P.S.O Jules Stewart
Otterspool Skypark, constructed in the fifties. At the time the highest park in the country on top of the tallest building in the city. Now Fort Sefton, Dingle Rise, Allerton Vertical Acres and the rest of the corporate Strata built since dwarf it. The entrance is strata thirty but accessible to residents of strata twenty and above, with restrictions applied of course.
I walk from the elevators and, now I'm on duty, use my network alert privileges to part the crowd forming at the gates. It’s only 6am but this green oasis is busy from dawn until dusk.
The first time I came here I couldn't figure it out. A wall of glass and metal on the northern edge of the park reflects the trees like a giant mirror extending the greenery in one direction as far as you can see, like an ancient forest. I'll bring Dorace here when we make it to strata 20, she'll love it. She'll remember the palm house that was relocated when they built Fort Sefton, she used to go there years ago when it was still at street level.
I’ve set my reality in the park as Far East, tropical, the flowers vibrant reds and pinks, standing stones surrounded by circles of slate and ponds with floating lilly pads and golden carp flashing beneath the surface. I follow the gravel paths to the pagoda at the centre of the space, the last location the network registered Estelle on 16th July 21.45.
The records show a retina scan on entry and a selection of Far East and Insects, number five. Strange choice for a woman her age, probability would suggest Contemporary Sculptural With Wind Chimes, number eight, or a fantasy setting like Minotaur VII with accompanying score, number fifteen. Was this a random selection? Was she meeting someone in the pagoda? Guesswork is all I have, no clues, just me blinking at a blank screen. And of course the Memory Store and the connections it makes, some links more useful than others.
As I move to sit on a lacquered bench, ornate with red and gold patterns, the shadows of other park visitors pass me, logged into their own reality selections.
The waste from the park cleaning bots has been filtered, drones searched walkways, surfaces, corners, no trace. Nothing. It seems incredible to disappear so suddenly, so completely.
I scan through the memories of other park users at that precise moment 21.45:
Gregory Packard remembered taking a red box of Crispy Crunch Critters from a red basket.
Martha Myers smiled down at a pigeon, shaking crumbs from her skirt.
Wayne Crossley recalls an elderly man dressed in white tossing an ancient red cricket ball from hand to hand.
My backside starts to feel the cold of the concrete.
The edges of the pagoda bleed slightly into the surrounding green as grass, this is old tech now, not too stable and the gold lacquer on the bench shimmers. I push my feet down into the gravel, it gives way, the image in my retina breaking up as it struggles to keep up with my burrowing feet. I remember as a kid when this technology first appeared trying to trick it, trying to break the illusion. As the gravel shifts, pixelates and blurs a small white button breaks through the picture, dislodged from under the bench. Who wears buttons? It’s smaller than the nail of my little finger. I slip it into an evidence bag and into my pocket. It could have been there a long time, trapped down at the side of the concrete, skimmed over in the cleaning process. Still, worth examining.
Maybe Jet Wong can tell me if she thinks it’s significant, if it was likely that it belonged to Estelle. Ms Wong has summoned me to her cube. Have you ever met her?