User: Jules Stewart
Occupation: Pattern Surveillance Officer
Date of Birth:05.09.2060
Assigned to Strata: 19
Verification Rating: 87%
The metal beaker shakes in her hands.
‘Almost tastes like coffee, if you can remember,’ Dorace says. I grab it from her before it spills. She turns sideways to sit and then faces me tucking her knees under the table, pressed up to mine. ‘Good job I’m not fat.’ And to show she doesn’t have enough space she shuffles her chair back so it knocks the wall. A loud thud from the cube next-door, fist against plaster, makes her jump. She scowls down at her brew and takes a sip, ‘better than the tastes-like-water straight from the tap,’ she says.
I remind her that at least she has her own tap and water closet, unlike most people her age. This sets her off; the most miserable she’s ever been, walls a flimsy membrane, always too hot or too cold, intelligent building, I don’t think so. Not like when she had her own place. I give my usual response about the flu epidemics, over crowded services, inadequate housing stock, public bodies unable to maintain infrastructure, the crime rates. Until finally she concedes, she's safer up here.
‘We’re a step closer,’ I tell her. ‘Shall we try again with the network?’
She shakes her head slowly, her mouth an indulgent smile, a face she pulled when I was a child asking for the latest tech. ‘All of those voices in my head, confusing and the lights too bright. I don’t need it.’
‘Then I can show you what it would be like.’ I persist. Still she shakes her head, ‘It could be a cardboard box for all I care. It will just be nice to be together again.’ She says and reaches out patting my hand, her skin, so thin, the veins visible like circuit board wiring.
‘I’m in Newspulse again.’ I tell her. ‘If you were on the network you could read it.’
‘I don’t want to know all about that nastiness.’
I watch her yawn and folding her arms on the table she puts her head down, exhausted. Am I too old to want my Grandmother to be proud of me? Another case solved. Everyone safer. I sip my drink. Why upset her? I’ve told her before about my pioneering method. How I take the memories of you, citizens of the corporate strata, and plot a path through them that reveals events, that uncovers the plot. She’s frightened of the crowd, says it makes people forget themselves. Lost, one of many. Very few of her generation join in. Although it’s true that there aren’t many over a hundred up here, the strata being for those who work or those who pay.
Her breathing settles into a gentle snoring rhythm. I pull back her chair as far as I can and half carry her the few paces to her cot.
‘When will your Mother be back?’ She asks.
‘Later,’ I say, no point explaining again that she won’t be back, trying to remind her what happened.
Once I’m sure she’s drifted off I uncurl her fingers from my hand. She hates to be alone, especially at night.
Over the small sink in the corner I dab at my face with a little water, she’s not likely to need what’s left of her allowance today. The small round mirror on the wall shows a face etched with experience, maybe one day I’ll have it all smoothed out. I’d rather head straight to my cube, but I'd better go and celebrate, or at least be tagged in a bar. The news is out and the heroine should finish with a victory drink not alone in her sleep sack.
Come with me to Berry Berry - Strata Ten