Chapter Six: Smokescreen
"Who was she, anyway? FBI agents probe late night investigation into Starlight
Music despite Pacheco death ruled as accident."
Sylva dropped the newspaper down on the coffee table, rolling her eyes expressively. "Just great. I thought that the FBI were happy enough with Jerrica's accident being just that...Sadie, you're sleeping with a fed. What goes through their minds when they put a case to bed? Don't they like accidental deaths?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. Alex told me the investigation into her cause of death was over." Sadie grimaced, pulling the paper towards her. "Let me see that. Agents Alex Bray and Ray Nicholson conducted a late night sweep of Starlight property despite claims from the bureau that all investigation into Jerrica Pacheco's untimely death had been ceased. A spokesperson for the FBI refused to comment on the agents' motivation for being there, but a source revealed today that officials had recently re-opened the investigation into Synergy, the machine which disrupted the Jem Memorial five years ago. Margot Locke, Jerrica's personal assistant refused to comment on the allegations that mental instability might have caused Mrs Pacheco to hide the machine from officials, provoking fears across the city of a nationwide breach of security. Rio Pacheco, the late husband of the former Jem and the Holograms singer claims no knowledge of any such machine, but reference to stage equipment in Mrs Pacheco's will suggests that such a contraption was no figment of her imagination. Pacheco's affair with video producer Vivien Montgomery is widely rumoured to be the reason behind Mrs Pacheco's car wreck."
She tossed it back down on the table in disgust. "Great. Just great."
"Well, if you don't know anything about it, how are we meant to? I thought he was on our side." Topaz sighed, rubbing her temples. "Has Cyn seen this?"
"Yes, Topaz. I have seen it." Cynthia entered the room at that moment, leaning up against the doorpost. "And I find it odd to say it, but I am indebted to Rio for his silence. In the circumstances it would have been very easy..." She frowned, shaking her head. "Perhaps he really did mean that it was the last thing he could do for his wife."
"When did you speak to Rio?"
"Last night." Cynthia's expression became clouded. "I went for a walk, and, er, ran into him."
"And you told him who you were?" Sylva demanded. "Cynthia, what about keeping a low profile?"
"I think he realised it fairly quickly." Cynthia pursed her lips. "He grew up with Jerrica, after all, and knew that she had only one sister. But it is immaterial. He has kept what he knows to himself and I am grateful."
"So what do we do about this? The FBI are involved, the press are involved...one or both of them could track you down at any moment." Topaz said slowly. "Sadie, maybe you could call Alex?"
"No, I don't think there's any need for that." Sadie ran her fingers through her hair. "Listen. Alex is a federal agent, and this is his job. I can't...we can't keep asking him to bend the rules for us. He's told me Ray is dead keen on being the one to trace Synergy and close the case. Ray isn't someone you reason with. Alex said he'd protect Cyn as much as he could, and I trust him. I think we all should. Cyn, he told me that so long as he didn't feel you were a threat to society, he'd keep your secret. So even if they were at Starlight Music looking for you last night, I'll bet Al only went because Ray insisted. If he was seriously after exposing you...he would have brought Ray here."
"You're probably right." Cynthia nodded.
"He also thinks Ray will interrogate you...being that you're a Benton."
"Yes, that eventuality had also occured to me." A strange smile touched Cynthia's lips. "I am already preparing my story for when it happens."
"I think Alex would like to pre-empt him, and take a statement from you himself." Sadie admitted. "But only if you feel up to speaking to him. I know it's probably the last thing you want to be doing right now."
"No...it is all right." Cynthia became pensive. "Last night, walking home, I did a lot of thinking. My life as it was before is well and truly over, now. I have to face that head on and accept it. After all, human beings do this every day. They deal with hardship and grief and they move on. Copper has done it. Sadie, so have you. If my program is so very close these days to how you process thought, I should be able to do the same thing. And I will. In the meantime..."
She pursed her lips.
"In the meantime, keeping my head down and behaving like I never heard of a holographic computer is my best plan of action." She said at length. "I will tell them that I was too young to know anything about Synergy, and you must back this up. I was born in nineteen eighty five. My father died the same year. I was a small child when the Holograms were recording. Certainly I knew nothing about Synergy...none of the Starlight Girls did. And by the time I was old enough to generate an interest in computers, Jerrica and the Holograms had disbanded and I never knew who Jem really was. Please, you must remember this. It is the story I will tell them, and the one you must corroborate if ever asked about me."
"Don't worry, Cyn. We can do that." Sylva assured her. She glanced around her. "Where's Nancy? Shouldn't she be in on this too?"
"Nancy's sleeping." Sadie looked rueful. "Which is what I should be doing. I think I had about two hours last night."
"Nancy doesn't usually sleep in."
"Oh, she isn't. She didn't get to bed till gone half five, because we were talking songs." Sadie shrugged.
"Well, I shall mention it to her when she wakes up." Cynthia settled herself comfortably on the edge of the sofa.
"You seem a little more yourself this morning, if I may say so." Topaz observed. Cynthia looked thoughtful.
"Yes. I believe that last night I located the loop of circuitry which was causing my extreme emotional reactions." She admitted. "Since I have no idea how to handle rogue emotions, I thought it better that I re-routed them entirely. They are still there, but I believe I have control of them now. It took most of the night, but I think it was a worthwhile endeavour."
"So long as I do not think of her, it does not hurt so much." Cynthia said sadly. "So I am resolved to think about it as little as possible, and focus on the matter at hand...my safety."
"Well, so long as you're okay." Sylva hugged her friend impulsively. "We've been worried about you."
"As have I." Cynthia agreed. "I have not been myself since Aja rebooted me...but hopefully I have resolved the problem."
She reached for the paper, skimming over the article.
"I wonder who the source was for this information. How did they know the FBI were out at night, or that the Synergy case file was reopened?"
"Press have snitches everywhere. Like cops do." Sadie pulled a graphic face. "Alex is forever complaining about the things that leak out of the department."
"Speaking of Alex..." Topaz glanced out of the window, a frown touching her lips. "Isn't that his car?"
"Alex? Here again? With the press suspicious already, that's gonna look real great!" Sylva exclaimed.
"Relax, Syl. He's my boyfriend. Every man and his dog knows that." Sadie got to her feet. "I'll go see what he wants. Though I've a strong feeling this isn't a pleasure visit."
She disappeared into the hall, and the remaining girls exchanged looks.
"So we let the press ride their wave and wait for it to die down?" Topaz asked at length. "I...oh, dammit, Hollie!"
As the baby monitor over the mantlepiece began to crackle into life. "I guess I'd better go get her up."
"Do. And Nancy, if you're up there." Cynthia nodded. "I should speak with her too, especially if Alex is here."
"Will do." Topaz agreed.
"Good morning, all."
At that moment Sadie re-entered the living room, her boyfriend in tow.
"Alex, we're really starting to get sick of seeing you round here." Sylva protested. "What is it now? Life was much simpler when you just dropped by to pick Sadie up!"
"Well, life was much simpler for me, too, before I had to keep the biggest secret Los Angeles has going at the moment." Alex retorted, his glance flickering to Cynthia. "Cynthia, I wish you'd never told me about Synergy. More than anything, I wish I did not know."
"Regrettably, it cannot be taken back." Cynthia said quietly. "Should I have fear in that decision?"
"No, because at the moment nothing's happened to make me think you're what Ray thinks you are." Alex sighed, dropping down onto the couch. "Is there any coffee going? I haven't been home yet, or slept...and I see you've seen the press. Good. That's why I'm here. The Tribune's article is a serious setback for us."
"Do you think we had anything to do with it?" Sadie looked startled.
"Oh, of course not." Alex shook his head. "I have a feeling that was Daisy Buchan...since I told her I was not a free agent, if you pardon the pun. She was working late last night when Ray had his harebrained idea to search Starlight Music for the computer. I have no doubt she sold the story to the papers."
"Daisy made a pass at you?" Outrage filled Sadie's expression. "Of all the nerve!"
"Well, no doubt she'll get over it. Daisy doesn't strike me as the kind of girl who dwells on a guy for long." Alex shrugged.
"Daisy." Nancy entered the room at that moment, hearing the tail-end of the conversation. "I might have known she was involved in something. Topaz says there's an article...what's going on?"
"Read this." Cynthia passed the paper over. "It seems that the hunt for Synergy is now in the public domain."
"And it gets worse." Alex rubbed his temples. "The Tribune is offering a reward...half a million bucks for anyone who can deliver information on this, I quote, 'devil machine'. They claim to be working with the police's best interests at heart, but the truth is they want a story. I've tangled with their chief reporter before. He's not one to sit down and take things lightly."
He paused, then, "He's the guy who rooted out the truth about the affair between Rio Pacheco and Vivien Montgomery. He had that information before we did...I still don't know how, but he did. I dunno. Perhaps he got to the son, paid him off...but we still haven't laid tabs on Ryan Montgomery."
"If I were Ryan I'd be keeping my head down." Sadie said grimly. "And I very much doubt he's the one who would have spilled."
"Sadie's right. He wouldn't hurt his own family like that." Sylva shook her head. "I know Ryan a little, through Zoe mostly. He might be a reporter with a reporter's nose but he has a lot of morals. He's dropped human interest stories before because printing them would destroy families. It might not make him hit the big bylines of the national press, but it makes him a decent human being. I think that's preferable."
"Well, anyhow, I'm worried about this McMillan guy." Alex admitted. "This is the second article he's had pre-empting the FBI, and we don't know who his sources are at the bureau. Not an agent, we don't think...but some reporters will go to any lengths to find things out. Either way, the stakes just got a lot higher. Now I'm not just keeping this secret from Ray and the bureau, I'm keeping it from the world's press too. And I don't like the potential outcome if I should slip up somewhere."
"Alex, you concern yourself too much over my safety." Cynthia said softly. "And if it will put your mind at rest, there is something I can do to help you."
"I thought you weren't in a fit state to do too much at the moment." Alex looked quizzical.
"I believe I am feeling a little better today. Certainly well enough to do something to safeguard myself." Cynthia spoke composedly. "I want you to go back to the office and say you had a tip that Synergy might be at the Starlight Mansion."
"Cyn, are you out of your mind?" Sylva stared. "They'll raid this place!"
"Exactly." Cynthia smiled.
"Wait, I think I'm with you." Sadie held up her hands. "It's like a double bluff. We call them here, and Cynthia disguises herself with her holograms, so they don't find anything. And then, if someone gets whiff of the idea she might be here in the future...well, that door's already been closed. Where better to hide than in plain view?"
"I don't know. We have sophisticated equipment..." Alex looked doubtful. "Plus, if I called in the tip, they'd be suspicious from the off. I'm dating you, Sadie. They wouldn't expect me to doublecross you."
"He has a point." Nancy pulled her dressing gown more tightly around her. "That would look odd."
"Then I shall call it in myself." Cynthia spread her hands. "I can scramble a phoneline, and I can certainly disguise my voice."
"And you really think this is a good idea?" Alex looked doubtful. "What if something goes wrong?"
"Alex, regard me." Cynthia said softly, slipping her watch off her wrist and setting it down on the table. Her form shimmered, then changed and, a little taken aback, Alex bent to pick up the duplicate copy of the newspaper that had just appeared in front of him. He ran his fingers over the cover, then, gingerly, set it down on the table.
"That is freaky." He said at length. "It feels like paper."
"Sensory perception is a big part of my illusion." The hologram shimmered again, and Cynthia reformed, crossing her legs on the table and casting him a smile. "I can engulf my mainframe in a hologram such as the one you just touched. If it looks like a pile of crates, and feels like a pile of crates...what will they assume it is?"
"A pile of crates." Sylva's eyes widened. "Oh, it's sure good to have you back on our wavelength, Cyn."
"Alex? Do I have your blessing to go ahead with this?" Cynthia cast the agent a quizzical look. Alex hesitated for a moment, then he nodded.
"Yes." He said finally. "Much as I hate deceiving my partner any further, I don't see what else is to be done. It takes a lot to fool Ray, but this just might. But are you sure you can keep it up through all our scrutiny?"
"I am more than capable of maintaining a hologram over a long period of time. Even if the power supply fails, I have ample battery backup." Cynthia said calmly. "And my focus at present is to preserve my safety...and that of my friends. Not to mention, to come to the assistance of an agent who has been put in a very difficult position by my activity."
"Well, I still think you're worth protecting." Alex spread his hands. "My connection to Sadie aside, a machine who can gamble it's entire existance to preserve the life of a human being is not something I consider a threat to society. Actually, the opposite. It's a shame more people can't know about you. I think they'd find something they could learn."
"I doubt that they would find anything in me that they would wish to retain." Cynthia dismissed this with a careless gesture. "But if you are happy, then I shall put my call through to your office forthwith."
She glanced at the surrounding Jewels. "You might want to get a hold of Topaz and Hollie and go out for the day. It could become manic here, after they take my information."
"I think it's a perfect opportunity to hit the studio and brush up our latest song." Nancy said thoughtfully. "We could call Copper, and what's less suspicious than a musical act in the studio, rehearsing? We are playing Connie's show soon, don't forget. In all the hype and chaos we still have a career to worry about and I'm sure she'd rather talk about a breathtaking performance than her cousin's scandal...so we better make it something special."
"Sounds like a plan to me." Sylva got to her feet. "Nance, you get dressed, and I'll grab Topaz, tell her what's going down. Sadie, you wanna give Copper a call? Nancy's right. It's totally unsuspicious if we happened to be at work when the feds raided our home."
"And I would prefer less of you here." Cynthia agreed. "The fewer people on the premises, the fewer people Ray has to be suspicious of."
"Woo, cloak and dagger intrigue." Sadie laughed. "Okay. But how will you be Cynthia and still protect yourself?"
"Until they come near to my mainframe, I will maintain only softlight." Cynthia responded. "When they are down there, I will shift my projection and switch Cynthia off. If they question my absence I will tell them I had a call of nature. I can be very persuasive."
"Will you be here, too?" Sylva asked Alex, who shrugged his shoulders.
"I'd rather not. Raiding my girlfriend's property is not high on my to do list." He said honestly. "And girls, anything you don't want the FBI to see, take it with you to the studio. Diaries, anything personal. This isn't going to be a light dusting for prints. FBI raids are intense...and thorough."
"Noted." Nancy nodded. "I'll take my manuscripts with me."
"I would. We try not to cause too much damage, but, well, sometimes things do happen."
"But if it gets Cyn off the hook, it's worth it." Sadie decided. "I know how raids work, but they're surviveable. It's an invasion of privacy, but Jewel have nothing to hide."
"That's a good attitude...and will probably net the Tribune's top reporter a hot headline in tomorrow's press." Alex said dryly.
"Well, why shouldn't it?" Sylva asked. "It will tell the world that Synergy and Jewel have absolutely no connection whatsoever, and that's what we want them to think!"
"Sure, but don't go overboard." Alex stood. "I better clear out of here. Ray doesn't know where I am this morning, but just in case he's sent someone tagging my car, I don't want to be considered in on any of this."
"Take care." Sadie kissed him on the cheek. "And we appreciate everything you're doing, Al."
"Well, let's just say it might come at a price, when I've a little free time to spend with you." Alex winked. "I'll catch you girls later. Cynthia, good luck. I hope it all goes to plan."
"So do I." Cynthia nodded. "Though with everything on the line, there is no margin for error. Either I successfully fool the FBI...or Synergy's secret is out for the world to see."
Chapter One: A Troubled
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
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE NOTE
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 www.teenangeloutsiders.com!
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.