Part One

Chapter Eleven: Consulting Aja

"So that's about where we're at."
Aaron concluded, gazing around at his companions with a shrug. "There wasn't anything I could find in the city library which would be of any help, and Kimber doesn't know anything about how she works."
He looked rueful.
"And I think I should at least go to work tomorrow, because I had a rather unpleasant call from Aunt Phyl on my voicemail." He added. "Though I might see if I can call by Aja's place after work and find out her take on all of this."
"So Aunt Aja is our last hope?" Sylva looked pensive, casting a glance across the basement at the silent mainframe. "It seems so final, somehow. What if she can't do anything? We've lost Synergy?"
"I guess so." Aaron bit his lip. "I've done everything I can, Syl. Seriously. I'm out of ideas."
"Well, then let's hope Aja isn't." Nancy got to her feet, moving over to the computer and running her hand along the keys. "Because otherwise we're really gonna miss her. And I don't mean in a stage sense, either. She's one of the team."
"What will I tell Hollie?" Topaz demanded. "I can't tell her that Cynthia isn't coming back, Aaron. It'd break her heart...they're so close."
"Until we've spoken to Aja, Topaz, none of us know if there is still a chance of bringing her back." Aaron said soberly. "We have to be prepared for the eventuality. If she's that determined to be shut down, it might be beyond all of us to wake her. I'm sorry...that's just the reality of it."
"I know you're doing your best." Topaz sighed. "It's just...I guess I didn't realise how much I'd come to rely on her to be there, that's all."
"We always take things for granted, don't we?" Copper raised her eyes heavenwards. "Bad human trait. We assume we'll all be here tomorrow...that Cynthia would always be there, that things would always be okay. It's easy to forget how quickly things can change."
"And then some." Sylva agreed grimly. She turned to Aaron. "Aaron, Jewel are in studio tomorrow morning, but I could skip out at lunchtime and go over to the villa. Speak to Aunt Aja, see what she says. It would save some time if nothing else."
She pursed her lips. "Besides...KBST are running the story that Jerrica's will is missing and that there's something suspicious going down with her death. I don't know where they got it, but while there's any kind of suspicion floating about, it might look less odd if I were to visit my aunt than if you were to pay calls on two Holograms in twenty four hours."
"Syl has a point." Nancy nodded. "The Holograms are bound to be in the public eye a lot while this is going on, and we're always chasing off the press. It would excite people's attention, and we don't want anyone to think that we have something or know something that might be connected with Jerrica. After all, we work for Misfits Music. What business should it be of ours?"
"Fine. Then you go." Aaron nodded. "But Syl, if she has any kind of technological solution, don't try and take notes. Ask her to come by here and see Syn for herself. Please?"
"Aaron, I don't know the first thing about computers. I'm not going to gamble my friend's life by trying to be clever." Sylva snorted. "But Aunt Aja has spoken to her before. Reasoned with her. After the memorial, remember? When we couldn't get her to switch off, Aja persuaded her it would be okay and that she'd be switched on again. Maybe she'll be able to do it again."
"Well, we can but hope, because she's pretty much all we have left to fall back on." Aaron sighed. "Okay. At least it's a plan."
He got to his feet. "Copper, you and I seem to be spending a lot of time down here at the moment. If you don't mind, I'd like to go back to ours, take a shower, take a nap and eat. My brain is beginning to hit burnout."
"Then I'll come with you." Copper nodded. She glanced at Sylva.
"Syl, I hope Aja really does know something we can do for Cyn tomorrow. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about."

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"Miss Martescu, do you have a comment on the latest proceedings for Cool Trash?"
"Sylva, any remarks for the Tribune?"
"Sylva, has this had any impact on your business at Misfits Music?"
Sylva pushed through the crowd of reporters to her car, unlocking it and pulling open the driver's side door.
"Sylva, no words for the fans about what this might mean for the music industry in Los Angeles?"
The voices of the reporters echoed in her ears and she grimaced, pushing the key into the ignition.
"Why do they want my opinion? It's not like I know anything about Starlight stupid Music or Jerrica Pacheco." She muttered, struggling to undo the clamp around her steering wheel. "Damn, it's stuck again. I must get the wretched thing oiled..."
"Miss Martescu, do you have any comment about the allegation that your aunt Aja Phillips' return to America was something of a coincidence in light of recent events?"
A woman pushed up against the front of the car, and frowning, Sylva rolled her window down.
"Pardon me?"
"Did you know your aunt was a beneficiary of Jerrica Pacheco's will?"
"What's odd about that? Aunt Aja worked with Jerrica. Very closely for a long time. And they grew up together. They were practically sisters." Sylva looked bemused. "What of it?"
"Do you think she came back to America knowing something was going to happen to Ms Pacheco? Is it true that she's lost everything in England and was desperate?"
"Hang on a minute...there is no way in hell my Aunt Aja has anything to do with what's happened." Sylva held up her hands. "Jerrica's death was a nasty accident, and nobody killed her. And even if it wasn't, there's no way in hell that Aunt Aja would be involved."
"Do you have any comment on the rumours that Jerrica accused Aja of having an affair with her husband?"
"Now what are you talking about?" Sylva was beginning to lose her temper. "There was no affair. Don't be stupid. Aunt Aja and Uncle Craig are one of the most solid couples I know, and there's just no way..."
"So you don't believe any of the allegations are true?"
"I don't believe that Aunt Aja had anything to do with Jerrica's death, and I don't believe she and Mr Pacheco ever had any kind of relationship." Sylva said quietly. "I think you need to go back to your sources and really check them out, because those things are crazy talk."
"Not so very crazy, Miss Martescu." Another reporter thrust a crumpled newspaper through the open window. "Mr Pacheco was having an affair with work closely with Video Montgomery's cousin Zoe - do you have any thoughts on the way the Montgomery family seems to attract scandal and intrigue wherever they go?"
"What?" Sylva stared. She smoothed the newspaper out on her lap, glancing at the picture on the front page, and swallowing down the rising sense of nausea that welled up inside of her. "Oh my God...this is really vile, you people! Have you no respect for anyone's privacy?"
"When someone's dead? Not a chance, Miss Martescu." The reporter seemed unrepentant. "Any last words for tomorrow's edition?"
"Yes. Get a reality check." Sylva wrenched the clamp off her wheel, pushing the paper onto the passenger seat and putting the car in gear. "And get out of my way, because I have an important errand to run and you've wasted enough of my time."
Before the reporters could say anything else, she had pulled out of her parking space and onto the main road, speeding away from the music company and across the city to the villa where her Aunt and Uncle had set up home on their return to America. All the time her mind was reeling.
"Aunt Aja's a suspect in all this? Jerrica accused her of sleeping with her husband? Hell, and Zoe's cousin really has been? Vivien Montgomery and Rio Pacheco? Oh God, Vivien's son...Zoe's cousin...Oh God, it gets worse! How long has this been going on? Sheesh, if this stuff is true, Alex and Ray really need to know about it. If I were Jerrica and I just found out my husband was banging some other woman in this kind of way..."
She shot a sidelong glance at the picture again, then shook her head. "I think I'd either drive him off a bridge, or drive off one myself. Maybe she did. Maybe that's the missing link in the chain. But eww! You'd think they'd have some decency. I wonder what Zoe makes of all this? I'll haveta try and make time to call her later, so long as her phonelines aren't jammed already. Poor Zoe! She and her family do seem to spend a lifetime in the presses!"
She flicked on her indicator, pulling off the main road and into the front forecourt of the Phillips' villa. Two cars were drawn up outside the house, but Sylva paid them no attention. Scooping up the wrinkled newspaper, she headed up the drive, knocking resolutely on the front door.
"Just coming!" A voice called from inside, and Sylva heard the lock being slid back. The door swung open and she found herself face to face with her aunt.
"Sylvie!" Aja looked preoccupied and surprised. "I really wasn't expecting something the matter?"
"Yes, a lot of things, actually." Sylva rolled her eyes expressively. "I'm sorry to bug you, Aunt Aja - can I come in?"
"Of course. You're always welcome." Aja forced a troubled smile, ushering her visitor into the lounge. "What's up?"
"I came on a specific errand." Sylva admitted. "But before I talk about that, I want to ask you something. Aunt Aja, did you know that you were in Jerrica's will?"
" of about an hour ago, when the FBI left." Aja ran her fingers through her thick wavy hair. "It was a bit of a shock to me, to be honest. But then I understand it's an old will...that something's befallen the current one."
"The press asked me if you came to America to kill Jerrica, pretty much." Anger sparked in Sylva's eyes. "I thought they were being stupid, but the feds think it too? God, what has got into everyone?"
"I don't know, but I assure you Jerrica's death was as much a shock to me as it was to everyone. And not a pleasant one, either." Aja pursed her lips. "It's not really a nice feeling to lose someone you were once close to and realise you never made up your last quarrel."
"That's something else I wanted to talk to you about." Sylva admitted. She held out the newspaper. "They threw this my way. They seem to think that you were one of Rio's long line of lovers, and that you and Jerrica were at each other's throats over him."
"Oh God, not that again." Aja looked pained. "But what...I don't believe it. Video?"
"Not that again?" Sylva stared. "What do you mean?"
"Now things suddenly make sense." Aja;s expression darkened, and she threw the paper down onto the coffee table. "Though you'd think that they'd have more respect for a dead woman than to publicise the fact her husband took her for a fool on the front page of some rag."
"Aunt Aja, please, I don't understand." Sylva looked bemused. "What did you mean, not that again?"
Aja sighed, glancing at her hands.
"The reason Jerrica and I fell out was because I became pregnant with Sammi." She said softly. "It wouldn't have been a big deal, except that Craig had found out not long before that it would be difficult for him to have kids. Even impossible. We know, adjusting to the idea. And then Sammi happened. Jerrica...I'd confided in her a lot about Craig's problems, because that's how close we were."
She spread her hands.
"Sammi is your uncle's daughter. You only have to look at her to know that." She continued. "Neither Craig nor I can explain how she came about, except she was our miracle and we were so excited. But Jerrica didn't see it that way. the idea from somewhere that...that..."
"That you were seeing Rio behind her back, and Sammi was the proof." Sylva finished quietly. "Of all the..."
"Well, at the time I thought she was out of her mind, and told her so." Aja responded. "Rio and I shared a love of technology, and we often spent time taking apart cars and whatever...we had that in common and Jerrica felt threatened by it, I suppose. But...this story...maybe she wasn't as crazy as I thought. Maybe Rio was having an affair. It just wasn't with the person she thought it was."
She bit her lip. "But in a million years I wouldn't have thought that it would be Video. Hell, she and Jerrica were friends! Why would she do this?"
"From the looks of it, the whole world will soon be asking the same question." Sylva sighed. "I'm sorry, you've already had a crappy day, haven't you?"
"Not been my best, no." Aja agreed. "But you said you came here for a specific reason?"
"Yes." Sylva nodded. "I came to talk to you about Cynthia. Or rather, about Synergy."
"Synergy?" Aja's eyebrows shot into her fringe. "I didn't think computers were your department."
"They're most definitely not." Sylva grimaced expressively. "But Aaron spoke to Kimber and she said we should try you. With all the media hype at the moment, it seemed less strange if I came to speak to you about it. So here I am."
"Okay, I'm listening." Aja sat back on the sofa, indicating for her niece to follow suit. "What's up?"
Carefully Sylva explained the events of the past few days.
"And Aaron can't wake her." She finished. "You reasoned with her once for her own safety...for her own good. Can you come and try and help us again? We...we don't want to lose her."
"I see." Aja pursed her lips, considering. "It might not be a bad idea for her to be shut down a while, you know."
"What do you mean?" Sylva stared.
"Well, when the feds were here this morning, they asked a lot of questions about her." Aja glanced at her hands. "And I had to lie and tell them I didn't know where she was...because I won't put her in jeopardy. But she's mentioned in Jerrica's will and it seems to have awoken their interest in her again."
"Who were the agents who came to speak to you?" Sylva was startled.
"It was an Agent Nicholson, and he brought some other men with him, but I don't remember any other names."
"Agent Bray?"
"No, I don't recall him." Aja shook her head. "Why?"
"Figures." Sylva grimaced. "Agent Bray is a friend of ours. His partner, Ray not., Alex did warn us he seemed a bit interested in Synergy again."
"There's a federal agent who knows about Jerrica's secret?" Aja's eyes almost fell out of her head. "What silly idiot thought that was a good action plan?"
"Cynthia told him." Sylva spread her hands, unaware that someone else had entered the room, pausing in the doorway at her words. "She did it to save Copper's life, Aunt Aja...and we think we can trust him. But right at the moment, we're not even sure if we can get Synergy operational again. And we really need your help. Will you help us?"
"I will help if I can." Aja nodded. "Though if the FBI are watching me, I have to be careful what I'm doing. We don't want to connect her with Starlight Mansion in federal minds."
"Agreed." Sylva responded. Impulsively she hugged her companion. "Thank you, Aunt Aja. It means a lot."
"Synergy means a lot to all of us." Aja responded. She frowned, turning as the door clicked shut. "Did you hear something?"
"No." Sylva glanced around her. "Nothing...why?"
"Must be me. I must be on edge." Aja shrugged. "It's proving a tough homecoming in more ways than one."
"Aunt Aja...if they don't find the new will, what does that mean? I mean, what's in the old one?"
"Everything. Starlight Music, Starlight Mansion, Synergy, Star Drive Through...everything we had back in 1986." Aja shrugged. "Jerrica sold Starlight Mansion to Pizzazz, so that's off limits, of course."
"She also sold Synergy."
"That's more of a grey area."
"I know."
"What's the Star Drive Through?"
"Emmet owned it when we were kids." Aja explained. "It was where he built Synergy, away from prying eyes. We first found her there, but it wasn't safe for her to stay, so we brought her home. I don't know if it still belongs to Jerrica's estate or not. I suppose if this will winds up being the one they go with, we'll find out. Either way the building is in worse disrepair now than it was before. It probably should be torn down but I'm not sure any of us have the heart to do it."
"Memories, huh?"
"You have no idea."

Upstairs, in one of the villa's bedrooms, the eavesdropper dropped down onto her bed, resting her chin in her hands as she considered what she'd heard.
"Weird enough Sylvie makes a social call." She mused. "But what was all that about? Jerrica's still there? And...and Mum knows where it is? Why in hell didn't she tell me? And why is she talking to Sylvie about it and not to me? If it's true what that agent says, all the stuff Jerrica had belongs to Mum and the other Holograms now. So Sylvie has no business playing with that computer! If Synergy really exists, then it belongs to Mum, and if it belongs to Mum then it also belongs to me."
She clenched her fists.
"And if they think they can keep it from me, they better think again. If Jerrica's computer really is at the Starlight Mansion, then dammit, I'm going to find it!"

Prologue: 1990
Chapter One: Daisy
Chapter Two: Jewel's Show
Chapter Three: Cynthia's Dilemma
Chapter Four: Jerrica Acts
Chapter Five: For The Public Good
Chapter Six: End Of An Era
Chapter Seven: A Reason To Be
Chapter Eight: Loyalties
Chapter Nine: Starlight Music
Chapter Ten: Kimber
Chapter Eleven: Consulting Aja

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.
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