User: Jules Stewart
Occupation: Pattern Surveillance Officer
Date of Birth:05.09.2060
Assigned to Strata:19
Berry-Berry Strata Ten
The strata never sleeps. Two in the morning, the night outside the windows recedes into darkness but the corridors and walkways are flooded with light and teeming with people. All kept purposeful with jobs, exercise routines, social duties and leisure. I let myself be carried along the travelator to the Breeze Hill monorail dock. On the platform I stand feet apart, arms folded. I desperately want to lean, but there's nothing to lean against. I rub my eyes, they're gritty and sore. The carriage silently glides in. The doors hiss open. I step aboard, brace my feet and grip the strap. The network voice recites the stations all the way to Dingle Rise. The carriage around me a sea of faces, shoulders and backs, elbows and arms. A man, unshaven, eyes glazed, stares straight ahead, struggles to unzip the high neck of a dark grey top with one hand. In front a couple slump into each other, their heads touching.
Two young men in GoGo Grasshopper uniforms just make it on board at Vauxhall Vaults as the doors close. Wired, all set for the day that lies ahead of them. They inject an unwanted energy and noise into the carriage. I turn away and gaze out at the river as we pass along the waterfront. Eerily lit, yellow lights from piers and watercraft project shimmering paths on the dark choppy surface.
At Pierhead Towers I'm swept into the elevator at the exit. Packed in, we stand with knees curved into the backs of knees. I keep my place at the door edge, facing the metal, feeling the surge of bodies behind me. As the doors open on strata ten I stride out, most people heading on to twelve. A year or so back ten was popular but the crowd’s fickle.
I cross the skybridge from the Pierhead Tower to Lime Street Interchange. From here the strata is a pattern of white lights in grey blocks against the dark night sky, illuminated walkways and the monorails electric blue lines connect all the hubs like a diagram.
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Light spills down into street level far below, bright pools in the darkness, making the surrounding shadows even more impenetrable, too dark to see from here what’s going on down there. And I’d rather not know. It’s out of my jurisdiction.
Berry-Berry’s neon sign flickers forlornly, last year’s place to be. Fat Peter makes a theatrical bow as I head for my table. I ignore him and settle into the dark corner, away from the door. A quiet night, even by Berry-Berry standards, a handful of drinkers perched on plastic fruit sit as far away as possible from each other, faces blank, focused on the network.
I sink down into a squishy strawberry that in this place counts as a chair. The menu, projected onto my retina, floats, a transparent layer in the foreground of my vision. It boasts drinks flavoured like every berry there ever was, including all those sixties splices that didn’t catch on. The menu is long, too long. I’d know it scrolling backwards. My eyes blink it closed.
I’m about to order my usual, when Fat Peter, hovering by my shoulder says, ‘Know what you need? A guavagoose shake, as good as a memory wipe or I&I therapy. Trust me it works. It’s… ’
'Anything,’ I snap.
I need my sleep sack. Peter takes a breath, about to say more. I dismiss him with a flick of my wrist. He can keep his theories to himself. Tonight I’m here to celebrate, quietly and alone. Case 166 closed, the Lime Street Stalker captured and I’m topping the nineteen board, one step nearer to Strata twenty, one more case is all I need. I log on to see what cubes are available, only one currently vacant. I wish Dorace would look, then she’d have more hope, more faith in me. The network offers a VR tour. I take my vision through the portal. A cascade of green leaves tumble down the walls of the stairwell. A door slides open. The cube is light, sky visible from windows, Dorace will love that. I move forward to the shower room with a water allowance of 40 gallons a day. I pull back out. There are two cots, placed along the back wall, at least ten paces from them to a round table with three chairs, five self-clean settings. Four other people are currently viewing.
The bar’s default music selection, cuts to a jangling medley on a fruit theme, streaming into my ear canal. I shake it off and set my own soundtrack, driving rain.
I don’t bother to stifle a yawn. All I want to do is sleep. My last investigation still weighing heavy in my mind. I need to sleep and to wake with no recollection of the stalker’s victims, their bulging eyes, purple tongues, tear streaked faces of their relatives. It's all archived here in this memory store so I can forget.
Congratulations messages from the CEO’s of the corporation and requests for interviews from all the main influencers and commentators blink on the periphery of my vision. I keep them to one side. They can wait. They can all see I’m out, celebrating.
Fat Peter passes me a tall glass of a red liquid. Apparently it contains at least five percent biological fruit. His shirt is taut across a round belly, buttons strain, trousers forced to cling low to his hips underneath the overhang of his gut, an ancient leather belt in the waistband loops holds everything in place. On his old fashioned, white collared shirt a red stain is spreading below his rib cage on the left and I flinch, thinking, for the tiniest millisecond, he’s been wounded, just juice.
He pulls over a blueberry pouffe and says, ‘We were right then?’ nodding at me eagerly.
I raise an eyebrow.
‘Come on, of course I know. Hey in this place, Berry-Berry, we’re into currant affairs, get it.’
‘It’s in News Pulse. Everyone knows.’ He waits for my response but I don’t want to talk. I drain my glass.
‘Suit yourself,’ he says rising slowly and with some effort, pressing his hands on his knees.
'I just hope it’s all there in your transcripts. Fat Peter detected the pattern first, all the crowd memories uploaded that recalled a smell of almond. I couldn't have done it without him.’ This last muttered with his back to me as he heads for his serving hatch.
An alert message overlays my vision, centre screen. Flashing furiously, a new assignment. Apparently Jet Wong herself has noted my pioneering use of filtering crowd memories to work out the plot and wants me to find a missing person, her adopted daughter, Estelle Fischer. This could be it. Case 167 could take me all the way to strata twenty.
Sleep will have to wait.
It seems incredible that anyone could disappear like that, no trace on the network, nothing. If you have any memories that can contribute to the pattern of events and help me solve this case it's your duty to upload them using the links above on the right. Any little detail you might remember could help. You can also read what other residents have contributed in the collective memory, again top right. To explore the corporate strata further select News Pulse, the map or the timeline at the top of the page.
My investigation continues at Otterspool Skypark on strata thirty , where Estelle was last registered on the network. Come and take a look with me.
Lost? Use this map of the investigation to orientate yourself.