Part Two

Chapter Three: Under Pressure

"So they don't think it was murder, after all?"
Phyllis set down the newspaper, resting her chin in her hands. "I almost think it's a pity. That woman caused me so many seems a shame that she should go out in such a mediocre way."
"Smashin' yourself up in a car accident ain't what I'd call mediocre." Jetta pushed the drawer of the filing cabinet shut, sending her friend a wry smile. "And the press sure 'aven't thought so, neither. They're still full of it."
"I know. It's a pain." Phyllis looked pensive. "Much as I'm enjoying reading about Video Montgomery and Rio Pacheco and their sordid love affair. I have to say, the press have gone to town on this one. I thought it was bad when it came out that Emily was my daughter and that Eric and I had had a fling, but that was nothing compared to this. It's better than cable."
"I guess it's 'ard to sue from beyond the grave." Jetta came to perch on the edge of the desk, pulling the paper around so she could see it. "Don't you think it's a bit trashy, though? All scandal stuff days after she snuffs it?"
"Yes, I do, but more for the reason that she's filling more columns dead than she was alive, and I have groups to promote." Phyllis frowned. "Though this does mean that Starlight Music is in chaos again and that Daisy girl has gone quiet. You know, I've thought seriously about putting in an offer for the place, just to keep it that way."
"Buy Starlight Music?" Jetta looked surprise. "I would have thought that was an 'eadache noone wanted."
"Well, maybe. But I could break it up and sell the parts." Phyllis was thoughtful. "There'd be takers. And if this article is right and the whole shebang is left to the Holograms, well, aren't they all tied up with their own lives? They won't want the hassle."
"I realise that they've settled it wasn't a murder." Jetta said slowly. "That the car weren't tampered with and that Jerrica weren't poisoned. But it looks a mite shady to be puttin' in offers for a music company when the woman ain't even in the ground yet. Besides, I wouldn't put money into that mess. Might as well be cursed as anything. It's never brought Jerrica any 'appiness."
"I guess you do have a point." Phyllis frowned. "It was just an idea."
"A bloody odd one, if you don't mind my saying."
"You'll say it anyway, so I don't have much choice." Phyllis scowled. "But there is more to it than just eliminating competition." She tapped a paragraph with a neatly manicured nail. "Read that."
"The will is also said to settle Jerrica Pacheco's various assets...blah blah blah...and makes reference to electronic stage equipment most people are interpreting as the ghost machine that shocked the world at the Jem Memorial in 2010."
Jetta glanced up. "The Jem Memorial? Jerrica's computer? You think it's at Starlight Music?"
"Where else would it be?" Phyllis demanded. "It was hers. It was built by her father. He began Starlight Music...join the dots and that's the answer."
"If Jerrica had it, why did it turn on her at the Memorial?" Jetta raised an eyebrow. "Sure, it probably was there, once...but it ain't there no more. If it was, the Feds woulda picked it right up."
"True." Phyllis sighed. "Oh well. Maybe it's a long shot, then. But I'd like to play around with that machine. I figured it was probably dismantled, but..."
"This will is old, though." Jetta pointed out. "It mentions the Starlight Mansion, which you now own on behalf of Jewel."
"Gee, so I do." Phyllis' green eyes became contemplative. "I wonder what else I bought along with it. Jetta, did you ever stop and think that the damn thing might be tucked away in a corner of that house?"
"And our girls didn't ever notice it?" Jetta looked sceptical. "I know they can be damn silly, but Pizzazz, I got the impression we weren't talkin' about a laptop. This is a big hunk of junk. Surely they'd have seen it."
"Well, one way to find out." Phyllis shrugged. She scooped up her phone. "Alice? You out there? Is Aaron still with you?"
"Yes, Miss Gabor."
"Send him in, will you? I want a word with him."
"Certainly, Miss Gabor."
"Aaron?" Jetta frowned, as her colleague dropped the receiver back into the cradle. "What 'as 'e to do with anything? 'E and Copper don't even live there!"
"No, they don't." Phyllis's gaze became predatorial. "But Aaron renovated that place before Jewel moved in. Rewired it and such. If there's something there, I'm sure he would have seen it."
"And not told us?"
"Aunt Phyl?" Before Phyllis could answer, the office door swung open and Aaron entered, dusting off his hands on a spare piece of cloth. "Alice said you had a problem - something up with the new system?"
"'s an old system we want to talk about." Phyllis shook her head, indicating for Aaron to take a seat. Aaron frowned, doing as he was bidden.
"An old system? Something you want to fix up?"
"Possibly." Phyllis ran her tongue along the edge of her teeth contemplatively, then, "Aaron, you fixed up Starlight Mansion before Jewel moved in, didn't you?"
"Yeah, of course. Why?"
"And re-wired it?"
"Sure. But a lot of the wiring was fine...just some sections had got damp and needed replacing." Now Aaron was on his guard. "What's this about, Aunt Phyl?"
"We were just talking about Jerrica's ghost machine, your mother and I." Phyllis eyed him carefully. "I don't suppose that, when you rewired the place, you happened to notice anything...unusual there?"
"Unusual?" Aaron raised an eyebrow, inwardly saying a prayer for help. "I don't follow."
"Yes, you do, so don't be funny." Jetta put in sharply. "When you rewired Starlight Mansion, did you find Jerrica's computer?"
"If the FBI can't find it, what hope do I have of doing so?" Aaron demanded. "I'm just a road manager, not some miracle worker. Besides, didn't they decide had been dismantled and deactivated?"
"They certainly found no trace of it." Aaron was aware of his mother's eyes boring into him. "But I don't remember them searchin' the Starlight Mansion for it. The place 'ad been sold off, after all..."
"Mom, what are you getting at?" Aaron asked. "Look. If you want to go search the Starlight Mansion for Jerrica's computer, it isn't my permission you need. I'm sure the girls wouldn't mind, if you asked them...but leave me out of it. It was a long time ago and all I did was a little repainting and rewiring."
"Damn." Phyllis grimaced. "I really hoped we were onto something then."
Jetta's eyes narrowed and she met her son's gaze quizzically. Aaron bit his lip imperceptably, forcing himself to meet the questioning grey eyes with his own.
"I'm sorry I couldn't help you more." He said, injecting regret into his tone. "If that's all, can I go? Alice's printer won't stop spewing things in magenta and I need to fix it so she can get her letters printed."
"Yeah, get lost with you." Phyllis nodded, waving a hand at the door. "So much for that idea. I wonder where the damn thing is. It must be somewhere in Los Angeles."
"Maybe it is, but if it is, it doesn't belong to me." Aaron said calmly. "And it doesn't belong to Jewel, either."
He pushed open the door, slipping out into the hall before he could be called back, and there was a moment of silence.
"Dammit!" Phyllis clenched her fists. "It would have been so convenient to have it right there, under my nose."
"It's right under someone's nose." Jetta mused. "But not ours. Honestly, Pizzazz, till 'e said it didn't belong to 'im or Jewel I thought 'e was 'oldin' out on us. But 'e ain't never been any kind of a liar, and 'e's never been able to lie to me and meet my eyes before."
She paused, then, "It wouldn't surprise me if 'e knew somethin' about it, though. Computer circles an' all that."
Phyllis's eyes narrowed till they were almost slits.
"You mean Cynthia?"
"Well, she's a Benton, ain't she?" Jetta shrugged. "Stands to reason."
"I should have thought of that myself." Phyllis admitted reluctantly. "Though weren't she and Jerrica rivals?"
"And what did the ghost say at the memorial? Who was it victimising?"
"Good point. Maybe you're on to something." Phyllis reached for the phone again, then paused. "Oh, but dammit, she's still off sick, isn't she? How damn long is compassionate leave, anyhow?"
"She's off the rest of this week." Jetta glanced over her colleague's shoulder, reaching across to open the computer diary. "So you'll have to wait to speak to 'er. But if anyone 'ere knows anything about this machine, Pizzazz, I'd lay odds it's 'er. Whether she's workin' for us or not, she's still a Benton an' she must know somethin' about it, somewhere along the line!"


"See, Hollie, it goes in the box that way."
Topaz pushed the yellow cylinder carefully into the shape sorter, casting her daughter a grin. "Now, where do you suppose we put this green one, huh?"
It was the following morning, and, as the word had begun to spread that Jerrica's death was no longer being treated as murder, the press hype in Los Angeles had begun to retreat to a dull buzz. After an early morning appearance on Dean Stacey's morning chat show, Jewel had retreated to the security of the Starlight Mansion to enjoy a rare quiet day before work began again on their newest single, and Topaz had decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with her ever more curious little girl. For once, she was alone, for Sadie was outside swimming, Nancy had gone over to Copper's an hour earlier, and Sylva had headed out to meet Logan for brunch at a local restaurant. Secretly Topaz was glad of the solitude.
"After all, I don't get half enough time to myself with you." She mused, glancing at her companion. "And it's nice sometimes to just be Mom and Baby. Though I wonder if Cynthia will come up from the basement today. If I were her, I'd probably stay off the holograms a while and get to grips with what's going on. She seemed very shaken still last night. No sense in moving too far too fast."
"Green." Hollie took the next shape, staring at it thoughtfully, then putting it to her lips to chew on it. Topaz rolled her eyes.
"No, it's not edible, silly Hollie." She chided gently. "It goes in the box. Can you find the right hole?"
"Topaz? Your mother is on the telephone for you."
As if she had known she was on the singer's mind, Cynthia pushed open the door of the sitting room, casting Topaz a slight smile. "Didn't you say they were talking about her going back to Missisauga soon? Perhaps she has the final details."
"Oh, maybe she does." Topaz frowned. "Thanks, Cyn. Oh, could you keep an eye to Hollie for me for a few minutes while I speak to her? Sadie's out by the pool, but I know she'll drip all over the carpet if I yell for her..."
She paused, eying her companion doubtfully.
"If you're up to it, that is."
"I always have time for Baby Jewel." Cynthia assured her, though her violet eyes were sad. "Go speak to your mother. Hollie and I will be fine."
"Well, okay." Topaz dimpled. "Thanks, Cyn. Hol, I'll be right back - Grandma's on the phone but Cynthia's come to play with you!"
"Cynta!" Hollie reached out a chubby pink fist for her playmate. "Cynta, play!"
"All right, Hollie. We'll play." Cynthia agreed, sitting down beside the toddler. "What's this, huh? Sorting shapes?"
"Green." Hollie thrust her prize at her companion.
"Yes, it is green." Cynthia agreed. "Do you know where it goes?"
Hollie was silent for a moment, chewing on her fingers as she considered the problem. Then a wide grin spread across her face and she lifted the shape, tossing it across the room.
"Green!" She exclaimed.
Cynthia sighed.
"No, I can be absolutely sure that that is not where it is supposed to go." She said with a shake of her head, reaching across to scoop it back up. "Here you go. Shall we try again?"
Hollie giggled, grasping the toy, and then sending it back across the room, watching with delight as it bounced off the edge of the sofa and into the leaves of a nearby potplant. She clapped her hands together.
Cynthia pursed her lips, getting to her feet and retrieving the shape.
"Normally it's so cute when you do this." She said quietly. "But it's not so cute today. Hollie, I don't quite know on what levels you yet comprehend, but if you can understand me at all, please. Don't try my patience. I am not so very well yet, and I cannot deal with this today."
Hollie stared up at her companion with big eyes. She did not understand Cynthia's words, but something in the girl's tone told her that something was not right, and she frowned, biting on the edge of her thumb. As Cynthia held out the shape to her, she paused, then took it carefully in her hand, turning it over. She tapped it once cautiously on the edge of the shape sorter, then, finding it made a funny noise, she repeated the action.
"Shall we try and get it in the hole?" Cynthia asked softly. "You see, Hollie, each hole is different...and each shape is different. Can you see where that one fits? Is it perhaps this one?"
Hollie ran her finger over the hole Cynthia indicated, then she frowned again.
"Green." She murmured, glancing down at the toy once more. She shook her head, then, lifting her arm, she sent the shape flying once more across the room. This time it collided with a picture on the mantle, sending it flying into the vase next to it and both frame and vase crashed to the floor, sending pieces of shattered glass and ceramic everywhere, and liberally soaking the carpet in the process.
Something inside Cynthia snapped.
"Now look what you've done, you silly child!" She exclaimed, scooping the baby up and placing her unceremoniously into her playpen. "You see what happens when you're silly? Now you've made a mess and who's going to have to clean it up? Me!"
Hollie's lip trembled at the unfamiliar harsh tone, and tears welled in her aqua green eyes.
"Oh, it's all very well to cry over it now it's done!" Cynthia put her hands on her hips. "But I told you to stop throwing it!"
"Cyn, what's going on in here?"
Sadie's voice made the hologram start, and she swung around, meeting her friend's quizzical gaze. At the sight of the mess on the floor, Sadie's hand flew to her mouth.
"What in hell happened?"
"Hollie threw one of her shapes at it." Cynthia said darkly. "And the picture knocked over the vase. I was about to clean it up."
She gestured to the crying baby. "I put her in there so she can cause no more trouble while I do so. I told her not to throw it."
"I think she's sorry she did." Sadie said gently, lifting the baby carefully from the pen. Hollie was well into her tears by now, and as Sadie cuddled her, she sent Cynthia a reproachful look. "It's okay, Hol. We know you didn't mean it. Cyn just put you in there so you didn't get glass on your fingers, that's all. Yes, I know. You don't like your pen and I'm getting you all wet, but you have to know not to throw shapes around the room. Things can get broken and you can get hurt."
"Leave her alone." Cynthia was impatient. "She gets much too spoiled as it is. If she didn't, she would listen when she was told not to do something. Let her cry. Maybe she'll remember next time."
"Cynthia?" Sadie's eyes almost popped out of her head. "Do you really mean that? Do you think Topaz would want us to leave her to cry, whatever she'd done?"
"I put her in the pen to teach her a lesson. Are you going to teach her it's all right to throw missiles around the room?" Cynthia demanded. "What if she broke a window next time? Or hurt someone?"
She frowned. "Though perhaps I should expect no better from you, with the background you came from. You had no mother figure to guard you, so perhaps you can be forgiven."
Sadie stared at her friend, speechless for a moment. Then, very carefully, she put Hollie down on the playmat. She grabbed Cynthia by the wrists, shaking her hard.
"That's to slip your disks back into place." She said softly, her blue eyes full of anger. "If I didn't know that at the moment you're upset and things are bad for you, I'd do worse, I swear I would. How dare you pass judgement on the kind of childhood I had, and how dare you speak about Topaz's daughter as if you had any right to judge what was and was not bad for her to learn? Sure, it was dumb for her to throw the thing, but dammit, Cyn, she's not even two years old! She doesn't know any better and you're not going to teach her what's right by yelling at her and dumping her in her pen to cry! And maybe I didn't have a picture perfect childhood, and maybe I made some stupid mistakes in my life, but I know the difference between teaching and bullying a baby! Did you forget I damn well lived with Alyssa when Megan was born? I do have some experience in these matters - which, I'd like to remind you, you don't!"
"Perhaps I have more experience than you imagine. I was guardian to the Holograms, if you had not forgotten!"
"And none of them were in nappies when you were!"
"Woah, girls, time out here!"
Topaz's exclamation from the doorway brought both girls to their senses, and Sadie bit her lip, looking sheepish as she relinquished her grip on Cynthia's arms.
"Why are you screaming at each other, and more to the point, why is my vase on the floor and my daughter in floods of tears?" Deftly the Canadian took Hollie up into her arms, cuddling her tightly. "I leave the room for ten minutes and all hell lets loose! What's going on?"
"Hollie threw her shape and broke the vase and the picture glass." Cynthia murmured.
"Cynthia thought that she'd be better in her pen screaming, as a lesson." Sadie added slowly. "And that she was spoiled and I had no idea on how a small child should or should not be treated because of the kind of background I have."
"Cyn?" Topaz turned to the hologram. For a moment, Cynthia was silent, no expression in her violet eyes. Then she made a strange noise, and the hologram disappeared, letting the watch clatter to the floor. Sadie bent to pick it up.
"What a way to avoid an explanation." She said dryly. Topaz shook her head.
"No, Sadie. I don't know what she did or didn't say, but she's under a lot of stress at the moment. We have to make allowances. I know she didn't mean to upset Hollie, but she's probably frazzled and she didn't know what she was saying - to either of you." She said quietly. "I have to see to my little girl before she cries herself into a fit, but maybe you should head downstairs and make amends with her, huh? I'll clear up the mess."
Sadie sighed.
"Okay. I guess you're right. I was just so angry when she said what she did I didn't really think." She admitted. "Is Hollie all right?"
"Yes. Just upset." Topaz nodded.
"Cynta." Hollie spoke up at that moment. "Where Cynta?"
"Cynthia's not feeling well, Hol. She didn't mean to make you cry." Topaz turned her attention to the baby, and Sadie slipped out of the room, grabbing her robe from the cupboard as she did so and slipping her flipflops onto her feet before making the descent into the cold, dark basement. As she pushed open the door, she realised that Hollie was not the only one who was crying. The entire room was cloaked in a dim reddish haze, and in the centre, Sadie could make out Synergy's holographic form, hunched into a ball against the mainframe.
"Cyn?" She murmured. "Can I come down?"
"After how I behaved up there, I am amazed that you even want to." Synergy raised her head, and at the sight of her friend's tragic expression, the last of Sadie's indignation flew away. She sighed.
"Oh, Synnie, I'm sorry too. You're unhappy and you didn't mean it. I shouldn't have yelled at you."
"And I had no right to yell at Hollie." Synergy berated herself. "What have I become, Sadie? Aja reversed my shutdown, but at what cost?"
"You're still our Synnie, in there." Sadie said comfortingly, stepping into the reddish glow and making her way over to where her friend was huddled. "Will you listen to me for a minute?"
"Of course."
"I do know what you're going through." Sadie settled herself against the mainframe. "When my mother died, I lost all sense of, well, anything for a while. I acted out. I yelled and screamed at those closest to me and I took it out on them, as if by doing so I could bring her back. There's nothing more final than knowing they're never going to walk through the door again. Not ever. Nothing hurts more than that."
A stifled sob came from Synergy's direction, and Sadie faltered, but steeled herself to go on.
"I know Aja's words were a cliche, but it is true. Time does make it better." She continued. "Never the can't ever be that. But you do become used to the loss. I know you feel you have a lot of things you never said to Jerrica. A lot of things you never settled between you. But in time that won't matter so very much. I promise you. You'll be able to rationalise it, and put it into perspective. You'll realise that you had a parting of the ways, but she did love you, and you her."
"Did she love me? Can you love a machine?" Synergy spoke quietly. "I certainly did not realise I could love her. Not like this. I have always chosen not to indulge in the emotions that humans feel strongest. Love. Hate. Grief. Despair. Guilt. I have done my best to avoid them, or to process them on my own levels. But it appears I have failed. Father pre-empted me. He made me to love Jerrica. And so there is nothing to protect me from this."
"I know. And it's the hardest thing you'll ever have to face in some ways." Sadie told her softly. "But you're not alone. You do know that, right? And I know I yelled at you up there, but I'm not mad at you. Nor is Topaz. We know you have a lot to settle right now."
"I am sorry for what I said."
"Then it's forgotten."
"Do you know what makes me the most angry of all?" Synergy sighed. "That so much became clear too late to properly deal with it. much have I stuck up for Rio, telling her that he always loved her, regardless of which girl she was! And yet that was a lie. My information was faulty, and I cannot but think I made her life unhappy because of it. That my reasons for hating her are based entirely in my own failure to uphold what my Father implanted into me, all those years ago. That hurts, Sadie. To know that he intended me to be a mother to them - and that I failed."
"If you were hardlight right now I'd hug you." Sadie said gently. "But since you're not, consider it done. And you didn't fail her, Syn. People make their own choices. Alyssa didn't fail me, you know, when I went off with Neal and got into drugs. You can't control how others behave. You didn't know Rio was having an affair. Nobody did till recently. You can't blame yourself."
"But I do."
"Well, stop it." Sadie reproached her. "And stop crying and come upstairs, huh? You have to make amends with a little girl."
"Maybe it is not wise for me to go back up there." Synergy looked apprehensive. "Never have I spoken to her like that before."
"Well, before I came down she was asking where you were." Sadie said. "So I think she's forgiven you. Will you come? If just to reassure her that you love her and were just spouting off?"
Synergy sighed, then, slowly, the red haze disappeared and her features morphed back into those of Cynthia. Sadie held out the watch, and gingerly the hologram took it, sliding it back onto her wrist.
"I will come." She said softly. "But then...I think I will go out. Not to take the air, as such, but to get some headspace. Some time to think. It is a great disadvantage being down here...that I cannot uproot myself as easily as you can when I need space. But I can at least take Cynthia out and try and forget what happened today."
"Then do that." Sadie grasped her gently by the hand. "I'm heading out with Alex later myself, anyhow. I know what you mean about grabbing space...he's been tied up at the office so much recently, and the Jerrica thing has intensified everything."
"I appreciate him keeping my secret. You will tell him so, won't you?" Cynthia asked. "Aaron said he was here when I was...indisposed."
"I will." Sadie promised. Involuntarily she shivered. "Now come on. You've a little friend to talk to, and I need to go dry off! It's damn cold down here in just a wet bathing costume and robe!"

Chapter One: A Troubled Conscience
Chapter Two: Resurrection
Chapter Three: Under Pressure
Chapter Four: A Confrontation
Chapter Five: A Nighttime Chat
Chapter Six: Smokescreen
Chapter Seven: Under Siege
Chapter Eight: Back To Work
Chapter Nine: Daisy Again
Chapter Ten: Vandal
Chapter Eleven: A Devil Returns

The copyright for the original Jem characters featured in this and other stories by me belongs entirely to Hasbro and their interpretations to Christy Marx and the other writers of the Sunbow Jem series. Their future selves are based on concepts that are entirely my own and are not to be repeated elsewhere without due permission.
All other characters, including their likenesses, are copyrighted to myself as webmistress of Jewel's World from 2001 to the present day and are not to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
The Teenangel Outsiders, Jesta, Flame, Ryan Montgomery and the future interpretations of Aja, Danse and certain of the other original characters are all or in part the concept of Gemma Dawn whose teenangel outsider fiction world is twinned with Jewel's World. You can visit her site at!
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.