"No one knows who the original was, of course," said the salesman.
Fox Crane did not want to be here; at least, not any longer than he absolutely had to be. He had better things to think about than what the salesman was saying. Well, perhaps not better things, but at least more pressing. He just wanted to conduct his business here and get out. But he was a businessman himself, so he understood about marketing and public relations and all that. Still, his disinterest in the standard speech he was forced to listen to was not the only reason he wasn't hearing all that was being said. Nor was the fact that his world was falling apart around him. Which was, after all, why he was here in the first place. Boring speech or no, this was the only place he could think to go to seek answers. At least, the only place to find the answers to the questions he wanted to ask. Not that he was entirely clear exactly what those questions would be, but at least, he thought, if he knew were to find the answers, the questions might follow.
At this thought, he paused a moment to silently curse the memory of his grandfather, who had named him after a character from a popular show of his grandfather's youth. Fox had never met nor even heard of anyone else in the world who shared his and that old character's first name, and he was never comfortable with that thought. He especially hated that both his first and last names were animals. Though this, of course, had nothing to do with why he'd just now been cursing his grandfather. His mind just always tended to wander, to get sidetracked easily, almost constantly. He had his grandfather's stream of consciousness way of thinking, which was another thing he hated about his grandfather. This was the main reason for his missing parts of what the salesman said.
He hated a great deal about his grandfather….
"Sir?" said the salesman, snapping Fox momentarily out of his reverie. He knew he'd be back into it soon enough. His blasted stream of consciousness was merely one of several annoying and largely uncontrollable mental habits he'd inherited from his grandfather.
"Hmmm? I'm sorry, my mind tends to wander. What were you saying, Mr. Tenney?"
"Quite alright. I'm afraid most people are like that when they come in here. …I was explaining that nobody knows who the original god was, but that he or she surely realized that he or she- but let me stop. You are perhaps familiar with the new pronoun 'de'?"
"Um… vaguely, yes. Short for 'deity,' to be used rather than such words as 'he,' 'she,' or 'it;' established a few years ago by the Foundationists to suggest that God- the original, that is- cannot be known to be male or female, or in fact be known to be much of anything specific."
Mr. Tenney flashed a quick, superficial smile which was meant to imply he thought the Foundationists to be a rather quaint organization, but anyone could see it did not so much suggest a feeling of bemusement, as it did of annoyed disdain. "The Foundationists," he said along with the smile, "yes. Rather an archaic little group of nostalgics, but no real harm to anyone."
Fox of course knew, as did everyone, that the Foundationists were a constant and considerable thorn in the side of the god farms. He wouldn't have cared one way or the other about the Foundationists himself, except that their history reminded him, as did so much in today's society, of his grandfather and that accursed century of his, which was so beloved by practically everybody else. They named themselves after a religious movement mentioned a few times in passing in a TV show of that century. Just the sort of thing his grandfather would do. If he hadn't died five years before the creation of Foundationism, he surely would have become one. Especially considering how much he loved that damned show (a different one from that which had given Fox his name).
"…Still," continued Mr. Tenney, "they do provide some few… interesting… concepts…. Um, where was I?"
Fox sighed. "The original god realized something."
"Yes, thank you. De realized that, being pretty much alone in the Universe, de couldn't procreate. But, de could create. So, de created Mankind. And we pretty quickly discovered we could procreate. This of course made God jealous, so de turned dis back on us for quite awhile.
"But eventually de started thinking about experimenting with procreation dimself. De knew de still couldn't do it in what seemed to be the normal way- believe what the UXers would have you believe, or not. So anyway, de realized de'd have to let us assist dim in dis procreation, as if Mankind itself were dis mate…."
"Another concept reminiscent of the United Cross-believers." The thought of the relatively new union of the old and disparate denominations of Christianity reminded Fox, surprise of surprises, of his grandfather, who had started his life as a Christian (he never really chose a denomination, though he was raised Baptist) and finished it as an UXer.
"Ah, yes. Those crazy old UXers," said the salesman with a smile every bit as genuine as that used for the Foundationists. "Well, of course, all these little nostalgic groups…" but Fox tuned him out. He was thinking of how it had only been a matter of time till the old religions, slowly dying off, had had to merge, just as did many businesses in… sigh… that damned century…. The few amalgamated religious organizations remaining to represent the world's ancient history were these days barely holding their own against the rising popularity of god farms like this one- even though, ironically, the god farms themselves catered to followers of every religion, and then some. Collectively, barely two billion people, only slightly more than a fifth of the world's population, still clung to such old-fashioned belief systems.
Officially, atheists and agnostics numbered a little over a billion, but realistically, just about everybody was an 'atheist of convenience' (AoC) these days. That is, they'd casually believe whatever they needed to, when they needed to. The rest of the time they didn't pay much mind to the spirit, even if everyone felt a sort of social obligation to register as one religion or another (or officially none). Perhaps a billion and a half or so people devoutly followed one of the newer faiths like Foundationism, though officially about six and a half billion were registered to Foundationism or Neo-Communism (which had practically nothing whatever to do with the old Communism) or Manifest Astro-Universal Destinism (MAUD), or any of half a dozen others….
"Hmmm?" His grandfather had always said 'hmmm' a great deal, and Fox hated that he couldn't stop himself from doing so as well.
"Mind wandering again? Well, no matter, I suppose I wasn't saying anything important. My apologies. Shall I continue with the lecture?"
Fox sighed. "If you must," he wanted to say. Instead, he forced a smile and said, "Of course. Thank you."
"…De would use us as dis mate, so to speak, but not in the normal way. De would slowly, over time, allow us to learn all, or at least enough of the pertinent, fundamental principles of life, the Universe, and everything…."
Those words! They reminded him, instantly, of one of his grandfather's favorite series of books. Which he had been thinking of earlier, before the first time the salesman interrupted his train of thought. He'd been thinking about questions following the answers, and how that sort of thing happened in the books he was now thinking of again because of the words 'life, the Universe, and everything.'
His grandfather had been a slave to the entertainments he loved. In that respect he was much the same as almost everybody else in Fox's own time. What was more annoying about people today was that they had a sick sort of obsession with his grandfather's birth century (he had lived the greater part of his life and died in this century, of course). Virtually everything of its culture and various subcultures was remembered and revered today. One of the many consequences of this was that, despite no one else he ever met being named Fox, they all knew exactly where the name came from, and would not hesitate to prattle on to him at great length about how much they loved that old show….
God, he hated his grandfather. His parents, he thought, had had the right reaction to him. After so many years of exposure to him, they finally went simultaneously mad, staged an impromptu and ludicrously unthought-out raid on a local bank, and had both been killed in the process. This was when Fox had been five. His grandfather had raised him since then. And this was after having exerted undue influence over his parents for the first five years of his life, including choosing his name. …Fox had tried many times, later on, to go mad. But he never could quite manage it.
"…And so, once our scientists quite fully had a handle on all that, it was merely a matter of time until God's carefully laid plans for procreation finally came to fruition. And with the establishment of Godfarms, Inc., now they have!
"…Now that you understand the background, let us begin the tour of the facility, so that I may show you all the steps I've been telling you briefly about, and explain each of them in a bit greater detail."
Fox Crane sighed and rose from his chair as the salesman across the desk rose from his own, and extended an arm to point to the door out of his office.