Okay, first question: Are dead people able to send postcards?
And the answer to that is logically, instinctively, a big red rubber-stamped 'NO'. But you see, things have become complicated ever since they invented the World Wide Collective Consciousness, also known as WC². The unfortunate acronym brings to mind the forgotten water closet of a bygone Victorian era and some sort of alien mathematical function, but putting that aside, the World Wide Collective Consciousness is some deep serious shit.
Years ago, my biological father uploaded his consciousness onto the web, when it was still scandalous and dangerous to do so. My adoptive family unit naturally decided to cut all ties with that 'irresponsible bastard' (my adoptive mother's words, not mine), and I never saw him again.
Now, everyone who had rushed into the Alpha stage of the WC² project is known to be physically dead. That was some eighty years ago, back when they still haven't eradicated AIDs, certain forms of cancer, and malaria. My father was already way past the expected lifespan of an average gun-toting, cigarette-smoking, couch-potato male. He was addicted to an array of substances that his doctor had gave up trying to wean him off on: nicotine, alcohol, morphine, cocaine, and various hallucinogens. Finally he was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and nobody but him was surprised.
We were apathetic when we heard the news, really. After all, he had been a donor to some other selected figureheads as well. The plebian dames, the harlots and the rich men's mistresses all worshipped him at his feet. He was the sex god of the thirty-first century, with his naturally endowed looks and inimitable talent of singing soulful ballads. He was before my time though, and I only knew him as an eccentric retired rock-star, who would pull my cheeks until it hurt to move my jaws every single time I met him.
When he had joined the WC² initiative, it was partly desperation and partly pride. He believed in going out with a bang and that was his way of saying goodbye to everything. When his physical body had wasted away we held a private funeral for him in his hometown, Alaska, after a huge public affair in the World Capital.
By then I was too old to cry and it's been a whole eight decades since that time. And now, the postcard.
Well, even if it wasn't so inconceivable that his consciousness had remained intact and he had attained a way of contacting the outside world, there were questions to be asked. Specifically, why a postcard? And more importantly, why me?
To be critical, the WC² project was a huge drain on the government's resources, and it yielded insignificant results. It was only because it was 'the last frontier on earth', the 'opiate of the masses', that the government had not pulled the plug on it yet. After all, it wasn't much more than glorified cemeteries for the uber-rich. There simply wasn't enough experimental data for the scientific community to reach a consensus on pseudo-philosophical questions like 'can the human spirit survive the trials of the internet?', 'If so, would it be transferred intact, or in fragments?', 'What would it feel like to be part of the collective consciousness of the world wide web?', and my favorite: 'Can you see dead people in the back alleys of the internet?' Granted it wasn't phrased exactly like that, but the world's obsession with the virtual reality was ridiculous. Wasn't the real world good enough for them?
The postcard was evidently an old one, predating my birth and glossy on one side, matt on the other. Age had curled its edges and yellowed its ink, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was an ad for the Open Alpha of WC². The date of writing was 3202 August 18, some months back, and the words were typewritten and printed. Even so, it was unmistakably from the late King of Ballads himself, or at least a darn good imposter, because nobody else called me 'sugarlumps' since the 3100's (a fact I'm thankful about).
"Sugarlumps," it began, "you remember that time you asked me why I chose the net? I shrugged and said who wouldn't want to be immortal. I take my words back. It's a God-given privilege to choose how and when you die. And now, you're the only one I can turn to to redeem that privilege. You were always a precocious child, unafraid of asking hard questions. That's why it had to be you. Besides, Marvis and Reira are both dead, aren't they? It's time I should say goodbye too. Go to Ioris Foster of the Walterman Group, and tell them Jackson King wants out. I want my data positively wiped away. The password is 'the11king08still31lives17'. Goodbye sugarlumps, I miss you."
Now, the second question I would ask is: Assuming they can, am I supposed to do something, such as actually replying, or god-forbid, actually carrying out their last will?
I'm not exactly as skeptical as I used to be anymore. Over the years I've learnt that things have the habit of falling apart when you deconstruct them too much. But I was disinclined to believe the postcard from the word-go because it seemed laughably ludicrous. Surely it must be an elaborate prank of some sort, perhaps a worldwide conspiracy to shut down the network by some dissenters of the company.
So I filed a case of inquiry at the Walterman Group, asking them if it was physically possible for their clients to contact the world beyond the net. Ioris Foster himself met me in his penthouse office.
"I was hoping his letter wouldn't reach you," he said, "it must have caused you undue concern. But don't worry, it's just a little bug in the system, I promise you we'll fix it."
"Fix what?" I asked him, "It doesn't sound like a bug to me."
He eyed me surreptitiously and arranged his fingers in a steep.
"Well, surely you don't think such irrational behavior is normal? From time to time a few of our occupants are unable to adapt to their new environment, especially the Alpha transfers. A patch would be released on New Year's Eve though, and it will fix everything."
"No," I said, my tone a little more forceful than I had expected, "he's been in for eighty years. I don't think adaptation is the problem. Since his postcard found me, I should fulfill his will. Or do your occupants not have free will?" I emphasized the last two words with an unintentional hand-to-hip movement, and promptly corrected it by slamming the table.
Mr Foster considered the situation for a grave moment, no doubt deliberating if I was the type of person to fight or flee. But the desk slam seemed to have convinced him that cautious maneuvering was needed for a person like myself.
"Talk is fine and dandy, Miss Edison, but unless you have the proper clearance and password we are legally bound not to kill Mr Jackson King."
"I do," I said, even though I had no idea what 'proper clearance' was, or if the password is even correct.
The president of the Fortune 500 company seemed genuinely stupefied for a moment, before he finally said in a resigned voice, "Okay, I'll let you pull the plug on your father's life, on one condition."
"Name it," I said.
"Nobody else is to find out about it," he said in a conspiratorially whisper, and for a brief second I had a vague impression that I was on a TV set and someone was going to jump out and yell "Punk'd" at me, but the moment passed and I was back in the guest seat of the highest office in Windchester Avenue.
"Err, okay, I'm not going to tell anybody about this," I said.
"Right, because if you do, you're going to end up like your father."
I was brought to an underground server, where everything was white or gray and the only colors in the entire complex were the exit signs and well, Mr Foster and I. I've taken a bit of a liking for the guy, really. For one, he doesn't make unnecessary small talk. Plus, he knew his clothing brands well. His pants sufficiently overlapped with his socks in the correct proportion and I'm sure his collar was starched.
But wait, one last question. Why am I going through with this?
This wasn't what I'd planned when I took the Metro here. I was just going to ascertain that it was a prank, some action of one crazed fan girl or a group of haters perhaps, and the situation was going to resolve itself, pure and simple.
I didn't even like Jackson all that much. Marvis, who was my adoptive father, was the one who attended my school's sport meets, my dance performances, my wedding and all of the other events, whereas that jackass only dragged me off with him whenever he needed some sort of daughter-figure to boost his popularity ratings.
We reached a metal door which looked like the entrance of a bank vault, and Mr Foster indicated the electronic panel to me after keying in some numbers.
"Just key in the password," he said. And I obliged. The door swung open with a groaning sound, as if it hadn't been used in a long while, which in all likelihood, was probably true.
We stepped into the room and I was struck by how empty it was. In the middle of the room was a monolithic machine that seemed much like a mechanical dragon prone to waking up and breathing fire any moment. Well, to be precise it looked nothing like a creature, even a mythical one, with its dull square features and gossamer wires. But I could feel the tension of a power undulating beneath the polished metal surface, and it made my hair stand on ends.
For some particular reason we stopped just a few steps away from the control panel of the huge machine. A clinking noise came from behind the monolith, as if something metallic had struck against it, and then a tiny android peeked out from behind the machine.
"Oh, it's you, Miss Edison," the robot said with a unnervingly human voice, but without intonation, "I was expecting you."
It was in the shape of a human child. Specifically, it was modeled after a young version of my biological father. The silicon surface was worn out on some parts and the inner aluminum chassis revealed. I backed away instinctively when it moved towards me.
"Your father," it said, "had always told me you resembled him."
"Alpha 17," Mr Foster interrupted in an abrupt tone, "Miss Edison would like to delete the files to Jackson King, serial number 000192A. Execute and delete the relevant files permanently."
"Wait," I said, as the android turned towards the main control, "you can talk to him?"
"By him, do you mean Jackson King?" it replied.
"Yes, yes. You talked to him, didn't you?"
The robot took a backwards glance, its neck turning at an awkward angle, and nodded.
"Then could you contact him now? Call him or something?" My voice was strained and desperate, and it felt strange to my own ears, but I didn't care.
"Not anymore. On February 12 the previous year, the conduit got overrun by rogue viruses. I suspect that Mr Jackson King's files are infected as well."
"Alpha 17, execute on 000192A, priority 1," Mr Foster repeated.
"W-wait! What are you doing?"
"The vault runs on a timer, Miss Edison. If we linger here any longer it would take a whole day for headquarters to get us out."
"What? You could have said so earlier!" I said and turned towards Alpha 17, intending on delaying the inevitable.
"Wait wait, Alpha 17, Stop!" But it was too late. The program was already running and Alpha 17 simply gave me a blank look, as if to say that my command was useless -- there was nothing left to stop.
"Give it up, miss," Mr Foster said, "There's no way to abort the program at its current stage. Besides, it was your intention to shut him down. What's the point of contacting him at this late juncture?"
"No, I just…" I began, but didn't know how to continue. I then closed my eyes and sighed. It's true. Speaking to my biological father now wouldn't make a difference.
"Let's go," he said, "the door is about to close."
I nodded but stayed rooted to the ground. And the president simply shook his head and stepped out of the vault.
"Miss Edison," the android said when Mr Foster was gone, "Mr King said to pass you this should his data be deleted."
I looked down at the tiny robot and slowly took the coredisc in its hands, shooting it a questioning look.
"What's this?" I asked, when it became apparent that the android couldn't read expressions.
"Mr King made a copy of himself onto the disc. It can't be run unless you own a X31 supercomputer, and there wasn't enough space to store his somatic data, but it contains most of his memories and psychological make up.
I examined the nondescript coredisc on my palm. It was the size of a stamp and it was completely inconceivable that all of his mind could fit so easily in the palm of my hands. But then again, I suppose it is the same feeling people got when their loved ones are cremated and all that's left of them is some ashes in an urn.
He wasn't alive anymore. No, he wasn't alive eighty years ago, but it was just like him to do this. Just like him to refuse us the right to mourn him, just as long as there was still a little more hope.
"No," I said, placing the coredisc back into the android's hand, its face a constant reminder of my father, "I won't be tricked anymore. I won't be the only one stuck remembering him."
The android didn't look surprised, but then it was foolish of me to expect it to, in the first place. I stared at its perfect porcelain-like face for a long moment, before stepping out of the vault just in time to see the door close behind me.
When I was led out of the complex by two armed security guards, after a snide remark by Mr Foster about breaching security measures, it was raining outside. It's been 80 years since my father died and today was the day I discovered that you couldn't ever use up your allocation of tears.
And all this because of a stupid postcard.
Goodbye dad, I hope I don't have to see you again.