Chapter Ten: The Synergy Ruse
"I don't like this place."
Aaron paused in the doorway of the Star Drive Through Theatre, brushing crumbling brick dust from his sleeves as she surveyed the expanse of space before him. "Were you really here? This is really where Emmet activated you for the first time?"
"Yes." Cynthia looked pensive. "My first awareness of life and of the world was in this room, Aaron. I realise it is not much now - nor was it really then, if I am honest. But in a sense I feel I have come home."
She moved across the cracked floor, running a finger along the wall as she did so. "It is in such disrepair now. Here...this is where I was. Somewhere here is the original power system Emmet set up for me. It was hacked from the theatre's main circuit board...since this place was no longer useable for that purpose."
"So Emmet purchased it simply for you?" Aaron came to join her. Cynthia nodded.
"I believe so." She agreed. "It was already abandoned when he came here. Now it is beyond repair. I feel a touch sad that what we will do here tonight will condemn my birthplace even further - but it must be done. I think he would understand why."
"I think he would, too." Aaron nodded, crouching down and spreading his hands carefully across the floor panels as he hunted for the original power lines. "I think I found what you were talking about, Cyn. There is definitely a network of cables here under the floor and..."
He paused, following the wiring across the wall. "Here. It's covered in dust, but I think I have the wall socket."
"Good." Cynthia grinned. She set down the bag she had been carrying, pulling it open and extracting an old, worn electric cable. "Then that is where this goes. It is best, is it not, to begin with the simple things?"
"I guess so." Aaron looked rueful. "This might just take all night, mightn't it?"
"Very possibly." Cynthia agreed. "Are you tired?"
"No, but there are places I'd rather be than a cold, abandoned drive through theatre at this time of night." Aaron admitted. "Copper understood what was going on when I explained it to her before I left home, but if I'm honest, I'd much rather be there than here right now. I'm sure this place isn't safe."
"At the moment, it is quite sound." Cynthia assured him. "I made all such investigations before you arrived, and you are in no danger."
She paused, putting a hand on his arm. "Aaron, I do appreciate what you do for me tonight. You know that?"
"Yes, I know." Aaron smiled. "And I'm glad to help out." He pursed his lips ruefully. "I'm just glad my wife is so understanding about me spending the night with another woman."
"She is a very trusting woman." She said with a wink. "And we should get to work."
"We should." Aaron cast a glance at the crate of wires and circuitboards that he had brought in with him. "Do you think we've enough here to convince everyone this is Synergy's final resting place?"
"Plenty. Remember, noone has actually seen the computer, other than those who wish to protect me." Cynthia nodded. "People will believe what they want to believe. The circuitry is authentic and much of it is marked with Emmet's own custom markings. If that is not enough to convince them they have found the computer, there is little more we can do to convince them otherwise. Either way, I think it is worth the try."
She rummaged among the parts, extracting a section of twisted metal and wiring. "It feels a little funny, knowing it's part of me I have here in my hand."
"I guess it must be like someone seeing their appendix after having it taken out." Aaron laughed. "Kinda surreal, huh?"
"Very." Cynthia agreed. She paused, then, "I am trying to recall how Synergy stood here, when my father first enabled me. I believe that if we follow that as closely as possible, it will create a more convincing illusion. Help me, Aaron. I believe that this is where we should be setting up the broken pieces."
"All right." Aaron hurried to join her, glancing around him as he did so. "You know, I didn't realise inside one of these places would be so expansive."
"When I first was housed here, Emmet used part of the building to conceal other items he wished his daughters to have." Cynthia nodded. "It was large and of great use for him."
A wistful light sparkled in her eyes as she remembered. "There was a certain fun about revealing it all to them. Their surprise, their amazement...like children on christmas morning."
"Children on christmas morning?" Aaron raised an eyebrow. "Now what would you know about that?"
"Plenty more than you might think." Cynthia sighed, carefully hooking together the damaged sections of circuitboard with a deft finger. "You forget, Aaron. The basis for me was in Emmet's wife, Jacqui. What memories are not my own, well, they were memories he shared with her. He put them into me so I would understand what Jerrica and Kimber meant to him and were supposed to mean to me. I see these things as vividly as if I had been there. It gave me pleasure to finally reveal myself to them, in truth. I knew there was a bond there before we even met. It was meant to be that way."
"I suppose this is, in a sense, the end of all that, huh?" Aaron looked sombre. Cynthia nodded.
"It has already ended." She agreed sadly. "It's one of the ways I am not like you or the others, to be honest. No matter how much a computer tries to adopt human ways of life, at heart she is still only a computer. And as such, even with a damaged core program such as my own, she must always have some basic programming to make her operate. Mine ended when Jerrica died. What I live on now is...I don't really know. That's the truth of it. What I am now is...a different type of Synergy."
"Maybe it's a good thing." Aaron suggested, scrabbling in the dust for his screwdriver. "You have a chance to be your own Synergy now, instead of one tied to the program Emmet built into you. Isn't that what you wanted, anyway?"
"Yes." Cynthia pursed her lips. "But life is a lot scarier without some kind of inbuilt reason for being. I didn't realise how frightening it was for you and the rest, not knowing why you're here or what your purpose is in living. Now I do. It is a challenge. I hope it is one I can meet."
"Hey, you're doing fine so far." Aaron winked at her. "Pass me the keyboard, will you? This board is pretty warped but I think it hooks together to that part."
"Certainly." Cynthia did as she was bidden, and for a few minutes they worked in silence.
At length Cynthia spoke.
"How far do you believe Stefana can be trusted?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I have never known her to do anything to assist me before." Cynthia looked troubled. "Indeed, quite the opposite. I find it hard to understand why now she does not wish me harm."
"Steffi's been through a lot of things in the last few months." Aaron spoke thoughtfully. "I think she was sincere, Cyn. If she'd wanted to get the dirt from this reporter and protect herself, she could very easily have betrayed your secret to him. She didn't do that. There's absolutely no reason why she wouldn't, unless she really is on the level."
"Yes, I think this too." Cynthia admitted. "And it distresses me."
"Why?" Aaron looked surprised.
"Because it proves that my evaluation of a human being has been in error yet again." Cynthia pursed her lips. "First Rio. Now Stefana. I wonder if I really understand human nature at all!"
"Better than any other computer I know, Cyn." Aaron grinned. "And trust me, most of us don't understand how people work, either. You're just joining the club. It's impossible to always have all the information. That's just something you have to accept."
"It's a difficult thing for a computer to accept." Cynthia grimaced. "We like to have complete databases, for accurate referencing."
"Well, then add this experience to that database." Aaron suggested. "I think it's great Stef came to you and wanted to help out. And if this plan of yours works, you needn't worry about press, FBI or anyone, ever again. You can just get on with your life and forget about all the people who want to do experiments on you."
"Yes." Cynthia agreed. "That I am much looking forward to."
"All this pursuit and emotion takes energy. I have not been so tired for a long time."
"Well, when this is over with you can power down and have a long rest." Aaron promised. "And there. That's that in place. How much are we going to need to put together, Cyn? I mean, there isn't going to be a lot left of it either way."
"Just the monitor, I think." Cynthia pursed her lips. "You did bring it? I assumed when you said you had much of my old circuitry, you had my old monitor too?"
"Yes." Aaron agreed. He crouched down beside a bulky object covered over with a tarpaulin, and a sheepish expression crossed his face. "I'll be honest, though. Parting with all this stuff is hard for me too, in a sense. It's like parting with a big piece of a special personal project. Almost a memory. If it wasn't for such a good cause, I wouldn't have let you talk me into it. Especially not since I know what you plan to do here, when we're done."
"You don't need mementos of Synergy, Aaron." Cynthia said gently. "She's still very much here. Whatever the world will think, you know that."
"Yes, I do." Aaron kicked back the tarpaulin, to reveal the battered old monitor, it's glass shattered and sharp around the edges. "Which is why I brought this. It's heavy, though. You're pretty strong - give me a hand?"
"Sure." Cynthia came to join him, and together they lifted the monitor into place. One screw at a time, Aaron fixed it to the makeshift mainframe, then stood back to examine their work.
"Well? Will it do?"
"Yes, it will have to." Cynthia nodded. "It is all we have, after all."
She dimpled. "Most of me is still within me, and I'd quite like to keep it there."
"Then this is it." Aaron shrugged. "Over to you, I guess."
"Yes." Cynthia nodded. "I want you to go outside, Aaron. I don't intend to bring the whole building down - it would be suspicious if that were the case. But I do intend to bring down a section of the roof. Just enough to inflict further damage on our handiwork and ensure that they do not think this a plant." She smiled. "And just in case I am a little over-zealous, I don't want you anywhere where you can be hurt."
"I know." Aaron nodded. "Though don't get buried yourself, will you?"
"I have no intention of that." Cynthia assured him. "I am a synthesiser. I project sound and image. Right now, I intend on using sound. A high enough frequency should bring down some of the cracked ceiling panels, and enough brick and dust to cover our Synergy. This I can do at a distance, and so long as my projector is undamaged, I shall come to no harm."
"Then I'll meet you by the car." Aaron told her. "Don't be too long, okay?"
"I promise." Cynthia nodded. She paused, then, "I also want to say goodbye."
Aaron grinned at her, then turned on his heel, heading out of the old building.
Once alone, Cynthia settled herself against a far wall, slipping her projector off her wrist and placing it on the floor as she adjusted her projection. Slowly her features merged back into those of the Synergy hologram Emmet had created so long ago.
Soberly, she got to her feet, drifting across the empty room to the makeshift computer, putting a gentle hand over the broken keys.
"I don't know if I am saying goodbye to Jerrica, to Synergy, or to you, father." She murmured absently. "I can't explain it to Aaron...but I know a part of me is missing and has been since Jerrica died. Maybe it will never be the same again...I don't know. I have never been so lonely before. It's as if I have lost the thread of my past somewhere in all of this. I resented being a holographic slave when I knew that's what I was, but sometimes I miss it too. Miss sharing the fun and the laughter of the Holograms. Miss being their confidant, and their ally. I miss being the answer to so many of Jerrica's problems, and regret being the cause of so many more."
She sighed, shaking her head.
"Maybe what I miss is a life when I understood less." She mused. "I was never a slave, not really. I was content with what I was and what I knew. Realising that nothing was quite how I thought it was is not a pleasant blow."
She bit her lip, turning her back on the twisted circuits.
"Well, goodbye to that Synergy." She said softly, as she powered up her projector, emitting a high pitched sound wave as the building began to shake around her. "She's grown up now, and out in the world on her own."
She glanced up at the ceiling, as the cracks began to grow and the plaster and cement crumbled over their hard work. As the metalwork began to creak and groan under the weight, tears touched her eyes.
"Understand why I did this, father." She whispered. "And Jerrica, forgive me."
There was a final shudder, a crash and the sound of buckling metal, then silence. As the dust began to clear, Synergy adjusted her projection back to that of Cynthia, slowly retrieving her watch and sliding it back onto her wrist.
"It's done." She said aloud. "Tomorrow, the world will have their story. And finally, maybe I'll be safe."
* * * * * * * * *
"Can I help you, miss?"
A man with spectacles cast Stefana a confused glance as she stepped hesitantly through the spinning doors of the Tribune, pausing as she gauged her surroundings. "Are you looking for something...or someone?"
"Yes." Stefana steeled herself, absently touching the red scarf that wound her dark hair out of view. "Darren McMillan. I want to speak to Darren McMillan."
"Tribune office is the next floor up, Miss." The man pointed at the stairwell. Stefana flashed him a brief, troubled smile.
"Good. Thank you." She said absently, hurrying past him and through the doors he had indicated. Once there she paused to examine her reflection in the pocket mirror.
"He didn't recognise me." She muttered. "The shades and scarf disguise still works, wonder of wonders. The fewer people see Stefana Ranieri come in here the better. Even if I have to speak to Darren face to face. Damn him not coming to Rebel Records this morning! I bet he did that on purpose, so I'd be forced to seek him out. He's a worm!"
She made her way purposefully up the stairs, pushing through the stairwell doors and glancing around her for the Tribune's main office.
"Well, well." A voice came from the corridor behind her and she swung around, her eyes narrowing as she took in the speaker.
"I thought you worked in there, not lurked all around it." She spat out.
Darren chuckled, sauntering to join her. Deftly he slipped off her sunglasses, folding them and handing them to her.
"I'm not fooled by your disguise." He told her unecessarily. "I suppose you came to speak to me?"
"It wasn't meant to fool you. It was supposed to stop people following me here." Stefana snapped back. "There are places I'd rather not be seen going into, if you don't mind. I have standards."
"Not very high ones, on occasion." Darren pursed his lips. "Well?"
"I presume you've thought about our chat in the elevator yesterday?"
"It has crossed my mind."
"Then that's why you're here?"
"Perhaps." Stefana folded her arms.
"You're not really in a position to be cocky, even if it does work for you." Darren seemed amused. "Will you come inside, or do you prefer not to sully yourself by sitting in the Tribune's office?"
"I guess I'll come in." Stefana sighed. "But seriously, you are slime. You do know that, don't you?"
"Yes, I've been called that before." Darren seemed unperturbed. "But it comes with the trade. A good journalist does not ignore news, Stefana. And you know the kind of news I'm looking for. Don't you think America has a right to know? Freedom of speech and all that?"
"I want to make a deal with you." Stefana said stiffly, following him through the oak door into the bustling newsroom, and reluctantly taking a seat at his desk.
"A deal?" Darren rested his chin in his hands. "What kind of a deal?"
"The computer isn't my secret to tell." Stefana said darkly. "It doesn't belong to me."
"But you know something about it...and who it does belong to?"
"I say you do."
"Well, then listen to my terms." Stefana sat back in her chair. "I want whatever information you have on me. Everything. Hard copy."
"Everything?" Darren raised an eyebrow. "How in hell are you going to guarantee that?"
"Because you did tell me, Darren, that I could trust you at your word." Stefana said acidly. "Whatever that word happened to be. So I'm testing you on it now. You give me the information I want, and I'll take you to the person who can tell you about what you want to know. Do you think that's fair?"
"Possibly." Darren pursed his lips. He pulled open a drawer of his desk, extracting a folder and setting it down on the desk. Stefana reached for it, but Darren put his hand down on top of it.
"Ah-ah. I want more than that before I make the trade."
Stefana rolled her eyes.
"Fine." She said reluctantly. "The computer belongs to a friend of mine."
"A friend? Garnet?"
"Don't be stupid."
"You have other friends, Stefana?"
"So you don't know everything." Stefana's lip curled. "Yes."
"A name, and the folder is yours. I like insurance."
Stefana eyed him long and hard for a moment, then, "Your word?"
"On everything you do in this disgusting little office?"
"All right." Stefana hesitated, then, "Cynthia Benton."
Darren's eyes opened wide.
"The third Benton sister?" He whispered. "Dammit, right in front of my nose!"
"The folder, please?"
"Here." Darren pushed it towards her, and Stefana scooped it up greedily, scanning through the contents. She glanced up.
"This is all of it? Everything you have on me?"
"I swear." Darren nodded impatiently. "I've done my part of the deal. There won't be an expose on Stefana Ranieri, so long as you're on the level with this. You said you'd take me to this friend...to Cynthia. Well?"
"And I will." Stefana got to her feet. "Come with me. She's waiting outside...in my car."
"She knows about all this?" Darren raised an eyebrow.
"Yes." Stefana nodded. "When I told her what you were doing to me, she agreed to help."
"And relinquish the machine everyone is looking for? She must be some friend." Darren pursed his lips. "If she even really has it."
"Oh, she has it." Stefana said quietly. "I give you my word on that, Darren."
"You know what?" Darren frowned. "I believe you. I'm coming."
Stefana made no reply. In silence she led the reporter out of the Tribune newsroom and down the stairs, pushing through the spinning doors and stepping out onto the front forecourt. Darren's sharp eyes scanned the carpark.
"Where?" He demanded.
"Over here." Stefana indicated. "Are you coming? Or don't you trust me to keep my half of the bargain?"
"Okay, already." Darren grimaced. "Though you do know that if you doublecross me, I can rebuild that file in a heartbeat. So tread very carefully, Steffi. I want my scoop."
"That's my name. Stefana."
"Marissa and the others call you Steffi."
"Yes. You don't."
"Fine." Darren sighed as they reached the guitarist's car. Stefana pulled open the car door, casting Cynthia an apprehensive look. The hologram merely offered her a smile, pushing open the passenger side and stepping out of the vehicle. She eyed Darren soberly.
"Stefana, has he given you the information you requested?"
"Yes." Stefana held up the folder.
"You do know, Mr McMillan, that blackmail is not a nice habit."
"I do what it takes to get my job done." Darren said quietly. "Stefana said you knew something about the computer. Jerrica's computer. She said you'd tell me what I wanted to know."
"Which is what, precisely?"
"Where it is. How it works. Why it's been so well hidden for so long." Darren narrowed his eyes. "And proof. I want proof."
"All of these things I can give you." Cynthia said levelly. She reached back into the car, extracting the battered diary. "My father was a genius, you know. He died not long after I was born, but I know from everything I have been told that he had a great mind. He created something in the nineteen eighties which shattered the contemporary technological understandings. But he died before it could be patented, and my elder sisters kept it a secret in fear that his work would be stolen and misused."
"So what has this to do with you?" Darren leant up against the car. "How did you get involved? If you were just a baby..."
"Jerrica and Kimber lost the computer after the group split up." Cynthia said simply, and, watching her, Stefana marvelled at how easily the lies slid off the hologram's tongue. "It was missing for quite some time. Then...then I discovered this."
Carefully she held the book over. "It was my father's. He kept a diary. And in it...he mentions where the machine was."
"What?" Darren took the book eagerly, flicking through it. "Where?"
"Towards the end." Cynthia indicated. "It made me curious. I researched his information and I realised that he did indeed own the property mentioned in the diary. It had fallen into disrepair, but I believe it is still part of the Benton estate. I could not tell you if it belonged to Jerrica or Kimber, now. Certainly not to me...I was born after the will was written."
"The Star Drive Through?" Darren's eyes could not get any bigger. "You're kidding with me? That old dump of a place? It's been derelict since before I was born!"
"And what better place to hide a secret?" Cynthia spread her hands. "In my father's own words, somewhere private."
"And that's where the computer is?"
"Yes. Or I should say, was." Cynthia bit her lip.
"Was?" Suspicion flickered in Darren's eyes. "What do you mean, was? Is it there or isn't it?"
"Yes, it's there." Cynthia nodded her head. "Unfortunately it is no longer operational."
"I don't buy that, lady. What about the Jem Memorial?"
"I did not return to Los Angeles till after that occured." Cynthia said smoothly. "I have no knowledge of who might have used the computer for that, if indeed they did, and it was not some other form of light display. But Synergy herself is rather badly damaged by the poor state of her hiding place. Some of the ceiling has collapsed in on her. I doubt she is fixable. I kept the secret because it was father's secret, and not mine to give out. But with my sister dead, and with you making threats on Stefana, I felt I must keep my quiet no longer."
"I see." Darren digested this slowly. "You know this all sounds far fetched as hell?"
"That's why she brought the diary." Stefana said quietly. Cynthia nodded.
"And why I will take you to the Drive Through myself, so you can see." She added. "Then you will know that I speak the truth. Does that sound fair?"
"I suppose I haven't a choice." Darren's gaze flitted to Stefana. "You're coming too, I trust?"
"Hell, why not. It might make a nice day out." Stefana said sarcastically. "And hey, well, this is my car."
She opened the driver's side once more. "Get in, then. You too, Cynthia. Looks like we're taking Mr Nosey here on a little guided tour of Benton property."
"My pleasure." Cynthia winked, getting back into the car. "Mr McMillan, I trust that, when you print your story, you will omit mine and Stefana's names from your text. We do not wish it to be public knowledge that we provided you with this information."
"I always protect my sources, Miss Benton."
"Good." Cynthia smiled. "And I must ask for my father's diary back. It is a valuable keepsake, so when you have copied and verified what you need to know, I would have it returned, please."
"You have my word." Darren clambered into the back seat of the car, as Stefana pulled out of the forecourt at speed. "Heck, girl, can't you drive?"
"It depends who I'm chauffeuring." Stefana spat back. "You don't deserve any better, and Cynthia's not a wimp. She's not complaining."
"I'd like to survive the drive there, if it's all the same to you."
"Well, shut your mouth, then."
Stefana screeched off the main road and onto a side turning, sending Darren flying against the back door. He muttered a curse and she grinned.
"Life round me moves at speed." She said simply. "Can you keep up?"
She jerked the car to a stop outside the drive through.
"Well, here we are." She said unecessarily.
Darren pushed open the back door, stepping out of the car with some relief. He paused to assess the front of the building, then grimaced.
"It's a dump."
"Well, if you don't wish to go in..." Cynthia trailed off. Darren glowered, gritting his teeth and heading into the ramshackle brick building. He pushed open the door, taking a few steps inside and jumping back with a curse as a small piece of plaster dropped from the ceiling not three feet from where he was. Stefana giggled.
"The big brave reporter's not so big and brave out in the field." She observed sardonically, leaning up against the doorpost. "Well?"
Darren ignored her. Carefully he picked his way across the floor, stopping as he caught sight of something lavender peeking through the rubble. He bent, brushing back the dust, and an exclamation passed his lips.
"There is something here!"
"As we told you." Cynthia agreed coolly. Darren pushed back more of the plaster and concrete, revealing more and more of the twisted metal. As he did so, something clattered to the floor and he scooped it up, squinting at the engraving.
"E. Benton, 1985." He whispered. "Oh God...it really is the machine!"
Chapter One: At The Funeral
Chapter Two: Stefana's Secret
Chapter Three: Nancy's Studio
Chapter Four: An Old Rivalry
Chapter Five: An Act Of Pique
Chapter Six: Darren Moves In
Chapter Seven: Daisy's Ghost
Chapter Eight: An Unlikely Team
Chapter Nine: Scheming
Chapter Ten: The Synergy Ruse
Chapter Eleven: A Legacy Reborn
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE NOTE
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.