"I hate this."
Sadie made her way slowly through the corridors of Misfits Music's upper levels, pausing at each open doorway to check for company. The shock she had encountered in the basement of the Starlight Mansion had put all of her nerves on edge, and she had no way of knowing where Cynthia was...if she was even in the building.
"I have to take the chance that she might be, though." She murmured under her breath, as she approached the main offices. "I have to get to the bottom of this. And Aaron - I have to find Aaron. He's the only one who even half understands how she works, aside from Sylva's aunt - and I have no idea how to explain this to a friend, let alone a virtual stranger."
As she reached the end of the hallway, a voice made her jump and she swung around, taking a deep breath as she registered the music company's chief executive. Jetta shot her a strange look.
"Are you okay, kid? You look wound up."
"I...I'm fine." Sadie struggled to get a grip on herself, offering a smile. Inside her, wisps of paranoia tugged away at her mind, and she found herself checking her superior over for signs of holographic projection. Jetta frowned at the sudden scrutiny.
"Are you sure you're all right?" She demanded. "You look like you're on another bleedin' planet."
Sadie met Jetta's grey eyes and something in them reassured her. She blushed.
"I'm sorry. I've been jumpy all day." She admitted. "I...I had a funny dream last night and it's left me a bit weirded out."
She smiled sheepishly. "Do you know if Aaron is around?"
"Aaron?" Jetta shot Sadie another odd look, then shrugged. "Sure, love. He's in my office, settin' up me new printer. Though I didn't think the technology side o' things was your department."
"It isn't. I wanted to discuss something else with him." Sadie responded vaguely. "In your office? Thanks."
"Welcome." Jetta pursed her lips, then, "An' get a grip on yourself, huh? Walkin' round Misfits Music as if you expect to be mugged ain't gonna get you anywhere."
Sadie blushed again.
"I'll try." She promised. Then, before the executive could ask any more searching questions she was gone along the corridor, pulling open the door of Jetta's office and slipping inside.
"Hi, Sadie." Aaron emerged from behind the desk, a length of cable in his hand. "What brings you up here?"
"I need to talk to you." Sadie crossed the floor, grabbing Aaron by the wrists. "Look at me for a moment, will you?"
"Er...sure." Non-plussed, Aaron did as he was bidden, and Sadie met his gaze with a searching one. At length she sighed.
"Okay. You're definitely Aaron." She said.
"And who were you expecting?" Aaron looked confused. "Superman?"
"No." Sadie shook her head. She looked awkward. "I'm sorry, I know it seems freakish. I just...I need to talk to you, and I had to make sure you were you before I could."
"Sadie..." Aaron faltered, then, "I hate to ask this, but are you feeling quite, er...yourself?"
"I'm fine. Just rattled." Sadie assured him. "Aaron, listen. Is Cynthia here?"
"Yes." Aaron nodded. "She was in here just a minute ago, but Aunt Phyl called her to fix something in the studio."
"Has she been with you all the time?"
"Sadie, I'm not her minder." Aaron frowned. "And it only takes one tech to install a printer. She poked her head around the door five minutes ago, but I think she's spent most of the morning downstairs, rewiring the network while Jemima's on leave."
"So you can't tell me what she's been doing?"
"I thought I just did." Aaron looked bemused. "Didn't I?"
"No." Sadie bit her lip. "I know I sound crazy, but it'll all make sense in a minute. I think there's something terribly wrong with..."
She faltered, then lowered her voice.
"Wrong?" Aaron was startled. "In what way?"
"You haven't noticed anything strange?"
"She's been tired a lot." Aaron responded. "But that's about it. What do you mean, something's wrong with her?"
"I hate to break confidences, and I'm gonna be breaking them all round here." Sadie looked troubled. "But I think I have to. You're close to the two people in question, so hopefully they'll understand."
"Instead of babbling to yourself, Sade, could you just explain what's going on?" Aaron set down his cables, taking a seat.
"It kinda began when Steffi came to Flash Studio the other night." Sadie told him. "She told me that Syl had gone for her in a restaurant downtown, in front of Darren McMillan and Marissa. I told her it was crazy, because Syl had been with us all day, but she told me she knew it wasn't Syl. She said it was Cynthia."
"Cynthia?" Aaron stared. "What made her think that?"
"She said that the girl was wearing Cynthia's watch, and when she stared at her, she could see something not real in her eyes." Sadie responded. "I didn't believe her...or at least, I did, but I thought there was some other explanation. We know crazy things have been happening around here, after all."
"They sure have." Aaron grimaced. "Just this morning someone cut the main feed to the lights on the bottom floor."
"Well, I asked Cynthia about where she was...that Stef thought she'd seen her." Sadie twisted her hands together. "I didn't mention exactly why, but Cyn said she didn't remember seeing Stef. She asked me to come to the Drive Through with her. Aaron, she told me she'd been having lapses in her memory...and that she'd ended up at the Drive Through the other day without remembering how she got there."
"She's said nothing to me." Aaron's brows knitted together. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. She didn't want me to tell you, because she didn't want you fussing over her." Sadie bit her lip. "She said she'd been responsible for wrecking Jerrica's marriage and she wasn't going to be the reason for tension in another - with asking you to constantly spend time fixing her instead of at home with Copper. I told her you shared her secret so it was different, but she didn't seem to think so."
"So what? You think that someone is somehow controlling Cynthia's projector and making her do odd things? Or that someone is framing her?"
"I thought about both of those." Sadie responded. "And it gets worse, Aaron. I mean, someone accosted me by my car just this morning. They looked and sounded like Stefana, but I knew it wasn't really her. There was something odd...just like Stef had said. Something in the eyes. It wasn't like she was real. So I went home to consult Cynthia. But the watch was gone and her mainframe was unresponsive. It had a picture on the screen and the initials JB all over the place."
"This is sounding more and more like some kind of sci-fi movie." Aaron frowned. "I think you lost me. If Cynthia was here, at work, her watch would also have been here. So that's no big mystery."
"But you don't know for sure she was here, and not somewhere else." Sadie pressed. "Plus, how do you explain the mainframe? I don't know who the people were in the photo, or what the significance is of JB...but I know it keeps coming up. The girl at the club who was so hostile to us - she had it on her hat. The Stefana I spoke to this morning...she was wearing a bracelet with the same initials. It's like some kind of digital stamping. Like an identity mark."
Aaron rubbed his temples.
"And you're certain that it's Cynthia doing this, and not some outside influence?" He asked at length.
"As certain as I can be without knowing how any of it works." Sadie nodded. "I'm scared, Aaron, but most of all I'm scared for her. I don't know if she was lying to me about her memory loss, or whether this really is all happening without her knowledge. But either way, something is...and it's serious. More, Stefana is scared out of her senses and I can understand why. The hologram that spoke to me this morning tried to get me off the case by telling me that Stef had lied under the influence of drugs."
Aaron was silent for a moment.
"There's something I don't understand, though." He said at length. "You said something about her eyes looking unreal. And Stef said the same about the Syl at the restaurant - yes?"
"Cynthia's holograms are perfect." Aaron responded. "You can't look into her eyes and see pixels."
"But Cynthia's projections haven't been so perfect recently." Sadie remembered. "She's been tired, we know that. And she did mention something about her projector maybe needing an overhaul."
Aaron's expression became grim.
"I don't like this." He admitted. "All of what you've told me...if you're right, Sadie, it's not good. Beyond not good."
Before Sadie could respond, the office door opened to reveal the hologram herself. She cast the occupants a grin, dropping her screwdriver down on the desk.
"All finished." She announced. "No more glitches."
Sadie and Aaron exchanged glances, and Cynthia frowned, pushing the door shut behind her with a click.
"Is something amiss?" She asked softly. "You both seem upset."
"Cyn, I'm sorry." Sadie murmured. "But I told Aaron about our trip to the Drive Through. And...and why we went."
Confusion flickered in Cynthia's gaze.
"I don't understand." She said. "I thought...it was supposed to be in confidence."
"And it would've been." Sadie nodded. "But Cyn, that was before something happened this morning. And Aaron is the only one I knew to come speak to. I'm worried. I think we both are."
"This morning?" A stricken look crossed Cynthia's face, but she quickly quelled it. "What about this morning?"
"Were you fixing Jemima's computer system all this time?"
"Yes." Cynthia frowned, but there was something in her expression that gave away the fact she did not entirely believe what she was saying. "Except when I came to speak to you, Aaron, and then went to help Phyllis. Why?"
"You didn't come see me?" Sadie pressed. "At Alex's apartment?"
"Why would I do that?"
"I think it's fair to say you weren't yourself at the time, Cyn." Aaron sighed. "You should have told me you were having amnesic episodes."
"I only told Sadie because I thought I could trust her." Cynthia responded, directing a hurt look at her blond friend. Sadie got to her feet, crossing the room and taking Cynthia by the hands. Carefully she looked deep into the hologram's violet eyes, a frown touching her lips.
"Pixels." She murmured.
"Pixels?" Cynthia stared, pulling her hands away. "I beg your pardon?"
"Cyn, Sadie says there have been a number of incidents recently where a hologram has been impersonating people." Aaron said slowly. "Specifically Sylva at the restaurant the other day, and Stefana this morning. We need to know what's going on."
"And you think I would do such things?" Cynthia's indignation flared into hurt anger at this. "What could I possibly have to gain by pretending to be people I am not? I would jeopardise my safety, my secret and the friendship of people around me. Why would I conduct myself in such a fool-hardy manner?"
"We don't know." Sadie shook her head. "But I'm pretty sure you are doing them, Cynnie."
"Well, and it is good to know what my friends really think of me." Cynthia sounded bitter. "They claim to trust me, but the moment that something involving holograms happens, it must be down to me."
"This time it is." Sadie said gently. "Cyn, this morning I came back home to speak to you...I thought it was someone else doing these things. But it's not. When I got home, Synergy was unresponsive. The screen had this, like, big picture of a woman and a little girl in the middle. And the initials JB were all over the place. The hologram this morning and the girl in the club - they both had JB somewhere on them, too. And I think the girl in the club was also a hologram."
Cynthia stared at her friend in stricken silence for a moment.
"I can't remember." She whispered.
"Noone is saying you're doing it on purpose, Cyn." Aaron hurried to reassure her. "Someone from outside could have hacked into your mainframe. Or, alternatively..." He trailed off, then, "Perhaps it's worth considering the possibility that you've got some kind of program error in your registry. That somehow certain programs are firing without you consciously loading them up."
"You mean, I've become schizophrenic?" Cynthia demanded. Aaron spread his hands.
"I'm just looking for ways to explain what Sadie's told me." He responded. "I really don't know. But I do want to help put it right - whatever it is. So if you do know anything that you haven't told us, you probably should start sharing. I'm serious, Cyn. If all of this is as bad as I think it is, it could have serious repercussions for a lot of things. Not just your secret, but your other duties."
Cynthia's eyes became big.
"Like looking after Hollie?" She deduced. Aaron nodded.
"That was one of them, yes." He agreed.
"Do the initials mean anything to you, Cyn?" Sadie asked. Cynthia sank down onto a chair, burying her head in her hands.
"Jerrica was Jerrica Benton before she married. That would be J.B." She said softly. "But I do not think this is about Jerrica."
"You do know something!" Aaron exclaimed. Cynthia shook her head.
"No, I wish that I did." She replied. "At least, I can make no sense of what you are telling me. But..."
"But what?" Sadie came to sit beside her, putting a gentle arm around her friend's shoulders. "Cyn, we want to help. Whatever it is...tell us."
"I admit I do not feel well." Cynthia raised a sad pair of violet eyes to her friends'. "I have suffered memory blackouts, and I have had episodes where masses of disjointed and fragmented data have surged through my sensors, paralysing any other programs from running. I am also so tired these days, and my projectors do feel worn. I have encountered photographs on my mainframe monitor before, without calling them up consciously. The pictures are always the same - they relate to Jerrica's childhood, and are often of her, Kimber, Aja and Shana as small girls."
"Why didn't you tell me!" Aaron demanded. "Hell, we could have looked into this already! How long has this been going on?"
"Long enough." Cynthia sighed. "Oh, I will be truthful. The memory black-outs have become progressively more intrusive, but I have not felt myself in some months. Not since..."
She swallowed hard, then,
"Not since I buried my sister."
"That was months ago, Cyn."
"I know." Cynthia sighed. "The truth is, I don't know what damage my rogue emotions might have done to me then. You must remember that my reason for being was to protect Jerrica. Now she is dead, I suppose there is a gap in my programming. I am not quite sure what drives me, exactly. And the emotions I had after Jerrica passed on were strong. They made me unpredictable. Even dangerous. I did my best to re-route them. Perhaps I failed."
"Programmed to protect Jerrica..." Aaron's eyes widened. "Cyn, who was that program based on?"
"Jacqui Benton...you know that. Why?"
"Jacqui Benton. JB." Sadie breathed. "Aaron, do you think that's it?"
"I think it's something to do with it." Aaron nodded. "Copper and Syl both mentioned you seeing Jacqui's 'ghost', Cyn. Maybe it wasn't someone else's inferior projection, but a leak from your own. Producing Cynthia takes up most all of your projection capacity, and you never consciously push it beyond what you know it can take. But subconsciously? It's more than possible. And it would explain why it was you who encountered her."
At this, holographic tears began to slide down Cynthia's cheeks.
"What is happening to me?" She whispered. "Aaron, I don't even know myself. I am scared to shut off Cynthia, because I do not know where I might find myself when I once more boot her up. Areas of my memory are scrambled or irretrievable. And now my friends accuse me of things and I am unable to say for certain that I did not do them, because I do not remember!"
"If we follow the theory that these things happen when you haven't got conscious control of Cynthia, then it might explain too why you feel so tired." Aaron continued softly. "If you're not actually shutting down...maybe your circuits are suffering from overuse. That might be making things worse."
He got to his feet.
"Either way, I suggest that we make our way to the Starlight and do some investigation." He added. "I'm done here, anyhow, and if Aunt Phyl doesn't like it, she can lump it for once. This is important."
"If there is trouble, I will take the blame." Cynthia promised, her eyes still tearful. "I know I should have told you, but I was afraid of myself. I have done things that I would never have done before Jerrica died...and I have perfect memory of those things. It would have destroyed me to have you all draw away from me when I needed you so badly...and I did not want to put myself between you and Copper. I hoped it would settle."
"What do you mean, you did things you would never have done?" Sadie linked a supportive arm in her friend's, as they made their way slowly out of the office towards the stairwell.
Cynthia bit her lip.
"If I told you, Topaz would never let me near Hollie again." She whispered.
"As it stands, Cyn, if we don't fix this bug in your system, I will tell her myself that it's not a good idea asking you to babysit." Aaron said bluntly. "I'm cross that you didn't talk to me about something that's obviously going to have repercussions for other people. What if you'd had a memory lapse around Hollie?"
At this, Cynthia's tears began to fall once more, and Sadie hugged her.
"Aaron, Cyn is scared." She said quietly. "And you know now. So you can go in and fix it. Right?"
"Maybe." Aaron pursed his lips. "I don't know exactly what we're dealing with, but it sounds to me like Aja's rebooting her after Jerrica died was more desperate than we realised. I should have seen there'd be problems. When she first booted up, she looked like Synergy used to look, not like she did when I first rebuilt her. She'd regained some connection with her old core program and by increasing her geographical range we tapped into yet more of that old circuitry. That's asking for trouble."
"But she was programmed to take care of Emmet's kids, Aaron. How can that be a bad thing?" Sadie looked confused.
"Emmet's program was fine." Aaron agreed. "But you didn't see the state she was in when I first found her. Her core program was badly warped. I had to reroute a lot of things and only a small section of it was safe to bring back online. I'm wondering if all this tampering we've done has brought more of the damaged program back into operation."
"Jacqui Benton." Cynthia murmured. "Before I realigned my emotions, I had dangerous impulses. They linked to Jerrica and to her death. Are you saying that whatever it is operating inside of me...it's really my original program trying to patch up it's commands?"
"Yes, something like that." Aaron said grimly. "But it was pretty messed up, Cyn. Putting all of those things together, you probably get a highly dangerous, and possibly obsessive computer program. Possibly one deranged enough to carry out individual acts of revenge."
"Perhaps you are right." She admitted.
"Meaning?" Sadie cast her friend a glance.
Cynthia bit her lip.
"After Jerrica died, I confronted Rio and blamed him for her death." She murmured. "And I would have killed him, had Rose not disturbed us. She brought me back to myself, but for a moment all I wanted was to throw him from the top storey window and let him die for what he'd done."
"Cynthia!" Sadie's eyes became huge, and Aaron shook his head slowly.
"I wish you'd told me." He repeated.
"Don't you see why I did not?"
"I do, but if this has been going on this long..." Aaron paused, then, "And you can't remember everything that happened, either. Maybe you didn't re-route your emotions. Maybe you just numbed yourself to the times they're in control. If you could have killed Rio in a rage, you could have hurt any number of people without remembering it. We need to get to the bottom of this and we need to do it now. Who knows what you might do next?"
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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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.