At Rebel Records, Sophie Devereux had arrived early, pacing
across her office as she glanced up at the big clock over the mantle.
the minute hand clicked onto the twelve, the office door swung open
casting a furtive look behind her, Ingrid slipped into the room.
"Well?" Sophie raised an eyebrow, indicating for Ingrid to shut the door behind her. "Did you speak to him?"
"No, and not yet, either." Ingrid shook her head, dropping down into an empty seat with a sigh. "Athena was there, and I spoke to her. The trouble with involving electronics in anything that you do, Sophie, is that they have literal minds. She didn't understand that removing Rory from Rebel Records was not a direct command. But I think I convinced her that she shouldn't come near the company for a few days - at least not until I've spoken to Techrat. I don't know where he was, but he's never been the kind of man who likes to be found. I'll try his apartment later on, when I'm done here."
She bit her lip, then, "Riot?"
"He's not here." Sophie shook her head. "I suggested that, with yesterday's events, he took it easy today and took the morning off. I told him I'd handle his meetings today, and I intend to."
She looked troubled.
"I don't know what this means for our plans from here...but I think at best we need to...be patient."
"I'm mad at Riot. I don't want him dead." Ingrid shook her head. "And I agree. Till I speak to Techrat, I don't think we should do anything. He's never let me down before. I'm not going to let this be a first time."
"All right - then we're agreed?" Sophie asked. "We sit back and let the dust settle. No sense in taking unecessary risks."
"You already did that, you pair of idiots."
A voice from the doorway made both women jump, and as one person they turned, seeing Stefana standing watching them.
"What do you want?" Sophie asked wearily.
"Don't think I'm doing this out of any loyalty to you or your little coup." Stefana clicked the door shut, perching on Sophie's desk and carelessly pushing her pile of paperwork aside. "And I'll make it brief, because the others think I've gone to the rest-room. But with Rory's car not here, I'm guessing you've convinced him to stay away from work. And so I'm warning you. You're in over your head. Your precious pet computer is not only completely psycho, but she's also really bad at keeping a secret."
"What exactly happened yesterday, Stefana?" Ingrid's eyes narrowed. "And how were you so close to Riot's office to see it all?"
"Maybe I was just lucky." Stefana folded her arms. "But if it was either of you who told Athena to masquerade as me while she tried to put an end to my boss..."
"What?" Sophie blanched. "She did...what?"
"So you didn't know." Stefana looked thoughtful. "Interesting. I had a feeling you didn't."
"What are you trying to tell us?" Ingrid frowned. "Stefana, stop playing games. We're all a little stunned by what happened yesterday, but Athena misunderstood her commands. She's a machine, she's not perfect. Techrat..."
"Techrat is the biggest idiot of all of you." Stefana interrupted. "I know more about what these machines can do than you do, and I know more than he does. I might not know the first thing about circuitry, but I know that it's crazy, getting involved with this kind of computer. Jerrica had no control over her computer. It outed her at the Memorial. It threatened me. It had a mind of it's own and it did what it wanted to. Did you really think that Techrat's computer would be any better? You make a machine smart enough to think, then you make it smart enough to rebel. And considering what Athena is capable of, we're all in big trouble unless someone flips the switch."
"Are you saying that Athena did...what she did yesterday...of her own free will?" Sophie asked slowly. "That somehow this computer is able to...to decide for herself how to tackle a situation?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying." Stefana agreed. "And she's made it personal with me now, since she tried to frame me for Rory's murder. If I hadn't been there, well, who knows what might've happened? I kept my mouth shut and that's how she thanks me - so I'm done keeping mute. I want to know where he's keeping Athena and I want to know now. She has to be stopped."
"We gave Techrat our word..." Ingrid began, but Sophie held up her hand.
"No." She said softly. "I only got involved with this on the premise that there would be no violence. If what Stefana says is true, yesterday Athena crossed that line. Rory can be foolish and arrogant, and sometimes he is too chauvenistic for his own good. But I am fond of him, and I do not wish his death. Techrat is the one at fault - he should have seen the problems with what he was creating. He has created unwelcome trouble for us. I have no qualms in doing the same for him."
"Sophie." Ingrid's brows knitted together. "I was there last night. I spoke to Athena. If she's so dangerous, why didn't she go for me? She knows I know where she is."
Sophie looked grave.
"Because - if Stefana is correct - she knows I know where she is, also. And had you not returned, I would have become anxious." She said quietly. "This is beyond what either of us wanted."
She glanced at Stefana.
"I will give you the address." She said slowly. "If you give me your word that you will never speak of this to Rory. And that, if ever it should go any further - your silence in this matter is guaranteed."
Stefana gauged her companion for a moment, then nodded her head.
"I don't care what you do, or who runs this company." She said. "I just want to get rid of this machine before she totals me - and I know she has it in mind."
Sophie bit her lip. Then she tore a sheet of paper from her notepad, scribbling down the address. In silence, she handed it to the Diablo guitarist, who glanced at it, slipping it into her pocket.
"What makes you think you can stop this computer, if it really is as crazy as you think?" Ingrid demanded.
"Simple." Stefana shrugged her shoulders. "I have help."
With that she was gone, the door swinging behind her, and Sophie exchanged looks with her friend.
"I don't know that we can trust her." Ingrid was the first to speak. Sophie shook her head.
"I agree, but this is too messy and I do not wish to go back to Paris." She said gravely. "Nor do I wish you to be sent back to Germany - and Rory already suspects your involvement. If we silence Stefana, we silence all evidence against you. I can convince Rory that it was a misunderstanding - I will think of something and he will not take action. But we have no choice but to withdraw now and see how things go."
"All right." Ingrid spread her hands. "I trust you, and I guess you're right."
"Don't worry." Sophie offered a smile. "I'll ensure that Rory knows how you feel without making him suspicious. He is rattled at present - vulnerable and easy to persuade. I will work on him - it will be all right. I promise."
"Well, I hope so." Ingrid sighed. "Meantime I have music to write. And I still have to try and find Techrat. If Athena is a threat, I won't go back there looking for him. But I will check his home in town."
"Do you think Stefana is right about the computer? Or do you think Techrat has a more sinister motive than we realised for wanting to build this machine?" Sophie asked pensively.
"Right at the moment, I don't know." Ingrid admitted. "I thought I knew him - but how can you really know a man like that? And Rory did call him stupid a while ago. I suppose it's not impossible that he worked with us in order to build the perfect weapon of revenge."
"Then I'm glad our involvement in this is at an end." She said soberly. "And me, I have meetings to oversee. Adieu, Minx. Keep me informed of what you find out at Techrat's home. If he isn't at the school, then he must surely be holed away there."
It was getting dark.
Cynthia cast a glance around her, scanning the landscape for any sign of company, but she was alone.
Slowly and carefully, she picked her way across the gravel and patchy grass to the derelict building which had once been the Star Drive Through Theatre. Pausing at the door to run a hand along the crumbling plaster, a sense of nostalgia washed over her and a sad smile touched her lips.
"I may not come here again." She murmured. "Not after this is all over, anyway. But I will always feel at home here. And, if my plan is to work correctly, this is far enough away from the Starlight Mansion that it will not put others in danger. I just hope that I have taken everything into account. Athena's signal is strong and vibrant - she is a powerful computer system. And I...am not at my best."
She slipped into the abandoned building, hesitating for a moment as she worked out how best to carry out her plan. It had been a long time since the days when her mainframe had been powered here, and the power outlet had begun to rust in places.
"But there is still power, and I know how to fix that, thank goodness." She murmured, setting to work as she carefully replaced the old, rotting sockets with new ones. "I am counting an awful lot on Athena's inexperience. If I can convince her that Synergy's signal comes from the Star Drive Through, then we shall be ready and waiting for her. And if that works, then it leaves my spy the opportunity to locate Athena herself."
"What are you doing here?"
A voice startled her and guiltily she swung around, apprehension on her face. At first she could see noone, but then a figure stepped out from the shadows and Cynthia let out a sigh of relief.
"You made me jump, Stefana." She said reproachfully. "Did you follow me here?"
"No, Aaron told me where I could find you." Stefana flicked off her torch, making her way carefully across the floor. She glanced up at the cracked ceiling, suppressing a shudder. "This place is creepy and dangerous. Are you sure it's a good idea to be here?"
"Yes, for those reasons." Cynthia nodded her head, finishing her task and getting to her feet. "I am glad you are here...but why are you here? I did not contact you to meet me."
"No, but I have some information I thought I should give to you."
Stefana fumbled in her pocket, pulling out the dogeared scrap of paper. "Here. Sophie and Ingrid are feeling a bit sorry for themselves at the moment, realising how in over their head they are. I told them Athena tried to kill Rory disguised as me and that it was personal now - I made them tell me where she was. And they did."
"I see." Cynthia pursed her lips, glancing at the address. At length she nodded.
"I believe she might well be." She admitted. "I have traced several signals to that area of town - but never anything too specific. I think she knows that I am trying, and she is able to deflect my probing."
She gestured to the pile of wires and circuits she had brought with her. "That too is my task. I hope that, by wiring up the Drive Through, I will convince her to look for me here. I do not want a confrontation at the Starlight Mansion. There are too many people there who could get hurt."
"Makes sense, I guess." Stefana tucked a lock of curly hair behind her ear. "So, well, I'll leave you to it. I mean, I've given you the address. And, well, this place creeps me. Especially at the moment. And in the dark."
"Wait a moment, Stefana." The guitarist turned to go, but Cynthia called her back. "I had hoped to speak to you on another matter tomorrow morning, but as you are here now, I may as well mention it. After all, time is growing ever more pressing, and the further I go into this, the weaker my capabilities become."
"Okay..." Stefana looked wary, but she leant up against the wall, casting the hologram a curious glance. "What about?"
Cynthia pulled her toolbox closer to her projection, rummaging through it. At length she pulled out a thin plastic sleeve, holding it out.
"I wanted to ask of you a favour." She said solemnly.
Stefana took the wallet, glancing at it, then back at her companion.
"I don't get it." She said finally. "What's this about?"
"I told you that I would be working on a virus to decimate Athena's program." Cynthia said slowly. Stefana nodded.
"So I finished it." Cynthia gestured to the wallet. "Inside that is a computer disk. What I have to ask is a big imposition, and also a dangerous one. But it seems to me that you are the only one who might be able to undertake it successfully."
"I don't know as I follow." Stefana bit her lip. "What can I do with a computer virus? I barely know how to run a computer!"
"You don't need to do much." Cynthia looked grave. "But you have seen Athena and you know what we are up against far better than any of us. Plus...and I realise this may not be appealing to you, but she already has some interest in you and your fate. I think...well, I want you to make sure this disk loads into her system. That is all."
"You think that I have a chance in hell of sticking a disk into a computer who's on the rampage and threatening to zap people?" Stefana demanded. "You have to be kidding. Why can't you do it? I can get hurt, Cynthia! You can't - or had you forgotten that little fact? Why can't you confront her? Or are you afraid of her?"
"Are you?" Cynthia countered.
"You damn well know that I am." Stefana dropped the wallet back on top of the box of tools. "Count me out on this suicide mission. If you want her poisoned, do it yourself. I'm out."
"I can't do it." Cynthia bit her lip. "Stefana, I am asking you to do this for more than just me. Listen. You know that I am not as strong as I have been previously. I am losing power and I am losing strength. I am not even sure that I can stretch my projection to the limits of the city in this way...and even if I could, she would detect my signal and block it as soon as I reached her hiding place. I am ineffective in those circumstances. I do intend to confront her - in fact, this is what all this work tonight is in aid of. But I need someone to go behind enemy lines whilst I am distracting her attention. I will engage her hologram here. While she is busy focusing on me...it should be possible to get this disk into her mainframe. And once it is inside, it will do its work swiftly."
Her hologram flickered slightly, and Stefana's expression became grave.
"Sheesh, you really are gonna be scrap metal after all of this, aren't you?" She asked softly. Cynthia spread her hands.
"Will you help me?" She asked. "I could ask one of the others...but they have not seen her. You have. It may mean everything."
Stefana let out a heavy sigh. Then, slowly and reluctantly she bent down, picking up the wallet and glancing at it. She shrugged.
"Guess when you put it that way, I have to." She said quietly. "I brought you all into this mess, after all. Coulda kept my jaw shut, but I didn't. I wanted your help. You're pretty much killing yourself to resolve all of this...so I guess so. I guess I have to."
Relief touched Cynthia's violet eyes and she smiled.
"Thank you." She responded. "That being done, then, I think that we should aim to do this as soon as possible. Tomorrow, if we are able. I already know Athena is keen to find Synergy - and will pursue a strong signal to find her. Will you meet me here, at the Drive Through in the morning - at ten o'clock? Aaron will also be there - he has promised to see this through to the end with me."
Stefana sighed again.
"I'll be there." She agreed. "But I hope you have this all figured out, Cynthia. Strikes me that she's a whole lot stronger than you are right now. Those ain't good odds."
"I am hoping that perhaps my experience will outwit her technology." Cynthia looked rueful. "I am unsure that it has yet, in truth...but I think it is worth a try."
"And if it doesn't? If she blows you up and then comes after me? Or if Techrat's there? What about him?"
"That is the other reason why I chose you." Cynthia said comfortably. "Aside from myself, I do not know anyone as adept at lying in a tight situation."
"Well, I think that was a compliment." Stefana snorted. "Sometimes I think Los Angeles will miss you and then, when you say things like that, I'm about ready to come to your funeral."
"Just ensure she takes the disk. However it has to be done." Cynthia turned her attention back to her work. "And I will see you here tomorrow. Oh...and take this."
She scooped up the finished transmitter, holding it out. "It's rudimentary, but I think even your limited technical skill will not be foxed by a machine with only one button."
"So funny." Stefana grabbed at it, grimacing at her companion. "What's it do?"
"You already know where to find Athena, but she can look like anything or anyone." Cynthia explained. "And this will warn you when her hologram is nearby."
"All right. Guess that'll help." Stefana admitted. "Fine. I've got the disk and I've got your geeky little box of wires. I'll be here tomorrow morning - for now I'm going home to pretend to my roommates that I haven't lost my mind and that nothing huge is going down in Los Angeles."
She paused, then,
"And if I don't come home tomorrow, someone's got to tell them that I wasn't just screwing up again. That this time I was doing something important."
"If I am here to convey it, I will pass on the message myself." Cynthia looked rueful. "But I feel that you are far more likely to see out tomorrow's encounter than I am. I do not know what the confrontation will call on me to do, Stefana - but I have a feeling it will take a lot of power. She is strong and she is wily - she will stop at nothing to achieve her goal. And I...I must be willing to do the same."
JACQUI'S LEGACY: PART THREE
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.
All other characters, including their likenesses, are copyrighted to myself as webmistress of Jewel's World from 2001 to the present day and are not to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
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.