"It's been said that we create God in our own image," said Mr. Tenney. "That's more true today than ever before in human history. In fact, we'll tailor-make your god to suit your individual needs. We make more varied and specific gods than the ancient Greeks, Romans, Norse, and their ilk ever did. …There was an old twentieth century song which talked a bit, in its own satirical way, about one subdivision of the UXer god. The song had a line which proclaimed, 'Jesus, he knows me, and he knows I'm right.' Well, we get a lot of call for that sort of thing, here. We can grow a god for you who will always agree with whatever you say. …Of course," he added with a wry grin, "the word of God isn't what it once was…. Still, our clients are almost invariably happy with the gods they purchase."
They entered a room filled with vats about the size of kiddy swimming pools. Mr. Tenney led Fox up to the nearest of them. Fox had never seen one of these things, nor its contents, but he instantly recognized the contents for what they were, unmistakably. "This is the first step, of course," said the salesman. "The primordial soup." With another grin, the sort of grin all manner of companies these days trained their representatives to wear constantly or simply flash at the appropriate moments- uniform, manufactured sorts of smiles- he continued the standardized speech. "Pretty much the same as what we all came from- just add a little nectar and ambrosia." Internally, Fox winced at the joke. On the outside, he allowed a small smile and a quick chuckle.
Mr. Tenney continued, "Of course, many people think the process involves cloning, but that's a misconception. We really do start from scratch. You rather have to, you know. A clone of something that is not divine cannot possibly itself be divine. So we start off our gods at the bottom rung, and evolve them naturally, if in a vastly accelerated fashion. They are entirely their own, and owe nothing directly to any existing beings in the world. Some may find this hard to fully grasp, and if they can grasp it, may not be able to reconcile it with the notion of our gods being the God's offspring. We offer a philosophy course that most people find of great help in this area, if you're interested…."
"No, thank you. I think I'll manage alright without that."
"As you wish. …Anyway, here is where most of the work takes place. We program in the basic genetic information, from the god's eye color to dis zoological kingdom."
"You mean you don't just make humaniform gods?"
"No indeed, Mr. Crane! I said our gods were quite various, and that's the truth. As you'll see in some of the other areas of the farm, we grow whatever kind of god the customer wants. Some want gods who look human, some want gods who look like one animal or another, some want plants, some want invisible gods, or gods of energy, or shape-shifters, or any number of other things. As I said, we tailor-make gods to suit the individual's needs. If you want a god in keeping with historical religions or mythologies, we can give you that. Greek gods, gods from sci-fi stories, cats or cows, sentient bio-computers, absolutely anything. In fact…" and here he led Fox through the next door, beyond which were… more vats. "…Here we see single-celled gods being nurtured. We actually see a great many of these, though many of our clients don't really consider them gods. They aren't exactly intelligent, per se. But there are many things they can do. Mostly microsurgery, and they're considerably better at it than any nanites. Certainly, their programming is more complex than any machine that's nearly as small. And of course they're infinitely smarter than any virus or bacterium…."
"Still, I don't think I'd call them gods, either."
Mr. Tenney shrugged. "Call them what you will. They get the job done. In fact, they're more like gods than many of our complex organisms. At least they can give life. Maybe not create it, but they can save it. And what better description is there of a god than a giver of life?"
"Well, I'm sure you're aware that many cultures don't worship creator-gods…."
"Of course, of course. Far too Western-thinking of me, I'm afraid. At least, I suppose that's the sort of thing they would have said in centuries past. Well, I'm a product of time and place, as is almost anyone else." Sigh. "I suppose I sounded rather like an UXer myself, there." And at that, he paused for a few moments in a reverie of his own, before shaking his head, sighing again, and continuing. "…But you're right, I do know all about other types of gods. Because, of course, we grow them all, here. Anyway, the point was, Godfarms, Inc., considers everything we create here to be a god. Including the protozoa.
"But, on to the next lab…." The next room had similar vats to the first two, but it also had a bit more equipment about, and a few scientists engrossed in whatever they were doing. "Here we do a bit of further programming of the cells which will go on to become more complex life-forms. You may have noticed in the previous lab's vats that the contents were a bit different. It was no longer primordial soup, but actual fully evolved life forms. Single-celled, yes, but that's as far as they're meant to evolve. Well, it's the same here- not soup. On the other hand, not fully evolved. Here we nudge the cells in one direction or another…. Well, I did say that in the first room we determined their kingdom, which is true. But here, we… well, sort of… help the process along. Do you have any questions?"
"…None that you can answer, I think. Hopefully, that's what my god will be for."
The salesman smiled. "Of course. Very well…." The next door led to a hallway, with various doors branching off it. He walked to one door, marked 'V.' "This is our plant-god nursery. Here you'll find many varieties of gods of the plant kingdom…."
Fox held up a hand to silence him. "No thanks. I'm not interested in your garden-variety gods. I want someone I can talk with."
"Ah, well, you know, there are several plant-gods who are capable of…."
"No. I rather want one who appears human."
"Very well, sir…." Mr. Tenney led Fox past the door marked 'M,' and through the one marked 'A.' "Here are our animal-gods. As you can see, we start with fish, and from there branch off into larger water-based animals, as well as land-, earth-, and air-animal gods."
Fox looked with mild curiosity at some of the fish tanks as he walked past them. He wondered why anyone should be interested in goldfish-gods, but he supposed it took all kinds of people…. And rather wished it didn't.
"Now we'll have to be leaving the building. As the gods mature, they will be in need of larger living and training facilities. Beyond genetic manipulation and infancy care, they must be taught the fundamentals of godhood, what sorts of things may be required of them."
"Don't they have wills of their own? Or are they just basically biological robots?"
"Well, we like to say free will is for humans. It is our God-given right. No one ever guaranteed gods free will."
"But you did say that this is the original god's way of procreating. Don't you think de'd want dis progeny to have the same privileges de had?"
"Of course… and I don't mean to imply that our gods don't have free will. In fact, we don't so much sell them as rent them. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they are more indentured servants than slaves. Some people may want a god for a specific, temporary purpose, and after it is accomplished their god will be freed (though it can always be beseeched later by its former owner). Some may want a god for a whole lifetime, and a human life isn't really that much next to the life of a god. Many of them are immortal, and after their owner's death, they will be free. In the meantime, they get time off, just like anyone."
"You're saying you can give immortality…?"
"To gods, yes, when it seems appropriate. There are laws against giving humans immortality, of course. We're imperfect; we'd misuse it. In fact, most of us would get bored with it. But gods are specifically designed to be able to handle immortality if needs be, and never misuse it. They have built into them something like Asimov's laws of robotics…."
Fox sighed. Great, he thought, and just when I'd managed to go about five minutes without thinking of that century…. "Ah, I understand…. Makes sense…."
"We certainly like to think so, as do the courts. And the gods seem to agree…. They're not specifically programmed to, you know. Though they are programmed to be wise, benevolent, tolerant, and… well, and all sorts of godlike qualities…."
"I should hope so."