"This isn't Olympus. You're not God. A or The. The most you've got in common is your names both start with a capital letter. This-" he gestured around him with a slightly wild sweep of his arms - "is a business. That's all it is, just a business. Constantly thinking as big as you are is just going to give you a headache."
A large gantry overhung an impossibly large space in which floated, rather cheekily, a haphazard collection of thick iron booms. They connected, crossed and twisted but if there was a plan to this seeming disorder it was not evident at this stage.
There was a plan.
The gantry was suspended from one of a series of much larger, interconnected structures. Others were visible on the limits of vision, many more were far beyond it. A huge three-dimensional web of steel, clung to by various boxlike constructions, loading docks and storage areas, separated vast work complexes. They were as teeming with activity as the space they occupied was filled, which is to say they weren't. It was breaktime.
Snuggled on an elbow of the nearest frame was what looked like a metal hamburger. Two silver patters framed a hollow rectangular slice of glass which surrounded an employee canteen. The room and the gantry it attached to appeared to be suspended in space, such was the distance to the enclosing walls - a wall really, since it had no corners.
Inside the room, this animated speaker was standing in a bright room of well-used tables and chairs. A few snack machines with most of the red 'no stock' lights illuminated sat along one wall and a couple of the overhead lights were flickering. A uniformed employee worked with inexplicable cheerfulness behind the food counter. Outside, the expanse of the factory floor and the visible mass of its suspended contents effortlessly overwhelmed the room and the thousands of others like it.
Barely-visible shadows jumped around the speaker as he padded lightly around the room, completely ignoring the view outside. His uniform had a plastic badge pinned to the breast which said 'Kurt' on it. For some reason he, and all of the others sitting around the room were human.
"There's nothing special about what we're doing, it's our job. I don't know where you get the idea of 'God' from anyway, the universe is far too insane for someone to have just thought it up one afternoon."
"What, you don't think-"
"No, that's your problem, see. We come into work, clock in and do our jobs. You run sculpting cranes, I work the core welders. Those guys -" he motioned across the room to a table around which several men were sitting - "work the matter congregators after that and you'll get some form to that mess." He waved his hand at the twisted disorder floating hundreds of miles away. A couple of the men chewed nonchalantly on unbranded mush as they looked out at the huge construction that was only just gaining some hope of taking shape. The others watched this mild diversion with little attentiveness.
Outside, nothing continued to happen.
"But the scale of what we're doing, doesn't that mean anything?"
"God makes the universe, makes it work. That's-"
Kurt inhaled sharply. "Yeah, yeah, but you're missing the point." He gestured enthusiastically as he continued. "Our work has some scale and...impact, to be sure. But at the end of the day we're no different to a bunch of guys who go to work on a skyscraper. What happens in that building after we've finished it has nothing to do with us, much less the city we built it in. To think that we've got any influence on the universe because we threw some rocks into it is the worst kind of delusion."
The tangle of steel outside continued to drift peacefully, occasionally nudged by vernier jets keeping it within the invisible borders of its construction complex. Some worker buses swept past, ice particles from their motors softly pattering the canteen window. Mist was beginning to fizz around the giant cranes and rock movers, gently tugging at their tethers on the mooring grids.
"But you've got to admit that we have some effect on how life evolves. Things happen that wouldn't happen without the things we make."
"You're getting ahead of yourself. You're right but us completing and placing a planet, allowing life to evolve on it or whatever the customer has planned for it has a microscopic impact on a cosmic scale. You're talking about the effect of constructing a single building on an entire planet, reduced by several orders of magnitude. You're talking like we built all the planets in the universe.
"We get specs, design the thing, fill it and ice it." He snorted. "Takes a bit longer than a skyscraper but it's no miracle; we just decided to do it one day and then fucked it up lots of times, like always. Eventually we got here. You've seen the gouts of ash and chaos at Tanhaw; there's whole rings of mis-constituted junk dumped around Canis Majoris. You think they just accreted by themselves? You think that's the behaviour of gods? You don't just take credit for what works, you own up to the mistakes as well. If there's one thing religions don't do it's admit their gods get things wrong. So either religions are hugely deluded, or we're not gods."
The worker, whose name was Theodore, looked back at his Kurt, eyes narrowed and eyebrows arched in a curious combination of mild contempt and uncertainty. "I still think there's more to it. This. I mean, how much bigger is this operation going to get? We're making planets now -- how long before we're supplying star systems to order? Nebulae? Galaxies?"
"Oh, for goodness' sake. What? How did you get this job? When you were in the interview and they asked you were you would be in five years did you say 'I'll be a deity'? I mean-"
Kurt sighed again and turned, looking perfunctorily at the planet foundation suspended before him. Small puffs of light came from its threads of steel as its corrective jets fired. It seemed motionless.
"It doesn't matter. All this is, is human construction scaled up again! What we're doing now is just the next step up from the Jovian orbital complexes and the planetary prime movers. You're probably right, eventually we will get onto stellar construction. But it's all as dead as any new building without creatures to breathe life into it and we've only ever been able to introduce them, not engineer them. Look around, look at what we're doing."
He motioned to the giant yellow-painted mooring grid that stretched out before the far window to the canteen. Thick steel cables tethered huge vehicles to sharply-angled metallic docking arms.
Horns faintly hooted as breaks ended. Workers were starting to return; fog surrounding silent machinery gently stretched and gave way as operators sat down at their controls and powered them up. Buses flitted around the construction site, dropping workers at marshalling points. Lines of them split off to their work areas and spots of light flickered across the emptiness as work began again.
"Look down there. Our ancestors would most certainly look upon us as gods seeing what we're doing, but we know better. They're cave-dwellers looking at the designers of the Lloyds building. It's practically a non sequitur. Still, there's no miracle to what's happening down there - (he pointed to no particular spot of light) a guy has a welder, a rivet gun, a socket set. He's not conjuring this planet into existence, nor is he doing it by himself."
"But he's creating a whole!" Theodore interrupted. "Something greater than him and something great! Something of great impact!"
"Am I talking to myself? I'm telling you that all we're doing is what we've always done. We've always built, and we've always tried to build bigger. We're still just building. I weld, you work machinery, so do this lot, it does create a whole and somewhere...(he thumbed upwards)...someone's designing all of it BUT, that design isn't part of a larger design. We're employees following blueprints. We're just a company, quite a small one I might add, that serves a business need as limited as it is horrendously expensive. It doesn't mean we're worthless.
"Besides, if you're some kind of god, don't you think you'd be in a better position than Plant Operator? Yeah, that comes with capital letters too. The guy playing with his food over there earns more than you."
Kurt exhaled with humour as Theodore looked at his cup of tea in sullen silence.
"Don't start down that road." Kurt made held up his left hand, the other picking up the mug on the table in front of him. "Don't make the mistake of so many despots; you're not better or more powerful than others. You're standing on their shoulders. You can only do what you can do and in the meantime, get over yourself and let me finish my coffee." He grunted and sat down.
Outside, machines were grumbling back to work. In the distance, gigantic creations hung in the impossibility of generations past. He turned to his paper to see if there was any news.
The title of this node quotes Bill Drummond, a phrase from his book 45 which struck me for some reason. The inspiration for the setting should be obvious to many. The last sentence is the last sentence of The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul.