“Aren’t you going to take it apart?” asked Portentia, looking as if she was ready to rip the giant, metal fist apart with her bare hands to see what was inside.
“Eventually, sure.” I assured her. “I’m going to have Mila scan it first for explosives, tracking devices, et cetera. Don’t want to risk breaking anything, and a tracking device might be useful if there is one.”
“Aren’t you worried about her tracking it here?” asked James.
I nearly sighed, but instead said, “Ha. You’re joking, right?” He, of all people, should realize that we take jobs from all sorts of clients. Explaining away the hand would be easy if Maxine came peacefully and somehow managed to find her way down here. As I looked between him and Portentia, they obviously weren’t thinking things through, so I told them “Imagine what Alma would do if Maxine tried to start something here. Besides, the estate’s defense system is absolutely incredible from the little I’ve seen, and no signal’s getting out of here in any case.”
James pulled out his phone and looked at it. Then he turned it to me and said, “I think elevators block signals better, Jarod.”
He had full bars? “Oh. Mila’s probably relaying it as she does for mine.” I told him, realizing she probably did that automatically for him.
“No, I’m not.” she replied. “In fact, I can’t even find a signal coming from his phone. The princess must have installed some technology I don’t understand in it.”
I smirked, turned back to James, and asked “You say an elevator blocked your reception?”
He nodded, saying, “Yeah. When Portentia, Alma, and I got stuck in that elevator at convention.”
I barked a laugh before telling him “I have the strangest feeling that Aaliyah chose to ignore you for some reason.”
James looked shocked at first, but his expression quickly changed to consideration.
“Maybe we should take a look at your phone instead.” I suggested.
“But… but the fist!” exclaimed Portentia, sounding exasperated. “Who knows what we can get out of it! You might be able to find some weakness in her suit or find some way to hack it. You’re the tech master!”
I felt for her as she was practically pleading, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes before explaining “More than likely, I’ll just see the finger mechanisms and possibly a weapon of some sort. I really doubt she conveniently placed something in the fist to reveal her secrets. However, being able to transmit a signal that can penetrate this garage could have many uses.”
Seeing Portentia’s disappointment saddened me, but there was nothing I could do about the truth.
“Master, I don’t recommend examining your phone too closely. The princess is superb at keeping her secrets, and she keeps them very well.” insisted Mila.
“Yeah, she’s right.” I agreed. “I really wish Aaliyah would share more of her tech, but I can’t really complain to her when she does so much for us already. Oh well. So what’s this job you’ve hired me for?”
“I missed part of that. What job?” asked Portentia.
James looked between Portentia and I before turning to her and saying, “I’ve hired Jarod for the next few hours. Sorry, but there are a few things we need to do.”
“Oh. Okay.” stated Portentia glumly. “Promise to tell me what you find when you get around to examining the fist?” she asked, looking into my eyes.
I nodded and vowed “I promise. I’ll even give you the details if you want.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head as she said, “Yeah. As if that ever does any good.” Turning to James, she told him “Be sure to hire me next time. You know I’m a great listener!”
He laughed and said, “I never doubt that you’re paying attention. Sorry for stealing Jarod away. I’ll try to make it up to you soon.”
Grinning and grabbing his hands, she told him “It’s a date!” Then she spun around inhumanly fast and skipped to the lift.
“I’d call that another win for Portentia today.” I stated, watching her head up the lift. “Tired of your endless string of girls yet?”
“Asks the guy who seems to be playing with the twins.” he retorted.
“I’m not playing with them. We’re going to start dating.” I admitted.
“Which one?” he asked.
“Don’t know. Can’t tell them apart.” I replied.
James’ look of disbelief was incredibly amusing. Surely he figured out that the twins were telepathic by now. Didn’t he? Well, they were more than telepathic. They shared each other’s feelings. When I had nearly stopped the heart of one, the other felt it as if it were her own heart. The two weren’t physically conjoined, but they certainly were mentally.
James was just staring at me for a while. He eventually asked “That doesn’t bother you at all?”
“Should it?” I teased.
“Jarod! They’re two different girls! You know you’ll have to figure out which is which and pick one to date, right? As close as they are, there’s no way they’d want to share you.” he claimed.
He really didn’t know. I shrugged and said, “I offered to implant chips into their arms, but they refused. Not my fault if they don’t want me to know who I’m speaking to at any given moment. Relax. Breathe. If things get serious, I’m sure Ai will figure something out without forgetting Mai feelings.” I did my best to emphasize their names as a joke, but he still seemed worried.
“Okay.” he replied. “Just be careful. I don’t want any of you getting hurt over this, and you know those two can really hurt.”
“Did they tell you I managed to make Ai’s heart skip a beat the first time we sparred?” I asked.
“As I recall, you nearly killed her by stopping her heart.” he stated quite seriously.
“Yeah, but her heart still skipped a beat.” I replied with a shrug. If I hadn’t come that close to killing her, our relationship probably wouldn’t have progressed at all. The twins were significantly beyond humans, and I needed to be their equal, despite my humanity, to warrant attention.
James seemed to be considering what I said all too seriously. What was eating at him now?
“So I’m sure you didn’t hire me to talk about my budding romance. What’s up?” I asked.
“Want to take me for a spin? I haven’t seen your Mustang in a while.” he suggested.
“Sure, but my boss makes me charge for gas.” I teased.
“Well, you’re a best friend for hire, not for free. Losing money on a job would be silly.” he replied, still serious.
“So would be charging gas money on an electric car.” I retorted. “You haven’t gotten a ride since I reworked the old girl.”
He followed as I started walking to the lift. I fought the urge to let him take the lead. I still didn’t understand why being in front of him always had bothered me, but it did. Everyone always looked to James, including me.
“Don’t expect too much.” I cautioned. “I don’t have Mila incorporated into the Mustang or any of the digital works you have. I honestly haven’t decided what all I want yet. Aaliyah provided me with a power source when I inquired about buying one. No charge even. That’s another problem with my first suit. I haven’t figured out a good way to power it yet. Got it running with a power line at the moment. I wish Portentia could have cut that out of Maxine’s monster. I was really tempted to stick the power source Aaliyah gave me in there, but Mila would probably rat me out.”
“Would not!” she exclaimed indignantly.
“Sorry, Mila!” I apologized. “We both know she’d find out somehow though.”
James laughed, finally loosening up again. I felt as if tension just left the air, like I had finally started breathing again without knowing I held my breath. I mean, I hadn’t been, but the feeling was similar.
James seemed to be appraising my baby as he walked around her. Then he hopped in her like he had hundreds of times before. We spent so many hours together working on this car, and I still sometimes felt shocked that James was my best friend. Everyone wanted to spend time with him, but he chose me for some reason.
I eased us back out of the garage as I considered where to go.
“Whoa. You didn’t shift. Did you disconnect the stick without removing it?” asked James, sounding shocked.
“Yes and no.” I replied. “You see, I cheated a bit on your Aston Martin. Mila handles the transition between gears to smooth things out. The torque from my engine is enough to seriously damage things if there’s any misalignment, so I felt more comfortable with an outrageous computer handling it. For this, I decided I really didn’t need as much top speed, although I gained some back from a lighter car, so there’s no shifting. The shifter now controls the noises the car emits through the speakers to simulate a combustion engine. Pretty sweet, huh?”
“Yeah. You’re amazing as ever.” he insisted. “Wow. Sorry that I didn’t help out at all.”
I grinned at his sincere apology. “Don’t sweat it. I know you’re busy. Besides, I have a great job, an awesome place to live, and some cool new friends thanks to you.” I explained. “Things are going great for both of us, so relax. You stress way too much.”
He nodded, but still seemed to be stressing out. What could possibly be tearing him up this badly?