Jacqui's Legacy: Part One


Chapter Four: The Contact

It was starting to get dark.
Ingrid pulled her jacket more tightly around her as a chill wind whipped through the dim alleyway, swirling underneath the lid of a dented rubbish bin and sending it clattering to the ground. She flinched, speeding up her pace with a glance over her shoulder.
"I wish it wasn't always such a trial to find this place." She muttered under her breath in her native tongue, inwardly cursing the habits of a man so cut off from society he no longer even had a proper name. "If he wasn't so good at computers...then I wouldn't be doing this now. But Sophie has me thinking, and teaching Riot a lesson would be more than welcome. Techrat is the only one I know with the technology to hack a computer system from a distance without leaving a trace. I just wish he'd find somewhere better to live!"
She paused at the end of the street, taking the turning and stepping carefully over pot-holes and bits of abandoned metal and wire. She was approaching his workshop, and as she got closer to the worn building at the head of the cul-de-sac, the bits of componants and broken machinery became more frequent. These were his discards, yet noone had ever commented on them in an alleyway already teeming with refuse. The last time she had come here, she had seen a rat calmly feeding out of one of the rubbish bins, and the memory made her shiver.
"No rats today." She told herself firmly, steeling her nerves and approaching the battered door. She knocked three times, waiting impatiently for an answer.
"Who is there?"
The voice was rasping and almost ghostly. Ingrid rolled her eyes.
"Minx. Who else would it be?" She demanded. "Who else is stupid enough to come all the way down here to visit you? Even the mailman doesn't come to this part of town!"
There was silence, then the door opened a crack to reveal an eye.
"Why are you here? I am busy!"
"I know, you're always busy. But I need your help." Ingrid told him simply.
"My help?" The door opened a little more, and Ingrid could make out the partial features of a man's face, shielded by the gloom. "You only ever come here asking for my help! And last time, where did that get me? Your Rory Llewelyn said I was a fool...that my technology was useless!"
"I know he did." Ingrid slipped a foot into the opening of the door. "And that's part of the reason why I'm here. My business associate and I, we want to teach Rory a lesson. He treats too many people like they're worthless. We want to show him that he can't do that and get away with it."
"This is not my problem." The man seemed dismissive. "I don't waste my technology on inferior projects."
"Not even to teach him a lesson?"
Ingrid offered him a smile, though inwardly she was bubbling with frustrated anger. "Sophie - my colleague - and I thought it would be fun to hack into his computer system and change all the passwords. But neither of us know how to do that without leaving any kind of trace behind. You're the only one I could think of who'd be able to do such a thing, and do it professionally. That's why I came to see you. I wanted to ask you if you would. We'd pay you, of course. You know that."
"Money is not important to me."
A pair of beady eyes looked the visitor up and down, then the door opened fully.
"But there are componants I need for another project of mine. You will find these for me, if I help you?"
"It's a deal." Ingrid nodded.
"Then come." The man beckoned. "But don't touch anything!"
Ingrid hesitated, then, swallowing hard, she stepped into the dwelling, watching him close the door behind her.
The room was dimly lit, with mechanical pieces and circuitboards covering every surface. Once it had been a habitable ground floor flat, but the kitchen units, tables and chairs were all coated with tools and other bits and pieces, and a lump of matress vaguely resembling a bed was tossed down in a corner. Despite the madness, however, the room was impeccably clean of crumbs and anything else that might attract the local vermin, and Ingrid took a deep breath. No rats here, at least.
Her companion saw her expression, and an odd smile touched his lips.
"The rats chew my circuitry." He said simply. "I had to get rid of them."
He gestured towards the far wall, where a box-like contraption was set up against the cracked plaster.
"They end up in there. Silly creatures. Far too easy to fool."
Ingrid turned her back on that wall, glancing around her for somewhere to sit. Finding nowhere, she leant up against the doorpost.
"Are you building something?" She asked conversationally. The man frowned.
"In the process of it." he agreed guardedly. "Though it's not so easy as I had hoped."
"And that's how I can help you, if you help me?" Ingrid asked. "Techrat, you'll have to be more specific. We want to teach Riot a lesson that he remembers...and we want to do it soon. Is there something here that can do what I ask?"
"There is always something in my home that can do a simple job like that." Techrat snorted. "Do not insult my work."
"No insult intended." Ingrid spread her hands. "So what componants do you need? Tell me where they sell them and..."
"No, not those componants." Techrat shook his head. "It's old componants I need for this particular project."
"I don't follow you." Ingrid looked confused. Techrat scooped a box up off a battered armchair, running his fingers along the side. As he did so, a faint beam of light emitted from it, sending shadows up the walls. He smiled.
"I have been watching for a long time." he said softly. "It is a fascinating piece of equipment...but I can't quite see exactly how it was put together. What was his secret? How is it that I cannot duplicate it here? I am a can't be beyond my knowledge!"
"It looks like a torch to me." Ingrid frowned. "What does it do?"
"At the moment, it does nothing." Techrat snapped, and the light flickered out. "It is only the beginning of what I am trying to create. Silly woman. I thought you understood something about machines - about electronics!"
"I do." Ingrid looked angry. "I build all my own synthesisers, you know I do! You said my work was good!"
"So think on a bigger scale." Techrat retorted. "Think on the biggest scale there is...the one thing that everyone in this city thinks is dead and gone."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You are a silly woman." Techrat shook his head. "The Benton machine, of course! Synergy!"
"I thought your virus rid the world of that machine already." Ingrid looked sceptical. "Else why, when the FBI found it, was it in such an awful state? You told me that your virus would take it's insides to pieces. Were you wrong?"
"I am never wrong." Techrat's eyes narrowed to near slits at the challenge in his companion's voice. "I do not know why the virus did not take full effect, but I believe it must have been handled wrongly by that Llewelyn idiot. He has no understanding of the delicacy of machines, and probably tried to hurry it along. Such things can never be rushed. He was in too much of a hurry...he gave up far too quickly."
"So what are you telling me? Something else destroyed the computer?"
"No. Only those too blind to see what I see." Techrat shuffled across his living room, rummaging among a pile of papers for some creased sketches. He held them out. "This is what I have worked out. My latest invention has enabled me to track electronic emissions in light and sound. I was certain that this machine was too sophisticated to be so easily destroyed by falling masonry. As usual, I was correct. The FBI are easily fooled. They do not have my genius, or my technology. They do not see what I see."
"What are you saying?" Ingrid's eyes became big, and she grabbed the diagrams away from him, brushing against his arm in the process. "That Synergy wasn't destroyed at all?"
Techrat sprang back.
"Don't touch me!" he hissed. "And be careful with those!"
"Answer my question, Techrat. Are you saying the FBI were lied to, and that the computer still exists?"
"Of course it still exists, you feeble-brained woman!" Techat exclaimed. "I told you, my device tracks the emissions it makes. It is frequently projecting around the centre of Los Angeles...near to Starlight Music and Misfits Music. I have not pinpointed precisely where - but it tallies with the information that foolish girl gave us two years ago. My belief is that this machine is being used by someone at one of those two companies and is hiding in plain sight."
"Hey, do you think that you could hack into it, and somehow use that to teach Riot a lesson?" Ingrid's eyes became bright as she contemplated. "This computer is very powerful, isn't it? Surely it could do a lot of superficial damage to a man in his position?"
"The computer's emissions have become more and more erratic of late." Techrat shook his head. "I do not know, but I hypothesise that the reason is the long term effect of my virus. It was strong and it did the job that I thought it would - it just took longer to work through the more complex circuitry than I imagined. When working with a computer you have never seen, it can be difficult to estimate things like that. But still, I feel it has indeed done damage. The mainframe is unstable and I don't believe it will be much use to anyone before too long. I find it having difficulty maintaining a direct transmission between it's mainframe and it's remote units, and I have detected several different binary thought patterns emitting from it since the middle of May. It would be far too unreliable to try and override it's commands, even if I wanted to. It does not even seem able to process the most simple behavioural commands properly."
"Does that mean you've tried?" Ingrid looked up from the plans, disappointment clear on her face. A slight smile touched Techrat's thin lips.
"Why waste my time? My readouts are accurate." He said dismissively.
"So the point of all this is what?" Ingrid demanded. "I came here to ask for your help and you've gone off on a tangent...I still don't understand what you want me to do for you, if you help me!"
"The FBI have parts which I believe belong to the real Synergy." Techrat said comfortably. "The original is unstable and reaching the end of it's lifespan, but I'm sure that, if I got a good look at the custom componants Benton used, I could replicate them. And therefore replicate the machine."
"Ransack the FBI offices?" Ingrid blanched. "Are you crazy?"
"No, I'm a genius." Techrat shook his head. "And you said you needed my help."
"So you're going to build your own Synergy, based on the design Emmet Benton used?" Ingrid asked slowly. Techrat nodded his head.
"That is the plan." He agreed.
"Well, then here's the new terms." Ingrid handed back his plans. "If I can get these pieces for you from the FBI lab, the stakes are higher. I want in on this machine. I want us to use it to put Riot back in his place once and for all. A powerful holographic simulator could do a lot of damage to his reputation without me even having to lift a finger to bother him. That's the deal, Techrat. Are we agreed?"
Techrat eyed her thoughtfully for a moment, taking in her features carefully with his wary dark eyes. At length he nodded.
"Yes." he agreed, in soft, rasping tones. "It's a deal."


"Jacqui Benton?"
Back at Misfits Music, Copper's car jerked to a sudden stop at the entrance of the parking lot at Cynthia's words. "Jacqui Benton? Isn't that beyond impossible?"
"Beyond beyond impossible." Cynthia sighed. "Which is why I know I've really had enough for the day. I was so sure, Copper...but she just disappeared into nothing. My optical circuits must be overheated, and they're playing tricks. That's all."
"I was under the impression you didn't even know Jacqui." Copper put the car in gear again, pulling out of the parking lot and onto the main road. Cynthia shrugged.
"Define know." She said simply. "You know that Emmet based his program for me on his late wife. That's why I felt so strongly when Jerrica died. You know that."
"Yes, but you're not Jacqui. You're Synergy." Copper said with a shrug. "He based it on her for some things, but we know he didn't want you to be too like his wife, isn't that right? He wanted you to be you...and so you are."
"On the contrary, he wanted me to be different because he could not bear to duplicate Jacqui so completely." Cynthia said quietly. "My original image began as Jacqui's perfect likeness. He edited me away from her because it pained him to see her and know she wasn't real. But all these things are hazy in my memory and, if I am honest, they grow hazier the further from Emmet's program I move. It is like you said - I am not Jacqui. But in that sense, I did know her. And would recognise her in a moment, if ever I should see her face."
She frowned.
"But she's been dead a long time, and I do not believe in ghosts."
"I do." Copper shivered. "But if there was a ghost - I mean, if Jacqui Benton was haunting anywhere in Los Angeles, you wouldn't think it would be here, would you? And if she was, you'd have thought someone would have seen her. It's been - it must have been almost fifty years since she died. Was Misfits Music even built when she was alive?"
"No." Cynthia shook her head. "So it is as you say. It was no ghost, Copper. It was a figment of my tired imagination, and that is all."
"No wonder you were on edge." Copper grinned. "I think I'd have been freaked out if I'd seen someone I knew to be dead hiding behind the bushes. Though couldn't it have just been someone else, and you mistook her?"
"No." Cynthia spoke decidedly. "I make a complete match to a face whenever I see it. I do not forget features. They are logged in my memory."
"Well, then your eyes must have been playing tricks." Copper said at length. "I mean, computer eyes can do that too, right?"
"Yes, they can." Cynthia agreed. "It is probably nothing more than a misplaced memory file in amongst my optical commands."
"That's better than a ghost to me." Copper's eyes twinkled. "And you have been working hard recently. Is it this contract of Rory Llewelyn's? I know we've had the lecture about hyping our work to drown them out."
"I don't know that it is that directly, though it makes the office a more tense place when Pizzazz is in an unpleasant mood." Cynthia said thoughtfully. "We have just had a lot of repairs to make of late. Something - or somebody - has got into the wiring of several units and rendered them useless. Aaron thought it might be some form of rodent, but Jetta has spoken to pest control and they've found no trace of animal or even teeth marks. It looks more like random cuts - but there has been nobody on the premises who could have done it. It's silly, and we don't know what's behind it. But it's meant that Aaron and I have less time to kick back and chat and much more time fiddling with panels and cables."
"That stinks." Copper looked sympathetic. "I thought since the studio was wrecked and Syl's car was stolen, that stuff had died down. I know Syl's more or less put the car thing down to some random nutjob...her words. Hasn't it?"
"Apparently not." Cynthia spread her hands. "Somebody also disabled the wiring inside the company logo on the roof, and spray painted over the words Misfits Music on every hoarding for a twenty block radius. It is little things, Copper. Little things that make my job a lot more tiresome."
"How on earth did they get up to the light up logo?" Copper looked startled, taking the turning for the Starlight Mansion and pulling onto the side road. "I thought the controls were in a unit on the roof and only Phyllis and Jetta have keys for the roof."
"I can't answer that." Cynthia sighed. "What you say is true, but no key went missing and there was no forced entry. Phyllis and Jetta are, I feel, beyond suspicion - and they were also in admin meetings the afternoon it happened, even if they were not. It is all very odd."
"It sounds it." Copper pursed her lips. "That stinks, Cyn. I knew you and Aaron were both working hard, but he hasn't really mentioned this stuff to me. I guess he sees enough of it at work - he doesn't want to come home and spend his evenings pondering over it too."
"He has said on more than one occasion that he's glad to get home to you and forget about wires for the evening." Cynthia agreed. She frowned, chewing absently on her bottom lip. "I am not so lucky. My world is wires. I don't really get a break."
"That's why we want to have this night out." Copper reminded her. "Tomorrow seems a good night, since Jewel have no bookings. You will come, won't you?"
"I will come." Cynthia agreed. "It will be a refreshing change of scenery, and after defragging tonight, with any luck I shall be more than able to enjoy it."
"Well, here you are." Copper pulled onto the arc shaped drive. "Home sweet home. Do you want walking to the door or do you think you're safe?"
"I think I can manage that." Despite herself, Cynthia smiled. "Thank you for the ride, Copper, and the company. I will see you tomorrow."
"Yep, tomorrow." Copper dimpled, watching the hologram step out of the car, closing the door behind her. "Bye, Cyn. And get some rest, okay? Whatever it is that's going on at Misfits Music, it's not your problem out of hours!"
Cynthia stepped back from the drive as the redhead revved her engine, reversing back the way she'd come and then heading out onto the road. Then, slowly she turned on her heel, making her way towards the pale stone steps that led up to the house's front entrance.
As she did so, she thought she heard something and she paused, turning. What she saw made her let out a gasp of surprise.
Stood at the foot of the drive was the figure of a woman, pale and indistinct, but recognisable. Her blue eyes were fixed on Cynthia's face, but she made no smile of acknowledgement.
"What do you want?" Cynthia kept her voice level. "What are you and why are you following me?"
The figure gave no indication that she had heard, and, as Cynthia looked, she realised the woman's features were becoming sharper and more distinct.
"And yet, you are almost like a ghost to me. I can see the hedges behind you." She murmured. "What are you! Speak to me. Why are you here?"
"You know who I am."
The woman's lips barely moved, and her eyes were ice cold.
"No, I don't." Cynthia shook her head, taking a step towards the apparition. "You may look like Jacqui Benton, but Jacqui is dead and someone is playing a trick. It is a stupid game, and I am far too busy for it."
"This is not a game."
The woman's voice was only just more than a whisper and, as Cynthia took another step towards her, the illusion vanished as quickly as it had come.
For a moment the hologram just stood there, trying to gather her thoughts.
"Whatever it was, I saw it." She murmured. "It was not just a misplaced file - it was there. So what, then? Is this all part of what's been going on at Misfits Music since the night it was wrecked?"
Sylva's voice from the house made her start and she turned, casting her friend a faint smile.
"We wondered when you'd get back." Sylva grinned. "It's getting dark out - aren't you coming in?"
"Yes." Cynthia nodded, making her way to join her friend. She paused at the top of the steps, glancing back across the drive. Then she frowned.
"Is something up?" Sylva asked. Cynthia nodded.
"I think someone is playing very clever games." She agreed. "Twice tonight I've seen something that resembles Jacqui Benton."
"I beg your pardon?" Sylva stared. "Hasn't she, like, been dead pretty much forever?"
"I said something that resembled her. It wasn't her, nor a ghost. It was something else." Cynthia said darkly. "It appeared to me to be a poor imitation of a hologram. I could see through it, so it lacked density. Whatever powered it had no real strength to make it at all believable. Someone is playing games with us and with Misfits Music. I am sure of it, Syl. The wrecked studio, your car...and all the little, petty sabotages. Someone wants Misfits Music to fail."
"But what in heck does Jacqui Benton have to do with any of that?" Sylva asked, as they made their way into the house, closing the door firmly behind them. Cynthia spread her hands.
"I don't know." She admitted. "All I know is that it started when Jerrica died and Starlight Music fell out of Benton hands. All I can think of is that someone blames Misfits Music for her death - and blames them enough to try and exact a twisted revenge."
"Creepy." Sylva shivered. "My poor car. I thought that was random - you think it wasn't?"
"I think none of it is random." Cynthia agreed grimly. "But I don't know any more than you about the source."
She sighed. "And I am so tired, Syl, so enough for tonight. I am going to go downstairs, reboot my system and defragment my memory. Tomorrow I will think on this more closely...for now I have had enough."
"You do that." Sylva dimpled. "And we'll schedule the girl's night for tomorrow?"
"I told Copper that would be ideal." Cynthia nodded. "Goodnight, Syl. Tell the others that I said so, too."
"I will." Sylva agreed. "Night, Cynnie. Happy defragging!"

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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