Monthly Archives: April 2011

Soon: Chapter 12: Zzzzz…HATE!

Good to know I’m not the only one freaked out by Stuart “Don’t Touch My Junk” “Straight” Rathe.

Chapter 12 is about chess and reading letters.  It’s just as exciting as you might imagine.

Paul sinks even deeper into Emo Mode, though Jenkins puts it thusly:

Violent mood swings became Paul’s routine.

Except…he’s only really swinging between sulky and angry, and I’m not sure that counts as a “violent” swing.

Paul whines for several pages about how he can’t see the sunlight and it hurts when they work on his face burns.  Now, I’m sure it hurts like a sonofabitch, but he doesn’t give a crap about any of the other patients who are burned a lot more than just a bit of face, and he doesn’t care that Atheistopian medicine has progressed to the point where it hurts a lot less than it used to and he’ll look completely back to normal when they’re done.

Oh, and he has a recurring dream about his despised wife and kids running towards him, but before he can actually hug them, he wakes up.  So Paul almost constantly has his Sad Panda Face on, except when he’s yelling at the kids (ages SEVEN and FIVE, remember) for being afraid of him.  I don’t blame them a bit for being scared of their horrible, abusive, distant father.  Poor little peanuts.

Paul and Mr. Touchy-Feely play a bunch of games of chess, because there are either no other patients in the hospital to volunteer for, or they’ve all gotten wise and barred Straight from the room.  And Paul listens to the New Testament and counts all the times blindness is mentioned.  Because screw fighting the terrorists, we need to know how this affects The Most Important Thing of All: Paul’s feelings.

Speaking of Paul’s feelings, Paul gets Straight to write a letter to The Dork Too Stupid’s daughter, Angela.  Angela lives in Washington, and Paul is going there soon to get some bogus medal for valor for selflessly chasing after a murderer and then ripping his goggles off his face in the line of stupid duty.  He dictates a short Sad Panda letter and basically asks her out for a date.  Angela sends him back a very sweet and supportive letter and an audiobook about Delta Force, and manages to slip into the letter that her husband died of colon cancer, which makes no sense to me.  (Did Jenkins forget that Atheistopia has cured almost all cancer, except for the “intricate” brain?  What, the husband couldn’t have died of something else?)  

And she signs the letter “Love.”

Straight sorta gently reminds Paul that he’s married, and that sets Paul off on a tirade of running down his wife to a stranger.  Again.  She doesn’t come to see him enough (Straight mentions that she might be looking for a job, which only pisses off Paul more), she’s not handling the kids well, she doesn’t tell him every little thing she’s doing.  Then Paul laments that now that he’s blind, he won’t be able to chase chicks the way he used to, but maybe Angela could “deal with my blindness.”

Out of nowhere, Straight brings the conversation around to Paul’s Bible-reading (GEE I WONDER WHY) and now that they’ve both examined the meaning of signing a letter “Love” as if they were a couple of 11-year-old schoolgirls*, Straight actually finishes reading the damn thing and Paul learns the results of the tests on the letter, which is totally genuine.  Shockingly, this discovery makes Paul even angrier (this time, at his dead father), and he becomes even more determined to crack the code he is convinced is in the Bible. 

Sadly, in Atheistopia, the End Times timelines and checklists have been banned.  So Paul has to start from scratch.

*I exaggerate.  11-year-old schoolgirls would never be such self-absorbed jerks.

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Soon: Chapter 11: Straight

Before moving on to Paul’s First Friend, I wanted to thank hapax for telling us all we ever wanted to know about Paul’s baldness.  Like hapax, I doubt that Jenkins gave it more thought than, “Hey!  The Biblical Paul is bald!  So I’ll have my Paul be bald for no discernable reason!” 

(I suppose he could have just had Paul be bald because, well…he’s bald.  But male pattern baldness was probably considered Insufficiently Manly for our soon-to-be Christian Hero.)

Onward!

Let’s get something out in the open…

LaJenkins heroes have no friends.  Certainly no friends that could not better be described by other terms: coworker, in-law, etc.

Let’s count the ways, shall we?

  • Rayford Steele (Left Behind series): No friends before Rapture, no friends after.  We can’t even count his pseudo-mistress, Hattie, since he doesn’t care about her or even want to talk to her.
  • Buck Williams (Left Behind series): No friends before Rapture, no friends after.  At all.
  • Michael Murphy (Babylon Rising series): No friends except for Levi Abrams, and as I describe here, it is a rather strange definition of “friend.”
  • Joshua Jordan (The End series): No friends except for maybe Fortis Rice.  But as my fellow reviewer describes here, Fortis is more of a co-conspirator than a friend.

And now we have Paul Apostle.  No friends.  Heck, I’d count a spouse if said spouse wasn’t just Paul’s emotional punching bag.

Well, no friends until now!  Paul is about to make a friend!

Sorta!

Welcome to the second appearance of If You’re Nice, You’re a Christian.

As I pointed out back then, Jenkins’ view of “nice” and mine are two very different things.  Because although this guy is about to become Paul’s BFF, I would not want him coming anywhere near me.

Paul gets a bit of sympathy from me right off the bat: his hearing is operating on overdrive and he can’t even cover his own ears to drown out voices.

One voice drew distinct from the rest: a deep, rich baritone singing, humming, musing, and greeting staff…

Okay, it strikes me as extremely rude to burst into song in a hospital wing where people are trying to recover and may be in pain.  Hell, it’s hard enough to get any sleep in a hospital without some asshat belting out unrequested solos whenever the mood strikes him. 

Then, even worse, there’s this:

“Are you awake, sir?” asked the baritone voice.  “Might I trouble you for a moment?”

“Well, I don’t have much choice now, do I?”

The man approached.  “Where might I touch you in greeting, sir, if I have your permission?”

“You don’t.  What do you want?”

Paul felt a light squeeze on his shoulder from an extremely large hand and wrenched away, but that didn’t seem to deter the man.

Holy.  Shit.

WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING HIM WHEN HE JUST ASKED YOU NOT TO, YOU HORRIBLE, SELF-ABSORBED MAN??  HE IS IN A HOSPITAL AND MAY BE IN PAIN AND EVEN IF HE WASN’T, YOU ARE DISRESPECTING HIS WISHES AND HE HAS NO MEANS OF STOPPING YOU!!!

The asshat control freak is Stuart Rathe (Urethra Tats?  Treat As Hurt?) and like Cameron “Buck” Williams, he has a nickname that he makes people use whether they like it or not: Straight.

“They tell me you should be sleeping at night and up most of the day.  Paul, is it?  May I sit?”

“Stop asking if you’re just going to ignore the answer.”

Straight dragged a chair next to the bed.

Wow, for once I find myself in sympathy with Paul.  This is just the most incredibly rude and disrespectful behavior–to ask a question then ignore the answer (which Straight has now done three times), and do it all in a sweet tone of voice with a smile on your face. 

The kicker: We’re supposed to like this guy.

Also, what is up with the staff disclosing details about Paul’s care to volunteers?  And again, regardless of what Paul is “supposed” to do, a hospital is not the best place to get a restful night’s sleep.

And here are times four and five of Straight asking Paul what he wants, then ignoring the answer.  Remember, this is a nice guy:

“Anytime you’ve had enough of me, simply say so and I will be on my way without the slightest offense.”

“I’m saying so.”

“The nurses sent me.  I am here to help in your recovery, not to tire you out.  May I continue?”

“No.”

“I, sir, am fifty-nine years old and an African-American.  I am six-foot-four and weigh 225 pounds.”

Holy crap, no wonder Paul and this asshat become bestest friends ever!  They share a common obsession with height and weight!

“Now, Paul, you’re sitting in that bed, but I’m guessing you are six-foot-three and 200 pounds.  Am I right?”

“Wow, Straight, it’s like you know me already!”

Straight gives Paul his history: he killed his own family by driving drunk, and in the process, lost a foot, too.  He adds…

“My life has never been the same.”

…which I can only presume means that he Found The Lord after that.  Now, he has retired as a history professor so he can harass patients volunteer every day.

He sometimes plays the sax for them.  Because he’s black.  But he also plays chess, which sparks Paul’s interest, because we all know what a tactical genius Paul is.

As Tom Servo would say:

“And thus, a solid friendship is born.”

Soon: Chapter 11: Emotional Abuse

This is where we really begin to see how toxic Paul is.  Trigger warning, as if the title didn’t give it away–we’ll be talking about the tactics of emotional abusers.

The doctors called [Paul’s] attitude “displacement”–inflicting his rage and hopelessness on an innocent victim–and assured [Jae] it was common and would ebb, ideally, with Paul’s growing acceptance of his blindness.  But that didn’t make it any easier to take when every visit brought a new wave of recrimination.

Paul upbraided Jae for every attempt to help him, along with every other failing he could dredge up from their ten years of marriage.  He refused to accept her apologies for what he called her weakness when they first met with Dr. Bihari and her “selfishness” for “abandoning” him afterward.

As I discussed in the last chapter, I’m not buying this “displacement” defense, because Paul has always been a jerk of the first order.  Let’s count the ways, shall we?

Some signs of emotional abuse (these are all from Wikipedia, though there are many other excellent sites out there for signs of abuse):

1.  Ridiculing, criticizing, and humiliating the abused party–um, yeah.  Evidence: every single conversation Paul and Jae have had.

2.  Twisting and manipulating others’ words–yes and yes.  Just in the last chapter, in fact, when he accused Jae of whining and just being sorry for herself.

3.  False accusations and threats–yep, especially with the whole “you’re just being paranoid about the cheating” thing.

4.  Attributing blame for the abuse to the abused–yeah.  See what I just quoted.

5.  Isolating the abused from friends and family and other support–this one gets interesting.  Jae, like the good little Christian wife she will become, has followed her husband’s career.  Followed it away from her own family in Washington, D.C., to Chicago.  And she has left work to take care of the kids, with her primary reason for this being not just that Paul works, but that he has taken a job that requires extensive travel.  Now, this is mitigated by the fact that her family is not as far away as they might seem.  Travel in Atheistopia rocks, as we shall see soon, and Ranold had no trouble getting right to Chicago when needed.  It is also mitigated by the fact that Chicago might make the most sense even for a healthy couple, as Paul’s mother was a widow in poor health.  However, it is not mitigated by the facts that Jae feels isolated and misses the company of adults (heck, she says so in the first chapter), and that Paul spends a lot of time running down Jae’s family to her.  So…partial credit on this one, I guess.

Now, it is important to bear in mind that this is evil, atheistic, pre-conversion Paul.  But it’s not like he gets all that much better after accepting Jesus into his heart, so that excuse buys him very little

And then, there’s the let’s share-around-the-blame attitude promulgated by Jenkins:

It had been a long time since she and Paul had been on the same track.

After the affair she felt she could never trust him again.  It didn’t help that women were drawn to Paul–waitresses, airline attendants, even some of her friends.  And Paul was constantly on the road, exposed to myriad women and temptations Jae was sure he lacked the will to resist.  So they had reached an impasse.  Jae was consumed by jealousies Paul did nothing to assuage and that seemed to push him into stubborn withdrawal.

Now Paul was blind.  Could a couple already so resentful of each other withstand such a devastating blow?

Now, I am of the opinion that a bad relationship can rarely be laid at the feet of only one of the partners.  But in the case of the Stepola marriage…IT CAN!!!  I’m sorry, but Paul is the one serial-cheating, Paul is the one who’s emotionally abusive, Paul’s the one telling Jae she’s whiny and paranoid and–oh yeah, stupid:

[Jae] fiddled with the [disc] player.

“Just look at the instructions!” [Paul berated]

“That’s what I’m doing!”

“Why can’t you handle simple electronics?  Who do you think’s going to do it for you now?”

She said nothing.

“Grown woman and you can’t even–ah, never mind.  I’ll get someone else to do it.”

“I’m sorry, Paul.”

“Are you crying again?”

So, yeah.  Paul: big damn jerk.  But look at the language Jenkins uses, both spreading the blame around and making Jae look both at fault and incompetent: she “fiddles” with electronics, she’s “consumed by jealousies” and her doing that pushes Paul away.  And hey, it’s not like it’s totally Paul’s fault–after all, women are “drawn” to him (remember his muscular build and “quick wit”?).   I mean, the poor guy’s just standing there, minding his own abusive business, when these evil sluts just throw themselves upon him–and what’s he supposed to do, refuse?  That would be rude.

Oh, and to add even more insult to injury, Paul then speaks insultingly of his wife to others–telling Bob that he needs him to set up the disc player because…

“Jae was going to, but she pulled her helpless-woman act.”

You ass.

Oh, and, and, AND, when Jae suggests to Paul that she bring him some music to listen to along with the New Testament, he snaps,

“Don’t tell me what to think, Jae.”

What a gem. 

Next on Soon…Paul finds a friend. 

(‘Cause if anyone deserves one, right?)

Soon: Chapter 10: Poor Tick, Poor Jae

Although the beginning of chapter 10 is meant to elicit sympathy for poor, blinded Paul, I have much more for Tick and Jae.

Paul has been blinded by the blast of the second Miracle Well, which is not surprising since the idiot removed his goggles.  What is surprising to me is that Paul’s head has been shaved, despite the fact that he was wearing a hat.  Does anyone know if baldness has anything to do with the Biblical Paul, or is this Jenkins just not knowing his medicine?  I mean, hell, I once had a Grade III concussion and a scalp laceration, and my head wasn’t shaved.

Anyway, Paul is airlifted back to Chicago, where he wakes from a drug-induced haze to find his vision gone, maybe forever.  His first visitor is Bob Koontz, who fills Paul in on the fates of Donny Johnson (found dead of smoke inhalation; presently roasting in Hell (well, we know this part, even if Bob and Paul don’t)), and Tick:

Koontz hesitated.  “Tell you the truth, Tick is catching major heat on this one.  The word leaked about the second well.  It was all over the news even before Johnson’s body was found.  And of course, a death like that couldn’t be kept quiet.  Half the country seems to think this is some kind of miracle, and the other half wants to fire the entire NPO for failing to foresee and prevent terrorism.  People upstairs believe Tick botched this.  He’s been encouraged to take a leave of absence.”

“What a mess.” [said Paul]

Boy, no good deeds go unpunished, do they?  Poor Tick wanted to avoid a rush to judgment, tried to break up the fight between Donny and St. Stephen, and suddenly this whole God-created mess is his fault?  What a crock.

Of course, our hero Paul, instead of feeling bad for Tick for being made the fall guy and all, manages to bring the subject right back to The Most Important Subject in the Universe: Paul’s feelings.

“He’s [Tick] got a daughter to visit in Australia.  But he’s really torn up about Johnson’s death and about you.  Your injuries, I mean.”

“I don’t want his pity.  Yours either.” [said Paul]

“Easy.  All I’m saying is that people care.”

“Caring won’t bring my sight back.”

Now, I am not for a moment saying that it is not natural and understandable for a person painfully injured to lash out and/or be self-absorbed.  Many people do.  But Paul was already a hostile and utterly selfish jerk when we met him.  So these hospital scenes read less like a flawed man dealing with a horrific situation than a cruel asshat finally being given “license” to be just as awful as he wants to be without fear of social restraint.  First, we have Tick, but then we have poor Jae:

…Dr. Bihari was forthright with Jae and Ranold about Paul’s prospects.  Paul heard Jae crying.

“Turn off the waterworks,” Paul said, “and stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Oh, Paul, this just makes me so sad.  I know you’re strong enough to cope with this, but it will be hard–”

“Hard for whom?  I’m the one who’s blind.  You’re only making me feel worse.”

“Paul, I’m not up to fighting.  I’m just overwhelmed and sorry–”

You’re overwhelmed?”

Paul heard her leave the room, sobbing.

(Please note–this is the first time the couple has even been in the same room since the accident.)

Again, I would be much more sympathetic if Paul wasn’t already an asshat who delights in emotionally abusing his wife.  (More on this in the next chapter, because it only gets worse.)  And for now, Jae is so upset that she can’t even go back to Paul’s room, and has to write a note for Ranold to read to Paul.  Poor Jae.

And finally, speaking of reading, Paul requests Ranold to get him the New Testament “on disc.”  Ooo, time for the conversion process to begin!  Because as we all know, reading the Bible is Magic.

Soon: Chapter 9: St. Stephen

Stephen Lloyd (End Hell Typos?  Pled Honestly?) is led away.

Actually, screw the anagrams on this one.  Just look at the guy’s name.  Stephen.  Not hard to see where this is going…

The Lloyd part…maybe Martyn Lloyd-Jones, an influential minister at Westminster Chapel?

Paul headed down the hall to observe, curious about Stephen Lloyd.  Maybe he was a hero, maybe a troublemaker.  If Lloyd had intervened in a good cause, assailing an armed guard was still reckless, considering all the help at hand right down the hall.  Standing fearlessly on principle could be noble or hot-headed, but it was also typical extremist behavior.

Wow.  That may be the very first time in the entire book that Paul has an idea about religion that is neither common knowledge nor something he learned in the past few weeks.  Only took us two missions and 77 pages.

Paul guessed Lloyd at six-foot-three and at least 250 pounds.

Paul sure spends an awful lot of time guessing other dudes’ vital statitics.  He did it with Coker, too, back in San Francisco…

[Coker] had short blonde hair and red cheeks, stood about six feet, and was thick and solid.  Paul guessed 225 pounds.

I wonder if he ever asks the other guys if the guesses are correct.  “So, Coker, if you don’t mind my asking…how much do you weigh?”  “Okay, Lloyd, take a seat under these bright lights.  This won’t take long if you tell us what we need to know.  First question: How much do you weigh?”

At any rate, it might be more interesting than the questioning of Stephen, which is pretty mundane.  Where he’s from, did he play college football, etc., etc.

Then Dirk brings out the contents of Stephen’s room: wallet, keys, and…dun dun dunnnnnn…”a dull gray coin attached to a leather strap.”

Pay attention, y’all–this is the Sardis stuff, right here!

Dirk makes this very odd statement:

“You’re not old enough to remember books.”

This strikes me as a distinct lack of imagination.  I mean, I’m too young to remember 45 rpms, but they are still perfectly recognizable to me, and they have symbolic meaning.

Then Paul looks as the coin and sees…

The engraved book was open.  What was that behind it?  A quill?  No, that would be in front of the book, not in the background.  Then Paul recognized it–a palm frond–and knew what it meant.

Hey, this is Paul again using actual knowledge! 

I am, frankly, shocked.

Paul and Stephen walk outside as Paul takes over the questioning, and he messes with Stephen’s head for a minute, dropping words like “sign” and “miracle.”

Then the dim light of Paul’s “quick wit” flickers and is extinguished, and he simply begins “parroting” the words of the old lady back in sinful San Francisco.  Again, stuff that he’s only learned in the past few weeks.  I just resent how very, very little indication we get of how Paul’s frackin’ Ph.D. actually does him any good.

But it doesn’t really matter, as Stephen is no great intellectual prodigy, either.  Heck, one “He is risen” from Paul, and Stephen is gushing like a Miracle Well in a Gulfland oil field. 

“There are others like us?” [Paul asked]

“Some.  Mexicans, mostly.  They tend to keep to the old ways.”

Old ways?  Why, those weird-ass Catholics!

Yanno, in a world where religion has been outlawed, you’d think the religious would stick together.  But no, it’s still Really Real Christian or hell-bound.

But Stephen’s barely getting started telling Paul bunches of secrets when Donny Johnson wanders up:

“Hey there,” Donny Johnson called…”How’s it goin’?”

“Fine,” Paul said.  “I’m making an arrest.”

I’ve been having some fun playing SWAT 4 recently, and one line from The Spoony One’s Let’s Plays seems particularly apropos:

YOU FOOL!

So Paul has Stephen right where he wants him, with the potential to easily reveal all other Christians among the roughnecks, maybe even beyond into all of Gulfland, and he tips his hand after two minutes of questioning?

What.  An.  Idiot.

I just cannot get over this.  It is Paul’s personal, not to mention professional mission to bring down the “Christian threat” from the inside.  He’s succeeded, in a mere two minutes, in getting a Christian on his side.  In a few more minutes, Paul could have information and names that might take months to get under other circumstances.  And he throws it all away so he can look all suave in front of Donny Johnson.

Who, true to his word, beings pummeling on poor St. Stephen.  All the commotion brings Tick a-runnin’, and true to his word, he tries to break up the fight.

“Johnson, stop!” Tick shouted, jumping to grab his arm.  Johnson wrenched free, his hat flying, and again set upon Lloyd, pushing him back into the cinder blocks.  Before Tick could stop him, Johnson had snatched up a block and started brutally bludgeoning the roughneck.

“You’ll kill him!”  Jefferson flung himself at Johnson, trying to wrestle him away.  “Help me!” he yelled at Paul, who had been watching with satisfaction.

OH I C WUT U DID THERE, JERRY JENKINS!

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.  Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold their sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.

-Acts 7:54-60 

And, of course, it turns out that Donny Johnson has indeed killed Stephen Lloyd, and…

Wait a minute!

Stephen Lloyd…Don’s Hell Type!

Holy crap!

Jenkins is telling us that by beating a Christian to death, Donny Johnson demonstrates that he is going to Hell.  Stephen Lloyd is Donny Johnson’s Hell Type!

The anagrams make it all so clear…

So, Donny’s killed St. Stephen, and Tick wants to arrest Donny.  And in Tick, just like Coker, we have a potentially interesting character who comes to nothing.  Tick has the balls to arrest Donny for doing something seen by both Donny and Paul as just and good, and…we never hear from Tick again.

Mostly because Paul says,

“Leave Johnson to me.  I want his help.”

Um, that’s great, Paul, but I’m pretty sure you don’t have authority over Tick.

But I guess I’m wrong, because Tick disappears from the book, and Donny and Paul round up the Mexican roughnecks (and only the Mexicans, despite St. Stephen’s implication that there are USSA-ian Christians, too) for interrogation.

Paul has decided to change his method of questioning from coercion and fake-outs to simple threats.  He lines up the Mexicans and holds a gun to one guy’s head, demanding to know the names of all the Christians.

Now, even beyond being just over-the-top and goofy, you know what might work even better, Paul?

HOW ABOUT PRETENDING TO BE A CHRISTIAN FOR MORE THAN 30 SECONDS SO THEY’LL TAKE YOU INTO THEIR CONFIDENCE, JUST LIKE STEPHEN DID, YOU STUPID, STUPID MAN???

But it’s all for nothing, as just then, there’s an alarm and “an eruption of smoke in the distance.”

Donny immediately heads out to investigate.  Paul, for reasons best known to himself, tags along, just leaving the Mexicans to stand around, I suppose.

At the smoke-filled site:

The driver lowered the interior window.

“Give me one of those coats, Stepola,” Johnson said.  “The biggest one.”

“What are you doing, Johnson?” Paul said.  “Just call out the fire crew and wait in the car.  You’re under arrest.”

“I’m the law out here, mister, not the NPO.”  He brandished a Walther Stealth.  “Try to stop me, I’ll kill you.”

Paul held up his hands.  “You’re insane, walking into a fire.”

Johnson opened his window a crack.  “There’s an updraft.  Just wait five minutes,” he told the chauffeur.  “I’m gonna catch me a terrorist.”

Oh, so now Paul cares that Donny’s under arrest.  Because he didn’t so much care twenty minutes ago.  He’s always gotta have it how he wants it, doesn’t he?

With the skull phones not getting reception, Paul and the driver inexplicably give Donny ten minutes out there in the dense and toxic smoke before they decide that maaaaaybe it’s a good idea to go after him.  And they actually do it in a pretty smart way–Paul gets some rope from the truck and has the driver sit in the car with one end, and he goes out, doing a criss-cross pattern, holding the other end.

That brief moment of intelligence done, Paul decides it’s time to fulfill his eternal, Saullish destiny do something incredibly stupid take off his grimy goggles because he can’t quite see what in the world might be making that strange noise.

Hmmm…

The whirring grew louder, faster…The winds began to wail.

My, what could it be?

Several hours earlier…

The fire sounded unearthly–not the familiar snap and crackle of a wood fire but rather an uprush of wind whirling to a keening wail high overhead–what Paul imagined a tornado would sound like up close.

Paul even has the audacity to think…

That tornado sound…

…but it doesn’t occur to him to, yanno, leave.  Instead, he takes off his goggles.

GEE YOU WILL NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS GUESS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!!

Another pillar of fire erupts right in front of Paul’s unshielded, stupid face.

And he goes blind.

Wow.  Shocker.

Soon: Chapter 8: Roughnecks

Speaking of polluting the natural environment, the three men sit in the air-conditioned stretch limo for a solid hour, eating and looking at wells that are not actually on fire…

…eating box lunches of spicy gazpacho soup and thick slabs of roast beef and ham on sourdough bread.

That’s more description, right there, than we’ve had of Jae.

Also, this is not the first glowing description of food, especially sandwiches, that we’ll see in this series.  I get the feeling that Jenkins wrote a lot of the Underground Zealot series just before lunchtime.

The guys finally head to the camp, where we find the roughnecks who had been working at the Miracle Whip Well have been…

“…isolated in the new building,” Tick said.  “It blew on the third day of their work cycle so no one’s expecting them home yet.  Easier to keep them here for questioning before going through the formality–” he winked at Paul–“of detaining them in town.”

Tick smiled.  “Their rooms have been searched–company property, you know–their phones have been confiscated and their implants disabled.  Everyone will be incommunicado until we get to the bottom of this.”

Ummm…if everyone has skull phones in Atheistopia, why does anyone need a handheld phone?

And didn’t we just learn that news of the Miracle Well has already gone viral?  And if you knew your husband or boyfriend or son (no mention of the possibility of female roughnecks in Atheistopia, despite the existence of female SWAT officers) was working the Miracle Well…a column of toxic fire, would it actually set your mind at ease when the men working there didn’t send or receive calls for two days?  Me, if that was my boyfriend out there, that would scare me.  Maybe enough to go out there for myself to make sure he was okay.  And maybe enough to find a lawyer for my man once I found out that he was physically okay, but “detained.”

At this point, Tick expresses doubt that religion or the religious are involved with the pillar of fire.  We, the readers, know he’s wrong, but that Paul is also wrong, since this is all an innocent and environmentally-disastrous Miracle Straight from God, not sabotage by Christian extremists.  (Or Mexicans or “A-rabs” either.  I’m looking at you, Donny.)

Still, this is another time that Tick adopts the…dare I say it?…pacifist viewpoint.  He gently tried to talk Donny down from “beating the brains out” of the perpetrators, and now he appears to be advocating for a natural explanation for the Miracle Well, as opposed to Bad Guys sabotaging it.  And I’m honestly not sure if Jenkins is trying to make Tick seem reasonable, or just a wussy pacifist.  After all, the guy is under six feet tall!  And height is important!  Really important!  Otherwise, why would Jenkins be telling us the height and weight and build of every single man we meet in this book, when we don’t even know what color Jae’s hair is?

Paul and Tick drop off Donny, and replace him with Dirk Jefferson, another NPO dude.  Other than having a Manly Man name, Jefferson is a nonentity, and has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the story.  Certainly, he has no lines that couldn’t just as easily be spoken by Tick.  If this was a movie, I’d think that Dirk Jefferson was an excuse for the director to give his brother-in-law a part.

Then Tick makes the following astonishing statement:

“We’re using the rooms at the far end of each hall for questioning.  There was some Internet buzz, but we clamped down fast and tight enough to keep the press off it.”

WUT?

This just defies all logic, it really does.  A pillar of white-hot fire, hundreds of feet high and spewing toxic fumes into the air, is getting “some Internet buzz,” everyone in the area has been rendered incommunicado, and the press and general public have not picked up on this at all?

REALLY?

Sheesh.

Finally, from down the hall, we get some action.  Even if it is off-screen.  Turns out a guard was picking on one of “the Mexicans” (the Mexicans are never individually named) and a big guy named Stephen Lloyd tried to stop the bullying.

Tick, to his credit, says that anyone else, including guards, who step out of line will be prosecuted. 

And they haul off Stephen Lloyd, to begin his….mwoo-ha-ha-HA…”questioning.”