P.S.O Jules Stewart
Loretta Parkes opens the door of Cube 3434, Strata five, a toes width and squints out, her cube dark behind her. Stepping back to let me in she pulls a faded, ancient, floral dressing gown around her. Purple hair in two plaits, half unwound hangs down around her face, plastered to her forehead with sweat. The temperature on strata 5 a stifling thirty eight degrees.
‘Sorry if I woke you up,’ I say. ‘Late night?’
‘I work in the Laughing Boy Breakfast Bar factory, night shift, haven't you done your homework?’ She says. Having seen my credentials on the network already she asks, ‘Are you here about Estelle?’
‘Yes. Is now an ok time to talk?’
She lets go of the door frame that had been holding her up and steps back into her room, ‘Ok I guess. You’d better come in.’
I step over a coat and a pair of sandals. This cube seems familiar, same mess as Estelle’s, but far smaller, just room for a small table, one chair and a sleep pod. I resist the urge to push things away with my foot as I stand on a small island of concrete flooring. One tiny window lets light in from an internal shaft, optimistically called a sunshine vent. On the sill sits a small cactus, good choice, with the water restrictions on Strata 5, although it doesn’t look happy.
Loretta gathers a bundle of clothes from the small metal chair and I sit on it. The legs wobble. She perches on the corner of the table, pushing back a clutter of junk and dirty pots with her hip. Perfume injections and jewellery, that seem out of place on strata 5. Loretta catches my glance and says, ‘Estelle’s hand me downs.’ She yawns and rubs a hand over her eyes.
I notice a magnetic pulsar reflector on the floor too, probably also courtesy of Estelle. Not legal, but I don’t want to cause trouble, just yet.
‘I don’t really know anything useful. Probably nothing you haven't already heard. Estelle was a friend. We met on neted', both studied history. Her mother got her a job and a cube on Strata 25. I got myself a job in the factory and here I am.’
‘How would you describe Estelle?’ I ask.
‘Lucky,’ she says, ‘sorry, that sounded mean. But you know she does have it all, she’s lucky.’
‘Perhaps, but we don’t know what’s happened to her yet. Let’s just hope her luck's held out.'
‘If Estelle disappeared under the bridge she'd come up smiling.’ She readjusts her gown, pulls it tighter and unwinds her plaits.‘I don’t know why everyone makes such a fuss about Estelle. What’s the big deal? She’s not the only orphan. Plenty of people have crap lives and most of us don’t have someone like Jet Wong turning up to rescue us. I mean how lucky is that, Jet Wong turns up and becomes her mother.’
‘You don’t think it’s strange that she’s disappeared?’
‘Look I’m not worried about Estelle and she’s like a sister to me. We’d pretty much do anything for each other. This will just be something crazy. She’ll be holed up with Justin and not noticed everyone’s looking for her. Running around doing her charity work.’
‘And Justin is?’
‘New boyfriend, definitely one she won’t be introducing to her Mother,’she says.
‘Estelle’s new boyfriend, the one that you told Jet Wong about.’
‘Only because I was worried, the crowd knows what he was involved in. We saw him at a protest,’ She says defensively, rising up from her perch on the table. ‘Anyway, maybe I wasn’t so wrong, she’s disappeared hasn’t she?’
‘True, maybe you should share that memory about the protest with me.’ I say.
She shrugs, ‘Sure.’
’And when did you last see Estelle?’
‘A few weeks back,’ her eyes scan as she checks the details in her memory store, ‘Saturday 8th June, a party here at Everton Heights, Strata twenty. She left with Justin. I wasn’t going to go but I had nothing else better to do.'
‘This seems a good place for parties, Everton Heights.’
‘Yes, good if you have a friend who can let you in at the right level because no parties are happening around here anytime soon,’ she laughs, ‘can you imagine.’ Flinging her arms out she can almost touch both walls of her cube. On cue a neighbour to the left bangs a fist on the wall. Footsteps cross the floor above this cube, two pairs of feet. A bass beat vibrates the ceiling and through the wall to the right voices mutter.
‘You have your feet on the corporate rung, better than being stuck at street level.’ I remind her. Her generation have forgotten what it was like.
‘Not complaining,’ she says.
‘So you haven’t seen Estelle then since the 8th June? Isn’t that unusual? Don’t you normally spend a lot of time together?’
‘Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t,’ she fiddles with the frayed belt of her gown, ‘I never worry about Estelle, like I say, she’s lucky. And she certainly never worried about me.’
Standing to leave I ask, ‘Can you give me Justin’s contact details, then I’ll be off and you can go back to sleep.’
She shares them with me over the network.
‘Thanks,’ I say, ‘Get in touch if you remember anything that might help. Oh and I nearly forgot, one last thing, do you recognise this. Could this have come from something Estelle was wearing when she disappeared?’
‘No way, that’s a button. I can’t think of anything Estelle wore with buttons.’ She says as she motions to the network cube controls.
The door begins to slide open but then judders and stops half way. Loretta kicks it, 'Damn tech,' she says as it whirs back to life.‘Tell Jet, if you see her, that I’m thinking of her, hope she’s ok and not too worried.’ Loretta calls after me.