ARC ONE: NEW DAWN
Jacqui's Legacy: Part Two
Chapter Eight: Playing With Fire
"You're quiet tonight, sis."
Luca reached for another slice of pizza, casting his sister a quizzical
look from across the Diablo living room. Stefana, who had been toying
her own slice glanced up, startled at the sound of his voice.
"You're quiet." Luca repeated, waving the pizza in her direction. "And
you've barely eaten anything. I thought parmesan cheese and tomato was
your favourite topping."
"It is." Stefana sighed, setting the half eaten slice down onto the
paper plate. "I'm just not hungry tonight. That's all. No biggie."
"Are you feeling okay, kid?" Madeleine looked concerned. "Your
been better of late, and it's not like you to turn down Italian food."
"Italian food?" Stefana snorted. "The guys who run the pizza parlour
are as Italian as you are, Maddy. And besides, I'm all right. I'm
She shifted herself in her seat, then, "Is Marissa going to be out
"She and Farah headed into town to see a movie about a half hour before
you got home." Luca nodded. "I expect they'll grab something to eat
"I can't believe they went off and didn't ask me." Stefana pouted.
"Stef, Mari's had seldom little sister time with Farah since the girl
came back from across the sea." Luca said sensibly. "What with band
and everything else. Cut her some slack, huh?"
"I know." Stefana grimaced. "I just need to talk to her."
"Well, will either of us do?" Madeleine looked questioning. Stefana
raised an eyebrow.
"Talk? To you?" She demanded. Madeleine laughed.
"You have done before." She observed lightly. "And it was just a
Stefana glanced at her hands.
"It's not something that I can exactly talk to other people about."
She said finally. "I shouldn't even to Mari, but she already knows more
than she should. I'm in a...a situation. And whichever way I go, well,
it could be...risky."
"Stef, what are you involved in now?" Luca's expression became one
of alarm. "If this is drug related..."
"Oh, shut your face." Stefana sounded frustrated. "I'm past that, okay?
Not all the problems I have involve chemicals, you know."
"Luca didn't mean to suggest that they did." Madeleine told her gently.
"He just worries."
Luca looked sheepish.
"Sorry, kid." He added. "I guess it's still too close to...well,
for me not to fear the worst."
"Can you tell us in general terms, without names or places?" Madeleine
asked. "Then you'd not be breaking any confidences."
"Well, I've found out a lot of things this week." Stefana sighed
"Things which I'm not sure I should share with...well, one of my
They're things involving...someone who is a friend of theirs but not
a friend of mine. And I didn't try and find out on purpose, but it
just hit me straight on that it was, well, going on."
"And you're not sure whether you should tell your friend what you've
found out because it's something that might hurt them?" Luca asked.
Stefana bit her lip.
"Not exactly." She admitted. "Honestly, Luca, I found out that someone
I know might, well, be dying. And I'm not sure whether to sit on it and
not say that I know, or whether to tell the...the mutual friend in
well, there's something they can do to help out. I kind of got the
you see, that someone else was going to...take advantage of how things
A startled look crossed Madeleine's face at this.
"Dying?" She echoed. Stefana nodded.
"Yes." She agreed. "The thing is, I think this person could...er...be
a threat to other people even though they're sick. And...er...I'm a
afraid of getting involved."
"And you can't tell us who this person is?" Luca asked softly. Stefana
shook her head.
"I daren't." She admitted. "I don't know what they might do if they
knew what I knew."
Madeleine dropped her half-eaten slice of pizza down onto her plate,
biting her lip.
"Stef, tell me something." She asked, a strange urgency in her tones.
"Even if you can't give names, tell me - is this person someone
with Diablo? In any way?"
"Diablo?" Stefana stared at her bandmate, confused. "How do you mean?"
Madeleine paused, as if searching for the right way to word her
Then she sighed.
"Like Rory or someone at the music company." She asked at length. "I
don't want to know who, but...you know...someone that...er...affects
"Oh." Stefana shook her head. "No. This has nothing to do with Diablo
- though if Rory doesn't watch his back, he's gonna have trouble on his
hands from all angles. I'm not the only one sick to death of his
Relief flickered briefly in Madeleine's dark eyes, but it was quickly
quelled. Stefana eyed her in some confusion.
"Maddy, are you sure you're not sweet on Rory?" She demanded. "You
seem awful relieved that it's not him that's about to drop dead."
"I'm relieved it's not someone that's connected with us." Madeleine
said simply, folding her hands in her lap. "Not that I wish it on
"Well, it's not one of us, because that would affect Diablo and in
any case, we live so closely together I think we'd know if one of us
mortally ill." Luca mused. "Stef, I'm not going to try and guess who
talking about because I know you don't want to tell us. But if you were
dying, and I didn't know..."
He shook his head.
"What I'm saying is, there are things that people need to get off their
chest." He said finally. "You know how you felt when you lost Dad. It
sudden and there was a lot of stuff you didn't get to talk to him
If you know something, then I think you should talk to your friend.
up to them, then, what to do about it. But if time is short, every
An odd expression crossed Madeleine's face briefly at this, and she
shook her head.
"But if the person doesn't want other people fussing and making them
feel worse?" She asked. Luca frowned.
"Well, I dunno about you, Mad, but I'd like to know if someone I was
close to was at death's door." He said matter-of-factly. "And I'm sure
that Stef's friend would probably feel the same way."
"So am I." Stefana admitted. "It's just a little more complicated than
it seems. Oh, I guess I will tell hi...them what I found out. I just
to work out the best way to do it. I didn't exactly find out through
channels, and I don't want to get myself into any kind of trouble.
some bad blood involved and I've had enough of that for one lifetime."
"Then think it over before you broach it." Madeleine nodded. "Maybe
you should try talking to the person in question. See how they feel.
they'd rather explain to your friend what's going on themselves...in
"I'm afraid of the other person." Stefana said flatly. "She's dangerous
and I don't want to get hurt."
"Dangerous how?" Luca looked confused.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Stefana shook her head. "So
I'm not even going to try. Just rest assured that that's the
She got to her feet, pushing her plate aside.
"I'm done eating." She said decidedly. "I can't focus on food when
all hell's about to be let loose. Is Clay writing in the studio or is
likely to be quiet out back? I need some headspace."
"Clay's still at Rebel Records. Working, I think." Madeleine said.
"Stef, you don't have to run away from us whenever something's up, you
know. We are your friends."
"I work better alone, sometimes." Stefana said with a shrug. "I know
you guys have my back if I need it, but this isn't something that you
get wound up in. Trust me. It's already messy."
"Well, if you're sure, kid." Luca said with a shrug. "I'll tell Mari
when she gets in that you're looking for her, okay?"
"Sure." Stefana nodded. "Do that. Though whether she'll be able to
be any more help than you guys I don't know."
"I'm the only one who knows as much as I do, and I just have to work
out what to do with that knowledge."
Carefully Aaron spread out the rolls of rough paper on the floor of
the basement, reaching for his pencil. "Cyn, can you detect anything at
all that doesn't fit the usual pattern? Like, where the signal is
from? You have a lot of circuitry and I don't want to tap into the
part and make it worse."
It was later in the evening and, after having sent Sadie upstairs with
the latest news and the order that she was better off kept out of the
mess, Aaron had settled down to work on his holographic friend,
nervous about performing what was, essentially, computer brain surgery.
"I am not sure." Cynthia owned, in answer to his question. She let
out a sigh, settling herself against her mainframe as Aaron carefully
to sketch a rough diagram of her inner workings, pausing every so often
to glance at the computer itself. At length, he sat back, shaking his
"It's no use." He acknowledged. "I can plan and plan, but if I don't
know what I'm dealing with, it's useless. I think I'm just going to
to go into it blind."
He ran his hands along a panel, the edges of which showed signs of
"This is where Aja dabbled when she brought you back online. Do you
have enough control to cut power to this unit and still operate
I need you to be here as much as possible, but I know that this is deep
Cynthia nodded her head.
"Quite easily." She assured him. "I will divert the signal elsewhere.
Since rebooting my sensors, Aaron, my programs are responding to me
more fluidly. I believe that currently I have complete control of my
And that being so, we should not waste any time talking."
"Well, consider me on it." Aaron grabbed his screwdriver, carefully
prying free the panel to reveal the wires and circuits beyond. "Though
this is a new area of your system to me, Cyn, in a lot of ways. When I
rebuilt you, most of this I left alone. I hope you know better than me
what does what."
"So long as you do not disconnect this wire..." Cynthia extended a
long pale finger, tapping a wide cable that ran from side to side,
everything else can be rewired."
She frowned, then, "And this is, I think, the wire I began with when
I rerouted my rogue emotions." She added, touching another cable. "I
be sure - the memory is a little hazy within me. But I know it was this
circuit board to which I had to make all changes. It can't be far off
"Giving you back the rogue emotions might restore your memory but it
won't solve whatever the problem is." Aaron said gravely "We both know
that that was there before you did any tampering. I think we need to go
deeper, and plunging you into a depression right at the moment probably
isn't the best plan."
Cynthia looked troubled.
"I fear remembering, and I fear feeling it again." She admitted. "But
sooner or later I must do it, Aaron. We must fix the small amounts of
before we can adjust the larger ones. If you will not do it, let me."
And before Aaron could stop her, she had reached a holographic hand
inside her mainframe, unhooking a couple of wires and gently attaching
them to new locations. For a moment there was silence, then her hard
seemed to whirr and click as if accepting the new structure. Cynthia
not speak, and, casting a sidelong glance at her, Aaron could see his
was very pale, her expression difficult to read.
"Cyn?" He murmured. "Are you all right? Do you want me to hook them
Cynthia still made no attempt to respond, and, as he looked at her,
he realised that her pallor was not caused by the emotions at all - but
by a flicker in her hologram that, bit by bit was becoming more
Inwardly berating himself for judging his friend's reactions on human
he reached out a hand to touch hers. As he did so, she grasped at it,
he was relieved to feel her grip.
"Your system didn't like that, did it?" He asked in low tones. "I'm
going to put them back how they were. Obviously it's not right, because
you're flickering like mad."
"Put one finger near my wires again and you'll fritter like a pancake."
The words were not spoken in Cynthia's familiar, playful tones but
another voice, and, as Aaron stared back at the hologram, he saw that
flickering image had begun to change, slowly taking on new features. As
it aged, the pretty violet eyes became a rich, brilliant blue, and
the shoulders swept careless waves of thick, blond hair.
Despite himself, Aaron bit his lip.
"Jacqui?" He hazarded.
The woman glanced at him, as if both annoyed and impressed by his
"So you recognise me." It was a statement, and not a question. "You
know the face at least of the one you're trying your best to kill."
"I'm not trying to kill anyone." Aaron protested, gathering his wits
hurriedly as he registered an uncanny gleam in the apparition's eyes.
trying to help a friend. And you're a part of that friend. I'm just
to make everything, well, normal again. So you're all as you were
and so everything is all right. Synergy can't sustain two powerful
emissions. You have to know what it's doing to your system."
"You would have me removed so that Cynthia was the only program Synergy
could execute." Jacqui's voice was low and gentle, but it held an edge
that kept Aaron wary. "I'm not stupid, Aaron. I know exactly what you
"How do you know my name?" Aaron looked startled. Jacqui let out a
peal of laughter.
"Cynthia might not recall my doings." She said softly. "But I recall
all of hers. I am the perfect hologram, Aaron. I have a complete
and I am not confused or hazy in my purpose. You are trying to
the wrong hologram. Emmet Benton created Synergy so that I could exist
beyond death, protect my children and defend them. That is what I am
What does Cynthia do, that even slightly resembles her original
She is the rogue. Not me. That is why I have better control of changing
my form than she does."
Aaron was silent for a moment, digesting this.
"Jerrica is dead, Jacqui." He ventured quietly. "Emmet's program has
reached the end of it's usefulness. If you understand the programming
gave you, you know that as well as I do. It ends with Jerrica's
There is nothing else."
"Ah, and that's where you're wrong." Jacqui looked contemplative. "I'm
here to avenge her death. Then my program will be completed."
"By doing what? Attacking Rio Pacheco? Killing Cynthia? Driving Sylva's
car into a wall? Ransacking a music studio?" Aaron demanded. Jacqui
"Sabotaging Rory Llewelyn's car." She added, her tone unrepentant.
"Although that was discovered before it could make it's full impact. My
job is to bring down everyone who ever hurt Jerrica. Everyone. And then
I will be done."
She glanced at holographic nails, seemingly unconcerned by her
"I still have Vivien Montgomery to take to task." She murmured. "And
that Ranieri girl, if she keeps butting her nose in. I've warned her.
better learn to stay warned. She's not part of the big picture - but I
will involve her if I have to."
"What did Syl do to hurt Jerrica?" Aaron shot back at her. "Her mother
might have been a Misfit, but that's not her fault. My mother is a
too, if it comes to that. I wouldn't say I've even ever spoken to your
precious Jerrica and I never will, now. Are you going to punish me too,
"No." Jacqui said simply. "Not because you're a Misfit's child. I'm
going to kill you because you've tampered far too much with my
and I won't have it any longer."
Despite himself, Aaron blanched. He scrambled back against the wall
of the basement as the computer's big, heavy lasers creaked into life,
shifting just enough to follow his movements.
"Death by computer laser isn't a nice way to go." Jacqui spoke in the
same matter-of-fact tone. "But it will be quick. I can promise that."
"I thought Synergy was programmed not to harm human life!" Aaron
Jacqui smiled, and now the young technician saw true insanity in the
pixellated blue eyes.
"True." She acknowledged. "But you're too much of a threat to me, and
I haven't a choice. I don't like to do it, Aaron, because you're clever
and you know a lot of useful things that have helped me in the past.
I can't have someone knowing enough about me to tamper with my system
remove key components. Not when I have so much to do still. It's a
but you do insist on meddling."
"And what, exactly, are people going to think when they come down here
and find me?"
"If they find you." Jacqui pursed her lips. "If there's anything left
of you to find, you mean. My lasers are powerful and I can't guarantee
that they won't vaporise you on the spot."
"As for who takes the blame, they'll think that Cynthia did it, won't
they?" She said simply. "And by the time the stupid FBI reason it out,
I will have completed my task and it won't matter."
Her tones became gentle.
"Close your eyes, Aaron." She instructed. "I don't like to look into
the gaze of someone who's runtime I intend to terminate."
JACQUI'S LEGACY: PART
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