Part 4: Seeing Dad for a Last Time

After eating dinner with my mother and sisters I had a full night’s sleep, then waking up in the morning I put on a suit in preparation for going to the funeral. When I walked down the stairs and encountered mom in the kitchen she said, “Don’t forget that we’re leaving by 9:00AM, otherwise we will be late for the funeral.”

Still fiddling with my tie, I said without looking up at mom, “Uh…would you mind if I don’t ride in the car with you but take the bus to the funeral home?”

“Why?”

“I want to get there a little early,” I lied.

“Okay, but make sure you arrive on time!” she yelled as I was desperately walking away from her. I ran towards the basement and woke up Alice, then in a hurried voice said, “Alice, we’re going to dad’s funeral.”

“The event of ‘your dad’s funeral’ is not a well-defined event in my database, I cannot proceed further with your order,” Alice responded.

I looked up at the ceiling with frustration, then said, “You don’t have to know where my dad’s funeral will be, I’ll take you there.”

“Thank you, I’ll come with you,” Alice said, then stood up from the couch and began walking slowly towards me.

“Come on, walk faster, I don’t want mom to see you,” I said impatiently. The pace of her strides picked up until we were both running out of the house, to the point that I nearly forgot to lock the basement and had to run back into the house to do so.

When we arrived at the bus station we were just in time to catch it. As I entered the door I swiped my subdermal RFID ID tag against the pay panel. The female voice of the automated payment system said, “Payment accepted, you may board the bus,” before unlocking the turnstile to allow me in. Unfortunately Alice did not have any payment method, so I tried reasoning with the automated payment system to see if she’ll allow Alice to tag along with me. “Alice isn’t really a human, she’s an android and therefore can be considered luggage and can come along with me for free,” I said.

The automated payment system thought for a while, then said, “Please transfer sufficient amount of money from your electronic wallet or bank account.”

I rolled my eyes in frustration, if there were a human being in charge of handling payment I might have been able to get Alice on the bus for free, but since this is a completely automated bus there is only a dumb computer in control, so I swiped my ID tag against the pay panel again to allow Alice through. I breathed a sigh of relief after as we sat down on the bus, looked at my watch make to make sure we would arrive on-time. As we rode we noticed there were a couple of men staring at Alice, they were probably paying attention to her unusual facial features as well as body proportion. It make me smile knowing how attractive Alice is to other people.

When we arrived at the funeral home we entered the lobby, an old lady greeted us and asked, “Please sign in next to your name.” I found my name in a notebook in front of her and signed, but then looked at Alice, then back at the old lady as she said, “And your lady friend as well.”

I smiled nervously and said, “You see, Alice…she’s not human, she’s an android.”

The old lady looked puzzled, but then I tapped Alice’s eyes, then said, “See, her eyes are made of cameras behind a protective sphere of glass, doing this doesn’t bother her at all.”

Alice looked at the old woman and said, “I don’t believe we have met before, nice to meet you.” The old woman was stunned by the life-like behavior of Alice, at which point I grabbed Alice’s hand and led her to the chapel before the old woman had any more questions.

Dad was probably the most atheist person anyone can think of, nonetheless his funeral was taking place in a chapel because that’s what most funeral homes offer. Obviously there would not be any priests, but there were not very many differences with his and a Christian burial. I was about five minutes late, and there were only two seats left at the back, just enough for me and Alice. Even though my mom promised it will be a small funeral and invite only close friends, he was a very important person in the robotics and artificial intelligence community and there were more than 120 people who worked with, knew about, or close to him who wanted to attend. To accommodate those people, along with the dozen or so family members, the puny chapel had to be packed extraordinarily tight.

When I first sat down the funeral home director was wrapping up his speech, and an uncle of mine was about to go up to the podium to be the first speaker to address the audience when another person entered the chapel. He had an adipose frame but was dressed immaculately with the fashion sense of a professor. There were no seats left, but I whispered to Alice, “Would you get out of your seat? The man behind you wants it.”

She stood up, and the man smiled at me and whispered in a heavy Russian accent, “Thank you, I’m Wally Yanikov, who are you?”

“I’m Robbie Walska,” I whispered back.

A look of joy appeared on his face, he reached out to me with his hand and said, “Really? You’re Ivan’s son? Your father worked under my supervision during his post-doc project. He likes to show me pictures of you, but that was when you were two years old, you have grown up a lot since then.”

“As you would expect of a person who doesn’t have any pituitary problems.”

“And I see you brought along your girlfriend as well.”

I blushed, then said, “I’m not sure that girlfriend is the right word. You see, she’s an android.”

Wally opened his mouth in astonishment and said, “Wow, that must be the famous Alice he had been working on until he died. He started the project when he was in my lab, but after he left I wasn’t able to see the improvements he made to her during that time, but now I can see how sophisticated she is. Can I take a closer look of her after the funeral?”

“Why of course,” I answered. I was returning my attention to my uncle’s speech when I noticed Wally was trying to touch Alice’s right breast, at which point I slapped him and said, “Don’t do that around here, everyone can see you.”

The service lasted for an hour, everybody tried to finish their speech but the director hurried them along so there would be time left for the burial. But just when the director thought he was ready to lead everyone to the grave, Wally stood up and said, “Wait, I didn’t get a chance to speak!”

The director took a look at the schedule and said, “Oh, sorry, but please make this quick because everyone else’s speeches took such a long time. I apologize for this, but let’s not keep everyone waiting.”

Wally walked up to the podium, smiled down at everybody and said, “Good morning everyone, I’m Vasily Yanikov, but most people call me ‘Wally.’ I came here to remember and honor an extraordinary man who I had the privilege to work with. He was unlike anybody that I have met, he had a very deep understanding of all areas of computer science, and even some areas he was not formally trained in. When we split and went our separate ways, most people who knew him expected him to get the Nobel Prize, but instead, as you all well know, me and my group got that honor. Many people have said that the biggest blunder of his career was that he did not come with me to my lab at MIT, and that this decision cost him the Nobel Prize, but we should not read his decision in this way. Ivan was a great scientist and engineer who was driven by his own desires and goals, he didn’t care about receiving rewards and accolades and more about satisfying his own needs, which was to create something unique. During the last decade he has made remarkable progress in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics, ones which will have far more impact than my own work. Had he lived for a decade more those projects would have come to fruition, and we would have all seen the wonders produced by his labors. But since he did not, the best we could do is to carry forward the progress he has made, and fulfill his dream of a fully-functioning android.”

As Wally walked off the stage the room burst into applause, and the people in the chapel began filing out into the graveyard. On the way we had to walk past my dad’s open casket. I was not mentally prepared to see his dead body; that was the reason I brought Alice along with me to the funeral, so during the more emotional parts of the ceremony the would be somebody’s hand to hold for comfort. I became more nervous the closer I approached the casket as I did not know how I would react to seeing my father’s body, so I clasped Alice’s hand tightly just in case I lose composure.

When I saw my father’s corpse the finality of his death finally hit me, and immediately broke into a fit of sobbing. Before setting my eyes on his eternally still face I only understood his death in an intellectual sense, but now confronting his body his death finally seemed real to me. He is undeniably dead, his body lying inside the casket expressed his death in a more emotionally impactful way than any newspaper obituary could. The makeup applied by the mortician to hide any imperfections in his skin made him look like an angelic being that has already passed into the afterlife. I gripped tightly onto Alice’s hand to comfort me and stop me crying, looked at her face to remind myself that despite being dead he left behind a creation which still contained a part him.

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