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After Kaitlyn zipped us from the church back to my room, I had angrily tore my hand out of hers. I started to ask her why she had done this to me, but before I could say anything, she had walked out of the room with only a soft "I'm sorry".
The part of my mind that was still vaguely rational noticed that she was definitely leaving through the wall. It was a good thing that, as a green-eyed redhead, she didn't bear the least resemblance to Susan Sto Helit. I might have started imagining everything she said coming out in capital letters, which would have made any conversation vaguely ridiculous. And, even though I was furiously angry with her at the moment, I suspected that I was going to have a lot of serious conversations with her between now and ... well, whatever.
Kaitlyn had departed right through a bookcase, and I walked over to examine the titles. I was expecting a lot of religious tracts and maybe the generic classics, but the shelves were filled with dozens of leather-bound copies of stuff I wanted to read. There were books that I had read and loved - Fever Pitch, Loose Balls and all of the Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe stories - but there was also a lot of stuff that I had wanted to read, including the new Loren Estleman novel that had gone on sale after I was too sick to read it.
There were also several books by authors I didn't know, many of them with exotic-sounding names. I opened one book by a Japanese author, and found what appeared to be a fascinating fantasy novel in what was obviously an English translation. Apparently, as a godling, I had access to everything on my global Amazon.com recommendation list.
The non-fiction section was filled with European and South American books on soccer, and I had just started to flip through an Italian history of AC Milan when I heard a voice.
"Hello, Harvest Apprentice. This is Jesus. I am now active for your needs."
I looked up in disbelief.
"Really? Jesus? Using the voice of James Earl Jones? Are you serious?"
I was speaking directly to the chandelier on the ceiling, even though the sound system appeared to work on the same principle as the shower. The voice had come from every direction, like surround sound was supposed to work.
"I am the God Communication and Information System - G.C.I.S.,"came the reply. "I can speak in any voice you choose. This is merely my default setting."
Well, it was good to know the gods had a sense of humor.
"Wouldn't G.C.I.S. be pronounced more like GEE-kiss?"
"In most circumstances," said the voice of CNN. "However, the current pronunciation has been deemed more entertaining because of its resemblance to the name of the famous spiritual leader of the first century AD."
OK, the sense of humor getting a little too cute.
"Well, Geesys, what needs are you supposed to fulfill?"
"Traditionally, I would provide you with a meal and an opportunity for a period of relaxation before beginning the first part of your orientation and training program."
"The first part?"
"That's correct," said the voice, which I noticed had been carefully regulated to not have the breath sounds that would make one think of Darth Vader. "There are three segments. The first is a general orientation to your new life. This part can take anywhere from two hours to two days, depending on your level of curiosity about how things work here, and your interest in the philosophical implications of the current system of deities. It is expected that you will have a high interest in both."
"That's fair to say. But doesn't everyone?"
"No. Some new apprentices find it easier to, as they say, 'just get on with it', and learn from experience. Others choose to accept that their new status and do not care to discuss the theological or philosophical ramifications."
"That seems insane, but I'll take your word for it."
That actually made me laugh out loud. This was a very polite stereotypical science-fiction omnipresent computer. Which gave me an idea.
"You said you can speak in any voice?"
"Yes, although we do not recommend using the voice of a family member or a loved one, at least until the adjustment period has ended."
I stared blankly at the ceiling. I hadn't even thought of that.
"So you could use Tracy's voice?"
"Yes," said James Earl Jones.
"Please do so."
"This is a test statement. Do you want me to continue?"
It was Tracy. It wasn't a computer simulation of her voice. It was her. It was the nicest thing I had heard all day, and it was the worst thing I had heard all day.
"No," I said, blinking away tears. "Please change to a new voice. Stephen Frye in Jeeves and Wooster."
"A very common choice, sir."
"Really? Aren't most of the gods and goddesses too old to have known about BBC comedy?"
"No, sir. While many of them had died before Jeeves and Wooster appeared, all of our deities keep track of the current cultural trends on Earth, in order to better understand those they serve."
"Don't you mean those they rule? Aren't gods generally the ones in charge?"
"That, sir, is perhaps best left to the actual orientation program. However, to give you a brief answer, no sir. The deities here do not consider themselves rulers in any way."
I decided to wait - I had a million questions, and he seemed to want to do it in a formal manner. Which, given his current voice, seemed perfectly appropriate.
"You mentioned something about dinner and relaxation?"
"Yes, sir. New apprentices generally enjoy a large meal and a period of leisure before beginning the first part of orientation."
That sounded good - I hadn't eaten anything since I, well, died.
"Where do I go to eat?"
"Your food will be delivered here, sir. Would you care to place an order?"
"Yes, but do I ever get to leave this room? There must be other people to meet."
"Yes, sir. There are 25 other deities, one of which you have already met, and another 118 members of the support staff. However, all new arrivals are given their orientation sessions before meeting their fellow residents."
"So I can't leave this room until you teach me all three segments of the training program? I was expecting this to be more like Paradise than prison."
The tone of voice that replied made me realize why Jeeves had been a perfect choice.
"No, sir. The first segment - your general orientation - will start this afternoon and is anticipated to end tomorrow evening. At the conclusion, you will be free to explore this habitat without restriction. Shortly afterward, there will be a party in your honor, given by your fellow apprentices."
That didn't sound bad. If nothing else, I needed to figure out the lack of doors.
"What happens after that?"
"The following morning, I will give you a one-day orientation session about the general duties, powers and responsibilities of a deity. The final day will be a specific orientation to the duties and techniques of the Harvest."
"And you teach that session as well?"
"No, sir. The Goddess of the Harvest will be your instructor."
"I was afraid of that."
"I'm really pissed at her right now."
"Yes, sir. That is quite common."
"She stole my life away!"
"Yes, sir. It is, regrettably, the way the system works. When Goddess Kaitlyn first arrived here, she attempted to physically harm the current Harvest God for the same reason."
That startled me. I couldn't picture Kaitlyn being angry.
"Yes, sir. She felt particularly wronged, because she left behind two small children and her husband had recently died."
I had been carefully hoarding my fury, saving it for the next time I saw Kaitlyn, but it was suddenly swirling away.
"Yes, sir. One was three years old, and the other was six weeks old."
"Oh my god. Did they at least have a family?"
"No, sir. Not much of one. Goddess Kaitlyn came from a very poor part of 19th-century Ireland."
I paused, trying to pick between all the things I wanted to ask, but Jeeves very politely interrupted my train of thought.
"Sir, I would suggest that now would be a good time to eat. A good meal and something entertaining to watch may help you marshal your thoughts for this evening's session."
I started to argue, but I was really getting hungry. It wasn't that I hadn't eaten since I died - I hadn't eaten for weeks before that. A feeding tube just doesn't fill you up.
"Is there a menu?"
"You may order anything you like, sir. You are, after all, a deity."
"I suppose that also means I don't have to worry about my weight."
"OK, I want a filet mignon, baked potato with sour cream and butter, salad with a lot of bleu cheese dressing and without any extraneous vegetables, and a chocolate milkshake that I have to eat with a spoon."
"Of course, sir. Is there any preference as to the cooking style of the steak?"
"No, sir. The steak will be cooked to your ideal level. I meant is there a certain way of preparing the steak that you would prefer?"
"Oh. You mean like the way Emeril makes them or something?"
"Yes, sir. Or your favorite restaurant."
"Oh. Wow. OK, the way that they are made at Big Rock in Birmingham."
"Very good, sir."
"I suppose it would be silly to ask if you knew where that was."
"Yes, sir. And your choice of entertainment?"
"Let me guess. I can pick any movie or TV show ever made?"
"Yes, sir. However, you can also choose any event in history. Given the amount of time available, the fact that you will be eating during the event and the additional fact that you have had what can only be described as a 'long day', might I suggest a sporting event? Perhaps, given your athletic career, a famous game of football?"
"Wait, I can pick any game every played in any sport? Even if it wasn't televised?"
"Yes, sir. The experience will be akin to attending the event rather than watching it on a screen."
"Gods, how do I choose? I can think of a thousand games. But you said a soccer game would fit into the time window, right?"
"Yes, sir. A game of association football would fit quite well."
I wasn't going to get Jeeves to say "soccer".
"OK, that's easy. USA-England in Belo Horizonte, 1950 World Cup."
"A fine choice, sir. It was listed as the second-most likely choice you would make."
"Yes, sir. The first choice was the United States versus Switzerland in the 1994 World Cup."
"But I was at that game!"
"Yes, sir. Many people choose to pick an event from their childhood. It gives them some peace."
I considered that briefly.
"Maybe, but if I've got all of history to watch, I'm going to pick something that people have wondered about. I want to see if that game was as lopsided as English historians claim."
It wasn't. Not even close.
I spent the next two hours in an incredibly comfortable chair, eating a fabulous dinner, and watching a game I had heard about all my life. Jeeves had been right - this wasn't like TV. I would have sworn that my chair was in the stands at the tiny stadium in Belo Horizonte, about 20 rows up behind the benches. If you had to pick the perfect spot to watch a game in that stadium, this was it.
The game was in front of me, but if I turned my head, I saw the stands on both sides of me and behind me. If I had spoken Portuguese, I might have tried to talk to one of the few fans around me. After the funeral, I knew they wouldn't see me, but it was tempting.
The English were clearly the better team, but it wasn't the one-sided rout that their apologists had been writing about for almost 60 years. They didn't hit the goal posts 12 times, and they didn't take 20 shots for every one by the Americans. As a matter of fact, the U.S. probably should have won 2-0, but Alf Ramsey cleared a ball off the line late in the game.
And the goal was spectacular. Joe Gaetjens glanced a diving header into the net. It wasn't some random deflection off the back of his skull, as had appeared in so many British histories.
I had a wonderful time. As the final whistle sounded, and the Brazilian fans swarmed the pitch, I sucked down the last of my milkshake. Actually, it had to have been the last of at least two milkshakes - the metal mixing cup still seemed to be full every time I poured more into my glass.
The stadium faded away, and I was back in my room. I speared a last wedge of tomato into my mouth and closed my eyes while I chewed. I was pretty sure this wasn't a hallucination.
"OK, Jeeves," I said, without opening my eyes. "I'm ready."
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