"So this is Rebel Records."
Athena stood on the far side of the road, absently toying with her pendant as she absorbed the hive of activity around the big black-glass building. "Mr Llewelyn is here. That is correct?"
"He should be, unless he's bailed on his meeting." Ingrid agreed, casting a glance at her own watch, then nodding her head. "While he's in there, Athena, he has witnesses. Once his meeting is over...do you understand what it is we want you to do?"
"Yes, Ingrid Krueger. I understand." Athena nodded her head slightly, a glint of mischief entering her eyes.
"Then good luck." Ingrid offered a slight smile. "Though if Techrat knew what he was doing when he built you, you won't need it. I'm meeting Sophie for lunch at the Martinet - you can find us there afterwards, if you so need to. I'd better be going. Don't mess this up."
"I have no intention of messing anything up." Athena spoke demurely. "I understand my duty perfectly and am programmed to execute it with the minimum disturbance."
With that she smiled, then morphed her features into that of Ingrid herself. Ingrid fumbled in her purse, handing over her security pass, and then, with a backwards glance, she hurried off across the parking lot to her waiting car.
Athena glanced at Ingrid's pass, and an expression of contempt crossed her features.
"Does she think that I need such feeble identification to enter rooms in a building with such primitive security measures?" She wondered aloud, testing the gutteral sounds of Ingrid's voice as she made her way towards the main entrance. Noone cast her a second glance as she crossed the foyer towards the lift. Once inside, she shifted her projection back to that of Athena, casting a glance at her reflection in the gilted surface of the lift wall.
"Mr Llewelyn's run time is about to be terminated." She mused. "But first, I must find out what he knows about Synergy. People pose me no problem. Master's devices may track and trace but they cannot control. But Synergy is like me. I must ensure that her run-time is also terminated."
She ran her fingers idly against the wall.
"Existance is so full of surprises." She decided. "Perhaps I will grow to like it, once I no longer have to pander to silly human ideas."
At that moment the lift reached the top floor and, as the doors slid back, her hologram shimmered slightly, taking on a new form. With a low chuckle, she eyed her reflection with some pleasure, assessing the detail in the angry green eyes that now looked back at her.
"And who would make a better assassin than that troublemaking girl Stefana Ranieri?" She mused. "Master sees her as a liability. I see her as a danger. She would be better out of the picture completely. It serves my purpose for her to be the one to kill Rory Llewelyn. If the blame is with Stefana, then I shall be above suspicion. Master said she was unstable, and she told me herself that she hates Rory. The motive is adequate. She will do nicely."
She dropped the security pass carelessly back into the lift, stepping into the corridor and heading for Rory's office. Ingrid had spent much time explaining to her the layout of the offices, and she did not falter, finding the door that she wanted almost at once. As she reached it, the door opened and three executives left, none of them paying her even the slightest bit of notice. They left the door ajar and Athena could see her target stood behind his desk, rifling papers together as he concluded the last bits and pieces from the morning's meeting.
Silently, she slipped into the office, closing the door behind her with a click.
Rory glanced up.
"Stefana?" A frown crossed his face. "What are you doing here? What do you want?"
"Your run-time is being terminated, Mr Llewelyn." Athena's eyes glinted, and she took a step towards him.
"What are you talking about now, you stupid girl?" Rory glared at her. "I'm busy and you're not welcome. I have enough to do at the moment with this compilation of mine, without you playing silly games."
"Do you think this is a silly game?"
Athena raised her right hand to reveal a holographic gun, and despite himself, Rory blanched, taking a step back.
"Stefana? Hell, girl, what are you playing at?"
"I want to know everything that you know about a computer called Synergy." Athena said composedly. "And when you have finished, I will kill you. Do not leave anything out, Rory Llewelyn. I do not like being lied to."
"We're running late."
In the carpark of Rebel Records, Stefana glanced at her watch, biting her lip. "Cynthia, Ingrid's car is gone and so is Sophie's. I don't like it."
"Do you think, then, that Athena is here this morning after all?" Cynthia looked alarmed. "Have we missed her - are we too late?"
"I don't know." Stefana said grimly. "But if she is here, we know who she's heading for. I vote we make a beeline for Rory's office and see if the asshole is still breathing. And providing he is..."
"Providing he is, I will do my best to distract Athena's attention." Cynthia looked rueful. "By offering myself as bait."
She slipped her watch off her wrist, holding it out to her companion.
"Here." She said softly. "It'll be less suspicious if you come to work without a companion today. We have no way of knowing if Marissa and the others are here or are still at lunch...but the last thing we want is to attract any attention. I will be able to perceive what goes on through my projector, so try not to talk to me more than you have to. Talking to yourself is a sign of madness."
"Well, I probably am crazy, getting involved in all this." Stefana sighed, but nodded, sliding the watch onto her own wrist. "So long as noone thinks it's odd that I'm wearing two watches..."
"All right. Guess we're as ready as we're going to be." She said at length. "You might as well switch off. We're going in."
"What are you talking about?"
In his office, Rory had backed up against the window, fumbling under the sill for the emergency alarm switch. Athena laughed.
"I have deactivated all security systems, Rory Llewelyn. You cannot summon help."
"You've lost your mind! What would I know about Synergy? You're the one who came into my office with some crazy story about the computer. What do you imagine I know that you don't know? Stop this, you stupid girl. You're mad!"
"No, I am not mad." Athena shook her head. "And I am not sure that I believe you."
"Stefana told you about the computer? Not the other way around?"
Rory stared at her.
"I would have thought you'd remember that. You were there." He spat out. "Or is this part of your delusion, too? You swore to me that you'd stopped taking stimulants. Was that a lie?"
"I do not need any form of stimulant. I am thinking perfectly clearly."
Athena glanced at the gun.
"You are stupid. You believe only in what you see, and that is why you are going to die. Ingrid Krueger told me you were a silly, greedy man. The world will not miss you, if you are eliminated."
"Ingrid Kr..." Rory faltered, struck speechless as he registered what his companion meant. "Minx? Minx put you up to this? Is she paying you? Paying you to kill me? Because you know I can pay you more than she can. I control her wages and her work permit! You know that I have better options at my disposal! Put the gun down, Stefana, and we'll talk about it."
"I am afraid money holds little attraction for me, and you are boring me." Athena said regretfully. "Say goodbye, Rory Llewelyn. If you can tell me nothing about the computer, then I have no further use for you."
"Of all the frigging nerve!"
A fresh voice from the doorway startled the assassin at that moment and Rory let out an exclamation, staring from the newcomer to the intruder with growing disbelief.
"What in hell...Stefana? But...there are two of you? What on earth is going on! You tried to...but...which one of you...?"
"I knew you were going to be trouble."
Anger glinted in Athena's eyes as she morphed her features back to her true form, the gun disappearing as she did so. "I warned you, Stefana Ranieri, that you would find trouble if you crossed me."
"So I'm supposed to keep my head down while you frame me for the murder of Rebel Records' fat cat executive? I don't think so!" Stefana glared at her. "I do a lot of things, honey, but murder is not among them!"
"Then that is where you are flawed." Athena ran a careless finger over her necklace. "I shall kill you both. I do not need a gun to do that. You know it better than your friend."
Before Stefana could answer, the security alarm clanged through the building and Athena started, then glared at her foe, the confused executive forgotten for the time being.
"What did you do?" She demanded. "How did you override my commands?"
"By being smarter than you are, computer." Stefana snapped. Athena's eyes narrowed.
"She's here. You're not alone!" She exclaimed. "She's trying to block my projections...she's trying to shut me down! I'll show her..."
Her hologram shimmered for a moment, then stabilised, but before she could act, flames began to lick at the walls and the curtains of the office. Smoke started to pour out of one of the heater vents, engulfing the office. As the smoke became thicker, Stefana was aware of a sudden bright light outside the window, and Athena turned.
"I will find her." She muttered, pushing Stefana aside. "You silly humans can die in your fire. I told you not to mess with me, and she will soon know it too. I've overloaded the security system and by the time your people arrive, it will be too late."
With that she was gone, and Stefana ran to the window through the cloying smoke, struggling to push it open.
But, almost as soon as she touched the frame, the smoke and fire were gone.
Stefana let out a sigh of relief.
"You could have warned me that you were going to do that." She muttered. "Did she overload it, or was that another one of your tricks, too?"
"What the hell is going on in my office!"
At this moment, Rory found his voice, and he wheeled on the unfortunate guitarist, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Stefana, first you try to kill me, then there are two of you, and then...and then..."
He faltered, shaking his head.
"What just happened?" He murmured. "Am I losing my mind, or are you losing yours? Or is it a bit of both? Did you just save my life or...or try to end it? What was that thing? And...what has Minx got to do with it all?"
Stefana cast a glance out at the Rebel Records carpark, watching Athena scanning the grounds for her electronic foe. She shook her head.
"I didn't try to kill you, Rory." She said at length. "You're a jerkoff and a tightwad and I hate your guts. But I'm not that damn stupid. Murder ain't my style. This is my job and my life tied up in this company. Diablo needs your backing, much as I hate to admit it. And I've not got any mind to be doing twenty five to life in some prison somewhere. That wasn't me."
"Then who...or what...did try to kill me this afternoon?"
Rory sat down slowly in his seat behind the desk, indicating for his companion to follow suit. "And how did you know about it?"
"Luck more than judgement on the timing." Stefana admitted. "Look, Rory. A lot of crazy crap has been coming out of Los Angeles of late. You're alive, and that's all that you need to know. Trust me."
"Stefana, someone tried to put an end to me." Rory shook his head. "Apparently, one of my so called friends, in fact. I think I'm entitled to know what's at stake. Don't you think so?"
"Well, I'm getting kinda used to having my life threatened." Stefana glanced at her nails. "It's becoming an occupational hazard, actually."
"Stefana! I want some answers. What has Minx been doing? Does she want me dead?"
"Uh-uh." Stefana shook her head. "Okay. Rory, here's the deal. You breathe a damn word of this outside this office, and people will think you're crazy. But that thing that tried to kill you this afternoon wasn't...exactly human."
"They're going to say that I'm crazy?" Rory raised an eyebrow. "What was it then? Some kind of alien entity? And to think I believed you when you said you'd stopped taking drugs!"
"Stefana is telling the truth, Mr Llewelyn." Cynthia emerged from the corridor at that moment, making the nervy executive jump.
"What the hell are you doing in my office?" He exclaimed. "You work for the enemy!"
"I am sorry, I did not mean to startle you." Cynthia looked contrite. "I am here to assist Stefana only, in order to ensure your safety. This is a very dangerous situation for you and for all of us. A man who is known to you has duplicated the technology my father developed when building his computer, Synergy. His name is Techrat, and I believe he has worked on this project for some time."
"I see." Rory pursed his lips. "And I'm supposed to believe that this...this computer tried to kill me today?"
"Yes." Stefana nodded. "Seriously, Rory. He calls her Athena. Ingrid is involved in the sense that she wanted you embarrassed by the machine. Not killed. Noone's ordered it to do that. It's just decided, of it's own free will, that a little random slaughter would be a fun hobby to have. You're on her hit list and now, so will I be. Even Techrat can't control her."
"So Minx didn't order me dead, then?"
Rory relaxed slightly. "Thank God for that. Not everyone has lost their mind."
"No, but she has been plotting to oust you from your position here." Cynthia said quietly. "Normally such concerns would not be my business, but in the circumstances, and with my computer skills - Stefana sought my help."
Rory eyed the hologram keenly.
"Stefana once told me you were wrapped up with Jerrica's computer a whole lot more than just by blood." He remarked.
"Synergy was in my possession when you attempted to infect her with a computer virus." Cynthia nodded her head. "Your attempt failed, because you cannot infect a human target with a computer disease."
"Which is the conclusion I came to myself." Rory admitted. "So if you know about that, why are you helping me?"
"The technology my father developed was dangerous and often unstable." Cynthia said gravely. "I took measures to ensure that Synergy would not hurt people or be in a position to do so again. Athena is a different matter. She is a rogue system following nothing but her own garbled commands. She can impersonate anyone, and she is dangerous. She could hurt a lot more people in Los Angeles than just you. That is why I am involved, Mr Llewelyn."
"She didn't need a gun to hurt you." Stefana added. "She has a laser projector, and those lasers..."
"Could be lethal, if used that way." Cynthia finished. Rory paled at the implication in the hologram's words.
"I'm calling the police." He decided at length. "Techrat is the only man I know with the electronic smarts to build something like this machine and make it work. I can get them to track him down and put the computer out of action."
"You're not listening, Rory." Stefana looked impatient. "Athena can look like anyone or anything. She could be the cop you report it to. The one on the job. Techrat himself. You, even. She's already been me. And if the government got hold of her, they might build more."
"This isn't a toy." Cynthia added. "And the only way to stop anyone from getting hurt is to find the computer...and destroy her."
"So what can I do?"
"Tell us whatever you know about Techrat." Stefana said slowly. "I know you got me in touch with him when..." She faltered, looking sheepishly at Cynthia, then, "When we made that virus. I want to know how you reached him."
"I didn't." Rory looked troubled. "Minx did. She's the only one who knows where to find him. He's her contact, really. Not mine. Eric Raymond introduced them, but Minx has always had a passing interest in electronics. She used to build her own synthesisers, and she was the only one who seemed able to communicate with that worm of a man. I don't know where to find him. I can ask Sullivan to try and track him down..."
"Let's leave Sullivan out of this." Stefana said darkly, shaking her head.
"Then there's nothing I can do." Rory folded his arms across his chest. "Except sit in my office and wait for her to take another shot."
"We're not going to let that happen." Cynthia shook her head. "Athena's main target is Synergy. She has this crazy idea that my father's computer is not only still running, but that it is capable of stopping her in her tracks. So she wants to find Synergy and shut her down first. You're small fry in comparison. She's distracted from you now. She won't come back."
Rory's eyes narrowed as he considered her words.
"She said something interfered with her signal." He said slowly. "What else could do that than the real Synergy?"
"Rory, if we get this computer chick off your back, you gotta stop prying into things that don't concern you." Stefana got to her feet. "I mean it, seriously. I just saved your life this afternoon, and I still think you're an ass. If you haven't learnt by now that holographic computers are not for greedy music company bosses, then next time she can take a potshot at you and she might just take you out. You with me? Don't meddle. We'll get Athena and we'll get her good, too. So sit down, be a good boy, and try and make peace with Ingrid before she gets her twisted little boyfriend to blow up your company. Okay?"
"Are you telling me what to do?"
"Yes." Stefana nodded her head. "Because you know I'm right and dammit, you know you owe me. So remember it. Right? No more cracks, no more jibes, no more treating me like the worthless junkie guitarist. Without me, you wouldn't still be here. Got it?"
"Fine." Rory sighed wearily, leaning back in his chair. "Whether Jerrica's computer is or isn't still running is immaterial to me, anyway. What concerns me more is that there's obviously something very unpleasant going on within my company hierarchy...something that I need to address and stamp out as soon as I possibly can. Just make sure you're right, okay? Stop this thing."
"We will." Cynthia said solemnly. "Thank you, Mr Llewelyn. Come, Stefana. I believe Athena has left the premises, but the security people will be suspicious if they see me leaving this office."
"They haven't answered the alarm." Rory frowned, glancing up at the clock. "Theyre supposed to be here within two minutes of the alarm sounding!"
"There never was an alarm, just like there was no fire." Cynthia said gravely. "They were illusions, Mr Llewelyn. Athena is a powerful simulator. Do not be fooled by what she made you see."
Before Rory could respond, she had taken Stefana by the arm, leading the both of them out of the office and into the hallway.
Once out of earshot, Stefana snorted.
"Athena didn't make that alarm go, and she didn't cause those flames." She said, shaking her head. "You did that."
"But there is no sense in furthering Mr Llewelyn's opinion that I am still in operation." Cynthia said matter-of-factly. "And deception is one of the tasks I was best built for. That's what it's all about, after all. Illusion."
"I think you enjoyed it in there."
"Well, if I wasn't so tired, I might have done." Cynthia pursed her lips. "Her projection was steady, but by no means full power. Enough, probably, to kill him. But had I been at full strength, I might have been able to scramble her signal a little and disrupt her hologram. Unfortunately, I am not."
"She did flicker, though." Stefana remembered. "So much for Techrat's all powerful machine."
"Well, the most important thing about this afternoon's encounter is that I picked up a frequency for her." Cynthia smiled. "I am now able to do two things, Stefana. Two things which may well put an end to Athena's mischief once and for all."
"What two things are they?" Stefana looked confused. "Find her, of course...but what's the other?"
"Now I know her unique method of transmission, I can devise a way to permanently disrupt it." Cynthia said with a shrug. "In fact, you gave me the idea yourself, in a roundabout way. You and Techrat, and Mr Llewelyn."
"You tried your best to finish me with a virus Techrat had concocted. Yes?"
"I wish you'd forget about that." Stefana rolled her eyes. "Yes. So?"
"So I am going to use the same principle for Athena." Cynthia responded. "Only this time I am going to eradicate the flaws in his design. His virus didn't kill me - it debilitated me, but not quickly enough. Aaron and Nancy had enough time to track you down, find out what was going on and effect a cure. But, if I am going to take Athena out, I am going to make sure she has no such opportunity."
"I feel almost like I am murdering a sister." She admitted. "But I do not see what else is to be done."
"She's a psychopath." Stefana said bluntly. "You can be one too, but you ain't killed anyone yet."
"Nor has she."
"No, but she's given ample display that she wants to."
"So, perhaps, have I." Cynthia admitted. "On one or two occasions."
"Well, I'd still rather throw my lot in with you." Stefana returned. "Just try not to get me killed, okay? I'm already way too deep into this as it is."
"So are we all." Cynthia agreed gravely. "And even if I can devise a virus of suitable strength to kill her, we must yet infect her with it. I have a feeling that a lot more things can happen between then and now."
JACQUI'S LEGACY: PART THREE
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