The Talking Dead

The idea that someday we will be able to upload the human mind into computers has been around—and controversial—for several decades. The usual rationale is that it would grant humanity a kind of immortality. But there is another rationale: We generally mark our deaths with a memorial—often a stone engraved with name, dates of birth and death, an epitaph, and in recent times, a photo or even an embedded video player. Recent news raises the possibility of replacing stones with computers or at least digital displays (see ). Postmortem deepfakes are also a thing: .

If we ever solve the upload problem, memorials could become the deceased themselves, endlessly available for conversation or consultation. Of course, the memorials would be able to talk to each other, too. A cemetery could become quite a chatty place.

Meanwhile, here’s a short piece on how it might work out:

“Bandy” Marlowe was a police detective.

His real name was Peter, but he was short and slight, and once he had worked as a jockey. Not that that had anything to do with what had him scowling at the computer screen this morning.

“Three more, Bandy,” said the email from Captain Ferguson. “Dead, sexually assaulted, and this time we found the heads in a dumpster.”

That was a plus. This particular serial killer had disposed of fourteen previous heads more effectively, and for good reason. If the body–or the head–were fresh enough, the morgue could download what was left of the deceased’s mind. For non-crime victims, that task fell to the mortuary, which then copied the minds into Memorial Tablets—gravestones were so Last Century!—and mounted them on the cemetery’s Memory Wall.

Crime victims were interrogated before the mortuary got them.

“Unfortunately,” wrote Captain Ferguson. “They didn’t have anything to say. Still in shock.”

Indeed, thought Bandy. Cutting off your head would have that effect. Maybe later.


After chaining his bike in the lot behind his apartment building, he climbed the rear stairs, wishing hardly for the first time that the elevator still worked. He had two flights left to climb when the distinctive rhythm of his steps alerted Sherman, the retired K-9 that ruled his life.

“Time for walkies,” he answered the eager barks. “I know. I know.” Time was, a cemetery was a great place for walkies. But not now.

The box of biscuits sat on top of the fridge. Sherman was already sitting, staring upward. Bandy obligingly reached for the box and tossed a biscuit into the air.


He put another in his pocket, even as Sherman nosed the leash hanging on a kitchen chair.


The minds extracted from the heads of the serial killer’s latest victims were a little more talkative the next day. They could say their names: Donna Coltrane. Angel Argent. Katerina Kriz. They could say what they were doing: Walking home from a shop, a date, a late meeting at the office.

They could not say who killed them.

There was no change a day later, or a week. “We can keep the bodies,” said Captain Ferguson. “They’re still evidence. But the families want their minds. We have to send them to their funeral homes.”

The police could not keep copies. There were data protection laws.

Bandy nodded. From there to the cemetery and the Memory Wall, which many called the Deadwall. In a week, he would visit to ask if they remembered any more of their last night.


A wave of sound struck Bandy like a blow when he stepped into the cemetery building. Voices yelling “G’mornin” to each other.

“Any dreams?”

“Oh, yeah!”

“How was she?”

“Coffee! I want coffee! Black!”

“Ain’t gonna happen, honey! No bacon, either!”

“Woof! Wanta walkie!”

Yes, people did pay to put beloved pets on Memory Walls. Dogs. Cats. Horses. Even parrots.

Bandy covered his ears against the cacophony. The Memory Wall was fifty meters wide and three stories tall, with dark space reaching far above for future expansion. Cables dangled to buckets much like those on utility trucks, ready to lift visitors to their chosen Tablets.

He stepped into one and tapped in the code for Katerina Kriz. Her Tablet showed an image of a young woman with dark hair and tawny skin. Below the screen were three small panels with images of a phone for outgoing calls, a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and the universal emblem that meant “Tap your credit card here.”

“I don’t know you,” said Katerina.

“Police.” He held his ID before the camera. “Bandy Marlowe.”

“Bandy? You don’t look bow-legged.”

Well, no. Jockeys didn’t sit their horses the way cowboys did. “Do you know what happened?”

Tears filled the image’s eyes. She nodded.

“Did you see who did it?”

She shook her head.

Donna Coltrane and Angel Argent were no more helpful, and there was no point in checking the other fourteen victims. Without heads, or their contents, all the cemetery could display were AI deadfakes.

As he turned away, a dog barked. “Over here!” The image was a bloodhound. Heavy dewlaps and huge brown eyes. A spiked collar bore a tag that said simply “Buster.”

Bandy grinned. “Hey, Buster.”

“Wanta treat.”

The pay-me panels below the screen bore pictures of a water bowl, a dog biscuit, and a porkchop. Obligingly, Bandy laid his card against the porkchop.

“Woof! Woof! Gotta talk to Louie!” The necessary code appeared.

Louie was three rows higher on the Wall and four meters to the right. His image was a morose, older man with a thin comb-over.

“Yeah. I saw something.”

“What?” asked Bandy.

Louie just pointed downward, one finger tapping above the center pay-me panel. A bottle of Jameson’s. The other two showed a box of donuts and a phone.

Bandy obliged, and Louie said, “I saw him. Had a bag with three balls in it. Dripping blood. But he saw me too.”

Bandy winced.

“Yeah. That’s how I got here. But I got his plate first. You want it?”

“Of course!”

Louie tapped above the box of donuts. He couldn’t eat them. Not really, of course, just as he couldn’t drink the Jameson’s. But the system could make him think he could, or did.


“Nice job, Bandy,” said Captain Ferguson a few days later. The “alleged” killer had already been booked.

Bandy just shrugged. “You know dogs.”

The Captain raised one eyebrow.

“They’ll do anything for treats.”

“And the dead aren’t any different?”

They both laughed, and the Captain then added, “You need to get on the Central Bank robbery now.”

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