Cassie followed behind and just slightly to the left of Cody. He was tall, but young. She thought he was maybe just out of high school, and still awkwardly thin and lanky from teenage growth spurts. She wondered briefly how one chose a job like this, or what qualifications were sought by the Mausoleum.
They were walking down a corridor that seemed to be separated from the Hall of Remembrance by a sturdy wall. The floor gleamed. The hallway was softly lit from hidden sconces. The effect was dim, without seeming dingy. Rather, the lighting felt comforting. The walls hosted a number of potted plants along their length. There were no windows, and she wondered how the plants lived back here. Maybe the Mausoleum paid someone to come and switch them around every day so that they all got exposure to the sunlight, and none had to spend more than a day or so in the dimness of the hallway.
“If you’ll follow me through here,” he said, gesturing her through a door, “I’ll show you around our control room.”
Cassie stepped through the door, into a room that was even quieter than the rest of the center was. She looked around. It wasn’t a large space, but it was full of keyboards and monitors and buttons. One entire wall was taken up by row upon row of numbered switches. In one corner, on a raised platform, was a single wheeled office chair.
“What is this?” She asked quietly.
“This,” Cody said with a pride that seemed genuine, “is the brains of the Mausoleum. This is where we control the computers that make all of this possible.”
“Make what possible?”
“Oh, the digital memorialization of our loved ones that have passed.”
Cassie peered over a rack of black plastic toggles, with her hands safely clasped behind her back. “I guess I still don’t know what exactly you do here. I’ve never been inside before.”
“Well, for a long time, we’ve buried our deceased friends and family in the ground at places called cemeteries…”
“I know what cemeteries are.” Cassie had been to a cemetery once, on a trip with her parents. It was an old historical site, no longer in active use, but still maintained by the city that owned it in order to preserve a piece of a long-ago era.
“… yes, well, there are problems with using cemeteries. They become full, they take up what would otherwise be usable land, and there were sometimes problems with ground pollution. The Mausoleums are intended to help alleviate those issues by replacing the old custom with something similar, but new.”
“So do the dead people end up here?” She asked.
“No. They’re cremated at a separate facility.”
“So how is this similar to a cemetery?”
“Well, when someone dies, and when we have enough advance warning, we have the technology now to scan the brain of the person dying.”
“You scan their brains?”
“Yes, we need to in order to create the digital memorials. It has to be done before or immediately after death. The structure of the brain changes irreparably after death, and the information cannot be recovered after that happens.”
“What do you… record? Store?”
“It might be more accurate to think of it in terms of storage. Recording is so static. We target pieces of information to help make the memorial richer and more detailed. Associations, memories, things like that. We store them and use a piece of software to use that data to create the memorial.”
Cassie thought back to the moving images on the screens in the Hall of Remembrance. “So it’s like a video of the person’s life?” She thought that didn’t quite make sense, because Sam’s father wouldn’t have memories of his own face staring, like had been pictured on the screen.
“No, it’s a dynamic likeness. Videos can only show the same things over and over again. The software produces a sort of a simulation, with more autonomy than a video.”
“Because using this technology, we can produce a memorial that is more vibrant than visiting a headstone in a cemetery. People often seem comforted by having the opportunity to see the deceased as they were in life. It’s a far better option than wasting time and resources preserving the body. You are in essence celebrating the living memory, rather than mourning a death.”
“What’s this?” Cassie asked, running a finger along the big wall of switches, carefully, in between the rows.
“Look with your eyes, please, miss.”
Cassie jerked her hand away and clasped it behind her back again.
“This,” he continued, “is where we control the monitors in the Hall of Remembrance. When you come in, we get you checked in at the front, and you’re assigned a monitor. Then we use the control room to call up the stored data, and the switches help us direct the program to the assigned monitor.”
“Why are there so many switches for each one?”
“Well, one is for the video, and one is for the sound, and…”
Cassie interrupted him. “These have sound?”
“… well, yes, but we largely leave the sound off. It can make the Hall of Remembrance quite noisy, so to be fair to everyone we just leave it off.”
“Do you have any more questions about how the center is run?”
“I don’t think so.”
Cody clapped his hands together, seeming pleased that he had done his job. “Wonderful. If you’ll follow me back into the hall and to the right, I’ll show you where we keep all the data. It’s amazing!”
Cassie followed behind Cody. She had the oddest feeling that things just didn’t add up.