"You're very quiet this afternoon."
Aaron glanced up from the pile of circuits and wires that he had been
toying with, sending the hologram a concerned look. Cynthia barely registered
his glance, a preoccupied look on her pretty face.
"I said you're quiet. Am I hurting you?"
"No...no. I'm just thinking about things." Cynthia said softly.
"Well, can you give me a hand? I reached a part of your system that
I'm not sure I should touch."
"What's the point." Cynthia sighed, shaking her head. "Do what you
like, Aaron. It's not like it matters."
"Okay, what's up?" Aaron set down his screwdriver, casting her a frown.
"You've been like this all afternoon now...are you feeling worse? What's
the deal? I can't help you if you don't tell me."
"I know what's wrong with me." Cynthia said quietly. "I wasn't sure
before, Aaron, but when I think about it, it checks out. Parts of my hardware
are absenting themselves from my system, and my programs won't run as I
tell them to. I have a virus."
"I thought you were virus proof?" Aaron looked startled. "You've never
contracted anything from the net before."
"No..." Cynthia looked wistful. "No, this is different, Aaron. I think
it was designed for me. Oh, I don't know who by, but remember the video
tape that was stolen? I think that must have been the decoy...I think I
was infected then. It's the only thing that fits."
"I see." Aaron looked thoughtful. "And you can't tell me any more about
"I wish I could." Cynthia looked helpless. "Aaron, I can't control
what's going on inside of me at the moment. Something happened earlier,
something which led me to know that I had a virus, but I can't put the
events together and make a sequence of them. Parts of my memory banks
are out of order and my long term memory is playing games with me. I can
see faces but I can't allocate names to them all, and I don't like it.
I...I don't even know what my circuits look like at the moment. I cannot
locate the relevant data. I fear I cannot be of help to you. It wasn't like
this before...but over the last hour or two I've felt things...slip away
from me. I suppose maybe I should just stop trying to fight it. It's getting
Cyn, this isn't like you."
Aaron came to join her, his expression anxious as he sat down beside
her. "You're acting defeatist, like you're giving up...I've never known
you like this."
"I don't want to think about it." Cynthia whispered. "I am a computer.
We are made, not born. We cannot die...we just outlive our usefulness
and are replaced. We don't have any kind of feelings about it, that's
just how it is. There is nothing to fight about - a machine is programmed
to accept her fate."
"Which is what?"
"The virus hasn't a cure that I can find, and believe me Ive looked
through all of the memory I can access. Half of my files have been overwritten
with the word cyberdemon, over and over again, and it's beginning to make
me dizzy and confused. I might as well face it. By the time you figure
out the stem of this program, I will be of no use to anyone."
She spoke calmly, but Aaron was sure he saw a holographic tear slide
down her cheek, and despite himself he hugged her tightly.
"You're not just a machine, so don't talk like that." He murmured.
"You're a very dear friend and we all love you very much. The world -
Jewel's world - would be a much worse place without Cynthia or Synergy,
so don't give up on us now, okay? If you have a virus, well, we'll just
have to find an antidote."
"There is no antidote." Cynthia murmured. "She said..."
"I don't remember." Cynthia's expression was helpless. "My memory..."
She trailed off, burying her head in her hands. "I'm forgetting something
every few minutes, or that's how it feels." She whispered. "I don't know
how to stop it. I...I might not even know who you are by tomorrow."
"A machine shouldn't feel like this." Cynthia shook her head. "We're
not supposed to care about dying, it is a mortal concern, not a mechanical
one. Oh, but Aaron...I have never been afraid to die before. Not ever.
When I was abandoned, I never once stopped to think that I might never be
booted up again. I believed that Jerrica would come back for me, that somehow
I would be all right. I believed it right up till I couldn't process coherent
thoughts any more. But this time...I have so much! I feel so human...and
I really wish I did not, because I begin to know how a human being feels
and thinks! It is a mortal trait to fear death...but I am afraid!"
Now the tears came, holographic blips of light that flickered across
her projection and Aaron hugged her once more, biting his lip as he did
"It's not strange to me that you should feel like that." He said finally.
"Cyn, you're as human as a machine ever could be. You've spent so long
perfecting Cynthia that you've begun to think and act like a real person
almost automatically. Yes, you have a mainframe and a hard drive dictating
your actions but they're becoming habitual and second nature, and the number
of programs and enhancers you've downloaded off the net have only added
to it. You have every right to feel afraid, because you're as much alive
as any of us these days. Don't ever believe you're not."
"Does it matter, when I am going to die?"
"I won't let you die." Aaron soothed. "Listen, as long as there is
fight left in either of us we're going to attack this thing and get it
out of your system. But you have to devote all the run time you can to
reordering your files and fighting it off. You're losing ground because
you're giving up."
"Very well." She agreed. "I will try." She forced a feeble smile. "You
are a good friend, Aaron. Whatever else I might forget, I...I will not
let myself forget you."
"Well then let's get back to it." Aaron got to his feet. "Starting
with your missing hardware. Can you bypass whatever the block is and relocate
"No." Cynthia shook her head. "All routes are blocked, I can't..."
A strange, mechanical whirr interrupted her words and both turned to
stare at the mainframe. Slowly the monitor sputtered into life, and as
the pixels began to swarm together, a word became apparent.
"Cyberdemon." Aaron whispered. "That's what you said was overwriting
your files, didn't you?"
"Yes." Cynthia nodded. She frowned. "At least...I think I did." She
sighed. "I'm sorry. My memory..."
"It's all right." Aaron assured her. "I'm going to try and trick your
mainframe into reinstalling the monitor. Maybe then I can start hunting
out files with the codename Cyberdemon."
Meanwhile, upstairs in the lounge, Jewel, with the exception of the
songbound Nancy were discussing the situation for themselves. Copper had
soon passed on that the news was not good, and it had cast a damper over
the whole group. Cynthia was one of the family, as Topaz had put it, and
none of them wanted her ill.
"But Aaron doesn't know if he can cure her." Copper had concluded. "It's
horrible, guys. She's deteriotated even since this morning and neither of
us know what to do about it."
"Do you think she can be fixed?" Sylva, who had long since woken from
her nap asked anxiously. Copper shrugged.
"He doesn't know and nor do I." She admitted. "It's like nothing either
of us have seen before."
"It's creepy." Sylva shivered. "I don't know why, it just is. Cynthia
shouldn't be able to get sick like this. Should she?"
"I don't know." Copper replied gravely.
"I don't suppose...well, there's no way she could have picked up a virus
off the net?" Topaz asked hesitantly.
"Synergy isn't susceptible to those kinds of viruses." Copper replied.
"I don't think..." She trailed off.
"What?" Sylva was alert in a moment.
"I was gonna say I don't think that a virus would do this to her, she's
a powerful machine and she's careful on the net. Oh, but what if that isn't
how it's happened at all? Remember how strange it seemed, her getting the
video tape back so easily?"
"You think someone infected her with something then?" Topaz asked. Copper
"Im beginning to." She agreed, getting to her feet. "And I'm going to
go tell Aaron what I think, too."
"Why would someone do something so horrible?" Sylva wondered, once Copper
was gone. "It's sick...and how? I mean, what kind of sad loser sits in
their hovel designing viruses to kill the world's most sassy computer?"
"I dunno, but if Copper's right this whole thing could be more serious
than we thought." Topaz said gravely. "Think about it. A net virus or a
loose cable could probably be solved easy enough, but if someone with brains
has devoted themselves to this as a project, solely for the means of destroying
"You think it could kill her?"
"Yes." Topaz nodded. "I really do."
Sylva bit her lip.
"So what'll we do without her?" She murmured. "She's one of us, one of
the gang. I can't imagine not hanging out with Cynthia any more. Aaron
has to fix her, even if this is some creepazoid virus that some loser has
"What are you ranting about now, Syl?" Nancy pushed open the door of
the lounge, mug of coffee in her hand and manuscript in the other, tossing
it down on the table as she took her seat. "There, I'm done with that thing
for now. Total writer's block thanks to an unwelcome visitor at the door
"I beg your pardon?" Sylva stared at her.
"We think Cynthia has a virus." Topaz said quietly. "And if she does,
it was probably designed for her. We don't know who by, but Copper's gone
to tell Aaron. We reckon the video business was a sham."
"Do you think Ben is involved?" Nancy asked, looking surprised.
"Ben's a sweetie and he likes Cynthia. He'd never do anything like this."
Sylva shook her head.
"I agree." Topaz nodded. "He's straight down the line. Besides, he and
Dean are longterm pals, arent they?"
"True." Nancy nodded, setting her mug down. "Okay. So who then?"
"Who knows?" Topaz groaned. "Any weirdo in Los Angeles."
"Nance, what did you mean just now, when you said we had an unwelcome
visitor?" Sylva looked curious.
"Oh, just Miss Moron Guitarist herself, Stefana." Nancy pulled a face.
"Wanted to see Aaron about computer tutoring or something. I told her to
take a hike...why?"
"Does anyone else think Stefana is a prime suspect in all this?" Sylva
"Stefana?" Topaz's eyes opened wide, then, "Does she know enough about
"No...Syl has a point here, for once." Nancy looked thoughtful. "Stef
wouldn't need to know about computers. She knows enough about money and that's
good enough to hire someone to hack up a virus for her."
"You sure about this?" Topaz asked.
"Well, lets look at it." Nancy said reasonably. "Stefana knows about
Cynthia, and hates her beyond belief. And she was here at the house this
afternoon. She even knew Cynnie was sick...and I know none of us told her."
"You know, that is weird." Topaz admitted.
"Ooh, wait till I get my hands on that bitch." Sylva seethed. "I'll...I'll
make her give us the antidote!"
"Providing there is one." Nancy intoned softly.
"Oh come on." Sylva said scornfully. "What evil psychotic genius would
make a masterpiece virus and omit to make an antidote? Don't you watch
television, Nancy? Haven't you seen the movies about this kinda stuff?
There's always an antidote and the hero or heroine always gets it in the
nick of time. Duh!"
"Syl, this isn't a movie set." Nancy raised an eyebrow. "And there isn't
a hero or heroine. This is Cynthia's run-time...hell, her life we're talking
about, and it's real. If Stefana paid some guy to make her a computer virus
it doesn't necessarily mean that there is an antidote."
"Maybe not." Topaz said softly. "But I think it's worth finding out,
"What do you mean?" Sylva stared at her.
"Well, I have the starts of a plan." Topaz said slowly. "But it depends
on how much control Synergy still has over her projection units."
"Sounds intriguing." Nancy took a sip of coffee. "Go on."
"Well, all I'm suggesting is that we do a little bit of investigation
ourselves into the mystery." Topaz responded. "If Stefana is involved in
this, then the best way to find out about it is by blitzing the places she
haunts - Diablo's place and Rebel Records are good starting points."
"You mad? Just burst in there?" Sylva demanded. "Get arrested?"
"Well, yes, that would happen, if we were to go as ourselves." Topaz
"Huh?" Sylva stared.
"Mm, I think I'm beginning to see what you're getting at." A slow smile
touched Nancy's face. "And if you are suggesting what I think you are, may
I be the volunteer?"
"With pleasure." Topaz's eyes twinkled.
"Erm, excuse me? Bemused keyboard player here!" Sylva put up her hands.
"Well, I just thought we could play a few games at Rebel Records." Topaz
said slowly. "Listen up, Syl...this is what we're gonna do..."