Soon: Chapter 16: Salty

Straight has taken a day off from Paul.  Surely this will be a true test of their relationship.  Remember, Paul was injured in March, and it’s now around the end of May.  So for about two months, Paul and Straight have been together every day, for hours a day.  This is literally the first day they haven’t seen each other since they met.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a boyfriend this clingy.

Straight has gone to a pretty interesting location: the salt mines of southeastern Michigan.  Check out this article from The Detroit News and its awesome pictures and you’ll see where he is.

The zealots have transformed the underground salt mines into their headquarters–not only a mission central and book depository, but also a sort of Underground Railroad station for believers on the run.

Simple but genius.

Or complicated but dumb, when you think about it.  Check this out:

“How many people live here?” [Straight asked]

“About a hundred and fifty permanent and fifty to a hundred passing through at any given time.” [his host, Simeon, said]

“It’s amazing you can feed and house so many.”

Straight’s host shrugged.  “We’ve got fourteen hundred acres down here, fifty miles of tunnels.  The water and ventilation systems are huge–had to be, to accomodate the mining machinery.  Even back then they could pump in a hundred thousand cubic feet of air a day.  These mines were worked successfully for almost two hundred years.”

That’s nice, Simeon, but you didn’t answer the question: HOW DO THEY EAT???

I really hope the zealots have a Costco membership, because it’s giving me a headache  just thinking about getting enough food and water and soap and toilet paper 1100 feet underground to sustain 200-250 people every single day.

Forget about shuttling the refugees up and down and in and out–the mere task of getting the most basic supplies to the “underground city” would draw huge amounts of attention to the site.  And what about the use of water and energy?  That won’t draw suspicion?  What do they do with their trash and human waste?  Can you imagine how much trash a community of two hundred produces in a mere week?  It’s not like they’re high up in the mountains and living off the land–they’re in an underground cave in Michigan!  They can’t exactly sustain themselves.

And just to make sure that things are as complicated as it’s possible for them to be, everyone uses Biblical code names for themselves.  (Except for Straight, who is called “The Professor,” and Paul, who will later be called “The Doctor.”)

To be clear, plenty of people already know each other.  Simeon’s real name is Clarence, and he grew up with Straight and they both became professors at the University of Chicago.  Quelle coincidence!  Now, strangely enough, only Stuart Straight goes by “The Professor,” even though they both are.  Kinda like how Paul is always “Dr. Stepola” to everyone he meets, but Straight is never “Dr. Rathe” or “Professor Rathe,” except underground, where “The Professor” is just a codename.

This emphasis on codenames reaches ridiculous heights when the following takes place:

A couple in their late fifties entered [the library], accompanied by a younger sturdy blonde man.  “I was boring the professor with tales of our city,” the host said.  “It’s been a while since he’s been here.  Stuart, you know Abraham and Sarah–” they embraced him–“and this is Isaac.”

“I’m not their son,” the younger man said, shaking Straight’s hand.

“I didn’t think so.”


“Let me introduce three more recent arrivals,” Simeon said.  “Silas, Barnabas, and Damaris, who may have some insight on your proposal.  Folks, meet the professor.”

Straight greeted the two men but paused when he got to the woman called Damaris.  “No names,” Straight said, “but I believe we recently met over lunch in Washington, D.C.”

“We did,” Angela said.

[emphasis mine]

So, Stuart and Clarence know each other.  And now Abraham and Sarah know Stuart.  And Angela and Stuart know each other, but they’re going to play a game that they don’t, so they can keep using stupid codenames???

Basically, you all freaking know each other.  SO USE YOUR OWN DAMN NAMES, WHY DON’T YOU???

To paraphrase Dave Barry, the underground zealots are about as clandestine as the NFL.

Posted on June 21, 2011, in Books, Google-fu, Soon. Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.

  1. This makes the underground network in Hogan’s Heroes seem realistic. And I’m guessing the code name are just an easy way for us to note which character is a standin for which Biblical figure without having to resort to anagrams.

  2. Awesome article, thanks. But … an abandoned salt mine in Michigan? The Christians have set up camp right next door to the Aperture Science labs! They may have dodged the Atheistopia authorities, but let’s see how these wily rebels handle a crazed AI and a faceful of deadly neurotoxin.

    Also, have we just abruptly switched viewpoint characters?

    • Basically, yes, but just for half of this chapter.

      • Well, they should’ve done it earlier in the book, while Paul was still blind. At that time there’s both a reason and a need to leave Paul’s POV for a while and borrow some other character’s eyeballs. Instead — our hero has miraculously regained the gift of vision! Let’s let him stare at the walls in his den for a few weeks while a secondary character goes to look at interesting stuff.

        Jerry Jenkins, I have lots more writing tips to share with you! Call me!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          One of the tropes of Christian Apocalyptic is that characters are nothing more than roving POVs to witness the next event on the End Time Prophecy Checklist. (After which, the roving POV breaks the fourth wall to lecture the audience a la Captain Planet about “How what we just Witnesses fulfills Such-and-Such Prophecy.”)

          And this trope has metastasized into Christian (TM) Fiction in general. Especially failed attempts at retelling/updating Bible stories and/or half-hearted attempts at “realistic” allegories.

        • Instead we had Straight literally describe his own height and build for us.

    • Maybe they’ll find someone else to help them
      Maybe Black Mesa.
      That was a joke, haha, fat chance

      (Someone had to do it 🙂

    • Actually, I see a lot of commonality between GLaDOS and RTC!God. Has total control over the environment, but not over people’s minds; demands total compliance with its every whim; condemns people to victory candescence…

      “Killing you and giving you good advice aren’t mutually exclusive.”

      • Okay, now I’m picturing Easter, Jesus died on the cross, the apostles are visiting his grave and suddenly they hear music.
        This was a triumph.
        The Bible will note here: Huge success.
        It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.
        Holy trinity:
        We do what we must, because we can.
        For the good of all of us, except the ones who aren’t saved.
        But there’s no sense crying over every torment.
        If you don’t worship me they can all just get bent.
        They can all go to hell,
        while we’re all doing so well,
        all because I am Still Alive.

    • So up until now Stepola was his Aristotle to their… HUGE SPIKY SMASHY WALL!

      Sorry… I love that line. ❤


  3. Magog (who totally isn't GDwarf)

    I guess the code names are to…keep spies from just walking in and knowing who they all are? Maybe?

    Anyways, the 200 people in a salt mine is indeed ridiculous. It’s not even as if they could grow things there, since “salted earth” is the definition of worthless.

    Now, if you wanted to use a salt mine as an actual underground railway station, it would work moderately well. You have one or two people that stay there all the time and that are taken/smuggled food and that keep an eye out for police and new arrivals. You then have, at absolute most, maybe a half-dozen people passing through at any time (any more and it’d be very hard to avoid detection, I’d imagine) that you keep fed and arrange to be moved on to the next stop.

    …Save that there is no next stop, is there? I mean, where are all these people going? The entire world has outlawed religion, hasn’t it? This isn’t a case of just getting into Canada or Mexico, this is a case of literally having to vanish off the map.

    So you have a very small group set up in the mine and you make them self-sufficient. You bring in soil (and turn your waste into fertilizer and compost) and start growing things. You find a nearby source of water that wasn’t contaminated by the mining operations or you set up a filtration system, you get hunting, too. Invest in solar panels as well.

    Then you make the mine a place where you only send people in imminent danger to lie low until things cool down and you can send them to Europe with fake IDs.

    Eeesh these people are incompetent at this stuff.

    • “I guess the code names are to…keep spies from just walking in and knowing who they all are? Maybe?”

      I assumed they were in case anyone was caught and tortured by Atheistopia, they couldn’t name names. Which is pretty stupid if they already DO know each others’ names.

      The codenames would also make more sense if people used them when they went out on “missions” to save people from Atheistopia or somesuch, but later on, we will see that people actually use their real names when they’re on Christian missions.

      • people actually use their real names when they’re on Christian missions.

        Bzuh? O_o What? Why? *headdesk* They just like making up codenames, don’t they. That’s the only explanation.

        • The whole thing does sound like a bunch of kids playing at being spies, doesn’t it?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy

            Or a Greatest Christian Author of All Time (GCAAT) playing at being Sooper Sekrit Agents (or Tribulation Force — same thing).

      • When you let people in to your massive secret base with about 300 residents at any given time, you should probably already feel pretty sure they can be trusted. That they can’t let all of the names slip is nice, but it doesn’t prevetn the problem that Atheistopia can just learn the location and, yes, pump it full of Neurotoxin. Or, I dunno, infiltrate it and use a hidden version of that scanner in the prologue to check everyone’s chip. They should just hope all Atheistopian enforcers are as incompetent as Paul and the tightlipped lady from the prologue, and just be happy to out one Christian and then have the excuted immediately while doing a victory dance, happy that they have found a subversive and uninterested in the companions that they know for a fact the subversive had.

        And speaking of the prologue: “
        ‘This is Jack, Andy,” came the answer that resonated off his cheekbones and directly to his eardrum. ‘
        Andy was his real name, and Jack doesn’t sound like a Biblical codename. And mind you, he was saying this with the Atheistapo right behind him, who knew him by name, ID chip and probably skull-phone sim-card. And he was calling someone from ‘the compound’, which I think was this place. Guess they’re banking heavily on atheistopia having lots of amazing technology but hardly no advancements in surveilance and wire-tap equipment. Which just goes to show Atheistopia was very peacefull and happy untill the RTCs came to muck it up. I mean, if it was a pre-mediated dictatorship, they woulnd’t have rolled out personally implanted skull-phones that aren’t matched to your implanted ID chip and can’t be easily monitored or traced.

        • The ID chip thing is another problem. Who cares what name you go by, one undercover agent with a portable reader and every one is known.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy

            ID Chip? As in (ominous music) SIX-SIXTY-SIX?

            You know, all these Christian (TM) attempts at a future have a completely one-track mind. (But then, We Have No Future and It’s All Gonna Burn, so why bother?)

            Years ago, my writing partner preached on how John Nelson Darby and Hal Lindsay destroyed Protestant Christianity in America. The reason we write what we write is to show Christians in some other future than the no-future of Left Behind et al. (Or prologues to that no-future like Near Future Persecution Dystopias a la Atheistopia, which is Building Up To The End Times.)

            When The World Ends Tomorrow (at the latest) and It’s All Gonna Burn, you’re not going to see anyone trying for greatness or staying power. Only selling Rapture Fire Insurance as fast as possible.

  4. So, Stuart and Clarence know each other. And now Abraham and Sarah know Stuart. And Angela and Stuart know each other, but they’re going to play a game that they don’t, so they can keep using stupid codenames???

    Apparently, they’ve gone to the same incompetent school of secret organization running as the Order of the Phoenix.

    Though hiding in salt mines does introduce a whole new level of “whut?” to the proceedings.

  5. Yeah, I did figure that the point of code names was in case of torture, but obviously that can’t be it, unless the idea is the minimize who knows who is, so that one member being broken doesn’t necessarily bring the whole thing down, but still pretty stupid, especially if they use their real names on missions.

  6. “… Paul, who will later be called ‘The Doctor.'”

    Noooooo! Paul is most definitely not “The Doctor.”

    And, yeah, this underground shelter does sound like a bunch of kids playing James Bond.

  7. The code names thing strikes me as especially stupid, because I’ve just finished John le Carre’s latest novel. In the last part of the book his main characters use code names, but only when they’re working undercover and in circumstances where they might be overheard; the rest of the time they use their own names. Plus, there’s only five of them so it’s easy to keep track of who’s who.
    In Le Carre’s hands, it’s a neat plot device – when he switches to a code name for a character, you know straight away that they’re in a situation of potential danger; it racks up the tension without any further explanation.
    It’s obvious that Jenkins has never read even any Tom Clancy, let alone any Le Carre.

    Oh, and as for using Biblical code names for everyone – are there really 200+ names in the Bible?

  8. Well, not exactly the first day that Paul hasn’t seen Straight… (Actually it sounds a bit like love-bombing, a standard cult recruitment technique.)

    Being RTCs, they won’t worry about consuming natural resources, so they probably just have a trash cave that they’re gradually filling up. (It’ll be accumulating rats, of course.) Have to say though that if I were looking for a place to hide my revolutionary army I’d probably pick one with more than one way out.

    225 people… times say 3.5 litres… nearly 800 litres, or 200 US gallons, of fresh water per day. Challenging if you’re taking it down the shaft the way the miners did and trying to stay hidden at the same time.

    Only author self-insert characters are allowed to be called Doctor, I guess. (Or perhaps only doctors of RTCism, rather than other lesser disciplines like medicine and physics.)

    Unless the Underground (Oh I See What You Did There) Zealots think they’re being listened to here in the mines, I reckon they might as well use real as well as code names, particularly since some of them know each other “officially” as well as through their conspiracy. Of course, the “secret name” is an important part of the mystery religions that informed early Christianity (and survives in some branches as the confirmation name), and that’s surely where Jenkins is getting the idea from. (That would explain why they only use them here, in their secret church, rather than on missions.)

    rubytea, I think the caught-and-tortured thing doesn’t entirely work, because in that situation they can still give away the means by which they contact each other. What the conspiracy ought to be doing, of course, is working in a cell structure so that most of its members only ever talk to one or two other people. But then we couldn’t be told about how huge and cool it is.

    Magog, I think the idea is that Oppressed People have an Underground Railroad; these people are Oppressed, so they ought to have one of their very own, even if it is more of a train set in someone’s back yard.

  9. are there really 200+ names in the Bible?
    I’m sure there are. But I wonder how sharp the disputes are over who gets to be, say, David, and who has to be Jehoiachin or something.

    And now I’m picturing everybody’s teenage daughters fighting over Jezebel and Vashti and Magdalene, and refusing to be Mary or Hannah or Esther.

    …And actually, if they really want code names, wouldn’t it be easier to use the more obscure Biblical names? Since everybody knows everybody’s real name anyway, how can they tell whether someone is referring to Sarah or to “Sarah”?

    • Yeah, my first thought when I read that about everybody having Biblical names was to wonder which poor sods got stuck with Huz, Buz, Nahum, Milcah, Oholibah, Haggith, Hoglah, Terah or any of the other wonderful-sounding obscure ones. And even within the well-known ones, well, I bet the guy who gets stuck with “Job” gets a lot of teasing. Particularly if his non-code name is Steve.

      • I pity the poor fool who gets stuck with Bunni (Neh. 9:4, 10:15, 11:15) or Evil-Merodach. (2 Kings 23:27, Jer 52:31)

  10. Choir of Shades

    I love this thread so much. Portal jokes, really?

    Anyways, I find it totally plausible that they could sustain themselves. Maybe not without attracting attention, but come on, this is Atheistopia. As we see today, the RTCs are more than happy to take advantage of technology developed by heathens. Assuming this settlement has been around since the end of the war, they’ve had, what, 30-odd years to set up hydroponics. And we have pen-umbrellas in Atheistopia (seriously, do those things use spatial compression or something? How the hell do they get enough fabric to serve as an umbrella for a person, and the machinery to have it furl and unfurl with the press of a button, into something the size of a pen, and even then, still have enough internal room for the actual pen?), so don’t try to tell me they haven’t developed large-scale hydroponics. The necessary ventilation is already doable by modern technology, even taking into account their need for secrecy, so I wouldn’t criticize them there. Power is also quite doable. Between solar paneling, geothermal power advancements, and possibly the creation of not just portable generators but also portable reactors? They could be self-sufficient on power too.

    That just leaves waste management and water supply. The thing about RTCs is that they are very self-interested. So while the idea of preserving the environment to improve humanity’s survivability and the quality of life of later generations is utterly alien to them, ecological concerns that address their own standard of living make them greener than Nader. Lots of RTCs will buy a Prius or a Volt, not because of a duty to keep the world cleaner and safer, but because it ends up costing them less at the pump. Likewise we may assume that when their caves start smelling of shit and garbage, they will pursue some large scale environmentalist waste-management. Between 200+ people, someone will realize that they can’t just burn it, after all (unless perhaps this is the second or third such settlement…), so they need a more efficient way. I would imagine they would use some sort of nutrient extractor for the biological waste (helps with their hydroponics), and non-biological waste would be recycled.

    Again though, water is the hardest part for them. Creating an inconspicuous, renewable (or at least long-term) 300 gallon/day supply would be somewhat difficult. My best guess would be that they pump in water from one of the nearby rivers/lakes and use Atheistopian water purification to render it potable.

    I’m well aware that I’ve spent more time thinking about this than Jenkins has, and I’ve only been going at it for 40 minutes or so.

    • Yeah. The guy creates a sci-fi future, a setting often used to overcome logistical problems in the narrative by simply waving your hands and saying that magical technology makes it possible, and he can’t even technobabble-handwave properly.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Such failure of imagination is unfortunately an RTC Article of Faith. Otherwise, CHRISTIAN(TM) fiction wouldn’t be the Jesus Junk mess it is.

        • Being fair, any genre that can only draw on a tiny subset of potential authors is going to have problems. Let’s say RTCs are 10% of the population of the USA. (The closest actual number I can find is that 25-30% of Americans are Evangelicals of some description.) Even if their membership were distributed randomly, they’d only have 1/10 the number of authors who can write a good workmanlike thriller, 1/10 the number of authors good enough to hold readers spellbound… and that number might be less than 1. That would apply to any group of that size that tried to draw its authors from 10% of the population – the quality is going to be lower than something that draws its authors from the whole population.

          As it is, with a culture that’s actively opposed to imaginative thinking, it’s amazing the RTCs have as many authors as they do… and not at all amazing that most of them are pretty bad.

          Much the same applies to Christian Music… my idea of contemporary Christian music is a group like Evanescence, who happen to be Christian and to be musicians, but who don’t feel the need to make every song about how wonderful Jesus is.

    • The pen-umbrellas aren’t literal pens, they’re “pen-sized titanium cartridge[s]”. So “having room for the pen” isn’t an issue. I bring this up because LaHaye can manage plenty of stupidity on his own; we don’t need to put words in his mouth.

      • It’s just Jenkins (LaHaye didn’t have a hand in this one), but the point stands.

        Still, it would be especially awesome if it was an umbrella-pen.

  11. I’m reminded irresistably of the underground community in the 1980s Beauty and the Beast TV series. Only there it made a sort of sense that people could survive in the forgotten tunnels underneath NYC and some thought had been put into worldbuilding. Moreover it was a community of genuine outcasts who did look out for each other and were generous. They didn’t bother with code names, just posting sentries and constantly changing the pathways to the community to throw off would be intruders. It was mentioned they had topside “Helpers” who provided them with supplies.

    It’s like in LB, RTC want to play pretend at being heroes and rebels but at the end of the day they want to go home to a nice warm bed in a house with central air after a nice full meal.

    • Yeah, and this chapter has a fair amount of, “Wow, our underground fortress is so gorgeous! Look at the high ceilings and beautiful walls and perfectly comfortable temperature! Being a fugitive is GREAT!”

      • I want to change my answer from the casting thread. The proper actor to play Straight is Laurence Fishburne, because now that I know there’s an underground rebel city, this character is so Morpheus it hurts.

      • Reminds me of the conveniently placed reinforced concrete building in fake-nuked Chicago with 50 SUVs will full tanks of gas, which the Steeles all moved into ASAP in Left Behind.

    • hidden_urchin

      JessicaR: “It’s like in LB, RTC want to play pretend at being heroes and rebels but at the end of the day they want to go home to a nice warm bed in a house with central air after a nice full meal.”

      This writer makes a similar observation concerning Chloe in “Armageddon.”

      • That’s just… mindblowing. These people can imagine non-RTCs being afflicted by boils, burned to death by fire-breathing prophets, collectively going blind and being cast into lakes of fire by Turbojesus, but they’re too squeamish to imagine one of their own heroically resisting torment? Just when I think they’ve hit rock bottom, they get out that old pick axe.

        • And even worse:
          How do you convince an 18-year old who’s grown up on this stuff that torture is bad, that it’s an issue should be taken seriously?

          • True, you can end up with the torture-equivalent of the ‘kill them all and let God sort them out’ mentality. You can torture heretics, cause God will do that anyway so they deserve it. And it’s not like our torture is worse than what God will do. And if by accident (through persecution by hatefull seculars!) you torture an RTC, well, if he’s really an RTC God will make sure it doesn’t really hurt. It’s not like this type of torture would particularly hurt even without God’s help.

  12. Choir of Shades

    Something that just occurred: there COULD be a semi-plausible reason for using code-names. Remember that these people are authoritarians. That means they no doubt have a VERY strict hierarchy. In the same way that soldiers in the Vietnam War were commanded not to salute or refer to superior officers by rank even in their own camps, lest a sniper take out the chain of command, they could use codes to disguise their hierarchy.
    Jenkins of course fails miserably still, since they’re basically saying “General Magog” instead of “General Williams.” Their hierarchy is almost instantly discernible, so it defeats even that purpose.

  13. Paul, who will later be called “The Doctor.”


  14. That’s nice, Simeon, but you didn’t answer the question: HOW DO THEY EAT???

    “Who’s hungry for salt?” 😀

    • Dr. Flamond: You see, a year ago, I was close to perfecting the first magnetic desalinization process. So revolutionary, it was capable of removing the salt from over 500 million gallons of seawater a day. Do you realize what that could mean to the starving nations of the earth?

      Nick Rivers: Wow. They’d have enough salt to last forever.

      -Top Secret!

  15. I just realized why Jenkins may have chosen a salt mine for the Zealot Underground’s headquarters. The mine and the Zealots alike are the…

    …salt of the Earth.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      The mine and the Zealots alike are the…

      …salt of the Earth.

      “See How Clever I Am? See? See? See?”
      — Jerry “Buck” Jenkins, GCAAT

  16. I think Jenkins took the term “underground resistance” too literally.

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