Monthly Archives: August 2011

Soon: Chapter 19: A Christian Grieves

TW: Attempted suicide

Paul heads back to the Demetrius building at six-thirty.  The vault is on a timer and can’t be opened until eight, but if he came back closer to the time, Paul wouldn’t have a chance to witness what he’s about to witness.

So, apparently there’s a glass pyramid, five stories tall, that makes up the very top of the building.  The top of the pyramid is where the brothers’ offices are. 

I have to mention this because Arthur Demetrius is about to throw himself from the balcony of his office:

Paul jumped and looked up just in time to see a dark form tumbling down the side of the glass pyramid.

Everyone around Paul froze.  People gasped.  The body rolled, skidded, and then slid all the way down to the flat roof of the skyscraper.  People pressed up against the glass to look.  Some clung to each other.  Paul fought through the crowd and searched frantically until he spotted a fire door, sprinted toward it, and burst out onto the roof.

Two things of note about this.  One is infuriating, the other just kinda dumb.

FIRST THING OF NOTE: Paul’s reaction:

Running to him, Paul was inexplicably overcome with grief.  Why should he care?  With Arthur Demetrius in a heap, Paul realized that here too was a man God had loved.  Arthur may have thumbed his nose at heaven, but he was still a lost soul, someone who needed forgiveness and salvation as much as anyone else. 

Why should he care?  Well, maybe because Arthur’s a fellow human being and human beings often feel empathy for each other and…

Oh, I forgot.  Atheists don’t have those emotions.  Sorry, Jenkins, forgot myself there for a minute.

Don’tcha just love it?  RTCs tell atheists that we can’t really know what love and joy and sympathy and grief are, and now the best reason Paul can dig up to care about Arthur Demetrius is that God loved him.

“Why should he care?”  It is a statement like this that takes this book from being merely a dumb, ill-researched ride into a dystopian future, and turns it into something ugly and offensive.

What must it be like to think this?  To think that people who aren’t Christians can’t feel anything when another human being is injured or killed?

Oh, and isn’t Paul a prince?  When he was talking to Arthur before, he certainly didn’t consider that “here too was a man God loved.”  It took Arthur throwing himself off a building for Good Christian Paul to give a damn.

And then he only cares because Arthur “needed salvation.”

If that’s your empathy, Paul, you can have it.  This heartless atheist doesn’t want any.

Okay, Ruby, deep breaths.  Go to your happy place…

That’s better.

SECOND THING OF NOTE: Another miracle.

I mean, ZOMG IT’S TOTALLY A MIRACLE THAT ARTHUR SURVIVED OMG OMG OMG

 Paul reeled, off balance, and tumbled to his seat at finding not just a heartbeat, but a robust and fast one.

Impossible.  No one could have survived that fall.

Think again, Paul.

Hell, I once met a man who had fallen sixty feet and lived to tell the tale.  Yes, the odds are against surviving such an event.  But “beat the odds” =/= “miracle.”

And let’s bear in mind that Arthur didn’t fall five whole stories.  He jumped off a pyramid, so actually fell a very short way before landing and rolling and sliding the rest of the way.

“It’s a miracle,” Paul said.

Arthur’s eyes grew wide and he reached for Paul. 

Oooo, baby…

Sorry, that was inappropriate.

He wrapped his arms around Paul’s neck…

OH COME ON, JENKINS, YOU CAN’T JUST HAND THEM TO ME LIKE THAT!!!

…and pulled himself to a sitting position.

Oh.

Shocked that he survived his really ill-conceived suicide attempt, Arthur TOTALLY CONFESSES TO EVERYTHING!!!

Okay, not really.  He doesn’t have much to confess to: he still doesn’t know where his brother or the hell-threatening employee are, though his worst fear is that Ephesus killed her.

And he kindasorta confesses to the whole corporate-crime thing:

“I was evil too, ruthless about the silver…Once the truth comes out, I’m ruined.”

Um, okay.  I’m not sure that’s exactly a confession to illegal activity.  Being “ruthless” does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of illegality, though “evil” might. 

But in light of what’s to come, I’m a bit surprised that Jenkins would have him be actually guilty of this illegal cornering of the market.

Ah, well…

“Arthur, clearly you weren’t meant to die.”

Unlike Coker and the nameless SWAT officers and Donny Johnson and the other atheists who have died so far.  They all deserved it and (let’s not forget) are presently being deep-fried in Hell.  But Arthur is special:

“People have been praying for you.” [said Paul]

“I knew it!” Arthur whispered.  “Something has been tormenting me for days.”

Arthur’s being pursued by the Hound of Heaven!

So the rich man is an extra-special snowflake who doesn’t deserve to die and be roasted like all those Other atheists.

Now, you’ve just seen a man fall, roll, and slide down a five-story glass pyramid.  He has survived!  Do you:

A) use your skull-phone to summon medical assistance

B) wait for one of the dozens of onlookers to summon medical assistance, and concentrate on making sure the victim lies very still so as not to exacerbate any injuries

C) walk with him to his den and sit in an easy chair while you threaten him with Hell

If you guessed (C), then you too can be the next Greatest Christian Writer of All Time!

“Oh, Dr. Stepola, I don’t want to see what’s in the vault.  What if it is that woman…or what if it is something supernatural?”

“You cannot escape it, Arthur.  But whatever is in that vault cannot compare to the coming judgment.  Jesus said not to be afraid of those who want to kill you.  They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.  Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Once again, citing Jesus doesn’t mean a whole lot to atheists in Atheistopia who barely know who he is, let alone consider him an authoritative source.

Oh, and notice they are “Dr. Stepola” and “Arthur.”  Guess Paul’s over that whole “wealth is so awe-inspiring” thing, and has realized that Arthur is just another sinful NotSaved.

Next time: On to the vault! 

What will they find???

Stay tuned!

Soon: Chapter 18: Call Me Phyllis

Paul moseyed around the trading floor a few minutes…

Meh, it’s just a government investigation of two missing persons and possible financial crimes.  No need to rush.

Then, Paul’s keen bloodhound senses pick up the unmistakable odor of peanut butter.

Sadly, it turns out that one of the traders is having a sammich at her desk, so Paul continues to mosey.

Not really.

A woman is raising a small ailanthus tree in her tiny cubicle, which seems like a decision that would be both short-lived and very annoying to her coworkers, if you can smell peanut butter all day from yards away.  Hey, I like peanut butter, but that would get really old really fast.

Paul stalks the woman out of the building, but loses sight of her in the street.

Someone plucked his sleeve.  He tried to jerk away, but the tug was insistent.  He turned and found the same street person he had given money to clutching his coat, pointing past him with a filthy hand.  There she is!  “Thanks,” Paul said, darting after his quarry.  How did he know?

OMG THE HOMELESS GUY WAS JESUS ALL ALONG!!!

Guess that’ll teach us all to shove dollar bills into the hands of homeless people so they’ll go away, right?  Because you never know when ONE OF THEM WILL BE JESUS.

Paul chases down the woman and bonds with her over the displays in front of the New York Stock Exchange: “a mammoth mobile of the spinning planets.  Behind it, a zodiacal chart loomed.” 

Apart from calling them “silly,” these two religious folks have no other thoughts on “real religion” versus astrology. 

Paul shakes the woman’s hand and passes her an ailanthus leaf as he does so.  So they go to a deli (because they’re in New York City), and they introduce themselves, no doubt while having pastrami on rye.

“Call me Phyllis,” the woman said.

Oh, and turns out that the cursing-and-disappearing employee was named Dolores.  Because these ladies are Noo York dames, don’tcha know?

Paul quotes two sentences out of the Bible at Phyllis, which is enough for this savvy New Yorker to respond, “You seem to know what you’re talking about,” and spill her guts about being a Christian.

Whereupon Paul, who easily memorized two verses, just as anyone could, arrests Phyllis for being a Christian, pins the entire scandal on her, and goes to have a drink with Arthur Demetrius to celebrate.

Not really.

Instead, Paul gets Phyllis’s views on the happenings at the firm, even though Phyllis really has no insider knowledge at all.  She has her vague theories, of course:

“Tell me, Phyllis,” Paul said finally, “what do you think is going on at your firm?”

“I think it’s God.”

“What do you think [the guards] saw in the vault.”

Phyllis shrugged.  “God.  Some evidence of God.”

Thanks, Phyllis.  You’re a font of useful information.

Actually, Phyllis does drop two interesting tidbits: 1) that there are over 30 believers at Demetrius and Demetrius, who are pretty open about their faith because 2) “things are a little more open here than in the rest of the country.”

So, New York is open about astrology and open about “real religion”?  I wonder if Jenkins pondered the significance of this idea?

Phyllis knows nothing about the wereabouts of Dolores, and has no idea if Ephesus Demetrius had anything to do with it.  So again, good that Paul has found such a great inside source.

“What about Arthur?” [Paul asked]

“Arthur idolizes his older brother.  But he was never as ruthless.  We pray for him.”

“You what?  For Demetrius?”

“Of course.  We’re supposed to love our enemies.”

Your enemy?  Damn, Dolores, what did Arthur ever do to you besides give you a job at an incredibly prestigious and successful company?

“That can’t be easy though, can it, Phyllis?”

She hesitated.  “No, but when you think about it, it’s a privilege.”

“I think I’d be tempted to pray he would come to a bad end,” Paul said.

“Oh no, sir.  We pray for his salvation.”

And damn, Paul, what did Arthur ever do to you?  Gee, I can see that your conversion has really changed you, made you into a better and kinder man.

What Would Jesus Do?

Pray for a nonbeliever to come to a bad end.

Soon: Chapter 18: The Very Intense Interrogation

Or not.

Remember when I talked about how boring this part is?  Well, here we go–the narrative grinds to a halt for FOUR AND A HALF PAGES as Paul “interrogates” Arthur Demetrius.

Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with pauses in the action, long conversations, an opportunity to dig deeper into the characters.  In a better book, this interrogation could be an opportunity to see Paul on the job post-conversion.  Sure, he’s the one asking the questions, but he’s also at risk himself–one slip of the tongue, and he could reveal himself as a secret believer.  Which, of course, would endanger not only himself, but his wife and two small children.  Man’s gotta be pretty tense right about now.

Or not.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now–this interrogation would never go down like this.  Paul and Arthur would not be sitting companionably in easy chairs as Paul lobs softball questions at Arthur.  Paul would have been met in the office by a phalanx of attorneys, who would have made it their business to be sure Arthur didn’t have to so much as open his mouth.

Really, this is just inexcusable.  And it’s not like the idea of lawyers skipped Jenkins’ mind, either:

“Dr. Stepola,” [Arthur] said as Paul rose, “do I need a lawyer?”

“Oh, I don’t think so.  We should be able to cover what I need without acrimony.”

“What can I do for you?”

[Questioning begins]

It’s Just That Simple!  Not one of the surely dozens of lawyers who are employed at Demetrius and Demetrius thought it necessary to be in the room for an interrogation from a NPO agent.  “Oh, I’m sure the boss can handle it.  Sure, his brother is missing and an employee has disappeared after being fired, and there are allegations of an attempt to illegally corner the silver market.  But what could possibly go wrong?”

But that’s not the only idea Jenkins thinks up, then promptly discards:

Sifting through his file, Paul thought about the divination books.  Funny that trying to read the future didn’t count as believing in the supernatural, according to Arthur Demetrius.

Yeah, yanno what would be great?  If Jenkins described the reasoning behind this decision of the Atheistopian regime.  Christianity = illegal and astrology = fine and dandy?  It’s just weird, and we are never told why this is!

Which is a feeling we all need to get used to, because several things about this whole “religious incident” will never be explained.

As far as the rest of the interrogation goes, there is nothing there that we didn’t already know, or couldn’t have guessed.  Arthur just denies knowledge of everything.  His brother is vaguely “abroad.”  He doesn’t know anything about any guards being scared out of their wits by the vault.  He doesn’t know where the cursing employee is.  These are all just scurrilous rumors be vengeful believers.

Paul thinks Arthur looks scared.  And because Paul has so much training in psychology, body language, and interrogation techniques, we know he is right on the money, right?

Or not.

Soon: Chapter 18: Paul and Rich People

That little scene with the homeless guy took one paragraph plus one sentence. 

Now, Jenkins takes two and a half pages to describe the wonderment of the Demetrius brothers’ offices. 

The gorgeous building!

The busy worker bees!

Gold!

Silver!

Marble!

The reception area!

[Paul] was asked to wait in the reception area, where his attention was drawn to pristine first editions of rare books displayed in elegantly carved wooden bookcases.  As Koontz had suggested, a number of titles had to do with divination–finance-oriented interpretations of the I Ching and the tarot, as well as Western, Asian, and Indian astrology, among other systems.

Hobbies are evil!  Collecting things is of Teh Debbil!

More offices!

Conference rooms!

Windows!

And then, the main event: Arthur’s office…

Paul tried to keep from gawking.  This office alone was as big as the first floor of his house.  It was not only professionally decorated, but it was also landscaped.  Trees.  Bushes.  Flowers.  Tables, chairs, a sofa, two fireplaces, bookcases, credenzas, pillars.

Estate sale this weekend, Financial District.  Owner’s brother has disappeared, and EVERYTHING MUST GO!  Trees.  Bushes.  Flowers.  Sod.  Tables, chairs, a sofa, rugs, bookcases, pillars, ottomans, Murphy beds, TOO MUCH TO LIST!

Numbers given out at 8:30.

Paul sat, briefcase in his lap.  Then he put the case next to his feet and crossed his legs.  That seemed too casual too, and he knew he should stand when Demetrius entered.  But where would he come from?  Behind?  From the side, which Paul guessed led to private quarters?

Paul sure spends a lot of time imagining Arthus Demetrius sneaking up on him, and how to respond, doesn’t he?

Tim:  We were wondering if a military man like you–a soldier–could you give a man a lethal blow?

Gareth:  If I was forced to, I could. If it was absolutely necessary, if he was attacking me.

Tim:  What if he was coming, really hard?

Gareth:  Yeah, if my life was in danger, yeah.

Dawn:  And do you always imagine doing it face to face with a bloke, or could you take a man from behind?

Gareth:  Either way is easy.

Dawn:  So you could take a man from behind?

Gareth:  Yeah.

Dawn:  Lovely.

Tim:  So, you’ve dug your foxhole, and you’ve pitched your tent, they’ve discovered your camp, and you’re lying there–they’ve caught you with your trousers down, and they’ve all entered your hole without you knowing.

Gareth: No, because I’d be ready for them.

Tim:  Then you’d just be lying there waiting for it?

Gareth:  Well, no,  It’s more likely that I wouldn’t be there, if I knew they knew where I was.  I’d be hiding, watching the hole, using it as a trap.

Tim:  So, you’d be using your hole as bait?

Gareth:  Yeah.

Dawn:  And you’re 30 years old, and getting off on pretending Gareth’s gay.

Gareth:  What?

Tim:  What?!

Gareth:  I think she’s been on the waccy baccy!

-“The Quiz,” The Office (UK)

Here is a cool picture of Martin Freeman, who played Tim.  If you haven’t seen the new Sherlock Holmes series, where he plays Dr. Watson, OMG WATCH IT!!!  It’s awesome.

(I also have a role in mind for him, for later in the Underground Zealot series.  Well, maybe more of a meta-role, with much use of Freeman’s patented “WTF is wrong with these people?” look from The Office.)

Anyway, Paul is achingly jealous of all the shininess around him, and properly intimidated by the rich man before he even meets him. 

Wasn’t Paul a globe-trotting consultant?  Shouldn’t he have seen plenty of wealth in his life by now?  Hell, the NPO puts him up in a luxury hotel whenever he travels, so what’s the big deal?

Yet there is even more to be jealous of when Arthur finally enters the room.  (From the private quarters, so Paul can see him coming.  Whew!  That was a close one!)

He was tall and lithe, bronzed, and wearing an exquisite black pin-striped suit, white shirt, and gleaming white tie with a silver stickpin.  His watch and a ring on each hand were also silver.  His hair was black, short, and curly; his eyes dark; and his teeth perfect.

All good to know, I guess.  Sure, we now know more about this minor character’s looks than we do about Paul’s, but at least we’ll have a picture of him in our minds once Paul begins his Really Boring Interrogation!

 

Soon: Chapter 17: Paul and Poor People

So Paul heads off to the financial district from the frakkin’ Pierre Hotel…and bumps into a homeless dude.  It’s a brief encounter, yet says so very, very much about how much Atheistopia rocks:

It had been years since [Paul] had encountered [a homeless person], what with modern anti-delusional medications, strict no-loitering laws, and aid programs more profitable than panhandling.

So in addition to curing cancer, Atheistopia has (almost) cured homelessness.

Tell me again why we’re supposed to dislike this place.

Oh, and you gotta love the “aid programs more profitable than panhandling.”  That just smacks of the whole far-right notion that poor people are poor because they’re lazy and don’t want to work, doesn’t it?  Because it’s a much easier life to just sit back and rake in the gigantic wads of cash that are sitting there, just waiting for those wise enough to join the lucrative ranks of the panhandlers.

Flushed with a compassion he had never known before, Paul shoved a bill into the open hand and headed into the cool glass lobby.

Good job, Paul.  It only takes one second and one dollar to assuage your guilt before you can duck back into your rich man’s world and never have to think about that Other Person again. 

I can only imagine that Jenkins wanted this scene to show that Faith Makes People Nice, but in an Atheistopia that has almost completely eliminated cancer and poverty, all it really shows is that Paul used to be an insensitive jerk, and is now an insensitive jerk with a guilt complex.  It hardly demonstrates that it takes religion Christianity The Truth to give you compassion.  Jenkins was the guy, remember, who said that even though the Salvation Army had been disbanded, generous  holiday-time donations went to “international humanitarian relief.”  The atheists in this “ultramodern” world aren’t lacking in compassion.  Just the opposite, in fact.

You rock, Atheistopia.  Stay sweet.

 

 

 

Soon and Silenced: Populations

Reader inquisitiveraven asks a question, which prompts me to make some handy-dandy lists!

Zie writes:

So does Jenkins give us New York’s population? Is it absurdly close to recent census figures like the previous cities whose populations he gave us? One thing that’s bugging me is that he doesn’t seem to have considered that the kind of nukes that could split off a chunk of continent would create one heck of a Fimbul winter. We’re talking major die off here, and maybe not enough population left to support civilization on the planet, yet the US population in this novel seems barely changed from current levels. It’s as if the entire die off happened in those Other places.

No, I don’t think Jenkins gives the population of New York.  Which is, indeed, strange, as he gives the population for other cities.

Reasons why the populations of certain cities might not grow at normal rates:

  1. A devastating World War that actually involved the whole world, culminating in…
  2. Two nuclear bombs separating a chunk of southern China from the mainland, killing “tens of millions” in the process and also leading to…
  3. A giant tsunami that destroyed Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, and Hawaii, before hitting “Southern California and Baja California, reaching farther inland than expected and killing thousands more who believed they had fled far enough.” 

On the other hand…

  1. There are “childbirth grants to promote repopulation.”

With that in mind, here are the numbers (I’ll use pre-2003 numbers, since that’s when Soon was published):

  • San Francisco.  2000 Population: 777,000.  Atheistopian Population: “more than a million.”
  • Las Vegas.  2002 Population: 478,000.  Atheistopian Population: 500,000.

It appears I overestimated the number of cities Jenkins repopulates, so for fun, I’ll include the cities he mentions in Silenced, when Paul goes globe-trotting:

  • Bern.  2005 Population: 122,000.  Atheistopian Population: 225,000.
  • Paris (metropolitan area).  2005 Population: 11.6 million.  Atheistopian Population: 15 million. 

So, there you have it.  Sorry about overestimating the number of population overestimates!  Hope I didn’t leave out anyplace!

Gorgeous picture of Paris in Vegas.  (Ha-HA…see what I did there???)

(Awesome pic by chensiyuan at Wikipedia)

Chapter 17: New York State of Mind

Paul has already said that San Francisco is his favorite city (even though he lives in Chicago, like so many (all?) of Jenkins’ heroes).

But he also told Koontz that he loves New York.  And to be honest, I’m kinda surprised that Jenkins has held back on the New York “reveal” for so long.  New York, after all, has a long and proud tradition as the setting for post-apocalyptic and/or disaster stories.   Deluge, Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, Escape from New York, Escape from the Bronx (wooo!) and more recently, Day After Tomorrow and War of the Worlds.

Now, it’s not difficult to see why this is.  Even people who have never set foot in New York are familiar with the iconic landmarks.  Seeing famous buildings damaged/destroyed/repurposed in fiction makes the threat more immediate, more real.  (And can be a great way to show off your effects budget.) 

Moreover, in cases like Atheistopia, it can be a way to show the heartlessness of the enemy.  (They turned Notre Dame de Paris into the “University of the Self-Movement”?*  These evil atheists MUST BE STOPPED!!**)

So, let’s see how Jenkins handles the challenge of presenting a post-WWIII, Atheistopian Manhattan:

[Paul] had visited New York a couple of times as a youngster [only a few years after WWIII], but it seemed all the new buildings designed since then were black.  It gave the island, particularly midtown, an ultramodern look and feel.  While some of the ancient landmarks–the former Empire State Building (now the Atlantica Tower) and the former Chrysler Building (now the Northeast Tower)–retained their gray-granite charm, sleek black skyscrapers with black tinted windows dominated the skyline.

That’s it.

Seriously, THAT’S IT.  The buildings are black.

Wow.  How spooky and futuristic (oh, excuse me, ultramodern) to have buildings be black.  What happened, did Jenkins just get black granite countertops in his kitchen and think that this made it the most super-duper ultramodern kitchen EVAH and so he decided to make New York City look the same?

Black buildings…it must be…THE FUTURE!!!!

Though I would be remiss if I did not also notice Jenkins’ nod to travel logistics–it takes Paul only an hour to fly from Chicago to New York, and today it takes about two hours.  Huzzah.

I would also be remiss if I did not note that the NPO is putting up Paul in The Pierre.  Which makes tons of sense except that it totally doesn’t, since the Pierre is right next to Central Park and the offices of Demetrius and Demetrius are in the Financial District.

Paul’s digs

(Picture from Wikipedia)

Plus, where is the money coming from to house Paul in a luxury hotel?  He works for the Atheistopian FBI/CIA conglomeration, and he’s staying in this gorgeous hotel, far removed from where the investigation is actually taking place?

Nothing but the best for Our Hero.

 

*Yes, this actually happens in Silenced.

**Though really, Paul doesn’t seem to care.

 

Soon: Chapter 17: Curses!

People seem to be curious about this whole New York Curse thing, so I thought I’d make up for lost time with two posts in two days, wooooo!!!

Okay, this is all pretty stupid and needlessly complicated and most of it is never fully explained even after Paul conducts his “investigation,” but here goes:

There is a New York brokerage firm named Demetrius & Demetrius.  It is run by, you guessed it, the brothers Demetrius, Ephesus and Arthur.

Yeah, Jenkins clearly is a fan of the name Demetrius.  In the Left Behind series, there’s a martyred Greek evangelist named…Demetrius Demeter.

Because he’s Greek.

Anyway, a whistleblower at the firm told the cops that the brothers were going to try to corner the silver market.  Then, a different employee accused Ephesus directly of trying to manipulate the market, and he “dressed her down” (oh baby) and then she responded with Bible verses, which Ephesus took as a curse, and fired her.

Heh.

Turns out that Manhattan is “one of the most superstitious places on earth,” according to Koontz.  Paul is surprised (as am I) that “superstition” (by which Jenkins means “curses,” fortune-telling, Tarot, I Ching, astrology, etc.) is not illegal, not like real religion.

On the curse(s) specifically:

Paul checked his file for the so-called curse verse.  It was Job 27:19: “The wicked go to bed rich but wake up to find that all their wealth is gone.”

Ephesus had mocked her [the employee], calling her a witch and challenging her to make his wealth disappear.  She denied having that ability but warned that greed and duplicity would be punished, if not by the government then by a higher power.  She castigated him with Revelation 21:8: “The corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral, and those who practice witchcraft, and idol worshippers, and all liars–their doom is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.”

Ephesus had said, “Doom?  Prove it?”  He fired her then promptly disappeared. 

So, Ephesus is missing.

Two guards went down to the company’s vault (for reasons best known to themselves, I guess), and emerged catatonic, their hair turned white.  No one’s been in the vault since then.

And the hell-threatening employee is missing.

Maybe Ephesus built a bridge out of her.

 

I can’t believe I’m using brain cells to keep track of this stuff.

Soon: Chapter 17: Accolades and Hatred

Damn, almost three weeks without a new post?  I suck.

I’ve had a bunch of things happen to me, one after the other, these past couple of weeks, so that’s my only excuse.  Also, as you can see from the title up there, this is not the result of my Epic Quest.  I want that to be deep and scholarly, and tonight I just feel like talking about how much I hate Straight.

So it’s now the middle of June, and Paul is back at work.  Remember, he’s a secret believer at this point, but still on the fence about whether or not he wants to be a double agent for the (sigh) Watchmen.

Real Watchmen

(Picture from Watchmen Wiki)

A big Welcome Back banner hung over his desk, and his coworkers high-fived and backslapped him as if he were a conquering hero.  Paul was warmed by the reception, despite the stab in his gut.

Paul pasted on a smile and held up both hands to stem his coworkers’ applause.  How he might have enjoyed this just a few weeks before.

This is just weird.  Nobody but Koontz visited Paul, called him, or even sent him a get-well card, for the months he was out.  And now they’re applauding his presence?  I’m not buying it.  I’m thinking Koontz told them how it was going to be, and they’re just doing it to please the boss.

Also, this is a leitmotif of Jerry Jenkins’–the hero being applauded for merely showing up to work.  Buck Williams got a round of applause for showing up at the offices of Global Weekly following the Rapture in Left Behind.  Now, granted, the world was coming to an end, but no one else from the office got a standing ovation just for getting to work.  I wonder how many times Jerry Jenkins was applauded for going to work, that he uses the scene so often?

But Koontz, despite having breakfast catered for Paul and the whole office (WTF?), seems eager to be rid of him.  (And who can blame him?)  He’s sending Paul off to New York, to check out a big financial firm complaining of being cursed.  This will prove to be even stupider than it sounds, and easily the most boring portion of Soon

When Paul gets home from his party work, he calls Straight and tells him all about his sensitive government assignment.  Straight rushes right over, bringing Paul a little gift: leaves from an ailanthus tree.

Check out this Wikipedia article on the ailanthus altissima.  Despite being know as the “tree of heaven,” it is actually characterized as a “noxious weed,” difficult and time-consuming to eradicate. 

So, pretty much the perfect plant to represent your common or garden variety RTC.

Interestingly, Paul describes the scent of the leaves as “peanut butter,” while the Wiki article says that the plant smells like rotting peanuts. 

Straight explains the significance of the plant:

“The Christians in Atlantica [where New York now is] use [the leaves] as an identification symbol.  There are a lot of references in the Bible to the tree of heaven.  ‘Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gate into the city.’  That’s heaven.  ‘In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.'”

Paul vaguely remembered that from his discs.  “A tree in heaven,” he said.

“And just for us.  Listen up now: ‘To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.  You can’t beat that, Paul.”

The scene ends on that line.  “You can’t beat that, Paul.” 

Holy crap.

Okay…

First of all, how frakking insecure do you have to be in you faith to derive joy from the fact that while billions of souls are being TORTURED FOREVER for not believing like you do, you are enjoying the sweet, savory goodness of peanut butter leaves.  That is simultaneously really sad and kinda infuriating.

“And just for us.”  Ha-HA, nonbelievers, you just try getting your hands on our ailanthus leaves.  We’ll be nomming them while you’re roasting in hell!

No leaves for you!

Oh, and I just have a minor pet peeve: people telling me to “listen up” when we’re already having a one-on-one conversation.  What, did Straight not think Paul was paying close enough attention to his little Bible lesson, even though Paul just responded?

You know, our introduction to Straight wasn’t exactly promising, what with the disrespectful touching and all, but it’s only gone downhill from there.