Monthly Archives: October 2013

Silenced: Chapter 9: Rome Believers

At exactly the moment that Straight is avoiding Jae’s very straightforward (HA!) questions about the Bible, Paul is also trying to reach Straight to talk about meeting up with the Rome underground.

…he reached only Straight’s answering device.

What, his answering device embedded in his skull, like the phone itself?  Whatever, man.

Straight whines at Paul when they finally talk:

“Paul, between babysitting you and Jae, I’m getting precious little of my own work done.  Good thing I’m not on salary.  I’d have been fired today.”

“Yeah, Paul, that three-minute conversation with Jae left me with almost no time to harass patients!”

And because Straight has no respect for personal boundaries, and because he’s posing as Jae’s friend while spying on her for Paul, he reveals that Jae has been reading Acts.

“I should have left the Gospels there for her.  That’s where she should start.”

That is just hilarious.  At this point, I will recommend one of the first “anti-apologetics” books I ever read, Ken’s Guide to the Bible.  One point he makes is that the Gospels, which basically are the Bible to many American Christians, comprise only a small fraction of the Bible.  (In my New International Verson, the Gospels are just under 10% of the pages.)

Yeah, the book doesn’t really get good until page 550 or so.

To give Straight just a bit of credit, he calls Paul on this silliness, though nobody called Tsion ben-JewishGuy on it when he created his “guide” to reading the Bible in the Left Behind series, and poor Hannah Palemoon did it “wrong.”

“Yeah, you’re right, Paul.  I think Jae is too much for God to deal with.  Probably hopeless.”

“All right, Straight.”

Heh, I see Paul’s patience with Straight is wearing thin, too.  I’d feel bad for him, having to interact with this jerk all the time, but they sooo deserve each other.

It seems that the Rome underground doesn’t trust Paul, since Death has a habit of following him around.  They’re also arguing amongst themselves over Magnor, and whether he’s “one of them” or not.  Paul and Straight both think “not.”

“You want a guy on our side who kills innocents?  I don’t.  That’s not of God.  Even in L.A., God struck down the opposition.  His own were spared.  We lost brothers and sisters in the Bio Park there [sic], and also in Paris and London.”

So, there you have it.  The children and the poor and the hospital patients in L.A., they weren’t innocent.  They weren’t God’s “own,” so it’s absolutely okay, good in fact, that they died horribly.  Their deaths should be celebrated as the miracle they were.  It’s only when Christians die (and go right to Heaven), that there’s a problem.

It really is shocking, sometimes, how the RTC mind works.  These little passages, spoken by our heroes, characters we are supposed to take at their word, really shed a lot of light on things.

They kvetch about Rome some more, then hang up (so to speak).  Paul stands around and feels sorry for himself.  He feels “fatigue,” since he’s had a long day of sifting through the horrific remains of a terrorist attack…

Oh, wait.  That wasn’t him at all.  Never mind.

Then Straight calls him back, and it’s worth noting that the skullphones have no caller ID.  That is, Paul doesn’t know who’s calling until he answers the phone.  So really, the skullphones are less useful than our current cellphones.  Especially for Paul, living his super-secret “double life.”

Anyway, Straight has heard from a friend of a friend of a friend the very specific instructions for Paul to go meet with the Rome underground.  Because you always want to get your important spy information fourth-hand through skullphones with no called ID.

Paul is supposed to go sit at the gorgeous Trevi Fountain.  In the middle of the night.  In the rain and cold (it’s still January, remember).  And two guys from the Rome underground (of course they’re both men; don’t be silly) will meet him.

“They’re giving us only first names.  A big, bald guy named Baldassare and a small, thin man with a limp.  Calls himself Calvino.  You much of a linguist, Paul?”

“What?  No.”

“What do I look like, Straight, some kind of international secret agent or something?”

“Baldassare’s the bald guy, making his name easy to remember, but Calvino means ‘bald,’ and he’s not.”

“Just like my nickname is Straight, and I’m–uh, never mind.”

So Paul sneaks out of the hotel like a sneaksy Hobbit, wearing…

…a plastic coverall that would protect him, including his head.

Because he might melt, otherwise.

He didn’t like the smell or the confining nature of it…

…because now it was harder to do cartwheels.  Also, Paul, I thought you liked your clothes stinky.

Paul steps in a few puddles and is pissed off about it, because secret agents are noted for their low frustration tolerance when in deep cover.

He was going to be in a mood when he met Baldy and Limpy.

WHAT???

He was going to be in a mood when he met Baldy and Limpy.

WHAT WHAT WHAT???

This is a sentence that actually exists.  From OUR HERO.

And, indeed, Paul is in a mood.  (Though one could argue that everyone is in a mood all the time, good or bad.)  He is in such a mood that five pages are spent on the encounter between Paul and Baldy and Limpy.  As these two men, untrained in espionage, just secret believers trying to keep themselves and their compatriots alive, fumble their way through signals and friskings, Paul sighs and rolls his eyes and inwardly sneers and outwardly condescends and just generally makes himself the biggest ass on the planet.

All this from a secret agent who doesn’t even speak a second language.

FINALLY, the three are picked up in a car by the head of the Rome underground, Enzo Fabrizio.  Paul is immediately impressed because the windows are tinted and the lights don’t go on when the door opens.

Also, presumably, because Enzo has a driver.  So we know he’s not some lowly peon who has to drive his own car.

Enzo is all smiles and handshakes and apologies.  This all, of course, was Not His Fault, but the fault of the “faithless, untrusting, and rude” underground believers who didn’t immediately trust Paul with their lives, sight unseen.  The bastards.

So, we know Enzo is to be trusted, because he trusts Paul.  He doesn’t even say anything about the smell of Paul’s coverall, because he’s that kind of guy.

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Silenced: Chapter 8, Part 2: How Could Anybody Believe This Stuff?

First, a quick conversation between Paul and the awesome Alonza Marcello.

“I thought it went well today,” she said.

“Did you?  I felt a little chilly.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

BOOM

Oh, and let’s remember that at the very moment Paul is whining to Marcello, those “chilly” investigators are busy cleaning up the site of a terrorist attack and identifying corpses.  And Paul is planning on being no help whatsoever.  But the meeeeean investigators are so chilly.

Marcello has actual news (that the INVESTIGATORS, not Paul, discovered):

“It was written in English on a stall door in lipstick.  Here’s what it says:

“Long live the USSA.  Long live the City of Angels.  Long live Jonah.  European resistance arise.”

“Mm-hmmm,” Paul said.

But Paul’s useful contribution doesn’t end there.  He suggests calling in a handwriting expert (Marcello has already thought of this), and agrees with her that the writing doesn’t “look Italian.”

We are dealing with a pair of mental giants here.  The message was written in English.  And references America (sorry, the USSA).

“…I’d wager we’re not going to find Styr Magnor in America.” [said Paul]

“Because he says he’s Norwegian?”

“Partly.  I don’t know.  Just a gut feeling.”

Surely no AMERICAN could ever be responsible for death and destruction!

“You’re known for that, Doctor.  But isn’t the northern middle west almost an enclave of Scandinavians in your country?”

“What used to be Minnesota?  Yes.”

I continue to be amused by the fact that Paul corrects people using reference points that became obsolete when he was a baby.

Also, he’s correct, but not complete.  Wisconsin, for example, has many Scandinavian-Americans.  See, for example, this Swedish restaurant in Sister Bay, Wisconsin, where goats hang out on the roof.

Anyway, having established that Paul knows more about Minnesota than an Italian person, we head back to the ranch (the ranch being in Chicago), where Jae continues through Acts, Chapter 2.

The talk about tongues of fire made Jae want to turn off the machine again.  How could anybody believe this stuff?  Yet each time she heard something strange and disconcerting like that, she was less shaken by it.

Well, yeah, overexposure can do that to a person.  Especially a vulnerable person who has been emotionally abused for over a decade, is still being emotionally abused, yet is trying to grow closer to her abuser.

Jae had heard Paul mention something about how the zealot underground put a lot of stock in ancient prophecies…

But couldn’t these prophecies of the Bible be debunked?

Yes.

If they were not credible, at least to the writers and readers of the New Testament, how had the Bible lasted for so long?  Would it not have been cast aside as fanciful thinking long before World War III?

By many people, it had (has), Jae.  About 30% of the world is Christian right now (that is, around the time of World War III in this series, and around the time of Jae’s birth.  And certainly less than that 30% “put a lot of stock in ancient prophecies.”  (And yes, I’m sure that Jenkins and Paul would not consider such people “true” believers, but the point still stands.)

Still, though, Jae, nice appeal to tradition (that no longer exists in your world).

Then Jae does something realistic: she compares studying the New Testament to studying a new subject in college.  Of course, one thing you learn in college is that researching a new subject involves more than reading only one primary source.  So, clearly, Jae has some work to do.

Fascinating note: Jae is blown away by the fact that Christians love Jesus, but she knows enough about the Bible to know that King David was not a contemporary of Jesus.  How did she come to know this?  Very confusing worldbuilding.

Jae hears about the apostles performing miracles:

Paul said the believers in Los Angeles claimed the drought was a miracle.  Was it possible?  The underground had survived, maybe even flourished.  But was that God’s idea of a miracle?  Something that hurt and killed so many people?

You have not yet learned, Jae.  Join the club, and you, too, can celebrate those deaths alongside your “new man” husband.

Anyway, Jae has some questions, and she knows just what to do!

Head to her local public library, or one of the many stellar academic libraries in the Chicago area?

Nope!

She’s going to call Straight!  The guy who has “bad feelings” about plans that make her happy!

Surely he will be incredibly helpful.

Silenced: Chapter 8, Part 1: Not Allowed to Be Happy or Smart

Having been encouraged by telling Straight how totally repulsed he is by bars and tattoo parlors, Paul now feels manly enough to talk to his horrible wife.

Paul is disappointed to find Jae in a state of…happiness.

And if there’s one thing Paul can’t stand, it’s for his wife to feel happy and fulfilled.

Jae tells him that she’s made her decision: she’s taking the job with Ranold.

Paul closed his eyes.  That’s all he needed.

“Paul?  Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“You don’t sound happy.”

“Can’t say that I am.”

And if I’m not happy, YOU CAN’T BE EITHER, LITTLE WOMAN.

“Oh, Paul, I need this.  It’ll be something to do all day, and it’ll be in my area of expertise.  Mom will help with the kids, and I’ll be able to get to know Aryana better—you know, Berlitz’s wife.”

I love that Jae thinks she needs to remind Paul of Aryana’s name—Paul only has FOUR in-laws whose names he needs to know.

But Jae is certainly right in that Paul’s thoughts are—as always—only for himself.

While Jae had—to his knowledge—never been trained in espionage, he couldn’t know for certain that she herself wasn’t already onto him.  He didn’t want to be paranoid, but he had to keep an edge, maintain his equilibrium.  Her plan to work not just in Washington but also with the NPO and with Ranold could be part of an elaborate scheme for them to set him up.

Well, I guess it’s time for me to come right out with it: Paul is (sigh) mostly right.  He should be paranoid and he is being set up.  Not by Jae, mind you, who suspects nothing, but by Ranold, who most certainly does.

Gorammit, I hate when Paul is right.  Or, I suppose, when Jenkins makes him right for no good reason.

(I should add that Ball Dangler and NPO International suspect nothing.  This is purely an internal job on Ranold’s part.  I love Ranold.)

Time for the money quote!

Again, the tightrope.  If he tried to forbid Jae, she would defy him, no question.  Plus he would look terrible.

Ah, honesty from Paul.  FINALLY.  He would forbid Jae, but, just like a flighty, impetuous woman, she would defy him.  By the way, who is Paul to forbid Jae from doing anything?  And how is Jae defying him?  He is not the boss of her.

I know, I know.  As a newly-minted RTC, any thoughts of equality in a marriage, if Paul ever had them (which he didn’t), are out the window.  For it is said in the Holy Word of Gawd that the man shall be the boss over the lady-folk.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Ephesians 5: 22-24

Stupid Jae, thinking she has a say in her life and the lives of her children.  Oh, and wanna know the fun part?  That “submit to your husband” quote comes from the epistle to the people of Ephesus, which was allegedly written by Paul.  The Biblical asshat Paul, not the asshat Paul from this book we’re reading.

“I so want you to be happy for me and proud of me.” [said Jae]

Paul couldn’t bring himself to say either.

Well, geepers, Paul, why not?  No doubt doing so would make you look good.

But he doesn’t.  So I guess that is how they end that, with Jae still planning to defy the wishes of her head-husband.

The brazen atheist.  She shall soon learn.

When Straight called later in the day, suggesting she volunteer at PSL Hospital with him, she believed Paul had put him up to it in a last-ditch effort to thwart her plan.

Jae’s no dummy.

Straight was even more dead set against her going, telling her he had a very bad feeling about it.

You’d think Jae would pay more attention to Straight’s Magical Negro “feelings,” but nooooo…

To make herself feel better, Jae does what any atheist does when things aren’t going so well.

She reads the Bible.

This is an idea Jae came up with to have something she could talk about with Paul (since this is apparently a problem), though I’m a bit surprised that she’s starting now, after he shot down her idea.

If you’d like to read along with Jae, she’s starting with Acts (Paul took the Gospels with him to Europe).  She’s thrown immediately by the first phrase:

Dear friend who loves God:

So right away, we can narrow down the version of the Bible that Jae has.  For example, neither my New International nor my New Revised Standard start with that salutation.  (Yes, I have multiple Bibles.  They do so come in handy at times like these.)  Jae might be reading from the Living Bible.

Not only did she not love God, but she had also been taught—and had always accepted—that there was no God.  She had expected this experience to be strange, but she had not anticipated this.  So these people, the writer, and apparently whoever was reading this letter, believed in God.  And loved Him.

It’s kinda hilarious that Jae is thrown by this very simple turn of phrase.  I get that she was raised an atheist, in Atheistopia to boot, but was she really never told that people who were religious, back on Earth That Was, believed in and loved their god(s)?  Okay, so why does she think the world outlawed religion?

This is a pattern for Jenkins: assuming that if you were not raised Exactly RTC, you literally have no knowledge of very simply religious concepts.

See, for another example, Rayford Steele, a regular churchgoer (just not the right church) being thrown by the simple phrase, “The grace of the Lord be with you all.  Amen.”  (I’d link to the Slacktivist dissection of this passage, but Patheos isn’t playing nice.)

Jae then hits a reference to the Holy Spirit, and here I understand her confusion.

Tom Servo (as Jimmy):  Sir, I just don’t understand the Holy Spirit.  Is it a bird?

-MST3K, I Accuse My Parents

The only thing she can relate it to is A Christmas Carol, and I get that she makes that particular connection.  The thing I don’t get is why Jae has read A Christmas Carol: shouldn’t such a work be banned in Atheistopia?  Or maybe not.  I mean, it’s not a religious text, is more about the spirit of giving than the importance of going to church, and the word “Jesus” doesn’t even appear in it, but it is about Christmas and the change that the goodwill of the season can cause in a person.  It’s certainly a debatable point, but it is also one more instance of Jenkins not thinking through this whole “religion is banned” thing.

Then Jae hits a reference to Heaven, and is reminded of It’s a Wonderful Life, an even more overtly religious work than A Christmas Carol, and even more confusion reigns.  Seriously, is religion outlawed or not, here?

Jae turns off the disc player out of frustration, but…

Strangely, the words kept working on her.  She shuddered.  So peculiar.  Why should ancient texts bother her so?  Jae turned the machine back on.

Awww, Jae has Jesus on her heart.  Or the hounds of Heaven following her.  Or whatever.

THAT IS SO FRAKKING CREEPY IT IS LIKE SHE IS BEING MIND-CONTROLLED

Jae makes it through the whole first chapter, and it turns out that she is well on her way to RTC Stepfordization:

Maybe she would listen to a little more as she worked, just to see if the story got better or there was some kind of character development.

Farewell, Jae.  We all knew this would happen.

Silenced: Chapter 7, Part 2: Nobody Likes Paul

Am I a  bad and horrible person for being amused by the fact that nobody wants Paul around?

The awesome Chief Marcello takes Paul to a meeting with all the detectives of whom she is in charge.  Yanno, the people who have been doing actual work while Paul has been eating sammiches and playing Super Pretend Spy with Straight.

In one of the few moments of actual realism in this series, the detectives are singularly unimpressed with Paul.  I wish it was awesome, but it’s all fairly dull.  Paul almost seems vaguely on the edge of realizing that these people are doing something of value, and he is not…

Imagine if they knew he was also there to connect with the underground, and not for the purpose of arresting believers.

Hey, jerk, you’re there to track down a terrorist, not to arrest believers.

Imagine if they knew he was there on the international government’s dime to hang out with friends and be “encouraged,” not to help solve the hundreds of murders and devastating loss of art, animals, and national monuments.

After the ridiculous meeting that accomplishes nothing for anybody, Paul is chauffeured to his hotel and left to his own devices.  I guess they figure he’ll get around to tracking down the terrorist when he feels like it.

Paul ruminates on “the depressing state” of Paris, which is interesting in two respects.  One, he is not ruminating on the horrific loss of life of the biggest terror event in his lifetime.  And B, I would think that any city that suffered such a blow would be in a “depressing state,” notwithstanding the unChristian tattoo parlors.

He is so sad that he calls Straight.  But Straight only wants to continue their game of Most Secretest Spies in the World:

“We’re getting word to your contact that you’re in the city,” the older man said.  I’ll get back to you with instructions.  Tell me something about his name that assures me you remember it.”

Enzo Fabrizio.  “His first and last names start with consecutive letters of the alphabet.”

LOOK, you idiots, either the skull phones are secure or they’re not.  If they are, just ask him the guy’s name.  If they aren’t, you shouldn’t be talking about this at all.

Worst spies ever.

“Tell you one thing.  I’m getting a lesson in what’s happening to me here.” [said Paul]

“How’s that?” [asked Straight]

“This is the kind of place that would have turned my head not that long ago.”

“You’d be tempted, you mean?”

“Big time.”

“This all disgusts me.  I mean, I can tell I’m different at home.  Even Jae sees it.  But I didn’t know how I’d do in this situation—away, alone, homesick.  That would have justified a lot of mischief in the past.”

Yeah, before his conversion, Paul was an arrogant serial cheater.  Excuse me…he engaged in “mischief.”  And now, he’s a prudish little prig.

What a difference.

“Don’t get overconfident now, Paul.  You’re still a man.”

“A lustful male, you mean.”

“That’s what I mean.”

“Pray for me.”

“Constantly.”

“Oh, what are you saying, Straight?  That I need constant prayer?  Thanks a lot, dipshit.”

It’s also lucky that women never feel lust.  Because God didn’t design them that way.

And Paul indulges in some not-at-all-self-involved speculation about NPO International:

Part of him wanted to believe that everyone at every level in every country still saw him as a top, crack, loyal agent.  But he wasn’t that naïve.

After all, Paul wasn’t arrogant enough to believe that everyone at every level in every country knew about him, let alone had a high opinion of him.

Even if they weren’t onto him yet, he had to live as if they were.

Oh.  Never mind.  Guess they do all know about a random agent out of Chicago.

And I’m sure he’s the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being they’ve ever known in their lives.