Theo receives a call from Jasper Palmer-Smith, his former history teacher, who’d selected Theo as his “favorite” student in all of Theo’s year at Oxford. Jasper is a “caricature” of an Oxford professor, and has summoned Theo to his house to discuss an “urgent” matter. Since Year Omega, Jasper has retreated to the countryside, where he and his wife Hilda have lived in solitude and begun building a store of food, medicine, and supplies for the end of the world, or the event of a “total breakdown of order”—whichever comes first.
Here, Theo’s narrative once again serves to contrast the differences between the familiarity, routine, and “caricatures” of the past with the bizarre dystopia of the present. Jasper was once a highly-respected and deeply entrenched Oxford professor, and now lives a reclusive life which is centered around preparation for a future that might never even come.
When Theo arrives at Jasper’s, he is shocked to find that Jasper looks as if he as aged “ten years in a little over six weeks.” Hilda, too, appears disheveled and senile. After offering Theo a drink, Jasper tells Theo that he is thinking of moving back to Oxford because he feels “isolated” in the countryside. Theo asks what Hilda thinks about moving back to the city. Jasper responds that she is not in a “position to object,” and that she has been considering taking part in a Quietus—a mass ritual suicide by drowning, intended for the elderly members of society.
The revulsion with which human society now views its elderly contrasts to the way many people saw their elders in the past—as revered gatekeepers of wisdom. Jasper and Hilda, feeling completely irrelevant and mired in despair and isolation, consider what action they can possibly take. Jasper wishes to return to the last place he felt relevant and powerful, while Hilda considers giving up and giving in.
Theo, put off by the idea of Jasper coming to live with him, suggests Jasper and Hilda apply to receive a Sojourner or two. Sojourners are immigrants from foreign countries who do British citizens’ “dirty work” in exchange for the opportunity to stay in the country until they reach old age, at which point they are sent back to their countries of origin. Jasper does not like the idea of a foreigner in his house. Theo leaves Jasper and Hilda without making any plans or “promises” to them, feeling that while he owes Jasper “a great deal,” he does not owe him that much.
The Sojourners are another new class of citizen (or a very old class of citizen: the indentured servant or slave), and are as reviled as the Omegas are worshipped. Theo feels that he “owes” much to Jasper, but his “self-obsession” and lack of desire to take responsibility for anyone’s happiness takes precedence over his desire to help an old friend and mentor find renewal, redemption, or just relief.
While driving back to Oxford, Theo spots an enormous crowd. He remembers that there is a popular American evangelist in town whose motto, “all you need is love,” has made her into a global sensation. People are seeking comfort in new ways of thinking about religion, Theo says, and now find the imagery of the crucifixion to be a “stigma of barbarism.”
The new mythologies that have taken over society extend to the realm of religion—though Theo has described the endurance of many Christian religious rituals, there are also many ways in which society has turned its back on some of the symbolism and teachings of Christianity.