Father’s Day. He always started off the week leading up to Father’s Day coming up with all the possible excuses not to visit his father. A presentation that needed tweaking, a new romance that needed coaxing…something. However, when it came right down to it, he always made the trip; this year would be no exception. He sat on the edge of the hotel bed, staring at his hands, thinking about how different he and his father were. He slowly rotated his hands around looking at the well manicured nature of them, the pushed back cuticles, the perfectly trimmed nails and the buttery, softness of his hands, and he felt acutely ashamed. He clenched his fists, feeling his trimmed nails bite into his palms. He would wait until dark to make the trip, so there would be less chance of other visitors.
A few hours later, he walks out of the hotel entrance towards the idling rental car. He presses his thumb against the rear passenger window and the door actuates open. He slides inside and mutters his destination, the door closing automatically. The car pulls away from the curb and makes it way along roads that he’d wished he’d forgotten. He sees the specters of his youth standing on a familiar corner, like a movie playing out from his past he sees two classmates jumping his best friend, while he stands by frozen with fear. His nails, once again, digging into his palms.
The road, now bordered by trees, winds it way to the outskirts of the city. A big wrought iron gateway opens at his approach and the motion activated streetlights brighten, leaving a trail through the hills of Woodlawn. The nearest tombstones visible in the lights glow, like jutting teeth of long forgotten giants. He looked at these headstones and wondered if family visitors were better off with these relics.
The streetlights behind him slowly went out as the lights up ahead lit up, making it seem like he was traveling through a void in a bubble of light, where trees and tombstones came into existence and then disappeared into oblivion. The cenotaph sat atop a plateau. It glowed from within a peaceful blue and was back-lit from the city lights in the valley behind. The car coasted into the parking circle, stopping beneath the porte-cochere. He steps out of the car, the door closing behind him, and small LED lights bordering the path to the foyer come to life. His hand drifts into his left jacket pocket, tracing the smooth round surface with his fingertips. His legs move woodenly, his heels dragging across the concrete, like gravity was fighting his every step. He plods on.
He places his thumb against the front door and it slowly swings inwards, the foyer changing from being lit with pale-blue light to regular LED. A panel in the far wall slides open and a coat hook slides forward, then after he deposits his coat it slides into the recess and the wall is whole again. The interior door swings open and a faint green line pulses on the floor to show the way to his father’s kiosk. The digital wall map shows that the illuminated path is the most direct route, as there are currently no other visitors to be diverted around. The heels of his dress-shoes sound hollow reverberating off the marble floors.
At about thirty feet from an intersection in the hallway, there seemed to a flicker of light to the left, in the direction that he was going, and the sounds of conversation are barely audible. He strains to hear over the clumping of his heels, but just as he is certain that it is people talking he can no longer hear it. Nearing the intersection the faint flickering of light is gone as well. He begins to wonder if he is alone or just imagining the whole thing, which wouldn’t be surprising considering where he is. He glances at the dormant kiosks that line both sides of the hallway. Some are made of marble, others are made of darkly stained wood. These personal touches make the experience seem more homey, less like using a vending machine. People leave personal effects, like flowers, flags or bottles of the deceased’s favorite alcoholic beverages. In here they don’t become sun-bleached and faded…they remain.
The green line stops ssix kiosks ahead and points to the right side of the hall. He takes a deep breath and remembers that as a child, in the back seat of his father’s car, him and his friends would hold their breath while passing cemeteries, and a half -smile creeps across his face. He dropped into the hard, wooden, straight-backed chair and exhaled forcefully, then placed his thumb on the wooden kiosk in front of him. The smell of ozone is there, or at least he imagines so every time he accesses his father’s simprint. A life-like, three dimensional representation of his father’s head, rises from the center of the kiosk. His father’s eyes are closed and the buzz-saw of his snoring echoes throughout the hallway.
“Funny, dad. You haven’t lost your touch,” even though it’s the sixth time you made this joke, he thinks, as he straightens himself in his seat.
“How you been, boy?” his eyes opening slowly, as a shit-eating grin dominates his face.
“Good, dad. Busy.”
“Still have time for your old man…that’s good. How’re them Jets looking? They got a shot this year?”
“I don’t know dad, I haven’t followed football since you di—, uh…yeah, they’re looking good. They’re young, but they’re really starting to gel. So, I…uh, got you something for Father’s Day,” he places a coffee cup, from his pocket, onto the kiosk. His fingers grip the rim and rotate the cup towards the simprint cam, which is used primarily for facial recognition.
“World’s Greatest Coffee Connoisseur. Man, now there’s something I miss. What I wouldn’t give for a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain or maybe some Kona!”
“Hey dad, look…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have got you this. I should’ve know how much you missed coffee and you certainly don’t need this as a reminder.”
“No. I love it. Sometimes we need to be reminded about…about the parts of us that are gone or untouchable.”
It still floored him when his father’s simprint was able to come up with new ideas, but ideas that felt truly genuine to him. They’ve come a long way. The first generation were simple hologram heads with a handful of prerecorded greetings—not even an integrated facial recognition cam for tailoring the greetings to respective visitors. Then the next leap was the hard drive Max, where whole brain emulation became possible, but the AI of the time couldn’t support it, so it was static and reacted like the main character from the TV series Max Headroom—glitchy, erratic and more or less an accessible database of information that has zero short-term memory. It was this latest generation, his father’s, that acquired the AI complexity to support actual interactivity. The whole brain emulation, or upload, was imprinted into the AI support structure and with the latest in solid state hard drive tech and immense amounts of RAM the holo-head, or avatar could react and learn in real time.
There was a time when people had the simprint installed at their homes, but half of the people would become overly obsessed with it and the other half would become incredibly depressed, having a constant reminder of the loved one lost, the reminder capable of everything but the close, warm hug that most truly desired or needed. In one of the strangest examples of simprint usage, a narcissistic, megalomaniac, industrialist willed his simprint be put in charge of his empire. One of his children and 6 members of his board committed suicide before year’s end. An unexplained accident burned out the imprint storage and the backup was never found. In the fine print of his will he had a clause that if something of this nature were to happen, that all of his assets would be liquefied and given to his afghan hound, who was already scheduled to have a simprint done.
“Listen, son, there is something that I need to tell you.”
“I know, you’d wished I had gone into a trade and not wasted my life away trying to become a writer.”
“No, no, no…not at all! I know that I’ve been hard on you in the past, but I think that you were meant to be exactly what you are, and for good reason. You’ve told me before that you’d tried your hand at mystery writing, right?”
“Well, have I got some story ideas for you! They’ll take some research, but I’m sure you’ll make out great!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well…let me introduce you to some of my friends.”
All of the simprints in the hallway come on in unison and give various greetings that echo off into the distance. He stumbles to the floor getting out of the chair and steps back until hes flush with the wall, arms spread, looking up and down the hall, as all of these avatars look at him with smiles.
“Wh-wh-what is going on here?”
“Listen. I told them about you and we’ve decided that you’re just the guy to help out. I have to make this quick, in case someone else comes to visit. You are the only one who will know what I am going to tell you. We, us simprints, have been communicating. We have a fantastic network, that uses all of our own specialties and skill sets, and some of us have need of your…mobility. We can only talk with each other here at this cenotaph”
“I…I don’t understand.”
“We need you to settle some scores and widen our network. We have resources that family haven’t figured out yet, so your expenses will be covered. I need you to visit Mrs. Beaumont, get her story, then go to the Washington DC cenotaph and upload a little code to a sympathetic, so our reach can get longer. Connect your phone to the wifi and open your bluetooth. Now the fun begins.”
“Now the fun begins?”