"I'm glad you decided to come with me tonight."
Benjamin Rayner cast his companion a smile as they made the short distance
between the cinema and the local coffee house. "I wasn't sure you would,
with everything that's happened recently, but whether you're a computer
or a real girl, Cynthia, I enjoy your company."
"Says something for the rest of your friends, then." Cynthia told him,
her eyes twinkling with amusement. "No, I enjoyed tonight. The film was
good and there is nothing to say I cannot spend time with friends. So long
as you realise that I won't fall in love with you, I don't see there to
be a problem."
"Don't worry. I got it in mind that you're no ordinary chick!" Benjamin
laughed, pushing open the door and holding it for her. "I don't s'pose I
can buy you a drink, but is there anything I can get you from this place?"
"I don't need sustenance like you do." Cynthia shook her head, as they
sat down. "But I'd be more than glad to keep you company, Ben." She smiled.
"You know, I'm grateful to you for being so open minded. The evidence
you have on that tape could destroy me, and send your ratings sky high,
and yet you choose to protect me. It means a lot."
"Well, like I told you before, destroying people's lives is not part
of my agenda." Benjamin told her gently. "Don't worry. The tape is in my
office, in a locked drawer of my desk. As soon as I'm done editing up
the footage I have of Jewel the tell tale bits of evidence will be destroyed
and that will be the end of it. Noone can claim anything without video
proof of it, after all."
"Indeed." Cynthia looked relieved. "Again, I am in your debt."
"Nonsense." Benjamin winked at her. "What are friends for?"
At that moment a waitress approached their table and Benjamin ordered
his drink, casting his companion a knowing smile.
"Nothing for me." Cynthia spoke smoothly. "I think I ate enough popcorn
The waitress flashed her a smile, then disappeared into the kitchens
to convey the order, and Benjamin laughed.
"You're quite the actress." He remarked. Cynthia laughed.
"No, but I take lessons from Syl and the rest." She replied. "I've
heard her say that enough times when we've been to the movie theatre,
so I decided to use it myself."
"I see. Observation skills, huh?"
"Vital to my safety." Cynthia winked. "I make a habit of studying human
life at every opportunity. It proves most interesting and it helps me form
Cynthia's character into someone believable."
"No, I think Cynthia is all your own." Benjamin decided with a laugh.
"However, I'd be interested to see what kind of observations you mean. What
sort of a study of human life am I, then?"
"I make a rule, Ben, never to discuss my studies to their faces." Cynthia
offered a playful smile. Benjamin looked amused.
"I see. Is that another vital rule to your safety?"
"Indeed." Cynthia laughed. "You catch on fast."
"You're very close to Jewel."
"Yes, I am." Cynthia looked pensive. "It was Aaron who really gave
me my chance to live like I do now, but Jewel have always been the best
friends I could hope for. After the Holograms left me...well, I wasn't
sure I'd be able to trust anyone again, but somehow you can't doubt in
Copper and the rest."
"So what does the future hold, then, for Cynthia Benton?"
"We'll see." Cynthia shrugged her shoulders. "In truth, Ben, I prefer
not to think of it. I take life as it comes to me and enjoy what I can
of it, and see what happens next when it chooses to come. I have plenty
to occupy me, after all. My work at Misfit Music ensures that my salary
goes to help my old friend Kimber at the Starlight Foundation, so I do my
bit. I'm just happy as I am at the moment, without worrying where I will
end up next."
"I'll drink to that." Benjamin smiled. "And to us being friends, too!"
Across the coffee shop, unobserved, a figure sat silent in her booth,
listening carefully to all she could. It had been a total coincidence that
she had happened into the same coffee shop as her hated rival, but she had
congratulated herself on her luck when they had walked in. Then, when she
had recognised the Public Eye presenter, her joy had been complete. Did
he know? Could
After a few moments of eavesdropping, she had discovered her answer,
and it had thrilled her wicked side to hear it. Not only did Benjamin Rayner
know Cynthia's secret, but he had video proof of it!
"Well, that might be something worth having." She mused to herself,
taking a sip of her capuccino and considering the situation. "Not so much
as evidence, because it won't matter for long what Cynthia was. She's not
going to be with us much longer." A smirk crossed her face. "However...as
bait, it might prove very handy. Rory did say this morning that he thought
we'd probably have to lure Cynthia out of the protection of Misfit Music
or Starlight Mansion to infect her without arousing suspicion. This could
just be the break we needed."
She frowned, considering carefully.
"His office...Ben Rayner works for the same network that puts out the
Dean Stacey Show and Connie's Corner, doesn't he? I wonder if his office
would be in the same studio building? Worth a shot, anyway. Diablo play
Connie's Corner tonight. Perhaps in the break I'll sneak off in search of
a drink and see if I can find out."
She drained the last of her drink, tossing some coins into the centre
of the table and leaving, deep in thought. She had been fortunate, for,
engrossed in her own conversation, Cynthia had not seen her foe or realised
that their chat had been overheard. If she had, maybe she would have realised
that something was afoot, for there was a big smile on Stefana's face. But
she did not, and so the guitarist slipped away un-noticed, to continue to
plot in peace.
"Everybody, with their new single, 'Heartbreaker', here's
To the applause of the crowd the five-piece rock band took their places
up on the stage provided, enjoying the hype and the attention that their
latest musical release had accumulated. Hard work had brought them from Connecticut
into the care of Rebel Records in Los Angeles and though they were generally
in agreement that their employer was a shady character, all five of them
were loving the high life of California's music scene.
Four of them, however, were oblivious to the workings behind the scenes,
or how dodgy Rory Llewelyn's dealings really were. Stefana had long since
entered into a secret agreement with the executive - she would willingly
carry out sabotage of Jewel and Jewel's doings, so long as she was paid well
and up front for her services. The arrangement had at first begun for her
out of a desperation for money, namely to pay off her accumulating drug debts,
but as time had gone on and as she had given more and more attention to the
band she was targeting, she had begun to hate them with a passion. Not only
had Topaz dared to cross the line in - as she saw it - seducing her elder
brother, but Copper had committed the ultimate sin in dating Aaron. Her
dislike had bubbled over into blind hate and she no longer questioned her
motives. Jewel were there to be shot down, and that was that.
However, the remainder of the band were oblivious to this. Though it was
clear to them that their difficult guitarist disliked their local competition,
they had no idea of the inner workings of the situation. In fact, they would
have been most horrified had they realised that, throughout their performance,
Stefana was thinking only of how best to destroy Synergy. So absorbed in
her thoughts was she that she very nearly missed her cue for her solo, and
remained oblivious to the dark glare she had received from singer Madeleine
Dacourt. She cared little for Madeleine's disapproval - she had long since
hated the older girl anyway.
"Something's on your mind." As Diablo finished their song, Stefana's close
friend Marissa murmured in her companion's ear. "Are you feeling all right?
It isn't like you to miss a cue."
"I didn't miss it." Stefana retorted. "And I'm fine. I was just thinking
of something else, that's all."
"Want to tell me what?" Marissa asked, as they made their way backstage
to get a drink before their interview, which would follow the commercial
break. Stefana shook her head impatiently, lighting a cigarette and perching
on the top of a bin just outside the studio door. After casting the guitarist
an odd look, the older trio of the band continued on to the dressing room,
but Marissa stopped behind. She was never quite sure, after all, what her
friend might do, and Stefana berated the keyboardist's attentiveness. How
was she supposed to spy out an office with Marissa in attendance?
"It's none of your business." She responded curtly, then, "Ooh..."
"What?" Marissa noticed her friend's change of expression, and, following
the other girl's gaze, she frowned.
"Steffi, why are you staring at that guy?"
"He's Ben Rayner." Stefana said absently. "Presenter of the Public Eye.
He's cute, don't you think?"
"Sure, I guess so." Marissa looked taken aback. "Why the sudden interest
in him, though?" Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Stef, if you're thinking
of seducing him to get us on that show..."
"Oh, please, give me some credit." Stefana snorted. "I was just making
an observation. Who'd want someone poking their nose into our business twenty
four seven? Tacky, that;s what that is!" She lowered her voice, flicking
ash from her cigarette. "Besides, what in hell would I want with cameras forever
in my face? You know damn well that wouldn't do me or my rep any good at
Marissa opened her mouth to protest, but, seeing the look in Stefana's
eyes, understood. She was the only one to know about Stefana's closet drug
habit, and though it worried her more than her friend knew, misguided loyalty
had kept her quiet on the subject. Stefana had made her swear not to tell
anyone, and so she would not, however much she feared for the guitarist's
"Okay, so if that's not it, why the fancy for him, then?" She asked now.
"Cant anyone make small talk any more?" Stefana rolled her eyes, taking
a drag on her cigarette. "It has to be an issue now, or something, to notice
a cute guy? Geez!"
"You're in a bad mood tonight." Marissa observed. "What did you take before
we came out here?"
"Shut your trap, I didn't." Stefana glowered. "You'll get me into trouble!
Besides, you know well as I do that there's no getting that kind of stuff
past the security guards at this place. Remember that singer last month who
was busted for crack use?"
"Yes, I remember." Marissa nodded. "Which is why I'm so worried about
you all the time, Stef! We're in the press all the time these days, especially
since our song at Christmas did so well. People are predicting Heartbreaker
to be our first number one - the pressure is gonna get even bigger. Can you
really keep this quiet? I swear it's affecting you more than it used to!"
"Get a life and leave mine alone." Stefana retorted moodily. "You're my
friend, you ain't my mother."
"I know that." Marissa said patiently. "But what do you expect me to be
like, when you come in half crazy blabbering about purple people and god
knows what? I just worry about you, that's all. You're my friend, I don't
want anything to happen to you."
"For the last time, Marissa, I wasn't tripping acid." Stefana sighed.
"I know what I saw, and if you don't believe me well that's your problem.
Either way, I'm totally in control. I know the stuff I take, and it's the
same stuff I've always taken. Hasn't killed me yet, has it? No reason to
think that it's going to. Live a little! You never know when the world might
She slipped off the bin, extinguishing her cigarette. "I'm going for a
walk. You coming?"
"Depends on where we're going." Marissa looked cautious. Stefana rolled
"Well, if you must know, I was going to abduct Connie and demand a ransom
for her safe return." She retorted, her tone rich with sarcasm. "I want to
chase up Ben, that all right with you? He's a cute guy and I'm free this
weekend. I rather thought I might see if he's busy. Do I have your permission?"
Marissa looked chastened.
"I'm sorry." She murmured. "I guess there's nothing wrong with that."
"Thank you." Stefana returned. "Now, you coming? Maybe I can teach you
a few things, make Clay notice you."
"Clay has nothing to do with anything!" Marissa coloured violently at
the mention of Diablo's drummer. Stefana snorted.
"Yes, of course he doesn't." She retorted dryly. "Marissa, you're like
a book, and I know full well you have the hots for him."
"I do not!"
"Mm, okay, then what about 'dear diary, Clay is so-o-o good looking, but
I don't know if he'll ever think of me as anything other than a songwriter.
If only I had the confidence to see how he felt.' huh?"
"You read my diary?" Marissa's eyes almost fell out of her head.
"Dammit, Stef, that stuff's private!"
"Yes, well, sometimes friends share private stuff, like it or not." Stefana
shrugged. "Oh, chill, Mari, I was bored. It isn't like I told him or anything.
Besides, you were bugging me, I wanted to know if you did like him or not,
"I can't believe you did that!" Marissa's tone was both hurt and shocked.
"What;s the big deal? Wasn't much in it that you don't tell me anyhow."
Stefana seemed unconcerned. "And if I helped you get Clay's attention, it
would be worth it, wouldn't it? I thought friends didn't keep secrets!"
"Yeah, well I thought you had a thing for Aaron, considering how you had
him over our house playing computer tutor the other day." Marissa shot back.
"Go chat up Ben on your own. I've had it with you for today!"
With that she headed off down the corridor, very much on her dignity.
Stefana watched her go, then let out a low chuckle.
"Well, that was easy, and she'll cool off, she always does." She mused.
"Now for Ben Rayner...mm, maybe I will do as I said to Mari and see if he's
free. No harm in plugging him, since he knows about Cynthia. And well, if
his office is here..."
She made her way along the main corridor and up the stairs, pausing at
the top as she scrutinised the sign on the wall. Finally she caught a glimpse
of Ben himself, and a smile crossed her face as she headed in the direction
he'd taken. From an alcove she observed him putting a key in one of the doors,
going inside and letting it shut behind him. Silently she crept up closer,
squinting to read the label.
As she did so, a sense of triumph welled up inside of her.
"Benjamin Rayner." She murmured. "Bingo."