P.S.O Jules Stewart
The monorail carriage is so full that I find myself curved around the figure in front of me, held in place by the crowd, unable to fall, packed so close together and all busy in our own realities on the network. I take shallow breaths, the air in the carriage humid from the crush of bodies. Fortunately it's only three stops from Pierhead Towers to Wavertree, home to communications and technology companies for centuries. The headquarters of Monanzo Tech, pioneers of VR, sensorium and tactorium technologies as well as the recent Dream Players, straddle the old streets, Innovation Boulevard and Digital Way.
I’m washed out of the carriage on a crowd surge when we arrive, everyone heading for experiences to fill their down time. I’m carried along with them out of the station exit into the foyer of the VR Lounge and sensorium, a cavernous space with queues of people snaking from the gates of the many experience destinations. A group destined for Medieval Europe cross the concourse towards their departure gate dressed in flowing robes, some carrying swords; others in shorts and flip flops are heading for the Great Barrier Reef. A group of children are being gathered together by a man in uniform.
I cross to an information point and as I approach a young man of around forty steps forwards, rolling up the sleeves of an old fashioned white shirt, which is pristine and creaseless.
‘Hi Officer Stewart, I’m Lance Baud, I manage this facility.’ He gestures to take in all that surrounds us.
‘Wow, quite a job.’ I say. ‘I’ve heard your name in connection with Jet Wong and her charity events here.’
‘Yes, a kind hearted and generous woman, I’ve been very fortunate to work with her. It goes without saying, I’ll do all I can to help find Estelle. Jet told me you were coming, where would you like to begin?’
‘It would be useful to know what experiences Estelle visited here.’
‘Last time she brought her friend, Loretta Parkes, a special guest, not actually resident of a qualifying strata but… They went to Liverpool in the swinging sixties. It’s a surprisingly popular virtual destination.’
‘Did she ever have a magnetic pulsar reflector on her?’ I ask
‘Of course not, Officer they're very dangerous devices in a place like this, well anywhere. I can’t imagine that Estelle even knew what one was.’
‘You’ll have to excuse my ignorance Mr Baud, but I’m not from a strata with access to these experiences and so how they’re affected by a magnetic pulsar reflector I couldn’t really say. What danger do they pose?’
‘All experiences are carefully calibrated and these devices mask a person’s presence, enough to fool the system. People think they gain freedom within the environment but the environment is not real, it’s a construct and they place themselves in grave danger by masking their presence in it.’ His eyes have been scanning data while he was talking. ‘There’s no record of Estelle or anyone with her carrying such a device. We monitor this very carefully, of course they can be hard to detect, as we all remember from the Peter Wallinski scandal, but we can and we do scan for them.’
‘Thanks for checking.’ I say, my finger closing around the pouch in my pocket. ‘If someone did want to get hold of one of these devices where might they look?’
‘I’m afraid I have no idea,’ he says, ‘what makes you think Estelle had one?’
‘Just something I read in a memory on the network.’
‘Well Officer, don’t believe all you read,’ he says with a chuckle.