Category Archives: Shadowed
How fitting that this crazy, abysmal series of books should end right on the sixth anniversary of Heathen Critique!
AND PAUL’S BEEN SHOT!!!
So Paul wakes up surrounded by Straight and Pudgy Jack and Greenie, and Jae and Brie and Connor. Not Angela, though, even though Greenie has a thing for her and even though she was with all the kids until they were rescued. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jenkins would like us to forget she ever existed.
Paul’s in Bethesda Naval Hospital.
WAIT HOW COME HE’S NOT IN JAIL AND/OR SURROUNDED BY COPS???
Because the cops arrested Ranold, that’s why.
Yeah, that…actually doesn’t make sense at all.
And the more we learn, the crazier it gets: the group watches the TV news in Paul’s hospital room, and the anchorwoman explains that after shooting Paul, Ranold was “subdued by two unidentified men, then taken into custody by his own backup squadron.”
Who apparently had no desire to uncover the identities of these two men, men couldn’t possibly have escaped very quickly, since one is disabled and the other had heavy equipment to wrangle and a TV uplink to handle.
So the squadron, en masse, decided to violate their orders and take down their own boss, based on what they heard him say to a known traitor who masterminded the massacre of millions of their sons and brothers and fathers and friends.
And all this seems to be largely because Ranold “confessed” to the murder of Bia. Chancellor Ball Dangler is barely mentioned, just “Commander Bia Balaam, who was found ritualistically murdered in her car at the NPO garage earlier.”
Ritualistically? Somebody sat in the backseat and waited for her, then shot her in the head. Is that really ritualistic?
The last we see of Ranold, he’s being arrested…
…his face red, spittle flying. “I said what I had to say to take down a fugitive! I–“
I KNOW, RIGHT??? This is just what I said last chapter: how can he be judged, especially in the moment like that, for saying what he had to say. Especially when what he said was nothing very much.
But it’s the end of the book and we have to dispense with Ranold:
His own men shoved him into a Hummer.
*sniffle* Bye, Ranold.
YOU ROCK AND I WILL MISS YOU
Anyway, the news then moves to the press conference being given by Hoshi Tamika, who is pulling a global mea culpa on the whole outlawing-religion thing:
“Peace-loving people of faith have been forced underground and treated like second-class citizens. They have not enjoyed the privileges and rights of the free in this world.”
Except for the freedom to ask their thug to do anything they desire, which desire he kindly obliged by slaughtering millions of innocents who had nothing to do with treating anybody like a second-class citizen.
To a world in mourning, in which not one family has not had at least one member snuffed out by this all-powerful, thug-god, Tamika has this to say:
“Ironically, this has resulted in yet another holy war, this time necessitated by oppressed, disenfranchised, devout people who share our commitment to peace.”
“They share it so much that they prayed for the massacre of our children. It was necessitated, I tell you! NECESSITATED!!!”
And they have such a commitment to peace that they massacred our sons and fathers and brothers…a mere six months after they dessicated Los Angeles. Becase they love peace so very, very much.
“It has been foolhardy to suggest that a Supreme Being does not exist since The Incident, when as many firstborn males died as we had casualties from World War III.”
And that’s the most important thing: that the atheists acknowledge that the RTCs were Right All Along.
Less important: that this Supreme Being takes sides and is all-powerful and will wipe out people on a whim.
Yet the only person who has the sense to want to fight this: Ranold. And Jenkins still doesn’t get, after three books, that the one person with the courage to stand up to the genocidal maniac is the HERO.
“I myself lost a loved one, as did countless of you.”
Yeah, I can tell she’s really broken up about it, too.
She brings up the legalities: religion is no longer illegal, but everyone is still free to be an atheist. (Gee, how big of you.) But anyone who was found guilty of violating the no-religion law is no free.
“Be assured, there are technicalities and conditions relating to this edict, some yet to be worked out. These apply to those who broke other laws in the course of practicing their religion.”
Like, say, murder? Or treason, which Paul is guilty of by a factor of three trillion?
And this brings up an interesting tangential point: if God is real—absolutely, undeniably real, and is willing and able and very happy to mete out whatever horrors his followers ask for…then would it, in fact, be a crime in this Brave New World to ask God to commit a horrrific act? After all, if Greenie hired Paul to kill Harriet, then Greenie is guilty of something pretty damned major, too, even if he didn’t personally pull the trigger? Would praying for a massacre become basically the same thing as ordering a massacre? ‘Cause God’s gonna do it, apparently!
Apparently, nobody will ever be called to justice for the murders of all these innocents, including babies and children.
Given the acknowledgment by the interim chancellor that this has been a war, wouldn’t the slaughter of millions of innocents be a war crime?
Oh, well. Celebration breaks out in Paul’s hospital room, complete with high-fives. As well they might cheer, given that they’re quite literally getting away with murder.
“Guess I don’t have to pray down the flood of justice,” Jack Pass said.
That’s the last we hear from Pudgy Jack. Psycho to the end. I love how he seems disappointed.
But for Paul, nothing is ever enough. As everyone else celebrates, he gazes at the TV, and is shocked and horrified to see that not every single person on the planet is happy with the fact that the people who called down the murder of their families are all going to get away with it:
Some [TV footage] showed underground believers pouring into the streets, singing, dancing, and raising their hands toward heaven. But others showed angry people of all walks of life, rioting, snarling, and shaking their fists at the sky.
Yeah, you know those filthy atheists, right? Like animals. Snarling. Just because their families were slaughtered and there will be no chance of justice, ever.
Honestly, what was Paul expecting when he called for the dessication of L.A. and then the massacre of the firstborn? Widespread joy and happiness? If so, what a dumbass.
The last words of the series:
He found himself suddenly overcome with emotion, but despite tears of joy, Paul had to wonder how long the reprieve would last. How long before the world once again fell under the shadow of persecution?
I guess however long it takes for Pudgy Jack to become annoyed, and call down a flood on the atheists.
So maybe twenty minutes.
And that’s it. Religion is back to being legal, atheists have been shown to be Wrong All Along, and Paul is the same as he ever was: out for himself, barely sparing a thought for anyone else around him, except for how they might persecute him in the future.
What a guy.
Well, at least it’s Thanksgiving!
And you know what that means:
Coming this weekend. Stay tuned:
This is it, you guys! What we’ve been building to for three books. A final confrontation between our hero, the lone man standing in this world that is against him, fighting for what is right against all odds, with only his wits, his logic, and the memory of his fallen comrades to spur him on, and our villain, a wife-abusing, child-neglecting sociopath with a sadistic thug at his command, who has already wiped out millions, including part of the hero’s own family, at a mere request from our villain.
Was this what Jenkins was going for, I wonder?
Paul inexplicably promises to drop Roscoe “somewhere warm,” but as they pull up to the cathedral, he asks Roscoe to be so kind as to stay in the car with the motor running.
Wouldn’t the most logical thing for Roscoe to do be to make a run for it as soon as Paul enters the building?
Back at the actual life-and-death situation, Jae breaks through to the children. Good job, wimmins.
Paul checks in with Straight (via skull phone, I guess), and confirms that Scooter is “in place.” He also checks to see if Straight is armed, which seems a strange thing to ask of a man he has never known to be armed, and who was on an emergency flight to get to the city miraculously fast. Straight confirms that he is not armed, and Paul contradicts himself yet again, telling Straight that he is “trying to talk myself out of putting two between Ranold’s eyes.”
This is such a great example of Jenkinsian hypocrisy: Paul won’t shoot a man who just bombed civilians and ordered the murders of his friends, but he will request that his god slaughter little boys.
By the way, this will become important when we get to the Epilogue, next time.
So in the cathedral, Paul and Ranold play the typical cat-and-mouse game, to no real suspense. Paul tries to guilt-trip Ranold about bombing the underground, while Ranold does not lower himself to Paul’s level by bringing up the many millions that Paul successfully prayed to be actually killed. (Because, remember, nobody ended up dying in the bombing.)
“Where’re we going, Paul?” [says Ranold, as they listen to each others’ voices in the dark and kinda follow each other]
“Just staying out of your line of fire, Dad.”
“You don’t trust me.”
Paul snorted. “You must be a trained observer.”
You tell him, Ranold!
Also, yeah. Both Jenkins and Paul keep forgetting that Ranold was wise to Paul almost from the moment he converted.
Now, I promised you all an Engineered Public Confession last time, and I’m going to show you the whole of what Ranold says, just to see if I’m the crazy one here:
“I know why you killed Commander Balaam, Dad.”
Silence. Then, “I killed her? I did not such thing.”
“Had her killed then. She was the one who could connect you with the murder of the chancellor.”
Another pause. “Murder is such a civilian term, Paul. Assassination has a better ring to it, don’t you think? We are at war. Something had to be done. Just like now. I’m in the same room with a traitor, and I’m on duty. I aim to take him in.”
Okay, it’s not totally innocent, but neither is this entirely incriminating. A, Ranold never actually admits to anything in so many words. And second, even if one was going to take the “something had to be done part,” Ranold could always argue that he was just keeping the traitorous perp talking, in order to locate him and, well…take him in.
Again, Leverage, this ain’t.
“You finished trying to wipe out the underground, Dad?”
Ranold hissed as if the moniker pierced him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“C’mon! I thought you’d be proud of yourself.”
“I am proud of myself. At least I’m not a turncoat. My career speaks for itself. And if I am the only stalwart left, so be it. We can do without the Denglers and the Hales and the Tamikas.”
“The populace seems to be standing against you now, Dad. Deal with it.”
Yeah, Dad, the populace is inexplicably standing against you, ever since I and my comrades called down the slaughter of your loved ones. Go figure.
This is even more a case of not-an-actual-confession. And hell, Ranold’s mostly right. He isn’t a turncoat and his career does speak for itself and he probably is just about the only stalwart left.
Tell me again why Paul is our hero? I mean, seriously, we’ve got six pages left to get to the bottom of this.
So Ranold shoots Paul.
And Straight tackles Ranold.
And Paul faints.
Annnnnnd next time:
The Epilogue, the end of this trilogy. And then it’s on to Wintermas!
As Paul farts around doing…whatever manly things he does, Jae and other real parents continue trying to rescue their kids. There is an odd mention of people getting sick off the “propane exhaust of the loader” that is now helping with the digging. So I guess in addition to skull phones and Bia’s daughter, Jenkins forgot he made all vehicles powered by sun, electricity, or hydrogen.
It’s kinda sad that he keeps forgetting these things. Because we’re now in the last TWENTY PAGES of this epic saga. And the yet the world remains…well, perhaps not unbuilt. But built poorly and with lots of foundation missing from buildings.
Anyway, the manly stuff Paul is doing is ditching the bombed out compound with Roscoe Wipers, to go meet Ranold.
And getting a gun:
[Pudgy Jack] gave Paul an ancient Uzi. “Fully loaded and like new,” Jack said.
I bet it is. Probably one of hundreds from your private collection. Sicko.
As they head out in a nice, heated car, Paul spares yet another fleeting thought for his wife and kids (“Belle and Cory? Beth and Colin? Bob and Carrie? Damn, it’s something like that!”) But he soon focuses in on the most important issue:
There’s a lot of it, you see, so Paul immediately does the second most manly thing a Jenkins hero can do after phone logistics:
As they crept past the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Paul got an idea. He could shoot southwest and then west on Military Road to Nebraska Avenue, then head southwest across Connecticut to Massachusetts. The cathedral would then be just southeast of him at Wisconsin Avenue and Woodley Road.
I can’t believe I just typed all that out. WHO CARES? Was Jenkins huddled over a map for this section? I mean, I’m not going to check him on this, but anyone familiar with the Washington, D.C. roads is welcome to, of course.
But even while being a Manly Man of Traffic Prowess, Paul still has time to be a smug, superior prick:
“You’re a believer, okay, fine. But that doesn’t explain why you came for me.” [says Roscoe Wipers]
“What kind of person would I be if I hadn’t?”
“You’d be like me, that’s what.”
“And you said it yourself, Roscoe, you’re not a believer. Believers do the right thing. At least we’re supposed to.”
It was right to call down the dessication of L.A.! It was right to pray for the deaths of millions upon millions of innocents! It was right to abandon my wife and kids in a collapsed underground lair!
Also, I’m not sure that “rescuing” Roscoe, only to drag him to the showdown between himself and Ranold, when both parties involved are feeling pretty murdery, is the most right thing Paul has ever done, either.
Roscoe, bless his heart, isn’t one to shut up in the face of Paul’s condescending smarminess:
“That’s what you’re doing right now? Looking for your father-in-law so you can give him a hug?”
Heh. I like Roscoe.
Paul admits that he would like to lay down some good old-fashioned street justice on Ranold’s fat ass…
“But I don’t plan to shoot him.”
“Then you’re crazy, Doc. Really.”
Yeah, and if you don’t plan to shoot him, what’s with the Uzi, Paul?
Anyway, Paul points out that “people” know where he’s going, but since those people are all underground believers who just got bombed, I’m not sure what Paul thinks they can do about it. But Roscoe agrees with this minor point, because he has a bigger point to make:
“So he gets caught! You get dead. What are you thinking? You want your family left without you if they do survive?”
Roscoe is laying down so much truth on Paul right now, I can’t even. Twenty pages to go, and Jenkins is still making the nonbelievers the smart and logical ones. I’m not sure that was his intention, going in.
The truth-telling must come to an end though, because there is HOT PHONE ACTION to be had: Straight and Scooter have implausibly beat Paul and Ranold to the cathedral, and Paul tells Scooter to “set up” so he has a view of the “main narthex.” So Scooter’s going to film everything that goes on. Now, this is a classic con, but it sure depended on a lot of luck: Scooter just so happening to be in an accident and just so happening to be under the care of Dr. Nazi, who just so happens to be a friend of Straight who can magically engineer the fastest flight in history and fight a massive traffic jam to get Scooter to the confession site on time.
Just sayin’. Leverage, this ain’t.
(And now I want to watch the Leverage Christmas episode!)
Meanwhile, Ranold is also heading for the cathedral. Jenkins makes a big point out of the fact that Ranold is carrying a nine millimeter, but since Paul has an Uzi, it’s not like I blame Ranold. Our Hero also receives a call from Haywood Hale, who’s in Bern pounding out some policy with other world leaders.
This is policy, mind you, about how to negotiate with the followers of the all-powerful thug god who just slaughtered their loved ones. So it has the potential to be really interesting.
So, no, we don’t get to see it.
Then there’s a second missile that hits the underground compound.
It’s exactly as effective as the first.
Sure, kids are trapped behind a wall of concrete, but Paul has something more important on his mind: he wants to punch Ranold.
(Isn’t it funny to think that Paul doesn’t have 1/1,000,000th the bitchin’ awesomeness that Zoe does?)
After all, punching Ranold is way more important than getting to his children. Maybe Paul forgot their names again and that’s why he turned tail and abandoned his wife to dig to the kids.
Instead, Paul does some manly PHONE STUFF, in the best Jenkinsian tradition: he has Straight get Scooter the Cameraman and charter a speedy flight from Chicago to D.C., to meet him at the location where he’s set up to meet Ranold.
HOT PHONE PORN ACTION
And it continues: Straight gets off the phone with Paul, but soon Abraham calls, to try to talk Paul out of “making this personal,” because “vengeance is the Lord’s.”
Wow, for once a RTC is counseling staying one’s hand. Abraham doesn’t even advise Paul to pray down a plague on Ranold or anything.
Paul’s main argument for punching Ranold? Well, there is the whole bombing-his-grandchildren (Whoever and What’s-Her-Name), but the really important point is…
“The man is my father-in-law, and he cares for no one but himself.”
Paul, complaining about someone else’s selfishness.
We cut to Ranold, and find out that he hired “the head of a militia group he had once attempted to prosecute” to bomb the underground. I think this is supposed to be some horrible revelation, but Ranold isn’t the one who masterminded a massacre of millions upon millions of people who were just minding their own business or anything.
Pudgy Jack and Paul stand around and discuss the situation, like the manly leaders they are. Pudgy Jack, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, is actually just fine and dandy with Paul killing Ranold. I guess it’ll sate his bloodlust just a tad, though it’s not as cool as drowning every non-RTC left on the planet.
Bizarrely, they both decide that Paul should take Roscoe Wipers with him.
So Paul SPRINTS for Wipers, sparing one brief thought for his kids, from whom he sprinted AWAY not too long ago.
Such a strong Christian head of his household!
And through all this, Jae has been digging through concrete.
With her bare hands.
Since Paul’s been hiding for this entire book like a little scared bunny, it’s almost refreshing to get a bit more of his particular brand of self-absorbed, lying craziness. Almost.
Paul and Straight have a (skull?) phone conversation. Paul reveals Bia’s death to Straight…
“I’m convinced she was a believer, Straight, but it’s just…I can’t—”
“I know, Paul. This is no game. This is real life-and-death stuff.”
THIS IS NO GAME??? Paul and Straight are figuring this out now, not when they orchestrated the deaths of millions upon millions of innocents?
And Paul also informs Straight of the deaths of the believers in the restaurant. Straight is relatively unfazed, except regarding Felicia specifically.
Is it worth noting at this point that neither of these women would be dead right now had not these two men each encouraged not to go into hiding? Paul literally turned away Bia at the door to the underground, and Straight convinced Felicia to go back to work immediately after her husband’s suicide and make contact with the other believers. They could both have been safe and secure in the shelter now, or on their way to
Somehow, I doubt that was what Jae had in mind when she told Paul to “Get your mind off yourself and onto these women.”
Speaking of Jae, Paul then informs her that, simply, “This is all your dad’s work.”
There’s just something about the way he phrases that, that makes it sound like Jae is guilty by association. This is your dad’s work, wifey. Not like my dad, who only thought people, like his own wife, should burn in hell for all eternity.
What a dumb broad, having a father like that.
Pudgy Jack and Greenie show up at the little Stepola “apartment,” and are skeptical when Paul tells them they can speak freely with Jae there. Then Jae, good little Christian wifey that she is, offers to bugger off from her own home so the MEN can talk, but they graciously allow her to stay.
Pudgy Jack and Greenie inform Paul and Jae that there is “outrage” and “backlash” at the deaths of the believers in Joliet. This sounds, shall we say, highly improbable, given that it has been only a couple of weeks since these believers called down the massacre on the planet’s husbands and fathers and sons and brothers. But Pudgy Jack once again brings up his idea of asking their thug-god to flood the whole world. And for once, Paul almost agrees, since he’s so pissed about Bi and Felecia.
If I thought we were supposed to see this as the kind of mindset that war produces, an example of the violence-begets-violence that happens in the world, I might be a bit impressed. Hell, you could almost go for a Hatfields-and-McCoys idea, where the two parties become so entrenched in the feud itself that they forget what the fight was about in the first place. But here, I’m quite sure we’re meant to see this as a Good Christian Man being driven to the brink by the fact that his eeeeevil father-in-law ordered the murders of his friends.
Because that Good Christian Man called down his all-powerful god to murder the father-in-laws son and millions and millions of other innocents.
Anyway, Jae cuts into the Manly conversation about who wants to flood the globe. Not because she thinks the idea is barbaric or anything (in fact, she says, “Call down rain. Call down fire, whatever.“), but because she wants the focus to be on getting all the children out of the underground complex.
Greenie heads off to see Angela (who is taking care of the kids). This is for no real reason other than to split the party (never split the party!). I mean, there was some vague talk about 35 chapters ago about Greenie having a little bit of a thing for Angela, but this has never once been explored, and we don’t even know if Angela knows about it.
THEN AN EXPLOSION ROCKS THE COMPLEX!!!
And Jae is the only one of the three knocked over.
BECAUSE SHE’S A WOMAN
The threesome leave the apartment, and Paul and Jae head toward the room where the kids were all gathered to watch a movie with Angela, and Jack heads the other way, for reasons best known to himself.
[Paul] grabbed Jae’s arm and turned to Jack. “Keep in touch with me by cell.”
Just think…we’re almost done with this series, and then we’ll never have to worry about Jerry Jenkins forgetting about skullphones ever again!
Speaking of them, Jae gets in touch with Angela on them, and the whole corridor to the kids is blocked in with a concrete avalanche.
Paul sees it and immediately says:
“This is hopeless, babe.”
What a hero!
Jae, however, harnesses The Power of Mom and begins digging through the rubble with her hands.
I wonder if Jenkins realizes what a wuss Paul looks like right now?
Said Paul heads off, in a terribly manly way, to find some equipment to dig with or something. Leaving Jae to continue digging out her children with her hands.
Paul meets up with Jack, and gets in contact with Jae by phone, since she is still digging to the kids with her hands. Gawd forbid Paul literally get his hands dirty, I guess.
Greenie, remember, was heading off to meet with Angela. Jae finds him in the course of her digging, and he is okay, of course:
“No way he should be alive, but he is.” [Jae said] “His head should have been crushed. If I ever wondered whether God was real and cared…”
“…then that notion was quickly dispelled when he murdered my innocent brother!”
HA. Just kidding, of course. Jae just trails off like that, because Greenie surviving is such a wondrous miracle!
Boy, I was sure worried for a minute, though. That Greenie was such a nuanced and interesting character, I would have been heartbroken had he bought it!
And so, you can see the action picking up as we trudge towards the conclusion.
This book has been nearly devoid of action, hasn’t it? I mean, Paul entered the underground in Chapter 7 and hasn’t emerged since. Now, there would be nothing wrong with a thriller without a lot of gun battles or globetrotting or other types of action. Some of the most tense scenes I can think of happen in small places, with people planning something or discovering something.
But Paul doesn’t do anything in the underground except not plan for the evacuation and fuck with Bia’s head for fun.
It doesn’t help matters that even though they’re in this little underground facility, and even though neither of them really has anything to do, Paul and Jae spend basically no time together. Which is bizarre since Jenkins tells us how much they love each other, now that they’re both believers, and how much the kids need their father.
Now, I don’t necessarily blame Jenkins for basically forgetting about this relationship (considering how many other things he’s forgotten in these books—he’s just a forgetful guy, I think). Then again, he’s talked before about how amazing his own marriage is and how atheists’ marriages, “especially,” deteriorate so you’d think he’d jump at this chance to show a loving relationship with a newly-Christian couple.
Then again again, I spent some time today thinking about how many movies and TV shows feature (as main characters or part of a large ensemble cast) a long-married, happily-married couple, who aren’t constantly kept apart or kept questioning their relationship, and who spend at least some time together over the course of the story. Based on the very scientific method of looking through the app with all the DVDs I own, here is my very short list:
Karl and Sharon Agathon, Battlestar Galactica
Wash and Zoe Washburne, Firefly
Jeff and Jane Blue, Undercover Blues
Angelo and Sofia Provolone, Oscar
Albert and Elizabeth, Duke and Duchess of York, The King’s Speech
Martin and Ellen Brody, Jaws
Roger and Trish Murtagh, the Lethal Weapon movies
Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, The Incredibles
(I hate to admit it, but…) Dan and Kristin Reed, Christmas with a Capital C
That list doesn’t seem so short, I suppose, until you take into account that I own over 220 movies and TV shows (for purposes of counting, I counted each show only once, not by season or anything.
All that to say that I suppose Jenkins has lots of company in not particularly wanting to (or, perhaps, not being able to) write a happily married couple interacting with each other.
Wow, I am full of rants lately. Good thing Wintermas is coming!
SNEAK PREVIEW TRAILER!!!
Yeah, I’m going there. And I haven’t even seen the gorram movie yet!
Back at it: Straight goes to the hospital to meet Scooter, donning his “adult clown” uniform to do so. It’s actually just “an ancient zoot suit,” but apparently this means “adult clown.”
Have I ever mentioned that I hate clowns?
Gorram Creepy Clown Christian…
So with not one thought to spare for the horror he is inflicting on all around him, Straight talks to a nurse about Scooter (thus “learning” his nickname, even though he already knew it), then heads to Scooter’s room.
And he FRAKKING SINGS:
“Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Got me a first name that’s not too keen. Name’s Stephenson but I go by Scooter…”
Yeah. That’s the whole song.
I hate Straight so much.
Straight barely says two words to Scooter before yanking the sheet off his feet and checking between his toes.
Because, as you all may recall, STRAIGHT IS A COMPLETE DICKWEED AND HAS NO CONCERNS ABOUT PRIVACY OR PERSONAL SPACE WHATSOEVER.
Just like with Paul, I actually feel a bit sorry for Scooter here. Even though he was probably on his knees three weeks ago, praying for the massacre of millions.
But one simple “he-is-risen-he-is-risen-indeed” and the two are best buds.
And finally, FINALLY, some action.
The NPO actually kills some Christians.
And no, not at the actual underground.
Having driven from downtown Chicago to Joliet, Felicia finds the fish restaurant and meets up with Hector and the other believers in the back room.
“Does everybody always look this petrified at these things?” she said.
Well, they should. Because it is the stupidest event ever. A bowling league involving members of a government organization, that meets in secret an hour’s drive from their workplace and is never open to new members.
And that you talk about all but openly at work, speaking in very obvious “code” phrases.
Hell, the group that Paul and hottie Larry Coker staked out in Soon had more cred: at least they could have claimed to be a book club or something.
Instead, the NPO believers close the door to the back room, and start their charade by reading off a list of high bowling scores…with fake names attached.
So they never even try to maintain cover. They never even go bowling. They just read fake scores in a restaurant.
So why don’t they, yanno, just go bowling? They could talk and pray or whatever in the bowling alley, where it’s noisy and probably nobody would notice.
So they eat fish and talk and pray…and then they’re made! Harriet Johns just walks right in and reveals to them that the office is bugged (well, duh), and Trudy’s little fish joke and the planning for this dinner was overheard.
WHY IS ANYONE SURPRISED THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED?
So Harriet wanders out again, her point made, I guess. For a second, everyone assumes that the food is poisoned, but instead, they’re gassed. And if they try to leave, they’re shot.
I kinda wish I could feel something at this point, but considering that these people didn’t really give a damn that millions upon millions of people were just massacred a few weeks ago (Felicia, and remember that her own son was included in the slaughter) or actually prayed for it to happen (everybody else in the room), I just can’t muster up much of a damn to give.
Because the score sheet looks like this:
God, at the request of his followers: millions upon millions, perhaps one billion
NPO: probably around twenty
Who are the villains again?
So it’s still the same evening, and things are kinda all happening at once: the zealots are evacuating, Felicia is having her first dinner party with believers, Straight is conferring with Dr. Nazi about some random other zealot, and…Bia is dead and Ranold is waiting for word on that.
Yeah, so when it happened, I totally assumed he did it personally. My bad.
Instead, he’s sitting in his office, scarfing down takeout Chinese, like a good leader should be. A good leader who’s FAT, amirite? Ha!
Anyway, he gets a call from a security guy:
“Commander Bia Balaam works for you, does she not?”
Um, yes. And so do you, dude. And so does everyone in the USSA NPO. What’s your point?
The point, of course, is that he is calling to tell Ranold that Bia is dead. Ranold affects sorrow and, in one of the most shocking turns in this entire book, mentions that Bia’s daughter will have to be informed.
Jenkins remembered that he created a daughter for Bia!!!
I’m not kidding when I say that this may well be the most shocking thing about this whole novel.
But also, Ranold is pissed, because he had expected to hear from his assassin before security.
Harriet Johns calls Ranold, apparently only moments later. Seems she used “local muscle” to off Bia. She was the assassination middleman. Middlewoman.
So this brings me to a big question I have, which I should have brought up when Bia died, but I forgot:
WHY WASN’T BIA PUBLICLY EXECUTED???
Seriously, there cannot possibly be a better-evidenced case of treason than Bia’s: she confessed right to the face of the head of the USSA NPO that she has been in near-constant secretive contact with the mastermind of the recent massacre of millions. And as if we needed more than that, said mastermind of the massacre then confirmed the whole thing!
Ranold should have hauled her ass to a three-minute show trial (if that), then had her executed. Publicly. Preferably with TV cameras watching, so the whole world could see what happens to those who align themselves with the evil god and his evil followers who prayed for, then carried out, the massacre of your sons and brothers and husbands.
WHY THE HELL IS RANOLD ACTING LIKE HE’S DOING SOMETHING WRONG???
Because he is. (Acting like he’s doing something wrong.) Except he isn’t. (Doing anything wrong.) Ranold is head of the NPO, the combo FBI and CIA of Atheistopia. And when faced, to his very face, with a traitor, he has her quietly offed in a parking garage in the middle of the night, as though he has something to be ashamed of.
This just makes no fracking sense, and the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off.
See, Ranold is one of the founders of the NPO. He built it from the ground up after the devastation of World War III. He’s no fool. And he must know how much support he needs right now. The whole planet is choosing sides, and Ranold has seen that even the leader of the free world, and his own closest friends, aren’t going to stand with him and fight this malevolent being and its minions. So showing that people are being corrupted, that people are collaborating with the enemy, just might help sway a bit of public opinion to his side. Hey, not only did this being kill millions of men and little boys and babies, but some of the most powerful people in the nation are on its side!!!
(And it’s not like Jenkins doesn’t have the stomach to write a scene of a public execution: he did it in the Left Behind series, after all.)
I’m ashamed to admit it, but for one brief second, I actually wondered if Jenkins was trying to make a thematic bridge between Bia’s first action in this series (offing Andy Pass privately in the dead of night for being a traitor and believer), and her last (being offed privately in the dead of night for being a traitor and believer).
But I don’t think for more than that second that Jenkins has sufficient wit to do that.
It does bring up another point, though, and that is that we know no more now about the NPO than we did after Andy Pass was offed, three books ago.
The NPO doesn’t make sense. They kill people but nobody ever seems to know why, and different people at different levels know or don’t know, based on nothing more than plot convenience. When Pass was killed, the story was put out (by the very “propaganda” sources that so scared Straight), that he was killed in a tragic accident. Yet, like Bia, he was an obvious traitor and there seemed no reason to hide that fact from the world.
Other than Jenkinsian logic: atheists are evil people who do evil things. Killing a believer in the dead of night is an evil thing, like an atheist would do. But lying about a killing is also an evil thing, like an atheist would do. Even when covering up the killing makes no sense. Especially when nobody in the NPO seems to know the whole story at any point.
Oh, well. Ranold is an atheist, so he is an evil guy who does an evil thing: orders the death of Bia. And evil people also cover up their killings, so Ranold has some “local muscle” kill her, even though he has no reason not to do it in the light of day and with everyone in the world watching.
Because he’s evil and that’s the kind of thing an evil atheist would do.
And you know what the really funny thing is? At no point has Paul ever considered that the same thing might happen to him. He always thinks of being caught in terms of prison, not being secretly offed in a warehouse or a parking garage. You’d think he’d be familiar with the nonsensical-yet-evil way that the NPO works.
I mean, we’ve been over this before, but Jenkins has had three whole books to build this damn world, and he still doesn’t have anything up his sleeve other than atheists are evil people who form evil organizations that kill people and lie about it internally and to the rest of the world. Because
their actions don’t make sense they’re evil.
And they cure cancer.
On the evening of Bia’s untimely murder, Harriet Johns stops by Felicia’s desk and they chat office politics for about ten seconds. Long enough for Harriet to tell Felicia that her (Harriet’s) deputy will be replacing Paul. Felicia thinks about how she didn’t expect Paul’s replacement to be a woman.
Look, Jenkins, make up your mind. Either Atheistopia is some kind of unnatural world where women actually have careers and nobody gives it a second thought…or it’s not. But it can’t be both at the same time.
Anyway, Felicia doesn’t have much time to examine her own sexism, because the special dinner meeting of believers is tonight! In Joliet! So, yeah, all these people from the same company drive from downtown Chicago to Joliet for dinner. They even have a stupid and elaborate backstory to tell people, about how they’re all in a bowling league. And Hector even admits that their restaurant of choice is “hardly a secure environment,” but they’re going anyway, mere days after the worldwide massacre. Trudy even has the audacity to make “fish jokes” when so many millions are dead that they can’t even be buried yet.
They are truly loving believers. And so smart!
Speaking of loving believers, the first wave of zealots has left the underground. While the kids pack their own suitcases…
…Paul and Jae talk, again for about ten seconds, about what would happen if Paul was sent to prison for, yanno, being a big, fat traitor.
Jae didn’t seem to want to discuss the ramifications if Paul was sentenced. She made her case about how much she needed him and his maturity in the faith—limited as it was, he was light-years ahead of her—and she said she would be lost without him.
“And what of Brie and Connor?” she said. “How long are they expected to go without a dad?”
Well, they’ve made it for their entire lives so far…
That said, Jae has an interesting order of priority: (1) she needs Paul’s maturity in the faith, (2) she needs him as either her husband or her “head of the family” (knowing Jenkins, probably the latter, and (3) she needs him as a father figure to the children.
Just saying, interesting order there, Jae.
Hey, remember that absolutely horrible doctor from awhile back? The one who “slows down” all his atheist patients?
Well, he’s back.
There was a crash involving a “USSA Television Network” van…
…and a cameraman named Stephenson “Scooter” Davis is the only survivor.
Dr. Gregory “Nazi” Graybill calls Straight to tell him all about it. For little other reason than to remind us that both these characters are still in the story.
Straight draws the natural conclusion:
“So, you’re going to slow him down a little, keep him sedated here so he can’t be helping broadcast propaganda over the state network?”
Okay, there are other things wrong with this whole scenario other than just Dr. Nazi and his monstrous practice of slow-playing the treatment of anyone not RTC. First of all, this goes back to what we were talking about when Dr. Nazi came on the scene—there are only so many times you can “slow down” a patient before people start to get the idea that maaaaaaaybe you’re not such a good doctor. Second, why is a random cameraman the only person who could “broadcast propaganda”? Do Dr. Nazi and Straight really think that the sick leave of Scooter, or even, in fact, the death of three or four other staff members in that van, will slow TV production for a moment? They’ll have an on-air moment of silence for the departed, and then continue the shows. (It really sometimes seems that Jenkins has never spent one week in the real world.) Finally, and speaking of propaganda, is that really much of a problem for the believers? Because Jenkins told us not too long ago that Atheistopia isn’t being shy about airing a pretty robust debate on the whole God issue. There was no sense there that anyone, on either side, was being silenced by the government or any media outlet.
Not that I want to distract from the fact that Dr. Nazi and Straight are monsters, mind you.
Anyway, it all turns out to be moot, because in his (apparently very) thorough examination of Scooter, Dr. Nazi found an ichthus tattoo. Between the guy’s toes.
Like I said, it was apparently a very thorough examination.
Only a suicidally stupid person would have a religious symbol tattooed anywhere on his body when he lives on a planet where religion is outlawed. So Dr. Nazi knows the guy is a legit RTC!
And Dr. Nazi tells Straight. So Straight can visit the guy. Why Straight needs to visit the guy, and why with such urgency, is something Jenkins doesn’t tell us. I thought Straight was more interested in converting patients than in ministering to those already on his side.
Though the mere fact that Dr. Nazi tells Straight about the patient, and not the other way around, amuses me because it is exactly the opposite of what Dr. Nazi claimed would happen, and thus completely negates the entire reason Dr. Nazi befriended Straight in the first place!
Oh, Dr. Nazi. You never fail to amuse.
Well, we all knew this moment was coming. In one way or another. Poor Bia. Jenkins has had it out for her since the moment he created her. What with her being a tall, gangly, single woman and all.
But, we’ll get to Bia. First, Paul and Ranold behave like a recently-broken-up couple:
Paul is hanging out with hundreds of the residents of the underground, waiting to get the evacuation organized and going. FINALLY.
So, of course, Bia calls Paul at that moment. First on Ranold’s phone (landline, I guess, if we’re going to be generous), then from her own phone. Bia apparently puts her skull on speaker, and Paul immediately savvies to that.
Then Ranold. “Yes, you’re on speaker, you coward. Why do you answer her phone and not mine?”
“Because I want to talk to her.”
“And you don’t want to talk to me.”
“You’re a quick study, Dad.”
I don’t know whether to slap these two just because they’re acting like a couple of tweens switching dates for the Snowdays Dance, or because they’re acting like a couple of tweens when thousands (more) lives are on the line.
They snipe back and forth for a couple of minutes, to no purpose whatsoever except dick-waving, until Paul suggests an in-person meeting (remember, he wants to “take [Ranold] on“).
So Ranold proposes the National Cathedral for a meet spot. Of course, it’s not a cathedral anymore, but it is where Ranold arrested hundreds of Episcopalians right after the war, when Paul was a baby.
So Paul might leave the underground
thumb-twiddling planning chambers for the first time in 32 chapters!
So after the (possibly skull) phone call, Bia heads back to her office, but is immediately called by Ranold, who asks her to stay late to look over revised plans for the upcoming raid. (Someday, that raid might happen. Maybe.) She agrees, though this seems rather cavalier for her own safety, given that Paul has just confirmed to Ranold that he and Bia have been in near-constant contact for days now.
The only change is that the date of the raid has been rescheduled to Monday, February 11. (For the record, this will be 20 days post the massacre.) But since Ranold didn’t say what the change was, Bia has to read through everything to make sure. Meaning she is late leaving work, meaning there is nobody else around when she finally gets into her car and is shot, presumably by Ranold.
Now, we know Bia is Saved, so she gets the express ticket to Heaven, not like she would have three weeks ago when she honestly didn’t believe, but we have to remember that this is Bia. She of the tallness and boniness and liking slinky dresses and not being a big fan of Paul. So while her death is not drawn out, neither is it immediate—it takes three shots to kill her.
Which I am going to interpret as Bia being almost Too Tough to Die.
I’m sure Leya would be very sad at her mother’s untimely death. If Jenkins remembered he created her.
So, since Leya can’t, let us pause for just a moment and remember the bad-assedness of Bia Balaam.
Bia finally has her audience with Ranold. Sitting outside his office, she naturally ruminates on how he wasn’t the man he once was, what with being OLD and all. (Seriously, in Atheistopia, early 60s must be the new early 40s, no? Whatever.) But she concludes that he is still smart and tenacious (yeah!) so it’s risky for her to be there.
Though, why? Although asshat Paul made a big deal about how she’d have to behave in the usual Jenkinsian way and lie-without-lying, this shouldn’t be nearly so undoable as it was with Felicia—Bia is telling the truth as she knows it.
Notwithstanding that Jenkins devotes the whole chapter solely for this interaction, it really doesn’t end up being much of a big deal—Bia says that she thought Wipers was dead, but now isn’t so sure. Which is the truth. The only thing she sorta waffles on is why she thinks this. She actually thinks this because she now knows that Christians are the good guys who would never kill anyone. (Except not.) But she says she has doubts now because Ranold has doubts.
This pointless quest now over, Ranold is awesome again, and has actually concluded that Bia is in communication with Paul. Does Jenkins even get how good Ranold is at his job, to have sussed this out?
Anyway, they go back and forth, and Ranold is understandably pissed that Bia didn’t, yanno, tell him that she’s been in regular contact with the enemy. Ranold is ticked at Bia for withholding that information from him, but he also acts a bit like a jilted boyfriend, inasmuch as Paul has returned Bia’ calls, but not his:
“How many times am I supposed to leave messages on his system? After a whole, a man gets the point.”
Would that be his skullphone “system, Jenkins?
So the chapter ends on the ominous(?) note of Ranold asking Bia to use his phone to try to call Paul.
Landline to skullphone then, Jenkins, is it? Why the hell did he even create these damn things when he forgets them every other chapter???
Man, this book. I can’t wait for Wintermas!