Part One

Chapter Eight: Loyalties

"I don't believe it."
Alex sat down heavily in his chair, staring at his partner with a mixture of shock and dismay. "Dead? You're sure?"
"Yes, Alex. I'm sure." Raymond dropped the folder down onto the desk, sending stray sheets of paper flying. "This is what we've got. It happened yesterday, some time in the afternoon. Law enforcement took the car in - I've already sent some of our people down there to take a look. There's something just strange about this whole deal, and they want us brought in on the scene. Apparently..."
He paused, eying his friend thoughtfully, then,
"Apparently Ms Pacheco was working with us on a case when she died."
Alex, who had reached for the folder paused, meeting his partner's gaze. Raymond raised an eyebrow.
"Were you going to tell me about this?" He asked lightly. "Or were you going to have me play twenty questions?"
"I told you I had a cold case lead yesterday." Alex frowned, picking up the folder. "And I told you the person wasn't entirely competent for interview, so I'd tell you how it panned out. She was supposed to come by here this morning, to speak to me. Since she's not coming now, there's obviously nothing to tell." He narrowed his eyes. "Besides, who told you she was speaking to us, anyway? I didn't mention it to anyone."
"These things come out." Raymond shrugged. "She called here and I found the guy who took the call...apparently she asked specifically for one of us, so I figured that was your mysterious call yesterday, when you went out after that rock floozie of yours for lunch. Was it really Sadie you spent lunchtime with, Alex? Because it's not like you not to tell me about a lead."
"Yes, it was Sadie. Ask her if you like." Alex sighed wearily. "And if I'd known Jerrica was going to die, I would have skipped lunch and headed right on over to Starlight Music. Unfortunately, I didn't."
"Well, I've spoken to Jerrica's PA already this morning, while you were brushing your teeth or doing whatever you were doing." Raymond said slowly. "Some chick named Margot. New to the company, and very capable, if all reports are to be believed. She remembered hearing Jerrica say your name over the phone before terminating the call. Got my interest. She didn't happen to mention to you what this cold case might have been, did she?"
Alex bit his lip, flicking open the folder, and Raymond frowned.
"Alex, I will find out, but I'd rather you told me." He said quietly. "You've never lied to me before...please don't let's start with it now."
Alex sighed.
"She didn't want to talk much on the phone." He said at length. "She said she was afraid the line might be bugged."
"She said that?" Raymond raised an eyebrow. Alex nodded his head.
"But she must've given you some clue...surely?"
"She said that she'd helped us on a case ages back and that she had some new information."
"That much I know. Dammit, Alex, why are you skimming the edges of this?" Raymond banged his fist down on the desk. "Listen, if that floozie of yours had anything to do with this..."
"Sadie has nothing to do with me doing my job." Alex retorted. "And with me making decisions about what is and what isn't a viable amount of evidence to re-open a case. Jerrica has a history of mental trouble. We know that. I didn't want to pump our resources into something which turned out to be just her paranoia. Since she's not coming here now, we've got even less to work with. I vote we don't worry about that and we focus our energy on discovering if anyone had a reason to get rid of Jerrica. Don't you?"
"The two things might be connected." Raymond reasoned. "As you well know."
He dropped down in his chair with a sigh. "Alex, please. I trust you...I thought you trusted me. We work together on things. But you know well as I do if you're hiding something...something that might prove important..."
Alex rubbed his temples.
"You have no idea." He murmured.
"So you do know something?"
"That's just it. I don't know anything." Alex sighed. "Could I have done something to protect her? That I don't know. Was I wrong to dismiss her because of her past history of breakdowns and the like? I want to find that out."
"And so do I. But I also want to know what was troubling her so much that she called here yesterday and asked for name."
Alex was silent for a moment. Then,
"The computer."
"Computer?" Raymond stared, then, "Oh hell, Alex, the Memorial computer?"
Alex did not answer, and Raymond got to his feet, moving across the office to the filing cabinet and fiddling with the lock.
"That what she wanted to talk to you about, Al? The computer?"
"I think so."
"You think so?" Raymond paused, sending his partner an odd look. "So why all the hush hush? Al, we looked so damn hard for that thing - it must've been destroyed. What's the big deal? Unless..."
He frowned, rummaging in the drawer and pulling out the folder he wanted. "Unless it wasn't destroyed at all, and someone still has it."
"And has kept it hidden from the FBI?"
"If they even have." Raymond cast his friend a pointed look. "When this case was buried, Alex...tell me something. Tell me honestly that, when we put this file to bed, you had as little idea about this damn thing as I did?"
"I swear." Relief flooded Alex's expression, and he held up his hands. "I promise. And like I said, Jerrica was paranoid. She did sound anxious on the phone, true. But she really didn't tell me much. She just mentioned her father's machine and, well, she didn't want to talk over the line. She was coming here today...but there's nothing in what she said to tell us anything we didn't already know about that computer."
Raymond eyed his colleague long and hard for a moment, and Alex met his gaze.
"Well?" He asked. "Are we looking into Jerrica's death in connection with some file that got pushed back in the cabinet years ago, or are we gonna see what forensics tell us and go from there? Because let's be honest about this, could a computer kill someone?"
"On that, at least, we agree." Raymond dropped the file back into the cabinet. "But we know the kind of holograms that thing was designed to produce. Let's not rule out the possibility that someone used it to help Jerrica on her least till we have the toxicology on her blood and other body fluids and we can rule out everything else."
He paused, then, "In the meantime, there is one other thing."
"Oh?" Alex looked surprised. "Something else?"
"Yes." Raymond was grave. "Jerrica's will is missing."

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"I'm sorry, Copper."
Aaron stood, wiping his hands on his overalls. "Whatever it was that shut her down, I can't get her to boot. Even if I get a signal out of her, she spirals right back down into shutdown mode and I can't wake her out of it. For some reason, she doesn't want to be booted up."
"You must be exhausted. You've been down here all night." Copper squeezed her husband's hand. "Take a break, huh? Maybe it's just something that's not jumping out at you because you've spent most of the last twenty four hours thinking computers."
"Maybe, but I don't think so." Aaron looked grave. "Since you called me over last night, I've gone over in my head all the possible things which could short her out...but I've tried everything, and nothing is working."
He stifled a yawn. "And I'm not the only one who's not had much sleep. You've been down here with me most of the time, and the others have flitted in and out."
"Nancy had a call from your Mom...she's gone to the studio." Copper responded quietly. "They wanted to know why you and Cynthia weren't in, but Nance told them last night's news has sent Cynthia into shock, and that you and I are looking after her. I think Jetta had forgotten that there's a connection between Cynthia and Jerrica."
"Tell me again what she said before she went down." Aaron asked. "Maybe there's something in that which can tell me what I'm supposed to do."
"Okay, but leave the screwdriver for a moment and come up and have a coffee. I know I need one." Copper suggested, casting a troubled look back at the still, silent mainframe. "It was she chose to switch off. She said she'd failed Jerrica...failed Emmet in the one thing he ever asked of her. I asked her what she meant and she said she was finishing what Jerrica tried to begin all those years ago. And she said...she said runtime terminated, or something...and shut down. I couldn't get her to respond to me after that."
Aaron's expression became grave.
"It's times like this that I wish I could go speak to Emmet and ask him some things about his computer." He said quietly, following his wife up the stone steps and up to the main body of the house, where Topaz, Sylva and Sadie awaited them anxiously. "I hate to say it, Copper, but I wonder if we've underestimated his program all along. We've assumed that the damage Cyn suffered when she was abandoned destroyed her core program. But she did say something to me in the car yesterday...something about loving Jerrica and Kimber and not knowing any other purpose than to look after them. I wonder if it's written somewhere in her program that Synergy was created to be a protector and a guide for Emmet's daughters after his death."
"Probably. So?"
"So that kind of program comes with a limit on it." Aaron said darkly. "And behaviour like Cynthia's last night would fit entirely with a program which had reached the end of it's usefulness and, well, terminated itself."
"You mean Cynthia committed suicide?" Copper's eyes became wide with horror. Aaron nodded.
"In a sense. Though not as we would understand it. She didn't choose to shut herself down. It was just the natural and logical conclusion of her core program. She was made for Jerrica...Jerrica is no longer around. So..."
"So it's like she said. There's no need for Synergy to be." Copper pushed open the door at the top of the steps, meeting the gazes of her friends with a shake of her head. "It's no good, guys. Aaron can't get her to boot either."
"So...what happens now?" Sylva asked anxiously. "Can we do anything?"
"Aaron thinks this was written into her somehow." Carefully Copper explained her husband's theory, as he went to wash his grimy hands. "And it wouldve been all very well, if Synergy had remained with Jerrica and Kimber and lived out her time the way that Emmet anticipated she would. But she's come to us and created a new life. It's not fair that the old one should dictate, well...this."
"If Aaron can't fix her, though, who can?" Topaz asked. "None of us have the first idea how she works."
"You got me." Copper sighed, reaching for the coffee pot. "But I need a drink. I'm asleep on my feet and worried, you guys. Jerrica's death is a tragedy, but it's not one that touches on us all that much. Unless it means Cynthia's death, too. That is a tragedy which affects us all, and honestly, I'm not sure I like the idea of her not being around any more."
"We faced this before, when she had that virus." Nancy remembered. "Perhaps this is the same. Perhaps there's some kind of unlock code."
"Well, if there is, Aaron can't get her to stay online long enough to find out." Copper sighed. "He's tried three different inhibitors to override her system commands, but none of them have worked. She's too strong, and she seems utterly decided. No Jerrica, no Synergy. I'm not sure how we're going to convince her otherwise."
"If it's written in her program, can it be written out?" Sadie wondered.
"Not necessarily." Aaron put in, rejoining them at that moment, his hands dripping. Wordlessly Copper handed him a towel. "Emmet was a clever dude, and I don't know half what he knew about how this machine was meant to work. I've done my best with her, but mostly I've had her help along the way. It's hard to fix the brainchild of a man who died before I was even born. And whenever I've worked with her before, she's always wanted to be fixed. She's wanted to get better. This time...she doesn't want it. That's the bottom line. She doesn't want to run."
"So...this is it?" Sylva murmured. Aaron spread his hands.
"I haven't entirely given up." He admitted. "I'm going to the library this afternoon to dig out as many books on electronics I can find and look up a few things, see if I can work them out to fit her. But first, I need to take a nap. You guys got a couch or bed I can crash on for a few hours?"
"Of course." Topaz nodded. She bit her lip. "Just don't give up on her, huh? Hollie asked where she was this morning, and I had to tell her that Cynthia was sick. But my baby's too young to understand death or that she might not be there ever again. Hollie loves Cynthia - in some ways maybe more than we do. We have to get her back."
"If I can find a way into her program, maybe I can focus her attention that way." Aaron looked thoughtful. "She was built to protect, as a parental figure. Maybe I can convince her that even though Jerrica is gone, Hollie still needs her. But I have to get into her system first, and if I can't keep her online, that's a nonstarter."
Before anyone could respond, there was the ring of the doorbell, and Sadie headed out into the hall, pulling back the catch and opening the front door. She gasped.
"Alex? Twice in two days?" She exclaimed. "Is this business or pleasure?"
"Well, it's certainly not a pleasure." Alex said grimly. "I need to speak to Cynthia. Is she in?"
"No." Sadie shook her head. "She's not here, Alex."
"Synergy, then. I know she's here."
"No...she isn't." Sadie bit her lip, and Alex frowned, seeing tears in his girlfriend's eyes.
"Sadie? What happened?"
"She's shut herself down and she won't boot." Sadie replied slowly. "Copper told her about Jerrica's death - which has to be why you're here too, right? - and she freaked out. Shut herself down. We can't get a signal out of her."
"Dammit." Alex cursed. "Look, Ray knows a little more about things than I'd like him to. He knows Jerrica spoke to me, and he thinks somehow that her machine was used to kill her. There are some things which don't quite add up - specifically, that the will is missing. At least, that will. I understand there's an older one, but not the most recent draft. If this was a natural death - and God help me if it wasn't - that seems strange."
"Cynthia had nothing to do with Jerrica's death." Sadie said quietly. "And I'm surprised at you even thinking it of her."
"Well, this is what I know." Alex looked tired. "One, Jerrica figures out Cynthia's true identity and threatens her at your concert. Two, Jerrica calls me in a flap because she thinks this machine is dangerous. Three, Jerrica is dead, conveniently before she could come to speak to us at the bureau. And four, Cynthia was at Starlight Music last night. As was Aaron. So if Cynthia is not up for conversation, is Aaron here?"
"Yes, he is, but Alex, if you think..."
"Right now, Sadie, the only thing I'm thinking is whether or not my protecting Synergy has cost a woman her life." Alex interrupted her. "If you'll excuse me."
Sadie opened her lips to say something, but thought better of it. She stood back, allowing her boyfriend past.
"Alex!" Copper stared at the agent in dismay. "Again?"
"Yes, and it's no coincidence. Aaron, it's you I'm looking for." Alex's expression was grave. "Why were you at Starlight Music last night? You and Cynthia. Sadie tells me she's...not communicative this morning, so I'll need to hear it from you."
"We went to speak to Jerrica." Aaron said quietly. "She'd asked Cynthia about lighting and stuff and it seemed a good premise to call by on. But she wasn't there. I think Cyn wanted to talk to her about their encounter the night before, but we didn't see Jerrica. In fact, she mustve been already dead when we were there, because as we drove back here, we passed the scene of the accident and the coroner's van was already there. Plus, there were road-blocks."
"And Cynthia was with you all the time?"
"Yes. Why?"
"Alex thinks that maybe she's involved in Jerrica's death." Sadie said from the doorway. Alex sent his girlfriend a pained look, noting the coolness of her glance.
"Hell, Sadie, don't make this harder for me." He begged. Sadie folded her arms.
"Do what you have to. Law enforcement always do." She said simply.
"Cynthia was with me all the time." Aaron said slowly.
"Well, since you know her as well as anyone, I want to know precisely what she is and is not capable of." Alex sat down on a barstool. "I don't relish any of this, but I want to know if my keeping Synergy's secret has cost Jerrica her life."
"I doubt it." Aaron shook his head. "Firstly, Cynthia can't project through walls. And she has only one remote projector that she has complete control over - in order to project her three dimensional solid hologram, she needs to be wearing her watch. Or at least have it nearby. She was wearing it all day yesterday, last night when I took her to Starlight Music and when I brought her home."
"And she had it when she came here, because it's downstairs in the basement, with her mainframe." Copper added.
"I read the files on Jem and the Holograms. I understood she could project multiple images."
"She can, but only when she's not being Cynthia." Aaron responded. "And if she'd not been solid last night, I would have known."
"I think that could be called Cynthia's alibi." Sadie added. "Don't you, Alex?"
Alex cursed again.
"Sadie, I have to know the truth, whatever that might be." He said, his tone pained. "And I'm satisfied from what you've said to me that Cynthia was not capable of the sort of projection necessary to kill Jerrica last night. But I would like to see her mainframe. Ideally, I want to speak to her, but..."
"That may never be possible." Aaron interrupted quietly. "Didn't Sadie tell you? She's shut herself down."
"Yes, but..."
"As in permanently, Alex." Topaz added. Surprise flooded Alex's expression.
"Permanently? Computer suicide?"
"Apparently." Aaron sighed. "She seems to be programmed to believe that without Jerrica, there's no need for Synergy."
"Which, if you ask me, is the biggest piece of evidence that Cynthia did not want Jerrica dead." Sadie added. "She might have fought with her, and they might not always have been close. But that doesn't mean she didn't love her. Sometimes it takes something like this to realise how much you love someone. I felt it with Georgia. For Cynthia it's come too late, and that's why she's shut herself down. Her circuits can't handle it."
Her voice shook on these last words, and silently Alex came to put his arms around her, kissing her on the forehead.
"I'm sorry for what I've come here to do this morning. I know it seems insensitive and worse." He murmured. "But I had to know. And now I do, I can carry on this investigation with a clear mind. I said I would protect Cynthia so long as she wasn't a threat. I'm satisfied she isn't. And again, I'm sorry."
Sadie glanced up at him, then sighed.
"Me too." She acknowledged. "It's not fair that you have to take so many risks with your work over us."
"Well, sometimes that's life." Alex shrugged. "And now I have to go. Ray and I are seeing Jerrica's solicitors about the surviving will. It's a good twenty five years old, apparently...which flings open a whole new can of worms. Sadie, I'll call you - but it might not be for a day or two. This seems to be getting more garbled as we go on."
"I understand." Sadie squeezed his hand. "And I guess it's the same for us, too. We have to try and work out a way to get our friend back...otherwise Jerrica won't be the only Benton the world has lost of late!"

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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