Anyway, I feel I must apologize for misleading you. Apparently I was wrong about the number of kids staying behind at the school while Vicki and Pete go around the country. I'd like to say in my defense though that since only the core members of the YTF have any discernable personality traits, you can forgive me for losing track of the other members who have none. Anyway, the people at the school are Mark, Darrion, Tolan, Lenore, Melinda, Janie, and Charlie.
Basically Mark is baffled by the fact that Charlie wasn't stung by the demon locusts even though he's an unbeliever. One of the oft-heard questions in response to Ellanjay's theology is "What about the profoundly retarded?" and they do answer it, saying that if he was disabled, he would have been taken in the Rapture. I applaud them for trying to answer that conundrum even though letting the profoundly retarded raises a good deal more questions (like what about those living in the Amazon rainforest who have never heard of Christ or what about the Indians who died before Europeans came to the Americas?), but the answer they give to why Charlie was unstung really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Basically they conclude that Zod spared him because Charlie was close to accepting him (and eventually does at the end of the chapter), but if that's the case, then why not Melinda? As my faithful readers would recall, she too, was on the fence about this whole God thing, wanting to believe but at the same time, not wanting to treat God like some holy concierge whose job is to pull you out of trouble, which might I add is a healthier attitude towards God than demonstrated by the YTF. In fact, I'm sure my faithful readers will be able to point out that the explanation as to why Zod spared Charlie makes little if any sense.
So Judd and Lionel along with Sam and Nada are walking around New Babylon. Naturally, we only get a few sentences of description, so the gleaming city of the anti-Christ might as well be a strip mall in Dallas for all we know, but given Ellanjay's tin ear for writing, maybe I should be grateful.
There's really not much interesting going on, just a lot of walking around, but we do get this interesting statement from Lionel:
“I’d rather live in a tent than work for Nicolae Carpathia,” Lionel said.
I am pointing it out because it makes me wonder what he'd think of Our Buck and St. Rayford both of whom have cozy gigs working for the embodiment of all evil. Supposedly they're double agents or something martyrrific like that but we never actually see them do anything like see to it that important orders get "lost" in the tangled channels of bureaucracy or smuggle prisoners to freedom or anything remotely fitting the description of a double agent. Albert Goering and Oskar Schindler shake their heads in dismay.
Maybe you're tired of me picking apart one line over and over again, but I can't help but wonder if this is the Ghostwriter making an anonymous dig at Ellanjay's self-inserts. Can't say I blame them: Bucky and Rayford are definitely among the most loathsome of characters.
The section with Judd ends with him meeting up with Pavel who says that God is healing him.
As for what's going on with Vicki, not much really. She joins up with the other followers in the cave, who, recognizing her innate superiority because she's a main character, give her the floor and she speaks. Those of you who are dreading a long sermon, relax. Basically all she does is be passionate and sincere and say stuff that the believers already know: that they're in the middle of a great soul harvest.
Next chapter, we cut back to Judd and we get to hear Nicky Bvumba's speech, complete with fake CGI-ed locust, about the latest disaster. Naturally the YTF snigger about it the entire time and while I know I'm supposed to see Nicky Pare as the embodiment of all evil, he feels like a stuffed shirt, about as terrifying as wet cardboard painted lime green. It makes me think of Christopher Paolini's Eragon series in which there's constant talk about how eeevil the Big Bad, Galbatorix, is but he's hardly if ever on screen and hardly if ever really does anything. In fact, given that Nicky has managed to maintain the communications and food delivery infrastructure despite several acts of Zod back to back, I'm quite impressed with him.
Anyway, as you probably guessed about Nicky's speech, for a great orator, it's quite dull though it does contain several cases of Strawman Has A Point, for those into TV Tropes.
“We must not let a few bugs steal our commitment to our new world,” Nicolae continued. “There will be those who will say this is a sign from the heavens. We are bad people who need to be punished.
“I ask you, what kind of god would punish people for trying to do the best they can? We have survived many disasters. It is time to put aside this silly talk and move ahead.
“We hold our own destiny in our hands. Our plans of peace and rebuilding will continue. We will unite. I have plans for good for all citizens, and I will not rest until they become a reality.”
Again, twenty books in and Ellanjay still have yet to come up with a good answer to "How can Zod trying to kill us repeatedly be a sign of his love?"
Meanwhile, in the caves, a guy named Greg Sowers introduces himself and tells his conversion story about how he knew a lot of verses, even got ribbons for knowing so many, but didn't really know Zod. In his words:
“Knowing verses about God doesn’t make you a believer in him,” Greg said. “I fooled a lot of people. I’d live one way at school and with my friends, then clean up my act on Sundays and Wednesday nights. I even married the preacher’s daughter.”
“You’re kidding,” Vicki said.
Greg shook his head. “I used to sit with her dad and talk about the Bible till late at night. I could really talk about God, but I didn’t know him.”
“How did your wife find out you weren’t a true Christian?”
“She never did,” Greg said. “I was such a good liar. I’d come home late without an excuse and blame her for being suspicious.”
Can't help but wonder just how good a liar he could have been if his RTC wife couldn't pick up on the disconnect between his words and his actions, but then again, like all good RTC women, she probably just stayed in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, and didn't worry her silly little head with too many questions.
Greg shook his head. “I was mad at God. Cussed him out. Then I came to my senses. I didn’t have a choice. It was either ask God to forgive me or wind up following the devil’s guy.” Greg pointed to his forehead. “You can see what I chose.”
Y'know there's always option three: refuse to follow either because what's the point of following Zod if, like a tantrum-prone two-year-old, he can just change the rules in the middle of the game and make your life Hell just for funsies.
I can't help but think of the Harry Potter series. Harry ultimately defeats Voldemort, not because he's got a bigger, more powerful wand, but because Voldemort is so obsessed with power at any costs that he overlooks even greater forces like love. That's the trouble with the LB-verse: Zod doesn't win because he is fundamentally different from the anti-Christ and is able to use his devices against him; he wins because he has the bigger gun.
The chapter ends with Vick reading Revelation 9. Apparently the sixth judgment, the one where an army of 200 million on horses slaughter one-third of the population, is coming up. I know the whole horses thing is "Because the Bible says so!" but I can't help but wonder if the earth would even be able to field such a large army after several acts of Zod back-to-back.