TF: A planned vacation

TF: A planned vacation November 14, 2011

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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