TF: A planned vacation

Tribulation Force, pp. 433-437

Last week we discussed the protagonists’ lack of curiosity about the very specific schedule of calamities awaiting them in the Great Tribulation. Today we see that this hardly matters, because even with very specific advance warning these two guys are incapable of taking action.

In these pages of Tribulation Force, both Rayford Steele and Buck Williams learn that World War III is about to begin — they learn that the second seal has been opened and the second horseman of the apocalypse is about to arrive. Buck, a journalist, doesn’t see this as newsworthy and goes about his day without any change of his plans, not even bothering to tip off his wife to what he has learned. Rayford Steele’s response is more active, but far stranger.

We pick up with Rayford flying the Antichrist and his entourage from New Babylon back to Washington, D.C. Amanda is traveling with him, so while Rayford is up in the cockpit, she’s been forced to mingle with Nicolae and his henchmen.

She had already been asked about the new import/export business she was starting, but then the mood in Global Community One seemed to shift.

Amanda Steele, the newest member of the Tribulation Force, has just uprooted herself and moved to a brand new home in a brand new city in the middle of the Iraqi desert. She knows it is the eve of armageddon — that total war and global famine are fast approaching, after which all commerce everywhere will be restricted by the Mark of the Beast. And so she decides that this would be a propitious time to launch a start-up international fashion business.

During one of the few breaks Rayford shared alone with her, she said, “Something’s up. Someone keeps bringing Carpathia printouts. He studies them and scowls and has private, heated meetings.”

At some point, offstage — probably during that 18-month time-skip — Nicolae Carpathia must have gone on a hiring spree. Jerry Jenkins doesn’t bother to name or describe, even vaguely, any of the coterie of staffers now apparently working for the Antichrist, but based on all these “someones” now at his beck and call, we should probably assume that he has at least the full complement of Bond-villain henchmen.

Like everything else about the logic and logistics of Nicolae’s one-world government, the vague sketchiness of what we’re told about this suddenly appearing staff of potentate peons is probably partly due to laziness and partly due to necessity.

I don’t think Jenkins is really interested in imagining where all these staffers came from or how very many people it would require to operate a vast, all-seeing, global authoritarian regime. But if he’d even started thinking about this, he would have quickly realized that any attempt to explain how Nicolae is ruling the entire world would likely raise so many questions as to make the whole prophecy seem suspiciously implausible.

To quickly give this far more thought than the authors have bothered to do, I would guess that Nicolae’s staff here on the plane — the sorts of people who would be handing him printouts and consulting with him in “private, heated meetings” — would be drawn from the staff of his former office in Bucharest. But that’s just a tiny, inconsequential fraction of the overall capacity Nicolae would need to administer an authoritarian OWG. He’d need millions of bureaucrats, administrators, secret police, jailers, interrogators, soldiers, sailors, censors, tax collectors, trash collectors, dog catchers, language police, religious police, currency police … the list is almost endless. His only hope for fully staffing such a massive undertaking with even semi-competent personnel would be to retain most of the world’s existing governments in some Vichy-puppet capacity. But how would that work in places like Afghanistan or Somalia — places that lack any such governing infrastructure that might be conscripted to serve the OWG, and that have long histories of stubbornly resisting any attempt to impose such a government on them?

And once you allow yourself to think of such things — once you ask, “Does this OWG include all of Afghanistan and Waziristan and Somalia?” — then you start to realize, as Jenkins probably did, that the only way to make any of this seem even slightly plausible is to fudge the details and keep every description of the OWG as vague as possible.

But anyway, what of these printouts that “someone” keeps bringing to Nicolae, prompting these heated meetings? “Someone” else informs Rayford that he’s about to find out:

Rayford had illuminated the Fasten Seat Belt sign and was five minutes from touchdown at Dulles when he was contacted through his earphones by one of Carpathia’s communications engineers. “The potentate would like a word with you.”

“Right now? We’re close to final approach.”

There’s a bit of business where Rayford gets all huffy about his pilot’s prerogatives. “We have a postflight checklist,” he says, before being told that the supreme global potentate probably shouldn’t be kept waiting.

“Thank you, gentlemen, and forgive me for the intrusion,” Carpathia said as he passed the first officer and navigator on his way into the cockpit. Rayford knew they were as annoyed as he at the breach of procedural protocol, but then Carpathia was the boss.

“Captain, I feel the need to take you into my confidence. Our intelligence has discovered an insurrection plot, and we are being forced to circulate a false itinerary for me in the United States.” Rayford nodded, and Carpathia continued. “We suspect militia involvement and even collusion between disgruntled American factions and at least two other countries.”

The dots are all there, but Rayford fails to connect them. He knows that Nicolae is the Antichrist, the first horseman of the apocalypse and the “conqueror bent on conquest” who will brutally crush all dissent. And he knows that the second horseman — total war — should be arriving any day now. But he doesn’t extrapolate from that knowledge that his boss might be planning anything more forceful in response to this insurrection. That makes Rayford a poor student of both history and “prophecy.”

Nicolae explains that he will be releasing a fake itinerary to mislead the insurrectionists, and that he will need his plane flown to Chicago without him, then hopscotched around the country to distract the rebels.

Rayford, having just been tipped off that World War III is about to start, doesn’t express any worry about flying his new bride to Chicago in an unarmed decoy. Instead, he says this:

“Do I hear my little vacation slipping away?” Rayford said.

Nicolae reassures him not to worry about that.

“I would like you to fly the plane to Chicago and have someone you trust return it to New York the same day.”

“I know just the person,” Rayford said.

The next scene with Rayford reveals who that is.

“Hello? Mrs. Halliday?”

“Yes. Who’s–?”

“This is Rayford Steele calling for Earl, but please don’t tell him it’s me. I have a surprise for him.”

You remember Earl Halliday. He was Rayford’s boss at Pan Continental Airlines, and it had been his lifelong dream to one day be the pilot of Air Force One.

Well, now Rayford’s got a wonderful surprise for his old friend. Earl is going to get to pilot Global Community One from Chicago to New York! Isn’t that thoughtful and generous of Rayford to arrange that for his friend?

Well, I mean, if you overlook the fact that he’s not telling his friend the bit about how he’s going to be a flying decoy for a militant insurrection. Or that he’s flying to New York City — the focal point of the insurrection’s offensive. But other than that, it’s very generous and thoughtful.

The second seal has been opened: “Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.”

And here is Rayford’s response to this taking of peace from the earth: 1) He makes sure that it won’t interfere with his planned vacation; and 2) he tricks his best friend into flying into an ambush.

In Rayford’s partial defense, he probably doesn’t know what we readers know about New York City being a prime target for the insurrectionists. We know this because Buck knows this, but he hasn’t shared that information with the rest of the Tribulation Force — not even with Chloe.

The young newlyweds have just arrived in Chicago for their planned reunion with Rayford, Amanda and Bruce. In Buck’s scenes he is, of course, on the telephone.

“If you recognize my voice and will talk to me, call me at this pay phone number, and make sure you call from a pay phone.”

“Affirmative,” Buck said. He hung up and turned to Chloe. “I’ve got to run out for a minute.”

“Why? Who was that?”

“Gerald Fitzhugh.”

Yes, the (deposed former-)president is calling him at home now. Just to talk.

When Nicolae told Rayford “I feel the need to take you into my confidence,” it was because he really needed to do so. His response to the insurrection required his pilot to fly his airplane, so he had to talk to Rayford.

What possible reason is there for Fitzhugh to need to talk to Buck? He is about to launch a sneak attack against the most powerful leader on earth, but he pauses to track down the hotel room of a prominent reporter who works for that leader.Why?

“Hey,” Buck said when President Fitzhugh picked up on the first ring. “It’s me.”

“I’m glad you’re not at home,” Fitzhugh said.

“Can you tell me more?”

“Just that it’s good you’re not at home.”

“Gotcha. When can I return home?”

“That could be problematic, but you’ll know before you head back that way. How long are you away from home?

“Four days.”



Is there any reason at all why Fitzhugh would make such a phone call? I understand that Jenkins wants to provide readers with a timetable for the impending hostilities, but this is a really bizarre way of supplying that information.

In any case, Buck now knows, in even more detail than Rayford, that the second rider is arriving and World War III is about to begin. In response Buck does … nothing.

Absolutely nothing. He knows that insurrectionists are about to attack New York, but he doesn’t tell Chloe. And despite supposedly being a journalist, he doesn’t lift a finger to share this information with any of his millions of readers. Once again, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time gets a massive scoop on every other reporter, and once again he buries the story. One could argue that he’s keeping Fitzhugh’s secret in order to aid the insurrection, but he already knows it will be crushed by the Antichrist — and he didn’t bother telling Fitzhugh anything about that either.

This is Buck’s role in this story and this world. He sits around and does nothing. Powerful people tell him powerful secrets for no apparent reason and he continues to sit around and do nothing. That’s our Buck.

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  • Anonymous

    Speaking of Calvin and Hobbes, in a single Sunday strip Watterson waxed more eloquent than L&J in 16+ books about life, death, and human condition,

  • FearlessSon

    Also, why is Buck appealing to Chaim’s interest as a scientist when in fact God has just gone and violated the laws of nature which He nominally respected prior to the Rapture?  When laws of the universe in which we live can be broken at will by nothing more than a thought from an all-powerful entity who’s power is singular, what would even be the point of trying to study those laws?  They make no difference in the end.  

  • Isabel DePaul

    I figured Buck was teasing him about it

  • Anonymous

    Tales of the Gold Monkey? I loved that show! Netflix or is it on Hub or some other channel?

  • Anonymous

    It finally got a legit DVD release, so Netflix should have it to rent at least. 

  • Anonymous

    Also nuclear materials. If Perry gets rid of DoE, can we use his yard for a nuclear dump? After all, nobody would be regulating the stuff …

    I knew Maria meant ED in her response.

  • Anonymous

    Commerce has a lot of old-fashioned stuff in it like the Weather Service (think about clipper ships needing to know if they were going to run into hurricanes) and the Patent Office. Maybe they think this kind of stuff is obsolete. The Republicans keep trying to defund the Weather Service. Maybe it’s not all because of hostility to climate change (if you don’t know about, it’s not happening … or something). They already nixed a satillite that was really needed to replace an old one that is at the end of its life.

  • Jenny Islander

    Gee.  Um.  I really like knowing whether or not the skin on my children’s faces may freeze solid before I go out the door.  Which, you know, is sort of a product of ambient temperature + expected wind velocity.

    Defunding the National Weather Service sounds like a 1-percenter money saver to me.  It sounds like an obvious money saver to somebody who can always call the limo for pickup or take the second car.

  • Lori

     Defunding the National Weather Service sounds like a 1-percenter money saver to me.  It sounds like an obvious money saver to somebody who can always call the limo for pickup or take the second car.  

    No, defunding the National Weather Service is intended to be a money-maker for the 1%. They want the work done by NWS to be privatized and the information sold for a profit. 

    I am not making that up. 

  • P J Evans

     They cite Accuweather as being a good private weather-prediction business, apparently without knowing that it uses NWS data in its forecasts.
    I’d say that kind of stupid can’t exist in real life, but they seem to be living examples of it.

  • Lori

     I’d say that kind of stupid can’t exist in real life, but they seem to be living examples of it.  

    I know. They’re so stupid they don’t even know that they’re stupid. It’s kind of terrifying really. 

  • Kukulkan

    Well, I’m a couple of pages late for everyone else posting their bits of TF Fic, but I thought I’d share anyway.


         Nicolae was not in a good mood.
         Hattie watched him as he came back from the cockpit. There was nothing overt. He looked calm. He walked quickly, but stopped every few steps as an aide came up with another print-out or verbal report. He listened attentively, gave instructions in a deliberate voice. To all appearances he was poised and in complete control. A world leader methodically dealing with a crisis. A calm head helping everyone around him stay calm and focused on the job at hand.
         But Hattie knew him. She could read the signs. His walk was a little too brisk. His voice when giving instructions was too deliberate; too controlled. He was not in a good mood.
         With a look and a slight gesture she told the stewardesses waiting with her in Nicolae’s private quarters to go. As they left, she hit the switch that lowered the stripper pole down into floor. She remembered, as she watched Nicolae approach, about how impressed he’d been when she first showed him the pole, assuming that she had arranged to have it installed. She had never told him that it had been part of the plane when he took it over. But now was not the time for it.
         Nicolae stepped into the small room, telling everyone that he need a few minutes to gather his thoughts and not to disturb him. Then he closed the door.
         Hattie sat on the lounge in the area beyond the desk. Her hands clasped, resting on her knees, her expression attentive and interested.
         Nicolae scowled as he turned around. “Do you know what he said?”
         He? Oh, of course. Rayford. Hattie knew how infuriating he could be, but she had never expected him to get even Nicolae so aggravated. Still, she kept quiet. She knew the best thing to do was to let him run through his rant and get it out of his system. Things usually didn’t get violent if he got it out of his system. Usually.
         “He talked about his vacation! I just told him that there was about to be a major war, that the second seal was about to open, that the red rider was going to go forth and all he could think about was his vacation! His vacation!”
         Hattie sat very still and listened.
         Nicolae walked towards the lounge barely containing his fury. “Even when I told him I needed someone to fly the plane as a decoy, someone to be a sacrificial lamb, he just calmly accepted it and made the arrangements.”
         He stopped in front of her. Hattie sat very still. “How am I supposed to work like this?” he almost shouted. The soundproofing in the room was good, but not so good that others would hear something. And Nicolae still had enough presence of mind to not want to spook the staff.
         He leaned down, his face inches from hers. “How?!” he demanded.
         Hattie braced herself. But nothing happened. Instead, Nicolae just turned and collapsed into a chair. His shoulders slumped as he leaned forward and ran his fingers through his hair with enough force to remove some loose strands.
         “How can I work like this?” he asked almost plaintively.
         Hattie stood and walked around behind Nicolae. She put her hands on his shoulders, but he shook her off.
         “I understand the symbolism. I know I need to be surrounded by representations of the seven deadly sins. But does He” — Nicolae gestured in the direction Hattie assumed Hell was located — “Does He know — does He understand — how hard that makes it to accomplish anything?”
         He looked at her over his shoulder and his expression was so wretched that even though she knew who and what he was, her heart ached for him. She stepped around and sat opposite him. His gaze never left her face.
         “Sloth,” he said. “I mind control Fitzhugh into telling Cameron about the coming attack. All he has to do is pass the warning on to his friends. That’s all he has to do. I have agents watching all movements, ready to pick up anyone vacating the designated targets, clearly acting on the warning. We could have wrapped up his entire ridiculous Tribulation Force in one fell swoop. All he had to do was pass on the warning.”
         Hattie nodded sympathetically. She couldn’t believe that Buck hadn’t told anyone either.
         “But no. The guy is Sloth personified. Anything that requires the slightest effort, the least amount of personal discomfort, he just doesn’t do. No matter what the consequences. How can you work with that?”
         Nicolae paused.
         “The seven deadly sins. I know I’m supposed to promote them. They’re part of the agenda. But…” he trailed off. “And I can’t even kill him! Because I need him to fill that slot. Without him the set is incomplete. But… but…” He trailed off again.
         After a moment’s silence, he resumed. “And Avarice…”
         “Avarice?” Hattie said. “Wouldn’t Rayford be Envy?” It came out before she could stop herself. She froze up, waiting for the explosion. Nicolae really didn’t like being interrupted during one of these little rants.
         But it never came. Instead he just looked at her. This is really getting to him, she thought.
         “No,” he said. “Avarice.” She could tell he was gathering the reins, reasserting control over his emotions, while spoking on auto-pilot.
         “Avarice is about a concern with the things of this world, a pre-occupation with wealth and power and control. Rayford doesn’t envy the things other people have, he just wants to have power over those things. And them. He wants to know he could have it if he wanted to. He doesn’t take it because that would be Gluttony, over-consumption, taking more than he needs. He doesn’t begrudge others having it, so long as it’s understood that they have it only because he hasn’t chosen to take it away from them.”
         The barest hint of a smile appeared on Hattie’s lips. She knew it was important that Nicolae be surrounded by embodiments of the seven deadly sins because he couldn’t embody them in himself. After all, he needed to be effective, and he couldn’t be effective if he was hobbled by those flaws. But, even so, she could tell he still hadn’t managed to find a proper embodiment of Pride and so still carried it within himself.
         Pride was the hardest of the sins to shed, the one that most resisted. And, perversely, it only grew stronger as he successfully shed each of the others, finding the embodiments and recruiting them into his entourage.
         “Consider how he treated you.” Hattie just nodded. “He didn’t take you, he just enjoyed the feeling that he could and that no-one else could have you.”
         Nicolae was proud of his erudition. And the satisfaction of displaying that erudition, of correcting Hattie and show her how she was wrong, was enough to calm him and allow him to regain control of himself.
         “Then why are you surprised at Rayford’s reaction?” she asked softly.
         Nicolae smiled. It seemed entirely genuine. He had regained control; if he wasn’t pleased by the question, Hattie couldn’t tell. “I shouldn’t be, should I?” he said as he stood. “A momentary weakness. It’s the stress.”
         Hattie leaned forward, her face coming close to his crotch. “Well,” she said reaching forward, “if it’s stress…”
         There was a loud rap on the door and a muffled “Sorry sir, but…” Nicolae stepped back. “Later,” he said.
         Nicolae went to the door and opened it. He waved off the apologies of the aid waiting there — one of about five who had gathered around the door, each waiting for someone else to take the initiative and knock — and took the print-out, reading as he headed back to the main office area.
         Hattie watched him go, hoping that arranging the slaughter of millions of people would relieve enough tension that “later” wouldn’t be one of the bad ones. Absurdly, she even found herself hoping it might be one of the good ones. But they hadn’t happened in a long time.

  • Anonymous

    Wanted to note that last week, I saw The Rum Diary (based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel), and it’s a terrific antidote to the toxicity of these books.  Johnny Depp’s character is the anti-Buck Williams: he is a young journalist who, essentially, gets a job offer from the Devil, but in the end chooses — well, I won’t spoil anything, but he very much doesn’t choose what Buck does.  Also, Aaron Eckhart would make a kick-ass Antichrist.

    Hunter S. wouldn’t have been fooled by Nicolae for a second.

  • hf

    Valid point. I was actually comparing Ellanjay to Calvin, not to Watterson. Their view of Revelation is something a petulant child might come up with.

    Calvin was a lot more honest about it. As a result he told a better story, and did so in a matter of minutes.

  • Anonymous

    “Global Community One (nee Air Force One) is not unarmed. It flies with a fighter escort, but it is fully capable of killing you dead all on it’s own.”
    Citation?  I mean, you could certainly cram a lot of missiles onto a 747, but everything I can find on the subject of the VC-25 says ‘armament: none’.  So you’ve either just accidentally broken opsec, or that isn’t actually true…It definently has an assortment of passive and active defenses, however.
    “World War III is about to start and all you can do is dribble on about your vacation. Screw your vacation! As double agent for Nicolae Mount Rainer, you’re uniquely positioned to be in the safest possible place because he’s gonna go to the SuperBunker, or be somewhere, and as his designated pilot, you’re gonna be with him!”I could, in normal circumstances, understand this as a kind of dark humor.  “So the aliens are bombing New York, we’ve lost contact with NORAD, and Paris is one big crater…””Well, that really ruins my vacation plans…”
    Of course, that kind of thing is beyond L&J’s credit.
    “If you’re going to write a scene to paint the AntiChrist as stupid and obsessed with power, why be subtle.”He also ‘knows’ that he can’t die. 
    “I considered that, and may change it, but part of the issue is that not all of the resources are necessarily sentient.  They have an ability to act, and interact with others, with a certain amount of judgment, but they don’t necessarily have the same rights as sentient beings.Ultimately, it boiled down to me thinking that “sapient” just sounded more exotic, for want of a better term.I’m honestly not sure that either is the right term, and will revisit it when I get to the editing stage.”Unfortunately, ‘sapient’ means ‘self-aware and able to reason’.  It is essentially, sentient-plus.  Intelligent Resources would be better – you can be intelligent without being sentient. 

  • apartments of tel aviv

    they are not heroes anyway they must be aware of their behavior they must behave

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    This is Buck’s role in this story and this world. He sits around and does nothing. Powerful people tell him powerful secrets for no apparent reason and he continues to sit around and do nothing. That’s our Buck.

    Because Buck is a POV character in a Christian Apocalyptic story.  His only function is to serve as a mobile POV to watch the End Time Checklist events go down, then break the fourth wall and preach to the reader how “What We Just Saw Fulfills Such-and-Such End Time Prophecy”.  Probably by “as-you-know” idiot conversation over the phone.  (Even Pinkie Pie has more class than that, as well as being a lot more interesting when she breaks the fourth wall…)

    Oh, and he’s the Author Self-Insert, which means whatever his role is, He Enjoys Being So Important.