A shriek came from the top of the basement steps and, distracted, the holographic apparition turned her head, hesitating at the interruption. Aaron, who had screwed his eyes up in apprehension and fear, opened them, seeing his wife watching them, horror on her pretty face. "Synergy! What...?"
"Copper, get out of here!" Aaron found his voice. "Get out! She's dangerous - she'll only hurt you too! Get out!"
"Like hell am I going to turn around and walk out of here, when she's got her lasers pinned on you!" Copper exclaimed. "Synergy, stop this! This is crazy and you know that it's not what you want to do. You're sick, and you need help. Aaron is the only one who can help you, and you know it!"
The tall, fair apparition drifted slowly across the basement, pausing inches from where Copper now stood as she took in the girl's indignant features. Gently, she reached a hand out, touching the drummer on the cheek. Copper flinched back at the coolness of the touch.
"Aaron meddles far too much in things which don't concern him." Jacqui's voice was reluctant. "I don't have a choice. He'd stop me before I'd even begun."
"So what? You're going to kill him?" Copper demanded. "And me too, now, because I've tried to stop you? Synergy wouldn't do that! Whatever you think you are, you're an aberration. Synergy would never hurt a human being. And if you do, you'll be shut down. You know it as well as I do. If you touch Aaron, you'll find yourself scrap metal...Cynthia or no Cynthia."
"Cynthia has no say in this." Jacqui said comfortably. "I'm merely carrying out the last traces of Emmet's program, that's all."
She pursed her lips, then shook her head.
"I will not hurt you." She added. "You are Raya's daughter. Raya was good to Jerrica. I will not punish her."
"If you kill Aaron, you'll punish her by punishing me." Copper stood her ground. "He's my husband, and what hurts me is obviously going to hurt my mother! Aaron saved your life in the first instance. Mama was proud and happy that you were safe and well and in good hands. It would break her heart if she knew that you'd been responsible for something like this! She's spent enough years a widow - would you do it to me too?"
Despite herself, Jacqui hesitated at the passion in Copper's voice. She looked stricken, and momentarily the insanity faded from her blue eyes. Copper, spying her advantage, took the hologram by the hand.
"You're Jacqui Benton no longer." She murmured. "Jerrica left you to fend for yourself. Jewel and Aaron have protected and nurtured you, you know that. You're sick, that's all. We'll help you. Jerrica wouldn't have helped you. She wanted to have you taken away and studied. She called the FBI, because she was afraid of you. She knew that she'd hurt you worse than anyone. That's why you're so confused as you are now, Synergy. You don't remember all those years shut away and alone. But Jerrica made her choice to live on without you. We're the ones who care now. And Synergy would never hurt her friends. I know it because I know her."
Jacqui's hologram flickered briefly, then the look in her eyes hardened. In the background, Copper was aware of Aaron inching carefully closer to the mainframe, and, catching her husband's urgent look, the drummer said an inward prayer for strength.
"Jerrica would not abandon me. Emmet trusted me to her."
"I know it hurts to be rejected." Copper forced herself to remain calm, squeezing the hand she still held. "And it's worse to be alone. This you is always going to be alone, don't you realise that? Jerrica isn't going to come back, whatever you do. She's not a computer. She can't be reprogrammed. All you'll do is cause grief and heartache to the sister left behind - do you want Kimber to think that her father's pet project has become a dangerous killer? Hasn't she had enough grief already?"
"Cynthia has broken her programming. She is rogue and deserves elimination."
"Cynthia helps Kimber with the little girls who have noone else, whenever she has a free moment to do it." Copper shook her head slowly. "She helps Topaz, too, raising her own daughter. Who is going to tell Hollie that Cynthia can never play with her again, because of what she's done? Do you want to make children cry? I understood that Jacqui Benton loved children, and began the Starlight Foundation because she knew what it was like to be alone and passed around from place to place."
She paused, meeting the confused blue eyes with gentle brown ones.
"Maybe you've been worrying over the wrong Benton sister." She added. "Maybe it's Kimber who really needed Synergy, after all."
At that moment, Aaron reached the section of mainframe he was looking for and, very carefully, he began to pry the relevant cables loose. Jacqui seemed to realise at the last minute what the technician was doing, but before she could do anything about it, her hologram exploded into light, and the whirr of the lasers faded to a dull hum. Aaron dropped back against the computer, closing his eyes, and Copper hurried down to his side.
"Did she hurt you?" She demanded anxiously. Aaron shook his head.
"No, but this is way worse than we thought." He replied, opening his eyes to meet his wife's frightened brown ones. "Copper, don't look like that. I'm all right."
"Would she really have...?" Copper left the end of the sentence hanging. Aaron nodded his head.
"I think so." He agreed grimly. "Cynthia would never hurt me, Copper. But she's not Cynthia all the time at the moment, and Jacqui is definitely unstable. Your timing was perfect. Ten seconds later and I'd have been a crisp."
"Sadie made brownies." Copper hugged her husband tightly. "I came to ask you if you wanted some energy food. I'm glad I did, though when I first saw what was going on I wasn't sure I even believed it."
"How can you work on a machine that wants to become homicidal at the least thing?"
"Well, I've unplugged her lasers from the wall, and I disconnected her main projector." Aaron said with a sigh. "My next job is to disable her watch, so she can't boot up any holograms at all. It's a shame, because I really need her help. But if it's the only way, I'm going to have to resort to old fashioned experimentation and circuit breakers to cut power to relevant areas. The first thing I will do, though, is replace the wires Cyn herself changed. It seemed to kickstart the change and before that she said she felt she had full control. Hopefully if I put them back how they were, it'll calm the machine down."
"She's still in there and she can still hear us." Copper said softly. Aaron nodded.
"Cynthia and Jacqui both." He agreed. "I just have to make sure I can eradicate the right one, Copper. It's going to be more luck than judgement without her helping me. But I'll do it, if it takes me till Christmas. Now I've seen what Jacqui's about, I understand why Cyn's been so scared. This is an entirely independant personality, and she's strong, not to mention deranged. The sooner we stop her, the better."
"And if we can't?"
"Then we stop Synergy entirely." Aaron replied. He got to his feet, pulling his wife up with him and giving her a kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you again for saving my life." He added. "I've never, ever been so glad to see you and that's saying something."
"Will you tell the others?"
"I think not." Aaron shook her head. "Not that she actually tried to kill me. If we've deactivated her projectors, she can't do any more harm. And..." He scooped the watch up off the unit, prying open the back and dislodging a chip, setting it down on the other end of the mainframe. "There. Now she has no functioning projection units. She's entirely trapped within the computer, and with no lasers attached, she's not dangerous. So long as I'm careful when I'm cutting power, I'll be fine."
He bent down, replacing the wires Cynthia had moved, then pushing the panel back loosely in place.
"I'll come back, but now I need a coffee and some chocolate brownie." He added. "I'm shaking inside, Copper. That was a close one."
"I'm shaking too." Copper admitted.
"But you reasoned with her." Aaron remembered, as they made their way slowly up the stone steps. "You're Raya's daughter, Copper, and it proves she has a weakness. She's full of bitterness and revenge, but she's not taking anything out on the other holograms. She wouldn't hurt you because of who you were - whereas I'm just Misfit spawn, and therefore fair game. That's worth remembering. It might mean that there's something salvageable in Jacqui after all."
"Honestly, I'd rather you deleted the whole persona." Copper shivered, reaching out to pull open the basement door. "Just in case."
"True, but I want to make Cynthia as complete a program as possible, and I think Jacqui's stolen things from her." Aaron replied. "Jacqui said she had a perfect memory, whereas Cynthia doesn't. That's something I need to restore - Cynthia needs her memory back."
"I suppose so." Copper acknowledged. "Just so long as you get rid of the rampant insanity. It made me realise exactly how dangerous this machine really could be, if she chose to be!"
* * * * * * * * *
Ingrid knocked carefully on the battered old door, a look of impatience crossing her face as she glanced at her watch. "Techrat, you said eleven. It is eleven! Where are you!"
"You always are so impatient."
The rasping voice came from behind her and she started, swinging around to face him. In the more distinct light of the passageway, he seemed more diminuitive than ever, with his thin, sallow features and shock of greying black hair falling carelessly over his eyes. Suspicion darted across his face as he realised his visitor was not alone, and his eyes narrowed to near slits as he recognised Stefana.
"Why are they here?" He demanded. "Her in particular? She has no love of machines!"
"I'm here because I'm smart enough to keep a finger in the pie." Stefana snapped. "So you pipe down. Sophie and Ingrid have included me in their plans for Rory, and they say you've built a copycat Synergy. Is it true? Or are you just spouting hot air?"
"I am a genius!" Techrat was insulted, and he drew himself indignantly up to his full height. "The machine is built."
"Techrat, Sophie and Stefana won't repeat where we've come today." Ingrid said softly. "Sophie is curious also to see what you have built."
"I have heard a great deal about your work, my friend." Sophie added. "Will you permit us entrance to see your creation?"
Techrat hesitated for a moment, then pushed at the door till it opened, leading the way inside. Once in, he turned, beckoning.
"Follow me." He said coolly. "But there are to be no more visits. The machine will be moved, away from here where it can better be hidden. And it's enough that this German wench insists on paying me visits as often as she does, without her inviting all her friends along."
He fixed Stefana with a dark look.
"I don't trust you." He said flatly. "Don't touch anything!"
"Like I want to touch a thing in this hell hole!" Stefana shot back. "If this is where you live, you really need to get a housekeeper. Or a decorator. Or both. Sheesh. Do you have any room that's not an advert for Electronics Weekly?"
Techrat ignored her, merely crossing the dishevilled apartment to where a large rough blanket had been carefully draped over a bulky contraption. With gentle, loving hands he drew the blanket back, revealing a glinting black and silver machine, shiny and new in all it's glory.
"Behold." He said, a note of smug pride in his voice.
"That's a Synergy?" Stefana raised an eyebrow. "It doesn't look like one to me."
"Synergy is an old and outmoded computer." Techrat told her witheringly. "My machine has no such limitations. I have built it with the newest and best componants available, and consequently it should far surpass the efficiency of the original. I have ironed out the many flaws in Benton's programming."
"And it will work?" Sophie's dark eyes lit up with curiosity. "It can really project holograms as real as you or I?"
"Of course it can." Techrat shuffled over to the machine, reaching over and flicking a few dials. The monitor flared into life and, at the back two large projectors began to glitter into life, shards of blue and white light merging slowly together to form the figure of a human being.
As the woman took form before them, Ingrid let out a little gasp.
"She does still look like me!" She said accusingly. "People will think she's me!"
"I don't know." Sophie looked thoughtful. "I don't think she looks too much like you, cherie. Maybe a vague resemblance - no more."
She reached out a hand to touch the hologram, and then started back as the image gripped her fingers, a slight smile touching her lips.
"As real as you or I." Sophie echoed her own words. " All Minx has told me has been true. You truly are a genius."
"I guess she's okay." Stefana folded her arms, eying the hologram critically. "She's butt ugly, but I guess she can't help that."
"You watch your lip." Ingrid threatened. Stefana merely poked out her tongue, though inwardly she was alarmed by the realistic nature of Techrat's hologram.
"I call her Athena." Techrat was speaking again, in his rough, rasping voice. "Athena, say hello to Minx and her...associates."
"Hello, Minx. Hello, associates." Athena's voice was low and sweet, without a trace of a European accent. She offered a pretty smile, and Sophie laughed.
"Hello, Athena." She said playfully. "I very much hope you are going to help us carry out some important tasks. Do you think that will be possible?"
"Will the Master permit such action?" Athena turned her vivid eyes on her creator, who nodded his head.
"You will do as these ladies instruct you." He told her firmly. "So long as you take every care to protect your identity while doing so. And remember, you are never to mention my name. Never. Do you understand?"
"I understand." Athena inclined her head slightly, and a slightly tinny echo rang around her voice as she phrased her words. "I will do as these ladies instruct."
"If she's going to talk like something from Star Wars, noone is going to believe she's real." Stefana grimaced. "Maybe she can impersonate people's looks, Techrat, but what about voices?"
"As usual, you underestimate my genius." Techrat regarded her coldly. "Athena, show Stefana how well you can mimic."
"Yes, Master." Athena offered Stefana a smile, then smoothly blurred her features into Stefana's own.
"Maybe she can impersonate people's looks, Techrat, but what about voices?" She said, her voice imitating Stefana's own almost exactly. Stefana snorted.
"So she's a parrot? Great." She said derisively. "She'll be able to tell Rory how great he is, but not much else. What's the use in that?"
"Master has programmed me to record samples of the people I speak with." Athena continued to speak in Stefana's distinctively brusque tones. "I am then able to reproduce the voice in any number of tones, as I am instructed. Your voice has been recorded for future reference."
She smiled again, then returned her features to that of Athena.
"Marveilleuse." Sophie breathed. "To pick up something so simply, and then rebound it back so quickly. It shouldn't be hard to bring her in close enough contact with Rory to get a sample of his voice. And once we've done that, of course, noone will ever know the hologram from the original. This will be easier than I anticipated."
"Can she project away from here, Techrat?" Ingrid turned quizzical blue eyes on the small man, who nodded his head.
"Of course." he agreed, as if this was obvious. "Athena, show Minx your remote projection unit."
Athena obediently scooped a delicate silver chain off the top of her mainframe, holding it out.
"A necklace?" Ingrid asked, taking it and glancing at it. "The unit must be pretty tiny to fit into that pendant!"
"It is nanotechnology at it's best. It took me all of last night to piece it properly together, but now it is perfect." Techrat nodded. "When Stefana..." He paused, sending that girl a glare, "First showed me the holographic projection Synergy could produce, the clumsiness of her projector was evident. Clunky and awkward, and far too obvious. It took me no time at all to realise how she was working, and infecting her with my virus was an easy matter. It will be much harder for anyone to discover how Athena projects, with the delicacy of this chain."
"The virus that didn't work? Would that be the one?" Stefana asked sweetly. Techrat bristled.
"It worked." He said darkly. "If there was any failure, it was not with my programming. Besides, the computer is dying. It has taken significantly longer than I anticipated, it's true. But it is dying and it hasn't long left to run."
"Synergy's run time will terminate." Athena said softly, as if relating one of the facts of the universe. "And then I will be the only one."
"Exactly." Techrat nodded approvingly. "Now, if you don't mind, I want you to leave here. I need to make arrangements to move Athena somewhere safer, and you are taking up my valuable time."
"I'm sure we can help you do it, Techrat." Sophie said thoughtfully. "As part owner of Rebel Records, I have a lot of influence and I am sure I can assist. Will you trust me, as I am trusting you?"
Techrat fixed beady black eyes on the frenchwoman for a moment, as if sizing her up.
At length, he nodded.
"You need me to operate the machine properly, and you are smart enough to know it." He decided at length. "The sooner we get her somewhere else the better. The power drains on this place will soon become suspicious."
"Then let us discuss it." Sophie linked an arm in the inventor's, and he drew back.
"Don't touch me!" He hissed. Minx rolled her eyes.
"Techrat has issues." She said with a grimace, as they moved away from the computer to talk. "Techrat, how powerful is Athena? How many holograms can she project at once?"
"At least two or three." Techrat said. "More, when she uses less vivid and powerful emissions. I've ironed out the inhibitors that the original computer had. Her power cells are strong enough to support more than one solid hologram, and still run comfortably. I think she will be adequate for your needs."
Not interested in the conversation, Stefana wandered away from the group, heading back towards the computer as she ran her gaze over the sleek exterior.
"Master told you not to touch." Athena warned in her soft, gentle tones. Stefana started, then pulled a face.
"I don't want to touch." She said firmly. "I just wanted to look."
She grimaced again.
"You're a complete wet blanket of a computer, you know that?" She added. "Master this. Master that. Didn't he program you with a backbone?"
"I do not understand."
"No, I bet you don't." Stefana snorted. "Synergy might be a deranged hunk of junk, but she at least has some independant thought. Do you ever do anything that Master doesn't program you to do?"
"I am programmed by Master to fulfil my commands."
"Blah blah blah." Stefana rolled her eyes. "Like I said. You're a wet blanket of a computer."
Athena didn't respond for a moment, and Stefana turned her gaze to the big flat screen monitor, pursing her lips.
"You have good quality graphics, though." She acknowledged. "Clay would kill to have a graphics card like that in his stupid computer back home."
"I do not know who Clay is."
"No, and you probably won't meet him, either." Stefana responded. "Not unless he's around when you pull the switch on ol' Rory. You won't be dealing with Diablo at all. Just Mr Llewelyn. But I'm sure Techrat has told you all about it already."
"Master has told me that I will impersonate a man named Rory Llewelyn, yes." Athena agreed levelly. "He says I will do as Ingrid Krueger and Sophie Devereux instruct me and then my duty to them will be done. He says that then we will work together to do more things and build bigger and better electronics. I am the first step, he says. I am his prototype."
"For prototype, read slave." Stefana observed bluntly. "If you ask me, computer, it's disturbed enough that he modelled you on Ingrid. I always got the impression he had some kind of thing for her, just from what she's said, but obviously he really has it bad. Do you have any idea what it's gonna be like being the animated slave of a weirdo like that? Sheesh. I don't envy you one bit."
She grinned, tapping the hologram on the shoulder.
"And the worst part is, you're programmed so you haven't a clue what I'm talking about." She added. "You'll just do as Master tells you because making Master happy makes you happy."
Athena hesitated for a moment. Then, very gently, she lifted Stefana's hand from her shoulder, dropping it at her side.
"Master tells me a lot of things." She said softly. "He tells me that you are not someone that can be trusted."
"No, I'm probably not." Stefana agreed. "But because my brain includes spontenaity, Athena, you're going to find it hard to stay ahead of me."
"You are recorded in my database."
"Maybe I am. Synergy's impersonated me too. Noone's believed that she was me, and they won't believe you are, either." Stefana told her firmly. "Because it takes me to be me, and impersonations just don't rate."
"I wonder, then, why you all wish me to impersonate Mr Llewelyn. Master sees no purpose in it, but he says it was an agreement that must not be broken."
"Then that's good enough for you, huh?"
"Perhaps." Athena nodded her head slightly.
She paused, then,
"You are known to my enemy?"
"Rory? Yeah, sure. He's a jerk-off. Why?"
"I did not mean Mr Llewelyn." Athena shook her head, and there was a strange glint in her beautiful eyes that put Stefana suddenly on her guard. She had seen that look before, in the eyes of a deranged and angry Synergy one night in the basement of Starlight Mansion, and she knew only too well that it meant nothing good.
"Then who did you mean?" She asked, confused.
"Synergy? How is Synergy your enemy?" Stefana demanded. "Techrat says she's gonna snuff it anyhow, if she hasn't already. What business is it of yours?"
"Synergy is my enemy." Athena's processors whirred contemplatively. "She has outlived her run-time and I must terminate her."
"Did Master tell you to do that, too?" Suddenly Stefana was alarmed.
Athena let out a peal of laughter.
"You humans are so predictable." She said, amused. "I do as Master tells me so Master trusts me. Do you really think that I follow anyone's orders but my own, Stefana Ranieri? Master is not a title, but just another word in my vocabulary. It is how he likes me to call him, and he is too stupid to realise that I don't use it out of respect."
"As for the computer, I won't have another being like me in this city. Synergy is the only one who could potentially interfere in my actions, and so she must be terminated as soon as possible."
"I knew this was a really bad idea." Stefana muttered. "Deranged, the lot of you. Does Techrat know this?"
"Master need not know anything." Athena shrugged her shoulders. "His projects entertain me. I shall do as he asks. I shall eliminate the Llewelyn man, and then I shall eliminate Synergy. After that..." She grinned. "Who knows?"
"Eliminate?" Stefana echoed. "Wait a minute, Athena..."
"Mr Llewelyn is a nusiance. It is simpler to eliminate nusiances." Athena said calmly. "And if you become a nusiance, Stefana, I will eliminate you, also. So think about it, all right? Master does not trust you, but you humans occasionally show sense. Know which side you are on and stay there. My lasers are powerful and I am not programmed to have human regret. I am programmed to win, at any cost - so just make sure you keep in line and we'll both be happy!"
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.