Chapter Six

"Well, there's another theory stuck in a rut."
Aaron grinned, wiping oil off his screwdriver and setting it down on the dirty cloths that littered the basement floor. "On the positive side, though, you're mechanics haven't been so clean or well oiled since I refitted you."
"Every cloud has a silver lining." Synergy quipped, but the disappointment was clear in her face.
"What's wrong?" Aaron looked startled.
"I am thinking, Aaron, that perhaps I am just too archaic a machine to be able to go any further." The hologram dropped down beside him, neatly curling herself up in front of her projector and resting her chin in her hands. "I am thirty years old, as you reminded me. I am no longer in my youth - and the wide variety of projection options I used to have are no longer available to me. Maybe it's a futile quest after all."
"Perhaps it is." Aaron conceded. "But that doesn't mean we're giving up trying. Not until we've done everything we can think of and then some."
Synergy eyed him keenly.
"How many days is it Copper is away again?" She asked softly. Aaron looked sheepish.
"A week or so." He replied. "But I'm not just passing time by being here, Syn. I want to help you and I enjoy your company."
"And I like to tease you." A sparkle of mischief returned to the pixel eyes. "But truly, Aaron, I'm wondering if we spend your energy and my runtime chasing dreams. I am not the machine I once was."
"And your creator isn't around to consult." Aaron agreed.
"There is nothing Emmet could do that you cannot do. Of that I am sure." Synergy told him. "You would not have been able to rebuild me so well otherwise. But I am almost certain now that the section of my memory that controlled these things is contained within the rotten circuitboards that you disabled from my system."
"I hadn't a lot of choice, Syn." Aaron pointed out. Synergy shrugged.
"I know, and I am not criticising. But nonetheless I feel that is where they are."
"Then we ought to stop looking for them and try and work out another way of doing this." Aaron pursed up his lips, eying his rough sketches again.
"Hey, what's all the noise down here?"
At that moment a fresh voice interrupted them and both human and hologram turned to see Sylva heading down the basement steps, stifling a yawn. "Aaron, are you still here? It's gone half one in the morning, and my light bulb just blew out. I might've known you were still experimenting with Syn's boards...but do you have to do it when I'm in the middle of watching a creepy film? I almost split my skin when the bulb went."
"I wasn't aware that our tests were affecting the power flow." Synergy looked surprised. "My apologies, Syl. I did not realise."
"Well, the lights were flickering for a few minutes before and my hairdrier cut out for no reason, so I'm guessing you're doing some pretty hardcore stuff down here." Sylva perched herself on an empty crate. "Need any help?"
"Help?" Aaron stared at Sylva in surprise.
"Syl..." Synergy faltered, then, "What about your movie?"
"Well, it wasn't that good." Sylva shrugged. "And by the time I'd hunted up a new bulb with my torch and put the rest of the top floor's power supply back on, I'd totally lost the mood of it."
She grinned. "Don't stare at me like I lost my mind or something. It might be fun to help out. And hey, you did disturb me down here."
"We don't mind your company,'s just, well, kinda complicated." Aaron said at length. "We're trying to figure out how to make Syn project beyond the city limits. So far we're not having much luck."
"Syn, stop staring at me as if you're not quite sure what I'll do when your back is turned." Sylva pouted.
"It isn't that." Synergy frowned, then, "My circuits are very delicate and extremely complex. I appreciate your wish to help, but even Aaron cannot locate the correct connection to solve our dilemma. I...would be unhappy with anyone else tampering with my wires."
"Hell, Syn, I'm not going to put my fingers near your circuitboards." Sylva snorted. "That'd be like letting you take my appendix out without reading a single medical book. I'm just here for the company. And hey, maybe a fresh opinion on the matter will help."
"I'm not sure how it would, if you don't know the difference between a motherboard and memory chips, but we won't argue with the company." Aaron told her with a grin. "You're lonely, huh?"
"Oh, it's awful." Sylva pulled a graphic face. "I'm a social animal, and I've been socially deserted! Topaz is off in England with Hollie and I've had one call from her since they got there. Copper's in Detroit with that animal Jesta and I've heard even less from her. If you'd not said she'd texted you, Aaron, I'd have thought Jesta had eaten her on the plane. Sadie and Nancy spent the whole day at Nancy's studio songwriting and now both are apparently lost to the world and fast asleep - as if songwriting was tiring. Logan's visiting family back home. Everyone's somewhere else and it's no fun to hang out on your own."
Synergy's hologram shimmered, then merged into her Cynthia form. She came to sit beside her friend, putting an amicable arm around her shoulders.
"So hang out with Cynthia instead." She suggested. "While Aaron plays spot the circuitbreaker in his life or death dabble with my innards."
"Oh, you've made her silly again!" Aaron rolled his eyes. "I swear, if I didn't know how old you were, Cyn..."
"Cynthia is allowed to be silly." Cynthia told him firmly. "Besides, it's been a long night. How about we leave it for now? You get some sleep and Syl and I will go out and see if we can find some action at Le Klub Kool. You know you can sleep at the Starlight. Tomorrow we'll meet down here again, I'll be freshly rebooted and Syl can come and keep me company while you take me apart. Deal?"
"I suppose so." Aaron got to his feet reluctantly. "All right. Tomorrow, then. I probably could use a night's sleep."

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"You know, you're a really good cook, Laura."
Topaz neatly piled the plates up, carrying them into the kitchen and placing them neatly by the sink before going back for the rest. "I wish I could cook half as well as you. I swear nobody has made Hollie eat green vegetables before...and I want to know your secret."
"I've had four kids, Rora." Laura laughed, pausing in where she had been wiping down the table. "Hollie's 'ad a busy day and she was 'ungry and tired. She ate what she was given, that's all. Who knows? Maybe she's 'aving another growth spurt."
"She'd better not. Every time she spurts, I spend a fortune on new clothes." Topaz grimaced. "Though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."
"She's got half of the grub all round 'er mouth." Cameron lifted the tired infant from her highchair, settling her in his arms. "I'll clean 'er up an' take 'er up for a bath."
He paused, meeting Topaz's gaze.
"That is, if you don't mind." He added hastily.
"Why would I mind?" Topaz shook her head. "Go for it. She doesn't spend enough time with Daddy as it is."
"Right." Cameron grinned. "Come on then, 'Ol. Bathtime for you."
"Play." Hollie pouted. "Cynta play!"
"Cynthia's in California." Topaz shook her head. "And she can't fly all the way over here just to play with you at bathtime."
"I'll tell you a story instead, 'ow's that?" Cameron suggested. Hollie put a sticky hand in her mouth, eying her father carefully, but at length she nodded.
"Story." She agreed.
"The kid sure is fond of Cynthia." Laura commented, as her son left the room with his precious burden. Topaz nodded.
"She's as close to an aunt as she's known, really." she replied. "Cynthia is brilliant with her. Honestly, it's probably the only reason I've got so far on my own. Cynthia's always been there to help out. She and Hollie have a special bond."
She smiled ruefully. "Mom gets to do the telling off bit, not Cynthia, so..."
"Ah, yes." Laura grinned. "Ain't easy bein' a Ma."
"Tell me about it." Topaz rolled her eyes. "Especially a single Ma."
"Leave the plates, Rora, love. It's Keith's night to wash them up." Laura wiped her hands on the tea-towel, leading the way into the lounge. "'E likes to take 'is time, but 'e'll get to them eventually."
"Takin' my name in vain, woman?" Keith glanced up from his newspaper, folding it and setting it aside as he registered the company.
"I was explainin' to Rora your washin' up techniques." Laura teased. Keith laughed.
"Hey, it gets done." He retorted good-naturedly. "An' I've 'ad a long day at work, too!"
"Keepin' this 'ouse runnin' is a long day, an' all." Laura told him affectionately, sitting down on the sofa. "That's better. My legs ain't gettin' any younger."
"Chasing after Hollie can do that to you." Topaz pursed her lips. "Thanks for watching her this afternoon, by the way. It was nice to go out and just explore a little bit of the surrounding area."
"No problem." Laura shook her head. "Though I was surprised you didn't take her with you."
"Well, she was tired, and I didn't know how far I would walk." Topaz grinned.
"Did she like the zoo?" Keith asked. Topaz nodded.
"Loved it. Especially the gorillas. She wanted to keep one." She replied, with a laugh. "Thankfully Cam bribed her with ice cream and she forgot about it."
"Ah, the well positioned ice cream stand trick." Laura chuckled. "Works every time."
"We...met an old friend of Cameron's there too." Topaz began slowly. "Her name was Eva, I think...or something like that."
"Eva Carroll?" Keith looked surprised. "Haven't heard that name in a twelve-month."
"She and Cameron were old school pals." Laura explained. "Grew up together almost as long as me an' Sheila did."
"Pretty girl, Eva." Keith mused. "There was a time when we all thought she and Cameron would wind up runnin' off together to get married, make no mistake. They've always been close as two peas - but I must admit I 'aven't heard 'im mention 'er for a bit."
"Of course, I don't think there ever was any romance between them." Laura said hurriedly, sending her husband a dark look. "You know 'ow kids are."
Keith shot his wife a confused look, and Laura knitted her brows at him. Keith's eyes widened.
"Oh! Gee, I'm sorry, Rora. I didn't mean to upset you."
"You haven't upset me." Topaz assured him, though inwardly her mind was whirling. "Cameron and I haven't been romantically involved for quite a while now, anyway. We're just friends, and that for Hollie's sake."
She smiled, her heart aching.
"Though I'm interested to hear more about Cam's childhood. Stories I can tell Hollie when Dad's not know."
She settled herself in her chair. "Eva seemed very nice."
"She was a lovely girl." Laura nodded her head. "Very active, very smart. She and Cameron played after school most nights."
She pursed her lips. "It really began on our part, to be honest. Eva's father got a job with Keith's company and we invited the family over to welcome them to the area. They're from up north, though you wouldn't know it from the kid's accent. Long way to come an' all that. Cam must've been about seven or eight. They 'it it off right from the first moment they met. As soon as Cam realised Eva wasn't a girly girl an' was fine about jumpin' through mud patches to get to 'is treehouse, of course."
"They made a sweet pair." Keith agreed.
"But they never dated?" Topaz tried to keep her voice light. Laura shrugged.
"I don't believe so." She said slowly. "But when Cam got to sixteen, 'e stopped sharin' every detail of 'is private life with one or other of us. Avril probably knows more. They've always been thick as thieves together. 'E 'ad a few girlfriends I wasn't totally approvin' of, and 'e was determined to display 'is independance. I know 'e snuck out to parties an' the like because 'e told me since, though I often was the fool mother an' believed 'e was stoppin' over at his mates' houses."
"Cameron was a wild boy?" Topaz's eyes widened with surprise and interest. "I wouldn't have pegged him to be that kinda guy!"
"Well, for a while there was a bitter argument between 'im an' me over a tattoo 'e wanted." Keith remembered. "I told 'im that 'e could wait till 'e was eighteen an' 'e didn't 'alf go off on one about it, I'm tellin' you! But then 'is one friend at school 'ad one an' somethin' went wrong - it got all infected. Clean put our boy off the idea."
Topaz giggled.
"I wish I'd seen him that way." She said, a little wistfully. "I mean, I'm pretty fond of the Cameron I know, but I had no idea he had such a secret past."
"You can see why we didn't really get to know the depths of 'is friendship with Eva." Laura nodded. "You were the first chick 'e mentioned to us between sixteen an' now, to be honest. An' I think 'e only did that because you came to the 'ouse an' it was damn obvious 'e was keen on you."
"Love at first sight." Topaz looked pensive. "Like silly teenagers do."
She frowned, shaking herself out of her reverie.
"So what changed?" She asked. "How come Cam isn't still a biker boy?"
She giggled. "Though that might explain my attraction to him...some of my previous boyfriends were of that ilk. Maybe I sensed it inside of him."
"Perhaps you did." Laura grinned. "Honestly? Not quite sure. But I think it 'as a lot to do with 'im meetin' Taylor. When 'e first finished school an' did 'is year workin' the bar to put money aside for school, 'e kept saying, well, maybe I'll do it next year, maybe I'll do this...'e wasn't focused at all. Some nights 'e wouldn't come 'ome, even. Frighten the life out of me. An' I'll never forget the row we 'ad over 'im smoking in my car!"
"Cameron doesn't smoke!" Topaz stared. Laura shook her head.
"Phase." She said succinctly. "I do know Taylor beat that one out of 'im - told 'im that it was insane enough one of them was 'ooked on the awful 'abit and that it didn't need two of them to be idiots. I'm not sure exactly 'ow they met, though down the pub would be a good bet. All I do know is that Taylor's been a steady 'and on my son for long enough."
She looked rueful.
"In so many ways it shouldn't be that way. Poor Taylor 'ad the worst upbringin', tossed from foster 'ome to foster 'ome. He smoked, 'e was workin' some dead end job an' to be honest, when I first met 'im I thought 'e was another no good bum. But there's a lot of good in the bloke. He never minced 'is words with Cam an' it seemed to do the trick. I think 'e saw what we all saw - that Cam was way too bright to be 'appy spendin' 'is whole life in a deadend bar in downtown London. If he kept deferring his application, eventually it wouldn't be there anymore. I realised 'e 'ad to put money by, but...well, he lost his way for a little. They ain't never spoke of it, but I 'ave a feelin' that Taylor sat 'im down good an' proper, gave 'im things straight. I remember Cameron came 'ome one night and asked me for the university bits and pieces and that was it. Back on."
"Good lad, Taylor." Keith agreed. "Though I always thought it sad 'e didn't 'ave a family to belong to."
"Well, now he does." Topaz said thoughtfully. "Cameron's looking forward to seeing him again when we fly back this weekend."
"This is cosy."
Cameron pushed open the door of the lounge at that moment, stepping into the living room and pausing. "What, why the funny looks? Rora...?"
"Your Mom and Dad were sharing some memories." Topaz said simply. Cameron reddened.
"I bloody 'ope you're jokin'." He said emphatically, dropping down into an empty seat and sending his mother an accusatory glance, which she met calmly.
"Rora told us you met Eva at the zoo, and it kinda spiralled from there." She said with a smile. "See, you never tell us anythin', my boy. I 'ave to resort to other tactics!"
"You never change, Mum." Cameron looked resigned. "But I suppose there's no harm in talkin' about Eva. She asked after you both over lunch an' I passed on the latest gen. Seems like too long since I last saw 'er, an' now I'm jettin' off again."
"You've waited long enough to be a doctor, Cam." Topaz said softly. "Isn't San Diego what you want?"
" is." Cameron nodded his head. "But I guess that seein' Eva made me realise exactly what I'm leavin' behind, too. It ain't just a family who can fly out to visit. It's friends, memories...'ell, a whole lifetime. It's a big step."
"There's nothing wrong with cold feet, son, so long as you don't let them stop you in your tracks." Keith said wisely. "Sometimes you 'ave to follow your heart."
"Yes...I know." Cameron glanced briefly at Topaz, then away. He sighed.
"I wish I wasn't torn in so many directions." He admitted. "But I'll 'ave Hollie in America, an' I can't let that kid grow up without me. It wouldn't be fair."
"She'd miss you. We both would." Topaz agreed.
A strange smile touched Cameron's lips.
"Yes. I'm sure." He replied. "I'll get used to it. I just 'ave to start over from scratch a little, that's all. New friends, new neighbourhood, new job. I'll be okay. Just sinkin' in a little."
"Well, I'd better go do the washing up, and put the kettle on." Keith heaved himself up out of his chair, casting his son a grin. "You'll be fine, Cameron. You've wanted this for as long as I can remember."
"I know. It's just the getting out there and settling down." Cameron shrugged. "It's okay, Pa. I'm fine. Really."
"Your Mom said you were something of a wild guy, when you were in school." Topaz observed, once Keith had left the room. Cameron reddened once again.
"Ma, what did you tell her?" He demanded. Laura laughed.
"If you will leave 'er alone with me, things 'ave an 'abit of slippin' out." She said innocently. "Besides, she's raisin' your daughter. Best I put 'er in mind of the things Hollie might've inherited from you."
"Oh, I give up." Cameron groaned, rubbing his temples. "And I thought bringing Rora and the kid 'ere for the holiday was such a good idea too, when you suggested it."
"I'm realising you know a lot more of my secrets than I do yours." Topaz said lightly. Cameron spread his hands.
"They're not really secrets." He said slowly. "An' a lot of your own I read in the tabloid press. I dunno. Never seemed too important."
"I'm goin' to 'elp Keith dry up." Laura, realising she was intruding, got to her feet, carefully slipping out of the room.
"Well, I don't suppose it is, now." There was an edge to Topaz's voice. "We're not seeing each other any more."
"No, but we are friends." Cameron reminded her. "So shoot. What do you want to know?"
"I realised I don't really know much about you before we met at all." Topaz began carefully. "Or your old friends. I only know Taylor, and Gary from college. I know nothing about your first girlfriend, your first kiss, first know. I don't know what you used to like to do, or where you hung out, or anything. Not really."
"I'm not sure I know all of that about you." Cameron countered. "And didn't you say it didn't matter?"
"No, it doesn't. But friends do share things."
Cameron eyed his companion carefully.
"Are you all right, Rora?" He asked at length. "You've been funny with me since the zoo. Is it that time of month or somethin'? You were fine this mornin'."
"I'm just tired." Topaz forced herself to meet his gaze. "And your Mom's made me curious, now. You're Hollie's Dad...I feel I should know something more about the guy my little girl is going to spend time with."
"Fine." Cameron sighed, holding up his hands in surrender. "First girlfriend - twelve an' a half, girl called Clare Croft. She lived on the end of our street when we lived at the old 'ouse. Knew 'er from playschool. First kiss, also Clare. Best friend at school - Jason Weaver. We got into a fist fight over readin' books an' wound up best of mates after an 'our spent in the gym facin' the wall as a result. First time..." He hesitated. "Are you goin' to repeat all of this to Ma? There's a lot even she don't know."
"If you don't want me to, I won't." Topaz shrugged. "But it's no big deal. My first time was Mom's wedding reception, and he was a friend of my stepbrother. I was sixteen and in Canada that's not legal. See? I'm not ashamed of it. No biggie to me."
"I was sixteen, too." Cameron remembered. "And it was a party. Ma...well, she knows I snuck out to a few, but she don't know 'alf the crap that went down there. Drugs and stuff - though I always kept clear of those, don't worry! I wasn't no fool. I did drink, though. Got a little too merry on one occasion. Wound up out the back in the parkin' lot..."
He glanced down. "It were Mum's car. We'd borrowed it...she didn't even know I 'ad it. In England you can't drive till seventeen anyhow, though Dad 'ad taken me out on some private backlanes because I were comin' up seventeen an' I was ready to send for my provisional license. I broke all kinds of laws that night, in truth. She 'as no idea the back of 'er car get the picture. An' I drove it 'ome - god knows 'ow. I wasn't exactly sober, and God knows what I'd 'ave done if the cops 'ad stopped me. No license an' wobbly on me feet. First an' last time I ever drove drunk. It was too scary - I wouldn't do it again."
He pursed his lips. "Eva will probably kill me's something that we don't tell anyone."
"It was Eva?" Shock filled Topaz' expression. Cameron shrugged.
"You asked." He said simply. "Yeah. Though if you tell Mum any of what I just told you, I'll kill you an' run off to Mexico with Hollie. Just so you know."
"I won't betray a confidence." Topaz shook her head, her senses reeling. She frowned.
"I guess now I understand what kind of memories you're leaving behind." She added. Her tone was meant as humour, but there was a sparkle lacking from her eyes, and she stood, tucking her hair behind her ear.
"I'm going to head to bed. I think I'm still a little lagged." She said at length.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes, Cam. I'm fine. You don't need to play the doctor with me." Topaz was impatient. "Nothing sleep won't fix, I'm sure. And I've little doubt I'll get that. I don't expect midnight disturbances."
With that she was gone, and Cameron's brow creased in confusion as he stared after her.
"What in 'ell is bitin' the bloody woman now?" He wondered aloud. "When I think I 'ave 'er settled in my mind, suddenly she's all cold with me! Dammit, perhaps this was a bad idea. I 'alf 'oped 'avin' her here would settle my feelin's one way or another...but I guess it's easier for 'er to switch that off an' be platonic an' stuff than it is me. She's 'ad time to get used to it. I guess she really is 'ere because of Hollie. I just 'ope it ain't gonna be awkward in America. We're unavoidably in each other's lives now - so why is it she seems so determined to put as much space between us as possible?"

Prologue: July 12th, 1991
Chapter One: A Long Flight
Chapter Two: Family
Chapter Three: A Day Out
Chapter Four: Flashback - Esteban's Quest
Chapter Five: In The Genes
Chapter Six: Confidences
Chapter Seven: Flashback - A Tragic Truth
Chapter Eight: A Tentative Bond
Chapter Nine: Some Truth
Chapter Ten: Flashback - This Is Farewell
Chapter Eleven: The Memorial Garden

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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.