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I had expected this interaction with Jeeves to also be pure audio, but I should have known better. When I opened my eyes, I was seated outside something that looked like the designers of Detroit's Renaissance Center had decided to build a medieval-style castle, and ended up with something roughly the size of the Mall of America. It was a massive pile of smoky reflections, including towers, battlements and what could have only been a observation deck that could have hold 5,000 people.
The only parts of the front that didn't reflect the outside were two gigantic installations of stained glass, on one each end. The one at the left appeared to be an inch-perfect replica of a ancient map of the world - it must have been from about the 16th century, because California appeared to be an island. On the right was a beautiful copy of the Earth from space. It was an image that I had seen a million times, but there was no stained-glass artist alive that could have come close to building this. Apparently, it was good to be a god.
"So, Jeeves, I guess this answers the inevitable question of where I am?"
"Yes, sir. This is the current facility. Due to the occasionally whimsical nature of our deities, it is often redesigned, but this version has proven more popular than most."
"If I ask where it is located, am I going to get a useful answer?"
"It may to help to think of us as being near the Earth, but in a non-linear dimension. That is why we can observe the planet, but can not interact with the inhabitants. It is also why we can move along the time axis so easily - allowing you to jump back 58 years to watch a game."
"Does that mean we can also watch the future?"
"No, sir. It is a bit like going for a hike in the country. If you are traveling to the past, there is a clear map with a single path to follow."
"Because the past has already happened?"
"And if we try to go into the future, which hasn't happened, there's no map?"
"Yes, sir. We can go forward in time and watch a future, but there is no way of knowing that it will be the future that actually occurs. The path splits at the point of every major decision, so there are a uncountable number of possible futures even on a short trip forward. As time progresses, the untaken paths vanish, leaving a clear trail to the past."
"Don't the untaken paths lead into new universes?"
"No, sir. That was a popular theory during your lifetime on Earth, but it turns out to not be the case. There is only this universe, and only one timestream."
I sat quietly for a moment and tried to take that in. My father had been an astrophysicist, and I had picked up enough from him that I vaguely understood what Jeeves had been saying. I also knew enough to suspect that Jeeves was dumbing things down for me, and I could certainly see why some new arrivals tended to brush through this part. I was here, and I suspected it didn't matter much how. I decided to try for some more useful information.
"OK. So we're in another dimension at the world's shiniest castle. Why?"
"You have been chosen to be a god, sir."
I knew that - both Jeeves and Kaitlyn had mentioned it repeatedly - but it still seemed insane, and I told him so.
"Yes, sir. It often strikes our newest residents in such a way."
"Jeeves, I was an atheist! I didn't even believe in gods, so how did I get chosen to be one?"
"Actually, sir, I believe that with your addition to the roster, a majority of our deities are now people that considered themselves atheists or agnostics on Earth."
I started to ask the obvious question, but caught myself and tried to make it sound a little more intelligent.
"I was going to ask why God was picking people that didn't believe in Him, but I suspect the answer is that God doesn't exist, at least in the Judeo-Christian sense."
"That is correct, sir. To paraphrase a famous speaker, there are no gods other than you."
Wow. That made this sound a hell of a lot more important.
"But why atheists? Wouldn't it still make more sense for people who have been part of the religious process to run things?"
"Actually, sir, that has proven to be not the case. As it turns out, people with a deeply religious background have a great deal of difficulty adjusting to the actual work of gods."
I had been following along until that last sentence. Why, I asked, would religious folk have trouble being gods?
"It does seem odd, sir," agreed Jeeves. "But your work here is, for a lack of a better term, done on a macro scale. People from traditional religious backgrounds tend to want to work on a micro scale."
A lightbulb went on in my skull.
"You mean we don't do prayers?"
"Exactly, sir." Jeeves actually sounded pleased with my progress. "Due to time limitations, your work will focus on big-picture issues, not on the problems of individual humans. That is hard to accept from someone who grew up being taught that deities spend large amounts of time on each person. It is simply not practically possible with the entire breadth of human life being divided into only 13 spheres of influence."
I started to quiz Jeeves about the 13 spheres, but he said that would be covered in the second orientation session, which would deal with the actual job of being a god. Today and tomorrow were designed to give me enough of a grounding in my new life that I could be released into the general population, so I asked something that had been nagging at me since the trip to my funeral.
"How does time work here? Given what you've already told me, it's obvious that you can fiddle with it, but what is the system? Kaitlyn said the previous Harvest God has left, and she's had time to take me to my funeral and to give me a day-long orientation in a couple days, and I suspect the Earth isn't just working without her in the meantime."
"Very observant, sir. Most newcomers do not pick that up so quickly. You are correct that we, as you say, 'fiddle' with time. This complex exists away from Earth's timestream, so we need only connect to it when we choose. That is only done when the Council of Gods is in session. When the Council is not meeting, life here happens without any time progressing on Earth."
That made sense until I remembered something Kaitlyn had said at my funeral.
"Wait a second. The previous Harvest God took over in 1870, correct?"
"That would mean that Kaitlyn has not only had her job for 138 years, but she's been living here for a lot longer than that, since Earth time is frozen for a lot of our time. Right?"
"No, sir. One of the reasons that you only deal with issues on a large-scale basis is that, when the Council of Gods is in session, Earth time is significantly accelerated. A day on Earth takes about two hours of Council time, so, given the slight vagaries of the schedule here, the deities oversee approximately ten Earth years during each of their years."
I did some quick math in my head.
"That doesn't seem to be the most demanding work schedule of all time."
"No, sir. The feeling here is that the work is so difficult and stressful that it is important to devote a great deal of time to relaxation and recreation. The Council will generally meet for about 40 hours a week, but takes off one week per month. It is usually grouped so that you will work six or seven weeks in a row, then have two weeks off."
I started to protest, but if they could slow down or speed up time as needed, it made a frightening amount of sense. Having not yet performed the duties of a god, or even an apprentice, I couldn't say for sure how stressful things were going to be, but I couldn't imagine that being in charge of Earth's food production was going to be a low-key project.
But one thing was still bothering me.
"Jeeves, you keep talking about time in an Earth sense. If we are outside the timestream, why do we have days and weeks and months and years? For that matter, if we are gods, why do we eat and sleep and take showers and go to the bathroom? Kaitlyn said we don't age, so why not just work, well '24/7' is a meaningless concept here, but you understand what I mean."
"Another excellent question, sir. The theory is one that has developed over the centuries, but seems to be quite useful. In order to do your new job well, it is important to retain enough of your own humanity to still feel a bond with the planet and its inhabitants. By eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, partying and engaging in other human pursuits, you remain attached to the psyche of those you serve."
I replayed Jeeves' last comment in my head.
"That would explain a lot about Christians having trouble with this job."
"Well, Christians are taught that God created humanity in his own image. Here, the key is that God stays a part of humanity's own image."
"Quite right, sir. Very good."
I started to say something else, something that I'm sure would have been impressively incisive, but I lost it to a tremendous yawn.
"Sir, might I suggest that we take up the rest of this segment in the morning? It is quite late, and you have only eaten once today. A light snack and some sleep would seem appropriate."
I agreed entirely and told him so. My funeral seemed, and I was ashamed of myself for even thinking of it, a lifetime ago.
"What's left for part one, anyway?"
"Tomorrow, you will get a tour of the facility and its grounds, a chance to explore the recreational facilities, and, of course, you will begin to meet your fellow residents."
"Sounds like a full day."
"Indeed, sir. Good night, sir."
"Good night, Jeeves."
A few minutes later, I found myself idly eating potato chips and French-onion dip and sipping on a Pepsi. I suspected I should have ordered something more exciting, but I wanted comfort food. I had enough to deal with without having to pay attention to great taste sensations.
I was dead, and I was a god. Tracy and my family and my friends were still on Earth, but I wasn't going to be able to interact with them, and at a 10-to-1 time ratio, I wasn't going to be able to follow their lives. Hell, Mom and Dad would be gone within a couple years, and even Tracy couldn't last more than six years of our time. I knew I would be able to watch every moment of their lives on GodVision, but I really didn't want to do that. They thought I was gone, and for their purposes, I was. Keeping an eye on them would be painful for me and useless to them.
I kept telling myself that in hopes that I would come to believe it. In reality, it was all I could do to keep from immediately watching everything they had done since the funeral. Of course, since time wasn't running on Earth at the moment, they hadn't done anything. They might still be at the funeral, frozen in their grief until the Council went into session.
That mental image - Tracy and Mom and Dad turned into statues as they sobbed - was the one thing that gave me a way to let go. I never wanted to see them like that and I knew somehow that they wouldn't want me to see them like that. Hell, it was the same basic reason that I had been cremated and there was only a picture of me at the funeral. I wanted them to remember me as I lived. It was even why I schemed to die when they were at home. If I was going to spare them that image, I owed it to them to not gawk at their grief.
I loved them, which meant I had to let them alone and deal with this. A life that sounded like paradise, but where the only person I knew was the woman that had killed me. She was beautiful and sexy and funny and cared deeply about feeding humanity, which were all good things. But she had also murdered me. I wasn't supposed to be here, playing at being a god. I was supposed to be getting ready for my fourth season of soccer in England, and Tracy was supposed to be playing at Wimbledon, and we were supposed to be finally planning our wedding after seven years together.
Instead, I was here, because Kaitlyn needed an assistant for her new job. I knew I should take that as an honor, but I didn't even know why she had picked me. I didn't know anything about harvests. Tracy and I had done as much as we could for various charities that fed hungry children, and we had even started a foundation that was doing a lot of good things in Detroit, but I had trouble growing plastic plants. How was I going to help control Earth's growing cycle, or help fight off global warming.
I didn't sleep much that night, and when I did, it was with vivid dreams of Tracy asking me why I had chosen Kaitlyn over her. I kept trying to explain that I hadn't - that I didn't want any of this - but she kept asking "Why? Why?"
When I woke up, my pillow was wet with tears. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, wishing I had just stayed dead.
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