Cassie trailed along slightly behind the guide as they walked. Cody was a young man, perhaps just out of school. He was tall and quite thin; he gave the impression of not quite having blossomed from adolescence yet.
“So what is this place?” She asked.
“The Mausoleum is a state of the art data storage facility,” he responded. “We have buried our deceased loved ones in the ground for a very long time, but cemeteries use up a lot of land that can be put to better purposes, and there have been issues in the past with overcrowding and resulting issues with pollution. The Mausoleum is a way in which we can preserve the deceased without having those problems, and in a form that most say is less troubling to them than a gravesite or an urn of remains.”
Cassie thought this over. She had been to a cemetery before, on a trip with her family. It had been marked off as an historical site.
“So how are they preserved? The dead people, I mean.”
“In most cases, when there’s some warning, we’re able to digitize some of the memories from the deceased themselves. We take this data and use a piece of software to compile it into something loved ones would be able to understand as human, as a reflection of their loved one. It’s like a photograph of the dead, but better. Families and friends are able to honor those that have passed as they lived, rather than as a dead body, or a patch of earth.”
“So it’s just… like a video?”
“Not exactly.” He said. “It’s more dynamic than that. Plus, we’re able to capture actual memories that sometimes weren’t on video, candid moments. We go through them to eliminate that which might be uncomfortable for those left behind, and then we store the data here, so that people can come and visit. There’s more of a trace of the self, a bit of personality, to this than one would have in a video.”
“Why is there no sound?” Cassie asked.
“Oh, there’s sound. We just found that the Hall of Remembrance became too loud when multiple families were visiting, and we realized we would have to keep the sound off. You know, out of respect for those who were there to grieve.”
Cassie thought about all of this for a little while, as they walked. There was something about it that didn’t sit quite right with her.
“On your right, we’ll go through that door there. This is our control room.” Cody stepped through the doorway and gestured for her to follow. Inside was a bank of monitors displaying information in simple monochrome text, accompanied by keyboards and panels of controls. “This is where we can make sure that everything is working correctly, and over here,” he pointed to a wall to her left, “are the controls for all of the individual screens. We assign you a screen when you sign in, and then we bring up the appropriate files on that monitor for you.”
Cassie walked over to the wall, and saw countless toggles, each numbered.
“Now look with your eyes only, miss,” he said with a warm smile.
“So they’re computer programs,” she said.
“That’s more or less correct, yes.”
“But when I was out there with my friend’s family, the screen showed an image of his father. His father wouldn’t have a memory of himself…”
“No, that’s correct. But we construct highly detailed and accurate… avatars of the deceased. Some find it comforting to see the deceased as they were in life.” Cody explained.
“So wait, what animates these avatars?”
“The software, miss.”
The software that contains the memories of the deceased.”
Cassie knew she was scowling slightly, and that her mother discouraged such behavior on the grounds that it might set her up for wrinkles later in life, but there was something here that she was having a difficult time puzzling out. She smoothed her features and turned to Cody.
“Well, Cody, thank you very much for the tour.”
“Not at all, miss. We understand that the nature of our business is a sensitive and intimate one, and we’re glad to do whatever we can to make sure that we put family members at ease regarding the storage of their loved ones.”
Cody escorted her back to the lobby, just in time to meet Sam and Rebbekah and their mother coming out of the hall.
“Hello, Cassandra,” Sam’s mother said, smiling. “Where were you all this time?”
“Oh, I asked for a tour. I hope that was okay.”
“Well, it’s always best to let me know if you’re going to wander off.”
Cody chimed in with a slight bow and a broad smile. “She was in good hands, ma’am.”
“I’m sorry.” Cassie said, looking down at her scuffed shoes. “I just didn’t want to interrupt you guys, it all seems so… personal, you know?”
“I understand. Just please, let me know next time. You wouldn’t want to make people worry, would you?”
“Okay, are we ready to go?”
The three children chorused a dispirited “yes.”
Sam never seemed to enjoy these trips. When he talked about them, Cassie had noticed that it was more like he was talking about a chore that needed doing than anything else. Today at least, even Rebbekah seemed deflated. Cassie could understand why it would be important to their mother to keep the memory of their father fresh for the children, but she wondered if Rebbekah even remembered her father alive, and if not, what a strange family ritual this must be for her.
Sam’s mother dropped her off in front of her house on the way back. Cassie thanked her politely, and then walked up to the house. Sam stared after her with wide eyes from the car and Cassie mouthed the words, “at school tomorrow,” to him, before walking up the cement path to the front door.