And so the next morning, the call came. Fox set up an appointment for his god to come over later that day, about five o'clock. And, about five o'clock, there was a chime at the door.
He'd been vague on a great many details, and so he had tried to avoid any expectations, and he had thought he'd been successful at that. But when he opened the door, he realized that somewhere in the back of his mind, he must have expected his god to at least have been dressed differently. Perhaps an ancient Greek toga (or was that Roman? He really wasn't sure; the thought probably Roman, but he just couldn't think of the word for what the ancient Greeks had worn, and anyway, he thought it must have been similar enough to Roman togas…), or something. But instead, he was wearing a business suit; or at any rate, the sort of get-up that passed for a business suit in the more casual corporations, such as those that Microsoft had broken off into in the first decade of the century.
"Well… so… you must be, um… my god…."
The god smiled at him. It was a perfectly genuine smile, the sort of thing he wished he could see more of in life, but somehow it grated on him. He couldn't begin to imagine why. The god said, "Please, call me Dave."
This did not help at all. For one thing, 'Dave' just didn't sound like the sort of name a god should have, but there were at least two other reasons he was displeased, reasons he'd never liked the name all that well, anyway. For one, the actor who had played the character he was named after had been named David. Worse by far… but he didn't want to think about that. He sighed, and figured he'd just have to make the best of it. It wasn't really an important matter. It was the sort of thing he should just let go. Letting names annoy him was one of many things he'd be wanting to change about himself. And perhaps it was a good thing, after all, for his god to have that name. Perhaps it would actually help him change that one little thing. Perhaps it was a good omen. Perhaps the salesman had been right, and customers just somehow ended up with the god most suited to them, best able to help them with that with which they needed help.
"I can see you're not really very comfortable with this situation," said Dave. "I understand. Many people take a while to get used to the idea, get comfortable. We're trained to help people deal with this, and get past it. Please, let me do whatever I can to help you. First, try to make yourself at home. After all, that's where you are. Relax. All will be well." He motioned toward the couch. "Sit down, Fox. Can I get you something to drink?"
Fox turned his head to look at the couch behind him. "Um…." He turned back to look at Dave. "Uh… well… hmmm…. But, don't you think I should be the one to serve you? I don't really know what to do in these circumstances, but shouldn't I be like, worshipping you, or something?"
Dave's smile broadened a bit, and his eyes, his entire face conveyed a profound sense of deep, sincere, and inherent joviality. The god was merrier than the entire UX-mas holiday season. "That's not what being a god, even being God dimself, is all about. People have things a bit muddled, down here."
"How do you know?"
"Because I've been up there," he said, gazing momentarily heavenward. "I've met dim."
"When'd you fit that in? Is it like, some kind of class they teach at the godfarm? The salesman didn't mention anything about gods actually knowing the original god, or anything." Fox was starting to relax a bit now, and sat down on the couch.
Dave went to get them a couple of drinks, which he set on the coffee table in front of the couch. He sat in the chair on the other side of the table; the chair, Fox thought in passing, that Carol had sat in last week. It was still in the position closer to the coffee table that she had put it in to talk to him that day. "There is a great deal the Godfarm corporation does not know, and does not need to know. In fact, there is much they're dead wrong about. All this was never dis plan…."
"But," Fox interrupted, "de does go along with the Foundationists' personal pronouns for dim? De fits them, does de?"
"Well… they… it's hard to explain. It would be more accurate to say the pronouns fit dim than that de fits them. And they are imprecise, of course, but they're a reasonable approximation, at least they're the simplest, most convenient sort of manner of referring to dim. De doesn't really care what anyone calls dim, but it does rather amuse dim to go along with this system.
"Anyway, as I was saying, this whole 'godfarm' thing was never dis idea, but de kind of likes it. It provides dim an opportunity to do some good down here. Of course, the godfarm employees, all the scientists and teachers and everyone, they all have their hearts in the right places, and they do a very competent job, but it would never really and truly work as well as it does without dis discreet, unseen hand at work. Consider: for all the marvelous science involved, the ability to create life from scratch, start an entire species out from primordial soup, accelerate evolution, bestow immortality and any number of super-human abilities, all that and countless other sciences involved- even with all that, can science produce a soul?"
"Well… I suppose I hadn't really thought about that. I mean, there's a hell of a lot that they can do now that a few decades ago, would have been utter science fiction. If anyone suggested they'd ever be able to do what they do now, they would have been a laughing stock. They would have been called blasphemers and heretics by some. Not a great many sane people would have believed them. Even now it's rather incredible. So, why not create a soul? Nothing seems impossible anymore. Or if it does, at least it's no more impossible than things that obviously are possible."
Dave nodded. "I can see how you would feel that way. So, I'll simply ask you to take my word for something: Mankind will never be capable of creating souls out of nothing. I could perhaps give you a rudimentary explanation of where souls come from, or how they come into being. But it's complicated, even the short version. I'll say there is a degree of science involved, or at least the sort of thing that people might would call science. But there's a great deal more to it than that, things forever beyond humanity. Even for God dimself, it's a bit… um… well… I cannot say what. But de has dis own soul, you know, and it's basically of the same stuff as all of ours; that is, yours and mine. People's and gods' alike. The upshot of… well, of the sort of stuff it'd be far too complicated to really explain, and it wouldn't do you any good if you sort of understood, anyway… the upshot of all that is that de likes to recycle souls. Call it reincarnation, if you like. …I tell you what, it may not be exactly Nirvana or Enlightenment or what have you, but being reincarnated as a god is quite the self-esteem booster. Takes some serious-ass good karma built up fer that one, let me tell you."
"Are you saying your soul… used to be human? You had a life down here as one of us?"
"Oh, at least. It's always easiest to recall the last life lived, so much so that you might not even be aware of having lived any others. God could of course grant you total recall of any and all incarnations, if you like- I mean, when you're up there, de can. The living human mind couldn't take that much memory. But reincarnation isn't like a given, really. You might live one life, and never be allowed to live another. Or, maybe you'll decide not to do. Or maybe you'll simply take long vacations between lives. For an example, I can tell you this is my first life in, oh, somewhere around thirty years, give or take. Don't know about any before my last, and don't want to."
"So then, I take it you were a hell of a good guy. Anyone I might've heard of?"
"The truth? You want the truth?"
Something tensed up inside Fox. He wasn't quite sure why, but he had a vaguely ominous sense that something was coming that he wasn't going to like at all. He tried to ignore the feeling. Of course he wanted the truth. Besides, gods aren't supposed to be able to lie. "Yes…" he said, somewhat hesitantly.
"You can't handle the truth!" said Dave with a joking grin.
"Oh, God," said Fox with sudden realization.
"Yes?" asked Dave.
"No, not you, I meant…." Sigh. "Nevermind. It's you, isn't it, Grandfather?"
"Guilty," he said, still smiling. "Funny thing, though, I never did get around to seeing that movie. Maybe I will, eventually. But of course, you can't escape hearing that line. Say, did you know Jack Nicholson is a god now?"
"Is he really?"
"Yeah, Christian Slater's grandson owns him. Wants some acting pointers, I hear."
"Is this the kind of thing people gossip about in Heaven?"
"Yeah, well, there isn't much gossip in Heaven. It's kind of disdained around there, but there are a few places, like God Club. Which actually has two locations- God Club Heaven and God Club Earth. The latter's in LA. The former… well, you wouldn't know the geography- or cosmology, or paradisology, or whatever the word would properly be- anyway."
"Dave. I'm not him anymore, really. Okay, so I use my old name, I'm comfortable with it. I always liked the name, you know. But technically, I'm not your grandfather. That was an entirely different life. I wouldn't even remember it now, if I'd been reborn human."
"Okay. Dave. But I was going to say, you never really were much of a gossip. Never much interested in it."
"No, and I'm still not. It's just something I overheard there. Don't even know if it's true or not. It just popped into my head because I was thinking of that movie he was in."
"I see." Sigh. "Well… I was thinking having a god with your name was meant to help me get over my dislike of the name; maybe having you as my god is meant to help me get over… um…."
"It's okay, Fox. I know you never liked me. I'm okay with that, I understand. I always thought of myself as a bit of an acquired taste, anyway. Or really, the sort of person most people will never be able to acquire a taste for."
"They'd love you these days. Seriously."
"You think? Hmmm…. Anyway, point is, I understand your not liking me. I only wish I hadn't ruined your life so badly."
"Well… I suppose I can't really say my problems are your fault."
"Perhaps not really, but in a sense they are. Reality is subjective, Fox. What's real for each of us is… what's real. It's all in your head, your heart, your soul. What you think, what you feel, what you believe. If your thoughts and feelings about me have made life difficult for you, my actual actions and intentions don't matter. Maybe I'm not actually responsible, but it's still my fault, at least as far as your own personal reality is concerned. And as such, I'm sorry."
"Well, it's not like I ever thought you didn't love me, or that you did anything intentionally to annoy me. Certainly I could never believe you wanted to screw up my life. And anyway, I don't see how talking with you now can help. It just sort of seems too late. Perhaps Carol and Jack are right, and I just need to see a shrink. And as much as you always liked to psychoanalyze yourself, you're still pretty well the antithesis of a psychiatrist."
"Interesting you should say that. That's sort of plan B, anti-psychiatry. But never mind that now. Look, here's what gods are for: to answer questions. In addition to all the godfarm classes, I've been in Heaven; I know a few things. Ask away."
"Um… okay… well, it's just, I'm not sure exactly what to ask. Hmmm. Well, first of all, you said a while ago that we've got things muddled down here. What exactly did you mean by that?"
"What, that? Oh, it's just the whole concept of what God is all about. And gods, plural, I guess. Well, maybe not. Probably just dim. The thing is, yes, you should all appreciate dim, whatever you perceive dim to be. Serve? Not the way people usually think of servitude. That's not what de wants; de doesn't need any service from the likes of humanity. What on Earth could we possibly ever hope to do for dim that de can't do for dimself? De's God, for cryin' out loud! …Perhaps you've heard, I mean, it has been said by some, that God created Mankind because de was lonely. There's… some degree of truth in that, but it's somewhat inaccurate, too. De's… well, you're not going to like hearing this…."
"What? I suppose you're going to tell me one of your old religious theories turned out to be right?"
"Sort of, actually. De's an artist. The first and greatest artist, of every field of art imaginable, and some unimaginable. De created every possible tool imaginable that human artists use. De invented all the senses- there are more than five, you know, and art is meant to appeal to all of the senses, including things such as sentience and emotion, to name two examples. Or maybe emotion is actually more than one, it's more like a sort of… well, you know, every emotion is itself a…."
"I get the idea, Dave."
"Ah, good. A bright boy."
"Yes. Not to mention, you mentioned all these things while you were alive."
"Of course, I guess I did. Gosh I was insightful," he joked. It was true, of course, but he still didn't mean it quite seriously. "Anyway, de invented the senses, and all sorts of things for them to detect and interpret. Sounds, colors, light, sensations, tastes, smells, all that. And then de mixed such things for specific pieces of art, like cool, starry nights following hot summer days, with crickets out there chirping and all that. And of course, anything anyone's ever drawn or photographed or painted or anything, de created the originals. Trees, mountains, oceans, animals, bowls of fruit (well, fruit, anyway, and the materials for us to make bowls), people… whatever. All human artists can do is make reproductions. Dis art is so much bigger, realer, better in so many ways. Even things humans created, instruments and paintbrushes and printing presses and stages and bowls to put fruit in, all of it is made from materials de created. Most of all, de created humanity, de gave us souls and minds and hearts. People are art themselves on so many levels. They can be beautiful to behold, to smell, to touch… and so forth…. And of course, the greatest art form of all is love (an emotion which de created, and is the best at its implementation, too). And people can love, and be loved. And people can create art. I ask you, how many painters do you know who can do paintings that go out and do paintings themselves?"
Fox just sighed. He'd heard all this before, though not for a few decades, now. He resigned himself to hearing it again, because he knew his grandfather had a tendency to repeat things countless times. Most often to himself, when no one else was even around, but he did try to get his ideas across to others now and again. Fox was the same way. Another uncontrollable mental habit he'd inherited.
"…And what's more, we appreciate our own existence, and other things God created. How many symphonies say to their composer or to the orchestra that plays them, 'Hey, thanks, I am awfully beautiful, aren't I? But that other piece of yours, you know the one I mean? Now that's truly a masterwork!' But we thank God for ourselves, and for our loved ones, and for beautiful skies and fields and the food we eat, and all sorts of things. Humanity is just probably the greatest art form ever conceived. And only fitting it should be the work of the first and greatest artist, no? …And how pretty much all dis art interacts, and all that…. I tell you, it's just bloody marvelous. So, what God wants most is to create dis art, as any artist wants to do. And de wants dis art to be appreciated, especially by the art itself. So, de created us for two main purposes: the creation of art in and of itself, and so there'd actually be someone around to appreciate it. And to create more; de appreciates other people's art, of course. Artists do tend to be better than most at appreciating art, you know."
"Yes, you've told me. I believe you. What was the point again?"
"Hmmm? Oh… um… yes. We serve dim by our appreciation and enjoyment of life, and by creating art for dim to appreciate dimself. But we don't need to be slaves or anything. We don't need to worship dim, in the traditional sense. So all this religious stuff is just pretty much muddled, see?"
"Ah. Yes. Thank you."
"Any more questions?"
"Well… I guess… basically, just, what should I do with my life? Who am I? That sort of thing."
"Well now… the problem with that is, you're just sort of meant to know these things. It's all inside you. I don't know why you have so much trouble figuring it out. Usually there are two kinds of people: the kind who instinctively know who they are, why they exist, what they're meant to do with their lives; and then there's the far greater group, most people, those who just sort of go with the flow, who fit in, who do more or less what everybody does, and get along nicely in life, on average. They never really notice that they don't know who they are or why they're here, and they aren't troubled by it. You seem to fall somewhere in between. You don't know who you are, but you realize that and are greatly troubled by it."
"Well, couldn't you just look into my soul or whatever, and tell me what I can't see for myself?"
"'Fraid not, that's just not how it works, Fox. You see, souls… God has the greatest of them, and the first of them, but de didn't exactly create the others. They come from the same place dis does, and de doesn't really have complete control over them once they've come into existence. De can guide them somewhat, de can see that they're born into the appropriate lives, de can kick them outta dis pad, Heaven, if they're not behaving according to house rules, just as you can kick an unruly guest out of your own party. There's all sorts of things de can do with souls, but de can't create them, de can't destroy them, de can't alter them directly (like rewrite them or anything), and de can't read them. Well, not completely. It's like, if your soul is an open book, de can read it. Most people's souls more or less are. Or, it's like a computer file that it doesn't take a password to get into. But closed souls do take a password, after a fashion. If it isn't open, de can't open it, only the individual can open their own soul. Once you do, maybe de could read it better than you could; maybe not. …And there's no way to hack into the file."
"But if I don't have the password, who does?"
Dave shrugged. "I don't know. Honestly, I don't know why your soul is locked up so tight, even to you. Maybe you just can't get past your feelings of hatred towards me. Maybe it's all my fault. Anyway, that's the best thing I can come up with. And I don't know how to get you over that. All I can say is, you can have a wonderful life. Let your feelings towards me go, they're not important. I'm not here anymore. Well, I am, but as I say, I'm not really your grandfather anymore. He's dead. Your life is your own. Make of it what you will."
Fox sighed and slumped back and closed his eyes and tried to think and clear his head at the same time. He tried to let go of everything, but he finally found himself thinking there probably wasn't anything of himself left anymore, if there ever had been anything. Now all he was was the sum of his obsessions. He couldn't think of anything he really wanted. He didn't even want Carol anymore, or friends, or a career. He simply didn't care if he ever found himself or not, because there was nothing to find. He told this to Dave.
"There's nothing at all you can remember ever really wanting in your life?" the god asked.
He thought a bit more. "Well," he said, the corners of his mouth turning up just a little, "I have occasionally sort of thought I'd like to go mad, like my parents did. Or maybe somewhere in between their kind of insanity and yours and Grandma's. -How is she, by the way?"
"Wonderful, wonderful. She's a goddess herself at the moment. Oh, there's another thing the Godfarm Corporation doesn't really understand. Once our term of service is up, we can just go hang out in Heaven all the time, or roam the Earth or the Universe, or be reincarnated as yet another god, or whatever we like. Hey, all these billions of gods they're making- the sentient ones, anyway- you don't think there're that many old souls de deems worthy of godhood, do you? Of course some of us must do it over and over, sometimes be different types of gods from time to time. She's actually done it a few times before me. Usually she's a cat goddess, and I'm thinking I might try that sometime, myself…."
"Okay." Sigh. "Anyway, what was I saying?"
"You'd like to go mad…."
"Oh, yes. I've sometimes thought I might like to go mad, but I've never been able to quite manage it." It had, when he'd first started saying it, been meant as a joke, but after he'd said it, something about the idea sort of clicked in his mind.
And in Dave's mind. "Hmmm. Perhaps, in the end, that's what's meant for you. Perhaps you're meant to be insane. It works for a great many people, you know. There doesn't have to be anything wrong with it, whatever society may say."
"Oh, society's a lot more flexible about a lot of things these days than it used to be. As I said, you'd get on fairly well now."
"Yes… plan B, then," Dave half whispered to himself.
"What's that?" asked Fox. "Didn't quite catch what you were saying."
"Oh, nothing, nothing. Look, speaking of my getting on better these days than I did in my last lifetime, at least as far as society's concerned, well… I have someplace to be, actually, so if we can finish this up…."
"What? Where do you have to be? What are you talking about, Dave?"
"God Club Earth. I have a meeting with some former editors and writers, Douglas Adams among them. I always loved him…."
"…Anyway, there's this book publisher who put together a team of gods insouled by some writers and editors and such from last century, and early this, people whose work he appreciates and whose advice he respects- and who help him make some pretty good decisions and make him some money. Anyway…."
"Hold on a second. If the godfarms don't know about this business of old souls being put by God into the gods they create, how can someone order gods with specific souls in them? In fact, the same question applies to that bit of Jack Nicholson gossip, I guess…."
"Ah. Well, you see, some people manage to guess at that. In fact it's fairly obvious, I should think, but sometimes it takes a bit of cleverness to recognize that which should be obvious. So then, if someone guesses that gods are insouled by great people from the past- and by the way, some of them have lived any number of lives since the one which makes them desirable to some people, for the reasons they want a specific soul may or may not be reason enough for the souls to be reborn into gods- if they guess that, then they may simply couple their desire with the knowledge that godfarm customers just seem to get the gods that are right for them, and hope for the best. Hope that the souls they want are considered worthy to be reborn as gods, and will indeed find their way to them. The godfarms themselves don't have to be told anything about this by their customers."
"…Anyway, these folks I'm meeting with are a couple of the gods on his team, and I need to talk with them some more- we talked a couple times in God Club Heaven- about showing this publisher some of my work, putting in a good word for me."
"Yeah, it looks like I'm gonna be posthumously published, actually…. I'm quite looking forward to it…."
"I see…." And with that, Fox Crane finally went completely mad. He took a few minutes to get used to it, and found he liked it. He smiled a very wide smile. "Thank you kindly, Dave," he said, and shook the god's hand. He used to say that all the time, 'thank you kindly,' Fox thought about his grandfather. Got it from some show from that century of his, show about a Canadian Mounty in Chicago. He found he suddenly liked the sound of the phrase. "That'll be all, I suppose. That was what I needed. Good luck."
"Okay, be seeing you then. Or not, more likely. But hey, good luck with your life, Fox."
Dave disappeared from the room. He didn't need to use any special effects, he could have simply vanished, but just for fun he threw in the sort of flash Q used to use whenever he appeared and disappeared on Star Trek. A moment later there was another such flash in a very exclusive club in Los Angeles, and Dave made his way to the table where a few other gods waited for him, already having ordered drinks for Dave and themselves.
Fox stood looking around for a while, but after just a few minutes went outside for a nice stroll in the cool, starry night, with crickets chirping and all that. It really was a beautiful tune, and he added his own whistling to it. He appreciated how well the sounds worked together. "Thanks, Chief," he said to the original God, who he couldn't see but knew was listening, anyway. "That's the sort of thing he used to do all the time, isn't it, Chief? Talk to you, thank you for the beauty of the art you created, call you 'Chief'?" He didn't expect a response, and didn't get one. He didn't know where he was strolling to, hands clasped behind his back, and didn't care. It was enough that he was happy. He went back to his whistling.