Chapter One – Last Days for Nuworld
This is a rather odd chapter title, especially considering that we still have two full books to go before we reach the “last days”.
Josh and Sarah complain. They’re very tired and it feels like they’re accomplishing nothing. Morris lets us know that Sarah’s fifteen. Sarah was fourteen when they arrived in Nuworld. They’ve been here for two years. I think math, and consistency, are not Morris’ strong points.
A page of backstory later, they continue talking about how tired they are. See, after being sent on so many missions for Goel, they’re getting worn down to the ragged edge. The only problem with this is that Morris has never mentioned the Sociopaths being exhausted or even remotely tired before now. It’s almost as if he just randomly invented a new symptom because it would make this book easier to write with no regard for the past novels. But Morris would never do something like that, would he?
They head back in to the house they’ve been living in, and we meet each of the Sociopaths in turn:
Jake had a New York City accent (page 9)
There has never before been a reference to his accent.
…the tallest boy, a handsome, athletic seventeen-year-old named Dave Cooper (page 9)
Morris has mentioned frequently that Reb is the tallest.
At fifteen, Abbey had (page 10)
Abbey is sixteen. From the last book:
“I was sixteen yesterday,” she said (page 164).
I’d say something witty about inconsistencies, but I’m honestly running out. This kind of thing is really just sad.
[Reb] was a true Southerner from the hills of Arkansas originally, who was still fighting the Civil War (page 10).
Right. So either Morris means that Reb is still fighting the Civil War, making me question Reb’s sanity, or he means that true Southerners are still fighting the Civil War, which makes me question his sanity.
The Sociopaths discuss whether or not redheads are mean [?]. Reb says that he wants to go on another adventure, which makes everyone else groan. Jake, meanwhile, is working on an invention, but won’t tell them what it is until it’s done, because:
“I’ve taken enough ribbing from you about my inventions” (page 11).
The other Sociopaths almost never make fun of Jake’s inventions. This is possibly because he rarely invents things.
Suddenly Goel appears. Everyone jumps up and says hello. Sarah heads off to heat up some apple cider. And the quotes just keep on coming:
Abbey could not cook an egg without ruining it (page 11).
Then why does she and Sarah always do all the cooking?
Goel talks like a politician for a bit – about how the going is rough, and he has to rely on his most faithful servants, blah blah blah. He then looks into their eyes and sees their minds and it’s very disconcerting :
Josh, like every other boy and every girl, had a secret life that he would not care to see paraded before everyone’s gaze (page 12).
Wow. Just….wow. I bet he does. I bet it involves Sarah, Jake, and lots of lubricant. (I say Jake because he’s kinda the odd man out. Josh has Sarah, Dave has Abbey, Reb has Token…and then there’s Jake. Poor guy).
Later, Sarah fixes supper. Are they a group in hiding from the all-powerful, all-pervasive government? Why yes they are. Do they have steak to eat? Why yes they do, and potatoes, and a salad, and even some fresh milk.
Afterwards, Goel tells them about their mission. Some of his servants have been disappearing. They need to find them and bring them back. He tells them that he’s going to send them a helper. They’ll meet someone who will say “The stars are doing their great dance”, at which point they should reply “Yes, and every tree will sing”. That’s the guy they should trust. Remember this, because it’s important.
Goel says that the last days are upon Nuworld, and this might be their last mission before the battle. It won’t be. He finishes up by saying “Remember the signs”. That phrase sounds vaguely familiar – from some Christian youth fantasy series about a world that regular kids were thrust into and encountered a Christ-like figure. Oh, right, that’s Aslan.
The Sociopaths spend several days trying to figure out a strategy. Goel has given them a list of everyone who’s disappeared and where they’ve disappeared from. That’s it. But the Sociopaths are stumped. They can’t find any helpful clues. Days pass. It’s exhausting. They begin to reach the ragged edge of insanity. And then…
It was Jake who finally noticed something common to most of the names (page 17).
Jake has a map. He put down a little X where everyone disappeared. All of the X’s are around a little town called Acton. Yes. It took them a week to figure out that every single person disappeared from the exact same place. This is something that should take roughly ten minutes to figure out, with time out for writer’s cramp.
The Sociopaths decide to go to Acton. They make ready. Morris talks about how travel is dangerous – the land is full of marauding outlaws. We’ve never encountered any outlaws or heard about them before. He also mentions the Sanhedrin are still looking for them, and they’re under the command of Elmas, the Dark Lord’s Chief Sorcerer. I was under the impression that A) Elmas was dead, and B) he was the Chief Interrogator. It’s a moot point, because we’re never going to see Elmas again.
When they arrive in Acton Josh suggests they split up, because the Sanhedrin are looking for the Seven Sociopaths, and if they come in together they’ll be caught for sure. Which is actually a good plan, except they’ve never done this before and never had a problem with traveling together like that.
The Sociopaths enter Acton slowly, one by one. Josh waits until last. He disguises himself as a peasant, muddies up his face, and heads into an inn. The innkeeper has a room for him to stay for a week. Josh pays up with money that he somehow has, and sits, sipping beer, pretending to enjoy it, and talking to the innkeeper. The innkeeper talks about how he used to have lots of customers and now he hardly has any. Josh asks why and the innkeeper clams up.
The next day he goes to a cobbler to get his boot fixed, and asks the cobbler if he knows anything about a woman who disappeared. The cobbler doesn’t. Josh notices that the cobbler’s voice sounds a little off and his eyes look vacant. He gets the same feeling for the rest of the day about everyone he meets.
Later, he runs into Sarah. She, Dave, and Jake have all found nothing. Sarah tells Josh that he’s not acting like himself. Which isn’t true – Josh is acting fairly normal. Josh says he wishes his father were here. This is the first time he’s wished this since his father died. Unfortunately, this is not in here because it’s an actual human emotion that a fourteen-year-old would feel after watching his father die in his arms. It’s here because the plot demands it.
Josh walks around and talks to the different residents of Acton and learns nothing. It’s miserable. He begins to reached the ragged edge again. He stops taking care of himself because there’s no point. He forgets to eat and begins losing weight. Yes. He’s been trying to find some vanished people for about a week and he’s already starting to lose his grip on his sanity. Lest we forget, this is the leader of the group that Goel has chosen to restore peace and harmony to Nuworld.
One day he gets a drink at a pump and spits it out because the water tastes so disgusting. A voice tells him that the water is terrible. A cheerful man introduces himself as Oliver and invites Josh into an inn for a drink. They go in and sip some cider and make small talk and Oliver says “The stars are doing their great dance”. Josh is ecstatic and gives the countersign.
They talk. Oliver says that he’s an inventor and has been working on some pretty friggin’ sweet things. Josh asks what and Oliver says that it’s bad luck to talk about things before they’re finished. He tells Josh to say that he works for him, and then no one will be suspicious as to why they’re hanging out. Josh asks him to talk about some of his smaller inventions. So Oliver begins talking about television, which used to exist back in Oldworld [!]. This is odd, because thus far no one besides Goel and Crusoe have any idea what life was like in Oldworld. Now we discover that, remarkably, some knowledge has been carried on, we’ve just never encountered it in the previous eight books.
Oliver says that he’s invented something like a combination of a book, a television, and a docudrama. Which is an absolutely terrible example, when what he’s basically invented is a virtual reality system that lets you experience things like you were actually there. Mostly, it’s like the Imagination Station from Adventures in Odyssey, which was a virtual-reality device that allowed people to relive events from books, history, and usually the Bible. But what are the odds that Morris would appropriate a device from a Christian radio program and use it in his own book?
Of course, this doesn’t exactly make sense, as this country still hasn’t even invented gunpowder or cars and no one has any electricity. And yet somehow this man has invented a virtual reality chamber that works better than anything we have in 2009, and no one knows about it. The Dark Lord would be very interested in the military possibilities of computer technology. And yet he’s still remained under the radar.
They head back to Oliver’s place and into a room with a giant machine with lots of dials and switches. Oliver asks if Josh knows the book A Tale of Two Cities. Josh says he does and asks if he can see the final scene. Oliver gives him something to drink and puts on a headpiece, and Josh drifts away. Suddenly he’s there, walking along the cart that takes Sydney Carton to the guillotine. He exchanges a few pleasantries with Sydney, and finally turns away, unable to watch the execution. Which kinda defeats the purpose of going there and watching things, IMHO.
He wakes up and is delighted. He also notices that he feels extremely relaxed and calm. Oliver mentions that most of the villagers come in and use his machine as well. For some reason, Josh fails to make the subtle connection that most of the villagers are using a machine that messes with their minds and most of the villagers have turned into zombies.
Oliver says that he should tell the other Sociopaths to stop by so he can talk to them, so they can work on finding the missing people. Josh agrees and then asks to use the virtual reality machine (which, from here on out, I’ll refer to as the Plot Device) again. Oliver agrees. Josh wants to go into The Call of the Wild, which, conveniently, Oliver has.