The next morning dawned just like every other morning. It had been so
hot the night before that Cynthia had suggested we took hammocks into the
garden and slept between the trees - an idea that we all jumped at, because
when it wants to be hot in Cali, it invariably succeeds. Sleeping outside
is quite fun, also - it's like having a sleepover, and Cyn promised to keep
an eye on Hollie inside, so I knew she was in safe hands.
Yes, I'm a responsible enough mother these days not to let Baby do all the fun things she'd probably like to do. The gate to the pool is locked at night and the fence is high, but I have nightmares about Hollie finding her way into the water somehow, and now she's beginning to trot around, I don't want the risk of having her outside at night.
For once, I was the first person awake, and I sat up, taking in the bright sunshine and enjoying the peace and quiet of the morning. It was early, that I could tell, and I guessed that I'd been roused by the bright sunlight peeking through the trees.
It was then that I realised that I was no longer in my hammock. Frowning, I glanced around me for any sign of it, but although I could see the trees clearly from where I sat, there was no hammock tied tightly between the trunks. I turned to look for the other Jewels, but they were all sleeping peacefully. Yet there again, the hammocks were all gone.
I got to my feet, half-wondering if Cynthia had been playing a trick on us. It had been her idea to sleep outside, after all, and she can be strange sometimes. In terms of my daughter, I trust her above anyone - even above myself, sometimes - to see that Hollie is all right. But when she has an idea - and she definitely had one yesterday! - you never know where it might lead you.
As I got my bearings, and my surroundings became clearer, I began to wonder exactly what was going on. The missing hammocks, well, that could be explained away by Cynthia's shenanigans, but from the branch of the furthermost tree was tied a rope swing, old and well-used yet firm and strong. The fence was gone from around the pool and the shiny, white patio slabs that had been laid down the same month I moved to California were replaced by older grey squares of stone. By the poolside was a basket, and, as my curiosity got the better of me, I discovered that it was full of various bits and pieces - inner tubes, armbands, rubber toys and floats.
What on earth was going on? Was I still dreaming?
I bent down, picking up a small orange duck from the basket. It's beak was chewed and it's wings rubbed, but it was clearly a much loved toy. Turning it over, I could see a name written in black marker on the base - worn and half rubbed away by wear now, but still legible.
"Terri?" I frowned. "Who in hell's Terri and what's her duck doing here? Cynthia, where are you? If this is one of your illusions..."
"Topaz, what are you doing?"
A sleepy voice came from behind me and I turned to see Copper sitting up and wiping her eyes. "What's going on - isn't it early?"
"I don't know." I glanced at my wrist for my watch, then remembered I had left it by my bed when I had put Hollie in her crib the night before. "I think Cynthia's playing games with us, Copper. I'm not quite sure what's going on, but..."
"Where did the hammocks go?" Copper's dark eyes widened with surprise as she registered the fact she was on the ground. I shrugged.
"Like I said, this seems like one of Cynthia's tricks to me." I responded. "One of her illusions - you know she was being cryptic last night."
"Everything looks different." Copper decided, getting to her feet and coming to join me. "The fence...where's the fence? And what's that?"
I showed her.
"Terri?" Copper frowned. "I'm sure Terri was a Starlight girl - wasn't she? Has Cyn been digging around for stuff for Hollie to play with, do you think? It looks old - and well-worn. It must've been down in the basement or something."
"I don't know." I glanced around me. "Something about all of this seems...well...weird somehow, Copper. Don't you feel it? Like everything is here but...but different. I can't put my finger on it, but that's what it seems like."
"Well, let's wake the others and go find Cynthia." Copper suggested. "If this is one of her tricks, we can soon get to the bottom of it. Besides, Hollie will probably be up and wanting her breakfast soon, won't she?"
"She will." I nodded. Actually, I felt ashamed that Copper had been the one to point this out. In my confusion about the layout of the garden, Hollie's needs had slipped my mind. Motherhood hasn't come as naturally to me as I assumed that it probably would, that's for sure, and even now I'm afraid of doing something wrong. "All right. That sounds like a plan to me. If it comes to it, I could use my own breakfast, too!"
"Well, it's Sadie's turn to cook." Copper dimpled. "So don't look at me."
Oh well. At least it wasn't my day to cook. Funnily enough, the others don't tend to remind me when it is my turn. They often seem to like to 'save me the work' and do their own food. I know I'm not the best cook ever, but it's funny how this happens pretty much every time it reaches my name on the food rota. Oh well. I do have a baby to worry about, so I don't complain. Hollie doesn't get a choice about my cooking - but I can just about manage to mash a banana or heat some baby meal or other for her. She hasn't died yet, so I must be getting better.
It didn't take long to rouse the others, and as a group we headed towards the patio doors, eager to find our holographic friend and demand some answers from her. As time went on, it seemed more and more like Cynthia was playing one of her pet pranks on us - for a computer, she sure has a wicked sense of humour, and I mean that literally! - and we wanted to get to the bottom of it. Even if her hologram was not around, it's hard to hide when you're a mainframe, and even with her holographic capabilities, we always know where to find her.
Sadie pushed open the patio door, stepping into the kitchen then stopping dead as the sound of laughter drifted through from the lounge. Exchanging looks, we carefully made our way across the kitchen floor to the door that led into the main living room, half hesitant about opening it.
"Did anyone else notice that those aren't our kitchen units?" Sylva hissed as I closed my hand around the gold handle. "I wouldn't be caught dead in a house with that colour!"
"Aaron replaced them all when we moved in." Nancy said absently. "The old ones were all rotten - but I think they were that colour."
"So now we know this is one of Cynthia's games." I frowned. "Right. Then the sooner we find her, the better for all of us. Whatever that noise is in there, it's gotta be computer generated, and it's time we put a stop to it."
"I'm with that. I want my breakfast." Sylva stifled a yawn. "I don't hear Hollie crying, though. I guess she's still asleep."
"Good." I responded quietly. "Right. I'm going to open the door. Cynthia, this isn't funny so I hope you have an explanation."
"I wouldn't open the door if I were you."
Cynthia materialised behind us, making us all jump as she did so. "It might be hard for you to explain exactly what you're doing here, if you did."
"What do you mean, what we're doing here?" Nancy demanded. "Have you gone computer senile, Cyn? This is our house!"
"Yes, it was." Cynthia agreed, her violet eyes twinkling with a light that I didn't much like. "Last night, anyway."
"Cynthia, what in hell are you talking about?" Sylva asked. "We're half-asleep, hungry and in need of coffee. Enough with the light show and the games already, huh? We have a lot of work to do!"
"Not today, you don't." Cynthia shook her head, deftly slipping between me and the door. "Today I'm taking you on a tour of Los Angeles and the music business. Today I'm going to show you exactly why Jewel are what they are, and, I hope, help to find you that missing inspiration for the new album. You're taking today off work. It's all arranged."
"I can't see Mom letting us take a day off from studio when it's scheduled." Nancy folded her arms. Cynthia laughed.
"Your mother doesn't know." She said lightly. "Now listen. I think it's better that we go back out of the Starlight Mansion and slip around by the side gate. We can call a taxi from there, and head into the city. There is plenty to show you and we haven't a lot of time. My batteries can only maintain this for twenty-four hours, so we have to be back here by then. Come on! We can find you breakfast there."
"Batteries? Time? Taxi?" Sadie stared at Cynthia as if she was mad, then, "Is all of this one of your projections, Cyn? Is that it?"
"No...that's not it." Cynthia shook her head,taking me by the arm and ushering us all back out through the patio doors. "Will you come with me? Then I will explain."
"What about Hollie!" I objected, wrenching my arm free from her grip. "Cyn, I can't leave Hollie behind in the house, all on her own! I have to..."
"Hollie is fine." Cynthia shook her head. "She is well taken care of."
"Cynthia!" I was losing patience by this time. "What have you done with my daughter?"
"Absolutely nothing, so keep your voice down." Cynthia was infuriatingly calm. "Come, and I will explain. It is not her I have moved. It is you."
"So we aren't in the Starlight Mansion!" Copper murmured, as we followed the hologram reluctantly across the grass to the estate's side-entrance. "I knew it! We just couldn't be, with everything like this?"
"This is the Starlight Mansion, Copper." Cynthia said quietly, casting her a smile. "But not the Starlight Mansion you know. You wouldn't listen to me yesterday, so I decided that I had to make you see things for yourselves. Los Angeles has a great musical history, you know that - and you as a group have a strong performing pedigree. You can't turn your backs on what went before - the Misfits and the Holograms are a big part of you, and I don't think you realise it. So I intend to make you see it."
"How do you plan on doing that? By dragging us out of our home and starving us?" Sylva demanded. "Cyn, what are you playing at? We know that isn't the Starlight Mansion, because we live in the Starlight Mansion and we can see the difference! We don't have gross kitchen units, we have fencing round the pool..."
"We have white patio slabs, not grey ones." I added. "And I have a baby who needs her mother, so can we wrap this little charade up quickly, do you think?"
Cynthia did not reply for a moment. She led the way up to the main road, where a car was already waiting for us. Along the top the vehicle read 'Taxi', but it wasn't like the taxi cabs we usually use to travel between home and Misfit Music. I said as much, and Cynthia laughed, holding open the door and ushering us inside.
"Cyn, where's my car?" Sylva peered out of the back window as the taxi drew away. "Come to think of it, where are any of our cars? But mine in particular - I just had it waxed! If you've messed it up..."
"Your car is fine." Cynthia soothed. "I promise. Your property is quite safe, and Hollie is in good, safe hands also. You must not worry about these things."
"So where are we then, if we're not at home?" Sadie wondered. "Because that place could use a lick of paint, but it looks a lot like home from the front. Don't you think?"
"That's because it is the Starlight Mansion." Cynthia said simply.
"Not possible. I told you." Sylva sounded very certain of herself. Me, I was still half-wondering if I was dreaming, since everything was becoming so surreal. Cynthia nodded.
"I promise you." She said. "We just left the Starlight Mansion. Only I did not want us to hang around there for too long. It is a very busy house and I was concerned that I might locate us on the premises."
"You what?" Nancy raised an eyebrow. "You've finally flipped out, haven't you, Cyn? Computer mid life crisis! I know you're pushing thirty years this year, but even you have to see that this is nonsense. What are you talking about, you might locate us? What gives here?"
"We are in Los Angeles, but the year is not 2015." Cynthia said calmly. "This is 1987. The start of a year when Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits were so successful as rivals together in the city. Back before those stupid Stingers came and ruined everything."
"1987?" Copper's eyes widened. "You are joking, I hope?"
"Of course she's joking. Time travel isn't possible." Nancy folded her arms. "She's just slipped a disk drive, that's all."
"Time travel is perfectly possible. It was possible in the 1980s." Cynthia seemed to believe entirely in what she was saying, and the matter-of-fact way in which she explained it sent chills down my spine. Could she be telling the truth? Or was this all some elaborate hoax?
"A man named Techrat invented a time machine in that year, in order to try and send Jem and the Holograms back into history and out of the Misfits' hair. He sent me back, also. Fortunately somehow the effects were reversed and we all returned to our correct timelines. The machine was destroyed, but I have been curious for some time as to how he achieved it. I have done some heavy research and I discovered loose designs for such a contraption. I tracked down his computer system and hacked into his programs to find them - they made interesting reading. Of course, I had to make some modifications, for his designs had flaws. But my tests were successful - and here we are."
Sadie's hand flew to her mouth.
"That's the project you were talking about yesterday?" She demanded. "A time machine? Hell, Cyn, are you serious? Are we really back in time?"
"We can't be." Nancy shook her head. "Can we?"
"You will soon see for yourselves." Cynthia leant forward to speak to the driver, who pulled the taxi cab over onto a busy high street. "Come. We will get breakfast and I will prove to you that this is 1987."
"Well, this I have to see." Sylva responded. "Come on, girls. Let's play along."
As the taxi drew onto the main high street, Cynthia leant forward to speak to the driver, and he pulled to a stop. After handing him a fistful of what I assumed must be money, that mad hologram pushed open the car door, beckoning for us to follow her. Not that we had a lot of choice. If she was telling the truth, we were stuck in this place and only she could get us back again. And if she wasn't, well, it's not good to have a slightly deranged computer projection wandering the streets unsupervised. Honestly, at that moment, I couldn't have told you which I thought she was. I was still angry about Hollie, and worried about her too. Wherever we were, my baby wasn't with us, and I didn't like it.
As we stepped onto the curb, Cynthia seemed to realise what I was thinking, because she put a hand on my arm.
"Don't worry." She repeated. "Where Hollie is, there is nothing wrong. We will return to your Los Angeles tonight, at the same point which we arrived. Hollie will never know you were gone. I promise. I have made very careful calculations, otherwise I would not risk you all like this."
"You really believe we've moved back in time, don't you?" Nancy asked. Cynthia nodded her head.
"I do." She agreed. "Because it is the only logical explanation for what you have experienced. Look around you. What do you see?"
"The high street." Copper ventured. "But it looks pretty much..."
"Hey, that isn't usually an ice cream parlour." Sadie frowned. "Is it?"
"No, it closed down about five years ago." Nancy remembered. "At least...well...five years before where we started. But we used to go there after school, Aaron and I. Sometimes. He and his friends did a lot. Then the guy who owned it died and his wife wanted to go back to Italy - so she sold the property and went. It was sad, really. He was such a nice guy."
Before anyone could say anything, a man came to the door, swung it open and turned the "closed" notice to "open." He cast Nancy a smile, then glanced at her again, as if trying to make out whether he recognised her. Then he shrugged, disappearing back into the shop.
I glanced at Nancy. She had visibly paled, and her hand had gone to her mouth at the sight of the man. It was like she'd seen a ghost.
"Nance, what's up?" I murmured.
"That was Signor Picelli." Nancy whispered. "I swear...but he died five years ago! It isn't possible! It isn't..."
"Nancy, I think it is!" Sylva interrupted, grabbing the still-ashen girl by the arm and pulling her over towards a news-stand, where a confused vendor was staring at her as if trying to make out whether she was deranged, stoned, or both. "Look!"
"What are we looking at?" I wondered, coming to join them. Sylva pointed to the paper.
"Look! At the date, Topaz! Look!"
I looked, and what I saw took my breath away. Clear as day the newspaper read January 30th, 1987. Cynthia was telling the truth. We really were back in time.
For a moment I almost felt faint with shock. Then I pulled myself together,
casting Cynthia a glare.
"Why did you do this now, and not tell us?" I demanded, amazed to find anger welling up inside of me. "You could have given us some warning, you know! I'd have arranged for Hollie to stay somewhere else last night if I'd known what you were going to do. What if you can't get us back? And if it comes to it, what makes you think we'd have agreed to this?"
"There you have precisely the reason I did not ask you." Cynthia said, her tone infuriatingly smooth and calm. "If you have not said no, then I do not feel I am going against your wishes. Besides, Topaz, you should calm yourself. You are making people stare and we do not wish to have attention drawn to us. We already look out of place."
"Well, could that be something to do with the fact we're still in our pyjamas?" That was Nancy, and I glanced down, suddenly embarrassed. She was right - we were still attired in the old tee-shirts, nightgowns and pyjamas that had made up our outfits the night before.
"Look at what everyone else is wearing. I'd say this is an improvement." Sylva said archly. "Cyn, couldn't you have brought us back to a time with style? I mean, the eighties had some wild fashions. What's with all this drab?"
"I am not walking around nineteen eighties Los Angeles dressed like this." Sadie said decidedly. "Is there nothing you can do about it, Cyn?"
"I will project you something a little more appropriate." Cynthia agreed, slipping her watch off her wrist and handing it to Copper. "But I cannot maintain solid form if I do so, so Copper, will you take care of my projector?"
"Of course." Copper agreed. "Though how are you projecting, anyway? I don't understand."
"I've hacked my signals to compensate." Cynthia explained. "You forget that, although you do not exist in 1987, I do. And I am in operation, also. It was fairly easy to use existing signals to power up my watch and create a Cynthia hologram. But I don't know how long the projector's battery in the watch can last away from it's usual power source. My circuits in 2015 are far more powerful than those I had in 1987. So we must not hang around - we must return to the Starlight Mansion when we are finished."
"Do you realise how weird this is? We could literally bump into Mom or Aunt Phyl and they wouldn't even know us!" Nancy murmured.
"I'm still waiting to be fed." Sylva objected. "Fed and clothed - Cyn, you promised both and so far done neither. Do something about it, huh?"
"With pleasure, Syl." Cynthia's eyes twinkled in that impish way of hers and in a flash our attire had changed. I glanced down at the dress I was now apparently wearing, and despite my annoyance at the computer's deceit, I found that I quite liked how it looked. Maybe it would even do for a stage show, if Gaynor would make it in real fabric. I'd have to try and remember how it looked for later.
"And now for breakfast." Cynthia was already heading down the high street, and we followed her. "There is a nice little cafe down this street - I remember that Kimber liked to come here from time to time. Raya too."
"What if we see them?" Sadie asked.
"It's like Nancy said. They wouldn't know us." Sylva shrugged. "Besides, I'm hungry!"
"You're always hungry." Nancy muttered. "And I don't see how this is supposed to show us anything, Cyn. So this is 1987. Big deal."
"And how are you going to pay?" Copper added. As usual, it takes Copper to point out the sensible things. "None of us have any money, and if we did, well, it would all be dated way past 1987."
"Ask no questions and I shall not lie to you." Cynthia said simply. "I have the money. Come."
"Are you going to project it?" I was curious. "But what about when we leave?"
"Watch and learn." Cynthia smiled another infuriating smile. Glancing around to make sure nobody was watching, she slipped into the shelter of one of the stores' canopies.
"Stand in front of me." She ordered. "Nobody must see."
Nonplussed, we did as we were asked, each wondering what she was planning to do. As soon as it was safe, Cynthia winked at us, then, with a blur and a glint, her features morphed themselves from the familiar cheeky Hologram. Nancy let out a gasp.
"Aunt Phyllis!" She exclaimed. "So that's what you're going to do!"
"I'm going to tell them to charge it to Harvey Gabor." Cynthia agreed, speaking with Pizzazz's voice as she carefully adjusted her vocals. "Noone will ask questions if you are with Pizzazz of the Misfits. Most likely they won't dare come near us."
"Outrageous!" Sylva whispered. "But what if she really comes into the coffee house? What then?"
"She won't." Cynthia laughed. "Some places are beneath her notice!"
She led the way towards the coffee house, pushing open the door and, a touch dazed, we followed her inside. I have to admit that my thoughts were still largely on Hollie, and I was cross with Cynthia still for playing with our lives like this. Time travel - if this wasn't some bizarre dream - was very untested ground, and I was none too sure we'd all get back to our Los Angeles in one piece.
I have to hand it to her, though. As we selected a booth in the corner, she stalked up to the counter, ordering croissants, coffee and other things in loud, petulant tones that sent the staff of the place scurrying around like rabbits trying to follow each of her commands. I never knew Phyllis back in her Misfit days, but if she was even half the woman Cynthia was painting her to be, I'm glad I only met her years on, after she'd mellowed as much as she has. Needless to say, noone challenged her instructions to charge the cost to Harvey Gabor's tab, and before long we were all enjoying the most surreal breakfast any of us had ever eaten.
"So what exactly do you plan to achieve by having us here? Apart from making us need therapy?" Nancy asked, once the waitress had left us to our own devices. Cynthia pursed her lips.
"I believe that I made that perfectly clear during our conversation yesterday." She said carelessly. "My intentions were for you to come back here and see the Misfits and the Holograms and see if it did not inspire you. After all, you were the one who was complaining about lack of ideas. I wanted to prove to you that there is plenty you can learn from the past. You did not seem to believe me, so I took matters into my own hands."
"Just a touch." Sylva glanced around her. "This is so freaky. Back in our Los Angeles, this place is totally made over in lilac...I don't like eating my muffins surrounded by lurid pink and green. It's horrible!"
"But highly contemporary." Cynthia seemed untroubled. "And I remember Kimber saying that this place served the best breakfast on fifth avenue."
"Too, too weird." Sadie shook her head, glancing at her croissant as if unsure if it was safe to eat. "I can't believe I'm about to eat something that's technically older than I am."
"Eww, Sadie, don't." Sylva pulled a face, and despite everything, I had to laugh.
"Well, a muffin is a muffin." I said with a shrug. "And I'm hungry. But Cyn, this had better work out how you want it to. If we're not safely back in our time by this time tomorrow, you'll have one irate single mother to deal with."
"There is nothing to fear." Cynthia seemed almost too calm. "I have every confidence in my calculations."
"You could be biased." Nancy jabbed a piece of toast in her direction. "I want a second opinion. Did Aaron know what you were planning to do?"
"Impossible." Copper shook her head. "He'd never have let her send his fiancee and his sister back in time!"
"Aaron knows nothing." Cynthia agreed cheerfully. "And nor will he. I doubt many people will believe you when you try and tell them where you've been."
I opened my mouth, about to point out that if it was that mad noone would believe it, we probably shouldn't be doing it, when Sylva let out an exclamation.
"Oh my god!" She exclaimed. "Look! That's my mother!"