"Well, here we are."
Sadie pulled her car to a stop outside the Star Drive Through, pushing open the driver's door and stepping out onto the dusty trackway. "But I don't know what we're looking for, Cyn. This place is derelict. Maybe you came back here simply because it was once a kind of home for you? I don't know. But I'm not sure it's even safe to go in, after you brought down the house."
"The FBI made it sound before conducting their secondary investigation." Cynthia said with a shrug, following her friend's example and staring up at the old brick building. "I will make sure you are in no danger, Sadie. And I appreciate your company and your help. I don't know what I am looking for, either. I just hope I know if I find it."
Sadie frowned, reaching in her pocket for her cigarettes and lighting one, exhaling a cloud of smoke.
"So where do we start?" She asked. "Where were you when you realised you were here? Outside or in?"
"Inside." Cynthia responded. "And so inside we must go, too."
"I suppose it's a crazy thing to suggest," Sadie said slowly, as they made their way carefully into the building. "But if someone does have your kind of technology on hand, they couldn't be experimenting on you, could they? Controlling you from afar? Making you take little trips as if to, I don't know, disorientate and distract you?"
"I have considered the possibility." Cynthia agreed. "But I have tried to locate a foreign signal in vain. I believe my explanation is the most likely one. I need to defragment, badly, and my hard drive is cluttered. I have had such little time off, there just hasn't been an opportunity."
"Then that's what you should be doing now, instead of trudging around this place." Sadie flicked ash onto the floor. "There's nothing here. Not now."
"No...not now." Cynthia echoed sadly, running a holographic finger along the dusty walls. "I do always feel something for this place, though. My home from home. More so since Jerrica died - as if that part of my memory is made stronger within me because of it. Emmet would come here and he'd share parts of his life with me - things he never told anyone else. I was the only other being who knew he was sick - aside from his doctor. He entrusted me with everything. I still wonder if he'd think I let him down."
"Irene used to tell me that we can only do so much - we can't save the world." Sadie said thoughtfully. "She was my counsellor, back in England. Whenever I'd feel like I was useless or unable to do something, she'd tell me that. That we can only do our best and that's all. You did your best for Jerrica. Noone who knew you then could dispute that."
"Rio did." Cynthia glanced at the floor. "Perhaps he was right. Either way it is past changing now. I have begun to accept that she is not coming back, Sadie. Strange as it seems, it has taken this long."
"It took me a lot longer to accept that about Mom." Impulsively Sadie hugged her friend. "Seriously - several years, an abusive boyfriend and a drug addiction before the people in rehab dragged it all out of me and made me face it and deal with it."
She glanced up at the ceiling nervously. "There are cracks everywhere. Are you sure we're safe?"
"I am quite sure." Cynthia agreed. "Else I would not have let you inside. The cracks are superficial - the after effects of Aaron and my efforts to conceal my identity, nothing more."
She made her way across to the far wall, running her hands along the brickwork until she found the power outlet.
"What is it?" Sadie hurried to join her. "You found something?"
"No...I found nothing." Cynthia sighed. "If someone or something was operating a computer out of here, they would need power. But the power socket is untouched."
"It doesn't look all that safe." Sadie looked doubtful. "Would they risk it?"
"Truly, I don't know. I'm clutching at straws." Cynthia admitted.
Sadie turned, scanning the room as she took a drag on her cigarette.
"You know, I don't know if you are." She murmured.
"What?" Cynthia looked startled, and Sadie waved her cigarette in the direction of the far wall.
"Footsteps in the dust." She said softly. "You and I didn't make them. Who did?"
"Someone." Hope flickered in Cynthia's violet eyes. "They look recent, too. Maybe..."
"Perhaps." Cynthia agreed. Then she frowned.
"But I cannot tell you where I stood before recall returned to me. It could have been me."
"No, there are two sets of prints, I think." Sadie made her way cautiously over to inspect it. "I suppose it could've been kids, but at least one of them looks to have been wearing some kind of heeled shoe."
"Teenage girls? I have seen them wear heels."
"I'm just saying what I see." Sadie shrugged. "And something else. Look."
She bent down, picking something up and turning it over in her hand. "It looks like the button off someone's jacket. A designer button, at that."
She held it out, and Cynthia took it, eying it carefully.
"Definitely not teenage material." She agreed. "So someone was there. A woman?"
"I think so."
"That hardly narrows down our field of suspects." Cynthia sounded tired. "But at least I know I am not completely insane. Something or someone must have brought me here. Maybe they used some kind of magnetism to erase my memory somehow. I do not know how they could do that over the distance between here and the Starlight, but it's just possible they might have some...some way to do it through my projector. It might explain my memory lapses."
"Well, if you think it's possible, I've no reason to disagree. You're the expert." Sadie stubbed her cigarette out. "We know that there was that blond girl, and she was probably the one who broke into Misfits Music. That being so, she must've had some kind of technology, in order to confuse the video camera. And if she broke into Syl's car, well, is it a leap of faith to suggest she unlocked it with some device, too? Something that disabled the alarm? Could she even have had a way of, well, making it drive itself? We know there wasn't any sign of DNA at the scene."
"Tell me if I'm getting too sci-fi for you."
"No." Cynthia shook her head. "I find it plausible."
"But it would take someone with a good deal of skill." She added. "It's something I could do...and probably Aaron could rig something up to do that, too."
"You're neither of you fitting the suspect description." Sadie looked amused. "Unless Aaron's taken to a wig and Copper's shoes."
"No, I didn't mean that." Despite herself a slight smile touched Cynthia's lips. "Whoever it is does not have to be working alone. But one name does spring to mind."
"Techrat." Cynthia said grimly. "The man who infected me with the virus."
Sadie looked grave.
"He doesn't sound like the blond wig wearing type to me." She said slowly.
"I don't believe he is." Cynthia replied. "But he is closely associated with Rebel Records in some way. Maybe we did narrow the search field."
She held the button up to the light, tracing over the designer logo with her finger.
"Steffi?" Sadie's eyes opened wide. "Cyn, no...she wouldn't. Not now!"
"I have no suspicion of Stefana, not this time." Cynthia responded. "I thought more of a certain group of...well...former foes of the Misfits, who might well want to use Jerrica's death as a smokescreen for some plan of their own. Undermining Misfits' Music is a Rebel Records ploy, is it not?"
"So Rory Llewelyn? He's hired Techrat and...and whoever this blond girl in the club was?"
"Possibly. And if it comes to that, if Daisy Buchan is not a viable subject on account of her intelligence, Minx and Rapture would be very good candidates. Both are naturally blond, and naturally ruthless."
Cynthia shrugged her shoulders. "But it is speculation and that alone. Come. We should head back and I think I would like to spend some time at my sister's grave. I have seldom had time of late, and I like to do it when I can."
"Sure. I'll drop you off on the way home." Sadie offered. Cynthia offered a smile.
"One thing I've learnt about being a part of Jewel, you know, is that anything is possible." Sadie reflected as they returned slowly to the waiting vehicle, climbing inside. "And that jealous people will go to pretty big lengths to upset us. But the Misfits haven't recorded in years. I could understand if someone was attacking just the company - and in the past they've done that through us. But the attack on the studio was on the Misfit manuscripts. Whoever did that was attacking a group that folded in the early nineties. Where's the logic in that?"
"Truly, I am still trying to find it." Cynthia admitted. "But as I said before, perhaps it is a complex smokescreen. We do not know for sure who we are dealing with, but we know they are technologically experienced and intelligent."
"I suppose so." Sadie flexed her fingers, putting the car in gear. "I'd quite like to find them out, to be honest. We take far too much crap from Rebel Records and their people - wouldn't you just like to land a fist across Rory Llewelyn's jaw once in a while?"
"That sounds like something Syl would say." Cynthia laughed. "We don't know that he is involved."
"No, we don't, but he's my prime suspect after our chat today." Sadie responded, pulling out of the dusty parking lot and onto the main thoroughfare. "And I don't like that what he's doing is disorientating you, either. We know he knew about you - Stef said he was after information, even as recently as last spring. Maybe he didn't get it from her, but maybe he did get it from somewhere."
"In which case, I shall be watching my back." Cynthia said resolutely. "And I will be doubly vigilant to any attempts to tamper with my memory or my run time. Whoever is behind all of this, it's about time we found out!"
"Agreed." Sadie nodded. "But here we are...the cemetary. Don't take all of this to Jerrica, huh? She's found peace. Don't disturb that with all this craziness."
"I love my sister too much for that." Cynthia said gravely. "She had too much troubling her when she was alive. I really just want some peace and quiet to spend here - since it's as close as I will ever be to her now."
"I'm sure she knows you're there." Sadie squeezed the hologram's hand. "Go on. I'll see you back home."
"Yes." Cynthia nodded, pushing open the passenger side door. "Thank you, Sadie - for your company and your understanding. Perhaps we have discovered little, but I feel better knowing that there are possible explanations for what happened."
"Me too." Sadie nodded. "Stay safe and I'll see you later."
Cynthia shut the car door, casting her friend a sad grin and a wave, then making her way across the field of gravestones to where Jerrica's shining new tombstone stood gleaming in the summer sunlight. Sadie watched her for a moment, then sighed, putting her car in gear once more and turning for the Starlight Mansion.
"Whoever's trying to mess with everything needs a slap in the face." She said with a sigh. "It's putting Cynthia through a lot more than we'd realised, and after all she's already been through, she doesn't need this. Plus if it is Rory Llewelyn, it means that he didn't believe Steffi when she told him the computer was down. And...if it is him, it's more than possible the others will think Stef lied to us and that she told him more than we thought."
She hesitated, considering.
"Do I think she lied?" She wondered aloud. "I know she's capable of a lot of things. Do I think she's doublecrossed Synergy? That she's in on whatever all of this is and last night was part of some elaborate hoax?"
She pursed her lips, shaking her head.
"No. I don't think so." She decided at length. "She's my friend, and I know her better than any of the other Jewels. I know she's vulnerable and insecure in so many ways. She's confided so much in me since Copper's wedding...stuff that she'd rather die than have the whole world know. If she says she told Rory nothing, I believe her. And I won't mention to the others that he might be involved - just that Cyn and I found a button at the Star Drive Through and we think it's involved with the girl at the club. And to that end, I must make time to really talk to Alex about her. He has connections I don't...and maybe he'll have a lead. If nothing else it's something to pursue!"
Well, it was now or never.
Stefana gazed up at the imposing brick-and-plaster building, taking in the silver gilted logo that hung impressively over the big double doors. People bustled in and out of the Tribune's main building, too busy even to notice the presence of a celebrity in their midst, and she swallowed hard, gathering herself. Behind her in the town she heard a clock chime six, and she set her teeth, marching up the cement steps and pushing her way into the main lobby. Casting a quick glance around her to ensure she hadn't been spotted, she made a beeline for the stairwell, taking the stairs two at a time. Her heart thudded in her chest at the thought of what she was about to do.
"But I'm not going to be scared out of my wits by that deranged thing any longer." She murmured, as she reached the floor on which the Tribune housed it's newsroom. "If Sadie won't even listen to me, what else can I do? Protecting it might wind up getting me killed. I don't care what anyone says - that was Synergy in that restaurant and she's out of control. Darren might be a jerk but at least he's a real person. And he's hot on the whole Synergy topic. He...he might know a way of flushing her out and, well, destroying her, if that's what it takes. I'm not going to be followed around Los Angeles any more."
She pushed open the door of the newsroom, standing in the doorway as she scanned the room for a familiar face.
"Looking for me?" A voice came from behind her and she turned, relief mixed with annoyance flooding her expression.
"Yes, for once." She agreed. "I wanted to talk to you."
"I thought you just did that." Darren eyed her keenly, folding his arms and leaning up against a plaster pillar as he surveyed his guest. Stefana frowned.
"You were just here." Darren spread his hands. "Gave me a very interesting scoop, in fact."
Stefana's face drained of all colour.
"What?" She exclaimed. "I was no such thing! Darren, I've literally just come from rehearsal!"
"I wonder what kind of long term memory impact drugs like speed have on the human brain." Darren looked pensive. "You could make quite a study, you know."
"Darren, I'm serious!" Stefana was becoming frantic. "I wasn't here. I mean, I've just got here. I mean...what did I say to you?"
"Well, it was all very interesting." Darren shrugged his shoulders, indicating for the musician to follow him out into the stairwell and away from the rest of the Tribune's staff. "You marched in demanding that you speak to me and that it was important. You told me something about a...a psychological condition that you were on medication for, you burst out crying and you begged me not to be angry with you for lying about the computer. Apparently you're an attention whore who makes stuff up to get people to notice her - but you know a whole lot less about Synergy than you led me to believe and I'd be mad if I ever took anything you said seriously. You said you and Cynthia just stumbled onto the wrecked machine a week before Jerrica died and you never knew any more about it than that."
He eyed his companion seriously, taking in the fear and anger in her eyes.
"Well?" He pressed. "Anything more to add? Because that's a pretty juicy story, you know, and it would be somewhat backed up by your appearance just now...claiming to have no memory of this ever taking place."
"Darren, I swear to you, I wasn't here. It wasn't me." There was desperation in Stefana's tone and she grabbed the reporter by the wrists. "I swear to you. Whoever it was...it wasn't me. You can ask Luca and the others. I've been playing music all afternoon. I've not been here. I swear!"
Darren eyed her long and hard for a moment. Then he spread his hands.
"I know you haven't." He agreed.
"What?" Stefana was taken aback.
"I knew it wasn't you." Darren shrugged his shoulders.
"You...you did?" Stefana looked confused. "But...how?"
"Stefana Ranieri doesn't cry in a public place, where anyone can see her." Darren said acidly. "She also doesn't take me into her confidence about anything. Far as I know, you could have any number of psychological disorders. It wouldn't surprise me. But I don't believe you'd come tell me about them. You don't like me and you certainly don't trust me not to put something like that on the front page of the Tribune. Plus, you have a way of looking at me - like I'm some bug that crawled out from under a paving slab. This chick didn't look at me that way."
"They did a good job, though. Makeup, hair, the works. Looked just like you."
Stefana swallowed hard.
"So are you going to...you know, print any of this?"
"No point, since it's not true." Darren responded simply. "And much as I like rumour and scandal, the truth is what brings out the real dirt. No sense in a story that gets disproved within ten seconds of it making print. The Tribune might be a tabloid but it's a tabloid with a reputation for digging out that real dirt. Not someone's crazed hoaxes."
Stefana took a deep breath, leaning back against the wall of the stairwell.
"I need a cigarette." She murmured. "This gets worse and worse."
"You bet it does." Darren agreed quietly. "Because this is big, Stefana. Someone obviously doesn't want me to listen to anything you might tell me. And that being the case, you must know something that I really want to hear. Is that why you came to see me? You have a story?"
"I...I don't know what I have any more." Stefana's voice shook slightly.
"So why did you come here?"
"It doesn't matter." Stefana glanced at her hands. "It's already gone beyond that. If she's here...I mean, if it's spread to me now...I can't risk making any more ripples." "Meaning?"
"Meaning that the last person on the planet I should be seen talking to right now is a Tribune reporter." Stefana snapped. "Listen, Darren...how would you feel if someone was impersonating you?"
"Honoured that someone hated me enough to try and ruin my life?" Darren pondered. "It'd mean I'd hit a major nerve somewhere along the line."
He eyed her sharply.
"Or that I'd stumbled onto something pretty important. Such as where the stolen computer parts are?"
"If I knew that, right now I'd tell you." Stefana said darkly. "Unfortunately I don't know half as much as this...impersonator seems to think I know about that. If it's even about that. I don't know any more. All I know is that it creeps me out. Weird things have been happening all over Los Angeles lately and I don't like it."
"First that incident in the restaurant, with Sylva." Darren looked thoughtful. "You know, I checked that out - you said it wasn't her and it wasn't. She was at Flash Studios all day and the entire production team saw her. When she went for you in the restaurant, she was actually somewhere else. Now someone comes into this office pretending to be you. You're the only thing that those two incidents have in common. You must know something you can tell me."
"Tell me again what she looked like. The me who came to see you."
"Like you." Darren said ironically.
"I meant what was she wearing?"
"Something black and pseudo-gothic, not unlike what you're wearing." Darren shrugged. "I'm a journalist, I'm not a fashion connoisseur."
"Was she wearing a watch? Or jewellery?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Answer the damn question, Darren." Stefana glared at him. "Because I'm really on edge right now and I might just flip out and take it out on an innocent bystander. You being the obvious target."
"Yes, you're definitely Stefana." Darren laughed, unperturbed by her aggression. "I don't remember if she was wearing a watch, and that's the truth. I don't go in for all that girly accessorising, unless it's gonna bag me a story."
"Though there was one thing I thought was a bit odd." He acknowledged.
"Which was what?"
"She kept playing with a ring on her finger." Darren pursed his lips. "I noticed it because it was on the fourth finger of her left hand and I meant to dig into that - find out whether there was any reason you were wearing a ring there. Secret beau, all of that kind of stuff. It was a weird ring though. I didn't think much of that, since you're a pretty weird chick, but it had two initials on it. I was all set to go delving into some romantic secret for the morning edition when I realised that she really wasn't you."
"Like an engagement ring?" Stefana pulled a graphic face. "Oh, get real. You can forget that idea right now."
"That's where she wore it, though." Darren shrugged. "Don't ask me. I'm not the one being impersonated."
"What were the initials? Do you remember?"
"One was a J. She had her finger over the other for most of the time we were talking." Darren shrugged. "Why?"
"It's not important." Stefana's tone belied her words and Darren frowned.
"Listen to me." He said quietly. "Today something weird happened in my office. I could print all that stuff about you - more than just me in the office heard what you had to say. I told them that it was someone trying it on and not really you at all, but I could still get it on the front page."
"You said you'd rather print the truth." Stefana snapped back.
"I would, if someone would tell me it." Darren returned. "And getting the truth out of you is like getting blood from a stone."
"Are you surprised?" Stefana exclaimed. "You damn well got a job at Rebel Records to spy on me! You used private information about my bandmates to create press hype and you blackmailed me into telling you something that wasn't any of your business, anyway! Why in hell should I begin to trust you? I don't know why I came here at all. Obviously it was a stupid idea."
"Well, we'll never know, will we?" Darren observed reasonably. "Because you're the only one of the two of us who knows why you are here."
"You know me well enough now to know that I will get to the bottom of whatever it is." He added. "I'm not your average stupid scandal-monger. I find things out and I have connections. Sources. People who aren't so reluctant to talk as you are. I will find out whatever it is you know. If someone is willing to impersonate you, I want to know why. And I will discover it."
Stefana was silent for a moment, then,
"You have no idea what you are messing with." She murmured.
"Then tell me."
"When I figure it out, I'll let you know." Stefana's tone was bitter. "Truth is, I don't know enough myself. All I do know is that I'm freaked out and someone is dead set on undermining my credibility. God knows what they might do next, or if you're even the only reporter they've tackled."
"If you were in a rehearsal all afternoon, Stef, you have an alibi." Darren dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "And most press in this city doesn't have roots as deep as we do here."
"Cool Trash do."
"Cool Trash buy a lot of secondary information from our sources when we reject them as rumour." Darren was scathing. Stefana snorted.
"Rumour or truth, Darren - my reputation and my life is on the line here."
"Your life? How so?"
"Because this whole situation is crazy and dangerous."
Darren's eyes narrowed.
"In the restaurant, when that girl went for you...you acted like you recognised her." He remembered slowly. "You said 'what are you doing here?"
"I thought she was Sylva."
"No...no at first you did." Darren shook his head. "But then you...it was like you saw something else. Like you knew who it really was."
"Whether I did or didn't, it makes no difference." Stefana shook her head impatiently. "It's not someone you can exactly pin down."
"I'm going home." She decided at length. "Home to lie low and hope that nothing more comes of this. If they think I'm too close, let them take this as me being scared off. And you...you keep away from me, Darren. This isn't a news story you're after. This is nasty and scary and if you don't get us both killed, you're likely to get me hurt with your prying around."
"A story is a story." Darren shrugged. "And casualties can happen. I'll find out whatever it is that's worth knowing, and I'll print it. We'll see who's left standing at the end - but your melodramatics and threats aren't scaring me. I know you like to keep your secrets and I like to find them out. And I'm much better at finding them than you are at keeping them."
"You're a fool, then." Stefana spat back at him. "And I'm going."
With that she turned on her heel, stalking back down the stairs the way she came.
Darren watched her go, his expression thoughtful.
"You know who's doing this, and you're protecting them." He mused. "Which means it's someone in your circle somewhere. Someone showbiz, even. That's worth looking into, if nothing else. Whatever it is, it must be big. If someone's willing to discredit Stefana to keep her story quiet, it's probably going to stick Tribune sales through the roof. And maybe it's reporters intuition, but I'm sure it has something to do with the theft of that wretched machine!"
JACQUI'S LEGACY: PART
The copyright for the original Jem characters featured in this and other stories by me belongs entirely to Hasbro and their interpretations to Christy Marx and the other writers of the Sunbow Jem series. Their future selves are based on concepts that are entirely my own and are not to be repeated elsewhere without due permission.
All other characters, including their likenesses, are copyrighted to myself as webmistress of Jewel's World from 2001 to the present day and are not to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
The Teenangel Outsiders, Jesta, Flame, Ryan Montgomery and the future interpretations of Aja, Danse and certain of the other original characters are all or in part the concept of Gemma Dawn whose teenangel outsider fiction world is twinned with Jewel's World. You can visit her site at www.teenangeloutsiders.com!
All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.