Jacqui's Legacy: Part Two


The Story So Far...
After a difference of opinions with her oldest friend Rory Llewelyn, Ingrid Krueger has struck out for revenge, enlisting the help of the tricky Sophie and the technologically gifted Techrat to put the Rebel Records' owner back in his place. After tracking Synergy's emissions to the Drive Through Theatre, Ingrid learns that her original program was based on Jacqui Benton's personality, enabling Techrat to begin work on his own version of the computer.
Meantime, following the theft of computer componants from the FBI's lab, Darren McMillan is once more on Stefana's trail in search of a story. After someone passing herself off as Sylva accosts Stefana in a public restaurant, the Diablo guitarist realises once more that she's in way over her head and, in fright, she turns to Sadie, certain that Synergy is more dangerous than she appears. But giving out this warning may have dragged Stefana closer to danger than before, as Synergy's warped program files have taken on a personality of their own and are running out of control...

Chapter One: Sadie Investigates

"The last few days have been mental."
As Jewel made their way off the set of the Dean Stacey show, Sylva let out a sigh. "No kidding that this song's getting lots of publicity, but after two days doing the I look totally zapped?"
"No more than usual, don't worry." Nancy shook her head. "And we break now. We've got the afternoon off and, since the song is down, I'm not even going to write. I'm going to take a time out...I'm beat."
"You really must be." Topaz looked amused. "Coming back to the mansion to hang out with us?"
"No...actually I'm going to drive out to the beach for a while." Nancy shook her head. "I need some space and air. I've been working harder than any of you, you realise...I'm just glad that the song's hit the mixers and the video's in production. It means I can take a breather."
"Where's Aaron today?" Sylva glanced around the set. "Copper, did you misplace your husband or what?"
"He's stuck at the office. Three of the modem systems got disconnected and rewired late last night." Copper grimaced. "These pranks aren't funny. It's getting old, fast."
"We should help Cynthia dismantle." Sadie observed. "She's on her own and she's been worn round the edges recently too, with all the stuff going on at Misfits Music."
"We should." Sylva bit her lip. "Only I promised Jack I'd go see him and Courtenay this afternoon. I haven't in the longest time and I don't want to let the kid down. I did give my word."
"It's all right." Sadie shook her head. "Actually, guys, if you don't mind, I'd kinda like to help her myself - just, you know, the two of us."
"What's that about?" Topaz's eyebrows shot up into her fringe. "Something Stefana said to you last night?"
"Something like that." Sadie agreed quietly. "And before I discuss it with any of you I think I ought to mention it to her. She knows a lot more about holograms and stuff than I do, and I want to see what she thinks before I go making crazy conspiracy theories more public."
"Sure, if that's how you feel." Copper nodded. "I might head on over to the company and see if I can drag Aaron away for lunch and some free time not involving wires, actually."
"And I'll pick up Hol from the creche and spend some Mom and baby time." Topaz agreed. "So she's all yours, Sade - but don't keep us in suspense, huh? Whatever it is, if it involves us and the crazy things that have been happening - we need to know. I have a nearly-two-year old in the house who I don't want put at risk."
"I know that, and trust me, I'll share." Sadie nodded. "But I have to...validate something first, with someone who knows her stuff."
"Then we'll see you later." Copper dimpled. "Come on, gang. Let's leave Sadie to her little tete-a-tete!"
Once the other musicians were gone, Sadie steeled herself, then schooled her features into a smile, crossing the set to where Cynthia was carefully dismantling stage lighting.
"Need a hand?" She said softly. Cynthia started, dropping her spanner, and Sadie blushed.
"Whoops. Sorry. I didn't mean to make you jump." She said sheepishly. "I thought you'd hear me coming."
"I confess I was somewhat lost in my task." Cynthia looked rueful, reaching down to retrieve the spanner. "But your offer of help is most welcome. Are the others gone?"
"Yes - they had prior engagements, so I volunteered to come play Aaron." Sadie nodded. "Though don't expect me to make intelligent computer chat - that's not my field."
"The company is nice to have all the same." Cynthia admitted. "You played well today, despite your tiredness. They have barely given you a break in the last few days."
"I know." Sadie agreed, taking a grip on the base and holding it still while her friend worked. "Same could be said for you, though. No new leads on the stuff going down at Misfits Music?"
"No, none." Cynthia sighed. "I wish they would stop. It is most trying - being here, then fixing something there, and then watching Hollie. Working with Jewel and babysitting Hollie are my preferred endeavours. I'd rather not play the odd job girl as often as I seem to be."
"Steffi came to see me yesterday, after we'd done filming." Sadie said conversationally, gently easing the metal bar out of it's socket. "Here. She thought she'd seen you in town yesterday, but you didn't seem to, well, acknowledge her. Actually, she said you weren't quite yourself."
"Stefana?" Cynthia paused, looking blank. "I have no recollection of such an encounter."
"Well, I told her she must've been mistaken." Sadie shrugged. "I know you've been hard at work at Misfits Music these last two days, after all."
"Yes." Cynthia's brow furrowed into a frown. "Tell me, Sadie, where did Stefana say she saw me?"
"Cyn, in honesty, I don't think it was you she saw at all." Sadie sighed. "Only remembering what you said about that hologram of Jacqui Benton - it made me wonder. Parts of your old hard drive are still missing. Could someone have activated that? Someone who knows about you - to try and drive Stefana away? She has started to come around to being an ally on the whole secret thing. Is it...possible someone could have...?"
"Not at all." Cynthia shook her head. "Those parts were beyond destroyed. I made sure of it myself before we planted them. I would not risk the FBI - or anyone else - duplicating my technology."
She looked haunted.
"One such creation is enough for any city." She added. "The burden is already heavy enough on those who know. I would not have it made worse."
"Well, is it possible someone could have done something with it, anyhow?" Sadie asked. "Look, I'll be straight with you. Stef was in a state about it - she said that Syl had come up to her in this restaurant and challenged her about stealing the parts. But Syl was with us all day and Stef says that this Syl was wearing your watch. Only if you were working all lunch time, it couldn't have been you and besides, why would you do something so crazy, in front of a tabloid journalist as well as two of Diablo?"
Cynthia stared, the spanner slipping from her grip once more.
"What?" She whispered. "In front of...who?"
"Darren McMillan." Sadie rolled her eyes. "You remember him?"
"I could not forget him." Cynthia buried her head in her hands. "I think I am starting a migraine."
"Can you do that?" Sadie stared. Cynthia shrugged.
"Digitally speaking." She said humourlessly. "Just another thing to add to an ever growing pile of problems."
"Well, Stef seems to have convinced him not to print a scandal." Sadie shrugged. "But if someone has this technology, Cyn...we should be scared. You can do some incredible things, and you're really convincing. If someone else has that at their fingertips...someone bad..."
She shivered.
"I don't like to think about it." She concluded. "But it's the only thing I can think of. The blond girl who challenged us in the club, the stolen car, the vandalism and everything else. Now this. Someone knows a whole lot about you - and us - and is using it to their own ends. Whatever those ends are."
Cynthia was silent for a moment. Then she sighed.
"And Stefana believes it was me she saw?" She asked.
"Yes. But like I said, that'd be crazy...and I told her so, don't worry." Sadie put a gentle arm on Cynthia's shoulder. "It just bites because I think Stef was starting to trust you."
"I have trusted her." Cynthia nodded. "Twice she has provided me with useful information at her own risk."
She frowned.
"I wonder if I have done her the same courtesy."
"What do you mean?"
"Obviously in some way her association with me has made her a target."
"Yes, I think that's how she feels too." Sadie sighed. "It's all messy. I wanted to speak to you before I told the others exactly what Stef had to say. I gathered from what she said that Marissa was also there and saw this whole thing too - what Marissa knows I'm not sure, but Stef did say that she knew more than she should."
"It gets better."
Cynthia grimaced. "And we are finished here, thank goodness. Did you want to head back to the Starlight right away?"
"Not if you need some space." Sadie shook her head. "We could go into the city and hang out."
"More, I wished to do some investigation." Cynthia admitted. "If you would come with me. I would like a...well, a witness present."
"Investigating what?" Sadie's curiosity was piqued, and Cynthia looked troubled.
"If I tell you something, will you promise me to say nothing to the others of it yet?" She begged. "It's probably nothing of importance and I believe I have it in hand."
"Okay, if that's how you feel." Sadie frowned. "What's up?"
Cynthia did not answer immediately. Instead she slipped an arm through Sadie's, leading the way out to the studio parking lot. Glancing around her to make sure noone else was listening, she lowered her voice.
"I have not been functioning on all levels recently." She admitted. "And I have had...a few lapses of memory."
"Lapses of...?" Sadie trailed off, staring at her friend. "I don't understand. I thought your memory recorded everything!"
"So it should." Cynthia agreed. "But it is my belief that so much has happened of late, I have not been able to defragment regularly. As a consequence, my hard drive is cluttered up, and some files are being misplaced."
She sighed. "And also, I think some of my older chips are beginning to wear out." She added.
"Well, you have been through a lot recently." Sadie acknowledged, unlocking her car and pulling open the driver's door. "Have you mentioned this to Aaron?"
"No, and you must not either." Cynthia shook her head, getting into the passenger seat. "I know my system better than anyone and I do not wish to constantly be asking for his help. He has precious little free time and he should be spending that with his wife - not taking me to pieces."
A wistful look touched her expression.
"I know that I drove Jerrica and Rio apart, and look how that ended." She added. "Copper and Aaron are both dear to me. I won't come between their relationship."
"That's silly." Sadie scolded. "Jerrica kept secrets from Rio and Rio had an affair. That drove them apart. Copper and Aaron share your secret. It's entirely different."
"Perhaps so, but I would rather take care of this myself." Cynthia shrugged. "As I said, I think I have it in hand."
"But you think it might be...important?" Sadie's brow furrowed in confusion. "What kind of memory lapses are we talking about?"
"Yesterday I remember setting out on an errand for Aaron." Cynthia said slowly. "To collect components. Then the next thing I can recall is being outside the Star Drive Through. I do not remember walking there, or know why I should have gone there in the first place. I just know that I was there. When you said Stefana saw me somewhere, I wondered..."
"If it had been there." Sadie frowned. "No. But that's creepy, Cyn. I mean, not remembering how you got somewhere."
She smiled slightly.
"I'm actually in a position to know what it feels like." She added wryly. "The number of times I got wasted on something and wound up somewhere completely alien, I couldn't tell you. It's disorientating. I have no idea what I got up to...even now, some of those are a total blank. Maybe that's a good thing...I don't know."
"This is also my fear." Cynthia looked troubled. "But I must have gone to the Drive Through for a reason, and I'd like to find out what that reason was. Only I'd like you to come with me, because if I misplace that memory file, you will be able to recount it for me."
Sadie sent her friend a troubled look, then nodded.
"I'll come." She agreed, putting the car in gear. "Let's go see if we can't find out."


Ingrid Krueger pushed open the door of the run down apartment, leaning up against the doorframe as she searched for the flat's inhabitant among the clutter of wires. "Techrat? Are you even here?"
"Where else do you expect me to be, when I have such a lot to do?"
A familiar rasping voice came out of the shadows and Techrat shuffled into view, a panel of circuitry clutched in his clawish hands. "You're late. Again."
"I had a meeting at Rebel Records." Ingrid sighed, rolling her eyes. "More boring nonsense about this compilation. Riot is getting to be such a bore on the subject. He still hasn't told me if he even requires my services to write for it or not. The sooner we have this machine running, Techrat, the better."
"The sooner I do." Techrat corrected her. "You might have more computer knowledge than any other woman, but this is beyond your limited expertise."
"I'm surprised you know any other women." Ingrid said sardonically. "If I didn't need your brain, I wouldn't put up with the rest of you."
"The feeling could be mutual." Techrat's beady eyes looked the willowy blond up and down, then, "Human beings are entirely flawed and your constant whinings try my patience. But you have been useful and I will keep my side of the bargain. Come here."
Inwardly seething at the insult, Ingrid stepped carefully through the mess towards where the odd man stood. Before him was the computer she had seen just the day before, but already it was taking a more convincing shape and she knew that he'd probably spent all night working on it. Despite herself, she was impressed.
"You're quick as ever." She murmured. "Does it run yet?"
"I've reached a seminal point in the programming." Techrat shook his head. "I've been installing your digital likeness, but I need more than that to make her run. Thoughts. Ambitions. Memories. You said Benton's computer utilised all these things to run her intelligence."
"Yes." Ingrid looked guarded. "But I'm not sure I want to put anything of...of me into that thing. It's bolts and wires, Techrat. It's cold. Soulless."
Techrat raised an eyebrow, casting Ingrid a thoughtful look and the songwriter bristled.
"I am not cold!" She exclaimed angrily. "Are you simply going to insult me? I thought you needed my help!"
"I don't need your voiceprint." Techrat seemed oblivious to his companion's displeasure. "Your accent would be cumbersome to duplicate and entirely unecessary. The machine doesn't need to speak German, nor does it need to sound it. I merely need a template. I have compensated for the voice already - that's basic enough. But Benton's microchips are complex and difficult to reconstruct."
He affixed the stray panel, then stood back, eying her as if waiting for a response. Ingrid frowned.
"So what do I do?" She asked hesitantly.
"I've used old Stinger photographs to build a rough physical form for the computer." Techrat pressed a few buttons and the silver outline of a woman appeared on the screen. Ingrid squinted at her, picking out features she recognised.
"She does look like me." She murmured. "Are you sure noone will make a connection?"
"Not at all." Techrat pressed in another sequence, pausing, then entering yet more coding. "I've decided already to give her black hair, and dark eyes."
The image on the screen blurred and then changed, to accept Techrat's commands. "Well? Now it's your turn. Tell me what drives you."
"What drives me?" Ingrid stared.
"Emmet Benton programmed his machine to be driven by some weak human emotion between mother and daughter, if what you told me is true." Techrat was impatient. "You don't have such stupid and pointless motives."
"Oh." Ingrid pursed her lips. "I see."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"That's simple." She said softly. "I want respect. I want to be recognised and appreciated for being what I am - the best songwriter in the district. I want to teach Riot that he's not the only one who has a brain or a voice and that I can act on my impulses too. And, most of all, Techrat, I want one thing."
She clenched her fists.
"I want to win!"


Chapter One: Sadie Investigates
Chapter Two: Too Close
Chapter Three: Alex...and Synergy
Chapter Four: Conspiracies
Chapter Five: Split
Chapter Six: Searching for Jacqui
Chapter Seven: Stefana Demands
Chapter Eight: Playing With Fire
Chapter Nine:Athena

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