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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