"You know, it's meant a whole lot tonight to just be able
to slip out and have a night on the town with you without a camera being
shoved in my face."
Sadie stretched out lazily on the couch in Alex's front room, casting
him a smile. "Don't you think so? I'm glad you managed to settle the whole
Jerrica Pacheco thing so neatly. People are losing interest in the case now
they know it wasn't murder and that the pathologists are happy with an accidental
death ruling...and things can start to quieten down."
"Yeah, that would be nice." Alex turned away from the window, drawing
the curtains and coming to sit down beside her, slipping an arm around her
shoulders. "Unfortunately, nothing is ever as simple as it first seems, Sadie.
You know that as well as I do, if not better." Gently he kissed her. "And
I'm glad to see you tonight too, but for another reason other than just
your company and some quiet time. I wanted to...well...I suppose pass on
"A warning?" Sadie stared up at him. "What kind of a warning?"
Alex bit his lip.
"Ray." He said finally. "God, Sadie, you have no idea what kind of a
can of worms all of this has begun for me and my department! I thought
that, with settling Jerrica's death, we'd have heard the last of it, but
I'm not sure we have. He seems to have latched onto the fact that Synergy
is in Jerrica's will and despite me telling him how old the will is...he's
convinced it's both active in Los Angeles and a danger to the general public."
"Oh." Sadie fell silent for a moment, then, "And here I was thinking
you just wanted to spend an evening out with your girlfriend."
She sighed. "I might have known there'd be more to it than that."
"Hey, give me a break here, Sadie!" Alex protested. "You have no idea
what I'm laying on the line to keep your little secret a secret, you know.
Ray isn't your average Joe - he's a detective and a very skilled one. I've
been doing my best to get him to drop this, but all it's done is make him
suspicious of my motives, and I don't find it easy to lie to someone who
I've worked so well with for so long. It'd be like you lying to Jewel...could
you do it and feel good about yourself?"
"No." Sadie admitted. "I did do it, you know, for a long time...till
the whole story of my past spilled out in the English press. And I wasn't
proud of it. But this is different. Alex, this is Cynthia's safety at stake...not
just some issue with damaged pride and a bad reputation. I thought you
"I do know that, and for now I think I've thrown him off my scent." Alex
nodded his head. "But I'm telling you this, Sadie. I wish I had never been
entrusted with this secret. I mean it. Nothing has ever come between me
and my duty before. I don't like how it feels. Like my badge is a lie and
I'm no longer doing my job."
Sadie kissed him gently on the cheek.
"I'm sorry. I'm not being very understanding." She said contritely. "I
had realised you were under pressure, but I suppose I dismissed it in light
of everything else."
She paused, pursing her lips.
"But Cynthia would not have told you her secret if she wasn't sure you
could keep it." She added. "And you will...won't you?"
"I will." Alex agreed with a sigh. "Because I'm a man of my word, Sadie,
and because Cynthia's doing so saved Copper's life last winter. I have
no doubts about that. It's just difficult...how to make Ray understand
that pursuing this is not the right thing to do, when I'm not even sure
whether it's the right thing to do not to pursue it."
"You're starting to sound garbled." Sadie chided softly. "Listen. If
Ray is off your scent, then keep him off it. Don't you have a thousand
other cases to deal with at the moment?"
"Yes, we do, but Synergy's is still out on his desk." Alex spread his
hands. "He's read and re-read the memorial statements a thousand times. Sent
officers to retrieve video evidence and other stuff from storage. Had old
samples re-checked for DNA or any other kind of evidence. Honestly, I don't
know enough about computer systems to know how that was pulled off, but the
way he's going at it, he's more than likely to find out. And he's convinced
that one of the Holograms has access to Synergy. I think he thinks they were
behind the Memorial, actually."
He paused, then, "Do they know about her?"
"Who? Aja, Shana, Kimber and Raya?"
"Yes." Alex hesitated, then, "No. Don't tell me. I know too much as it
is, and I don't need to know more."
"Then I won't tell you." Sadie agreed. "Besides, that'd lead him to a
dead end. The Holograms don't have Synergy any more. We do."
"I'm guessing from your use of the present tense tonight that Cynthia
is back up and running, then?"
"Yes, Alex, she is."
"And how is she?"
"Sombre, subdued. Grave." Sadie sighed. "Older than I've seen her in
some ways. She's not really herself, to be quite honest. Misfits Music
have given her compassionate leave in the circumstances - they believe
she's Jerrica's biological sister and Cynthia felt things that way - and
I think she needs it. Wires and bolts she may be, but this has knocked
her for six. I guess a hard drive isn't built to cope with emotions this
strong. Not even one like Synergy."
"Perhaps not." Alex mused. Then he frowned. "Wait, backtrack. Did you
say Misfits Music has her on record as being Jerrica's sister?"
"I doubt they keep a record on it, but that's the general belief, yes."
Sadie looked confused. "Why? It seemed a convenient backstory. Cynthia calls
Emmet her father and she was created the year Emmet died. Noone's ever questioned
Alex muttered a curse.
"Then when Ray finds his dead end at the Holograms, he'll turn to any
other living kin Jerrica had." He muttered. "The husband, probably, and Cynthia."
"Cynthia is not up to being interrogated on anything." Sadie looked troubled.
"If it was a normal situation, I'd say she'd breeze through it without
a problem...but at the moment, she seems so fragile. She even shouted at
Hollie this morning, then spent the next two hours close to tears, taking
herself apart for how she behaved."
She spread her hands. "I think it made it worse that Hollie doesn't understand
why she's so upset, so wanted to come cuddle with her and tell her it would
be all better. We did think Hollie would help her, but so far it doesn't
seem to be that way."
"Hollie is an engrossing mite." Alex admitted. "But maybe what Cynthia
needs is time alone...away from what's normal. I remember when Randall
died that things were...surreal for quite a long time. Normal things seemed
the hardest things to do, and being around people I knew well was the worst.
Perhaps it's the same for her."
"Perhaps." Sadie acknowledged. "I have to admit Mum's death had a similar
effect on me. I yelled and screamed at everyone and anyone most of the
time. Taking it out on them."
"Cynthia is more human than I would have believed possible, isn't she?"
"Yes." Sadie nodded. "Aaron thinks maybe it's a bad thing, that we've
let her adopt so many human traits since he rebuilt her. He doesn't like
to see her suffering in this way, and nor do we...but I don't think it's
his fault. Aja...er...someone said that it was probably programmed into her
to love Jerrica this way, back when she was built. Since her shutdown has
been prevented, she just has to, well, deal with the impulses that made
her want to shut down. It's harsh, but there's no other way for her to do
it. We can't overwrite her program. Not even Aaron has ever succeeded in
altering her programs. Anything not damaged when Jerrica abandoned her has
been modified and developed by Synergy herself over time. She's the only
one who really understands how she works. There's not much we can do but
be there for her if she needs us to be."
"If this conversation carries on, I'm gonna learn things I don't want
to know, aren't I." Alex put his hands up. "The less I know when around Ray,
the better...so let's leave it there. But if he wants to speak to Cynthia..."
"Or you could speak to her." Sadie shrugged. "I think she'd be happier
speaking to you, anyhow, in her current state of mind."
"That's an idea. It might get me back in his good books, too." Alex looked
rueful. "We've had our disagreements, Ray and me, over the years. But there's
never been a case he's held out information on before because he's annoyed
"You're like a couple of high school girls." Sadie teased. "But okay.
Then do that."
She moved closer to him on the sofa, resting her head on his chest. "You
know, these days, we only ever seem to talk about intrigue. Did you notice
"Yeah, it had occured to me." Alex said sheepishly. "Romance hasn't been
high on my agenda this week, I admit it. I'm sorry for that, Sadie. I know
"Well, I just don't like seeing you upset, that's all."
"I guess I'm not. Just frustrated."
"That, then." Sadie pursed her lips, then, "Alex, do you ever regret
getting involved with me?"
"What on earth brought that on?" Alex was startled. "Sadie, I love you!"
"Yes, I know you do." Sadie looked pensive. "And I love you too, like
crazy. But I know Ray hates me, and now it's because you're involved with
me that Cyn felt she could trust you...and that you're all wrapped up in
this mess now. Don't you ever wish you'd never dropped by Starlight Mansion
that day to find out why I hadn't come in for questioning?"
"Firstly, Ray has nothing to do with who I date. Whether he likes it
or not, he puts up with it." Alex shook his head. "And Cynthia came to me
to help Copper. You weren't involved in her decision to do so, so don't
feel guilty that she did."
He smiled. "And just so you know...I'm not protecting Cynthia for your
sake, either. I'm doing it for hers, so you've nothing to feel guilty about.
If I thought she was dangerous, I'd have filed the report by now. But as
I told Ray, you can't go hunting something or something down on suspicion
that it might be used in a crime. And there's no evidence Synergy has ever
been used to that end. So as far as I'm concerned it's out of our jurisdiction.
He's accepted that point of view, though he doesn't agree with it. But
that's it. And how I feel about it. If Cynthia ever overstepped the mark
and I felt she was a risk, I'd shop her. That's the bare, honest truth."
"Then I guess she isn't coming between you and your badge after all."
"Would you have me do it any differently?"
"No. I suppose not." Sadie shook her head. "It's academic anyhow. Cynthia's
not one to go out and blow a fuse for no reason."
* * *
* * * *
The office was dark, and Rio stood at the window, gazing sightlessly
out at the busy city below. It would never be her office again, he mused
absently to himself. She'd never close herself away here again to escape
the tension at home, and it was largely his fault.
"I should never have damn well married you." He muttered. "Not with
Vivien...not with you being so confused and me...but everyone expected
it. Even you and I. We weren't what either of us hoped we'd be for each
other. We just made a mess...and now you're not here any more."
The dim light over the desk flickered out, and for a moment he closed
his eyes to the darkness, remembering a happier time.
"This is all wrong." he acknowledged at length. "And now what am
I to do about Viv? The world knows...and God knows what kind of backlash
she and the boy will have over this. I should've done right by them years
"You should have done right by a lot of people years ago."
Startled by the sound of the voice, Rio turned, seeing a figure
shadowed in the doorway. He frowned.
"Who's there?" He asked. "It's dark in here...I can't see you."
"Better?" Suddenly light flared across the room. "Now can you see
me, Rio? Meet my eye and tell me honestly that you always did right by
"Your sister?" Rio gathered his wits, staring at the stranger without
comprehension. "Who are you, anyway?"
"I told you." His companion stepped into the studio, closing the
door firmly behind her. "Jerrica's sister. My name is Cynthia. Cynthia
"Cynthia..." Rio frowned. "You work for Phyllis and Misfit Music,
don't you? What kind of game is this? Jerrica had one sister...that's
Kimber, and she isn't speaking to me. What game is this? Is this to do
with the ownership of this place?"
"Ownership." Cynthia snorted. "Your wife is dead, yet that is all
you can think of to say? Disappointing, Rio. Very, very disappointing."
She crossed the studio, meeting Rio's gaze squarely with hard violet
eyes. "If you search your memory, you'll know exactly who I am. But just
for your benefit, I'll give you a little clue. And you'll know that I'm
not good to mess with if I'm angry...which right at the moment, I am. Very
Her eyes pixellised into light and before him the young woman changed
into a lavender-skinned apparition, bathed in a soft pink glow as she
reached out a hand to grab him by the arm.
"Do you remember me now?" She demanded in low tones. "Am I familiar
"Synergy!" He exclaimed. "But...you can touch
"Well observed. Your eyesight doesn't fail you as badly as your sense
"I have developed in the years since you last saw me." Synergy said
silkily. Then her eyes narrowed to slits of light. "I have improved. The
same cannot be said for you."
I thought you were destroyed!"
"What? No." Synergy shook her head. "Just because Jerrica shut me
away and abandoned me...just because they didn't find me after the Memorial...it
doesn't mean I ceased to be. Or to care, Rio."
"I thought you hated Jerrica!"
"Oh, I did." Sadness filled Synergy's expression, and her eyes glowed
a dull red. Her grip on Rio's arm loosened, and he took a step away from
her. "I was so angry, Rio, and I forgot so very easily who I was and
why I came to be. Her father...my father...created me to care for Kimber
and Jerrica. To protect them and help them in their lives to come, not
just when the band was together. But things have never been so clear to
me as they are now. I failed. And you...what you've done is unforgiveable.
No wonder Kimber will not speak to you."
"I should never have married her." Rio repeated softly. "Never.
I loved her, but I wasn't all hers. Not after I found out about Jem and
Jerrica. She had so many issues - dealing with her personalities became
a full time job. Even when Jem was gone. She shut that side of her away...and
I loved that side of her as much as I loved the girl she had always been.
It was all part of her, but she was so afraid of losing her grip again.
She controlled everything."
"And this is your justification?" Synergy demanded. "Me, I admitted
my failure. I will never forgive myself for it, but I know what I did
wrong. I forgot what Emmet taught me, and because of that my sister is
dead. And you make excuses, to try and justify why, at the end of the
day, it's your fault she's gone!"
"I wasn't driving the car, Synergy!" Rio flared up at this. "I wasn't
even there! It was an accident, that's all. Dammit, an accident! Ask
the Feds if you don't believe me. Nobody killed her. It was an accident,
that's all! A goddamn accident
"Really?" Synergy's voice became ice cold, and despite himself,
Rio shivered at it's tone. "So you tell me that Jerrica's life was not
shattered before her eyes, when she saw you and...that harlot
and knew what had happened all these years? No! Jerrica found out about you
and Vivien, and it upset her enough to distract her on the road.You and
I both know it."
"So what if she did?" Rio demanded, a faint note of petulance in his
tone. "I don't pretend to have been even half a man about this. But it would
never have happened if Jerrica hadn't split herself down the middle and
become two people herself. If she hadn't felt she had to lock herself in
a box just to keep her sanity in check!"
"Do you think you were a helpful, supportive husband, then?" Synergy's
eyes flashed with holographic fire. "Incredible! That you should speak these
words right in front of me and yet I still find it hard to believe the
nerve of what I am hearing!"
"And what about you? If you hadn't messed her around with Jem and
Jerrica, she would never have had to deal with multiple personalities
anyway." Rio put his hands on his hips aggressively. "There would never
have been a breakdown. She would never have had to choose. That was you,
Synergy. Your stupid, crack-brained holograms and your inflated opinion
of what a computer system knows about human life and human nature. You
turned Jerrica into what she became."
"Oh, did I?" Synergy exclaimed. "At least I was there to counsel Jerrica
when she needed my advice! Where were you? Kissing up to Jem and confusing
her all the more about who she should really be!"
"And if we come to that, if your stupid, meddling creator hadn't
wished you on the world, there would never have been any Jem!" Rio's eyes
narrowed angrily. "She and I, we had no problems before you and your illusions
came on the scene!"
"How dare you!" Pixels of purple light shot out across the room
as Synergy let her anger rip. "How dare you speak of my father this way!"
"Computers don't have fathers!" Rio spat out scathingly. "Computers
have inventors and all you are is a jumped up box of wires and bolts. Jerrica
knew it and so do I. That is all you'll ever be, no matter how much you've
'improved'. You'll never understand what real life is like and the problems
Jerrica and I had...so don't try and pretend you do. Emmet should never have
wasted his talents on you. He could have put it all to much better use."
Synergy's eyes narrowed to slits.
"I've such a mind to throw you out of the window." She said thickly,
grabbing him tightly around the collar, and pushing him towards the big
glass window. "Out there, in the cold, where you belong. I've never before
felt such a drive to put an end to someone. I never knew I could feel so
much anger and so much hate towards one person. I thought I hated Jerrica,
but now I know I was just angry at her. But you...you killed her. You know
it, I know it. Whatever the court finds...you killed my sister
"You're deranged!" Rio struggled against her grip but it was too
no avail. "No wonder Jerrica shut you away! She said you were erratic -
the memorial confirmed that. You should've been destroyed! Your circuits
are warped...your programming..."
"I have no programming." Synergy hissed, pushing Rio up against
the glass and fumbling with the catch. "And I have no human protocols.
I was neglected long enough for the core of my program to be corrupted
and no longer accessible to me. I follow my own rules, not human ones."
"What do you want from me? Synergy, can't we even talk
this?" Rio felt the window begin to give way under the pressure. "Like
reasonable people? Rationally? Hasn't enough blood already been shed?"
"You said that I cannot possibly understand how a human thinks - what
makes you think you can reason with me?" Synergy snapped back. "What have
you to offer me that I might be persuaded your life is worth preserving?
I look at you and I see a murderer. I want justice."
"The FBI would find you out!" Now terrified, as he realised the full
peril of his situation, Rio's heart began to race. "They'd put you in a
"No, they wouldn't." Synergy shook her head. "They have failed to find
me more than once, and there isn't a prison in existance that can hold
Synergy. Many wish you had died instead of Jerrica. I could make that happen.
Noone would miss you. And I have no prints to leave, no trace DNA. They'd
think you jumped..."
She paused, offering him a sorrowful look. "Poor, troubled Rio, wracked
with guilt over his adulterous relationship and his wife's untimely accident.
Noone would be surprised...and Jerrica would be avenged."
A fresh voice came from the doorway, startling the hologram enough
for her to relinquish her grip on her shaken companion and he scrambled
away from her grasp. "Hell, girl, what are you doing? I didn't know anyone
was up here...and Mr Pacheco...what's going on here?"
just tried to kill me!" Rio edged as far from
the window as he could, pointing at the still-fuming Synergy. "She's deranged
and someone should take an axe to her motherboard as soon as possible.
She's out of control!"
"Synergy?" Rose eyed the hologram in concern. "Synergy, are you
Synergy stared at her friend for a moment. Then the glow faded,
and she sank down onto an empty bench, burying her head in her hands.
Slowly her features morphed back into those of Cynthia, and Rose soon
realised that she was crying.
Hesitantly she slipped down beside her friend.
"What's up?" She whispered.
Cynthia shook her head, raising her gaze to Rio's.
"I was wrong. My anger is directed at myself, and I have no right
to hurt you." She said quietly, holographic tears shimmering down her
cheeks. "Grief is a new emotion for me. I do not like to know how I have
failed in the one job my father ever gave me. I am sorry, Rio. Your guilt
is your own to deal with. Not mine."
"Mr Pacheco understands. It's a difficult time for all of us." Rose
said reassuringly, meeting Rio's gaze with a meaningful one of her own.
"Oh, to hell with the both of you." Rio kicked bad-temperedly at
an abandoned waste bin. "Too much craziness is going on at the moment.
Death threats from a deranged mainframe seems the least of them."
"Well, we're going to leave you now." Rose stood, pulling Cynthia
to her feet. "I'm sure you know that it wouldn't do anyone any good to
mention that she was here. Not with things as they are...right?"
A sad smile touched Rio's lips.
"My late wife impressed on me a long time ago how important it was
to keep Synergy a secret." He said simply. "If it's the last thing I can
do for her, I won't betray her computer...so long as that computer doesn't
make a habit of creeping up on me in dark corners with the intention of
putting an end to me."
"I would not have done it." Cynthia looked shamefaced. "My rage
got the better of me, that is all. And...and my own guilt. I may no longer
have my original programming, but I have lived enough with humans to know
that killing is wrong. Please...forgive me."
"There. That's settled." Rose dimpled. "Come on, Cyn. Let's get
some air and leave Mr Pacheco to himself."
Cynthia allowed herself to be led from the office and down the stairs
in silence. Rose cast her a sidelong glance.
"I didn't know holograms could cry." she said at length. "I didn't
realise it was in your programming to do that."
"It is not." Cynthia murmured. "I feel it. It is not about wires
and bolts and electricity, Rose. I surpassed those limitations a long
"I guess I hadn't realised quite how much." Rose pursed her lips.
"I don't honestly know what I feel about her dying...but I guess I didn't
realise how you might feel about it."
"Well, whatever it is I am feeling, I need to learn how to control
it more successfully." Cynthia shrugged. "And I thought I had already reached
my limit in unacceptable behaviour with my cross words to Hollie this morning.
Really, I have no idea what I might do next."
She offered a slight smile.
"Thank you for intervening when you did. I was very angry...I
do not know what my temper might have made me do."
"In there you said..." Rose looked startled. Cynthia glanced at
"I was not in control." She admitted. "I am very grateful to you
speaking when you did. It jerked me back to where I was. All I could see
was anger and hate...but it isn't his fault any more than it is my fault,
or Jerrica's own fault. It is easy to blame another...this is a human
failing I thought I was above, but evidently I am not. I am usually so
rational, but then, I did not realise how much I still loved her."
"Of course you did." Rose grinned. "Hey, my mother does things which
make me mad sometimes, but she's still my Mom. She wasn't always there
for me, but I forgive her because I love her. And well, Jerrica wasn't
always there for you...but you forgive her, because you love her too. Right?"
"I suppose that's true." Cynthia agreed. "And what Rio said...it
struck a chord. I suppose I did know, if I had bothered to look beyond
my anger, that Jerrica shut me away because she felt she had no choice.
She was such a mess over Jem and Jerrica...I counselled her to give up
one identity and be only the other. I told her to rid herself of me. I should
have accepted it better than maybe I did. Perhaps then the bond might
have been repaired earlier."
Pain touched her expression.
"More than anything I wish I had the chance to repair it now." She
added. "But I cannot."
"I'm beginning to realise how mixed up and sad she was." Rose responded,
pushing open the door of the music company and leading the way outside.
"I got the impression once that she was some monster, but..." She shook
her head. "I don't think that now. Not really."
"She took on more than she could manage, but that was how she always
was." Cynthia remembered. "Back in the eighties, she would often come
to me for advice or help when her obligations got over her head. She would
do so many shows as Jem, then run back to the office to finish paperwork
as Jerrica. Then there were the Starlight girls, too."
A frown touched her lips.
"You know, I believe she gave that over to Kimber because she could
not bear to have children around her." She added. "Things have begun
to make a kind of sense, Rose. I knew Jerrica treated Aja so very badly,
and could not understand why. Now I do. Rio was having an affair...and
she thought it was Aja that she had the affair with. She never had any
children of her own - perhaps she always knew Rio had...had Ryan."
A haunted look touched Rose's face.
"Ryan is not something I want to discuss right at the moment." She
said quietly. "If you don't mind."
"What brought you here today, anyway?" Cynthia asked. "I'm glad you
were here, but it seems a strange place to be."
"Oh." Rose reached into her bag, pulling out a worn book. "Mum asked
me to come. She wanted me to dig this out before the cops got hold of it.
Apparently it has information about you in here, so I agreed. She's swamped
"Emmet's diary?" Cynthia looked startled. "I didn't realise Jerrica
still had it."
"Well, now Mum will have it." Rose slipped it back into her bag. "And
the Benton secret will stay safe."
"I hope so." Cynthia grimaced. "So long as I do not behave in such
an unpleasant and reckless manner again. And to think I told the others
I intended to tread carefully."
you come here?"
"Truly, I don't know." Cynthia shrugged. "It is something of a haze
in my recollections. I felt drawn here...maybe it was a need to say a goodbye,
and when I saw Rio...something inside me gave way."
She shook her head as if trying to clear it.
"I think I will go home and rest my circuitry for a while. I think
I need it. Obviously I am not ready to deal with the things Jerrica's death
has thrown up yet. I need...a little more time."
"That sounds like a good idea." Rose hugged her. "Be safe, okay? And
She zipped her lips. "Noone will hear about this from me."