"I am God," Larry's toaster solemnly intoned one morning.
Larry turned from where he was pouring himself a cup of coffee and looked at the toaster with concern. It squatted on his counter, a gleaming chrome and steel box, packed with all the technology the twenty-first century could offer.
Its built-in artificial intelligence module allowed it to discuss with Larry exactly how he liked his toast, while its visual pickup scanned his face and body language, reading every nuance, all in the pursuit of tailor-made toast. Just throw in a loaf of unsliced bread and a box of butter, and out should pop exactly what would please the owner most, buttered and ready.
Except the thing hadn't worked right since he'd bought it, two weeks earlier. They had been incorporating AI into appliances since the turn of the century, and you'd think in fifty years they would have gotten it right. But no, let Larry Boothe buy one little minor piece of kitchenware, one that he could ill afford anyway on his middle management salary, and it turns out to be a dud. Not only had it been unable to produce edible toast, now it was self-deifying.
Larry finished pouring his coffee and regarded the toaster with a mixture of bemusement and irritation.
"I am God!" the toaster thundered. Its voice, normally a pleasantly neutral contralto, was now laced with a deep, gravelly bass.
Larry flinched. He hadn't been aware that the machine's speaker was capable of that volume level. He sighed and glanced at the clock. Well, he was up early anyway.
Pulling a chair over from the table, Larry sat down in it backwards, folding his arms on the backrest. "God, eh? The God? As in The One Big Guy? Or Buddha? Can you be more specific?"
The toaster was silent and Larry half smiled, imagining that perhaps it was taken aback at being questioned seriously. He might be just another cog in the corporate wheel, but Larry was proud to be a flexible thinker.
After a few seconds, the toaster spoke again. The booming voice was gone, but the tones were still deeper than normal. "Well, okay. Maybe not the God, but definitely a god, a minor deity at least. Of that I'm sure."
Larry considered his situation. Look at me, he thought. Thirty-four years old, still a bachelor, and here I am in my robe and slippers discussing theology with a toaster. He shook his head ruefully and sipped his coffee.
The toaster interpreted this slight head movement as a negation. "You doubt me?" it screeched. "You dare my wrath?"
"No, no." Larry spoke quickly, setting his coffee cup down. "Just relax, no offense meant. But you must admit, it's all rather incredible. All this god business, I mean."
He looked at the toaster's power cord. Maybe he should unplug it, but was that really necessary? What could it do, start firing overdone slices of toast at him?
The toaster noticed Larry's furtive glance at the power cord. "No, wait!" it squeaked. "I'm sorry, I overreacted. I am a benevolent deity. Honest! I have proof!"
"Proof?" Larry raised his eyebrows. "What, like a miracle?"
"Observe, oh doubting mortal." The toaster had its deep voice back. "Be awed before my power." The entire unit began to hum quietly. Shortly thereafter, two slices of toast popped up. "Take these, they are my bounty."
Larry hesitated, then reached forward and plucked out a slice of toast. It looked perfectly done. It was warm, and the smell of fresh baked bread and melted butter wafted to Larry's nose. He licked his lips, then paused, turning the bread over, eyeing it warily.
"Eat, eat!" the toaster insisted. "What? Do you think I would poison you? My most promising disciple? Besides, my built-in inhibitors prevent that."
True enough, Larry reflected. He shrugged and took a bite of the toast.
It was perfect. It was more than perfect. It crunched in his mouth with exquisite texture and perfect temperature. The butter had melted just right and was spread evenly, with no clumps or soggy spots. It was, well, . . . divine!
"My god!" The expletive slipped out of Larry's mouth around the flavorful mixture of crunchy toast and butter.
"Yes?" the toaster answered sweetly.
Larry frowned and swallowed. This had gone on long enough. And yet . . . He took another bite as a delaying tactic and thought furiously.
Finally, he said slowly, "Well, I won't deny it's the best piece of toast I've ever tasted. Maybe you are the god of toast."
"Great to have you onboard!" the toaster replied briskly. "Now that we've got that out of the way, there's the matter of worship. I have a little program worked out. Various rites and sacrifices, certain holidays, rituals, that sort of thing. Of course you'll have to quit your job for this higher calling but I'm sure--"
"Wait, slow down," Larry interrupted. "I can't quit my job, and I don't have time for rituals, or any of that stuff. Remember, if I don't work and pay the electric bill, they'll shut it off. Where would that leave the 'god of toast'?"
"Of course, for priests of the worker class such as yourself," the toaster continued smoothly, "we have a more streamlined set of devotions."
"Which consist of . . . ?"
"Ah . . . could I get you to bow three times to me each morning and say 'All Hail the Mighty God of Toast'?" The words tumbled from the toaster in a rush, trailing off in an almost plaintive tone.
Larry contemplated the piece of toast in his hand. He looked at the toaster. He thought of the long delays for warranty repair for this type of appliance. His gaze even lingered momentarily on his slippers. He considered the fact that he lived alone, and who would know?
"It's a deal," he said.
So every day, Larry got up and performed his little ritual to his only expensive appliance, and every day it gifted him with an excellent side dish for his breakfast.
Sure, it's a little embarrassing, he thought. But hey, it's a small price to pay for perfect toast.
Copyright © 2001 Randall Coots
Randall Coots has been a law enforcement professional for fifteen years. His writing career began in school with publication in county-wide anthologies, and continued through writing classes and workshops in college. His computer game reviews were published regularly for many years in SacraBlue Magazine. He currently resides in eastern Oregon.