Part Two: Heartstrong
Chapter Six: A Reluctant Witness

 "Are you quite sure about all of this?"
Aaron's brows creased in an uncharacteristic frown, meeting his friend's sombre gaze with one of his own. "Cynthia, I don't know what you spent the afternoon doing, but..."
"I spent the afternoon exploring Rebel Records for clues." Cynthia repeated calmly. "I had a visitor from someone who worked there, who thought that maybe Riot and Rapture had something to do with Copper's absence, and I was not disappointed. Rapture is involved right up to her neck, but I cannot prove it with anything other than my word."
"So what do you know? Who came here? What are we going to do?" Anxiety rose in Aaron's voice and he gripped the hologram tightly around the wrists. "Is there anything for us to go on?"
"Perhaps." Cynthia nodded. "I cannot tell you my source, Aaron, because I swore to keep their identity secret. This is their employer, after all, and I do not wish them to come to harm because they spoke to me. But both my informant and Sophie Devereux mentioned Las Vegas as a likely destination...and Rapture herself mentioned the name Jason. I believe that we need not look any further than Rapture for our mysterious old woman in the restaurant. Sophie let slip something about a disguise and trailing Copper. We need not pursue a woman any more. This Jason is the one who has Copper."
"Jason being her admirer?" Aaron groaned, running a hand through his dark hair. "Which means we're still looking for a needle in a haystack. None of us have met this guy, and if what you say is true about her car being found...what do we have to go on? Nothing more than a first name and there must be thousands upon millions of Jasons in America."
"Not so." Cynthia shook her head. "You forget that somewhere in Copper's bedroom is a photograph of this admirer. If I could find that picture, I could run a search through my databanks and see if I cannot locate an identity match."
"You know we're not allowed to touch anything in Copper's room." Aaron bit his lip. "The FBI seem to think that there's some kind of vital clue hidden among her belongings and that if we start going in there we'll be tampering with important evidence. It's no good if we leave our fingerprints all over theirs."
"What fingerprints would I leave, Aaron?" Cynthia asked gently. "I am a hologram. I have no fingerprints, and I am perfectly capable of being careful and discreet. My sensors are superior to your own in terms of scanning a location. I would not do any harm."
"Well, if you do go in there, I know nothing about it." Aaron said at length. "Between you and me, Cyn, I want to find this guy too, and if that means disobeying the FBI, so be it. But you're right. You're far better equipped to find that photograph than me or any of the girls."
He sighed, and Cynthia noted how tired her friend looked. She offered him a gentle smile.
"I am stubborn and persistant. If it is there, I will locate it." She promised. "And take heart, Aaron. We have discovered much today. We know now that the abductor is a man, that Phoebe Asche is involved and that his likely choice of destination is Las Vegas."
"Yes, but we also know that he's abandoned Copper's car somewhere across the state, and that the more time we give him, the more likely he'll get to Vegas and do whatever it is he plans to do to her before we even begin to track him down." Aaron responded grimly. "Forcing her to marry him would be bad enough, but if he's really obsessed with her, Cyn...I...I guess I'm scared of what else he might do to her. How else he might hurt her. I knew she meant the world to me, but I can't even put into words how frightened I am that she won't ever be coming back."
"Then do not think such things." Cynthia told him. "We must not give up."
She stood. "And now, I must go to Copper's room, and you must head into town to speak to Alex and his colleagues. Ask them about the car and why we were not told about it sooner...they must have known that it had been found, in order for it to have hit the news networks."
"Shall I tell them our suspicions about Phoebe Asche?" Aaron asked. Cynthia shook her head.
"There is no proof." She said simply. "Only the word of a spying hologram who gained her evidence via methods that cannot be revealed in a court of law. No, Aaron. Do not mention Rapture. Much as I hate to let her get away with it, finding Copper is more important."
"All right." Aaron nodded. He offered her a slight smile. "Thanks, Cyn. I know you went to great trouble today for Copper...I appreciate it."
"I am glad I discovered information that is of some use." Cynthia returned the smile. "And now, we have work to do. Who knows how much time we have?"
*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
"How much longer are we going to drive?"
Copper sent her companion an apprehensive look, glancing at the clock on the car's dashboard, and then down at the gun that sat nestled between his knees. "Jason, Las Vegas isn't supposed to be this far from Los Angeles. Are you sure that's where we're going?"
"We're taking the scenic route." Jason did not take his gaze off the traffic, but his tone was soft and gentle. "If we went straight there, they might track our journey and know what we were doing. I wanted to stop in Sacramento, so we did, but I had to find somewhere out of the way to leave your car. Now we're headed for the Nevada border. We'll cross it by the time it's dark - and by late tomorrow maybe we will be in Las Vegas. Won't that be exciting?"
"Well, at least it means we can stop travelling." Copper murmured. She raised a hand to her hair, tucking a loose curl behind her ear. "I need to wash and brush my hair - the dust coming up off the road is making it gritty and tangled. Plus I'm getting stiff from so much sitting. I'd be glad to stretch my legs."
"This isn't a good time to stop." Jason shook his head impatiently. "I heard on the radio that they found the car, so we have to be as far away from Sacramento as we can be by nightfall. Have patience, my darling. We'll get there soon enough."
A strange smile touched his lips.
"I know you're as eager as I am to be married, but another day won't hurt."
"Yes, I am eager to be married." Copper murmured, glancing back out at the passing landscape with a sigh. "But not to you."
"Did you say something?" Jason asked. Copper shook her head.
"I was just commenting on the unfamiliar scenery." She lied. "I've never been to this part of California before, not even when touring. Where are we?"
"Taking a special short cut from Sacramento out of this part of California." Jason told her. "Where exactly isn't important." He shrugged. "We won't be here long."
Copper sighed, giving up on her attempt to extract information from him, and turning her full attention back to the scenery in the hope of seeing a sign or some clue as to where they were. There was nothing, however, and Copper realised that her captor had carefully chosen his route so as to give her as few bearings as possible. She was not tied and he had not trained the gun on her since they had left the motel, and she decided that she should be thankful for this small mercy.
"And he hasn't harmed me, even if he ties his ropes tight." She added. "With me bound last night I was at his mercy, but maybe he cares for me more than I thought. I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I've been abducted by someone who obviously doesn't wish me harm. I just wish I was better in control of the situation! I don't know where I am or how to get word to my friends about what's happening. Aaron and the others must be frantic and I can't even tell them that I'm all right! I know I'm doing the right thing by going along with whatever he says, but at the end of the day, that might mean marrying him just to make sure that he doesn't kill me. He's sweet and docile now but when he gets that look in his eye..." She shivered involuntarily.
"Are you cold?" His voice penetrated her reverie, and she started, shaking her head.
"No." She replied quietly. "A sudden bad thought, that's all."
"Well, you needn't be afraid of anything. I'll protect you." Jason told her firmly. "Everything will be just fine so long as we're together."
He cast her a slight smile. "You know, you're very beautiful."
"Thank you." Copper forced herself to be friendly. The smile widened.
"You're probably the prettiest girl I ever met." He added. "The other girls I've liked in the past can't compare to you."
"Other girls?" Copper looked startled. "Old girlfriends?"
"Sort of." Jason agreed absently. "One of them I liked very much. She had long blond hair, like Cinderella. She was a model in a magazine and she came to Los Angeles. She was very pretty too."
"So what happened? Did you fall out?" Copper pressed gently, almost afraid to ask the nature of this relationship. Jason frowned, and for an instant a dark look came into his eyes. He shook his head.
"She wasn't worthy of my attention." He said flatly. "She got angry and yelled at me and threatened to call the police. I had to tie her up and stop her speaking, and then some guy came in and gave me a black eye. When I woke up I was locked up. She had me sent to prison. I've always hated her for it. She wasn't a nice person. One day I will find her and tell her so."
"I see." Copper's heart skipped a beat. "So she didn't understand that you loved her?"
"No, she didn't. But I don't love her now." Jason assured her. "I love you, and I have done since I saw you on television in my prison cell. I used to watch every time you were on - you'd make it worthwhile, fighting through every day. I knew that when I came out I would get to meet you somehow. I knew that you would be different. Everyone always says you're the sweetest Jewel - in all the interviews and articles people always say how nice you are. I knew you wouldn't push me away. I knew you'd understand."
"I'm trying to." Copper admitted. "But it's very hard, Jason. You see, you took me away from my friends and my family, and you won't let me speak to them. They mean a lot to me and I miss them."
"When we are married, I might let you see your family." Jason said after a moment's contemplation. "But your friends are bad for you. Don't you see? They're the reason you were trapped in this Pelligrini engagement! No, you can make new friends, when we get to Mexico. We will be happy there, you'll see."
Copper bit her lip, lapsing back into silence and Jason's attention returned to the wheel. But inwardly her mind was reeling.
"So he's tried this before." She realised. "Done time for it, even. Oh God, that's no comfort. Whatever his fixation with that girl, he's now fixated with me and I don't see how I'm going to change that. He's not listening to reason and I'll never get him to see that he has to take me home. Guess all I can do is brave it out and see where things end up!" 
*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

 As Aaron left the precinct, deep in thought, he heard his name being called from across the car park and he turned, casting Stefana a faint smile as she hurried to join him.
"What are you doing here?" She demanded. "Surely noone goes to a place like this voluntarily!"
"I went to find out information about Copper." Aaron told her softly. "And to give them whatever little information I know myself. You must have heard about what happened, Steffi - it's been all over the press."
"Yes, I did know." Stefana admitted. "But it had slipped my mind for the moment. I don't know Copper as well as you do, so I guess I didn't make the connection." She schooled her features into a look of sheepishness. "Sorry."
"It's all right. I don't expect you to see it the way I do." Aaron sighed. "What brings you here, anyway?"
"I was walking by and I saw your car." Stefana lied, for she had secretly been observing him from a distance since he had left the Starlight Mansion. "I wondered if you were in some kind of trouble."
"No." Aaron shook his head. "But it's good to see a friendly face at the moment. I was heading into town to grab a coffee - going back to my apartment to dwell is the alternative and I don't really fancy it. Want to come along? I could use the company."
"Sure. I've nothing planned." Stefana nodded, allowing him to open the passenger door for her, and then slipping inside. "So what have they got then, the feds? On Copper's disappearance, I mean?"
"Her car was found not far from Sacramento, in a motel carpark, abandoned." Aaron said slowly. "Somehow the local press got onto it, and its been all over the radio. Law enforcement there has taken it in for forensic investigation and Agent Nicholson has headed out there to oversee things, but so far it hasn't yielded any clues to tell us where she is or where he has taken her."
Stefana was silent for a moment, biting her lip.
"Did they tell you anything else? You said he - they have a suspect?" She asked at length.
"I believe so. This admirer of hers." Aaron nodded. "Some guy called...Jason? Something like that."
"Do they think...did he do it alone?"
"At the moment it's hard to say." Aaron sighed. "But my priority is finding her, to be honest. I don't care whether the president himself was involved."
A relieved look flitted across Stefana's expression, then, "So what happens now?"
"God knows." Aaron admitted. "Stef, I love this girl more than anything on earth - you know that as well as anyone. I can't get to grips with the idea that he might hurt her...even kill her, and I can't do anything about it! Cynthia seems to think that he's headed out to Las Vegas - something about obsessive fans and forced elopements, but I don't know what to think. If that is really his destination I can't think why he'd be as far north as Sacramento, unless he's hoping to knock people off his scent by taking a detoured route. Maybe that's it, but I can't be sure. If I knew for certain she was in Las Vegas I'd go there in a heartbeat, whatever the FBI say about keeping out of it. But I don't know. It's all way too hazy and I feel so damn helpless!"
Stefana shot him a startled look, her heart aching as she took in the look in his grey eyes.
"Las Vegas?" She said at length. "Why does Cynthia think he'd take her there? Do you think Cynthia is involved?"
"No, don't be silly." Aaron shook his head. "She did some spying for me and that's what she found out, that's all."
He frowned, pulling the car to a halt in front of a local coffee house. "Stef, before we go inside, I need to ask you something. It's in confidence - you mustn't mention this to anyone else - but for Copper's sake I need all the help I can get."
"I'm listening." Stefana said softly. "What?"
"You work for Rebel Records. Has anything...suspicious gone down over there in the last few weeks? That you've noticed, I mean?"
"Suspicious?" Stefana's eyes became big with alarm. "What do you mean, suspicious?"
"You told me that Phoebe Asche was in town and that woman always spells trouble. Do you think she and Rory Llewelyn have been up to something behind the scenes?"
"You mean, are they involved in Copper's disappearance?" Stefana demanded. "How in hell should I know? Look, Aaron, I know you're worried, but Rory is my employer and even if I think he's a jerk-off, I'm hardly gonna go round spreading stories about him which I can't prove and which would lose me my job!"
"I'm not asking you to." Aaron responded. "I haven't any wish to put you at risk, Stef, and anything you say to me I won't tell the feds. I just want to know so that I can help Copper. Anything...well, it could help. We already know that Phoebe and Rory are involved to some degree, because someone told Cynthia as much and she did some investigating to bear it out. We've nothing to prove it against them and we're not going to try, but any information that rescues my fiancee from a madman has got to be worth having! Please, Steffi...this means so much!"
Stefana eyed him tragically for a moment, sadness overtaking anger as she registered the desperation and love in his expression. She sighed heavily.
"I can't refuse a plea like that." She said regretfully. "I suppose it was Marissa who spoke to Cynthia."
"I don't know...Cyn didn't tell me." Aaron's eyes narrowed. "Does this mean you know something? Saw something? What are you trying to tell me?"
"If you'd shut up a moment, you'll find out." Stefana snapped, immediately regretting her harsh tone as soon as the words were uttered. "Look. Marissa overheard Rory and Phoebe talking about Copper's abduction and Phoebe mentioned Las Vegas. That's what she told me and that's what I know. Mari said she was going to talk to people at the Starlight - so logic dictates it was her who told Cynthia."
"Probably." Aaron acknowledged. "But that's all? There's nothing else that you can tell me?"
Stefana hesitated for a moment, battling with herself. Then, at length, she sighed.
"I saw a guy." She admitted eventually. "At Rebel Records one night. He was with Phoebe. He wasn't an employee."
"You saw someone?" Hope flared in Aaron's eyes. "You mean, you might have actually seen the guy who abducted Copper? So far all we have is security tape and it's not good enough to show anything except Copper's car parked in the forecourt, and Copper heading in to pay. If you actually saw him, Steffi..."
"I'm not going to the FBI, so don't ask me to." Stefana shook her head. "Rory is a powerful man and he scares me, Aaron." A malicious look entered her green eyes. "Much as I'd like to see the jerk locked up, Diablo need him and I don't want to cross him. He's not an enemy you want to have and Copper's no friend of mine."
"But her life might be at stake." Aaron begged. "Steffi, if you won't do it for her, will you do it for me? You and I, we're friends, and it means everything to me to get her back safe and sound."
Stefana swallowed hard.
"It really does, doesn't it?" She whispered. Aaron nodded.
"I can't talk to the Feds, Aaron." Stefana shook her head. "I can't risk it. The stakes are too high. But I will...I will describe him to you." Slowly she outlined Jason's physical features, her eyes never leaving Aaron's face. "And...and I will tell you something else. Phoebe stole a bracelet from Copper in the Red Rock a while before the abduction. I don't know how, only that she intended to use it as a love trinket to send to this fan to convince him Copper was interested in her. I know that she had letters intercepted and that she generated her own correspondance with the guy in order to get him keen."
Aaron stared at her.
"How do you know all that? Cynthia didn't say anything about letters!"
"Don't ask me how I know. My job is worth too much to me to tell you." Stefana said shortly. "But you asked me as a friend and I'm telling you as a friend. Things go on in Rebel Records all the time that would make your hair stand on end."
Aaron eyed her in wonder, then, "I don't suppose you know where Phoebe sent the letters to?" He asked at length. Stefana's expression darkened.
"I've given you all the help that I can." She said quietly. "I've risked my job and more than you know by telling you even that much, and if you go to the Feds and tell them I told you I'll lie. I'll never give evidence against Rebel Records because I daren't."
"I'm sorry." Aaron looked contrite. "I've put you in an awkward enough position by asking you, and you have my word that I won't get you wound up in the investigation. It means a lot that you told me, even if you are afraid of what Rory might do to you."
"Rory isn't a man to be crossed, but he can be handled. It's Phoebe who's the dangerous one." Stefana said darkly.
"You don't have to tell me that." Aaron agreed. "I knew it was trouble the first moment I realised she was in town."
He eyed his companion in some confusion. "But I don't understand how you should know all of this and not guess what was going down. Stef, are you sure that you've told me everything you can?"
"I told you not to ask too many questions." Stefana put her hand on the passenger door, as if preparing to leave. "I've told you what I know. If I had known that Copper would be abducted I would have told you. I don't like the girl but some things are beneath even Jewel and Diablo's rivalry. I thought it was just some publicity game, nothing more. Like I said, these things happen at Rebel Records. It's nothing unusual."
She opened the door.
"I can't stop for coffee...I remembered I have to meet Marissa in town." She lied. "Just remember, Aaron - I didn't tell you anything."
"I promise." Aaron nodded. "Thanks, Stef. It's something more to go on, if nothing else."
He paused, then, "If you come across the address that she was writing to..."
"This is nothing to do with me. I'm keeping out of it." Stefana shook her head. "Goodbye, Aaron. I'll see you later."
Before he could stop her she was gone, sauntering across the road with more nonchalance than she felt, then, once he was out of her line of sight, she secluded herself in a vacant alley, fumbling with her cigarettes and lighting one, taking a deep drag.
"Why in hell did I tell him all of that?" She demanded out loud. "What made me betray my own confidence? And what if Phoebe gets to hear about it? If the Feds find out I ransacked the dressing room after the incident before the fire I'm finished. Noone will plea-bargain me twice! What got into me?"
She sighed, dropping down onto the wall and rubbing her temples.
"I have a headache, and it's stopping me from thinking straight." She decided. "Dammit, but did he have to be so full on? So his fiancee has disappeared, big wow. It's not the end of the world! How he can miss that bitch's company is beyond me. And why I did anything to help him find her is even more odd! Bah, I must be coming down with something! It's Marissa's fault - her tattling to Cynthia has caused all of this!"
She bit her lip, flicking ash from her cigarette into a nearby drain.
"But he really loves Copper." She whispered. "More than I ever imagined. I couldn't just leave him looking like that, not when I know so much. And besides, so what if Phoebe does get caught out? It's her word against mine and all the important things are against her. She deserves it for lying to me and involving Rory even when she promised me that it was just the two of us. I don't like being manipulated, not even when there's a hefty sum of money in it. Taking risks like the one I took backstage at Jewel's show are not worth a dime if I'm not in on the full picture and evidently I wasn't. I'm so damn sick of being used whenever Rory needs something doing!"
She took a drag on her cigarette, a sad expression crossing her face.
"Aaron would never use me like that." She realised. "Oh, damn him! What does he see in that drumming bimbette anyway? So she's pretty - so what? Lots of girls are pretty and she's nothing special. Yet he's willing to damn well risk his life for her if need be! Dammit, why does noone ever want to do that for me? Would it really be asking too much that someone went out of their way for me once in a while, instead of expecting me to run around solving their little problems?"
She bit her lip, as tears pricked the back of her eyes.
"God, I gotta get out of here. Pre-menstrual hormones and speed crashes do not mix and I'm not gonna make an emotional fool of myself in a public place." She told herself fiercely, forcing the tears back. "I'm gonna get a taxi and I'm damn well going home. I've stuff in my room that'll make me feel better and besides, I'm done fretting over Aaron's stupid fiancee and whether I care if she's been abducted or not. Jason was a loser, but he wouldn't hurt her. Okay, so maybe he'll make her marry him, but there's such a thing as divorce and anyhow, the time scale involved might make Aaron realise that he doesn't want her after all. Who would want a wife so stupid she gets abducted by a nutter, anyway?"
She sighed, getting to her feet. "And what do I care about any of it? Bah. I'm going home. I've had enough of this to last me a lifetime! Next time a Stinger wants help they can damn well call on someone else!"


Chapter One: Where Is Copper?
Chapter Two: Nancy Finds A Clue
Chapter Three: Marissa
Chapter Four: A Faint Lead
Chapter Five: Undercover
Chapter Six: A Reluctant Witness
Chapter Seven: Cynthia Takes A Gamble
Chapter Eight: A Play For Freedom
Chapter Nine: Aaron Decides
Chapter Ten: Midnight Flight
Chapter Eleven: The Race Is On

Chapter Twelve: Nemesis
Chapter Thirteen: Aftermath

Copper, Nancy, Sylva, Anna, Blade, Raesha, Sirena, Topaz, Aaron, Sophie, Justin, Elliot, Rosita, Luis and any other characters in this fiction which do not appear in the animated Jem series are copyrighted to me (E.A Woolley) as of January 2002 <unless otherwise specified> and are not to be reproduced without permission ANYWHERE. Jetta, Pizzazz, Stormer, Roxy, Raya and all other original Jem characters are the copyright of Hasbro Inc, Sunbow, Christy Marx and the other writers of the Jem series. The future world of Pizzazz, Raya, Jetta, Roxy, Stormer, Clash, Synergy, the fate of Jem and her memorial are all copyrighted to me. The future world of Kimber and Shana is copyrighted jointly to myself and Gemma Dawn.
The concept of 'Jewel' is entirely my own, and any apparent link with any fictional or actual person or persons of this name is entirely coincidental. Equally the characters in this fiction are not based on any real life individual.
The concept behind the future world of Danse, Aja and Craig, the idea behind Jerrica's futureworld and the split of the Holograms is copyrighted to Gemma Dawn, whose Teenangel Outsiders fiction is directly twinned with Just a Dream. The character Sammi and any of the other Teenangel Outsider characters mentioned in this fiction are entirely copyright to Gemma Dawn and appear here only with her permission.
Pay her page a visit!