"It almost seems surreal, you know, sitting here by the pool and
Sylva set down her glass of lemonade, running her gaze over the first three lines of music, then glancing up with a sigh. "Don't you think so? It's been a week, guys, since we were taking on bizarre computer assassins and God knows what else. Doesn't it seem mundane to be back to putting together our album?"
"I don't remember you doing much taking on." Nancy cast her friend an amused glance. "But I guess it does. In a way, I mean. In one sense, it's like it never happened. But..."
"In another, it's still very real."
Topaz reached over to pull her small daughter onto her lap, a sober expression on her face. "The more days go by, you guys, the more I begin to think Cynthia did something serious to herself when she went out to the Drive Through the other morning. Like Syl said, it's been a week. Aaron's been in and out of the basement with this part or that componant...so far we've seen and heard nothing positive. Do you think...do you think she's not coming back this time?"
Copper sighed, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them tightly to her.
"We knew there was a chance." She admitted. "Aaron and me, I mean. When she first came back around, after the Jacqui incident. We knew she was weak. And Cyn knew it too. Her power cells were built by Emmet, not by Aaron. They're a really important part of how she runs...without them she can't boot, no matter how clean the rest of her system is. When she took on Athena at the Drive Through, she gave it everything she had and it was too much. They blew out. If Aaron can't come up with, well, some kind of solution - we need to get used to life without any holographic computers in it. That's just how it's gonna be."
"She knew...and she still did it?" Sadie looked pensive. "I can't believe she didn't tell us. I would have thought..."
"I suppose she had other things on her mind." Nancy glanced at her music, then sighed, flipping the book shut. "It's a sobering thought, though. That we might not see her again. It's one we've had to face a lot of times over the last few months. Do you really think this time it's, well, it?"
"I'm hoping not." Copper admitted. "But I don't know, Nance. Even Aaron's not sure this time. He doesn't know if he can compensate for the power cell problem. The only other person who might have been able to construct something was that creepy Techrat guy - and if we believe Athena's boasting, he's dead and buried."
"Well, dead, but not quite buried." Sadie pursed her lips. "Alex told me they'd found him - or traces of him - at the school place when they seized Athena and investigated the joint. No matter how hard he tries, he nor his department can find any way of connecting either Sophie Devereux or Ingrid Krueger to any of this. No security tapes. No DNA. Even Rory Llewelyn is not talking - he seems to be denying there ever was an attempt on his life, and Stefana's the only other witness available. In the circs, she's not saying anything, either. She hasn't told me as much, but I think since she got out of hospital she just wants to forget it all. In a way it sucks - but if Techrat is dead, he can't defend himself. And since he's the only one they can connect at all to any of this - he seems to be the one stuck with the blame."
"So she like, fried him alive?" Sylva shivered. "Ew. Do you think Cyn could have done that to someone, if she'd wanted? I mean, well, was she powerful enough?"
Copper glanced at her hands.
"I really thought she had, at the Drive Through." She confessed. "That she'd zapped Aaron and regressed into being Jacqui again. She fooled me good and proper - I just hate myself that I fell for it and the last words I said to her were in anger. I didn't even get a chance to say I was sorry - that's gonna hurt for a long while."
"Do you think computers go to Heaven?" Topaz asked hesitantly, gently removing a fistful of grass from her daughter's tiny fingers. "I keep wanting to tell Hol what's happened, but how can you do that? I mean, she's just a baby. She's not even two yet. She doesn't understand. And I want to say she's gone to Heaven - but Cynthia wasn't quite like the rest of us. I don't really know what to tell the kid. All she knows is that her friend isn't there."
"Which is something we may all have to get used to." Sadie agreed sadly. "It stinks."
"When it came to the crunch, though, I guess she proved once and for all that she was the smarter computer." Sylva reflected, leaning back on her elbows as she contemplated. "She fooled Athena. She fooled you, Copper. She devised a hell of a kickass virus which took that screwball machine out in a heartbeat. She did all of that and she wasn't even at full strength. Emmet Benton really did know what he was doing when he built her, didn't he?"
"Mama says he was an unacknowledged genius." Copper nodded. "She's always said that anyone who could give a computer a soul deserved the Nobel Prize. Sadly, noone ever got to know about his breakthroughs in his life. Cyn has had to spend her whole existance hiding. I wonder what it would have been like for her had she been patented and had people known. Maybe he would have developed more. Perhaps she would have had sisters. Who knows?"
"Sisters like Athena we could do without." Nancy pulled a face. Copper shook her head.
"It wouldn't have been that way." She replied. "Athena and Cynthia were never sisters, in any sense of the word. They were built by different people. Love created Synergy - ambition drove Athena. They had two completely different core programs. And you know, she must've been lonely sometimes for company that understood. It's a shame in a way that Emmet never got to take his designs further. Maybe she'd have liked sisters."
"Thank you, Copper, but for my part, I believe I have enough sisters already."
A fresh voice came from the french doors and as one the gathered girls turned, letting out shrieks of amazement as they surveyed the speaker. At their expressions, Cynthia let out an amused chuckle.
"So, you did not expect this phoenix to rise from the ashes once more?" She teased. "I am ashamed of you. What faith do you have in your old friend, if not to fight back from the brink? Has living with me for so long taught you all nothing?"
"Cynnie!" Copper was on her feet, hurrying to throw her arms around her holographic friend. "I'm glad to see you. I'm so sorry for thinking you'd blitz Aaron. I should have known you wouldn't do something like that!"
"Ah, but I wanted you to think that I would." Cynthia returned the hug playfully, a mischievous sparkle in her violet eyes. "That is why I chose to use Jacqui's form to do it. Athena would never have believed me capable of such a thing, had your reaction not been how it was. I am sorry to have fooled you, Copper - but it had to be that way."
"Are you really okay? I mean, are you going to be all right now or are you going to blow another fuse in a week or two?" Sylva asked. "Because we were really worried this time, Cynnie. We want to know you're back for good."
"It is early days." Cynthia settled herself at the poolside. "And my new power cells are...a little different from what I am used to. But in time I think I will be myself and more than myself, even. Aaron believes that the new cells are strong enough to power more adventurous experiments - that maybe I can even leave America and see the world. This I would like very much - it would be fun to add new places to my databases."
She held out her arms to Topaz, who grinned, holding out the tiny redhead to her friend. Hollie giggled and reached out for Cynthia's hair, and Cynthia took her gently, cradling her in her lap.
"I have missed this one a lot of late." She remarked, ruffling the short reddish gold hair as she did so. "I am glad I will get to see more of her as she grows and develops. I did not know whether Aaron would be able to find a way to bring me back this time. I was well worn and battered - but he has replaced my power cells, my projection units and sections of my circuitry over the past week. Finally I am able to boot...and I feel better than I have done in a long time. Not since before my sister died, in fact."
She stretched out her fingers, glancing at them, then smiling.
"I no longer leak light from my fingertips, nor flicker or feel tired." She added. "I am almost as good as new."
"Well, we're glad to have you back." Sadie said decidedly. "In more ways than one. It'd just be too weird not to have Synergy as part of the team. Not after all this time."
"I am glad to remain as part of the team." Cynthia said softly. "I have done much wrong in recent months and I am sorry for it. But I know now that Jacqui is contained and, if necessary, I can manipulate her image and her memory for my own ends. So in the end, it is well. And Athena is no longer a threat - Aaron told me that our plan was successful. So life goes on."
"So it does." Topaz nodded her head. "But it goes on without Synergy - at least, in the public sphere. Did Aaron tell you about the Tribune article?"
"I have glanced at it, yes." Cynthia nodded. "Which reminds me - I have another errand that I must run today."
She got to her feet, hugging Hollie and then gently conveying her back to her mother's grip.
"Cynta!" Hollie held out her hands, and Cynthia smiled, letting the small girl clumsily return the hug.
"I promise that when I get back, Hollie, we'll play." She said gently. "Any game you like. All right?"
Hollie seemed reluctant, but she relinquished her grip after bestowing a baby kiss on her adored babysitter, and Cynthia touched the infant gently on the nose.
"I will not be long." She assured her. "We have spent far too much time apart and we have much lost time to make up for. But I have somewhere I really must be."
"Where are you off to, Cyn?" Sylva looked curious.
"Just an errand I promised to run for Aaron." Cynthia said simply. "I shall be back shortly."
Before any of them could ask any further questions, she made her way around the side of the house, humming absently under her breath as she slipped open the side gate and and stepped out onto the main road. Glancing up at the sky, she saw that it was a fine, warm October day and a grin touched her lips.
"I am still here, and able to appreciate all the more what I almost lost." She mused, as she set off up the hill towards her destination. "I was so tired before, I was almost ready to give up and fade away. Maybe I would have done so, if not for the determination of friends like Aaron and the rest. Perhaps, then, Synergy does still have a place in this world. She was designed to protect Jerrica and Kimber - but when Athena appeared, my instinct was to protect those around me. Maybe that is my calling now. Maybe I do not need to be with a Benton to have a purpose. Perhaps I had one all along - it just took me time to find out what it was."
"Life is full of surprises." She acknowledged. "And my errand this afternoon is another one. Of all the people - I did not expect Stefana to ask for me. And more, to be glad she did. Maybe I will never understand quite how people work, after all."
* * * * * * * * *
Luca pushed open the sliding doors to the garden, stepping out onto the white-slab patio as he looked for his sister. "Steffi, are you out here?"
"I'm here." Stefana raised a lazy hand from her position on the swing seat in the far corner, a lit cigarette between her fingers and a book tossed carelessly on the cushion beside her. "What's up, Luca? You know the doctor said I'm not to do anything remotely like work for another few days, so if Rory's on the phone..."
"Rory isn't." Luca grinned. "And there's nothing wrong with you now except laziness - you know it and so do I."
"Any time off is good time off." Stefana grimaced in his brother's direction. "So what's doing?"
"You have a visitor."
"A visitor?" Stefana looked surprised. "Aaron?"
"No." Luca shook his head. "Cynthia Benton. Guess you guys really are all pally these days, huh?"
"Cynthia?" Shock followed by disbelief flooded the green eyes and Stefana was on her feet in an instant. "Are you kidding?"
"There is no joke, Stefana." Cynthia stepped daintily out onto the patio, casting her co-conspirator a hesitant smile. "Aaron said you wished to speak to me - am I welcome here or are you busy?"
"I just didn't expect to see you." Stefana admitted. "Not even...well, even though Aaron explained things to me, I still..."
She trailed off, gesturing to the seat.
"It's shadier over here." She said instead. "And there's room for another, if you don't mind me smoking."
"It does not bother me in the slightest." Cynthia's eyes sparkled. "I would be delighted to join you."
Luca cast his sister a confused look, then shook his head, turning on his heel and disappearing into the house. The door clicked shut behind him, and Stefana grinned, flicking ash from her cigarette.
"He doesn't get it." She said unecessarily. "You and I have always hated each other, and now you're making house calls."
"I wished to see how you were." Cynthia settled herself on the seat, and Stefana followed suit, pushing her book to one side. "Aaron explained to me that you had been wounded - I am glad it was not more serious."
"I'll live." Stefana nodded. She paused, then, "I thought you were dead."
"As you see, I am not." Cynthia shook her head. "Do you mind that I am still here?"
"No, actually I'm glad you are." Stefana looked embarrassed, taking a drag on her cigarette and absently flicking ash onto the grass. "I mean, well...it's crazy, but I think I would have missed you. We, well, made an interesting team."
"We have done so more than once in recent months." Cynthia looked thoughtful. "Perhaps, then, we bury the hatchet between us? I do not wish to remain enemies. Not after all we have been through."
"Nor do I." Stefana admitted. "You're kinda okay, for a kooky computer. And well, pitching you against Athena...she was loony tunes. It made me realise what you could do if you wanted to. And yet, you've been around forever - longer than I've been alive, even - and you never had."
"I have made many mistakes lately." Cynthia was sheepish. "I have put people in danger and not understood my own signals or reactions. Now...now I am better. I am in control once more and my readouts are stable. But I was afraid. I did not comprehend what had happened to me. Jerrica's death upset me more than I perceived it ever could. It's taken till now to get back on an even keel."
"I think that's what makes you real to me, now." Stefana admitted. "Knowing you're not some goody-two-shoes computer or some deranged menace. Hell, perhaps it's crazy. But you almost are human, in a funny way."
"That is the greatest compliment you could have paid me." Cynthia grinned. She hesitated, then offered a hand.
"So we shall be friends, then?" She suggested. "Will you shake a hologram's hand and agree to that?"
"I guess so." Stefana nodded. She inhaled on her cigarette, then stubbed it out, tossing it onto the ground. Awkwardly, she took Cynthia's hand gingerly in hers and then, after a moment, she shook it. "There. Wow. It's weird touching you and knowing you're not really...well...what you seem to be."
"Who is?" Cynthia asked lightly. "Everyone has secrets."
"True enough." Stefana acknowledged. "I guess some just more than others."
"Speaking of secrets, Stefana, I wish to thank you for leaving me out of the information you gave Darren McMillan." Cynthia shifted back on the seat, into the shade of the big grey canopy. "I would like to think his interest in me is at an end."
"Well, so would I." Stefana admitted. "But he said he believed what you told him now. He found another way to explain the holograms when he saw Athena, and since Techrat's name is buzzing around, he's laid the blame at his door. He doesn't know the half of it, but then, he doesn't ever need to. It's over and he's got his story. Hopefully that'll be the last time I have to worry about him on this topic."
"I think he likes you, you know." Cynthia said thoughtfully. Stefana stared at her.
"Darren McMillan. I think he is fond of you."
"You have to be kidding." Stefana pretended to stick two fingers down her throat. "Don't make me sick."
"I am serious." Cynthia shook her head. "There is something in his interest - his demeanour. I think it is more than professional curiosity into your deeds."
"Yeah, right." Stefana was scornful. "He likes me because he thinks I bleed tabloid stories, and of late, maybe I have been. But that's all it is, Cyn. He doesn't care about me, per se."
"He saved your life from a smoke-filled building."
"No, he saved his witness so he could drill her later." Stefana shook her head. "Trust me, you're way off."
"No offence, but what would a computer know about it, anyway?"
"More than you might think." Cynthia looked amused. "It was I who first gave Copper and Aaron the nudge to get together, you know. I still consider myself well advised in that instance."
"Oh, so I have you to thank for that, do I?" Stefana pulled a face. Cynthia frowned.
"I am sorry. I had forgotten..."
"No, I'm over it." Stefana waved a hand carelessly. She laughed ruefully. "Or as much as I ever am going to be over it, I guess. He's my friend, and I'll deal. It's the way my life tends to go anyhow - so don't worry your hard drive over it. And don't go getting crazy ideas about Darren McMillan. He's all work, and I couldn't imagine a worse fate than dating the king of tabloid trash. No thanks. I'll pass."
"Well, it's your call." Cynthia's expression took on an impish look. "But I still believe he spends an awful lot of his time chasing up leads where he knows you're involved. Don't you?"
"As I said, he follows the action." Stefana shook her head. "Now drop it, will you? I refuse to have this conversation, and if you want us to stay, well, amigas, you're gonna have to learn to shut up when I tell you to. Got it?"
Cynthia looked amused.
"I believe so." She agreed innocently. "So here's to a new friendship - who knows what the future may hold?"
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.
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