Jacqui's Legacy: Part One

Chapter Ten: Marissa Demands

"So what exactly did happen at the cafe this afternoon, Stef?"
It was evening and, spying her chance to corner her friend, Marissa had headed up to Stefana's bedroom, slipping inside and shutting the door behind her.
Stefana glanced up, slipping something behind her back as she registered her bandmate's presence. She sighed.
"Really, Mari, I haven't the slightest idea." She said frankly. "I told you what I knew then - and that was it."
"Then why are you hiding something from me?"
Marissa sat down on the bed, gently pulling Stefana's hand out from behind her back. She frowned. "Your phone? Stef, were you trying to call someone?"
"Been trying to all day." Stefana agreed. "Not that it's your business who."
Marissa glanced at the phone, and her expression became hurt.
"Sadie?" She murmured. "I know you and she have become friendly of late, Stef, and I realise that's a good thing, but...are you planning on telling her about this? Talking to her...and not me?"
"Frankly, yes I was." Stefana snapped, dropping her phone down on her duvet. "And it's not like you to get jealous, so don't start with me now. You do not have a single clue about what's going on, and that's a fact."
"We're best friends." Marissa returned. "Or I thought so. Why won't you tell me what you're involved in? And what is it with all these secret new friends of yours? I thought we'd started to communicate again - but I guess you're the same as ever. Always keeping things a secret, using me when you need me but pushing me aside when you feel like it."
She got to her feet.
"I'm not gonna take that forever, you know." She added quietly. "I was there in the restaurant and I deserve some kind of explanation. And don't tell me you gave me one. Whatever it was, it was missing something and I want to know what. You told Darren McMillan what you knew about that computer, but you didn't tell me. And you ran off with Cynthia to plan it, but you didn't tell me anything. And now you're going to ring Sadie - a Jewel - and tell her something while ignoring me?"
"Oh, shut the hell up, you stupid girl." Stefana groaned, rubbing her temples. "I tried to tell you about Synergy once, and you thought I was nuts and imagining things. Not everyone thinks I'm having hallucinations. It's your fault if you didn't believe me."
"I told you, Stef, we were worried that you'd got your wires crossed. We didn't think you were crazy!"
"Well, I'm not crazy and my wires aren't crossed." Stefana snapped back. "Synergy is here in Los Angeles and she always has been. The FBI, Darren McMillan - they know nothing at all. Not even the tip of the iceberg. What I told the press was a lie, and today - that was the thanks I got for it. Do you want to be a part of this so badly? Trust me, you don't."
"It's a bit late for that, isn't it?" Marissa said, an edge to her tone. Stefana cast her friend a weary look.
"Mari, please." She said at length, dropping the hostility, and for the first time Marissa saw the desperation and fear in her companion's eyes. "You don't understand. Ever since we came back from Europe it's been one thing and another with this computer. Rory wanted to know where it was so he could exploit it - I stopped him finding out. Darren wanted to know for his scoop story - I fed him lies and he believed them. But now I'm scared, and that's the truth. The thing that attacked us this afternoon was Jerrica's damn machine, and nothing else. And it went for me because it knows I know about it. You don't - so it won't threaten you. Believe me, you'd rather it was that way. This machine is capable of a lot of things...and I don't really want to find out quite what."
"So why involve Sadie and Cynthia, then?" Marissa raised an eyebrow. "What have they got that I don't - more courage? Is that it? Do you think I'm a wimp?"
"Will you quit it with the hurt dog routine?" Stefana was exasperated. "Sadie and Cynthia already know about the computer. More than I do, in fact. And if I tell you any more, well...I don't know whether it can hear me, or whether we're safe talking like this. So don't ask me any more questions. It's bad enough one of us is freaked out. It doesn't need there to be two of us."
Marissa was silent for a moment. Then she frowned.
"You're telling me that Jewel are involved with Jerrica's machine somehow?" She hazarded.
"Mari, dammit! What did I just say?"
"There's noone else here!" Marissa exclaimed. "I know you can be paranoid, Stef, but I don't see any holographic beings floating around the room. Do you?"
"Don't you get it? This machine can look like anyone...or anything!" Stefana shot back. "Plus, she's smarter than most of Los Angeles. She'd have to be, to stay hidden so long as she has. For all I know, you're not really you at all. You could be her."
"Stef, tell me you're sober."
Anxiety flooded Marissa's gaze and she grabbed her friend's wrists, meeting the indignant green eyes with concerned blue ones. "Because this is starting to sound like a major speed trip, and I don't like it."
"I've had enough." Stefana shook herself free from her friend's grasp, getting to her feet. "You never listen to me. You always think it's drugs, no matter how long I've been free of them. Don't you realise what a big mess this whole situation is? The FBI haven't a clue about this machine. The press believe a lie. The only evidence it ever existed is missing...and it's now walking around town impersonating people. Threatening people while in disguise. Just stop for a moment and think this through. This isn't some high tech laptop. It's more than that. Much, much more."
Marissa frowned.
"You're really serious about this, aren't you?" She murmured. Stefana rolled her eyes.
"Oh, you've just realised that?" She demanded sarcastically. "Of course I'm serious! And I've told you way too much as it is."
She bit her lip, beginning to pace across her carpet. "God only knows what she'll do if she knows I have."
"Somewhere in this conversation you slipped from calling the computer an 'it' to calling it a 'she'." Marissa observed slowly, sprawling out on Stefana's bed and resting her chin in her hands. "Why?"
"If you'd met her, you'd know why."
"But I haven't. And I'd like it if you told me."
"I don't understand the science of it." Stefana twisted her hands together. "All I do know, though, is that it's something in her core program that makes her female. Her human illusions are female, and so is the way she acts."
"So Synergy is a she, and not an it?"
"Okay." Marissa pursed her lips. "Tell me why she's dangerous, exactly. I'm sorry if I'm being slow, Stef, but I'm not following all of this at all well. You seem freaked out of your mind, but I'm not quite sure why that is. Yes, she was unpleasant in the cafe today, but it was just words. She didn't hurt you."
"No, she didn't hurt me." Stefana agreed darkly. "Not in a public place. She did threaten to once before, though, a long time ago. Back when I first found out her secret. And she's played it so docile recently, I really believed I'd had her all wrong. That she was more than a psycho computer system out to terrorise the world."
She sighed.
"And then today happened." She concluded. "And bang goes that idea."
"Then you should go to the police or the FBI." Marissa spread her hands. "It's the only thing to do, if you're scared of her."
"I told you once. They'd just take her apart and build more."
"Maybe they wouldn't. And it would get her off your case."
"No, it wouldn't." Stefana shook her head. "One Synergy is bad enough. An army of them for military purposes? No. I don't know the first thing about computers, Mari, but I do know this. The dude who built her was way too skilled for his own good. Noone owns Synergy - her program is too sophisticated to allow it. Can you imagine a crazed army of these things overriding their human commands and doing whatever the heck they liked? Trust me. The government do not need to know about this machine."
"But you're scared. Surely there's someone you can talk to?"
"That's what I was trying to do."
Stefana gestured at her phone. Marissa frowned, scooping it up.
"Sadie?" She murmured. "I don't understand."
"Well, then I'll lay it on the line for you."
Stefana snatched the phone out of her friend's grasp. "It was you and Farah who told me to speak to her in the first place. Don't get all jealous about it now."
"I don't understand."
"Use your brains, will you?" Stefana snapped. "Sadie's my counsellor. My therapist. The one who's got me straight again, and kept me off the speed. Now does it make sense to you?"
"Sadie?" Marissa's eyes opened wide. "Aaron's mean it was her all the time? She was the one who...but I don't get it. You hate Jewel! Why would you trust one of them with all of this stuff?"
"Because I find it hard to say no to Aaron." Stefana said grimly. "And that's the other reason I won't tell the authorities about Synergy, Mari. Aaron."
"Aaron knows about this computer?"
"He more or less re-built her." Stefana agreed.
"So that's how you came to know." Marissa sighed. "Stef, I'm sorry that I doubted you - that Farah and I both did. And I'm sorry for jumping on you just now. I didn't understand...I honestly still don't, in some ways. But I realise you're scared and that this is a secret you don't feel you can betray. Is there any way I can help?"
"Staying out of it would be the best way you could help." Stefana responded quietly. "That way she won't get mad at me for telling you anything, and she won't hurt you. Think you can manage that?"
"And how does Cynthia wrap up in all of this?"
"I'd like to know the answer to that, too." Stefana admitted.
"Well, Darren seemed to think you and she were bosom buddies, but when we saw her earlier, you didn't even want to say hello."
"I know. I just hope she didn't see us." Stefana ran an agitated hand through her hair. "Or hear what we were talking about."
"Wait a minute. Is Cynthia your friend? Or your enemy? I'm confused."
"Not half as much as I am." Stefana sighed. "Which is why I need to speak to Sadie."
She glanced at her phone, then dropped it down on the bedside unit.
"This is no good, she's not answering any of my calls." She continued. "So I'm going to drive out there and speak to her face to face, if I can. I know Jewel are shooting a video at Flash Studios today, and they'll probably be there late. I've found my way in and out of that place so many times without alerting the security people. Maybe I can grab her then and speak to her, when Cynthia and the others aren't around."
"Do you think Cynthia's involved in what happened at the restaurant, then?" Marissa raised an eyebrow. "Because I thought she and Sylva were friends."
"Cynthia is involved. That's the only thing I know for sure." Stefana said darkly. "And I'm going to find out exactly how and why."

*    *    *    *    *

"What took you so long?"
As Ingrid made her way carefully and distastefully into Techrat's apartment, the shadowy figure in the corner glanced up from his motheaten chair, setting down the piece of circuitboard he had been lovingly working on.
"What took me so long?" Ingrid stared at him, then dropped the tracking device down onto the table. "In case it escaped your notice, Techrat, I do have a job to work alongside doing your errands for you, you know! Riot would get suspicious if I didn't show up to the office - and that's the last thing we want right at the moment!"
"Don't drop my machine!" Techrat was on his feet in an instant, grabbing up the tracker and holding it protectively as he examined it for cracks and damage. "I told you to be careful!"
"Nice to know you're more concerned about it's safety than you are mine." Ingrid said acidly. "Even when I found your precious computer's projections."
"Of course you did." Techrat glanced up, the tracker still clutched in his hands. He ran a gentle finger over it, then, "You had my device."
"Do you want to know what I found out, or don't you?" Ingrid demanded. Techrat sighed.
"That is why I sent you." He rasped. "So tell me. Prove your lateness was useful and not simply another unreliable human character trait."
"I picked up the signal in the middle of the city, and followed it out to the old Star Drive Through." Ingrid ignored the insult. "It's smarter than you realise though, Techrat. It knew I was tracking it, and played games with me to prove I had it's attention. Plus, it's deranged beyond belief. I think it's dangerous. It told me that if I went to either press or police about it, it would hunt me down and kill me."
"Well, that's all right." Techrat shrugged his shoulders. "We have no need for press or police, and the machine can't last long. Empty threats, Minx. Trust you to be scared."
"You haven't met it, face to face." Ingrid shot back. "Its holograms are convincing - it blocked out the exits and trapped me. Plus it kept changing it's appearance, and..."
"Are you going to tell me what I already know, or something that I can use?" Techrat interrupted impatiently. Ingrid rolled her eyes.
"The computer's programming is based on Jacqui Benton. Emmet Benton's wife or something." She said at length. "It told me so. It was obsessed with Jerrica's death and getting some kind of revenge on the Misfits...and it pretty much said Emmet put his wife's personality and memories into making the computer. Perhaps that's why it's artificial intelligence is so sophisticated - and why it's able to operate on it's own."
"No machine operates entirely on it's own, Minx." Techrat was scornful. "All computers have a basic programming and all it's actions are manifested in that programming. Synergy has become damaged, that's all. Deep down, it is still running its original program...however sentient it appeared to be."
"Well, noone was there controlling it." Ingrid defended herself. "How is that possible?"
"Remote projection, of course." Techrat crossed the room, retrieving his abandoned circuitboard. "And you've done well. It seems probable that elements of Synergy's programming are based on traits and personality from Jacqui Benton. And to make my computer work, I need to follow the same lines."
He eyed Ingrid thoughtfully, then,
"It's a good thing that I have a potential model right here in front of me." He added.
"Me?" Ingrid took a step back. "Wait a minute. What are you going to do to me?"
"Nothing, you silly woman." Techrat sounded exasperated. "Why is it so hard for you to understand without me explaining every little detail to you? I'm simply going to base my computer's program around your character traits and likeness."
"Like...a cyber clone?"
"No. Just a blueprint." Techrat's beady eyes glinted. "Something to pitch my programming on."
"It won't look too much like me, will it?" Ingrid sounded worried. "Synergy's projection looked just like Jacqui Benton, but it said it had modified the projection Emmet programmed it with. Can you do the same thing with your machine - so noone thinks that it's projections are, well, me?"
"Nothing easier." Techrat shrugged impatiently. "I'm a genius, not a fool. Now leave me alone! I have work to do."
"Oh, with pleasure." Ingrid's tones carried an edge to them. "And I'm telling you, Techrat, this had better be worth all the grief in the end. You better be able to do this, after all the trouble I've gone to for you already."
"That isn't in doubt." Techrat said composedly. "And it will be worth it. Just you wait and see."

Prologue: Emmet's Task

Chapter One: Discontent
Chapter Two: Jewel In Session
Chapter Three: Mirage
Chapter Four: The Contact
Chapter Five: Le Klub Kool
Chapter Six: Sullivan
Chapter Seven: Cracks
Chapter Eight: Illusion
Chapter Nine: Jacqui
Chapter Ten: Marissa Demands
Chapter Eleven: Stefana's Warning

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