The following is excerpted from Tom Flynn’s third science-fiction novel, the antireligious black-comedy technothriller Behold, He Said (Double Dragon Publishing, November 2018). It is the belated sequel to his earlier novels Galactic Rapture (2000) (being reissued as Messiah Games) and Nothing Sacred (2004) (also being reissued, both by Double Dragon).
In a future not unlike Star Trek’s, only much worse-governed, oafish Mormon “trideevangelist” Alrue Latier has been imprisoned in a punitorium on the planet Bohrkk for his misdeeds in the previous novels. Incarcerated with him are five of his plural wives: Zuzenah (the elder wife), Nataleah, Constance, Lupida, and Abigayl (the youngest wife, age seven—it’s complicated). They have a visitor: Meryam Mayishimu, a Spectator—a documentarian whose body contains apparatus to record her complete sensory field. She is interviewing the Latiers about their unique penal situation.
A freakish energy pulse destroys the punitorium. Only the Latiers and Mayishimu survive. They trek across Bohrkk’s harsh surface, where the native life cannot nourish them because of its chirality: it evolved with amino acids twisting in the opposite direction from the way they do in Earth life. Mayishimu continues recording in hope that someone, someday will view the survivors’ story.
The ruling Confetory predictably having sent no rescue ship to investigate the punitorium disaster, the Latiers expect a long stay on Bohrkk. They contact The People, a tribe of semi-feudal humans. Blatantly violating Confetory noninterference codes, Alrue Latier schemes to take over The People’s settlement and make a Mormon village of it. But first he must pass the locals’ initiation, a “Wisdom Quest.” He must venture into the wilderness with only a native guide (and an inexplicably sophisticated explosive device); find a svadi, what on Bohrkk passes for a moose; and, well, blow it up.
Mormon theological and cultural peculiarities referenced in the excerpt are genuine. (Even this: Prior to his 1833 proclamation of the “Word of Wisdom,” forbidding Mormons coffee and alcohol and urging the sparing use of meat, church founder Joseph Smith led the faithful in consuming wine and cursing their enemies.) The Book of Ether is a component of the Book of Mormon.
As for the title: Raspberry pretzel salad was a dish popular among twentieth-century Utah Mormons. Featuring pretzels, raspberry gelatin, and whipped topping, it was more pie than salad. Yet unlike many characteristically Mormon foods of the period, it managed not to include marshmallows.
October 24, 2367 (not that anyone still tells time that way)
Alrue Latier and his senior wife nestled like spoons, his chest against her back, his left arm around her waist. They lay in near darkness in her sleeping room, clad only in their temple garments, listening to each other’s breathing. Alrue whispered, “Were you satisfied, wife of my youth?”
“As always,” she said quietly, “by the gift and power of God.” She reached up, clasping his left hand in her right. “Something burdens you, my husband.”
“How can you tell?”
“You’re still awake.”
He edged closer, nuzzling his chin against her shoulder. “I just wanted to declare how sorry I am.”
“Sorry? For what?”
“Punitorium life, trudging through the wilderness, lodging among The People—verily, it’s not what you had the right to expect when we married. I regret my incapacity to have shown you better.”
“Regret, Alrue? You?” Wriggling free of his grasp, she rolled over to face him. “What brings forth this melancholy?”
He pressed his face against the flesh of her neck. “Soon I must go on my Quest. They say—they say—”
She pulled back to look in his eyes. “They say what?”
“Some people don’t come back.”
She wrapped her fleshy arms about him. “You will come back. You always have. I’ve learned that yea, your resilience is as constant as the sun.” They lay in silence, savoring the moist warmth of one another’s breath. “Rely on this, O my husband. Life is not done with either of us.”
A minute passed. Two. Alrue was still awake.
“A question has been troubling me,” Zuzenah whispered.
“Ask me, and I will nourish your mind with things pertaining to righteousness.”
“Must you go through with this Wisdom Quest?”
“I see no alternative.” He rolled onto his back. Her fingers sought his. “Mind you, I have no enthusiasm for traipsing around the countryside on a hunting expedition, for facing hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and all manner of afflictions of every kind. But there’s been no sign of rescue by the Confetory, so I think we must prepare for a long sojourn here. Under the circumstances, that means preparing by The People’s rules.”
“That is … what you think,” she said uncertainly.
Her fingers tightened. “What you think, not what you know. You’ve heard nothing from the Lord?”
Alrue shook his head. “No commandment, no revelation. But neither have I heard a still small voice urging me away from the path my mind thinks best.”
“So you’re content to kill the moose,” she whispered disapprovingly.
“I wouldn’t say I’m content, but I shall do it because I must.” He turned his face toward her. “By the self-sacrifice of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, woman, when the Lord God of Hosts freed us from that punitorium by the power of His mighty arm, He slew ten thousand humans—verily, the selfsame number that fell with Gidgiddonah in his final battle against the Lamanites—and you’re worrying about a moose?”
“The Lord slew those people, and a terrible thing that was; but I do not claim to understand his ways,” she replied. “But you will be the one blowing up that moose. Do you not fear staining your soul?”
“Actually, no. But please, dearest wife, tell me why you do.”
“The Word of Wisdom urges us to eat meat only during winter or famine, and even then to hunt only for what we must eat.”
“Everyone knows that’s but a suggestion. Not like the prohibition on alcohol—”
“Which you ignore.”
“I follow Joseph Smith’s example. But the Word of Wisdom also prohibits using tobacco, a commandment I follow to the letter.”
“Perhaps that was a more impressive sacrifice in the time of the first Saints,” Zuzenah mused. “What is ‘tobacco,’ anyway? All right, I’ll grant that the Word of Wisdom offers mixed guidance. But what of Joseph Smith’s teaching that humans, plants, and animals—even the very world we tread—were created spiritually long before God created them physically?”
Alrue frowned. “Where are you heading with this, dear Zuzenah?”
“We are taught that every animal has a soul, my husband,” she said intensely. “This is no time of famine; we don’t require that moose’s meat to live. You ought not kill an ensouled creature just to pass some bloodthirsty tribal test.”
“I do this for you, my darling. For you and Nataleah and Constance and Lupida and Abigayl, and for Meryam, and for me as well. If one of God’s creatures must die to secure our future among The People, I think we must trust God to do right by the creature’s soul.”
“Again, that is what you think,” she said in a neutral tone. Accusation trickled beneath her words like waters tunneling beneath ice.
“If my logic does not satisfy you, perhaps scripture will,” Alrue said. “The Book of Ether describes the beasts that walked the land: horses, asses, elephants, cureloms, cumoms. And what was the most important thing the writer of this holy book could have told posterity about these creatures?”
“What cureloms and cumoms were?”
“No, it was that they were all ‘useful to man.’” He gripped her hands in his. “The moose I blow up will be supremely useful to us, my darling—and I pledge you, I will pray for its soul.”
Zuzenah’s eyes studied his. “Still and all, my husband, ‘tis perilous to proceed by human wisdom alone.”
He nodded. “May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart.”
“Pray for guidance, Alrue,” she implored. “Open your mind and soul to God’s will.”
Alrue drew a sharp breath. His grip failed.
He rolled onto his back, arms still drawn up, eyes wide open.
Fumbling, Zuzenah struck up the simple lantern on the unfinished bedside table. She stared down at him, then rushed into the small hallway. “Everyone, come swiftly. He’s having a revelation!”
* * *
Five minutes later, Alrue raised his head. Zuzenah’s sleeping room was brightly illuminated. All the wives were present, each with her lantern. Meryam was there too. A moment’s scrutiny of her eyes told him she was recording.
In an instant Alrue sat up, back straight, chin extended: the pose that in the old days, his tridee followers had always told his pollsters they considered his most prophetic. “Behold,” he declared, “the Lord made plain to me his will; no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him.”
As one, the wives dropped to their knees. The four junior wives clasped their hands in devotion; Zuzenah fastened hers around Alrue’s right forearm. “Praise my God all the day long,” she cried.
“It’s night,” Nataleah whispered.
Alrue swung his legs off the bed. He stood facing the kneeling Zuzenah—and, just coincidentally, presenting a commanding three-quarter profile to Meryam’s recording gaze. “Fear not, first of my wives. The Lord has made all clear.” He stood, taking her hands in one of his. The other hand he raised, palm out, index finger extended in a gesture of instruction. “You were correct, my dearest. Human beings, plants, animals, even the world, were spiritually created and have souls. But ‘the world’ means not this planet, not Bohrkk—it means the Earth.”
“Terra?” Zuzenah breathed.
Alrue nodded regally. “One of many worlds where God brought forth living things, but the only world on which He created humans. Animals that arose on Terra have souls because they are part of the act of creation that included us. Animals native to other worlds are unensouled, and we may kill them at need. So saith the Lord of Hosts.”
Alrue sat back on the bed. Zuzenah began slowly to knit her brow.
Alrue gazed on her beatifically. “You are still vexed, my love?”
“My husband, I must speak frankly.”
He nodded. “Proceed.”
“You are the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to whom the Lord speaks when it suits His purposes,” she began. “Still, some revelations can seem, um, more convenient than others.”
“Your soul is uneasy,” Alrue said gently. “Let me explain as God explained to me.”
“What is true of animals from Terra?” Alrue asked the whole room. “What is true about animals that arose on Terra that is not true of those that evolved on other worlds?”
Nataleah piped up. “We can eat them.”
“We can eat svadi moose,” Alrue pointed out. “But if we eat nothing but svadi moose, we’ll starve.”
“Left-handed chirality!” Abigayl yelped.
“Ah yes, chirality,” Alrue said thoughtfully. “So animals from Terra are different because if we eat them, they will nourish us.” He stood again, reaching down to cradle Zuzenah’s round face. “And here, behold, the wisdom and foresight of God shineth forth in glory. God revealed to me this evening that only Terran animals have souls, and that troubled you. But it was foreshadowed in the centuries-old Word of Wisdom principle of hunting only to eat.”
“It … was?” Zuzenah whispered, baffled.
“It’s obvious that such a principle is only meaningful with regard to animals whose meat has the power to nourish us. So from the very moment Joseph Smith proclaimed the Word of Wisdom, it encompassed only animals from Terra’s tree of life. Aside from God—and Joseph Smith, I suppose—no one on nineteenth-century Terra knew there were animal species on other worlds. Yet the Word of Wisdom’s logic already excluded them.” He looked around the room. “Who knows why?”
“It tells us that if we must chase and kill one of God’s creatures, we should make sure its meat is not wasted,” Abigayl said proudly. “That’s not an issue if the animal’s meat cannot nourish us. Nor can such meat tempt us into wrongdoing.”
Alrue nodded, beaming, and returned his gaze to Zuzenah, whose face still rested in his hands. “So in fact, my revelation of this evening establishes very little that is new. On the contrary, it shows us that God in His wisdom followed the same standard in deciding which living things to ensoul that He followed in deciding which ones He would make nourishing for humans—the same standard He practiced at the foundation of the world, the same standard He built into a doctrine He revealed to Joseph Smith in 1833 Terran local. So you see, dearest Zuzenah? If circumstances compel me to kill one of this world’s creatures, there is nothing in God’s law or Mormon teaching to say I shouldn’t.”
Zuzenah’s eyes grew saucer-wide. “O my husband, can you ever accept my apology?”
Alrue gave his best I-love-the-whole-world smile. “It doesn’t matter whether I accept your apology, wife of my youth. It matters whether God does.” He tilted his head like a dog expressing mild confusion—or perhaps like a prophet, seer, and revelator listening for that still small voice. A moment later, he nodded. “He says he does.”