Ghost Walk

Aero was in some kind of forest. The ground was solid stone with only loose bits of gravel surrounding the rents where the trees had broken through. They were thick, impossibly so, some so much that they first appeared to be sheer walls of wood extending beyond the clouds. A great canopy of leaves of all colors swayed in a high altitude airstream, occasionally raining down a thunderous clatter as if they were thin sheets of warbling aluminum. And above those leaves there seemed to be more, and even more above those until the quilted foliage left no patch of sky remaining.

“What do you think?” asked the little man with the big mustache and well-worn gray suit.

“I don’t think so. Makes me uncomfortable,” she said.

“Do you suppose maybe it’s not the surroundings, but the subject you find disagreeable?” he asked.

Aero raised an eyebrow.

“Death,” he said.

Ah. That.

The odd man pursed his lips to one side and then the other, making his mustache waggle on his face. Aero realized she couldn’t remember his name.

He launched into a hurried walk and kept talking, forcing Aero to chase after him.

“The trees grow from specially synthesized seeds,” he was saying, “derived from the naturally occurring plants—or plant analogs—of over a thousand worlds. But each is also infused with an archive of coded memories, stored biochemically as DNA. Memories of the deceased. And not only memories, but the algorithms to capture their mannerisms, sensory experiences, and patterns of thought, and then to project them outward into the living world.”

“Virtual avatars?”

“Oh no, something much more substantial than that. Avatars, yes, in the sense that they manifest as sophisticated holograms, unable to physically interact with matter. But they are not virtual. These are the real, continued consciousnesses of the deceased. Here, outside the jurisdiction of the various antiquated and superstitious governing bodies of the galactic core, the dead may live, and continue living for eons.”

He finally stopped at the base of one of the giant trees.

“Look, I appreciate your time, but I just don’t feel comfortable with the whole thing. It’s not a fit for me,” said Aero.

The man frowned. “It’s natural to experience some confusion at first, but I assure you that this is what you wanted.”

“What are you—”

He stepped aside to reveal a placard installed beside the tree. It had Aero’s name on it. She reached for it, but her hands passed right through.

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