Chapter Seven: Cracks
"Well, if anyone was in any doubt as to whether or not Jewel were back
at work, I'd say today would be the final proof."
Nancy stifled a yawn, slipping a key into the front door of the Starlight Mansion. "Either I'm out of practice or that video shoot was a lot longer and harder than the others we've done of late. What do you think, girls? How many re-takes did we do?"
"Too many." Sylva grimaced, glancing at her nails. "And we're at it again tomorrow. I'm beginning to hate this Forgiven song so much, I'm telling you. If it's not enough that we played it on every tour date we've done recently, we've spent all of today listening to it...over and over again. I'm gonna be dreaming it tonight."
"I think we all are." Topaz looked amused, following her bandmates into the hall and reaching for the light switch. "Looks like Baby and Hologram are asleep - we better not disturb them."
"It is almost midnight." Sadie glanced at her watch. "Can't blame them."
"That's why I didn't ring the bell." Nancy owned. She cast Topaz a rueful grin, then, "You and Cyn are not people to cross if we wake the baby."
"Too true." She agreed. "But she's just about learnt to sleep right through - and even if she does wake up at six in the morning, it's better than being disturbed at half two. I'd rather, once she was down, she stayed there."
"Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I need a hot drink."
Sylva slipped her jacket onto the hook, pushing wisps of curly hair back into her silver barrettes. "And a shower, too, probably. There's so much spray in my hair I swear it'll crack if I touch it too much."
"Tell me about it." Nancy sighed. "I'll be washing gold glitz out for the next month."
"I'll go do hot chocolate, if people are thirsty." Sadie volunteered. "I'm pretty sure there's some left and I could use a cocoa kick."
"Sounds good to me, Sade. Thanks." Topaz dimpled.
"Sure." Sylva nodded.
"Count me in, too." Nancy agreed. "I think after the day we've had something hot and sweet would be good - and if we all drink coffee now we'll never sleep."
"That was my thought." Sadie admitted. "I'll just ditch my purse in the lounge and then I'll go see what we've got."
She pushed open the lounge door, reaching for the light fixture.
"You girls are back late."
A voice made them all jump, and Sadie sprang back, letting out a yelp which was soon echoed by Sylva as the blond guitarist landed on her friend's toe.
There was a chuckle from the darkness, and then the room was bathed in a soft red glow.
"Did I make you jump?"
"Cynthia!" Topaz exclaimed. "Yes! We thought you'd powered down for the night - what gives?"
"Why are you sitting in here in the dark, anyhow?" Nancy demanded, switching on the overhead light. "Are you trying to creep us out?"
"No...in truth I had not noticed how dark it had become." Cynthia said ruefully, as she reverted her hologram back to hard light, scooping up her watch. "I was deep in thought - but your key in the lock alerted me to your return."
"Well, it must've been pretty deep thinking." Sylva reached down to rub her toe, casting Sadie a dark look. "And my foot's suffering the consequences."
"Sorry, Syl." Sadie blushed. "I didn't mean to trample you."
"The blame is really mine." Cynthia said with a smile, but it didn't reach her violet eyes, and Topaz paled.
"Cyn...is it Hollie? Is something wrong?" She asked.
"Hollie?" Cynthia seemed startled, then she shook her head. "No, Topaz. Hollie is quite well. She ate her tea and went to bed with little fuss after her bath. She fell asleep almost right away and the radio has not made a sound. Why?"
"I just wondered...you seem preoccupied." Topaz sighed with relief, dropping down into an armchair. "I was worried it was my baby...since you picked her up from the creche."
"I am sorry." Cynthia looked contrite. "I did not mean to worry you. Believe me, the baby is fine."
"So what is bothering you, then?" Nancy asked, perching on the edge of the coffee table as she removed her boots. "Because Topaz is right. Something is."
"Yes, something is." Cynthia nodded gravely. "Today I had a visitor."
"A visitor?" Sadie frowned. "What kind of visitor? And when?"
"She came to speak to me as I left Misfits Music. I was walking out towards the Starlight and she accosted me." Cynthia pursed her lips. "She brought with her a warning - a warning which I have taken much to heart."
"Someone threatened you?" Sylva raised an eyebrow. Cynthia shook her head.
"No. Quite the contrary." She responded. "She came because she thought I should know. And indeed, so I should."
She sighed heavily.
"But what to make of it, I do not know."
"Well, stop talking in riddles and tell us what you do know." Nancy suggested. "Maybe we can help. Besides, it's getting late...and we have an early start tomorrow. It's nothing personal, but I'd like to sleep in between."
"Yes, so would I." Cynthia admitted. "Very well."
She spread her hands.
"As I was walking home, Stefana drove up alongside me." She said carefully. "She had some information for me. She told me that someone had broken into the FBI lab and stolen the parts of my hard drive that Aaron and I used in our hoax a few months ago. They had no clues, and no trace of who had taken them. Or, which concerns me more - why."
"Stefana?" Sylva's eyes narrowed. "And why would you believe her? She's tried to kill you once already!"
"Syl..." Sadie frowned, but Cynthia held up her hands.
"No, hear me out." She said quietly. "I have since corroborated Stefana's story - it is on the front page of the Tribune this morning, and I have read the article. It is entirely as she says."
"If you ask me, she's probably the one who took it." Nancy rolled her eyes. Sadie grimaced.
"I wish you guys would stop ripping on Stefana." She said wearily. "What in hell would she do with bits of a computer? She doesn't know any more than I do about how they work. If Aaron couldn't get those bits and pieces to function, what hope has Steffi got?"
"I believe she told me in good faith." Cynthia added.
"Well, I wish I knew we could trust her word." Topaz sighed. "Syl and Nancy have a point - she hasn't always been trustworthy in the past. Quite the opposite - she's caused all of us a lot of trouble. I know things have died down, and Sadie, I know you and she have become friendly - that's great. But this is still the girl who threatened Synergy's existance with that virus. Ignorance of computers didn't stop her then...I don't see why it wouldn't now."
"Because Stef is...different now." Sadie said quietly. "I don't know if she regrets the virus or not - it's not something we've talked about. But she hasn't caused Jewel trouble since Aaron spoke to her, before his wedding. Isn't that enough to give her the benefit of the doubt?"
"Before this turns into a big debate, there is something else, too." Cynthia said thoughtfully. "Something you do not know, but which Aaron can support, if you wish a second opinion. Who do you think it was who first warned me that the press were after me? And more, who helped me to organise the Synergy ruse so that that McMillan man was fooled?"
Sylva's eyes widened.
"Stefana?" She exclaimed.
"I don't believe it." Nancy shook her head. Cynthia shrugged.
"It is true." She said simply. "And at great risk. McMillan was blackmailing her - he had information he threatened to print about her if she didn't reveal my secret. She had little to gain by protecting me, but yet she came to seek me out and warn me. It is this behaviour which makes me believe this time she acts in good faith toward me. McMillan has once more been harassing her - hoping she might know something about the theft. I believe she does not. It makes no human sense for her to participate in a hoax and then steal the evidence behind that hoax - evidence which was crucial to protecting her as much as it was me."
"Stefana doesn't generally make human sense." Nancy frowned. "But all right. I guess I see your point. Maybe she did just want to warn you."
"Why would she protect you?" Topaz looked confused. "Sadie, did you know she'd done this?"
"I suspected she had." Sadie shrugged. "Because Stef doesn't like people to know when she does good things. But she warned me too - before the FBI got really hot on Synergy's tail - that Rory Llewelyn was back interested in the computer system. She didn't have to. That was what first put McMillan on her tail, too. I told you. Stef's not the same person as she was before."
"Has Alex said nothing, then, about this theft?" Cynthia cast Sadie a quizzical glance.
"I haven't spoken to him." Sadie admitted. "And my phone has been off all day. Hang on." She rummaged in her purse. "Maybe he left me a message."
"The stuff the FBI have...er...had, it's in pretty rough shape, right?" Sylva asked. Cynthia nodded.
"Melted very badly in some areas."
"So what would anyone want with it?"
"Truly, I do not know." Cynthia admitted. "But I do wonder if it has a connection to some of the other odd happenings recently. The hologram of Jacqui Benton that I saw on two occasions, for example."
"The girl at the club." Nancy looked thoughtful. "And then there was the trashing of Misfits Music and the stealing of Syl's car. Didn't both of those yield no clues or something? I mean, is this the same person?"
"Cynthia?" Topaz pressed, as Cynthia frowned, a strange expression crossing her face. She paused, then shook her head.
"I'm sorry. I thought..." She faltered, then, "When you mentioned Syl's car, I had a sudden flash of...something. A memory, so brief but...something that was wrong the night the car was taken. Something I must have picked up subconsciously while scan-disking - but I have lost it again."
"Something important?" Sylva asked softly. "Like who took my car, for example?"
"Perhaps. I do not know." Cynthia sighed. "I'm sorry, I realise it is unlike me to be imprecise about details. But when my mainframe is otherwise occupied, it is not always easy to properly process data as it comes in. I fear the memory is an incomplete one - and I don't know how to find it again."
"Well, keep trying." Nancy said. "Even if it's only a snippet. We need to know who's behind all of this and what they want."
"Alex did try to call me." Sadie glanced up from her phone at that point. "He left me a message asking me to call him back as soon as I got this, so I better had. Scuse me."
She got to her feet.
"At midnight?" Sylva demanded. "Will he love you for that?"
"Alex is used to late night calls." Sadie shrugged. "And he did say as soon as. He sounded urgent and it has to be about this. I'll be right back."
With that she disappeared into the hallway to make her call, leaving the other four exchanging looks.
"Something tells me bringing Synergy into the public domain was a really bad idea." Nancy said at length. Cynthia grimaced.
"I agree." She acknowledged. "It was not one of my saner decisions, and I fear it continues to haunt me even now. I thought that the story in the Tribune would settle all of this. Apparently not. If someone has taken those parts in order to try and renovate them..."
"But if they're that badly damaged, they'll surely be disappointed?" Sylva asked. Cynthia shrugged.
"Perhaps." She agreed. "Depending on why they wanted them. Maybe they only stole them to give the appearance that Synergy was once more being operated. To use me as a scapegoat, in fact, for some other agenda."
"Well, if so, they'll be out of luck." Nancy snorted. "Sadie said that the guys at the Federal Lab had no luck doing anything with it. Alex told her that he didn't think it'd be any more a problem...and that he was pretty sure they couldn't fix what they had. With that evidence, noone is going to believe Synergy is up and running again."
"Perhaps." Cynthia shrugged. "Maybe too many people already know that I am still active. I don't fear betrayal, but considering all that has happened I must ask you all not to speak of me as anything other than Cynthia Benton - and a human being - whenever you are outside these four walls. Not even to each other, or to those who also know. I don't know where else is safe, and if this person knows something about computer technology, well, it is possible nowhere else is safe. Whatever they want, if they do not already know my secret, I wish to keep it from them. Whatever is behind this, we need to find a way to stop it - and that being so, we need all the advantages we can get."
"Agreed." Topaz said solemnly. "We'll be careful, Cyn. We promise."
"So what did Alex have to say?" Sylva asked, as Sadie slipped back into the sitting room, phone in hand. Sadie pulled a face.
"He's not happy." She admitted.
"I'm not surprised. You did call him late." Sylva pointed out, and Sadie grinned.
"No. Not about that." She responded. "About the fact this whole Synergy subject is back in the news again. And about the fact that whoever took the computer parts had enough nerve to break into a federal facility to do so, without leaving so much as half a finger print. They have nothing to go on and Alex thinks it's making them look like fools. He doesn't know what's behind it either - actually, he asked me if I'd heard anything or knew anything - but I don't, so that's no help. All I did say was that we'd heard of it because of the Tribune interest and that we were as baffled as he was."
She shrugged, a rueful smile touching her lips.
"Most engaged couples have late night conversations about other things." She said dryly. "Houses, wedding dates, sweet nothings. But Alex and me? We talk about stolen computer bits. We're so romantic."
Despite herself, Cynthia laughed.
"Well, at least it allows for variety in conversation." She responded.
Sylva stretched, stifling a yawn.
"I hate to be a party pooper, but I'm gonna be asleep here in a minute." She admitted. "Is there anything we can do about this tonight, Cyn?"
"No...I don't know if there is anything we can do about it at all." Cynthia shrugged. "And it is late - you should go to bed. I just wished to pass on the information...and, well, my fears, too."
She frowned, the brief moment of levity gone from her eyes.
"And I am afraid." She admitted. "Someone is going to a lot of trouble, and..."
She trailed off, shaking her head.
"And it is late." She repeated. "Go. Sleep. I will turn off my processors and we will speak again tomorrow, when we are all clearer."
"Okay." Topaz got to her feet, hugging the hologram.
"And listen. We've protected you before. We will again." She promised. "And whoever is behind this, well, now they've upset the Feds, Alex and co will be on the case. They're smart people. They'll nab them."
"I'm sure you are right." Cynthia agreed. "Good night, Topaz. Good night, all. Sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams to you too, Cyn." Sylva winked. "And Topaz is right. Don't fret about this - we'll get to the bottom of it!"
Once the musicians were gone, Cynthia pursed her lips, shaking her head slowly.
"Dreams are not good things for computers to have." She murmured aloud. "Not when they so easily become nightmares. I wish I understood what was so wrong with my own system at the moment - it might help me better to understand why someone is doing these things. Are they responsible for my lapses in recollection and the sudden flashes of memory that flood my sensors from time to time? I wish I knew. I wish I knew what I was up against...or if it's just age finally taking it's toll on me. I have not been the same machine since Jerrica died - I am on borrowed time and I wonder how long it can last."
She got slowly to her feet, making her way across the living room floor to the hallway, and opening the door to the basement. As she made her way down the stone steps, her gaze fell on her mainframe and she froze, alarm flooding her senses.
The monitor, far from it's usual dormant blackness, was fully powered up, and at intervals pictures flitted on and off the screen in a mixed up melee. As she slowly drew closer, she recognised the pictures as files from her long term memory cache, and she frowned.
"I didn't call them up there." She murmured, squinting at the grainy images of Jacqui and Emmet Benton, and the Holograms as children. "Emmet built them into me, but I did not know I still had them among my files. It seems I have generated a data leak somewhere. It would explain things...the lapses in memory, the sudden flashes...and this. It would explain this. Plus, if my hard drive is whirring while I'm projecting, it's using up power I need for the hologram. That would also explain why I am so much more tired of late."
She bit her lip.
"But my system isn't reporting any leak." She whispered. "And all my readouts say my cache files are intact. So...what, then?
What is happening to me?"
PART ONE: MEMENTO MORI
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
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.