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I read this in a pulp magazine (Analog or Galaxy), I think. In it an atheist telepath is asked to confirm that in his death throes, a saint had never despaired and thus still deserved canonization. He goes along for the money, figuring he'd make up a story. Instead he finds that, because of an instant of doubt, the subject was sentenced to eternal damnation, and that far worse waits for nearly everyone else. Unable to cope with the enormity of the message, he makes up a story of the subject's ascent into heaven.

Distinct memory that that the source was a pulp magazine, but not at all certain which one. It's at least thirty years ago, and probably closer to 40. I wish I could remember more details!

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    doesn't sound hard sci-fi enough for Analog imo
    – NKCampbell
    May 31, 2016 at 22:17
  • Probably not the answer, or even close, but this puts me on mind of Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star_(Clarke_short_story) which appeared in Infinity in 1955.
    – Spencer
    Jun 1, 2016 at 3:33
  • This does remind me of an early 1970s ANALOG story - Given how Campbell was still editor and would publish any rigorous psi talent story ( Where psionic powers had strict rules and operated like a science ), it fits perfectly. I'll have to go through my collection. Mar 20, 2017 at 21:14

1 Answer 1

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This, too, we reconcile by John M. Ford. I read it in Analog May 1976, which appears to be the only place it has been published.

The protangonist, Easton, is a Remember and as you say he is asked to investigate the monk Brother Peter who was tortured to death to find out if he ascended to heaven. As you say, he finds that Brother Peter was damned by a single sin.

It turns out that Easton wasn't the first Remember asked to investigate this. He was preceded by Falk who died during the experience. Easton doesn't die but is traumatised by the experience. He lies about Peter's ascension:

The Abbot took me into his office, alone, and asked if Brother Peter had been received unto God. And I said yes, which was the truth. Then he asked for details, and I began to lie.

I described a magnificent holo­ show production, starring the arch­ angel Michael, with a heavenly host of thousands and a guest ap­pearance by the Christus himself (whose mighty visage was suffused with pure light and therefore invis­ible). It was the most outrageous fabrication of my life, and it is go­ing to make Brother Peter the first off-Earth saint.

The story ends:

I called Teller and told him to get me out of there. He got. I'm on Alte schloss now, an Agency world where I can have a wipe done without any questions. This one is going to be total - no souvenirs of Brother Peter. There are too many people who know memory is ho­lographic, too many who'd like to hear about the ascension of St. Pe­ter the Vialandran.

What do I say? Peter/I could have been hallucinating, under the weight of pain and poison... There might have been nothing for us to see except black infinity. Or there might have been an equally black truth.

How do you explain eternal pun­ishment for a single sin? How do you, for that matter, account for the existence of the serpent in Eden? Or the great deliverance from Egypt - to seven Israb wars? How do you reconcile St. Sebastian?

As I say, it might have all been a nightmare. But there is Falk ... he was a Class One Rememberer, by definition not a coward. But so am I, and I do not have the cour­age to offer the universe a choice between the empty finality of no God - or a Supreme Torturer who lives on the screams of souls and whose true prophets are being ex­terminated.

Hurry up with the wipe, before I jump too.

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