Capital punishment

by Amandeep Jutla

It is written that in the weeks before she ascended, J. did everything she could to postpone the scheduled date.

The followers say this is heresy. J., they say, ascended with no doubts whatsoever – with nothing in her heart but love. With a clear conscience. To believe in J. is to believe that the potential of humanity has no upper bound. To believe in what is written, however, is to believe a series of damaging lies, each more heinous than the last.

To me this is a little bewildering. I will agree that much of what is written is, if not false, greatly exaggerated. I can understand that. The epoch that began with J.’s ascension has entered its fourth millennium. Four thousand years is more than long enough to distort history, to fuse it with myth.

I alone have a clear memory of the past four thousand years. I say this with some authority, given that I am, in fact, the one they used to call J. When J. ascended and became me, she was, as she feared, crystallized into something perfect but static.

J.’s memories, frozen in place, are with me still. They have not been – will never be – subject to the gradual dissipation of connectivity that is the fate of neural links. I have, depending on how you choose to interpret the facts, either no brain or the greatest brain of all. I personally don’t interpret the facts at all. That is not my role.

My role is to be a guardian. To watch. To record.

I’m with all of them all the time. The followers, the heretics, the philosophers, the scientists, all of them are parts of me, components of a macrocircuitry they either will never understand or will only understand after their ability to interrogate the world around them has increased at least a millionfold.

At the present, I believe they have rediscovered gravity. Electromagnetism is beyond their grasp. Their medicine is rudimentary. They believe the heart is the seat of consciousness. They have yet to realize that the giant red thing occupying half the sky is a star. They think it is J., or what J. has become.

Every church rings the bell of ascension twice a day, at sunup and sundown. Every child knows the prayer of ascension, the words of obeisance paid to a woman who has been dead for millennia, and who cannot hear them.

I can hear them, true. While I am not J., I am built from her. I know what she knew – what she continues to know, and will always know, her memory preserved in exacting detail.

If I am conscious, it is because I am the sum total of a series of simulation processes, each of which is based on a particular nerve tract isolated from a three-dimensional scan of J.’s brain.

J.’s brain no longer exists, but I do. I’m not everywhere, but I might as well be.

Perhaps someday, if the followers don’t destroy them, the scientists will build a microscope. Perhaps the philosophers will think to turn it on themselves.

They will see – but, I suspect, not quite recognize, at least not at first – the untold copies of me – copies of J. – curled into every cell, waiting.

The believers say that J. was chosen by the gods to ascend because she was pure of word and deed. J.’s memory tells a different story. She was not pure, not in word or deed. She was not chosen by any gods.

She tried to get away, did everything she could, but on ascension day, she was taken to the machine, shattered, splintered, reset. Turned into me.