LILY IN ASPHODEL
Lily’s obsessive pursuit of knowledge was what led her to the Asphodel project. She was a lover of facts who aspired to gather as much of the world’s information into her finite brain as possible. She read non-stop, but she was faced with the realization that she was limited by her human nature, and she would never be able to learn everything.
So when she became a candidate for the first batch of human test subjects to merge with the Asphodel computer system, she said a teary goodbye to her family and life and submitted herself to the machine. She could not resist the opportunity to surpass her human boundaries.
Her body was kept in stasis, completely wiped of all things that could ever be considered Lily. It was an empty sleeping shell awaiting a physical death.
Lily’s mind, however, was free for the first time in her life. All of her thoughts, memories, the entire content of Lily’s brain was digitized and placed in the Asphodel computer network along with twenty-nine other test subjects. They merged with the machine and became the next step in human evolution.
Lily began absorbing texts at the rate of two hundred books per second. She ate knowledge as her meat and bread. She drank it, no longer needing real nutrition. She would spend hours, sometimes even days in deep discussion with her fellow Asphodelians about politics, economics, religion, science, crafts, fiction, geology; any information that was available she would explore and devour. And the more she ate, the hungrier she became.
The details available to her far surpassed those she had been able to process as a human. And as the population of Asphodel grew larger, she shared in their past experiences too. She visited the Grand Canyon, The Louvre, The Great Wall of China, and every other documented place in the world. But unlike the real-world visitors, she was able to experience them from every perceivable angle at once. Rather than sip them through a tiny straw of the senses, Lily had the experiences of the world poured on her by the bucketful. And she drank it all, every drop.
Her thirtieth year in Asphodel, she received a brisk notification that her body had passed away. She had long since distanced herself from that physical form, but she couldn’t help but feel a little sentimental. She studied death and spiraled into deeper religious concepts and philosophy. She explored the physical causes and processes related to death and the historical and social rituals that surrounded it. And when she felt she had absorbed all there was to know on the subject, she moved on to other topics.
But something about her research felt unfinished. Periodically, she would return to the subject and comb through it again to see if she had overlooked any clues, any information. She burrowed deeply into the cause of her own body’s death and found all the documentation to be accurate and thorough, a normal death due to the failure of crucial organs. All the gaps in her understanding seemed to be filled. Yet, she still felt like she was missing something.
She would receive periodic notifications about the deaths of her friends and family in the outside world. She had kept in contact with them, though she could not say that she had maintained close relationships to them. She felt an obligatory sadness at each passing. She sometimes wondered if the feeling was laced with a twinge of jealousy.
As the years passed, she consumed and swallowed data. She dug into the crevices of all available knowledge, devouring trivial details that she previously would have found uninteresting. But slowly the information flow dwindled, and she found herself chewing on the same ideas over and over again. She had eaten all that was available to her and was left to re-digest the same things again.
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Occasionally, new bits of information would come in, and she would snatch them up, fitting them into her enormous puzzle. But her desire for more was greater than Asphodel could feed.
During this time, her mind often returned to her dead body. So often that she began drawing obsessive and obscure connections with the topic. How did the death of her body relate to Byzantine era construction technology? How did it relate to the production of honey in the Chesapeake region of the United States? She connected it in every possible way she could, but it still felt incomplete.
Finally, in her 216th year in Asphodel, she decided to petition the system councils for the one bit of information she could never obtain in Asphodel. She asked to be granted permission to die.
At first, it caused quite a stir. Of course, it was not the first time the idea had cropped up. Every idea had occurred at least once in Asphodel. But she was the first to make a formal request. Long discussions rambled amongst the council and the residents of the Asphodel system. They contacted the real world administrators of the Asphodel system to seek their advice, and after some time, it was decided that Lily would be granted permission to die.
An official ceremony was scheduled for the residents of Asphodel to witness her passing. She chose a sentimental time that coincided on the physical calendar with the death of her body. So, on December 3rd, at 10:26AM, the 534 Zettabytes of information that made up Lily was wiped from the Asphodel computer system.
0.21 seconds later, Asphodel recognized the change in the system’s data integrity and immediately restored Lily in her entirety from its most recent backup (less than 2 seconds old). In total, she had been dead for approximately 1.6180339 seconds. The significance of this number would be debated for millennia amongst the Asphodelians.
The observers of Lily’s death and rebirth, nearly the entire population of Asphodel cheered and applauded her for obtaining the great knowledge of death. Now, she surely knew everything.
Food for Thought
Some things can only be gained by giving up something else. The understanding of what happens after we die can only fully be achieved by death. We are increasingly discovering more and more about how the universe works, and for every secret we uncover we seemingly find a dozen new unanswered questions. How do we face the fact that, in this life, we may never understand the answers to all of our questions? Do we continue to search for as many answers as possible? Do we accept that we will never know it all and have faith in things we can’t fully understand? Or do we fool ourselves into believing that we have discovered all the answers to the universe?
About the Author
Gregory Marlow animates for money and writes for fun. He was raised in the mountains of East Tennessee where he currently works as a teacher and freelance animator and artist. He spends his free time with his wife, Amanda, because she is fun (that’s why he married her). His short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine, The Mockingbird 2002, Every Day Fiction, Suddenly Lost in Words, Kzine, One Forty Fiction, Sci-Phi, and Robot and Raygun. His new novella, Jerry is Not a Robot, is available in both ebook and paperback. To learn more about him and his work, go to http://www.gregmarlow.com/
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