that I lost something.

“Can I come too?” asked Dani, bouncing on her heels as she smiled up at Adelina.

“Of course! Take your brother and climb onto my back.” she replied, taking off the moment spells formed to hold them in place.

“He speaks well for one so young.” mentioned the dragon mother as more dragons landed around us.

My little fairy friend zoomed around their heads, communicating with everyone nonstop.

“My fey heritage gives me advantages in that regard that even dragons don’t possess. For months before our son was born, I was educating him. With how fast his mind is, I was able to show him many things.” replied my wife, smiling up at the dragon mother.

“Mind showing me?” asked the dragon.

Seconds ticked by, and I could only guess that they were using some sort of telepathy. I walked over to some of the other dragons and apologized for letting Adelina steal away my son so quickly. They would have half a day with us before we were going to England, and the days here were much longer than back home.

Before Adelina was even back, the little fairy had worn herself out, napping on my head. Alma and I were left telling stories of what was transpiring on Earth. Adelmar was disappointed to hear of his son’s behavior, but he had been warned that Godric wouldn’t make it here.

Alma, who rarely asked about my work off-world, was somewhat surprised as I told everyone of my projects in the rest of the universe. My company was faking the installment of an intergalactic network to start trade between several galaxies. Even my employees didn’t know that they were installing props, since the network already existed through Aaliyah.

The network was part of a scheme to advance the technologies of numerous planets, since they would all be in danger soon. Most life on several worlds would perish due to pollution spiraling out of control. Another would be struck by a wandering planet that had been drifting in the void for several billion years. Others were on the brink of war due to poor resource management. Through the shared technologies, countless lives would be saved. Of course, other problems would spring up, but I explained how some of those would be handled as well.

When Adelina returned, Alma and I introduced our son to the other dragons, eventually having to explain to James that he wouldn’t get to become a dragon. By the time we left, he at least seemed comfortable around them, and my wife was happy that her mother got to see our son. Hopefully, her father would be sane enough this trip to understand that he had a grandson.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 395

A few hours after the initial shock from my son speaking just after birth, our New Year’s Eve party got started, which was considerably different than last year’s. I now had two children, we weren’t in the Bahamas, and there wasn’t a bachelor party in progress.

Still, I felt everyone was having a good time. I wasn’t particularly surprised that my wife was back on her feet again already, given her magically enhanced body, but I did wonder if she convinced Aaliyah to help her cheat a little, given that she was already back to her normal dress size. I wasn’t going to ask, but I did wonder. If anyone else noticed, they took it in stride.

My parents were disturbed by their new grandchild. Amused, certainly, but very obviously disturbed as well. Despite the numerous times Alma explained how she was using her ability to start our son’s education, my parents weren’t ready for the reality of a talking newborn.

“Father, might I try to walk again?” asked James.

“There’s no need to rush.”

“But everyone else can walk.” he complained.

“Come dance with me!” exclaimed Dani, bouncing on her heels as she held out her arms toward her brother.

“You had several turns already.” stated Alma as she hugged our daughter.

“But Mom…” complained Dani.

“Mother.” stated James.

Dani looked up at him, grinning as she said, “To me, she’s Mom! I’ve been talking with them since before you were conceived!”

“Not my fault.” muttered James defensively.

“Tell them you want to dance with me!”

“You’ll just spin me around again.” he told her.

“And hug you!” she exclaimed.

He sighed.

“Your first sigh, little brother!” exclaimed Dani.

James didn’t respond, looking at her curiously. “How old were you when you started walking?”

Dani shrugged and told him “No idea! Older than you’ll be. I bet you’ll have it down in a week.”

“What am I missing?” he asked, sounding disheartened.

“Patience.” I told him with a smile. “You’re strong enough to walk, but there’s unstable energy coursing through your body. In time, your strength will be constant, and we’ll start teaching you magic.”

James looked like he was about to ask something, but shut his mouth when his mother started talking. I looked forward to seeing the type of etiquette she already had begun teaching him. James was fortunate that he wouldn’t have the years of softening her up that Dani went through.

“Are you sure he’s just not missing me? I’m certain you’ve been holding him longer each time.” teased my wife.

“I believe I’m next.” stated Father with a smile.

I kissed my son’s head and passed him off. “Remember: small movements.”

“And don’t squeeze too tight.” cautioned Alma.

“He’s not that strong… yet.” argued Father, smiling at his grandson. “Don’t worry. You’ll probably pass me within the year.”

“Really!?” asked James excitedly.

“Probably.” agreed Alma. “I expect you’ll be able to do this in ten years.” She told him, projecting an image of him lifting a car off the ground by its wheel.

Father, who had been teasing, looked surprised.

“I won’t grow!?” questioned James in despair.

We all laughed.

“You will. Sorry. I don’t want to guess what you’ll look like by then.” she explained.

“You’ll have a little friend soon. Then you’ll be able to learn together. Do try to take advantage of your head start.” teased Mila.

“Sister? Is the team working on another… like you?” questioned Father.

Mila shook her head and said, “As you know, Mother created an artificial womb months ago. My master failed to mention that my sister, being genetically engineered, won’t be quite human either. You know how competitive Mother can be.”

My parents still struggled wrapping their heads around Mila at times, especially when she was present in more than one body. The inhumanness of the act seemed to cause them missteps in their thoughts on her. Right now, Mila was dancing with Emma using one body, tending the food in another, and speaking with us in a third. The fourth was celebrating with Aaliyah and Chad across the city. Aaliyah and Mila had been getting Chad accustomed to the idea that Mila was Aaliyah’s first daughter for the past couple of months.

“She got competitive creating a baby?’ questioned Mother, looking shocked by the idea.

“How are babies created?” asked James.

“Science!” exclaimed Mila, quickly covering Dani’s mouth. “Assuming your mother hasn’t taught you a vast amount of information regarding chemistry, the explanation would take far too long for tonight.”

“Science? Chemistry?” questioned James, pushing himself up slightly to peer down at Alma.

“You’ll see soon enough.” promised Alma, projecting a barrage of images into our heads. There was a rocket taking off, chemical reactions in beakers, growth of plants, demonstrations on combustion engines, and numerous medicinal practices.

To my mother, Mila explained “Though Mother’s DNA went into my sister, she engineered the rest from scratch, basing the design off what she knew from those here. I doubt anyone read far enough in the employment agreement to notice, but there is a clause related to the use of DNA samples from the yearly medical checkups for the furtherment of mad science. Yes, the clause really does state ‘mad science’, not medical experimentation.”

“Couldn’t that cause legal issues?” inquired Father, looking slightly confused.

“You underestimate Mother’s love of obfuscation. ‘Mad science’ is further defined in no less than two hundred other sections. On occasion, I postulate the methods she used to get her law degree at such a young age. My favorite theory involves her confounding doctorates to such an extent that she was granted the degree just to get rid of her.” replied Mila with a small smile. “I’m sure scientists would have tried keeping her around for further explanations into her own theories, but decent lawyers know when to cut their losses.”

“Mother… all of that was still English?” questioned James.

Nodding, Alma said, “Yes, James. You’ll learn. You should also note that you never want to ask Aaliyah for detailed explanations. Even her own daughter won’t push that too far.”

“She’s right.” agree Mila.

I could unfortunately imagine⁠—in a very vague sense⁠—the Yottabytes of data Aaliyah would casually dump on Mila in explanation of some obscure theory. That being said, I would wager a planet that an honest explanation of seemingly simple acts by Aaliyah could take even more explanation, given what I knew of her. She might brush her hand through her hair, seemingly to push it out of her eyes while changing the fate of a galaxy.

James fell asleep before midnight, much to my surprise. I had guessed that he’d be awake for days, but this was only his first. There were many more to come.

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 394

December was packed with birthday celebrations. Mick, now accustomed to being a wereraven, celebrated his birthday in our home with our friends and his family, who were regular guests at Somerset Estate. The Storms enjoyed the opportunity to practice using their abilities in a risk-free environment as much as the rest of us.

My parents insisted on celebrating Father’s birthday in my home as well, still gushing over my wife and asking when the baby would be born. I knew that the feast was far larger than we ever shared for his birthday before, but the party still seemed low-key to me compared with what a majority of my friends enjoyed. Dani insisted on entertaining her grandfather with a traditional performance from her culture. I wasn’t entirely truthful in my translation of the lyrics for him, knowing he’d find the song a touch lewd if he understood the actual words, but my daughter’s people didn’t see it that way.

Half a week before Christmas, Jemal and Maple slipped away for a quiet celebration on their own before coming back to the house for Maple’s larger party. Her family’s first reactions to my home were priceless. Rowan Ash Wood, Maple’s little sister, insisted on applying immediately after seeing where her sister worked. Apparently, Rowan had been under the impression that Maple’s job was dull, given how little Maple told her of it. Maple, however, insisted that Rowan tuned out whenever Maple mentioned her job.

Noelle’s sister and brother-in-law made an appearance for Christmas, which was also a joint party for Noelle’s birthday. Thanks to a little help from Dejon’s power, Noelle actually managed to remember her brother-in-law’s name, which shocked Jamie. There was cake, presents for everyone, and even Noelle seemed certain that she had a wonderful day by the end. She rarely got to be so certain about anything, making the day extra wonderful in her opinion.

Then on December the Thirty-First, my wife went into labor. Mother was shocked on many levels. For one, Alma wasn’t even in pain, at least none that she’d admit to having. She calmly told Mother about what birth was typically like for the stronger members of the Slayer family, commenting on the incredible resilience of their bodies. She did admit that her strong fey heritage made this incredibly different in a rather important aspect.

Alma was in contact with our child, explaining what was happening. Our child’s mind was far, far more advanced than a human’s could be at this stage. Months of education surely helped, but that much was very typical for someone of Alma’s station in her family. Another shock to my parents was that Aaliyah was the one delivering the baby.

“James, are you… I mean… I know she’s brilliant, but…” started my father, seeming uncertain on where to go with his argument.

“She’s also planning on delivering her own child soon, so consider this practice for her.” I replied with a shrug. We had stayed in the hallway for this discussion, since Father didn’t want to be overheard by Aaliyah, Mila, Mother, Dani, and the twins. He still tended to forget that Mila would hear us anywhere in the house.

“What!?” he exclaimed, looking confused and shocked by the idea.

“I believe I told you about the artificial womb at Chad’s place.”

“Well, yes… but… I didn’t really want to believe it.” he mumbled.

Patting his shoulder, I said, “Strange world, isn’t it?”

He nodded.

“As far as Aaliyah’s abilities as a doctor, I trust her completely. There’s not a single question you could ask about anatomy which she couldn’t answer. Whether you’d want to sit through the entire explanation is a different matter.” I explained.

“She’s just so young…”

“Unlike most mothers, my wife is completely aware of the position of her baby as well as the child’s mental state. Being a medical doctor herself, she could manage the whole procedure using her magic if needed. We have quite a few advantages going for us. Besides, I’ve told you before that the child won’t be very human physically. I wouldn’t be too surprised if I’ll have to make a repair or two around here the first time my kid throws a tantrum.”

Father sighed and leaned against the wall. “You’re awfully calm for a man whose wife is in labor.” he commented.

I nodded.

“Why do you keep looking at the ceiling?”

“Really want to know?” I questioned.

“Well… yes. Yes, I do.” he told me.

“I believe we’re about to be under attack. Please, excuse me for a moment. This won’t take long.” I assured him, sprinting off to take control of the magical node maintaining my vault. Once inside, I was very aware of the asteroid Godric was guiding. I had felt the huge quantities of magic he had been using for the past several months, but I felt a touch of annoyance that he picked today to finish his act.

If Raine had been a little more experienced, I would have asked her to deal with this, but she was young and I was here. Not wanting to confuse anyone who might have spotted the rock, I created an illusion of the asteroid as I vaporized the real one. The illusion would act out the rock’s entry into the atmosphere and leave people believing that any bits that managed to land just didn’t cause enough damage to matter.

Realizing that I accidentally isolated Godric in his manor during my flash of annoyance, I created a way for him to escape… eventually. He’d hopefully think twice before attacking here again.

Father was gone when I entered the hallway where I had left him, so I went in to see my wife, who had veiled a chunk of the room in an illusion of mist.

“James! What’s this about an attack?” questioned Mother.

“Just an asteroid. It’s gone now.”

“Just an asteroid? What happened?” inquired Father in obvious distress.

“I utilized a rather larger energy source nearby to vaporize it and leave an illusion. Nothing to worry about. I promise.” I told him. Glancing at my wife, I said, “I may have locked Godric up for a bit. Sorry.”

She shrugged and said, “His fault for picking today.”

Dani laughed and said, “I can’t believe anyone would think an asteroid is a threat.”

Father stared at her dumbly.

“What? Don’t you have a…” she started before I covered her mouth, shaking my head.

“Sorry. Dani’s ideas of defense systems can be a little out there for the technology of the world.” I explained, patting my daughter’s head when she stopped resisting.

“Son, who can blame her given this place.” stated Father.

“Still… an asteroid. Are you sure we’re safe?” questioned Mother.

Putting my parents at ease took a couple hours, but we eventually managed. Barely two hours later, my son was born and named James Michael Somerset IV. Mother was completely flabbergasted by the incredibly quick and easy labor, but Alma and I reminded her again that we had certain advantages going for us.

Aaliyah’s examination of my son seemed more like a comedy routine than necessary procedure, but the little guy endured it. He was already opening his eyes and looking around the room by the time she finished. Alma quickly snatched our son with a spell, smiling at him as she took him into her arms. Our baby boy started making incomprehensible noises, but he wasn’t crying.

She had barely dressed and left the room when our friends started gathering in the hall to see the baby. There were plenty of requests to hold our son, but Alma wasn’t giving him up just yet. I trusted her judgement, as she was surely communicating with him still.

Even I was shocked when my son suddenly said his first words: “Mother, you’re shorter than I expected. Mind lifting me higher?”

Best Friend For Hire, Entry 393

November came. We had a memorial for Raine’s mother, Eliza, on the fourth, since Raine wanted to do something for it, not that she actually managed to ask. She had always known that her mother feared her, which was part of the reason she feared herself, but they’d had a few wonderful times as well.

Raine told us of her fondest memories, such as when they spent an entire day roaming the city as cats. When Raine was three, her mother had thrown her a princess party, inviting all of the other werecats from the area. At eight, Raine received her first computer and was introduced to MMO RPGs, which became a shared interest for the two of them.

Sadly, all of the events after Raine’s fourth birthday were overshadowed by her mother’s fear. Raine didn’t say anything of the sort, but I could read between the lines and had extra information. Raine didn’t really celebrate birthdays after turning four until she turned eight. Unlike most of us, Raine remembered being born and every day since in clarity that would make people with an eidetic memory envious. She remembered those years of her mother jumping at Raine’s approach, the fear in Eliza’s eyes, and the smell of terror.

Aaliyah had told me of Eliza’s struggles, trying to win the battle over her fear. She still loved Raine, but her daughter had made a nightmarish scene of their attackers that Eliza just couldn’t forget. Raine knew, of course, in the way of a brilliant child who could hear her mother’s conversations clear across the city couldn’t help knowing. I was thankful that Aaliyah would eventually let them talk again, after they both were ready. Eliza would be proud of her daughter.

The day after the memorial was Cosette’s birthday. She wanted a small celebration again, so we gave her that, making sure everyone was free to attend. Vito, Papak, Zachary, and Ariadne made an appearance as well, a great honor for any vampire. Surprisingly for most, there were token gifts sent from part of the Slayer family as well. I was warned in advance, so I didn’t search them all for traps.

On the eleventh, Alma, our unborn child, and I jumped out of space and time with Regina’s spirit to celebrate my departed friend’s birthday. My wife didn’t approve of how Regina clung to me, but neither of us said anything. Regina’s memories weren’t intact, and Aaliyah was not about to break her agreement with Regina. As much as I disapproved of Regina’s choice, I would respect her wish. I appreciated the protection she granted my home and felt spending a day’s worth of time with her each year for eternity was the least I could do.

When Thanksgiving arrived, Best Friend For Hire, the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce, and Global Princess Entertainment hosted a charity event for anyone who wanted a free meal out of a block’s worth of buildings we purchased and renovated for this and future similar occasions. Best Friend For Hire provided some of the staff, though we enlisted volunteers as well. The Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce provided enough food for tens of thousands of people, which most would find impressive, not knowing what a miniscule fraction of the daily output that was.

Global Princess Entertainment made the entire ordering and delivery process automated, mass-producing the electronic waiters designed by Aurora, Mila, Jarod, and Maxine. Aaliyah’s company also provided streaming movies, games, and other types of entertainment throughout the buildings, leaving my team and the volunteers with only cleaning to handle, which was largely restricted to the garbage which made its way outdoors. The automated waiters handled clearing tables and cleaning floors within the buildings.

The feast upon returning home was even bigger than last year. Of course, there were more people in my company to feed, but I was certain that Marco didn’t want to be outdone, even though the rest of us had been given opportunities to eat on breaks earlier. My parents, who had volunteered at the earlier event, also came to the feast at my home, taking plenty of leftovers when they left.

November thirtieth found me pacing in the morning. There was nothing special happening on that day, but there were many December birthdays to consider. Mick, my father, Maple, and Noelle were all born in December. I knew those weren’t the birthdays that had me pacing. In December—thirty-one days at most, I’d have a second child. Well… thirty-one days for other people. An irritating thought in the back of my head wouldn’t let me ignore the fact that there’d probably be numerous months for me still, out on business throughout time and space. This child would be the first of my blood, possibly even bearing my name.

“James, you’re pacing.” stated Alma as she walked into the office, her pregnancy showing beneath the elegant gown she wore.

“Going somewhere?” I questioned.

“Oh, no. Dani wanted me to join her, Cosette, Heloise, Emma, Iris, and Aaliyah in playing princess later. Dressing up is apparently a requirement, even though we’ll be using the VR set to have an in-depth experience of being a princess during times of war.” she explained.

“She convinced Iris to dress up as a princess?” I asked, feeling amused by the idea. Iris was more of a tomboy, rarely wearing anything distinctly girly, and she typically wasn’t inclined to play video games.

“The whole scenario is to start off with our parents being slaughtered at a meeting of the crowns. Each of our characters will have reason to believe one of the others is the culprit, so there’s going to be a tremendous amount of action involved. Besides, you know what turning down our daughter is like.”

I nodded, still smiling.

“So why are you pacing? Get more bad news?”

Stepping over to her, I twirled her around, hugging her as I kissed her head. Without me needing to say a word, Mila provided music for us to dance.

“We’re having a child soon. Unlike you, I don’t know the gender and am not speaking frequently with him or her yet.”

“You do every night.” she interjected. She was wonderful at letting me share in the fey-like communication. She even convinced my parents to try, after revealing that our child had already spoken a few words.

“Still isn’t nearly as much as you.” I insisted. “I’m anxious. I’ve managed to avoid knowing too much, so I don’t know what to expect! This is exciting and somewhat frightening to me. Our child might walk on his or her first day! Even you can’t say what sort of magic our child might have, though some ability with heat would make sense. We’ll have to be on guard for at least a month… Only a month? I know you spent your life accustomed to the idea that your child would be superhuman, but the idea still excites me… and worries me. There’s so much restraint required in interacting with other beings. Will it be tough for our child?”

Alma shrugged “Our child will learn. We’ll be there to keep everyone safe, and Aaliyah has assured us both that things will go well. What more do you want?”

I shrugged and then kissed her as the song ended. “Best be off before Dani declares you late.” I told her.

She hugged me and said, “Relax, my love. I know you can’t grow physically ill, but you shouldn’t let your anxieties get in the way of our joy.”

“I won’t.” I promised, waving when she left. Soon, we’d be raising a second child.