A Day Out
"This has to be one of the oddest things I've done in a
Aaron put his car into gear, casting a wry smile at his companion as he
did so. "Driving out of town as far as we can go and waiting for you to disappear
- that's going to be fun to explain if we happen to get picked up on a patrol
camera, isn't it?"
"Well, they will not be able to explain it, will they?" Cynthia made herself
more comfortable, taking off her watch and setting it down on the dashboard.
"There. I feel it's safer for me not to wear this while we travel. It might
be that I can project a normal hologram beyond the limits of my hardlight
form...and I do not wish for the watch to fall and break when I transition."
"So how will I know if and when you do?"
"I will tell you. Silly boy." Cynthia laughed. "How else?"
"Okay." Aaron shook his head slowly, pulling out of the car park and onto
the main road. "But this won't solve that much, you know. We can drive to
the city limits and off towards San Diego but it won't tell us how far you
can put out in the opposite direction, or even give us a full circle of
your range. We'll just know how much you can do on this one road. That's
"Well, if you have a better idea, I would love to hear it." Cynthia rolled
down the window, glancing out at the passing scenery. "We spent until almost
midnight going through the blueprints and my inner files - even to parts
of my system that have not been disturbed since you first found me. As yet,
we have had no luck locating the inhibitor. The only other thing that remains
to try is to forcibly test how far I can go, and see if I cannot detect
the change if and when we reach a barrier."
"I know." Aaron conceded. "But it's costing me gas, don't forget."
"Aaron!" Cynthia opened her violet eyes wide. "Am I of so little importance
"Stop playing with me." Aaron grinned. "You're thirty years old this year.
Maybe you should try and dig into some websites, find out what being thirty
is about, huh? The last couple of days, you've been like an errant teenager
out to pull pranks on people. You find innuendo in what I say, you tease
me and play games with me...what's gotten into you?"
"I do not know." Cynthia frowned, shrugging her shoulders. "Perhaps it
is spending so much time around Rose. She and I have seen a lot of each
other since the Teenangels came to America, you know. Regardless of what
else might have been going on, she is my family and my friend. She also
has a very free attitude to life, and living it. It is one I would dearly
like to capture."
"Rose is not thirty years old." Aaron reminded her. "And she's no more
free spirited than Syl is, you know."
"Perhaps." Cynthia pursed her lips. "But Rose maybe appreciates more what
life is, because she so nearly had it snatched away from her. And that is
something I can identify with, Aaron...for I have been in that situation
She grinned. "I am aware, you know, that humans reaching thirty and forty
often try and reach back for lost youth. Perhaps it is this which ails me.
If you remember, my own teenage years were spent in decay and damp at the
Starlight Mansion. I lost much time then...and I am not thirty years old
in the way that human beings are. I was created thirty years ago, true, but
most all of my parts are newer than five years. I like life. What else should
"Well, I like to see you cheerful." Aaron admitted. "After Jerrica's death,
Cyn, we weren't really sure how long it'd take you to snap out of it, or
if you would."
"I would prefer not to spoil such an afternoon with such a dark subject,
if you do not mind." Cynthia said lightly. "We are here to test the limits
of my life, not worry about those already passed."
"Sure. I didn't mean to upset you."
"I am not upset." Cynthia said simply. She turned back to the window. "I
do not believe I have been along this way before. You know, I realise how
narrow my existance still is, Aaron. Until we began to talk seriously about
extending my range, I did not think that there was much missing from my
life. But I go to work, I go to the beach - we at least know my projection
is stable right up to the water's edge. I shop in the city with the others,
and yet...they go so far afield."
A wistful look touched her gaze. "Copper flew to Detroit to see her family.
I have never been to Detroit, and Raya is a dear friend of mine as much
as she is family to Copper. I would like the freedom to go and visit her,
and not have to wait for her to come to the city here. Topaz has taken Hollie
to England. At less than two years old, the child will see and explore things
which, at thirty, I have not, and cannot. There are so many things barred
me already. I wish geography were not among them."
"Sometimes I wonder if we should really be doing all of this." Aaron said
quietly, flicking on his indicator, and pulling into the central stream
of traffic as they hit the freeway.
"All of what?" Cynthia stared at him, startled.
"All of this. This experimentation with you." Aaron gestured at her. "Look
at you. Look at what you are. You're neither human nor machine...not any
more. We've given you everything we could so that you could feel alive, but
Cyn, I'm starting to wonder if that was more cruelty than kindness. I've
wondered on and off since Jerrica died, in truth. What you went through then
- that's not the sort of thing a machine should ever go through, yet you
felt that as keenly as I would if Nancy died. We've given you the capacity
to hate and fear and hurt...and at the end of it, what do you gain?"
"Life, Aaron. I gain life." Cynthia's expression became thoughtful. "I
do understand what you are saying. The older you all become, the more focused
your choices get...I do wonder where it will lead me, too. But you shouldn't
regret what you have done for me. I don't. There's no life in existing as
a slave, after all."
"Think of those computers Pizzazz runs into the ground day in and day out.
They have no sense of being - they process what she tells them to process,
and run what she tells them to run. They burn out never knowing what it's
like to think for themselves, or feel anything other than what they are
programmed to deal with. Is that a life? Would you have me be like one of
those computers, to spare me the nasty side of things?"
"When you put it like that, I guess not." Aaron admitted. "I just wonder
if we impose the human way of doing things on you too much. That's all."
"Believe me, Aaron, you impose nothing on me." Cynthia's expression was
playful and teasing once more. "I have learnt enough of human behaviour to
pick and choose the things I would like to retain in my own databanks. And
Hollie - she teaches me much more than the rest of you do. For your emotions
and character are fully formed, and hers are just beginning to develop."
"Seeing how Hollie learns things teaches me better ways to learn them too."
She continued. "And if that's..."
She paused, frowning.
"My hardlight projection is off." She said quietly, putting her hand towards
the glovebox and pushing it straight through the plastic veneer. "I felt
it change, but I am unsure what it was that changed it. I can still reach
the projection unit, but my contact with it is faint. Aaron, is it possible
to turn around and go back? I wish to see if I can pinpoint exactly where
and how it changed."
"You can't do a three point turn in the middle of the freeway, Cyn." Aaron
told her. "Bear with me. I'll come off at the next exit and take the ring
road around and back up towards Los Angeles. Keep a hold on this projection
for as long as you can. It might be another mile till I can leave this road."
"Every mile I keep this up is further I know I can go in some form." Cynthia
replied. "I will do my best."
"You are greying out." Aaron observed, as he scanned the road ahead for
the next exit sign. "Your colour isn't as vivid as it was, and I can almost
see through you. We're really pushing your projector to it's limits, aren't
"No, the projector is not tried at all." Cynthia shook her head. "It is
my mainframe. It cannot maintain the connection. Something is blocking it
out. Wait, Aaron...I think I am losing the feed..."
With that the hologram flickered one final time, then disappeared. Aaron
cast a glance at the signposts around him, then turned off down the next
exit and onto the ringroad.
"I hope she'll be able to tell when I'm in range again, and project herself.
If I'm out of her range I can't make contact with her." He murmured, taking
the road that led back towards Los Angeles. "Well, we've learnt that she
can go further than we thought - we're about ten miles outside the city limits
this way. But it's not far enough. She's right. It's not fair that we can
go where we like and she's tied to the city. I just wish I could work out
precisely what it is that's stopping her from moving around. Is it something
Emmet put in her? No, it can't be. Her projection as Jem was never limited
like this. So is it something I put in her incorrectly? I wish I knew. I
don't want to change too much in her mainframe without knowing exactly what
I'm trying to do!"
"You know, given half a chance, I think she'd be in that pen with the hyenas."
Across the other side of the world, Cynthia's youngest playmate was thoroughly
enjoying herself. Cameron had greeted his small daughter with a hug that had
been rewarded with a joyous squeal of "Daddy!", and he had proposed that,
if it was nice the next day, they should take some time out to visit the city
zoo. They had been in luck, for, though the day was not warm and clouds still
dotted the sky, the rain of the previous day had long gone, and Topaz had
managed to shake off her jet lag enough to accompany them across the city.
"I think so too." Cameron hoisted the little girl up onto his shoulders
so she could get a better look. "I thought she'd like it, Rora, but I didn't
realise 'ow interested she'd be. Is she this mad on animals back 'ome?"
"Not that I've noticed." Topaz owned. "But I don't get to take her on many
animal related trips. We have been to the beach and she has seen crabs and
stuff - but I won't let her too close to the rock pools in case there are
stray jellyfish around. Those are things you don't want a kiddy to encounter
on Cali sands, trust me."
"So I've read." Cameron nodded. He grinned. "Remember, I'm a doctor now.
Poisons was one of the units I studied."
"You're a junior doctor. A resident...and not even that till next month."
Topaz teased him. Cameron laughed.
"True." He admitted good-naturedly. "But after workin' so damn 'ard for
the last few years...God, it feels like it's been forever, Rora. It's only
now that it's done, I know that I really 'ave done the best thing in the
world. The thought that crossed my mind when I walked up to that results
noticeboard was 'what do I do if I fail?" And I didn't 'ave any answer."
"Well, good thing you didn't fail then." Topaz told him lightly. "But I
didn't ever think you would. And third in your class is nothing to be sniffed
She looked guilty. "I know if you hadn't lost time and sleep over me during
your middle years, you might've finished top."
"That's not important to me." Cameron told her firmly. "What is is that
I got a first, an' that I'm finally goin' to be what I always dreamed of
bein'. Dr Milligan."
He shifted the baby's position. "Shall we head over to the gorillas? They're
always fun to watch, after all."
"Mm, if you ask me, Hollie already found herself a gorilla." Topaz laughed,
obediently turning away from the hyena enclosure. Cameron pretended to look
affronted. Then he grinned, shaking his head.
"No. I'm an orang-utan. Red 'air." He said good-naturedly. "An' this one's
gettin' 'eavy. What are you feedin' 'er?"
"She's not so very heavy!" Topaz protested, as he lifted Hollie down from
her perch, setting her gently down on the ground and looping her reins around
his hand as she trotted off towards a brightly coloured notice. "She eats
as much as any growing baby eats!"
"'Ardly a baby now." Cameron mused. "She talks, walks...next we know she'll
be potty trained, sleepin' in a bed, an' we'll be lookin' at nursery for 'er."
"I already have." Topaz blushed. "Not with any seriousness, but there are
a couple in the Los Angeles district with good reputations. Debra from the
work creche gave me their numbers, and recommended them to me. I've got booklets
on them back home. They won't take her till she's two and a half at the earliest,
but if I'm enrolling her, it won't be at the last minute. And she's so sociable,
she'll make friends so easily. I'd feel happier leaving her there, in a sense,
than at a creche all day. At least at nursery I'd feel she'd be one of a class
group and she might even learn something."
"Not easy being a single mother, huh?" Cameron asked gently, as they reached
the gorilla enclosure. Topaz shrugged.
"My choice." She said matter-of-factly. "It's her I worry about more than
my own needs, really. I want to spend all my time with her, but I can't. And
she doesn't always understand why I can't. She loves Cynthia, and that's a
"Well, you won't be a single mother any more. Not exactly." Cameron reminded
her. "I'll be in San Diego an' I intend to see my share of her."
"I know, but your hours will be as mental as mine. More, maybe." Topaz pointed
out. "Oh well. We'll work it out."
She glanced down at Hollie. "And enough on this now. She's young yet, but
I don't know exactly what she can hear or understand. Sometimes I think things
are all over her head, then she'll ask me a question later and I can't answer
"She's not even two, an' she's already askin' difficult questions?" Cameron
raised an eyebrow. "Maybe she should be at nursery!"
"Well, to be honest, I think she'll be reading before she gets to school.
She already stares at the newspaper, though I don't think she can make out
any words. It's just pictures and black blurs." Topaz replied. "But Nancy
said she read at two, and Hollie's only a few months off it."
She bit her lip. "I don't want her to be like Nance, Cam. I really don't."
"What's wrong with poor Nancy?" Cameron stared. "I thought you guys were
"We are." Topaz nodded. "But Cam, I live with her. You can't hide these
things when you live with someone. Nancy is a genius - a musical genius.
But because of it she's paid a high price all her life. She was never accepted
at school. Always bullied. Her music calls to her and she'll get up in the
middle of the night to write a passage or construct a harmony. And then there's
the relationship side of it. Dean was a really, really good guy for her,
but she said quite plainly that she couldn't commit to him because her music
came first and she didn't think he understood that. It's so many things, Cam.
I get afraid she'll be lonely...and when Nance started saying things that
she did of an age that correlates with Hollie...I really don't want that
for my daughter."
"I see." Cameron looked thoughtful. Then he shook his head.
"I don't think you need worry." He said. "Hollie smiles at all the world.
She makes friends with people as if it were as easy as breathin' in. I don't
think she'll be like Nancy. She 'as your blood, an' mine. I don't think there's
anythin' in either one of us to make 'er a genius or a recluse."
"Well, I hope not." Topaz responded. "The doctor says it's just because
she's around so many people. But...well. It just got me thinking. I won't
stop her learning, or wanting to learn things...not if she wants to learn
"Don't worry." Cameron interrupted her, putting a finger to her lips. "There's
no sense in it. Hollie will be Hollie, an' that's all that there is to it.
We just 'ave to learn 'ow to be the best parents for whatever she needs, that's
"It sounds so simple when you say it." Topaz sighed. "I'm glad you're flying
back with us. I wish you were in Los Angeles, but at least it won't be more
than a drive away."
"Well, it's a wrench to leave home." Cameron admitted. "But it was a wrench
leavin' Hollie at the airport after Aaron's wedding, so somewhere I have to
make a choice. This one seems the right one, and Mum understands. So..." He
shrugged. "My paperwork is all ready. I'm comin' back when you do."
"I'm glad." Topaz repeated. "I know we're just friends, Cam, but it all
makes so much more sense when you're around."
Cameron did not reply, and a strange expression crossed his face. Before
Topaz could ask him anything, however, Hollie was tugging on her coat.
"Mama, what dis?" She asked plaintively, pointing to the big gorilla. Topaz
grinned, pushing the thought out of her head. She crouched down at Hollie's
"That's a gorilla, Hollie." She said softly. "They're big, aren't they?"
Hollie's eyes became big as she considered this, then,
"Tarzan." She said importantly. Topaz laughed.
"Yes, just like in Tarzan. Good girl." She agreed. "Though these ones don't
live in the jungle. They live here, because they've grown up with people who
look after them. Like I look after you."
"No, honey. I think he's probably still in the jungle with his friends."
Topaz bit back a smile at the innocent question. "Do you like the gorillas?"
"Yes." There was a pause, then, "Keep it?"
Cameron let out a snort of laughter, and Topaz found herself hard pressed
not to follow suit.
"Oh, baby, no. The zookeeper wouldn't like us very much if we did that,
and we'd never get it on the airplane." She said gently. "Gorillas take a
lot of looking after and that's why you can't have them as pets. They'd be
unhappy. Remember in Tarzan, when they get put in the cages? It would be
like that. They'd be sad. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
"In a cage." She protested, pointing at the pen. Topaz sighed.
"Yes. I know. It's a different sort of cage." She hedged.
"I have an idea." At that moment Cameron came to her rescue. "I see an'
ice cream shoppe. You 'ungry, Hollie?"
"Ice cream?" Immediately the child's attention was diverted. Cameron nodded,
as Topaz sent him a grateful smile.
"Sure. See?" He said, pointing. "Let's go see what they have."
"Thanks for that." Topaz murmured as they moved away from the gorilla cage.
"I see what you mean about the difficult questions." He said, amused. "I'm
glad you got that one."
"I'm going to throttle Sadie when we get home. Tarzan is one of hers." Topaz
sighed. "She's mad on Disney. Always has been. I didn't think that letting
the kid watch them would be so problematic, but the other week she wanted
to know where the soldiers went to in Mulan, and now she wants a gorilla like
in Tarzan. Heaven help us all!"
"She just wants to know." He said. "It's all a novelty to me, I admit it."
He lifted Hollie up to see the board. "Okay, trouble. What do you want?"
"Choc'let." Hollie said firmly.
"With syrup or not?"
The infant gave a decided nod.
"Huh? Oh. Vanilla is fine." Topaz smiled. "I didn't realise you were treating
"Well, this is a family outing. Why not?" Cameron spread his hands.
"Okay." Topaz shrugged. "Suits me. Though in California, if the weather
was like this, noone would be eating ice cream. It'd be scarves and coats..."
"I'd noticed that." Cameron ran his gaze over her with a smile. "But we
don't get so much of the good weather in Britain. You learn to make do."
He paid for the ice cream, handing one cornet to his daughter, then leading
the way over to an empty bench. "You know, it's surprised me today that nobody
has realised who you are. You guys are big as 'ell over 'ere now. Yet noone's
"Well, if they have, they're covert paparazzi and we won't know till it's
in tomorrow's edition." Topaz said matter-of-factly. "You get used to that.
But I've made no great effort to be Topaz since I got here."
She touched her hair with her free hand. "Hair's back, no particular styling.
Make-up's muted. And there's no accompanying musicians. Just another young
Mom on vacation with her little girl, that's all. At least, that's what I
wanted it to be. I get so scared to take Hollie out in Los Angeles like this,
in case we get hounded. This is...nice. And staying with your Mom is nice,
too. Hotels are fine, but impersonal. Laura said I was an honorary member
of the family. That meant something."
"Mum likes you." He acknowledged.
Before Topaz could respond, a fresh voice came out of the crowd, and Cameron
turned, trying to see the caller. "Cameron Milligan? Hell, I thought it was
you I saw!"
"Eva!" Cameron's eyes widened. "What are you doin' at the zoo? I thought
you 'ad so many busier matters to see to these days!"
"I can take a day out. I'm here with my cousin and her bloke." Eva's hazel
eyes sparkled behind her glasses. "It seems forever since I last saw you!
And who's this?"
She cast a glance at the small redhead, but the baby took no notice, intent
on her ice cream. "She has to be yours, Cam...she's so like you!"
"Well, for someone who scraped biology, I'll give you that one." Cameron
grinned. "This is Hollie. And this," He indicated Topaz, "Is Hollie's Mum,
"Hi." Eva grinned, and the singer found herself returning the smile, taking
in the woman's features as she did so. Eva was not tall, perhaps half a head
shorter than she herself, with curly brown hair clasped back from her face
in such a way that wisps of it had teased loose in the wind. A sprinkling
of freckles were dotted across her nose, and there was a vibrant prettiness
about her that Topaz could not pinpoint.
"Hi." She managed at last. "Eva, did Cameron say?"
"Hey, are you an American?" Eva looked interested. "I didn't think you'd
gone out yet, Cam!"
"I haven't." Cameron shook his head.
"And I'm Canadian." Despite herself, Topaz could not keep the edge from
her tone, and Eva looked apologetic.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean offence - I can't make out the difference."
She said sheepishly. "Aurora?"
"Yes." Topaz nodded her head, forcing herself to smile. "And it's fine.
I find a lot of people don't realise I'm Canadian. I guess it's because I've
lived in Los Angeles so long."
"I can't believe that of all places I run into you here." Cameron cast his
friend a grin. "I'm goin' out to San Diego at the end of this week - I'm flyin'
back with Rora an' Hollie. I was thinkin' only the other night 'ow I should
call you up before I went, and now you're 'ere."
"It must be intuition." Eva giggled, and Cameron laughed, as if sharing
some private joke. "After all, Mum always said we thought alike."
"She did, too." Cameron agreed. He glanced at Topaz.
"Eva and I went to school together." He explained. "Though it seems an age
away now, we've always been in touch, more or less."
"Best of friends, us." Eva agreed warmly. "But you're leaving at the end
of this week? Oh no! But you can't! So soon? And I've hardly seen you in ages!"
"I know, but I begin in September, so this seemed the best way to get me
settled out there. An old mate is findin' me accomodation, but I gotta go
over an' see it too." Cameron said simply.
"An old friend? In Cali? Someone I might know?"
"Maybe. If you remember Aaron and his sister Nancy. They stayed with us
a while, when their Nan died."
"I remember. You brought Aaron to play with us." Eva recalled. "And his sister
was a strange little thing with pigtails who never smiled and trailed her
Mom like a shadow. Weird creature. I remember them because it seemed so bizarre
they could be siblings."
"Nancy's a very gifted musician, actually." Topaz said quietly, meeting
the stranger's gaze with an oddly cool smile. "Cam, Hollie's covered with
ice cream. I'm going to take her to the ladies rest room to clean her off
- if we're leaving in a week you're gonna want to spend some time with as
many old friends as you can."
"Sure, but Rora, are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Topaz nodded her head. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You seem a little...short all of a sudden."
"Well, I flew in yesterday. Like as not jet lag's getting me down." Topaz
forced a smile. She finished the last of her own cornet, scooping the messy
Hollie up in her arms. "We'll be right back. Come on, trouble. Let's go make
you presentable again."
As she crossed the pavings, however, she stole a glance back at them. There
had been something between Cameron and this newcomer and she had not liked
"They're old friends, and hell, so are we if it comes to that." She muttered
fiercely under her breath, as she damped tissue to wipe Hollie's chocolate-covered
mouth. "But he didn't have to be quite so glad to see her. Not in front of
Hollie. What will the kid think if she sees Daddy like that with strange women?"
She paused, shaking her head with a sigh.
"God, Rora, don't be so transparently stupid." She scolded herself aloud,
ignoring the wide eyed stare her daughter bestowed on her at her tone. "You're
in love with him - you've always known that. But you know how things are.
You have to let him have his life, and in a week we'll be in Cali anyway.
If he is so keen on this girl, well, fine. He can worry about it. Hol is our
concern, and our only concern together these days. I had my chance and I
blew it. Let it go. You have other things to think about, so, dammit, think
She removed the last of the chocolate ice cream from her daughter's chin,
dumping the dirty tissue into the bin and lifting the baby gently down from
"Right. And now I've got my composure settled, let's go back. I'm not going
to let her see she bothers me, and that's that!"