NRA: Life during wartime

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 74-89

This one time I flew into Chicago to catch a connecting flight to Appleton. I was supposed to have 40 minutes to make the switch, but delays leaving BWI meant I’d only have about 15 minutes to get to my gate on the opposite side of the airport. I raced down the walkway and …

Oh, nevermind. That’s a boring story. Almost everyone who has ever flown has a version of that same story, and even calling it a “story” seems like a stretch. The logistics of commercial passenger air travel can often be stressful, but that doesn’t make them interesting.

Poor Jerry Jenkins does not realize this. “Write what you know,” the old adage says, and what Jenkins knows is business travel as a commercial airline passenger, so that’s what he gives us here in Nicolae. As a result, his account of World War III ends up being less exciting, and less eventful, than even my non-story about that time I just-barely caught my flight to Wisconsin.

It’s not just a cell phone, babe, it’s a UNIVERSAL cell phone.

When this series began, Rayford Steele was a pilot for a commercial airline. Three books into the series, he still seems to be one, even though now he’s flying the global potentate on the one-world government’s equivalent of Air Force One. Ferrying around the Antichrist and his retinue of global princes on Nicolae Carpathia’s shiny new plane doesn’t turn out to be any different than Rayford’s old days punching the clock for Pan-Continental. The arrival of the potentate’s plane doesn’t disrupt any airport’s usual routine. And neither does World War III and the destruction of Chicago, New York, Washington and London.

That gives a surreal quality to this chapter’s focus on the mundane details of life-as-usual at a major airport. It makes Jenkins’ attention to detail come across as inattention. The more he adds realistic touches based on his own experience as a business traveler, the more unreal his story seems.

It’s not just the story, setting and events that are unreal. It’s also Rayford’s behavior and the choices he makes.

Thanks to the eavesdropping system installed by his friend Earl, Rayford was able to overhear Nicolae outline his attack on the cities of North America. Amanda, who was seated next to Nicolae as he laid out that plan, was inexplicably unable to hear him. So now Rayford knows that San Francisco is set to be destroyed shortly after his plane refuels and takes off. But Amanda has no idea.

This is information Amanda needs to know. She’s about to get off of Nicolae’s plane to try to catch a flight out of San Francisco to someplace nearer Chicago. Rayford knows that if her flight doesn’t leave the airport before he takes off, then Amanda will be killed in the ensuing attack. Her life may depend on her knowing that. But for some reason, Rayford refuses to tell her:

Just before the initial descent into San Francisco, Rayford huddled with Amanda. “I’m gonna get that door open and you off this plane as soon as possible,” he said. “I’m not going to wait for the postflight checklist or anything. Don’t forget, it’s imperative that whatever flight you find is off the ground before we are.”

“But why, Ray?”

“Just trust me, Amanda. You know I have your best interests in mind. As soon as you can, call me on my universal cell phone and let me know Chloe and Buck are all right.”

Rayford has this pattern of saying, “Just trust me,” or “I can’t tell you why” even when he very well could explain further. That makes it seem like he’s testing Amanda’s loyalty and willingness to give him her blind trust. Kind of a high-stakes test, too.

Frustrated was too mild a word for the way Rayford felt as he landed the Condor 216 in San Francisco and taxied to a private jetway.

Beaten-to-death is too mild a description for Jenkins’ over-reliance on this construction.

Rayford knew beyond doubt that shortly after takeoff toward New Babylon, San Francisco would be devastated from the air the same way Chicago had been. People would die. Business and industry would crumble. Transportation centers would be destroyed, including that very airport. Rayford’s first order of business was to get Amanda off that plane and out of that airport and into the Chicago area.

Now you understand Rayford’s great frustration — an airport is about to be destroyed and there’s nothing he can do to save it.

He didn’t even want to wait for the jetway to be maneuvered out to the plane. He opened the door himself and lowered the telescoping stairs to the runway. He motioned for Amanda to hurry. Carpathia made some farewell small talk as she hurried past, and Rayford was grateful that she merely thanked the man and kept moving. Ground personnel waved at Rayford and tried to get him to pull the stairs back up. He shouted, “We have one passenger who needs to make a connection!”

Rayford embraced Amanda and whispered, “I checked with the tower. There’s a flight to Milwaukee leaving from a gate at the end of this corridor in less than 20 minutes. Make sure you’re on it.” Rayford kissed Amanda and she hurried down the steps.

What follows over the next several pages is a detailed account of Rayford’s stalling the airport crews and slow-walking his “postflight checks” to ensure that Amanda catches that flight to Milwaukee. This is interspersed with scenes of Buck’s high-speed wandering around the Chicago highways, but there’s about five pages of material here in which Jenkins attempts to build suspense around Rayford dawdling and killing time until Amanda’s flight takes off safely.

Bombers are striking cities across the continent. The destruction of San Francisco is imminent. All of those “ground personnel” and helpful folks in the control tower whom Rayford stalls over the next several pages will meet a fiery death moments after he takes off. But Jerry Jenkins decides that the best way to ratchet up tension in his thriller is to have Rayford double-checking items on his postflight list while saying things like, “Safety first.”

The tower tells Rayford that Amanda’s flight is “behind schedule about 12 minutes.” This news is meant to intensify the suspense here, but it only serves to remind readers that everything in this chapter is impossible.

Amanda is buying a last-minute ticket from San Francisco to Milwaukee. It’s a routine flight between the two cities, so it’s more or less running on schedule.

But how likely is it that routine flights into Milwaukee would be running on schedule if O’Hare International in Chicago were shut down? With that airport closed, one would expect a ripple-effect of delays and cancellations all over the country.

Particularly since O’Hare isn’t the only airport shut down at this point in our story. The airports are also closed in three other major cities. Factor that in and it seems even less plausible that Amanda could just skip up to the counter and grab a seat on a flight to Milwaukee.

Now factor in why all those airport closings have occurred. Most flights in and out of Chicago, New York, Washington and Dallas have been cancelled, delayed or re-routed. The others were incinerated by the perhaps-nuclear bombs that destroyed those cities.

In what universe could it possibly be true that such things could occur without any disruption of normal commercial flights from San Francisco to Milwaukee?

A single small conventional explosion at a single airport would likely create havoc and massive delays at airports all over the country. Here we have full-scale, perhaps-nuclear aerial assaults destroying at least four major cities and their airports with no disruption at all in passenger travel in other cities.

Or set aside the nuking of Dallas, Chicago, New York and Washington — that’s too vastly absurd to contemplate. It was just in the previous chapter that we read of Rayford’s escape from Chicago to a military air base near Dallas. During that flight there was talk of being on the alert for hostile insurgent aircraft.

I still can’t make sense of this talk of a militia air force. I can’t figure out whether this is actually part of Jenkins’ preposterous plot or if it’s only meant as Nicolae’s preposterous cover story scapegoating the militias for the assaults carried out by his air force (which we’ve been told, repeatedly, is the only remaining air force in the world). But whether there are actual enemy fighter planes in the sky or whether Nicolae is just lying to the public by pretending there are — either way that ought to mean that routine flights from San Francisco to Milwaukee would be cancelled.

Amidst all this howling absurdity and impossibility, we do see one brief glimpse of something like humanity in our hero. It’s just a tiny flicker, and he quickly suppresses it, but for just an instant as he chats with his co-pilot it occurs to Rayford that this man is about to die. He’s leaving the plane to be replaced by Rayford’s usual partner. Shortly after this young copilot exits the plane, Rayford will take off and then the bombs will fall and this man will be killed along with the ground crew now fueling his plane and everyone else at this airport and everyone else in this city.

It even half-occurs to Rayford that he might have a chance to do something or to say something that might save this man’s life — that he could warn his co-worker of what is about to happen to San Francisco.

“What’s going on?” his copilot asked. “I want to switch places with your guy as soon as I can.”

If only you knew what you were walking into, Rayford thought. “Where are you headed tonight?”

“What possible business is that of yours?” the young man said.

Rayford shrugged.

Hey, he tried, right? Make some small talk about the guy’s plans for the evening, then maybe swing the conversation around somehow to suggesting that maybe those plans should include running as fast as he could to get his loved ones and flee the city in the next half hour. But then the guy had to be all snippy and rude and disrespectful.

Shrug. Oh well. Now he’ll get what’s coming to him. He’ll soon see that he should have been more deferential and respectful to Tim LaHaye Rayford Steele.

This is one of the most pernicious running themes in these books. Extreme suffering is always deserved. People are rude or impatient, or they fail to show the proper deference for Rayford and Buck, and thus those people deserve death. Note the way the authors call attention to the copilot’s youth there — “the young man.” That’s not to heighten our sympathy for the tragic death of someone so young. It’s to reinforce the disrespect he’s showing to the older, more experienced pilot — to reinforce that he deserves to die. That means Rayford doesn’t have to care about him anymore and you, dear reader, should shrug off his death as well.

Rayford shrugged. He felt like the little Dutch boy with his thumb in the dike. He couldn’t save everyone. Could he save anyone?

He doesn’t continue thinking about this long enough to attempt to answer that question. “Could he save anyone?” No. Because he doesn’t try to.

He’s nothing like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. That boy sacrificed himself so that everyone else could flee to safety. Rayford is fleeing to safety, and he’s willing to let everyone else be sacrificed to ensure that he gets away.

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  • fraser

     THere’s also Keith laumer’s Night of Delusions in which every time the protagonist exposes the illusion he’s trapped in, there’s another illusion behind it.

  • Dash1

     Bathos is the general category but includes other things. I don’t think there is a term for the specific phenomenon of achieving a bathetic effect by setting up a climax via rhetorical triplet but making the last one the least impressive.

    I like the TV Tropes term for the specific phenomenon.

  • everstar

    When I saw that episode, there was just enough of a pause between sentences for me to turn to my friend and say, “They never use decimate correctly.”  Then when he did I threw my arms up and cheered because I am at all times ruled by my grammar pedantry.

  •  For my part, I’ve developed a strong anti-pedantry about “decimate”. Because people keep acting like “Well decimate isn’t so bad, because it’s only one tenth!”  Which would make it “still worse than any of the major things that have killed off people in history.”  “Decimate” means “Kill so many as for it to be shockingly horrific in scale,” and if you think ten percent doesn’t cut it, that’s your problem. Complaining about it strikes me as being like complaining when someone uses “Sinister” to describe an evil  right-handed person, or “Hysteria” to describe someone whose uterus hasn’t gone walkabout.

    (The Master’s use of the word was excellent, IMHO, not because he used the word in the literal sense of its latin root which isn’t actually part of the modern english definition of the word, but because he conveyed just how jaw-droppingly horrific the idea of killing off ten percent of the world population is.)

    (Also, really? You stopped to complain about the usage? I thought everyone saw that coming from a mile away. The way he hammed up saying the word? Seemed absolutely clear that he was about to make a big production out of how he literally meant one tenth.)

  • Anton_Mates

    He felt like the little Dutch boy with his thumb in the dike. He couldn’t save everyone.

    But…the little Dutch boy did save everyone.

  • Heh, your story reminds me of this strip.  

    “We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to screw up the least.”  

  • Lliira

     It’s not just post-9/11. Jenkins has to have known what a mere snowstorm at O’Hare could do to air travel across the country. Delays in O’Hare mean delays everywhere in the midwest and along the east coast. O’Hare is just so central, so important to air travel. I assume delays throw a spanner in the works out west, too, because the delay of one plane tends to have a domino effect even on people who don’t need that plane.

    Jenkins is supposedly from Chicago. This is something he knows and has experienced first-hand far more often than I had by the time he wrote these terrible books, and I experienced it multiple times by age 20, both first-hand and waiting for relatives. Forget imagining a different world, Jenkins is incapable of noticing the simplest and most central things about the world around him.

  • Lliira

    Actually, neither Jenkins nor Meyer write what they know. Meyer is as good at writing the way teenagers act as Jenkins is at writing how airports operate. They transparently never bothered to know anything, even when they experienced it themselves.

    Also, George R. R. Martin is not a good comparison. He is certainly a better stylist than either of the other mentioned writers. And that — is all.

  • everstar

    I didn’t say one-tenth wasn’t horrible; doesn’t it stem from the Romans calculating that one-tenth of the populace was the most people you could kill to make an example without causing a retaliatory uproar?   I take your point about hysteria and sinister but I’m probably still going to gripe because I’m annoying like that.  And yes, I did complain about the usage, because I’m not as perceptive as you are and didn’t see it coming.

  • Jessica_R

    I think it bounces back to how L&J don’t seem to understand that what makes people likable. The heroes have the best, most shiny toys, so they must be cool awesome guys right? Verna drives a beater, so she’s a terrible person, that makes sense right? Not realizing the bounce back that Buck and Ray drooling over the biggest bone makes them repulsive, while it actually reflects nicely on Verna that not only would she lend her car, her job is obviously more important than having this year’s model. 

  • People would die. Business and industry would crumble.
    Transportation centers would be destroyed, including that very

    At the risk of sounding juvenile: Jenkins to LaHaye: “Ohhh man, I just logistics’d all over my pants.”

    Steele is stalling the plane. Why doesn’t he just use this to his
    advantage? “Whoops, this awesome communication system just had a minor
    malfunction. Now the bomber crews don’t know when Nicolae takes off.
    Maybe they’ll withdraw – city saved! Or maybe they’ll drop the bombs in
    schedule anyway – no more Antichrist!”

    What am I saying? Making
    the most advanced phone system in the world
    malfunction? The authors cannot, emphatically
    cannot, tolerate such unthinkable horrific

  • Actually, without being familiar with the particulars, the one-tenth ratio isn’t something you could really calculate as such.  It could only be found by trial and error, a simple form of the scientific method.

    And then I thought about the implications of that….

  • With the disclaimer that it’s been years since I studied this sort of thing.

    Romans decimated their own.  A legion fucks up big and you lined them up, counted to ten, killed that person, counted to ten, killed that person, so on, until you’d killed one tenth of the legion.

    See if the remaining 90% ever fuck up like that again.  The point was to be horrifying and arbitrary.  The point was to make them more afraid of Rome than they were of anyone else.  The point was to make them realize that it could have been them.  The point was to maintain most while killing enough to make the threat extremely real to those who survived.

  • Rayford is a bit worse than that. George’s histrionic screaming at least alerted other people that there was a problem. 

     Rayford is the kind of person who, noticing a fire about to consume a building in an inferno, would quietly pack up his possessions and slip out through a side entrance, making small talk with any doomed occupants of the building he comes across but never even attempting to warn them. 

  • aunursa

    That’s true.  And Rayford would feel really, really awful about the fact that he can’t save anyone else.

  • Turcano

    Even with that elaboration, you still haven’t got to the truly horrible part.  You did not kill the 10% selected to die; you made the other 90% do it.

  • Ima Pseudonym

     GOD:  Dude, I made a point of sticking you near him.  For months.  He never had you frisked for weapons, you could come and go as you pleased, he made you his personal pilot for fucks’ sake!  You had instant access to every last plan he had and a ready-made network to try to get some sort of warning to as many people as possible, and you didn’t!  WHAT MORE DID YOU WANT, AN ANGELIC CHOIR OVERHEAD SINGING “IT’S TIME WE OFF THE ANTICHRIST” COMPLETE WITH A FIREWORKS DISPLAY AND A NEON SIGN??? HELLO??”

    Brave Sir Rayford:  But…but…Your plan…GOD:  …was for you brain trusts to do your level best to try to save as many innocent victims as you could while trying to turn the bad guy into worm food! Brave Sir Rayford:  But…that would have meant lying and MURDER and those things are SINS–GOD:  Did I fucking stutter?  What part of ANTICHRIST was not clear to you?  You could still have slipped a ton of useful info to the resistance and kept millions of people alive.  Or helped misappropriate resources for disaster relief.  Or just flat-out told people what was happening and told them how to protect themselves, that might have been helpful too.  Instead you spent all your time sitting on your ass like some sort of weird growth except for the times you were going gooey-eyed over every new toy your boss tossed your way and going “Durrh hurrh, look at me, I’m Nicolae’s Personal Pilot!’  That is, when you weren’t looking around with those great big empty eyes and thinking, “Woe is me, I can’t do anything!”  Brave Sir Rayford:  (incomprehending) but…but…Your plan…GOD:  (Sound of a very, very large head slamming into a desk over and over for several minutes.) You know what?  Screw it.  Just…screw it.  I’m sending you back…Brave Sir Rayford:  YAY!GOD:  …as a black lesbian Unitarian.  In sensible shoes.Brave Sir Rayford:  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…!

  • Ima Pseudonym

     Holy crap, Disqus ate my spacing!

  • Well, you don’t want Disqus to go hungry, do you?
    Alternatively: Disqus demands a sacrifice!

  • Emma Kennedy

    Except that IIRC the Romans didn’t line up and have every tenth man killed. I think it was a lottery system – taking balls out of a bag, if you got a white ball you were safe, if you got a black bag then you were to be beaten to death by your mates.

    Hence black balling someone. (Possible urban legend)

    Simon Scarrow has a legion decimation in one of his Eagle series.

  • Lawrence090469

    “What possible business is that of yours?” the young man said.
    This needs more discussion. No one talks like this in real life. I am a strong introvert, and I just don’t like people all that much. And I was never so young or inexperienced or clueless that I spoke this way to a co worker, much less a superior. Even if I wanted to. Is this how the authors see those who are outside their sect? Not just mistaken or uninformed, but assholes?

  • When the question is inappropriate, it’s a reasonable answer even to a co-worker; and we’ve already seen Rayford be a jerk to fellow pilots. I’m sure he has a reputation and everyone knows to shut him down fast because the most innocent answer will be used as an opening to pompous asshattery.

    I’ve got a co-worker like that. Any bit of casual conversation turns into “how I’m so much better at that than you” or “that’s such a waste of time”. Actually he’s so oblivious to social cues that he’d probably also see “What possible business is that of yours?” as an invitation to expound on it.

  • Newbiedoobiedoo

    @ross:  For my part, I’ve developed a strong anti-pedantry about “decimate”. Because people keep acting like “Well decimate isn’t so bad, because it’s only one tenth!”  Which would make it “still worse than any of the major things that have killed off people in history.”  “Decimate” means “Kill so many as for it to be shockingly horrific in scale,” and if you think ten percent doesn’t cut it, that’s your problem. Complaining about it strikes me as being like complaining when someone uses “Sinister” to describe an evil  right-handed person, or “Hysteria” to describe someone whose uterus hasn’t gone walkabout@rraszewski:disqus .

    Garfield the cat: You carried the Black Death. As I recall, half of Europe died.

    <Mouse: Picky, picky, picky.

  • “Sinister” is derived from a word for a left-handed person, by the way.


    (R) – rectus
    (S) – sinister

    as identification of enantiomers in organic chemistry.

  • P J Evans

     I believe it’s possible to  be sinister, gauche, and left-handed all at the same time, in descending order of difficulty.

  • Staggered and eclipsed are all by their lonesome. :P

  • everstar

    Right, that’s what Ross is calling me on: if I were being consistently pedantic, I’d be annoyed by someone describing a right-handed person with shady motivations as sinister because etymologically speaking they should be left-handed.  Although in these modern times, I daresay some would take more offense at being described as rectus.

  • Caravelle

     … I know nothing on the subject beyond what one can learn reading Asterix, but wouldn’t it have been less of an optimally-calculated number and more a feature of the Roman army really liking tens, to a point only rivalled by Revolutionary France ? That’s what the whole “Decurion”, “Centurion” thing was about, right ?

  • I’d like to see what a good science fiction writer could have done with this scenario, instead of a hack who thinks phones are Cool.

  • Persia

     And don’t forget, the Rapture was not that long ago. All those consequences continue to be not so bad.

  • The Other Weirdo

     “The Harvest”? Is this some new Buffy the Vampire Slayer story line?

  • The strange thing is… all Rayford had to do is refuse to take off!  Just take your hands off the wheel, or better yet pull the switch that dumps all the fuel.  Nicholae has to either call off the bombing, or die with the rest of them. 

    He can do better than that without outward disobedience.  Soon after takeoff, declare “We’ve got a warning light up here in the cockpit.  We’re going to have to circle around and land again…”