P.S.O Jules Stewart
I’ve only visited above Strata 100 once before, a poisoning on 102. It was an attack on a Corporate Executive, a clever infiltration of the air conditioning unit. At first glance it seemed natural causes were the most likely explanation, but the network probability of that was only 88%, the data on the victim’s health monitoring systems was excellent. Then I read the memory of a neighbour who’d met an air circulation engineer, working on a vent. No trace of a complaint reported or work ordered. Other memories in the area told of coughs and respiratory issues. The memories all led me step by step to an employee of Climacontrol, a childhood friend of the deceased, a pattern that uncovered a plot that ended in murder.
I step from the lift recalling this case and the headlines I’d made. I’m about to select my memory of it in the store, to blink through while I wait, when Jet Wong appears before me. Evidently the lift opens directly into her cube, some cube, quarters might be more apt.
‘Jet Wong.’ She holds a hand out to me, smiling. Her handshake firm, strong finger joints, teeth a dazzling white, slightly pointed. Something about her reminds me of the crocodile monster in Prehistoric Death Ride V. Of course I've seen her face many times in net news, as we all have. But faces are always different in the flesh. On inspection this one gives away less than most. Despite being older in years her face looks twenty years younger than mine, obviously she can afford all the upgrades. And no discernible strain in her voice, no red rims around the eyes or bitten fingernails.
‘Thank you for seeing me, for giving up your valuable time,’ I say.
‘Not at all, I’m glad that you’ve taken on this case. Estelle is very precious to me and from your reputation you’re the best person for this job. Your methods of detection are acknowledged as ground breaking. Searching the memories of the crowd seems an excellent way to find a missing person. Someone must know something.’
We walk along a bright, light, glass corridor, level only with sky. I stop, mesmerized by the view. There's so much to see from up here,the whole city and miles beyond. So far removed from life below.
‘Estelle is down there somewhere.' Jet says, pausing beside me and leaning her forehead on the glass, 'Under my nose. If only I knew where to look.'
All of the city, the strata, the streets, the mouth of the river and the sea visible from here. So far down, skyscrapers reduced to miniature blocks, vehicles bright beads scurrying in between, people too tiny to make out, the crumbling street level buildings and broken tarmac just a texture far in the distance.
She turns away from the pane. 'You must find her officer.' For a second her eyes moisten and she really does seem the parent of a missing daughter. Then back to Jet Wong Communication Executive of Monanzo. Back in control she says, ‘You probably know I became her guardian when she was seven years old. Her parents died in a flu epidemic down at street level. I was visiting down there and helping as best I could. The only thing I could do was bring her back to safety in the Corporate Strata and give her a chance in life.’
‘That was very charitable of you,’ I say.
She shrugs this off. We continue to the far corner of the tower and the space opens out into a lounge area. Jet sits on a white pleather chair, one of several, like clouds, arranged around a white rug, in front of the floor to ceiling glass. I take a seat opposite her. A small, low table is between us with a wooden puzzle placed on it.
‘You know I suppose that Estelle’s Memory Store account has been corrupted – had she had any technical issues – reported any strange sensations – issues with her chip or the network?’ I ask.
‘Nothing I know of.’ Jet says, ’surely your tech guys are dealing with that? Unlocking her memories could provide valuable clues.’
‘Yes of course we’re investigating and hope to salvage some memories at least.’ I say and wait while Jet’s attention seems to wander online, her head tilted and eyes cast down, she looks back and sits straight, ‘sorry, you were saying?’
‘When was the last time you saw Estelle?’
‘I met her last Monday for dinner as usual. I’m afraid we argued.’ She pauses. ‘She left in tears. I messaged her the next day to meet up. No reply. When I saw she’d not logged into work, made no entries in her memory store, I filed her as missing.’
‘What did you argue about?’ I ask
‘A boy. Look, don’t believe all you read in Newspulse about Estelle will you. Most of those stories were really about discrediting me.’
‘It’s evidence I’m looking for, not gossip.’ I say.‘Where do you think I should begin. Should I look for the boy, do you have his details?’
‘There's Estelle's friend Loretta Parkes, talk to her. She’ll know Justin’s whereabouts, the boy. You should talk to them both.'
‘I was going to visit, the charity’s office where Estelle works. Anyone in particular I should speak to?’
‘You could speak Peta, though I doubt that will help. She's pretty useless. Always moaning about Estelle.’
Jet’s eyes flick back to the network, ‘sorry,’ she murmurs as her attention shifts from me and focuses on information she’s receiving. She stands and is about to leave and then remembering I’m there, says, ‘Right, I think you have all of the information you need from me,’ she extends her hand to shake mine, 'Keep me updated with progress.' And before I can reply she turns on her heel and is away. My hand is holding the bag with the button, ready to show Jet, but too late now.
Not much to go on. A friend, a boyfriend, a work colleague, maybe Estelle's cube will hold some clues. We can read up on Estelle in News Pulse, but we all know the network is full of truths, half truths and downright lies. Sure we can look at the truthfulness ratings but I even sometimes wonder about those, don't you?