Chapter Thirteen: Topaz's Voice

Sitting hiding behind bushes waiting for it to become dark and for the clock to tick around towards midnight is nobody's favourite pastime. I dont know how long we were there, crouched behind some itchy green thing waiting for everything to go quiet, but it seemed like forever before Cynthia indicated that it was almost time, and that it would be as well to get into position. The Starlight Mansion was quiet now, and the voices of the girls that had lived there before us were no longer audible. One or two lights were on downstairs, but they were away from the part of the garden where we had woken up, and the curtains were pulled across, hiding us and them from each other's view.
"So let's get this right." I murmured, as we slipped down the back passage towards the big white gate. "We basically have to be where we were this morning, near the pool, and then what? We just...vanish?"
"Your guess is as good as mine." Cynthia admitted. "But I am confident that we will return to our own Los Angeles this way, Topaz, so do not fret. I am certain that this will work."
"Well, that's good to know." Sadie put in. "I'm meant to have a date with Alex tonight...I mean tomorrow night...I mean...whatever day it is we get back there."
"You won't miss it." Cynthia assured her. "We are very almost there."
"The gate's locked!" In the darkness, Syl's exclamation of dismay rang out and we hurried to hush her, realising as we did so that her hand was on a silver padlock and that the gate was indeed firmly fastened. Nancy cursed.
"We should have thought of that." She murmured. "There are kids here. It's a safety thing."
"It wasn't locked this morning." I pointed out. "Someone must have left it loose last night."
"Yes, but they didn't tonight." Sylva rattled the chain. "It's firmly fastened."
"Will you stop making a noise?" Nancy hissed. "We'll be caught!"
"They can't arrest us. We're not inside Starlight property." Sylva objected. Nancy shrugged.
"No, but we're trying to get into it, aren't we!" She pointed out.
"I think I can get us in." Sadie said hesitantly, fingering the silver lock. "In fact, I'm sure that I can. But...Cynthia, you must've had some kind of security system then for this place? Like you do now? Would you pick up intruders at night?"
"It is possible, depending on how close they came to my power centre." Cynthia responded. "Synergy's capabilities were more limited in 1987. Unless something had been specifically wired up, I think it unlikely I would have noticed anything until someone entered the house...or even came in close contact with my room."
"That's what happened earlier." Sylva remembered. "So the grounds aren't covered by Synergy, then?"
"No, I do not believe they are." Cynthia agreed. "Even in our Los Angeles, my sensors are limited to the house and the ground immediately surrounding it. I think that we are safe from my own lasers."
"Then I'll crack the lock." Sadie said finally. "Someone got something long and thin and hard? Hairgrip, paperclip..."
"In our nightclothes?" I stared at her. Sadie grimaced.
"Well, my fingernail isn't long enough." She said with a shrug. "I need something longer."
Nancy slipped Cynthia's watch off her wrist, holding it out.
"The buckle on this might work." She suggested, ignoring Cynthia's startled look. "Besides, Cynthia got us into this mess. She can get us out."
"Don't break it, or you will be stuck here." Was Cynthia's acidic rejoinder. "I am just a projection and the real me is back home. You cannot say the same."
"Shh, the pair of you." Copper murmured. "Sadie, can you do it?"
"I think so." Sadie carefully manoeuvred the clip of the watch into the lock. It's times like these that it helps to have an ex-con on your team, I'll tell you now. Sadie doesn't often do things like break locks or sneak into property, but it's good to know that, if there's any sneaking or breaking to do, you've a pro on your side.
I glanced at my watch. It was quarter to midnight.
"Hurry up." I whispered, my mind flitting to Hollie. "I've a little girl who's gonna be without a Mom if we don't get back in time!"
"Almost there..." Sadie manipulated the watch clip one more time. "And..."
There was a click, and the padlock gave. Nonchalantly she removed it from the gate, handing the watch back to Nancy.
"There." She said finally. "We're in."
"This gate had better not creak." Nancy muttered, slipping the watch back onto her wrist and then pushing open the gate.
No sooner had she done it, but a wail went up from the surrounding area, making us all start with fright. Syl grabbed my arm so hard that I was sure she had bruised it, and it took all my willpower not to cry out.
"What in hell is that?" Sadie demanded. "Cyn, you said there wasn't an alarm!"
"I didn't remember that there was one!" Cynthia snapped back. "Now I think about it, Rio rigged up some kind of rough security system once. It did not last very long - the girls kept stealing the componants to play with and the batteries wound up in Aja's torch. It was something of a failure, but it did keep people away for a few weeks."
"Why didn't you tell us this before!" I rolled my eyes.
"Not all of my circuitry is accessible to me, and I am tired!" Cynthia retorted. "The memory was fleeting and did not mean anything until the sound went off. It must have triggered the file in my data banks, because when you asked me I did not know!"
"Stop arguing, the both of you!" Copper exclaimed. "We need to hide - someone is coming!"
It was true. The house, which had been dark and peaceful moments before was now flooded with light at every window, and abruptly the wail stopped, replaced by excited voices and the sound of the doors being unlocked. Terrified, we hurried to find some place to hide.
"We only have ten minutes!" I hissed to Cynthia, who happened to be next to me behind a bush. "Cyn, we don't have time for this!"
"We haven't much choice!" Was her response. "Shh! Someone will hear you!"
I opened my mouth to retort but at that moment someone, flashlight in hand came dangerously close to the bushes, and I swallowed my rejoinder, uttering an inward prayer that we would get through this safely.
"I need to get home." I whispered, only half-aware I was speaking out loud. "What will Hollie do if I don't? I might never see her again, Cyn...we have to get home!"
Despite myself, tears filled my eyes and Cynthia, her anger gone, sent me a stricken look.
"I would not do anything to harm Hollie or your future with her." She said softly. "I will make sure that we get home. Do not fear, Topaz. You have my word."
Before I could ask what she meant, there was a yelp and a yowl from across the far side of the garden, and a small creature tore out from the bushes, obviously agitated by the sound and light. It looked like a fox, though in the dark it was hard to see, and it attracted the attention of the Starlight residents immediately.
"Just a fox!" One of them exclaimed.
"Kimber, you forgot to lock the gate again!" Another voice, accented this time, and I knew it must be Copper's mother, Raya. "The fox must have pushed the gate looking for food."
"It's a good thing, too." Someone else picked up the padlock, and I was aware of a flash of blond hair as she fastened the chain. "Else we might have had more sinister visitors."
"But I did fix it!" Kimber protested. "I did, Jerrica! I swear I did!"
"Come on, you." In the glow of her torch I recognised Shana, from the projections Cynthia had made earlier, putting her arm around Kimber's shoulders. "No harm done, and tomorrow you can write yourself a memo. Okay?"
"But I'm sure I did do it." Kimber sighed. "Oh well. Never mind. Let's go back inside, huh? It's late and I want to go to bed."
"We'll have to get the girls back first." Jerrica reminded her. "Aja won't be able to keep them all quiet on her own, no matter how hard she tries. Now the gate's secure, hopefully we'll have a good night's sleep."
"And if one more animal pushes the thing and sets that off in the night..." Raya rolled her eyes. "We must ask Rio to remove it - or re-set it. It is a nightmare!"
"It's a horrible noise, but he's working on it." Jerrica's voice was fainter already, as they headed back towards the house. I glanced at my watch again.
Five to. I bit my lip. We were cutting it close.
"They're gone." A whisper from the bushes behind me made me jump, but it was only Syl, and slowly I got to my feet.
"We've five minutes." I reported. "Time enough?"
"Should be." Copper emerged at that moment, Nancy and Sadie in tow. "Thanks to that fox."
"Or thanks to Cynthia's projection." I cast the hologram a glance, and she nodded.
"The fox was mine." She agreed. "Though it took a lot of power to make it realistic. Come. We are almost there."
"You're almost see-through, Cyn." Sadie remarked, as we crept through the grounds to the spot where we'd awoken just that morning. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yes. I am using minimum power, to ensure a safe return home." Cynthia nodded. "Nobody will see me like this except you, and you know my secret anyway. It makes no sense to use up power to maintain a facade that I do not need."
"Well, we're here." I sat down on the grass. "What happens now, Cyn? Do we sit and hold hands or do we have to lie down or what?"
"I think we just wait." Sadie glanced around her. "You're sure something will happen, Cyn? I mean, you're sure we will go back?"
"I'm sure." Cynthia agreed. "Just as soon as we reach midnight, we will return to our Los Angeles."
"My watch already says midnight." Nancy leant back on her arms. "And nothing's happening."
"You're fast." I told her. "It' a minute to."
At least, I hoped it was.
"Today's been a weird day, all in all." Copper observed. "I shan't be sorry to be back in the world we belong."
"Well, there's the chimes of the town clock." Sylva remarked. "That's midnight, Cyn. I don't feel any different. Are you sure..."
But before she could finish her sentence, the world seemed to blur and twist around us. I closed my eyes, trying to get some kind of bearing and in the confusion I felt someone grab for my hand. I gripped it tightly, not wanting to be alone through whatever it was we were being pulled into. The twisting and turning made me dizzy, and I sincerely hoped I wasn't going to embarrass myself by throwing up. I'd never live that down - I know the others too well for that.
Finally everything stopped spinning, and I dropped back onto the grass, staring up at the sky as I tried to get my body back under my control.
"That was some wild ride." Sadie was the first to speak, her voice shaken. "I feel like someone doped me up then left me here to dry out."
"I don't think I dare get up. Do I have all my body parts?" That was Syl, and something in the plaintive tone of her voice reassured me.
"Are we all back?" Nancy now. "Topaz? Copper? Cynthia?"
"I'm here." I spoke, forcing myself to sit up. "Just about."
"Me too." Copper added. "But where is here? And where's Cynthia?"
"Well, I can answer one of those." Sadie pulled herself to her feet, moving across the grass. "Look...our hammocks."
"And the pool...the fence is back!" Hope sparked in Sylva's eyes. "Are we really home? Did we really make it?"
"I think we did." Copper scooped up something in the grass, holding it out to me. I took it, and my heart leapt.
"Hollie's sock!" I whispered, clutching it tightly. "Oh! We are home!"
I got to my feet. "But where is Cynthia? Cyn? Cyn, are you here?"
"Here I am." Cynthia's voice came from across the garden, and we turned, seeing her watching our recovery with some amusement. "I said that I'd see you safely back, didn't I?"
"You did, but you should never have taken us there to begin with." Nancy scolded. "You are deleting that program, I hope?"
"It has been archived." Cynthia said cheerfully. "And you have my word that I will never again use it without asking you first."
"Well, that's something, I suppose." I sighed. "But right now I'm going inside, I'm going to check on my daughter and then I'm going to sleep - in my bed, if noone minds. Hammocks are fine, but I need to be near my baby tonight. It's not a nice thought, when you worry that you might never see your daughter again."
Before any of the others could respond I headed across the grass, turning the lock on the french doors and making my way inside. The kitchen units were their familiar colour and it comforted me somehow. We really were back where we belonged.
But I had someone important I needed to see. Pushing open my bedroom door, I moved across to the crib by the window, where a tiny figure was curled up in her blankets, fast asleep. Cynthia was right, I realised. She didn't even know I had gone, because here, I hadn't been gone.
"But I know I wasn't here, and I know it's not going to happen again." I whispered, stroking her fist gently. "Goodnight, Hollie. Tomorrow I get the feeling Jewel will be hard at work on the new album, but I promise you something. Whatever happens or however hard I work - I'll always be here. Always."
I bent to kiss her.
"Sweet dreams." I murmured. She stirred slightly, and I grinned.
It was good to be back.

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen