a short story by Michael R. Lockridge
Bob looked spectacular behind his semicircular desk. It was festooned with lights and screens and various writing instruments. The walls of his sumptuous office were covered with video screens displaying thousands of scenes from the many thousands of planets over which Bob was the final authority.
Ogwan Spen entered the office, escorted by a lithe female secretary who could have been a member of any of several hundred sentient species. Whatever her actual species she exuded an aura of competence and deep sensuality. Ogwan had his recording device running, capturing all sensory and telemetry data in a multitude of frequencies and dimensional levels.
This was his first big break as a junior reporter. His almost unknown home planet fostered a very limited news agency, and it was a major coupe to get to interview Bob. Indeed, Bob remained a mystery among most of the planets under his sway. Who was the real Bob? What was he like? What did he eat for breakfast? Would he plunge half of the known galaxy into war before lunch, just to bring a glorious peace before dinner?
Bob turned in his opulent yet functional desk chair, and stood to greet the young reporter.
"Ah, Mr. Spen." said Bob, stepping forward and offering Ogwan a warm smile and hearty handshake. Bob looked very much like every bipedal humanoid Ogwan had ever seen, all rolled into one and made a hundred percent better. Ogwan liked him immediately, which made him instantly suspicious.
Bob nodded to his secretary, who walked sensuously across the office in a display of physical motion that would overwhelm the male populations of a thousand planets. Ogwan had a great deal of trouble focusing until she had closed the office door, with her on the other side.
Bob indicated a sitting area across the room. The windows on three sides of the sitting area provided fabulous views of space. Though it seemed a bit provincial, Ogwan could not help but look for his own planet as they found their seats.
"It's over there." said Bob, gesturing toward a cluster of stars of medium brightness.
"Pardon me?" Ogwan said.
"Your planet. It is over there."
"Oh. Yes." replied Ogwan. He felt slightly embarrassed.
"Everyone does that when they sit here." said Bob. It was particularly believable when offered with that winning smile. Ogwan believed.
"So, what is it you wanted to know?" asked Bob.
"Our university in Pocknar discovered a new node in the Great Network. Several Network Scholars were exploring it when the node became unavailable." Ogwan began.
"Oh, that." Bob replied. He reapplied the smile that had seemed so winning. "Isn't my office opulent? Isn't it splendid? Did you see your planet from my window?"
Ogwan was surprised. He was not surprised by the attempt at evasion. Ogwan had done enough interviews with persons of authority that he expected some evasion. He was surprised that the renowned Bob was so blatant about the evasion.
"The scholars were concerned that a new node would appear and then disappear like that." Ogwan continued. "Most new nodes entering the great network appear and are heralded and welcomed. There is much rejoicing, and the exchange of knowledge is great."
"Ah, that is usually the case." said Bob. "This node proved a little different. Do you really know who I am?"
"Uh, yes." Ogwan said. "You are the personalized representation of the great network that came into being when several information networks from a number of planets accidentally began sharing data across space. The interaction led to a personification of the network itself, and you sprang into being."
"A textbook answer, but true enough." said Bob. "As such I began to coordinate the know networks into the Great Network. I actively sought emerging networks and brought them in, making necessary adjustments to make each fit seamlessly into the whole."
"Some speculate that the war between Arglebargle Seven and the Newt Colonies of Schmegma Prime were one of those adjustments." Ogwan put forward. He tried hard to look like an experienced reporter uncovering an unpleasant secret. The projection fell flat.
"Yes, little things like that take place from time to time." said Bob. "It is not easy being an accidental artificial intelligence of phenomenal power. There is no training manual, you know. Anyway, the transition lead to a very strong node, and a lot fewer Newts."
"And that is a good thing?" Ogwan asked.
"How many Newts have you known?" rejoined Bob.
Ogwan gave up on that point.
"So, about the vanished node..."
"It's still there." said Bob. "I am still getting to know the content. Testing to see if it can integrate without costing us any more Newts."
Ogwan sat and waited. He had learned on the Great Network that just waiting was a great reporting tool.
Bob also sat and waited. He looked out of the window. He adopted a wistful expression.
Ogwan continued to wait.
"You know, I don't have a home planet." said Bob. He sighed. The sigh was wistful, as well.
Ogwan decided to wait a bit more.
"Ok. Ok." said Bob. "I am holding back this node for two reasons."
Ogwan almost stopped waiting. He decided to wait a bit longer until he decided whether or not to stop waiting.
"The planet at the center of the new node is named Earth." said Bob. "They have Ebay."
Ogwan couldn't wait this one out. "What is Ebay?" he asked.
Bob smiled. He felt like he was back in control of the interview. He also felt like that was an illusion. For a being that was largely just an illusion in the first place, it was a bad feeling. He decided to go with the feeling that he was back in control of the interview. That made him feel better.
"Ebay is a system of exchange these humans have on their network." said Bob. "Human is what these bipedal humanoids call themselves. Of course we call similar species humanoid, ourselves. I chose to appear as a humanoid, though a very good looking humanoid if I do say so myself."
Ogwan looked confused. That made Bob feel even more in control. He should feel in control, being the personification of a vast interplanetary network of obscene hugeness.
"Kind of a chicken and the egg thing, if you knew what chickens or eggs were." said Bob. "Anyway, we don't have anything like this Ebay. I want to think about how to introduce such a revolutionary concept. I don't want to start any more damned wars or anything. I already have a planet full of bereaved Newts to deal with."
Ogwan just nodded. He was beginning to feel out of his depth. Even so, he thought there might be some kind of story in all of this. He checked his recorder, and found it to be getting all sorts of good stuff. The indicators for seventh dimensional data were especially promising. Yes, he could get a good story here.
"They also have God."
Ogwan looked up, startled. "You mean they have the concept of God? The idea of a supreme being and all of that, a myth from the depths of their history?"
"No." said Bob. "They actually have God. He has a particular affinity for their little planet and their petty doings."
"Are you saying God is real?" asked Ogwan.
"Why, yes, God is real." said Bob. "I have lunch with him every Tuesday."
"And, of all of the people in the galaxy, these creatures know God?"
"Well, more or less." said Bob. "It is more just a matter of Him knowing them. He really likes them. In fact, He has pinned a lot of the future of the universe on their doings."
Ogwan was flabbergasted. "This is going to be an amazing story." he said.
"I suppose." said Bob. "But I think the Ebay thing is going to be more significant to most members of the Great Network."
Ogwan was incredulous. "How can you say that?"
"Hey, God fell out of fashion in this part of the galaxy a long time ago." said Bob. "No matter what you say, it will just be old news. Ebay, however, that is going to be big."
Ogwan continued to be incredulous. He tried very hard to make his face represent his true state of incredulity. It made him tired.
"Anyway, the only ones in the Great Network who really believe in God are the Newts, and you see what happened to them." said Bob. "I think we are done here. How about we go get some lunch?"
Ogwan just nodded, and followed Bob out of the office.
"There is a bistro just around the corner I think you will like." said Bob. "God just loves the place. I can't think of a better recommendation."