Jacqui's Legacy: Part Three
The Story So Far...
Synergy's old componants have been stolen from the FBI lab by Sullivan, Rebel Records' odd jobs man, as Sophie and Ingrid plot insurrection. Involving Techrat in their shady scheme, the sinister genius has succeeded in creating his own version of Synergy, believing it to be under his control. However, Athena - as he has named her - has revealed to a stunned Stefana her plan to eliminate not only Rory Llewelyn, but Synergy herself, as well as anyone else who gets in her way!
Meanwhile, Synergy's own survival hangs by a thread after her split personality takes control of her mainframe, threatening to end Aaron's life. Shaken, Aaron and Copper are forced to shut her down to basic power as they try desperately to repair her damaged circuits. In the middle of all this is the canny reporter, Darren McMillan, who is certain there is a big story going down somewhere in Los Angeles, and who has settled on Stefana as the key to the whole mystery!
Chapter One: A Plea For Help

"Aaron, you've been down here all day, and most of last night."
Copper pushed open the door of the basement, a mug of hot coffee in her other hand. "I know you want to help her, but I think it's time you took a break. We know she's a lot sicker than we first suspected - we don't expect a miracle overnight."
"She's never tried to hurt one of us before." Aaron set his screwdriver down on the dusty floor, gratefully accepting the warm mug with a smile at his wife. "I guess I knew better than the rest of you that this was serious, Copper, but not quite how serious it was. I don't know if I can fully fix it, though I'm giving it my best. How can you tell a computer to fight against her original program?"
"Jacqui isn't her original program." Copper shook her head, sitting herself down on the bottom step and eying the mess of wires and cables that still littered the floor. "She's something dark and twisted - warped beyond all recognition. Emmet wouldn't see anything of his wife in that thing that tried to kill you last night, and you know it."
"No, he wouldn't." Aaron agreed. "But however warped Jacqui's files are, Copper, they're also a fundamental part of Cynthia. It's like a cancer, spreading through her system. It touches all her systems, everything. Jacqui said she had a perfect memory. That means she's far more part of our friend than we'd like her to be. I'm starting to think the only way to bring her back online would be to scrub the entirety of her original program and start from scratch."
Horror flooded Copper's gaze.
"Take away her memories?" She whispered. "All of them? Her friendships...everything?"
"Better to get it all than leave something behind." Aaron spread his hands with a sigh. "I'm still looking for a way around it, Copper, but I'm not sure it's there."
"Cyn wouldn't want to live that way." Copper shook her head. "She's hated these mental blackouts - not knowing what she's missed or where she's been. She'd be no more than a shadow - amnesic and confused. You didn't know Jacqui Benton, so you can't hope to recreate her properly. I know you're smart, Aaron, but it can't be done. It's like trying to tell a person who to be. You can't do it."
"Emmet didn't program Cynthia into Synergy." Aaron grimaced. "Cynthia did. I need her help, Copper, more than I'd care to admit."
"Well, I'm not letting you switch her back on." Copper shook her head firmly. "She had definite ideas where you were concerned and I'm not going to be a widow just yet, thank you."
She frowned, reaching over to touch his hand.
"I wish there was something I could do to help, though." She said pensively. "I feel useless, just being the coffee lady. Would it help if we got a hold of Aja?"
"No, not this time." Aaron shook his head. "She's far too busy, anyhow. And it's like I said. There are only two beings that truly understand how this computer works. One of them is already dead and buried and,"
He paused, lifting a worn section of circuitboard, and then carefully slotting it back in place with a click.
"And the other one will be too, unless I figure out how to fix her." He finished. "I'm sorry, Copper. I know you want to help, but I think I just need to be on my own with her for a while."
Copper frowned, but nodded her head.
"All right." She agreed, getting to her feet. "But don't you forget you need to eat and sleep, even if she doesn't. She wouldn't want you to hurt yourself over her, and it's my duty to worry about you. All right?"
"I promise I'll come up for something to eat in an hour or two." Aaron raised a faint smile. "I just have a couple of things I want to try and then I'm taking a breather for a shower and a nap. Maybe go home, change clothes and try and focus on something else for an hour or two."
"Sounds like a good idea to me. I'll hold you to it."
Copper kissed him gently on the forehead, then she was gone, and Aaron surveyed the mess in front of him. He sighed. It seemed a hopeless task.
"Like a huge jigsaw, and I don't have a box to copy." he muttered, tapping his screwdriver on the stone floor. "Oh well. Anything has to be an improvement on a homicidal hologram, I guess. Here goes nothing!"

Across the bustling city, at the spacious estate where Diablo made their home, Stefana had secluded herself in her bedroom to think. The light of day had long since faded into darkness, but she had been so intent on her thoughts that she had not noticed the dim atmosphere in which she sat, and Marissa frowned, reaching to flip the switch on.
"Steffi, what are you doing up here?" She asked softly, and her friend turned her head, as if registering Marissa for the first time.
"Stef, you're sitting up here in silence and darkness. Is something wrong? Are you sick?" Marissa came to sit down on the bed. "You've been funny since you got back from running that errand this morning. Is something up?"
"Something's well up, yes." Stefana said darkly, rolling an unlit cigarette between her fingers. "And I can't tell you any of it. Mari, something big is going down and I don't know what to do about it. Something - that much I'm sure of. I can't not do anything. But...I want to be safe. And I don't know that either of them are safe."
"Stef?" Marissa looked anxious. "Stef, you've lost me. Either of who are safe?"
"That's what I can't tell you." Stefana sighed, glancing at her hands. "You already know way too much, and I'm in so over my head. I can't drag you into it too. Better only one of us knows."
Marissa eyed her companion thoughtfully.
"Does this have something to do with Darren McMillan?"
"Let's hope not." Stefana shook her head. "If he gets his smart ass involved, it'll only make things worse for everyone."
"Then what?"
"Mari, I told you already - it's better that you don't know!"
"And that's not gonna wash with me." Marissa shook her head. "Listen, Steffi, if you're in trouble, then I'm in trouble with you. It's how things are. Farah and me both - we're both always on your side and you know it. I haven't told Farah about this...well, this crazy stuff about Jerrica's computer, but maybe it's time we did. I'm guessing from your reticence that this is about Jerrica's computer...yes?"
Stefana sighed.
"Yes." She acknowledged. "In a manner of speaking."
"Luca said that you were worried someone was sick - maybe dying." Marissa pursed her lips. "Is that tied into this too?"
Stefana was silent for a moment, and Marissa's brows knitted together.
"I suppose it is."
"Getting anything out of you right now is like getting blood from a stone." Marissa sighed. "I don't like thinking that you're alone with whatever this is, though. It's bugging you and we all know you shouldn't be in that position again. I don't want you in trouble, Stef - even if the trouble isn't your fault to begin with. And I think you are. Aren't you?"
"Yes." Stefana met her friend's gaze with a sombre one of her own. "And I get what you're saying, Mari - about wanting to be in on the deal and backing me up and all. I really do. But it ain't your problem. And I'm not going to make it your problem, either. All you need to know is that the people who got hold of Synergy from the FBI are more dangerous than any of us realised. People might get hurt. They could already have been. And I don't want you - or Farah - to be next."
"You know who broke into the Federal Lab?"
"I have a strong suspicion." Stefana said grimly. She got to her feet.
"Mari, for the last time, stay out of it." She said at length. "I've made up my mind what I have to do, and I just have to hope I've taken the right gamble and chosen the right side."
She scooped her purse up from the counter, sliding her jacket over her shoulders and reaching for her boots.
"Are you going out?" Marissa looked surprised. "It's dark out - is that a good idea? If you feel threatened...?"
"Well, I'll take my chances." Stefana said simply. "Either way, I want you to forget we had this conversation - or any others like it. I don't know how things are going to work out yet, Mari, and I might have gambled on the wrong side. If something happens to me, well, you don't know enough to put yourself in harm's way. But I had my life threatened this afternoon - and it's a threat I take very seriously."
Shock flooded Marissa's features, but before she could respond, Stefana was gone, fumbling for her car keys as she went. By the time Marissa reached the bottom of the stairs, Stefana's car had screeched out of the driveway and into the night, away from the Diablo estate.
"Was that Stef going out?" Farah poked her head around the door of the little room in which she had been sketching basic plans for a music video. "I was going to ask her opinion on something - but that sounded like her car."
"It was her car." Marissa faced her sister, a troubled look in her eyes. "Farah, I think Stef's in trouble. Big trouble. I don't know where she's gone, but she's involved in something crazy and she won't tell me what it is."
"What has she said?" Farah's clever features adopted a look of concern. Marissa spread her hands.
"That someone threatened her life today, and that she knows who it was who broke into the FBI lab and stole that stupid computer of Jerrica Pacheco's." She said with a sigh. "I wish that damn thing had never been built - Stef was doing so well with her rehab and everything and then suddenly, bam, it all goes mad again. She's keeping secrets, she's haring off to secret locations and she's scared of something, but she won't tell me what. She says she's protecting me - but how can we protect her if she keeps clamming up?"
"Do you think she really is involved with something, or is she just, you know, having an episode?" Farah asked hesitantly. "I know you said that she had paranoid fits when she was using the speed. I don't suppose...?"
"Well, I thought it at one point too, but I don't think it now." Marissa rubbed her temples. "I believe that Stef is sober and I do think something is going on. I told you what happened at lunch the other day, when that impersonation of Sylva Martescu harangued her in the middle of the restaurant. And McMillan is constantly on her case, so he thinks she's in on something too. No, Farah, there's something."
"Should we try and follow her?"
"Too late now. We'd never catch her." Marissa sighed. "She said she'd made up her mind what she had to do. I just wish I knew what it was, and what we could do to help!"

Stefana, for her part, put her foot down on the gas pedal of her car, glancing in the mirrors from time to time as if to ascertain whether or not she was being followed. Finally, as she drew closer to her destination she let out a sigh of relief. Marissa had not followed her, and there was nobody on her tail.
"Athena may have just been blowing hot air." She mused. "But either way, I have to take her threats seriously. If I don't, I'm accessory to murder - and even though I don't like Rory Llewelyn, I don't really want to be up in court over a stiff. Besides, that machine needs to be shut down. I just wish I knew if the opposition was any more stable."
She pulled her vehicle onto the arc-shaped driveway of the Starlight Mansion, drawing to a halt beneath one of the big trees that stood guard over the house. With a moment of hesitation, she unlocked her car door, stepping out onto the concrete and gazing up at the big, imposing building, taking a deep breath. As she did so, she recognised Aaron's car parked to one side, and a stab of relief flooded through her. If he was here, then maybe it would be all right. Maybe she would be all right.
She gathered her courage and composure, hurrying up the front path to the door and ringing the bell. There was no response to begin with, then the sound of voices and a catch being drawn back. The door swung open, and the person on the other side let out an exclamation of surprise.
"Well done. You get an A." Stefana snapped, impatiently pushing past Topaz and into the hallway of the house. "Aaron's here and I need to speak to him."
"Well, do come in." A note of irony touched Topaz's tones. "Aaron's kinda busy right now...can I take a message?"
"No, you can't." Stefana said flatly. She glanced at Topaz, then, "Look here, blondie. What I have to say, I say to him...or to Sadie, if she's here. I don't play chinese whispers with something this important."
"Sadie's out with Alex tonight." Topaz said levelly. "And like I said, Aaron's busy. He's working on...a very important project."
"No, he's working on that crackbrained computer." Stefana wheeled on her companion, taking her off guard. "And that's why I'm here, too. Synergy."
"What's going on out here?" Nancy pushed open the door of the lounge, stopping dead when she saw who was in the hallway. "Stefana? What are you doing here?"
"She wants to speak to Aaron or Sadie - though I told her Sadie was still out with Alex." Topaz shrugged her shoulders. "And that Aaron was busy."
"What's so important that you come barging into our home?" Nancy fixed Stefana with a glare. "You should know that you're not the most welcome houseguest around here, and this isn't the obvious place to go looking for my brother. Why are you really here?"
"I saw his car." Stefana stood her ground. "And I want to speak to him because he'll take me seriously and not treat me like I'm here to case the joint. I'm not here to cause trouble. I really don't want to be."
She paused, then,
"I really came to see the maniacal mainframe." She admitted. "It's her I really want to talk to."
"Cynthia's offline."
Copper appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, a sombre frown touching her pretty face. "She's not exactly well at the moment - but then, I was under the impression that you knew that, Stefana."
"I do. She's impersonated me once too often these last couple of weeks." Stefana nodded her head. She paused, fixing Copper with a thoughtful look, then, "How do you mean, she's offline?"
"We had to switch her off. She...wasn't acting like herself." Copper leant up against the doorpost. "In much the same way as she has been of late."
"Why is any of that your business, anyhow?" Nancy demanded. "And you still seem to be in our hall, Stefana. I don't remember anyone actually inviting you in - and since Cynthia's not up to taking your call, do you want to leave a note and get lost?"
"No." Stefana folded her arms across her chest. "I'm not leaving here until I've spoken to someone who's going to take me seriously. I already told you I didn't want to be here. You don't have to make this whole thing harder for me."
Copper held up her hands.
"Wait a minute." She said softly. "Let's hear her out. Stefana, will you tell us what you wanted to tell Synergy? I know that you did her one good turn already in recent months. I'm game to believe you're not here to hurt her this time. Please. Tell us."
Stefana stared at her rival, for a moment stunned speechless by this unexpected support. Then she pulled herself together, nodding her head slightly.
"All right." She agreed cautiously. "But first off, you didn't get this information from me. I don't consort with Jewels, and I'm already putting my neck on the line even being here. I don't know if I'm being watched as it is."
"Watched?" Nancy raised an eyebrow. "Paranoid much."
"Nance, don't." Copper shook her head, before Stefana could retort. "Go on, Stefana."
"I know who took Synergy's waste from the Feds." Stefana said softly. "I can't prove it, though, that's the trouble. I don't know where they're going, exactly...and I probably won't till after things...happen."
"And you think Cyn needs to know about this because...?" Copper looked confused. "She and Aaron both rendered those bits useless to anyone. They're just junk. That's all."
"No, they're not just junk." Stefana shook her head. She narrowed her eyes. "Do you remember a computer virus, that made your precious computer sick as a dog?"
"We remember." Nancy said coldly. "And we remember who was behind it."
"Do you?" Stefana raised an eyebrow. "Do you remember his name, Nancy? Because that's who's got Synergy's old bits of junk. And he might be a weirdo, but he's a damn smart weirdo. Do you know what he's used them to do?"
"Excite us."
"He's built his own computer." Stefana said darkly. "Now do you understand? There's another Synergy in Los Angeles - and this one wants to kill people. Starting with Rory Llewelyn - and me, if she finds out I've told you anything about her."
"What?" Topaz blanched. "Another Synergy? Another holographic computer?"
"That's what I said, blondie." Stefana agreed. "Athena. That's what he calls her."
"But...I thought that was impossible?" Nancy, startled out of her hostility, stared at her foe. "Cynthia said those componants were useless to anyone!"
"Techrat isn't just anyone." Stefana snapped. "He's a freak, but he's a goddamn genius with it. More, he's been tracking your computer for a while. He knows she's still running, and he said that she was getting erratic. Crazy, even. He said it wouldn't be long before the strain blew out her circuits. Now do you understand why I came here? His computer is nuts and she wants to put an end to Synergy herself, if Techrat's prediction doesn't come true quick enough. She thinks that Synergy is the only thing that might be able to stop her doing whatever the hell she likes - and judging by the little demo Techrat gave of what she can do, she might damn well be right."
"But Synergy may already be spoken for." Copper bit her lip. "Stefana, it's worse than we thought. Aaron's working on her downstairs, but we can't even switch on her hologram. We don't know...well...who we might get if we do."
"Why did you bring all this to us, if this computer of Techrat's is so amazing and deadly?" Topaz asked quietly. "Why put yourself in danger?"
"Athena wants to total my boss." Stefana said levelly. "And I don't love my boss any, but I draw the line at murder, whether you believe it or not. Plus..."
She paused, then,
"Aaron and Sadie are my friends, and I owed it to them to pass on what I knew." She added. "So now I've done so, I'll cut out of here. I've done my bit. It's up to you what you do about what I told you."
"No, I think you should come down and speak to Aaron directly." Copper shook her head. "He and I seem to be camped out here at the moment - and you're right. If anyone should know about it, it should be him."
"Fine." Stefana looked reluctant, but she nodded her head. "Just remember - none of this came from me."
"We promise." Copper agreed. "Noone outside us - and Sadie and Syl when they get home - will know anything about your visit tonight. Follow me, huh? Aaron's down in the's through this way."
Stefana pursed her lips, but made no further comment, merely following the drummer through the hallways of the big house.
Once they were both gone, Topaz and Nancy exchanged looks.
"Do you think this is for real, or is it one of her games?" Nancy was the one to break the silence. Topaz chewed on her bottom lip, looking troubled.
"I think she's for real." She admitted. "There was something in her face, Nance - she was afraid. And if she's right, maybe we should all be afraid. Cynthia is the only one who understands Synergy technology enough to know how to really deal with another of her kind. Even Aaron has his limitations. We need her...if there's really another computer out there, we need her more than ever!"


Chapter One: A Plea For Help
Chapter Two: Phoenix
Chapter Three: Federal Help
Chapter Four: A Tangled Web
Chapter Five: Assassin
Chapter Six: Panic For Sophie
Chapter Seven: Athena Strikes Again
Chapter Eight: Cynthia's Ruse
Chapter Nine: Martyr
Chapter Ten: Stefana
Chapter Eleven: Nemesis
Epilogue: White Flag

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