As Aaron and Sadie left Misfits Music, a dejected hologram in tow,
called Aaron's name. Turning, the young technician recognised his
friend, and he raised a smile as she came to join them.
Stefana shot Cynthia a wary look, which made the hologram visibly flinch, then turned her attention to Aaron himself.
"We need to talk about her." She said bluntly, jabbing a finger in Cynthia's direction. "Someone decided it'd be fun to try and impersonate me at the Tribune. Thankfully Darren isn't your average braindead tabloid journo, and he was suspicious that it was a put up job. But I have a major bone to pick."
"Cyn?" Aaron cast Cynthia a questioning look. Slowly Cynthia shook her head.
"I have no memory..." she faltered, then fell silent. Sadie sighed.
"Stef, I want to apologise." She said softly. "I shouldn't have dismissed what you said to me out of hand. You were right. Whatever it is that's going on - it's closer to home than we thought."
"I'm glad you realise it." Stefana pursed her lips. "I was scared out of my skull when Darren told me someone had come in pretending to be me. I've had time to reflect on it, though, and aside from being damn mad, I realised that I have an advantage."
She glared at Cynthia.
"I know where you are. And dammit, if it happens again, you'll find yourself shipped off in a box to the Federal Lab before you can say illusion. So take that on board before you drag me into your warped delusions again, all right? I came this close already to betraying you to the Tribune, and next time it happens, you won't see me for dust."
"Stef, enough." Sadie held up her hands. "Listen. Cyn might be doing those things, but she's not aware of them. She's been suffering from blackouts...we think that either someone is remotely controlling her, or some part of her program is operating without her knowing about it. Either way, attacking her isn't the answer. We're heading back to the Starlight and Aaron's going to take a look, see if he can work out what's going on and how."
"If I have done you injury, Stefana, I am sorry." Cynthia's voice shook. "I do not remember visiting the Tribune. But then nor do I remember speaking to Sadie this morning, and she is certain that I did."
She chewed on her bottom lip.
"You have done much to protect my secret." She added. "I did not mean to repay you this way."
"Stef, I need to ask you something." Sadie put in. "When you encountered Sylva at the restaurant - or the girl who looked like her - did you notice anything strange about her? Anything with...well, initials on?"
"You mean like JB?" Stefana asked acidly. Aaron frowned.
"Then you did." He said flatly, and Cynthia dropped her gaze, shame and confusion in her eyes.
"She had a necklace and she kept playing with it." Stefana nodded. "Why exactly?"
"Well, we think that it's some kind of digital signature." Sadie responded. "The hologram that spoke to me this morning had a bracelet. The girl who was so hostile in the club, she had it on her hat."
"And Darren said the girl who impersonated me at the Tribune office was wearing a ring she kept playing with...like a wedding ring." Stefana added. "He could only see part of it, but he said one of the letters was a J. It was probably the same deal."
She grimaced at the hologram.
"Looking pretty conclusive so far. Sadie, did you remember to tell Aaron that 'Sylva' was also wearing you-know-who's very distinctive digital watch?"
"None of the other illusions were wearing a watch, as far as I could see." Sadie responded. "But the bracelet the girl I spoke to had on - that would have covered where the watch would be. I...I suppose."
"Could you blame me, then, for wanting this whole stupid business out in the open? She threatened me!"
"Stef, the last thing we want is people finding out about Synergy." Aaron shook his head. "She might have problems, but we're going to try and fix them. You know that the same risks are still in place. That people might try and duplicate her technology...and use it for nefarious ends."
"Right now it's being used for altruistic ones?" Stefana raised an eyebrow. Then her eyes widened.
"Oh crap. That's what she meant!"
"I beg your pardon?" Sadie stared.
"I have to go." Stefana shook her head. "It's worth more than my life if I tell you anything before I know exactly what's going on for myself."
She shot Cynthia another wary look.
"And I don't trust you to keep any secrets right at the moment." She added. "So forgive me for not wanting to spill my guts just yet."
"Stef, do you know something about what's happening to Cynthia that might help?" Aaron asked softly. "Some kind of solution?"
Stefana shook her head.
"Aside from taking a mallet to her mainframe, no. I've no idea." She responded. "And right now I'm not in the mood to talk about it. Like I said, I need to know more."
Before they could react she was gone across the parking lot, and Aaron and Sadie exchanged looks of confusion.
"What do you suppose that was about?" Sadie asked. Aaron shrugged.
"No idea, but if it's important, no doubt she'll tell us when she feels like it." He added. He glanced at Cynthia, then, "And right now, putting a stopper on this rogue behaviour of yours is higher on my priority list."
"Mine, too." Cynthia looked troubled. "Aaron, I want you to make me a promise."
"If you cannot fix whatever is wrong inside of me, I want you to shut me down." Cynthia said simply. Aaron paused in unlocking his car, sending her a startled look.
"Shut you down?"
"Yes. In such a way that I cannot reboot myself without human intervention."
"Cyn, that's kinda extreme." Sadie looked horrified. "And Aaron can probably fix whatever it is. I mean, if you just moved a bad wire or something, looping those emotions..."
"It could be simple, or it could be serious." Cynthia said gravely. "And I understand the threat I pose whilst I am not entirely in control of my functions. That being the case, I want Aaron's word that, if I cannot be fixed, he will ensure I cannot bring harm to anyone else."
Aaron was silent for a moment. Then, slowly, he nodded.
"You have it." He said solemnly.
"Aaron!" Sadie protested. Aaron shrugged.
"Cynthia is right." He said, pulling open the door of his car. "She's dangerous like this. Hopefully it'll be a last resort, but if she can threaten a man's life...it wouldn't be fair to Hollie or to anyone living at the Starlight Mansion. You included."
"I'd be willing to take the risk." Sadie said stubbornly. "I've lived around worse."
"Maybe, but I will not allow it." Cynthia said firmly. "Either I am fixed or I am shut down. If nothing else, I dislike this half-existance anyway."
"And if nothing else proved that it's not our Cynthia doing these things, that sacrifice would." Aaron added. "Sadie, get in. You can come get your car later...I'd be happier if we travelled in numbers."
"Whilst Cynthia is active, Aaron, I will do noone any harm." Cynthia said softly.
"Possibly, and I trust you, but I still feel it's better we stick together." Aaron indicated for his friends to get in the car. "Besides, you need more than a technician. And, well, Sadie's better at giving hugs to disconsolate holograms than I am."
"He might be right there." Sadie slipped into the back of the car behind her holographic friend, reaching over to squeeze her hand. "I'm sorry I broke my promise and told Aaron what had happened, but I kinda felt I had to."
"No, you were right." Cynthia sighed. "I would probably have come to it myself, in the end. I just did not want to admit that I was unwell."
"Can you remember anything else? Anything that might have happened since Jerrica died and since you rewired your emotions?" Sadie asked, as Aaron got into the driver's seat, putting the car in gear. "Like, well, the bits of you the FBI had. Is it at all possible you, well...took those?"
"I don't know." Cynthia admitted. "But in truth, Sadie, I think it unlikely that I did."
"How do you mean? If you can't remember...they did say that there was no genetic evidence at the scene."
"I mean that the parts have not turned up in my possession." Cynthia responded. "And had I taken them, I or one of you would have stumbled across them. If I had brought them to the basement of the Starlight, I would have seen them as soon as I was once more myself."
"Besides, I have memory of that night. Almost total recall." She added. "Thankfully."
"I'm sorry to ask you." Sadie looked guilty. "I know what it's like to have accusations flung at you and stuff...to the point even you don't know what you did and didn't actually do. I've had my fair share of blackouts and I've done things under the influence of heroin or the withdrawal that make me cringe. But we kinda need to fill in those blanks. And work out exactly what's going on here."
"You need not apologise." Cynthia assured her. "I would rather fill them also. It is not good for a computer to have gaps in her memory banks...regardless of how ugly the facts are."
She looked troubled.
"I have fragments of memory." She admitted. "Little bits and pieces, which begin to make more sense as I see the bigger picture of what has been happening to me. Most of it is beyond my retrieval at present...but Sadie, I'm sure you already realise that, even if I did not steal from the FBI, there are other crimes I have committed. Grave crimes...and against friends."
Cynthia's expression became ashamed.
"Sylva's car." She murmured.
"That was you?" Sadie stared. Cynthia hesitated.
"I have not conclusive memory to say yes or no." She replied. "But my inclination is that it was. I have memory of that night, but in fits and patches. I know the car was found wrecked, but there was no sign of a driver. I know a call was made to police, but it was a voice that noone has been able to trace. I know the message, Sadie. Word for word, I can hear it playing through my system. But I have not spoken to the police or heard the recording they have of the suspect's voice."
She glanced down.
"I have a snippet of memory also of speeding through the darkness, but it is vague and not clear." She added. "I feel that, considering the bits I do have, it was probably me who took Sylva's car. Therefore I stole from a friend and allowed her to hold suspicion for others who were innocent."
"No, Cyn. You didn't." Sadie slid a comforting arm around her friend's shoulders. "Something inside of you might have, but Cynthia didn't. She's just paying the price for it, that's all."
"It is the same thing." Cynthia said bitterly. "It came from within me, therefore it is my crime. Perhaps I am schizophrenic, or losing my mind. But it doesn't change the facts."
"With a human being, mental illness is often reason for leniency." Aaron put in from the front seat at that juncture. "Cyn, in a computer system, it's not even mental illness. It's a program glitch and I've worked on lesser computer systems that run six or seven independant memory drives. Sadie's right when she says that it's not Cynthia doing these things. Maybe it's Synergy, or a part of Synergy. But it's not you specifically. And if what you just said about Syl's car is true, she won't hold it against you. It's like I said - you weren't yourself. None of these things have involved you being Cynthia. That's the stability inside your programming and that's what we've got to focus on. Whatever's going on is linked to the damaged program that Emmet originally gave you and it's damage was not your fault. Cynthia is your own creation...and she is not culpable for the things that have happened."
"I was Cynthia when I confronted Rio." Cynthia objected.
"Cynthia tried to throw him out of the window?"
"No...actually, Synergy did." Cynthia pursed her lips. "I appear to have done much changing of appearance lately, haven't I?"
"It's starting to look that way." Sadie agreed.
"But it's also looking like more than rogue emotions after Jerrica's death...more like life has been breathed into the old program." Aaron added. "That being so, it should be a case of isolating the right bit of circuitboard and removing it. Since you've spent this long running without it, Cyn, it should be possible for you to continue. It just depends how much we have to remove."
"And all these things that have been done? How will fixing me take those back?"
"There are things you can't take back." Sadie said soberly. "That's one of the things I had to come to terms with when I put my life back together. I might have been better...but the things that happened before I was, well, they still happened. I still stole from people and took drugs and concealed the fact a murder had taken place. You can't change them. You just have to learn from them and move on."
"So if you attacked Rio in a state of pure rage..." Aaron said thoughtfully, as he took the turning for the Starlight Mansion. "To the point where you lost control of Cynthia and Cynthia's rationality...who were you when you took the car?"
"Good question." Cynthia shrugged her shoulders. She frowned.
"Though it might not be too much of a jump to think perhaps I was blond."
"Blond?" Sadie frowned. "Like the girl in the club...?"
"Yes." Cynthia agreed. "Though I have no likeness for her in my databases, and do not know what she appeared like to you. But I know there was film footage of a blond leaving Misfits Music when it was ransacked. That something had distorted the video...or something beneath the camera had been distorted - something like a hologram. You did not think of that possibility, but there was no evidence at the scene. And whoever it was used my pass key. I said I missed it at the show, and I did. But that does not mean it was not in my possession."
Sadie swore softly under her breath.
"Is this supposition or are you remembering it?" Aaron asked.
"Supposition, mostly." Cynthia admitted. "But I do remember something...bits and pieces, in no particular order. Fragments of memory, but enough to tell me that I've been a particularly bad hologram of late."
She sighed, closing her eyes briefly.
"And I'm so tired." She added. "I just want this to be over."
"So do we." Sadie said decidedly, as Aaron pulled onto the front forecourt of the Starlight Mansion. "And the sooner we do it, the better."
There was noone else home as they entered the building and, casting
her friend a sidelong glance, Sadie could tell that Cynthia was
Impulsively she reached across to squeeze the hologram's hand.
"They will understand." She murmured. "And we will have to tell them, either way."
"I know." Cynthia acknowledged, her tone weary. "But I would rather face them when I have an explanation. At present, I don't have that. All I have is a fleeting conviction that I am responsible for the loss of Syl's car."
"Well, stop dwelling on things that you can't change, and let's find something that we can." Aaron said briskly, slipping his key into the front door of the big white building and leading the way inside. "Cynthia, is there anything else you can tell me? Anything at all? Like, when was the first time you noticed a memory blackout or a discrepancy in your readings?"
"It's hard to pinpoint." Cynthia responded sadly. "Other than knowing I haven't been the same machine since Jerrica died, I cannot think of one specific incident that may have been the first warning."
"Looks like I'm going to have a long night then, huh?" Aaron pursed his lips. pushing open the door to the basement. "Sadie, are you coming too?"
"Yes. Like you said, Cynthia needs moral support as well as a mechanic." Sadie nodded. "And I understand better than most about mental blackouts."
"I appreciate your company, Sadie." Cynthia said quietly. "It helps to have someone who comprehends, even if it is just a little."
At that moment they stepped into the basement proper, and Aaron stopped dead, staring at the computer's big lavender monitor in surprise.
"You could have told me you'd already begun digging through files." He said, casting Cynthia a glance. Cynthia looked stricken, and she shook her head.
"I am not." She whispered.
"Then where are the pictures coming from?" Sadie moved towards the mainframe, laying a gentle hand on the keyboard. There was no response. "Cyn, have you no control over this at all?"
"It comes and goes." Cynthia shrugged helplessly. "Then they overload my senses and paralyse me. I think that memory black-outs occur not long after such an episode. It's as if something is jamming my signals so that they can prevent Cynthia from operating."
"Outside interference or internal corruption?" Aaron asked. "Which do we think, Cyn?"
There was a long silence, then,
"Internal corruption." Cynthia admitted. "I have tried in vain to detect any external signal that might compromise my performance. Whatever it is, Aaron, I am certain it is inside me."
"Then we'll get it out." Aaron took a step towards the computer, but Cynthia put a hand out to stop him.
"Not until I have full control of my circuits returned to me." She warned. "I cannot cut power to the specific sections you need to examine without having a complete grasp on my mechanics. I do not want you hurt."
"Then what can we do?"
"You? For now, nothing." Cynthia's expression became dark. "Me...I'm going to reboot my servers and hope for the best."
"Hey, hang on a minute!" Sadie let out an exclamation, pointing at the monitor. "Cyn, don't do anything for a moment...look!"
"What are we looking at?" Aaron stared at the monitor and then back at the blond girl, confused. "Sadie, it's a bunch of random pictures."
"No, it isn't." Sadie shook her head, excitement in her tones. "Look! There...Cynthia, who is that?"
Cynthia's brow creased in confusion.
"Jacqui Benton." She responded. "Why?"
"Doesn't look like any picture of Jacqui Benton I've ever seen." Aaron pursed his lips.
"I believe that was how she looked when Emmet first met her." Cynthia looked pensive. "He put a lot of pictography into my system...many old photos, as if using them to help heal his wounds. Losing her broke his heart, after all. But that is the earliest photograph I have of Jacqui Benton. She must have been...maybe nineteen or twenty then."
"So?" Aaron frowned. "Sadie, what's your deal with this picture? We know that Cyn's had problems lately with images and files freaking out all over the place. What's so significant about this one?"
"Nothing about the picture, exactly." Sadie shook her head. "I've just seen her before. Recently, in fact."
"Not possible." Aaron shook his head. "Unless..."
He cast Cynthia a sidelong glance, and the hologram spread her hands.
"I am unable to answer that question, Aaron, so do not ask it." She said sadly.
"Jacqui sure looked different as a girl." Aaron turned his attention back to the screen. "But I still don't quite understand what the significance is. If you've been changing your holograms a lot lately, then it seems logical to me that you'd use blueprints that were already programmed into you. Remember, we spent a lot of time and energy creating Cynthia's appearance. You didn't just magic it out of thin air."
"You're both missing the point." Sadie looked impatient. "The girl from the club - the one with the hat. That's her!"
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.