Chapter Four: An Old Rivalry
"Steffi, is everything all right?"
Luca pushed back the french doors, stepping out onto the patio. "You were late to practice this afternoon and you haven't been that for a while. Is something bothering you?"
"No, I guess not." Stefana shook her head, flicking ash from her lit cigarette as he came to sit beside her. "I think I'm finding it harder to come back to LA than I expected, but otherwise, no."
"You really connected with Italy, didn't you?"
"Yes. But I don't hate LA. I just feel like things never stop here. And sometimes I need to breathe or I go mad."
Luca slipped an arm around her shoulders, hugging her gently.
"Rory isn't hassling you again, is he?"
"No." Stefana shook her head. "He lied about the health policy thing, but I told him point blank I wasn't interested in any more of his subterfuge. I'm my own boss when it comes to mischief, Luca. And now I'm sober, I'm less inclined to do insane things. At least, at the moment."
"I'm glad about that. I didn't think he was telling the truth." Luca mused. Stefana rested her head against his shoulder.
"It just always seems like one thing and then another." She murmured. "Life doesn't stand still."
"I was under the impression you liked it that way."
"Yes. Before." Stefana sighed. "Now I'm finding it might be nice to just have a break for a while. Instead of working like a mad creature all the time, you know? Don't you ever feel like that?"
"Yes, sometimes." Luca agreed. "But I've never heard you talk like this."
"Well, since our tour I've been seriously thinking about investing in a holiday house out there." Stefana admitted. "In Napoli...where Dad's family was from. It's so beautiful there, with the volcano and everything. I wondered if you wanted to put in on it."
"A holiday place?" Luca stared. "Like, a villa?"
"Something like that." Stefana nodded. "I'm not sure why. I never felt so safe anywhere, Luca. Didn't you feel it?"
"Honestly...no." Luca looked sheepish. "I liked it and all, but I didn't feel it was home. But then you were Dad's princess. He'd have been thrilled to know you liked Italy as much as he did."
He glanced down at the book on the bench beside her.
"I see you're brushing up on your Italian."
"I wanted to see what I could remember." Stefana admitted. "It was coming back to me when we were there, but it's so rusty."
She looked self-conscious. "I always took the Italian in Italian-American as being token. I didn't realise you could feel it, too."
"Well, I'm glad you found something to connect to." Luca told her. "Hey, the others have gone out for pizza or something. How about you and I take a brother sister drive out to the beach? We don't usually do things just you and me, and we've been closer recently than we've been in a long time."
"I don't want to go to the beach." Stefana shook her head. "But the park or somewhere, that would be nice."
"Okay. The park it is." Luca stood, pulling Stefana up with him. "But you used to love the beach. Why not there now?"
"I don't feel safe there without Aaron." She admitted. "I've only been there once since...since he and I had our big chat, and that was to meet him. I know it's irrational, but I don't feel safe by the water otherwise."
"It sounds crazy, but okay." Luca shrugged his shoulders. "Though you know, I can protect you as well as he can. And you can fight off all comers better than the both of us put together."
"It isn't that." Stefana pursed her lips. "Luca, when Aaron and I had our chat, he pretty much talked me down. I was debating jumping from the pier. I didn't tell you because I knew you'd freak...but that's why. And I know there's no danger of me doing that now...but unless he's there, it reminds me."
"Oh, I see." Luca became grave. "Well, in that case somewhere green and floral seems a much better bet. Come on, we'll take my car."
Sure." Stefana followed him around the side of the house, slipping into the passenger seat of her brother's new porshe and strapping herself in. "I like this car, you know."
"Well, me too." Luca grinned. "Why? You hoping to borrow it?"
"Nah. Knowing my obscene luck, I'll ram it into a tree." Stefana grimaced. "My car might be something of a banger now in comparison, but it'll do me. Besides, I've no money for a new car. Not if I'm going to go for this house. I've almost paid you back what you loaned me...and I've been looking things up on Clay's computer. Do you want to go in on this or not?"
"When you've some details to show me, let me know and we'll talk it through." Luca said, putting the car in gear. "It might be kinda nice to have somewhere out in Europe as a second base point...and even nicer for you and me to do something together. It could be neat."
"Okay, then that's what I'll do." Stefana grinned. "I figured since I'm not ploughing my money into drugs any more, I should think about something I really want as a reward. And after being out there, I know this is something like that."
"Then we'll definitely talk about it." Luca promised. "And here we are. One park."
He pulled his vehicle off the road. "It doesn't hurt for us to have an hour or two break before we get back to work, whatever Rory says about it."
"Rory's all work." Stefana responded darkly. "All work and a little underhand business. That's our boss."
"With, of course, no proof leading back to his door." Luca agreed. "But we know what we're up against now better than we did."
"Do we? Will we ever?" Stefana snorted. "He's slippier than a barrel of fish."
As they headed into the park, Luca cast his sister a sidelong glance.
"What did he ask you to do, Stef?"
"Nothing. He wanted information I couldn't give him, that's all."
"Yeah. I told you, though. I couldn't tell him what he wanted to know."
"Well, hopefully he'll leave you alone, or my fist might meet his jaw at speed again." Luca glanced down at his fist pensively, and Stefana grinned, linking arms with her brother.
"You can do that anytime. You don't have to wait for him to upset me." She told him. Luca laughed.
"It might not do our contracts any good if I did." He teased. "Don't worry. I got that particular message across once, very emphatically."
He gestured towards the ice cream cart. "Do you want an ice? My treat."
"I won't refuse that." Stefana looked amused. "Double chocolate...but you know that, right?"
"Yes. I know that." Luca winked at her. "I'll be right back."
"Sure." Stefana nodded. "I'll go find a shady patch to sit, away from prying fans."
"Okay. Be right with you."
Stefana sauntered across the grass, idly taking in the couples and groups of kids. She had not been spotted as yet, and for once she was glad. Though she loved the adulation her job brought her, it was nice from time to time to find a little private space.
"And realise that places can be relaxing." She mused, finding a nice spot beneath the spreading branches of a small tree, and leaning up against the trunk. "It's weird, being sober all the time after so long on the speed. I'd forgotten what a lot of things felt like without being manic."
A voice startled her and she glanced up, meeting an unfamiliar pair of hazel eyes. She frowned.
"Who are you?" She demanded. The stranger smiled.
"I'm pleased to meet you too." He said smoothly. "Mr Llewelyn told me a lot about you."
"I beg your pardon?" Stefana's brows knitted together. "Rory told you...? I don't understand."
"I was hoping to catch you at Rebel Records, but obviously it was luck I came by here on my lunch break." The man slid his hand in his pocket, pulling out an id pass and handing it to her. "My name is Darren. Mr Llewelyn's hired me specifically to work with Diablo on their PR. I thought I'd break the ice, since we're going to see a lot of each other from now on."
"Darren, huh?" Stefana turned over the badge in her hands, then handed it back. "Well, that's for real, so I suppose you are, too. This is my free time, though, you know. I didn't invite work along with me."
"I'm sorry." Darren looked contrite. "I just wanted to make myself known to you. It makes things so much easier in the long run if we start off on good terms."
"I see." Stefana looked nonplussed.
"Mr Llewelyn is fed up to the back teeth of all this Starlight Music press." Darren said, squatting down on the grass beside her. "And he told me that his priority was to get Diablo back to being one of Los Angeles' hottest news items. He told me that the papers and magazines seem to have developed a cult following for the group - but especially you. The little piece of hell - isn't that how it's coined?"
"Yeah...something like that." Stefana was wary. "Why? What did he say about me?"
"That you're a brilliant guitarist and that you're not easily messed about." Darren met her gaze earnestly. "That's partly why I came to speak to you. I want you to think of me as friend, not foe. I've been looking at some of the plans Rory has for your publicity and the man thinks big. Honestly, with his input and your help, I think I can pretty much guarantee a front page splash."
"Really?" Stefana sounded doubtful. "A front page splash?"
"Definitely. All the ingredients are there." Darren nodded. He gestured across the park, getting to his feet. "I won't disturb you any longer - I see your brother is with you and I know you stars get precious little free time. But I will see you tomorrow morning - all of you, I hope - to discuss all of this in greater detail."
He winked at her. "Rory said you always had something to say on these things. I'm especially looking forward to hearing what you have to contribute."
"Oh." Stefana faltered, then, "Okay. I guess we'll be there. Darren, you said?"
"That's me." Darren nodded. "Bye, Stefana. It was nice to finally meet you!"
"Who was that?" As the reporter retreated across the grass, Luca sat down beside his sister, handing her an ice cream.
"Some new project of Rory's. Weird guy." Stefana took it, licking the dripping chocolate from the rim of the cornet. "Mm. He's gonna work with Diablo on PR or something - he mentioned a front page splash and some kind of big plans Rory has."
"And he just came up to you in the park? Not at work?" Luca looked wary. Stefana shrugged.
"I dunno, but he has a Rebel Records pass and it says he's what he told me he is." She replied. "It's a real pass, Luca. I know a fake. I guess he's just eccentric that way."
"Well, Diablo have been out of the presses for a while." Luca mused. "Okay. Perhaps this is Rory's way of putting us back there!"
* * *
* * * *
At the Starlight Mansion, silence greeted Sammi's statement.
It was Nancy who first found her voice, perching on the edge of the sofa and fixing the visitor with an unreadable look.
"Strikes me that, if we're talking legal stuff, only a third of the computer belongs to Aja...and I didn't know you were also pencilled in there, too." She said quietly. "A codicil, perhaps?"
"After what Jerrica put my mother through, she deserves everything she gets from the will." Sammi retorted coolly. "And I'm not here to argue about it. I didn't say Synergy belonged to me. I said my family. Different thing. Shana and Kimber are Mum's sisters in every way but blood. Synergy belongs to them."
"I'm your family too, or did you forget that?" Sylva demanded.
"No, you're a Misfit kid." Sammi shook her head. "Sylvie, you have no right to this computer. It belongs to Mum and the others and not to you. Whatever games you've been playing with it, it's time to return it to where it belongs. Aunt Mary is fine and good, but I've heard what some of the other Misfits used to get up to - if this computer is all I think it is, do you think that the Misfits should have it?"
"The Misfits don't have it." Nancy said, her tones dripping with ice. "And Sammi, you include my mother when you say things like that. Please remember that before you insult her again. I don't go around dissing Holograms."
"I'm sorry, Nancy. I didn't mean it that way." Sammi sighed. "I just meant..."
"No, we know what you meant." Anger flared in Sylva's blue eyes. "Listen to me, Samantha, and listen good. Jerrica had absolutely no right to claim any ownership of Synergy after she left Starlight Mansion. When she died, she had nothing to do with Synergy and I'll be damned if she has the right to decide who owns her! She doesn't belong to Aja or Kimber or Shana!"
"So who does she belong to?" Sammi demanded. "You? Jewel?"
"Yes, maybe she does!" Sylva retorted.
"Syl, hold your tongue." Nancy cast Cynthia a sidelong glance, but Sylva took no notice.
"Nancy, Sammi obviously knows we know something about Synergy."
She got to her feet, wheeling on her cousin.
"This is just so typical of you, you know."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You were always like this. The good girl pretending to play by the rules. You'd always sit in your little corner with your prim proper outfits and tell me what I was doing wrong and why I was a horrid bad little girl."
"Sylvie, stop acting like a five year old. I came here to discuss this like adults!"
"No, you came to say "mine" over the computer." Sylva shook her head. "Well, guess what? That doesn't work when you're grown up. You can't pull legal crap on me, Sam. Nobody has proof Synergy exists, or knows where she is."
"I think she's right here."
"Maybe you do, but the FBI have already raided this place, so you'd be proven wrong if you tried to pursue that." Sylva snapped. "You're not so clever as you think you are. Do you really believe you can waltz right in here and demand something that you had absolutely no interest in until, like the rest of the world, you read about it in the papers?"
"That's not true!"
"No?" Sylva put her hands on her hips.
"Syl, Sammi, stop it!" Nancy put up her hands, but both girls ignored her.
"No." Sammi shook her head. "But you were always jumping to conclusions and being all 'look at me'. What's wrong, does Synergy project your every make-up change for you the way she did Jem's? Is that it? Can't you bear to live without your cosmetic miracle?"
"You talk about her as if she was someone's slave." Cynthia interjected quietly.
"She's a computer. She's an it, not a she." Sammi looked impatient. "And whatever it...she...it is, legally it belongs to the Holograms. And Mum. And Starlight Music. And, through all of that, it belongs to me far more than it does to you."
"You wanna bet on that?" Sylva exclaimed. "It wasn't the Holograms who looked after her when she needed repairing and rebuilding and rescuing from obscurity!"
"See, I knew you had her!"
"So what if we do? You can't prove it."
"What if I went to the papers? Would you like that?" Sammi was really raging, and, glancing at her, Nancy could see Sylva was not far off boiling point herself.
"Your mother would be so proud of you if you did." She seethed now. "Though as it stands I'm surprised she's proud of you at all, these days."
"What in hell is that meant to mean?" Sammi's eyes opened wide with shock.
"Well, you tell me." Sylva spat back. "Would you be proud of an alcoholic daughter who spends her time with sluts who sleep around and who's trying to steal something that she has absolutely no right to have?"
Sammi's hand shot out across Sylva's cheek, causing the Jewel to flinch back with a yelp of pain.
"You open your mouth like that once more and I'll break your nose." The English girl threatened, her voice shaking with fury. "You don't know anything about me, and you never really cared enough to find out."
"I didn't say anything that wasn't true." Sylva shot back. "You spend your time with Jesta and this is how you act."
"What? You don't like that I got a spine?" Sammi raised an eyebrow. "I shoulda slapped you one years ago. You've been asking for it for years."
"Get out of my house, Sammi, before I call security on you and have you arrested." Sylva touched her cheek gingerly.
"Not until you tell me what I want to know."
"Read my lips." Sylva's tone was as cold as ice. "Over my dead body."
"Okay, that is enough!" At that moment Cynthia decided to take a hand, getting to her feet and roughly pushing the two girls apart. Her violet eyes blazed with an indignant fire, and despite their anger, both girls were struck dumb by the hologram's expression.
"I will not have any more of this childish discourse!" She thundered. "If it has escaped the notice of either of you, my sister is only just buried, yet you scrap over Synergy as if she were a piece of meat to be won! You should both be ashamed of yourselves. Especially you, Sylvina. Sammi cannot be expected to understand what Synergy is to the world. You do."
Sylva opened her mouth to protest, but a glare from Cynthia silenced her, and she sank down into her seat, lowering her gaze.
"Right." Cynthia took a firm grip on Sammi's arm, leading her towards the door.
"I will not have this behaviour in my home." She said quietly, as the Teenangel began to struggle. "And you will not be able to get free, so don't struggle, unless you wish to be bruised. You are upset and hysteria is not good for anyone. I suggest you go home and think things over. Talk to your mother about Synergy - you obviously have not yet done so. If you did, maybe then you would understand."
"What's it to do with you, anyway?" Sammi demanded, then wished she hadn't, for the look in Cynthia's eyes was enough to quell the last of her insubordination.
"Everything." The hologram said darkly. "Jerrica was my sister. Don't you forget it."
Sammi gave up her struggling, allowing herself to be meekly led out of the room. The door banged shut behind them, and Nancy let out her breath in a rush.
"Wow." She said at length. "So does this mean the truce between you and her is off?"
"Shut up." Sylva ran her fingers through her hair. "How dare she?"
"How dare either of you?" Cynthia reappeared in the doorway at that moment, making both jump.
"I do not belong to you!" Cynthia banged her fist on the mantle hard, sending the picture frames wobbling over. "I thought that was understood! I am nobody's possession and I will not be fought over as if I was a thing with no thoughts or feelings of my own!"
"Cyn, I'm sorry." Sylva looked abashed. "I didn't mean it that way. It was just...she was just..."
"I have sent Sammi home. As I said, there is some excuse for her. She does not understand what I am." Cynthia cut across her, shaking her head. "You...you know me. I believed you were my friend!"
"I am your friend!"
"Or my mistress?"
"Cyn, Syl didn't mean to imply that we own you. She was just trying to explain to Sammi why she can't cart you away." Nancy ventured.
Cynthia's eyes glowed an eerie reddish purple.
"I will not be treated like a possession." She said quietly. "Do you understand me? I am nobody's slave any more. I have lived that life. It no longer suits me. So understand this, both of you. I work for Misfits Music - and I do Jewel's stage effects - because I choose to. Not because I am in any way bound to help you. Jewel are my friends, they are not my mistresses. Nobody will own Synergy. Not now, and not ever."
"I know." Sylva raised apologetic eyes to her friend's. "I'm sorry, Cyn. Really, truly sorry. It kinda tumbled out all wrong and I do know we don't own you. Please, don't be mad with me. I didn't mean to upset you."
The fire faded from Cynthia's eyes, and she put a hand on Sylva's arm.
"All right." She relented. "Things are said in anger that are not always meant. But do not forget it again, please. I am not quite like you, but I like to feel one of you. Not a servant. I want to be thought of as a colleague and an ally."
"You're both those things, Cyn, and Jewel value you for them." Nancy said gently. "Think we'd have saved you from the virus or gone to the trouble of making you reboot if you were just a stage simulator?"
"I suppose not." Cynthia acknowledged.
"Do you think Sammi will do anything more about it?" Sylva bit her lip.
"If she's sensible she'll talk to Aja before she does." Nancy said shrewdly.
"I didn't say she was sensible." Sylva grimaced.
"Well, we'll just have to see." Nancy shrugged. "Without proof she's kinda stuck."
"Nancy's right." Cynthia nodded. "The raid was a fortuitous plan, in the end. The FBI have already been here. I feel my hiding place has never been more secure. Even if Sammi - or anyone else - determines to find me, I have some time to think about my next plan of action."
"You said some pretty nasty things to her, Syl." Nancy cast her companion a glance. Sylva sighed.
"I know I did, and I shouldn't have said all of them." She admitted. "That kinda happens when I'm angry. She just had such a nerve."
"Well, I hope it doesn't have repercussions for our relationship with the Teenangels. Not if they're setting up in Los Angeles." Nancy looked troubled. "If Sammi's told them about Synergy and they decide she should be working for their team...God knows whether we'll find them friendly rivals in America after all!"
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.