"It's good to be back in Los Angeles."
Clayton Blake pushed open the steel black doors of Rebel Records, pausing
to grimace back at his companions. "It's not good to be back in the clutches
of Herr Blond-Bonce, however. I didn't think touring with Sophie would be
all that fun, but she's much more laid back than he is."
"Rory only sent Sophie because she speaks so many languages." Madeleine
Dacourt said sensibly. "And she was edgy as hell in France. For some reason
she thought the secret police were on her tail."
"So that's what she kept muttering about." Marissa Young giggled. "I wondered.
She's so weird sometimes - I almost wish I spoke French to understand her."
"Yeah, that was what it was about. I doubt she remembers my roots are
French-speaking." Madeleine grinned. "But we're back now - and even if Rory
is here, this is home, right?"
"Where Rory is is never home." The final girl in the group said darkly.
Her companion chuckled.
"Stef, we know you hate him and he isn't so keen on you, but we were under
the impression that a truce had been drawn up after the trip to Hartford."
He said playfully. "Can we keep the ritual bloodshed till after he's heard
Sophie's report on our tour? Diablo are back in Los Angeles - that's something
"And Los Angeles has gone mad in the meantime, Luca." Clay said dryly.
"I was reading that paper on the plane back, and damn, everything happens
when we're away. That Pacheco bird at Starlight Music has gone and topped
"It was an accident, they said." Madeleine reproached him. "And a tragedy."
"Well, it's a tragedy that's got absolutely nothing to do with us." Stefana
said bluntly. "So another rival is dead. Great. Next?"
"Come on, Stef. You can't be jet-lagged, surely?" Marissa linked arms
with her friend, leading the way across the polished floor to the main lift
and pushing the button for a car. "I know it was a long flight but you slept
most of the way."
"Oh, I'm all right." Stefana sighed. "I guess I just didn't want to come
back quite so soon, that's all. Europe was amazing. They loved us. And Italy..."
Her eyes softened. "Italy was so beautiful. Dad always told us stories
about it, but I never thought it was half as beautiful as he said it was.
I wish I could have remembered more of the Italian he tried to teach me.
Seriously. It was way cool."
"Someone found her spiritual home on this tour, then?" Clay asked teasingly.
"Maybe." She agreed. "And at least it wasn't somewhere you'd freeze your
butt off in a kilt, or get eaten by some stupid loch ness monster!"
"Your understanding of Scottish culture always overwhelms me." Clay looked
amused. "As does your inability to remember the fact I was born in England."
"Your Ma lives in Scotland. She's Scottish. Ergo, you're Scottish." Stefana
"And your Dad was born in Italy, ergo, you're Italian?"
"I wish I was." Stefana sighed. "I woulda loved to have grown up over
"Well, at least it brought your appetite back with a bounce." Madeleine
squeezed the younger girl's arm. "It's been good to see you eating like
a human being again, instead of like a mouse on rations. I was a bit worried
after the incident with the horse in Paris...but Italy got you back on track."
"Noone told me they ate horse in France till I was halfway through eating
it." Stefana retorted. "Not even the French speaking member of our party!"
"Well, I thought you knew what you'd done." Madeleine looked sheepish.
"I did apologise. And you didn't die from it."
"No. Till I knew what it was I'd ordered, it tasted fine." Stefana sighed.
"Oh well. We're back now. Do you guys think there was a dearth of reporters
at the airport?"
"I told you. Los Angeles has gone nuts in our absence and everything you
read is about this Pacheco chick." Clay said with a shrug. "She's died in
an accident, her husband's having an affair, her will is missing, her former
bandmates are inheriting her company, her magical computer is still at large...all
riveting stuff, if you like that kind of thing."
"Magical computer? Clay, what were you drinking on the plane back?" Luca
raised an eyebrow.
"Synergy." Stefana murmured.
"Yeah, that's the thing. Synergy. What Steffi said." Clay nodded. "And
I'm not kidding, Luca. This thing blew up a storm at that Jem Memorial five
years back and the Feds couldn't track it down. Now one of the tabloids put
out this major story that Jerrica's death was a sham, the same as Jem's was...that
this computer faked it and Jerrica is hiding out somewhere in the mountains
in a cave finding her inner self."
"Oh brother." Marissa giggled. "You aren't serious?"
"Perfectly. I'll give you the article when we get home. Split my sides
laughing." Clay smirked. "But seriously...that's all the press is on about
at the moment. Jerrica this, Jerrica that, Starlight Music, and the computer.
Boring as hell."
"No Jewel?" Madeleine raised an eyebrow.
"Itty bitty column about a new single. Nowt else."
"Wow. Things are mental around here." Madeleine
frowned. "I wonder what Rory's take on this is."
At that moment the lift car reached the ground floor, and they all stepped
inside, Marissa pressing the button for the top floor. "Reckon he has some
big publicity blitz idea for us, now we're back?"
"Guess we'll soon know." Stefana glanced at her hands.
"It's crazy press, anyhow." Luca said matter-of-factly. "I remember the
Jem Memorial - vaguely, I was never much of a fan of Jem, so I only really
clued into the hype after it happened. But even if that damn machine existed
once, if the FBI didn't find it, it probably doesn't any more."
Stefana bit her lip.
"I guess we don't know anything for sure." She said quietly.
"Stef, if you tell me you believe in ghost computers, I'll either decide
you're stoned or putting me on." Clay put his hands on his hips. "And since
you've quit the former, I'm gonna have to go with the latter. Well?"
"I don't believe in ghost computers. I was just saying."
"I think she's jetlagged after all." Marissa looked amused. "Jetlagged
and homesick for Rome."
"Don't tease me." Stefana snapped. "I just said I liked it. No need to
go mental over it!"
"Well, you took your time from the airport." As the lift reached it's
floor, the doors swung open to reveal their manager awaiting them, an impatient
expression on his face. "I expected you well over an hour ago."
"We got stuck in baggage claim. They had a screw up with the flights and
our stuff came through delayed." Luca explained. "We got here as soon as
"Well, I suppose it will do." Rory looked resigned. "Is Sophie with you?"
"No. She had a meeting, or something, and told us she'd come by here as
soon as it was done." Madeleine replied.
Rory pursed his lips, then, "If you're not too tired, I want you to head
down to the studio and sort out the tunes you were playing in Europe into
some kind of potential album. I know it's at short notice, but I want it
out before Jewel get theirs off the presses and I want to be the one to dent
this Starlight press you've all been happily missing over there."
"We've seen some of it, Rory. It seems to have blanketed everything."
Marissa remarked. Rory nodded.
"That about sums it up." he agreed grimly. "Oh, there is one other thing.
Stefana, I wish to speak to you in my office."
"Now?" Stefana looked startled.
"Rory, if this is some kind of underhand business..."Luca began, but Rory
put up his hands.
"No, Luca, it's not." He said, an edge to his tones. "Not that I have
to answer to you. I've told you what I want you to do. My conversation with
Stefana is private, regarding matters which are not your concern."
"Stefana is my sister. Of course they're my concern."
"Her health matters?"
"I beg your pardon?" Luca looked floored. Rory offered him a smile.
"In light of Stefana's more recent activities, I wish her to undergo a
full medical, to ensure she is fully fit to do the job she is doing." He
said benignly. "And those matters are kept confidential - company policy.
"Okay, okay. I'm coming." Stefana rolled her eyes. "But you could just
believe me when I say I don't do drugs any more."
Rory made no attempt to reply, merely leading the way down the corridor
to his office, and holding the door for her. She entered with very bad grace,
dropping down into a chair and eying him warily as he shut the door.
"Well? Medical now? Don't you trust me?"
"I trust you. And in Hartford I gave you my word that I would not pursue
that matter any further." Rory said matter-of-factly.
"But you just said..."
"I lied. Your brother is annoyingly overprotective and what I have to
discuss with you is something I would rather not discuss with him, for various
Rory sat down in his chair.
"Rory, I am not doing your dirty work for you again!" Stefana was on her
feet. "If this is that kind of meeting, I'm cutting out of here now!"
"Relax, my dear. Sit down. It's nothing of the sort." Rory dismissed this
with a careless gesture. He pulled open a drawer, extracting a newspaper
and dropping it down onto the desktop. "I just require some information from
you, that's all. Regarding something that happened, oh, must be two years
or more back now."
"Two years or more?" Stefana looked bemused, nonetheless sitting back
down in the empty seat, and Rory indicated the paper.
"Yes. It pertains to that."
"Ghost machine still at large?" Stefana read the headline, then frowned,
dropping the newspaper back onto the desk. "Ghosts, Rory?"
"No, you silly girl. Not ghosts." Rory shook his head impatiently. "Synergy."
"You told me, once, you knew where she was. That you'd seen her and knew
it was in operation." Rory's eyes narrowed. "And when Techrat's virus didn't
work, I stopped believing in what you told me. I thought it had been destroyed...like
so many other things. Discarded. Perhaps that it was just a rumour and had
never existed at all. Then they start talking about the will...and this computer
is suddenly hot property again. So hot, Stefana, that they are offering
a half a million dollars for information on it. That's a lot of money. Money
which could well go into Diablo's next promotion campaign."
"What do you want with Jerrica's computer, Rory?" Stefana raised an eyebrow.
"You can barely operate that hunk of junk on your desk. What makes you think
you could operate this one?"
"I want to know about it. What it can do. Whether it can benefit me."
Rory said softly. "I knew Jem, Stefana. Kissed her. Touched her. She seemed
real to me. How is that possible, that a machine can make such an illusion?
I want to know about that machine...I want to find it."
"Well, you're asking the wrong person, aren't you?" Stefana folded her
arms across her chest.
"I think not. You told me you knew about it. Think about what your information
could bring your group, Steffi. Think of the promotional boost half a million
dollars could make. Money's always tighter here than at Misfits Music. We
don't have the Gabor bitch's bottomless well pockets. This money could matter.
Really matter. Don't you care about making Diablo the best any more?"
"You said this wasn't about dirty little assignments." Stefana shook her
"It isn't. It's a request for information. Tell me what you know."
Stefana paused for a moment, gauging the situation. Then she sighed, spreading
"All right." She said carefully. " But promise me, Rory, that if I do,
this is the last little meeting we'll have in your office like this. I'm done
with the subterfuge."
"I think that's a fair deal." Rory nodded his head. "Agreed."
Stefana fell silent again for a moment, her green eyes unreadable.
"Stefana?" Rory raised an eyebrow. "Is this one of your games? Or are you
going to tell me what you know about this computer?"
"Yes." At length Stefana met his gaze. "Yes, I am."
She bit her lip, then,
"If you're sure you want to hear it, then I'll tell you."