P.S.O Jules Stewart
Berry-Berry’s neon sign flickers forlornly. 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. A woman in a yellow jump suit is talking with someone on the network in a language I don’t recognise. Two tables to her left a man slams his fist down on a banana shaped bench, arguing with someone only he can see. A girl fans herself with a plate shaped like a fig leaf, listening to the voice feed directly in her ear. She blushes.
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.
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 corporations and requests for interviews from all the main influencers 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 20. I can't wait to tell Dorace.
I compose an appeal and send it out straight away:
Estelle Fischer last registered on 16th July 21.45 in
Sleep will have to wait.