"So here you are."
Rory pushed open the door of the office, casting his colleague a tired frown.
"Where have you been all morning, Minx? We had a meeting at ten about the compilation album, and I expected you to be there."
"Did you?" Ingrid glanced up from her desk, setting down her pen. "Perhaps you should have told me there was a meeting?"
"I sent you three internal memos." Rory's frown deepened. "One of the interns assured me she'd delivered them."
"Oh, was that what I threw out?" Ingrid affected an innocent expression. "I must have thought they were junk mail."
"Minx, I am getting sorely tried by this." Rory banged his hand down on the desk as if to emphasise his point. "You know that when I call a meeting, you are expected to attend."
"Yes, I know this." Ingrid nodded her head. "But I had another engagement already this morning. One I could not cancel at such short notice."
"A meeting? What on earth kind of meeting is more important than my project?"
"I have another musical contract to fulfil." Ingrid pulled open the top drawer of her desk, pulling out the sheet of paper and handing it to him. "Since you were being so uncertain about the compilation, I decided to accept their offer. It is a very time-consuming project, but it will pay me well, and I chose to take it."
She fixed him with a steely glare. "It was nice to be appreciated for a change."
"Meaning what?" Rory glanced at the sheet, then dropped it down onto the desk. "You are an employee of this company, Minx - sometimes I wish you'd remember that. Your first loyalties are to here...or did you forget what the Stingers were all about, huh?"
"I remember very well." Ingrid's eyes narrowed. "It's you who has forgotten. No wonder Rapture took off to create her own life, Rory. There's only so long we can play being second fiddle to you and your ego, you know. You can't run this company on the assumption that everyone will always be at your beck and call. Perhaps we won't."
"You have a contract that says different."
"It was a contract agreed by friends." Ingrid said coldly. "Much of these rules of yours are not written down. And if you had bothered to tell me you needed me on your compilation writing team, then I would not have accepted the other offer. I did keep asking you, but you didn't commit. I'm not the kind of woman who waits around for her master to summon her. I made my own decisions. You know I do a lot of freelancing. This is no different."
"Well, you'll have to cancel it." Rory said briefly. "This is more important."
Ingrid met Rory's gaze with an icy one of her own.
"I have no intention of breaking a signed agreement." She said softly. "If you haven't enough songwriters, maybe you should pull your brain out of retirement and do some writing yourself. You used to be good at it, once upon a time - before you got obsessed with the Eric Raymond path to business success."
"What is your fixation with Eric Raymond?" Rory flared up at this. Ingrid shrugged her shoulders.
"I think you are the one fixating." She said simply. "When we left Nirvana, I saw a man with vision and drive to get the Stingers to the top of the music scene. Now do you know what I see?"
"I don't know that I care."
"I see a man who's concerns revolve around money and spiting Phyllis Gabor." Ingrid said coolly. "It's all become about profit, Rory, and I don't like it. Eric was that way, and look what happened to him. You had far more to give the world than becoming just another fat cat executive. But you took the easier path. I still love my music, and I'm going to put it to good use. Whether you like it or not."
She grabbed up her manuscripts, heading for the door, but Rory caught her by the wrist.
"You better watch your step, Minx." He said darkly. "You cross the line too often and you know that your paperwork to stay here relies on me. Be careful."
"I am always careful." Ingrid retorted coldly, wrenching her arm away. "Are you?"
With that she was gone, leaving Rory staring after her.
Anger bubbling up inside of her, Ingrid stalked down the corridor
towards the lift shaft.
"He has such a nerve." She muttered. "If only Techrat would get this damned machine working more quickly. The sooner we put him back in his place the better for everyone! Sophie and I could make a much better job of running this company than he does, that's for sure. He's such a chauvenist - he doesn't believe we could either of us do all the things he does. But we'll prove him wrong...and then he'll be sorry he messed the Stingers about."
A voice came from behind her and she turned, meeting Sophie's questioning look with a mutinous one of her own.
"Where are you going?" The Frenchwoman asked softly.
"Home." Ingrid said briefly. "Where maybe I can get some work done on this project of mine without Riot breathing down my neck."
"Why can you not be more careful?" Sophie sighed, taking Ingrid gently by the arm and leading her back up the hallway towards her own corner office. "Listen to me. 'Ot tempers generate motives and suspicions. You can't let 'im get to you."
She pushed open the office door, ushering her friend inside, and pulling the door to behind them. She took a seat behind the desk, indicating for Ingrid to follow suit.
"It's so hard." The blond admitted, doing as she was bidden with a sigh. "When he presses every button."
"Yes, but patience is a virtue." Sophie winked. "Besides, he has a meeting off-site this afternoon. And you must tell me everything new that has happened since last we discussed our...other little project. Non?"
"Yes, I guess so." Ingrid's troubled eyes lit up at this. "Techrat might be the creepiest creep in the country, but he's also brilliant, Sophie." She paused, then slipped into the easier German. "Since Sullivan got him the computer parts he's been working like God knows what on this machine of his."
She wrinkled up her nose.
"I hate going to see him - his place is the most godforsaken hell-hole, but there are advantages to working with someone who has no social life and no interest beyond electronics. He's managed to build up bits and pieces already for a working replica."
"And your trip to the Star Drive Through - it was conclusive?" Sophie slid easily into the other language, looking curiously at her friend.
"Yes." Ingrid rested her chin in her hands. "Synergy is definitely still operating...so he was right and the media blitz was all a hoax. In some ways that interests me more than the idea of blowing Riot's world apart, but Techrat's pretty sure the computer doesn't have much longer to go. Judging by how erratically it behaved when I confronted her hologram, I'd believe it. It kept switching personalities."
"I think it actually believed it was Jacqui Benton, at one point." She said derisively. "But I got the information I needed and Techrat's working on the core program for his machine as we speak."
"And you believe the computer's simulation powers are good enough to imitate Rory and put him into a compromising situation?" Sophie looked interested. Ingrid nodded.
"Definitely." She agreed. "This Synergy was deranged, but the holographic potential was incredible, Sophie. It was as if a real person stood before me. Imagine the possibilities of having that under our control."
"Fantastique." Sophie whispered. "The perfect scam...and no violence. Oh, I've missed this kind of thing, you know. It's been so long."
Her eyes twinkled.
"But if Rory's mental state was to be, well, called into question, then he'd not be fit to run the company." She said simply. "And in those circumstances, as his partner, I would be forced to take over the reins. But I would not be able to do it on my own...I'd need a trusted companion to help me."
She winked at Ingrid.
"And who would suspect a hologram?"
"Nobody." Ingrid looked satisfied. "Though the sooner Synergy burns out, the better for us all. The last thing that we want is the complication of a mad holographic simulator in our little plan, and it has definitely outlived it's usefulness. Techrat's got everything that he needs...it might as well die a death now."
"If we knew where it was, we could do something about that." Sophie said softly. Ingrid looked startled.
"What? I thought you wanted no violence."
"I don't." Sophie shook her head. "But is destroying a computer violent? Techrat made one virus to poison it already. If it's that close to the edge..."
"Techrat's pretty sure that the virus he gave it all those months ago has finally done permanent damage to the core program." Ingrid responded. "He believes it's terminal."
"Well, of course, but how long will it be?" Sophie wondered. "Rory was under the impression that the original virus he and Stefana had concocted would kill it in a week...but it's taken this long. We could be dealing with it surviving another year or even more before it finally burns out."
"Techrat thought it would be sooner." Ingrid pursed her lips.
"But he was wrong once."
"True...though I won't remind him of it." Ingrid sighed. "So what do you think we should do?"
"Easy." Sophie dimpled. "We need to employ the assistance of someone else who hates Rory more than anything."
"I don't follow."
"Someone who might have information she refused to share with him...but information she might share with us." Sophie folded her hands neatly together. "Where is Stefana this morning?"
"Stefana?" Ingrid's eyes became big. "Isn't she a liability?"
"Of the biggest kind." Sophie agreed. "But she was the one who provided Rory with the information about the computer in the first place."
She pursed her lips.
"You see, I find it interesting that, when Diablo came back from Europe, Rory asked Stefana where the computer was. Stefana told him she made it all up. But what we now know - about Techrat, the computer and the virus...we know she lied to Rory. Which means that whatever she told him originally must have been based in some truth."
"Rory believes that the press story about the computer was true." She added. "But we know it was a cover. He has stopped seeing a connection between Stefana and the computer. Me, I see that there is still one...and we just have to know how to tap into her way of thinking."
"Money?" Ingrid looked quizzical. Sophie spread her hands.
"What other way?" She asked simply.
She got to her feet, moving to the doorway of the office. An intern was just passing, and she called out to the young man, telling him to go to the main studio and find Stefana Ranieri at once. The tone of her voice left no room for disagreement, though the man gulped at the thought of dragging Diablo's fiery guitarist from her practice session. He scuttled off along the hall-way, and Sophie returned to her seat, drumming her fingers on the desk.
"What if Riot sees her talking to us?" Ingrid demanded.
"Rory's car will have left by now for the other side of the city." Sophie said composedly. "I've seen his day planner for the rest of the week, Minx. I would not conduct such business up here with him on the premises."
"Do we think Stefana will cooperate with us?" Ingrid wondered.
"I think so." Sophie nodded. "She has everything to lose if she doesn't."
At that moment the office door swung open, revealing the guitarist. She shot the assembled Stingers a wary look.
"What is this?" She demanded. "We were practicing."
"I know." Sophie cast the newcomer a smile, and to the apprehensive Stefana there was something unusually predatorial in her dark eyes. "Come in, Stefana, cherie. Take a seat."
"What do you want?" Stefana took a hesitant step towards an empty chair, then paused. "What gives?"
"Sit down." Sophie gestured to the chair. "You are not in trouble. We just wish to speak to you...about a matter of some delicacy."
"Okay..." Stefana did as she was bidden, but her defensive posture did not relax. "Well? I'm sitting. What's going on?"
"Understand something, Stefana." Ingrid spoke softly. "You never had this conversation with us. If anyone should get to hear of it, I will personally ensure that your contract with this company is terminated. And further...that your guilty little secret will be spattered all over the tabloid press. Do you follow?"
By now both former Stingers spoke in English, and there was no mistaking the songwriter's meaning. Fear leapt into Stefana's green eyes.
"I don't know that I want to be here." She said slowly, getting to her feet.
"But it is too late. You already are." Sophie said reasonably. "So you might as well sit back down and hear what we want."
Stefana glanced from one woman to the other, then reluctantly sank back into her chair.
"All right." She said finally. "Go on. What's with the cloak and dagger crap?"
"Do you understand what Minx told you?" Sophie asked. Stefana nodded.
"I understood." She said bitterly. "Noone will know what you wanted to talk to me about. Though if this is one of Rory's stupid games, you can tell him to go screw himself. I'm having nothing to do with him or his errands."
"This has nothing to do with Rory. Or not in that way." Sophie shook her head. She pursed her lips.
"As a partner in this company, it's come to my attention that he has not always treated his employees in the fairest manner." She continued. "Minx has aired such grievances to me, and your name also came up."
Stefana's eyes narrowed.
"If you're worried about employee happiness, why all the threats when I came in?" She demanded.
"Sophie and I are going to put Riot back where he belongs." Ingrid said simply. "It's time this company had someone at the helm who still cared about music and not just money."
"You're going to oust him?" Stefana stared. "How in hell?"
"Ah." Sophie smiled, tapping her nose. "Oust is such a strong word. We prefer to think of it as an executive reshuffle."
"So what the hell am I to do with it?" Stefana demanded. "If you think I'm going to help you kick out a guy who knows enough about me to ruin me..."
"We all know that, Stefana." Ingrid said matter of factly. "You just have to decide which is the biggest threat."
"Riot is going to take a brief break from the world of management." She added. "Do you remember a man called Techrat?"
Alarm flickered in Stefana's eyes.
"What's he to do with anything?"
"He's to do with everything." Sophie said softly. "He has something that the FBI have been looking for."
"Synergy's missing parts!" Stefana breathed.
"That didn't take you long to deduce." Ingrid observed. "Either you're very quick off the mark, or you have a personal interest in this theft."
"I didn't do it." Stefana snapped.
"Well, we know that." Sophie laughed. "And it's really irrelevant who did. The point of the matter is that Techrat has them and has been putting his new-found toy to good use."
"I thought those bits the FBI had were wrecked?" Stefana exclaimed.
"How would you know that?"
"I read the paper!"
"Mm." Sophie exchanged looks with her colleague, then, "No, Stefana. Both Minx and I know you have insider knowledge on this computer that Jerrica's father built. We both remember that you were the one who brought the news to Rory some years ago. Minx was the one who put you in touch with Techrat, after all. We both know that you've seen Synergy. And that you probably know where it is."
"The Star Drive Through was the last place I saw her. Now, according to you, Techrat has her." Stefana shrugged. "What am I supposed to tell you?"
"That story was a hoax." Ingrid said comfortably. "Techrat has been tracking the emissions of the real computer for some time. I even spoke to it."
"You...what?" Stefana's eyes almost fell out of her head.
"Well, one of it's holographic projections." Ingrid shrugged. "So try again, Stefana. If Synergy was not destroyed...where might she be? And who might protect her enough to produce a press story like the one in the Tribune?"
"Look, I'll tell you what I know." Stefana's brain raced as she tried to put together something that her companions would believe. "If you think I saw Synergy, you're wrong. Or at least, I did see her, but I saw her at the Star Drive Through. Yes, I saw her project there. But after that article appeared in the press I thought she was destroyed. Falling masonry or something. That's the truth. I know Darren McMillan, and I know he has a reputation for digging up true stuff. The Tribune is a scandal sheet paper but the scandals it prints are generally true. I figured someone must have got to her - if it wasn't really falling stone - and I thought that was the end of it."
She steeled herself, meeting Sophie's questioning gaze. "You're saying someone is still running her?"
"Without a doubt." Ingrid eyed the guitarist thoughtfully. "So when you told Rory that you knew where the computer was...and when you schemed to infect it with this virus...it was at the Star Drive Through?"
"Yes." Stefana nodded. She got a firm grip on her composure, offering a slight smile. "And I admit that she was running then. But I really thought she'd stopped. I mean, the reporter dude did find her at the Drive Through, right?"
"Apparently not all of her." Sophie responded. She glanced at Ingrid, who inclined her head.
"Techrat says that the main processor and the important core program of the computer was missing from the parts he took from the FBI." She said.
"Well, I wouldn't know a processor from a printer." Stefana said bluntly. "All I know is what I told you. That's the truth. Don't you think that, if I knew where this damn thing was and how to run it, I'd be using it to settle some scores myself? It's not like I haven't enough people to spite."
Sophie and Ingrid exchanged looks once more, then Ingrid sighed.
"She has a point." She said at length.
"So why didn't you tell Rory, when he asked you about the computer on your return from Italy?" Sophie pressed. Stefana snorted, well into her act by now.
"Tell Rory? You have to be kidding me." She responded. "That guy threatened to expose me in the press if I didn't ruin the wedding of one of my best friends. Why would I tell him anything? I hate him. He'd be top of my spite list."
"Well, you know too much now to just walk away from here." Ingrid said slowly. "So what I said at the beginning stands. I hate to resort to Riot's tactics, Stefana, but if he knew what Sophie and I were up to, we'd both be deported."
"Trust me, I don't give a damn about Rory." Stefana said scornfully. "If you want to have your little power struggle, well, fine. Have it. See if I care."
"Maybe you can help us." Sophie looked thoughtful. Stefana shook her head.
"No way. My job..."
"Your job might rely on new administration." Ingrid said acidly. Stefana blanched.
"Don't worry, Stefana. People who do their part get paid their share." Sophie said with a smile. "Besides, maybe you don't have Synergy at your fingertips - but soon that won't matter. Techrat's special project is almost finished. Wouldn't you like to be a part of seeing Rory taken down a level or two?"
Stefana was silent for a moment. Then, at length, she nodded her head.
"I guess I would." She admitted. "All right. I guess...I guess count me in."
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.
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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.