In the Matter of: Instrument of God is a web-published comedy book by Paul Robinson, which followed from In The Manner of: The Gatekeeper: The Gate Contracts. Both of which were published on the creator's blog; paul-robinson.us.
Instrument is the sequel to Gatekeeper, with the same characters. It's a story about an Afterlife, operated in a computer system where everyone knows they're dead and they are aware they are inside of a computer system.
The protagonist is Supervisor 246, lead supervisor of the Welcoming Department. Supporting characters include David, Supervisor 246's boss; George, the Chairman of the Afterlife who is effectively God; Joan, the police watch commander and one of 246's girlfriends; Diane, one of the members of the Board of Directors of the Afterlife; Arlene, a TV reporter who brings 246 onto a TV show where a fight breaks out; Marilyn, who becomes (heavily disliked) Administrator of the Welcoming Department after 246's friend Tom decides to go back to earth; and Andrea, the only woman (and only person) who ever beat 246 in a contest, and does so four times.
Through the story, Supervisor 246 ends up being reincarnated out of the afterlife into another universe, crosses into a third, back into his own, dies, is re-reincarnated along with a friend, is killed by the friend who then blows up a hotel room to commit suicide, is visited by another friend who temporarily dies, plus waits for the death of his best friend who was a man but decided to go back to earth and be born as a woman so that when he died he could have regular sex with his friend Supervisor 246, who isn't into gay sex.
Tropes used by the book include:
- Afterlife Welcome: The freshly-dead person sees a tunnel of light, where their former friends can watch them when they arrive. We get to see how several people, including Supervisor 246, are welcomed into the Afterlife. In fact,they have a whole government department, the Welcoming Department, dedicated to this function.
- All Are Equal in Death: "Now, I want you to also understand that, whatever you did on earth, whether you were the nicest religious person who almost had a halo, or the worst and most horrible slime who sold drugs to other women in exchange for allowing them to let you rent their kids out to child molesters and sell them to snuff film makers, as far as I’m concerned when you died, everything you did on earth died with you. You start over with a clean slate here."
- All of Them: David gets a call telling him some supervisors have quit in protest over Administrator Marilyn's treatment of Supervisor 246. "How many? All of them? ... Oh shit, that's bad." All 4,306 of them, which means the courts grind to a halt and they can't handle disputes. Actually, it's only 4,305, which is worse than all of them quitting. One supervisor didn't quit, that way Marilyn can't simply replace everyone.
- Alphabet News Network: 246: Did you hear about that incident a few months ago at the Picketing Zone near the Main Entrance? Akers: Yeah, the riot, I saw it on ANN, the Afterlife News Network.
- Amusement Park of Doom: "If you go through this door, you will die."
- Anatomically Impossible Sex: "We have fun in ways I’d never have dreamed of trying on earth because I’d probably hurt a woman for real if I did them there. One time [his primary girlfriend] tried bending over backwards to see if it could be done, we could do it but it was weird and we didn’t do it again, but we could never have done it on earth because it would have broken her spine and probably cracked a couple of ribs."
- And This Is for...:
- Another man picks up a chocolate cream pie, hurls it at the picture, and says, "Tom, this is for you, you son-of-a-bitch." Gobs of chocolate goo fall off the picture and onto the floor. A woman picks up two wormy apples, throws them at the picture, and says, "This is for not telling us you decided to live yourself, asshole!" The worms crawl around and start eating pieces of the other apples. When they run out of apple pieces, they begin to cannibalize each other. The last remaining worm eats its own tail and vanishes.
- "So I haul off, kick him in the kneecap to distract him, then when he's screaming in pain, I bust him one with a fist to the nuts, saying 'This is for Luann!' Then I kicked him in the face."
- Artificial Afterlife: The world 246 inhabits is operated inside of a computer system, and the appearance is much like a clone of earth, more-or-less similar to any urban center in any ordinary city in the real world, minus the dirt and slums (unless someone goes to the trouble to add them, like they did in the Frontier) along with popular virtual world technology such as teleporters, and jump tubes (like an elevator, only you zoom up or down very fast, and have a very gentle landing at the end.)
- Auto Erotica: 246 and Ellen have sex in a limousine.
- Bad Guy Bar: "It was the typical bar like you'd find on earth, with big guys looking like bikers."
- Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Marilyn, the deputy Administrator and later Administrator of the Welcoming Department is initially a vile boss. But it's okay, she's only like that because she was molested as a child! Once she gets some Intimate Psychotherapy, she's much more reasonable. Somehow. See also Sugar-and-Ice Personality below.
- Bar Brawl: "Two guys in the back were beating the crap out of each other, and nobody was noticing."
- Berserk Button: If a person who is dead in the Afterlife decides to go back to earth to be born again, that's being "recycled." If they decide to be reborn in the opposite sex, that's called "getting a Real Sex Change." Do not be stupid and ask Supervisor 246 when someone will be back from getting a real sex change. He will know you're so cluelessly ignorant he might punch your lights out.
- Big Red Button: "I didn’t know what to do, and I saw this great big red button marked ‘PANIC’ that said, ‘In Emergency Press This Button.’ So I did and that’s when everyone showed up.”
- Bury Your Gays / Hide Your Lesbians: Averted. When Supervisor 246, who is lead (heterosexual) male supervisor, becomes Department Administrator, he calls in the lead gay supervisor and the lead lesbian supervisor and asks both of them to handle his old position temporarily until he can get a replacement. The implication is both of them have essentially the same status as he did when he was a supervisor.
- By "No", I Mean "Yes": From The Sign By the Right of the Road: There is no law except the Law of the Jungle in the Frontier, anyone may do anything to anyone out there. Rule #1 doesn’t apply there, there are no rules. Well, there is one rule. The Rule of Promise.
- Carry the One: Doreen is pointing out to David that Supervisor 246 didn't make him pay 246 five favors for the service he performed, but five gross favors:Doreen: A lot of people would probably have done this for free just to play at it. Maybe someone might have thought it was worth a favor, especially if you didn’t know how. But he had you give him five gross favors. Five times a gross, 144. Five times 4 is twenty... carry the two... Seven hundred and twenty favors.
- Caught with Your Pants Down: The editor of a major newspaper recommends in an editorial retroactive punishment for Barney the rapist: since he was given a sex change, then also be a (now female) sex slave servicing hundreds of guys. since no law prohibits it. This wanton encouragment of violating a person's civil rights infuriates 246: "I can’t believe this article. I feel like I’ve been caught with my pants down, and not when it’s with a woman, either!"
- Colon Cancer: The full title of the first book is In The Manner of: The Gatekeeper: The Gate Contracts.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Andrea is in the prisoner law library and runs into Barney the rapist. She taunts him into agreeing to fight her, whereupon she proceeds to beat the tar out of him.
- Deadpan Snarker:Marilyn: There you are! Do you know how much of an embarrassment you are today?
246: Not yet, but I have this very strong suspicion you are about to tell me.
- Dead to Begin With:Leroy: Are you trying to tell me that I'm fucking dead?
246: No I'm not. I'm telling you that you're fucking dead.
- Death Takes a Holiday: "If the queue backups get too much, people on earth stop dying. Someone is bound to notice."
- Did You Just Have Sex?: 246 tells about his first time, and how after they finish and he's sitting in the living room feeling her up afterwards, her boyfriend knocks on the front door. So 246 decides to leave. As he tries to walk out, the boyfriend asks this, in the form "Did you just fuck her?".
- Doorstopper - 167 chapters, over 700 pages.
- Easy Sex Change:
- The woman who causes the female orgasm meter to explode was born a man, but was transgender. When he becomes a woman after he dies, she is now a very happy (and very boy-crazy) woman who has no sex hangups.
- Barney the rapist is ordered to have his sex changed into a woman as a result of his conviction, and basically happens as soon as the judge issues the order to Central Computer.
- Maria comes back after dying, and is literally a heterosexual bisexual, being able to choose to change from female (where she has sex with men only) to male (where he has sex with women only) at will.
- Everybody Has Lots of Sex: There are no diseases and women can't get pregnant in the Afterlife: 246 smiled. “We’ve got all of eternity, you know of anything better to do?" Later, 246, as a judge in court, says to an accused, “Son, around here most everyone has a lot of sex with many different people. Don’t nobody make no mind about it. We don’t have marriage rules here and you can’t stop someone else from having sex if they want to. All you can do is say you won’t have it with them."
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: David: I have a question. What does ‘defenestrate’ mean? 246: Exactly what I did. To throw [someone] out a window.
- Explosive Instrumentation: The female orgasm meter.
- "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner - "Whomever you are, kill me right now before I fucking sue you."
- Finishing Each Other's Sentences - A woman has sex with a guy, and mentions over the phone how "he looked so happy, like, well, you know..." and 246 and Joan do know, since they're dead in an afterlife, they both simultaneously finish the punch line, "like he'd died and gone to heaven!"
- 555: When asked what his Social Security Number was when he was alive, 246 intentionally gives out the number 078-05-1120 (to see if the other person recognizes it), the number that was retired by Social Security after Woolworth's used it as an example in their wallets.
- God of the Dead: Dr. George Green, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Afterlife. Considered either a Benevolent Dictator (as 246 says) or an Absolute Despot (as George himself says), because he can do anything possible within the Afterlife, but...Wilfred: I guess I’m a little surprised that there really is someone, a single person actually running this place.George: Running this place? Are you kidding? Do you think I want to spend my time running other people’s deaths? I have lots more important and fun things to do. I figure I want to stay out of the way unless something goes wrong or there’s something serious that needs fixing.
- The Grim Reaper - "Calm down, Grim, you didn't do anything wrong."
- Hand Signals:
- When a female and the male welcomer she was with have an issue settled and would otherwise go back to his room to have sex, 246 waves his hands at them, saying "Go on, go back to having fun, scoot!"
- When some people in the Frontier are playing tug-of-war using the arms of a man to try to capture him, so he can be sold as a sex slave, 246 sees them, blows a whistle, and taps his finger in the air. They drop him and run off to loot goods from a burst trailer.
- When Wilson meets 246, he bows on his knees and prays before him, mistaking him for God. 246 holds up his hand, saying "Stop. Don't pray to me. If you need to send me a message, use e-mail."
- Hold Your Hippogriffs - Since people can't die in the Afterlife, you can't say "As serious as a heart attack." However, if someone does something really bad, they are sentenced by the court to be "involuntarily recycled," i.e. returned to earth forcibly to start over as a baby, the equivalent of Capital Punishment. So, when someone really means it, they say, "As serious as involuntary recycling."
- Healthy in Heaven: Your welcomer will fix any problems you have, such as rolling your physical age back, so that you're young again. You also automatically have no physical infirmities, and diseases don't exist there, either.
- Hypocrite - "Somehow, 246, you seem hypocritical." "It took you this long to figure that out? You're not as bright as I thought you were."
- I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: The author breaks the fourth wall to tell a story about his relationship with the intelligence community in an indirect way, then actually uses this phrase to explain why he can't be more direct.
- I'm Melting!: 246, in the Bad Guy Bar, wearing a wizard's cloak, says this (and starts shrinking) after someone throws a pitcher of beer on him.
- Incredibly Lame Pun — 246 says "no pun intended" pretty much every time he uses the word "come" in a sentence. If you're a ten-year-old boy, this will be funny the first few times. By the end of the book, though...
- Inside a Computer System
- Institutional Apparel: Barney the rapist is paraded around in public in a standard prison jumpsuit. Lime green with the words "Prisoner of the Welcoming Department" on his back in orange.
- Ironic Echo: Arlene to 246: Sir, you didn't answer my question. Later, 246 to Arlene: To quote something you said to me, "Ma'am, you didn't answer my question."
- Level Ate: There's a place where 246 punches in a wall, and it's made of vanilla wafer; later, it mentions there are swimming pools filled with soda, with jello, and with alcoholic beverages.
- The Lifestream
- Master Computer
- Uh, not quite. Page 542 (PDF page 582) makes it clear, the system consists of billions of interconnected sub processors, something equivalent to a beowulf cluster of several billion PCs. So while people refer to the system as if it were a single large machine, it's actually a gigantic cluster of lots of computers networked together.
- Money for Nothing:246: A dear friend of mine ... used to run this scam on Incomings, because it was so funny. We’d have a huge booth signing people up for credit cards, and we’d deliberately set the limits to enormous amounts, US $200,000, $300,000 or more. And we put some ATM machines up that they could get money, lots of it. Since the machine created it on the spot, they never were empty. And we put up all these automated stores where people could buy things. We’d have them sign favors in exchange for the money they got.But they discovered that it didn’t matter how much money you have, it’s totally worthless because you don’t need anything and generally you can instantiate anything you did want, essentially for free.
- The Multiverse
- Never Trust a Trailer: The blurb blatantly lies about several aspects of the world - for instance, the rapist is most definitely not a victim of a horrible crime.
- No Animosity in the Afterlife: Averted; a serial killer had to defend himself when he met one of his victims, and an intelligence agency employee is informed he is the target of vendettas by people he assinated.
- No Name Given: We don't learn 246's real name.
- Not What It Looks Like: George Green has to explain to his boss what happened with Lynn in the Men's restroom:Dr. Sign: Okay George, let's hear it.
George: Lynn and I went to the cafeteria to eat. I told her to wait a minute, I had to use the bathroom. I went in and used the urinal as someone else came into the bathroom. When I turned around I discovered that she was the someone else. She proceeded to make various cooing sounds and I attempted to tell her this was inappropriate. She unzipped my fly, removed my penis from my pants and got on her knees. I put my hands on her shoulders in an attempt to push her away. At that moment the [campus police] officer came into the bathroom." I smiled a little. "I'm sorry, Dr. Sign, I shouldn't be smiling about this. I know this is serious, but I got a mental picture in my head of what he saw and trying to explain to him it wasn't what he thought it was. I looked at what was happening. I said to the officer that I wasn't going to say a word to him, if I was him and I told him what I know, I wouldn't have believed it either.
- Once for Yes, Twice for No: 246 is on earth and is critically injured. To find out his wishes (whether or not he wants to be taken off the respirator, in which case he will die). He is questioned by reading the letters of the alphabet and told to blink twice at each correct letter.
- One-Steve Limit: Averted, as there is George, the Chairman of the Afterlife, and George, a rollercoaster maintenance technician.
- Only One Afterlife: Everyone goes to the same afterlife, no matter what they did on earth. Only difference is you go to a specific Language Section, depending on what language that you think in, the Arabic Language Section, the English Language Section, the French Language Section, the Spanish Language Section, etc.
- Pedestrian Crushes Car - In this case, it's a semi truck that tries to run down 246's boss David. But he's in a wizard's cloak, which gives him invulnerability...
- Portal Cut - The red square 246 will stand within to return to the real world in his universe.
- Professionals Do It on Desks: To piss off Mias, 246 suggests if Mias was interested he could do this to him.
- The Punishment Is the Crime: 246 institutes a policy in which rapists who are caught in the Frontier will be punished by tricking them into either having sex with or raping a woman, at which point, he can't stop having sex with her, including that he starts having unbearable levels of orgasm.
- Readings Are Off the Scale - The female orgasm meter, again
- Refugee from TV Land - "More about the star of the TV show Instrument of God, Supervisor 246."
- Rousing Speech - "This is how a man, lives. This is how a man, dies."
- Rule of Pool
- Satellite Love Interest: Wilfred to 246; Well, speaking of too much of a good thing, I wanted to tell you thanks for taking on Terry as another one of your regular girlfriends. I found that since you started seeing her more she doesn’t have to see me as much. She’s cut me back to once a day.
- Schizo Tech: One of the universes 246 visits hasn't really developed liquid fuels like gasoline or diesel (but has advanced battery technology), so a woman who met 246 was driving to a conference in a horse-drawn carriage rented at the train station from Hertz Rent-a-Wagon, catches a coal fired ramjet-powered steam locomotive reaching speeds above 200 MPH, catches an electric trolley, then rides a bicycle home, where, before she has sex with 246, has each of them bite on a disposable blood testing device (which looks like a home pregnancy test kit) that shows they're both clean of six of the seven common venereal diseases (they both have Herpes Simplex I, i.e. cold sores).
- Schmuck Bait - "But he had you give him five gross favors. Five times a gross, 144."
- Shaming the Mob - "I'm going to stop this mob with a piece of paper."
- Shout-Out - "Have you ever seen 'Star Trek'? We have transporters here, just like they do."
- Spell My Name with a "The": the people in 246's world are in different "countries" based on the language they can think in, the English Language Section, the Spanish Language Section, the French Language Section, etc. The means to travel between them is a road named "The." The full name of the travel path is "The Road."
- Spy Speak: When the Chairman is going to give Joan an order to do something over the phone, he has to authenticate that he is talking to Joan, and that she can authenticate that it is actually him:Central Computer, Telephone Watch Commander.”
“Office of the Watch Commander, this is a recorded line.”
“Knit 2 Pearl 4”
“One moment please.”
“This is Joan 20319.”
“Hi Joan, this is the Chairman.”
“Mike, how are you doing?”
“Authenticated. Get real broad, my name is George."
“So what can I do you for, Dr. Green?”
- Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Administrator Marilyn, first is cold, then after she gets pushed into accepting Intimate Psychotherapy, she for some reason becomes much more pleasant; see Bait-and-Switch Tyrant, above.
- Teleportation with Drawbacks: In the Afterlife they have public kiosks where you can select a destination, and if you can afford the bribe to get the privilege, you can obtain the ability to teleport directly, similar to being able to buy a car in our world. Also, rooms with special need for privacy can use an electronic lock that prohibits anyone (except the C Chairman) to teleport into that room.
- That's Gotta Hurt - David watches in horrid fascination as the [roller coaster] train reaches the top, the last car detaches as the rest of the train roars on towards the drop while the single car veers off to the right, continues on about 10 meters before coming to the end of the track and flying off into space. The occupant screams out in terror as the car falls.
George looks at 246. "I'll bet that's gotta hurt."
- There Are No Rules - From The Sign by the Right of the Road: "There is no law except the Law of the Jungle in the Frontier, anyone may do anything to anyone out there. Rule #1 doesn't apply there, there are no rules."
- Title Drop - Each chapter is titled from a line of dialog in that chapter. Also, the book's title is also dropped.
- Usually [...] with lots of ellipses [...] Quote Mine style [...] which make the chapter [...] titles look [...] as though they ought [...] to be read [...] by William Shatner.
- The book's title is dropped in two places
- Supervisor 246 assaults a police officer, then claims he was sent to show him the error of his ways and that he is this because a friend called him this once.
- Elizabeth, the woman who was 246's first time in the Afterlife pretends to be God, then, since she is going to play with him, gives him this nickname.
- Translation Convention - "What are guys like me, who don't speak or read English, supposed to do?"
- Two Guys and a Girl
- Two Words: Added Emphasis: After 246 crosses back into the real world, George informs 246 that when George let 246 have sex with George's wife Lynn, she got pregnant, and George is going to pretend to be the father. 246 is concerned, there might be issues of paternity later on if George pretends to be the father of another man's child. George says for all anyone will know it is his. 246 doesn't get it, so George says, "Two Words: plastic surgery." That's when it hits 246. The clone body he is in is George's clone with 246's face. More than that, George and Lynn had planned this years earlier, and 246 forgot George had told him then that they were going to.
- Unstoppable Rage - "I will come down on all of you worse than Keyser Söze..."
- Vagina Dentata - Averted, maybe. 246 tells a rapist (truthfully) that these women don't have dentatas, they cannot hurt them. What 246 doesn't say is if the man rapes one of these women, he can't get out of her, can't stop having sex, and will be subjected to unbearable levels of orgasm.
- Wall Slump - After Leroy is shot, his body falls backward and slumps to the floor.
- Who Writes This Crap?!: In an outtake at the end of the book, originally, a part of the book's dialog is so bad, that 246 actually stops the story, then calls the writer to complain, telling him he'd better fix the story before 246 quits to find a better writer.
- White Void Room: A magistrate tells two lawyers how they have a "stasis field" that suspends people in another area where two minutes passes in their world no matter how long the person is in the field. In this case it's used to send Barney the rapist to the prison law library, but in cases of misconduct or bad behavior ("sending them to Coventry") it can be turned into a completely white room. The magistrate even uses a Shout-Out to the White Room from The Matrix. It's used for solitary confinement for disciplinary cases, generally one minute, but it's considered so bad a punishment that the maximum time the courts will allow them to use it is one hour.
- You're Insane! - Mias 808's response to the bet that 246 suggests in Chapter 22 (details on the bet in question are best read on the PDF):“You’re out of your mind! That’s nothing but... but... but legal... legalized entrapment! You are a fucking lunatic, you son of a bitch!”
- Your Universe or Mine? - 246 has sex in more than one universe other than the one he came from.