aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 10: Bring The Swift Arrows Of Light

Notice also that the sharing is what enables us to increase the trespass of thy brethren.

May 11, 2017
San Jose

Campus library hadn’t changed much since I got expelled. I checked out three big books without even so much as a “You don’t look like an Ana Thurmond,” let alone UNSONG goons hauling me off somewhere. Thank goodness for automatic card reader machines.

On the other hand, there were UNSONG goons in front of my house.

I spotted them as soon as I got to our street. Three big black vans parked in front of Ithaca. There were about a dozen officers? – soldiers? – let’s stick with goons – in black uniforms organizing somne kind of formation to knock on the door.

My mind ran through all of the scenarios. Somehow Bill had found out why we needed his computer and ratted on us. No, there was no way for him to figure that out, and even though I didn’t like the guy he wasn’t a Judas.

Okay, maybe UNSONG had just gotten generally tired of us hosting secret Unitarian meetings. It was possible. They’d gotten that group in Colorado. Maybe they were cracking down. Except that would mean that the whole thing with the Vital Name was a coincidence, and nothing was ever a coincidence.

Then I thought of the drop-dead simple, blindingly obvious answer, which was that Llull was well-ordered. Unless you gave it a random seed, it would always start in the same part of Maharaj space and go in the same direction, checking potential Names in the same order. So if UNSONG ever wanted to catch anyone who had found a way to make Llull work, all they would have to do is retrace Llull’s steps by hand. Through unfortunate coincidence, it was only a couple of hours before Llull got its first Name, the sort of performance a good sweatshop could replicate in a week. UNSONG had handed the Llull Maharaj ordering over to a sweatshop, gotten the first Name out of it – that stupid Moon-Finding Name, no less – and then tattooed it on the ears of their sentinels. Just in case. Frick. They were smart. They were operating at a level so far above me I couldn’t even see them. I had really, really blown it.

“S stands for secret,” I could hear my great-uncle intoning from beyond the grave, “you’ll keep it forever – provided there’s nobody else who is clever.”

Well, other people had been clever. Ana was right. “Nobody else can possibly be as smart as I am” was such an Aaron Smith-Teller way to think. If I’d thought for two seconds I would have given Llull a random seed, and…

Ana. Ana was in that house. Ana was in danger. Also Erica. Also depending on who had been able to pay their rent last month somewhere between six and eight other Stevensite Unitarians whom I was on moderately good terms with. And Sarah. What happened if UNSONG got Sarah? It was too terrible to think about.

And yet approximately zero percent of my brain’s emotional capacity was devoted to worrying about my superpowerful magic computer. Ana, my limbic system screamed. She was my weird Platonic sort-of-girlfriend except we were just friends and I wasn’t supposed to call her that. That was a bond stronger than death. Ana was in danger. [Ana!] I thought. No answer. Obviously too stressed for telepathy right now.

The overt meaning of teller is “someone who narrates a story.”

The kabbalistic meaning is “someone who calls down destructive celestial energies.”

This reading we derive from my great-uncle, who also had a bad track record for making reasonable choices and avoiding apocalypses.

I blew up the front wall of my house.

It was a simple name, the Avalanche Name, only eleven letters, not very good at hurting people but excellent for collapsing buildings. Also good at getting people’s attention. Ana was a sound sleeper. Once she’d told me she wouldn’t wake up even if the house fell down around her. I figured she was exaggerating. I guess we would find out.

UNSONG’s attention was also gotten. The agents turned, looking around frantically. I had crouched behind a car and they didn’t see me. They started to fan out, pistols at the ready.

One reason that people become singers is the lure of fighting a magical duel. It would be pretty neat, wouldn’t it? You chant terrible warlike Names, your shadowy opponent deflects or neutralizes them with the power of his own arcane knowledge, and at last the most esoterically learned man wins, standing dreadful above a pile of rubble while onlookers gaze in awe and think “There is a kabbalist”.

In reality, saying even a very short Name takes three seconds or so. Pressing a trigger takes a tenth that. So magical duels are right out, unless your opponent has forgotten his gun, which one can usually count on UNSONG not doing. If you had the right klipah, you could work out a system where almost no regular speech counted as continuation of a Name, start it at leisure, and then say the last syllable when you needed it – but of course I hadn’t prepared anything of the sort. And great masters like the old rabbis or the archangel Uriel could access higher worlds where all bets were off. But me? I was going to need three seconds, during which I was a sitting duck.

I spoke the Tenebrous Name and plunged the street into darkness.

Fighting a magical duel was incredibly dumb, but no one had ever claimed it wasn’t awesome.

While they were adjusting, I spoke the Bulletproof Name, which would protect me from exactly one bullet. Names must be spoken clearly and distinctly. Unless you’re the Comet King or something, you can’t get much more than eight or ten letters a second. The Bulletproof name was forty letters , which meant four to five seconds. That meant I wasn’t so much safe as “safe from anyone who couldn’t shoot me twice within a four second interval”. Once again, I did not expect UNSONG to have that problem.

My goal was to get Ana, get the computers, and speak the Vanishing Name.

The darkness of the Tenebrous Name was near-absolute, but three flashlights clicked on before I’d crawled out from the car. I had to admit my chances of getting in the house looked pretty slim, as three of the agents had taken to guarding the porch.

So I ran to the side of the house. The Ascending Name would send me up to the balcony, but they would probably hear me, either through the Sentinel Name or the normal channels. My options were kind of limited. I spoke it anyway, fast as I could, and got hit by a bullet. It hurt. I jumped through where the front window would be if I hadn’t collapsed the front of the house and made it into the apartment above ours.

I spoke the Bulletproof Name again. Six seconds. Then I used the Avalanche Name to punch a hole in the floor and fall into my bedroom.

Ana was gone.

That was good. It meant she had spoken the Vanishing Name and escaped.

The computer was still there, whirring and grinding.

That was bad.

Five UNSONG agents were pointing their guns at me, daring me to start chanting.

That was very bad.

I’m…not exactly sure what my endgame had been here. Like, breaking into the room had been an achievement, but probably the reaction of the agents who had already made it into the room would be to point their guns at me? Like they were doing now? Like, my knowledge and practice of magic had been impeccable, no one could have faulted me for that, but in terms of common sense I had utterly dropped the ball.

This might be a good place to mention I’d never actually been in anything remotely resembling a magical duel before. Or a non-magical duel. Any kind of duel, really. I had been in a bar fight once and ended up with two black eyes.

“Put your hands up and keep your mouth shut!” said one of the agents.

Slowly, I put my hands up.

An agent came from behind and blindfolded me.

Someone put a gag in my mouth and cuffs on my hands.

I was led into what must have been the big black van.

We drove off.

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99 Responses to Chapter 10: Bring The Swift Arrows Of Light

  1. dsotm says:

    “There were about a dozen officers? – soldiers? – let’s stick with goons –”

    RMS refers to them as ‘thugs’

  2. LHC says:

    Oh no, Aaron’s gotten himself into trouble? I’m absolutely shocked!

  3. Barbara says:

    Typo thread?

    “organizing somne kind of formation” has an extra n in “some”

    • philh says:

      “If you had the right klipah, you could work out a system where almost no regular speech counted as continuation of a Name, start it at leisure, and then say the last syllable when you needed it”

      Should be “almost any regular speech”?

      • YumAntimatter says:

        “Almost no regular speech” is most likely correct. Without a klipot, if you start a Name in advance, you might accidentally say the last syllable during normal conversation and activate the Name. On the other hand, if you encrypt the Name so that its last syllable is one that rarely appears in your language, you can speak normally without worry of it activating.

        • philh says:

          Oh, right. I’d forgotten/not realised that you could say other things in the middle of a Name. (That seems really weird. Was it mentioned in previous discussion of them?) I interpreted this as, you choose a short speech and then find a klipot such that that speech is the Name you want, and then you can say in the middle of battle, “wait, before you kill me, there’s something you should know” and have that be the Name.

          (Which doesn’t at all fit the text, but it’s what I came up with given my misunderstanding of klipah.)

          • I don’t think the possibility was apparent before this, though I may be mistaken.

            Anyway, it sounds more like arranging the klipot so that most normal language utterances translate back to null as far as the Name is concerned.

          • Alex C says:

            The time when Ana and Erica try out SKABMOM Erica has several inserted “uh” and “no” and similar, and it still took effect (ish).

      • Aegeus says:

        I think the idea is that you don’t want normal speech to be considered part of the name you’re speaking, because that would invalidate the name.

    • Fj says:

      “Pressing a trigger takes a tenth that.” — missing “of” I think?

  4. brainiac256 says:

    If there’s no complementary situation near enough to the one you’re currently in (household under siege by armed goons) would the Vanishing Name merely vanish you to… the same situation, for example 30 yards away from where you started? If you could speak it fast enough maybe you could keep everybody on their toes by bouncing around to random locations within that situation–assuming it takes into account changes in the situation at a lower level, like positioning of the goons, etc. so that each iteration of speaking the Vanishing Name changes the situation enough that the next iteration won’t just be a simple reversal, otherwise you’d end up bouncing back and forth between the same two locations, both easily visible to the goons…

    Just thinking out loud here

  5. Barbara says:

    Maybe if he had spoken the Avalanche name to make a hole down into the laptop room, and then before he jumped down he had spoken all but one letter of the Vanishing Name, he could have escaped with his laptop?

    • NoSuchPlace says:

      Does UNSONG know about the vanishing name? If so they probably made sure to be raiding a different house that is as similar to Ithaca as possible at the same time, so all that the vanishing name does is let you chose which squad captures you.

      • Decius says:

        For there to be a very similar raid going on somewhere else without prior coordination would be ….

        a coincidence.

        • NoSuchPlace says:

          It wouldn’t be a coincidence, because nothing ever is. Or because they do it deliberately to catch anyone trying to escape via the vanishing name. Na, probably the first.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        They have to know about it; it would have been registered with them when it was discovered. That doesn’t mean they know that anyone here knows it (they don’t necessarily know that this is a singer cell). Or, even if they’ve considered that possibility, it’s possible they’ve still failed to think of deliberately manipulating complementary situations.

  6. XerxesPraelor says:

    Yeah, this was pretty inevitable. Seems very difficult for him to get out of giving up the name, unless UNSONG does something stupid. (I suspect Ana will find some way of rescuing him, unless she was caught too)

    Anyway, this is the logical consequence of his attitude, but in reality and character-development-wise.

  7. Hobbes says:

    Let’s assume, for the sake of the narrative, that nonconsensual mind-reading is not in Unsong’s repertoire(otherwise it’s game over). That being said, there are three paths available to them for getting the Vital Name out of Aaron:

    A) The Stick: Torture/torturing his friends/various other threats.

    B) The Carrot: Try to talk him into giving it up, giving reasons for how Unsong will use the name for good and offering him things he wants.

    C) The Con: Trick Aaron into revealing the word.

    Unsong is probably very good at A) if they work for Hell, but Torture is still unreliable and would probably be only used if other strategies failed. Unsong is also probably very good at B), but I’d expect Aaron to be very unpersuadable. I think Unsong’s best move is to try for a con. Speed Aaron away to a dark cell, make a show of trying to get the Vital Name out of him. Then, Aaron is suddenly “rescued” Maybe by agents claiming to be another Unitarian cell, or perhaps some more serious rebel group. The theater plays out, and Aaron is eventually alone and speaks the Vital Name again. Unsong is of course listening in, either through magical or technological bugs, and win. If Aaron doesn’t say the name again, they recapture him and move on to strategies A) and B) in earnest.

    The scary thing is, even if Unsong doesn’t do this, if Aaron gets out of this he should be paranoid that they have.

    • Deiseach says:

      And that’s assuming that Ana isn’t an UNSONG undercover/double agent in the first place – Aaron is too freaked out for telepathy to work, but she couldn’t flash him a message while he was on the bus home about “Run, we’re lifted”?

      • Hobbes says:

        Ana might end up in opposition to Aaron, but she’s not UNSONG. If she were, she’d have just called in the back-up while Aaron was at home and in bed. I don’t know how she’d keep a secret like that from him in any case, given the mental marriage.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m very dubious about the “mental marriage”; how voluntary is the communication (i.e. can one party read what the other party wants to keep secret? Aaron seems to think Ana can’t read thoughts he isn’t deliberately broadcasting, but how sound is that assumption?), how limited is it by distance, is Ana as the one who discovered and initiated the bond in control, is she still linked to Erica (the first person she performed the ritual with) or has that been displaced by doing it with Aaron?

          There’s a lot we don’t know and whether that’s because Aaron and Ana don’t know it, or because we haven’t been told that yet, remains to be seen.

          Right now, even though I know Ana probably isn’t UNSONG agent, it is very satisfying to me to think she is (partly because it would mean at least one of them is not an idiot, they’re only acting stupid and lacking common sense to fit in). Calling in a raid while Aaron is out is a way to preserve deniability; if it happened while he was at home, he might think (when he started thinking again) that somebody in the house sold them out and start wondering how very coincidental it happened after he’d told Ana everything, but if it happens while he was out and he gets picked up, Ana can mount a daring rescue or wait for him to “escape” and start up with him again to find out if he knows anything (option C in what you’ve said) or at the very least move on to another UU cell as the survivor of an UNSONG raid and work her way into their confidence there.

    • gwern says:

      D) take the computer, which they know is successfully running Lull, and keep running it until it generates a powerful enough Name to solve the problem some other way. (A single computer might be slow, but Ship-of-Theseus: they can keep plugging in components until it’s as big as they need.)

      • We don’t know how ensoulment will respond to Ship-of-Theseus style expansion, and more importantly, UNSONG doesn’t know either. They may consider expansion to have an unacceptable risk that Llull will stop working completely. (And now that the possibility is raised, it’s worth mentioning that Llull might already have stopped working, given that the Vital Name failed for Bill’s computer.)

        • NoSuchPlace says:

          They could do the computations on a bigger computer and just have AST’s computer read the output, getting around the Ship of Theseus problem (assuming that the limiting factor is computation and not speaker time).

          • I suspect the audio is the bottleneck. One could, of course, hook up extra sound hardware, though it’s iffy if soulless output devices count even if there’s a soulful process controlling them. Should be easy to test, though, and it doesn’t seem likely that simply adding such hardware (without removing anything) would result in a Ship of Theseus failure. One supposes there’s a nonzero risk though, and the computer is pretty unique at this point.

    • CalmCanary says:

      We have from previous chapters that the Comet King helped found UNSONG, so it is unlikely (though possible) that they work for Hell.

      • pku says:

        When was this?

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Chapter 5.

          That ended with the founding of the great theonomic corporations. They gradually took over the applied kabbalah scene in the 80s; their grip tightened in the early 90s after the President and the Comet King worked together to create UNSONG.

        • Little Yid says:

          I can’t remember the chapter, but I remember that the Comet King founded Unsong in conference with the President.

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming at this much later, a complication occurred to me.

      By this point in the plot, Aaron already knows he’s forgotten the exact Vital Name and will at best need to error-correct it. He has virtually no incentive to say the Vital Name out loud until and unless he manages to correct it. UNSONG, meanwhile, does not know that Aaron’s partially forgotten the Name, creating a mismatch between the kind of tricks they could plan to play on Aaron and the situation. Nothing they couldn’t adapt to, mind you- since if they have a fake Unitarian Universalist cell to “rescue” him, the cell can easily obtain books on error-correction and offer to “help” him and conveniently one of the others turns out to be a competent kabbalist who can help with the error-correction.

      It would make for an interesting plot.

  8. Lambert says:

    Great chapter, but now we’re in double digits, the vertical alignment of links in the table of contents is lost. Also, the link to Book I only covers the colon.

  9. Deiseach says:

    Why didn’t Ana grab the computer and take it with her if she had enough time to vanish? Or at least unplug it or stomp on it or something, because letting it sit there working away while UNSONG raids the house does not seem to be a good idea.

    Then again, good ideas are not exactly sprouting out of the soil round there. They got cocky because they thought they were too smart (and too small-fry for UNSONG to bother with), so they weren’t paranoid enough about security. Aaron stomps off in a snit to the library, Ana goes back to sleep, they leave the computer powered up and grinding away – the only way they could have been more careless was to hang a sign out the window with “YOO-HOO! COME ARREST US!” on it.

    Although I find myself sympathetic to Aaron here. The sensible thing to do would have been to run like a little bunny rabbit in the opposite direction as soon as he clocked the black vans, but he went charging into the house. Foolish but brave.

  10. The most likely explanation seems to be that Ana was out working late on a Thursday night, and never knew about the raid at all. Aaron’s too stressed for telepathy, but Ana’s perfectly fine.

    Also, now I’m curious about how the Bulletproof Name works. Would it only deflect bullets, or is that just the name of the Name? Would it deflect all projectiles, or even all physical damage whatsoever? Sounds like a rather useless name if used in a society without guns, although all societies have arrows/slings/throwing spears, so I’m leaning towards ‘deflecting all projectiles’.

    • The Chosen One says:

      I’m inclined to believe it does EXACTLY what was described: protects the user from exactly one bullet. That it was discovered by, and found common use in a society with guns is Not A Coincidence.

      • Masked_Discombobulator says:

        While it is very plausible that the Bulletproof Name works only on things that are recognizably “bullets,” it would if anything have been even more impressive in ancient times as a fully general protection against projectile weapons.

        In an age of repeating firearms, “just shoot twice” is a very effective counter to the Bulletproof Name on a battlefield. It’s not perfect, but it’s viable. One burst from an automatic weapon can and will do the trick much of the time.

        In an age where projectiles were launched by hand, hitting the same guy twice within the space of 4-5 seconds becomes more of a challenge because rate of fire goes down. There is no such thing as an automatic bow and arrow.

        So the Bulletproof Name would have been even more impressive, as long as the kabbalist using it didn’t do anything stupid like stand out in front of a hundred archers and go “nyah nyah, you can’t hurt me.”

    • Deiseach says:

      Chapter Seven, where last Aaron and Ana were together, it was five in the morning and Aaron was at Bill’s house borrowing his computer, then he came back to where Ana was in bed, the Name didn’t work for Bill’s computer, and Aaron headed off for Stamford.

      He expects Ana to be in bed when he comes back (” Ana was a sound sleeper. Once she’d told me she wouldn’t wake up even if the house fell down around her. I figured she was exaggerating. I guess we would find out”) but I suppose, depending what time it is (six? seven? eight a.m.?) she could have gotten up and noticed the black vans pulling up.

      So either she was up early and skedaddled the minute she saw the vans, which still doesn’t explain why she didn’t use the handy-dandy telepathy to tell Aaron “Be wide of the shades!” (unless she was too stressed to use telepathy) or something is going on. Maybe UNSONG have arrested her too and Aaron is assuming too much by thinking she got away.

      Or she’s a double agent 🙂

      • pku says:

        Seems strange for her to be a double agent though – until Aaron accidentally (I think) found the name, there really wasn’t much there to be worth spying on.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, but Aaron is (as he keeps telling us) Aaron Smith-Tellers of the (in)famous Tellers. And given that he was on track for a glittering academic career as a kabbalist until he managed to get himself kicked out, and that he works for a theonomic sweatshop, I would not be at all surprised if UNSONG was keeping track of him.

          Paranoid? Yes, but persons of interest do get tagged and watched. Just in case they pull something (look at Dylan in 2001; he was dismissed as nothing more than a rogue hedge-wizard until he killed the Council of the Board of Ritual; UNSONG would be very dense not to learn from that not to dismiss someone as “yeah but what can that loser do?”)

          He ends up with the UUs in what is some kind of honey trap situation (goes out to bar, gets wasted, goes home with cool chick who just happens to have a cute cousin for whom he falls like a ton of bricks – some coincidence, in a world where nothing is ever a coincidence) – I mean, if Ana is acting as an agent provocateur, Aaron is ripe for recruitment to a cause like the UUs and how hard would it be for Ana to turn up at Ithaca, where people come and go all the time, shortly before steering Erica to meet Aaron in the bar? And bring him home, and then UNSONG have an agent in place to keep tabs on somebody who possibly might make some crazy breakthrough and discover a really powerful Name and turn it over to undesirables. It’s a very long shot but do you really want to take the risk that one of the Teller genius bloodline is out there bouncing around doing who knows what with nobody watching him?

          Instead of which he’s living in the cell they’ve infiltrated, which they stage-managed, and their agent has talked him into a “mental marriage” where she can read his mind and lo and behold, when he does discover a really powerful Name, they come kicking the door in to arrest him 🙂 they know his

          • Deiseach says:

            Do I think this is where the story is going? No, I don’t, but so far Aaron and his confederates could have used the advice of the old cartoon, where a king is brooding over “I’m paranoid, but am I paranoid enough?” 🙂

          • Masked_Discombobulator says:

            Coming at this much later, a few thoughts about the “Ana double agent” hypothesis (no spoilers).

            1) On the one hand, this would probably require quite a bit of effort. Ana is a close relative of Erica, so either UNSONG would have to be able to turn Ana into a double agent without Erica realizing it (possible, but makes things more of a stretch), or Erica would also have to be a double agent (even more of a stretch).

            2) On the other hand, the incentive for UNSONG to do something like this is quite considerable. After all, Aaron Smith-Teller has already made a major discovery in the field of kabbalah, and by publishing it, probably cost Nehemoth millions if not billions of dollars. While him discovering a powerful secret Name all alone might seem unlikely to UNSONG, that hardly even matters. He could just go on doing the exact same thing he’d already been doing (breaking klipot) and be a huge thorn in UNSONG’s side… in theory, if he were motivated enough.

            So quietly ushering him into a ‘tame’ UU cell watched by two UNSONG double agents would make a lot of sense even without the specific improbable idea of him somehow stumbling on a powerful Name by luck and trying to use it to take over the world.

        • Irrevenant says:

          You’re assuming she’s a double agent there to spy on Aaron. She could just be there to spy on the house in general and Aaron is gravy…

      • Ah, I somehow assumed that Aaron would spend as much time at the library each visit as I do, i.e. the whole day, just to find out which books to borrow at the very least.

        That said, Aaron left for Bill’s at 5 AM, got there at 6 AM, and got back at 7 AM. It’s at least 30 minutes to get to Stanford, so we’re looking at it being at least 8 AM when Aaron returns. He notices the goons just getting ready to enter the house then, so it’s totally possible Ana could have left to work before 8 AM (and probably much later, depending on how long Aaron does spend at the library).

        But the goons were already in his room when he dropped into it, so maybe they got there much earlier and the goons “organizing a formation to knock on the door” were really just guarding the entrance while the other goons were already waiting inside.

        • Deiseach says:

          the goons “organizing a formation to knock on the door” were really just guarding the entrance while the other goons were already waiting inside

          Very probably how it worked out in reality, given that there doesn’t appear to be other inhabitants of the house running around screaming when the front of it falls off. They’re probably in the vans already, the ones who didn’t manage to invoke the Vanishing Name (if they knew it).

  11. Watercressed says:

    That UNSONG took the time to prepare against Llull is significant evidence that they are evil. Someone getting it to work is neither bad nor illegal under copyright law, so it looks like a blatant power grab.

    • Hobbes says:

      Blatant power grabs aren’t inherently evil. It makes complete sense that anyone with the resources to do, evil or not, so would try their best to become god and to stop random people that may not share their values from becoming god instead.

    • Deiseach says:

      You could look at it as a matter of security: anyone who can get Llull to work can generate Names. Well, that’s great, but what if they’re like Dylan who has no problem murdering anyone he considers an enemy of the people? It’s the same argument about wiretapping or getting mobile phone networks (or Apple) to unlock their devices for the sake of national security.

      They needn’t be Evil Evil, they could be “good reason, wrong method” or “even if it is to save us from terrorists you can’t take liberty and privacy away from people”.

      • Watercressed says:

        Sure, it’s not necessarily Evil Evil, but it is Chaotic and looks very self-interested.

        A day or a week or probably even a month of running Llull does not turn a murder into an existential threat. In this case, Aaron has discovered 0 combat-useful names when UNSONG kicks down the door, and while we don’t have too much information here, it looks like UNSONG is perfectly content with random Unitarian groups having the Wrathful Name.

        If someone discovered the Shem haMephorash that’s a different story, but it seems to be that even with Llull, you need to run it on a supercomputer or two to have a hope of finding it. This type of reaction is not necessary to stop someone from taking over the world.

        • Deiseach says:

          Aaron discovered the Vital Name while at work from a random generation provided by his employers, that is probably enough for some kind of court case over copyright and who owns what and all the rest of it.

          I don’t think UNSONG came along merely because of Llull, somebody has to have been keeping an eye on Aaron or informed UNSONG about the Vital Name or sometrigger has to have been pulled that, in combination with Llull running, warranted a raid.

          And so far, it’s looking like Ana is the best suspect as informant, unless we want to think Sarah called up UNSONG to come get them 🙂

          • Watercressed says:

            I don’t think the raid itself is the problem; if UNSONG had discovered Llull through some other means, raiding the house is probably correct from their point of view. However, taking steps so that your organization is notified when someone starts up Llull with no advance notice of any misbehavior is suspicious

          • null says:

            It’s not just ‘starts up Llull’, because Llull doesn’t do anything that UNSONG can detect if it’s not souled; it’s the fact that someone discovered the Vital Name and is using it to gain more power. This would certainly raise some eyebrows.

          • Deiseach says:

            But an ensouled computer running Llull would be the equivalent of an AI in our reality, it’s an existential risk, you step in now before the AI can recursively improve its code and end up running the galaxy.

            And the UU cells are considered suspicious or of interest; they represent themselves as La Résistance and they’re not meeting to swap knitting patterns (although for all that they seem to achieve in reality, they’d probably do better swapping knitting patterns). UNSONG have already raided a UU cell that Aaron tells us about, they’re keeping an eye on Ithaca as a known or suspected UU safehouse (it is probably safe to conjecture now), and someone in that safehouse has now got Llull to work?

            Kick in the doors at early o’clock and haul them in for questioning!

          • Watercressed says:

            Well, my view is based on the premise that an ensouled computer does not have the same capabilities as an AI. If Sarah does turn out to be recursively self-improving, then UNSONG watching for it is totally justified.

        • Susebron says:

          It’s not Chaotic, it’s pretty clearly Lawful. Oppressive Law? Perhaps. But certainly not Chaos.

    • null says:

      It’s probably illegal under the Kabbalah Fraud and Abuse Act (or even the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), which is the pretext UNSONG is using to conduct the seizure. Also would you trust a random person with the Vital Name?

      A possible future event: Some time in the future Aaron meets the Comet King who explains the rationale for all this.

      • Mibdib says:

        I remember that somewhere it was mentioned that the Comet King is dead, so I somehow doubt that your prediction will come true.

  12. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    I was wondering if Sarah itself could trigger Unsong observers. The whole point of using the Vital Name on a computer was to make its attempted name-saying work. Those bearing the Sentinal Name seem to know something about name-users. Enough to find them and determine if they are likely an offender. So Sarah-via-Llull says the Mooning Name, and the UNSONG observers (Listeners?) detect a computer using a name, then a human repeating it shortly after. So they would have to know that Sarah is somehow a Sparked workstation.

    And now they see a bold-but-foolish kabbalist try to pull a daring rescue. He’s now the prime suspect. Either Ana had already left the room/house, she’s a plant/mole/informant for UNSONG, or she’s already in the van.

    Aaron is now in their hands. They might do something to squeeze or trick the Vital Name out of him. Or they might “offer” him a chance to work for them, whether as a press-gang or as temptors offering him the world if only he bends the knee.

    • Peffern says:

      You said Listeners and I immediately thought of the Java Event-Listener architecture, since I was just using it yesterday. And we are on the subject of computers doing things.

      TINAC BNEIAC I guess.

      • Musky says:

        When I saw ‘Listeners’ I immediately noticed “Listener” is a near-anagram for “Sentinel”. The difference between them would be resolved by an R and an N.

        TINAC BNIEAC indeed.

        • AlexTFish says:

          That difference itself is significant, of course. The Java Listener class contains an R and starts with L, because it’s reacting to an event sent by another similar class, of notional parity or equivalence, like Left and Right are equal opposites. The Sentinels of UNSONG contain an extra N and start with S, because they are more industrialised and corporate, compared to the anarchic, scattered Singers, like North to South.

  13. Watercressed says:

    Small nitpick, shouldn’t this:

    >Through unfortunate coincidence, it was only a couple of hours before Llull got its first Name, the sort of performance a good sweatshop could replicate in a week. UNSONG had handed the Llull Maharaj ordering over to a sweatshop, gotten the first Name out of it – that stupid Moon-Finding Name, no less – and then tattooed it on the ears of their sentinels.

    be “tattooed it on the foreheads”, per this line from Ch. 2:

    >UNSONG agents with the Sentinel Name tattooed above their ear, and the Names involve tattooed on their foreheads

    • Deiseach says:

      Actually, Aaron is probably lucky the first Name the ensouled computer found was the Moon-Finding Name. Sure, UNSONG will be extremely interested in the Vital Name, but if he can somehow persuade them that (a) it was dumb luck and he stole it from his employers anyway and (b) the Name discovered by Sarah was harmless, he’s a harmless idiot, they’re all harmless idiots, please don’t lock them up in whatever the Untied States’ equivalent of Guantanamo Bay is.

      • Susebron says:

        I mean, even if he’s a harmless idiot to UNSONG, he’s a harmless idiot with the kabbalistic equivalent of an entire nuclear stockpile in his head. They’re not going to let him go, lest he cease to be harmless. And if they find out he’s been involved in Unitarianism, you can bet that he’s not getting out of UNSONG hands any time soon, if they can help it.

  14. lsm says:

    For those interested, UNSONG is up to ~38-39K words so far:
    1 2694
    2 1186 int
    3 3319
    4 1184 int
    5 2004
    6 1263
    7 11073
    8 1174 int
    9 3430
    10 3359
    11 4658
    12 1915
    13 1386

  15. Quixote says:

    Wow. Another very cool chapter. Tenison is up and leaving us on a cliffhanger though… don’t leave us too long

  16. No Han Solo references?

    “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

  17. Temeraire says:

    * UNSONG was created to control the spread of names (in the same way we might want to restrict anthrax or AI research) – 30%

    * UNSONG was created to incentivize name discovery, the same way that patents work for drugs in the real world. – 40%

    * UNSONG was created to incentivize name discovery, the same way that patents work for drugs in the real world, with the intention of providing an arsenal to fight Hell with – 30%

    * Ana is misleading to Aaron about the ‘marriage’ name in some significant way – e.g. it maybe is not symmetric. – 60%

    • Deiseach says:

      I can definitely see UNSONG being the equivalent of an AI-existential risk group in our reality. For the same reason that you would need to control AI (because it’s too late when the god-computer is firing the global nuclear arsenal at targets), in the UNSONG world they need to step in when something like Llull is pinged, because it’s too late when your new Comet King or God-Emperor is turning the world into his own playground.

      That is why they’d keep watch on Llull just in case somebody finally managed to make it work.

    • Decius says:

      $20 each against all of those predictions as those odds?

      • Temeraire says:

        I am interested in betting. However, those are/were my true odds, leaving me no expected profit. If I can come up with a good way of adjusting them into a bid-ask spread I’d be up for the bets though.

        Are you known in the broader LW/EA community? If so we could pick a mutual acquaintance to oversee the bet.

        • Temeraire says:

          The adjustment might be substantial because, while I do want to bet on my beliefs, I also want to be able to use PB to record my true beliefs, and not have to worry about adverse selection in which ones people take me up on.

      • Temeraire says:

        Actually, we shouldn’t let the best be the enemy of the good. Assuming we can sort out the logistics, I will offer you

        20% – control spread
        30% – incentivise research
        20% – incentivise research to fight hell
        45% – Ana misleading about marriage.

        for the 4 bets. However, you have to accept all 4 bets. Offer expires when Scott next posts about Unsong.

        If accepting all 4 bets is too onerous, I can spend some more time thinking about the adverse selection problem.

        • Decius says:

          I don’t think there’s enough room to cover uncertainty in honesty plus transaction costs; I still think you’re overconfident, but not enough so to be worth betting.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Your first 3 predictions seem to be mutually exclusive, suggesting you think there is 0% chance you don’t know why UNSONG was created (which seems too low).

      • Temeraire says:

        The third is a subset of the second? That leaves 30%+ on “everything else”

        I’m willing to extent the same bet I offered Decius to you.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Oops, I failed to read that properly. I don’t think I’d want to bet on all of them, although I think the last one is pretty overconfident.

  18. What are the odds of UNSONG being infiltrated by agents of Satan?

    • pfft says:

      UNSONG is enforcing copyright protection for corporations that have names like GogMagog. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

  19. GES says:

    “Frick. They were smart. They were operating at a level so far above me I couldn’t even see them. I had really, really blown it…
    Well, other people had been clever. Ana was right. “Nobody else can possibly be as smart as I am” was such an Aaron Smith-Teller way to think. If I’d thought for two seconds I would have given Llull a random seed, and…”

    The narration was a bit clunky here. I thought it would be useful to let you know!

  20. efq says:

    Right from the “swift” in the chapter title, I knew something terrible was going to happen.

  21. pku says:

    Semi-related comment: I just ran into the post on Scott’s old blog where he originally came up with the idea for UNSONG:

  22. Yossarian says:

    Seems like Aaron here goes against his own security advice. Whatever he has doe here (ensouling a computer and discovering a couple of Names), from what I understand, isn’t even illegal – he could have just walked up to the UNSONG agents and asked them “What the f*ck are you doing here?” Instead, he goes into a Name-throwing spree and gets himself captured with some criminal charges on top…

    • Aegeus says:

      It’s quite plausibly illegal. If UNSONG was crazy-prepared enough to watch for people who might have gotten Llul working, they were also probably prepared enough to have a legal pretext for taking them down. Also, Aaron is a Unitarian Universalist, so they can probably find something else to charge him on. And even if it isn’t illegal, Aaron has seen how much protection the law gives him when a big theonomics corporation is involved.

      And as the saying goes, you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride. By the time his lawyer gets him out of jail, Sarah might be confiscated, or stolen by Gogmagog’s agents, or simply “lost.” That machine is a potential world-conquering tool, and I wouldn’t want to let it fall into the wrong hands.

      Not saying that chucking Names around was a good decision, but I wouldn’t expect him to be out of the woods if he surrendered peacefully.

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming at this much later…

      If UNSONG has already found the Moon-Finding Name and are using it as a proxy for “has someone somehow figured out how to get Llull to work,” then someone has probably copyright/trademark/whatevered the Moon-Finding Name. Which gives them an immediate pretext to arrest him on suspicion of having illegally spoken the secret Moon-Finding Name, if nothing else.

      Now, speaking the Moon-Finding Name illegally probably wouldn’t be much of a crime in and of itself. But as others pointed out in the first place, that at least gets you into the system and you’re going to have to appear before a judge to get everything sorted out. Under these circumstances that’s more than enough trouble for Aaron to think he’s better off somehow trying to grab Sarah and run, because in the time it takes him to clear his name of the trivial copyright violation charge, someone’s going to piece together enough evidence to start accusing him of more serious crimes.

  23. Terdragon says:

    I’d like to take a moment to appreciate how subtly the rules about telepathy were laid out in advance.

    > [Narwhals of Jericho]

    > No answer. Figured. I was too wired up to telepathy straight.

    Chekhov’s pun, one could say.

  24. Outis says:

    Then I thought of the drop-dead simple, blindingly obvious answer, which was that Llull was well-ordered. Unless you gave it a random seed, it would always start in the same part of Maharaj space and go in the same direction, checking potential Names in the same order.

    “Well-ordered” is not quite the right term here. “Deterministic” would be better. And “go in the same direction” sounds like it proceeds in a straight line, which is not really a good way to search a space of dimension greater than 1. It would be better to say “follow the same path”.

    Apart from that, if Llull always uses the same default seed, I find it weird that nobody had tried its output until finding at least one name. Even if it took a week to do it by hand, it would be quite easy to crowdsource.

    I’m having trouble picturing a realistic way the Llull community could have operated to result in the circumstances described in the story. Llull has an internal name-detection feature that works even though it could not possibly have ever been tested before. Llull works perfectly, but nobody has actually used it long enough to get even the first working name. It doesn’t seem to make sense to me.

    • Overly pedantic response:

      Well-ordered can make sense, in that the set of potential matches has (and must have) a well-ordering so that you can pick the next element to test each time, instead of choosing at random.

      Regarding internal name-detection: There’ve been implications that things like scroll wheels and pieces of paper that had names written on them by humans can be set off without a human knowing the name. Possibly computers can be set off similarly (assuming human intervention), and have some physical reaction that was measured and programmed into Llull.

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming at this much later:

      1) Llull apparently takes about twenty minutes of speaking Names at a high rate to find the Moon-Finding Name. If the program can test 100-1000 Names per second, that’s 120 thousand to 1.2 million Names that have to be tested manually.

      2) By the time you organize a large enough group to do this quickly, or get committed enough to do it on your own over a period of weeks or months, UNSONG is already ahead of you via having sweatshops that will do this work right away. Then they’ve found the Moon-Finding Name and arranged to get a patent on it, giving them a pretext to raid you and make you sign a non-disclosure agreement if you speak the Name yourself.

      3) Thus, even if someone in the open-source Llull community has tested Llull’s output by hand far enough to get the Moon-Finding Name, it doesn’t do anyone a lot of good.

  25. Bob says:

    Wow, so he was captured immediately. That’s pretty dull. Five gets you ten it was Ana who betrayed him. That would be pretty stereotypical, guy with a pointless crush on a girl who is using him is betrayed by said girl.

    Well I’ll keep on reading to see if he gets away somehow. No real reason to read this story if he doesn’t, and this whole thing is just him as a captive watching UNSONG destroy the world (more).

    Also, I get that UNSONG is evil and is probably in the pocket of several major corporations, but I wonder what excuse they’ll have for the crackdown? Because, yeah, nothing illegal about what he did. In this universe it seems that there is no law that keeps individuals from patenting magic. So presumably either they say they were actually there because of the house members using patented magic illegally or because his company had the rights to any Word he used.

  26. Shannon Phillips says:

    Scott, are you actually Edward Teller’s grand-nephew?

    Through a funny coincidence that is obviously not a coincidence, I have Edward Teller’s microscope. I would give it to if you are in fact a blood relation and are willing to pick it up from Oakland.

  27. gradus says:

    > UNSONG had handed the Llull Maharaj ordering over to a sweatshop, gotten the first Name out of it – that stupid Moon-Finding Name, no less – and then tattooed it on the ears of their sentinels.

    shouldn’t it be on their foreheads? the sentinel name goes behind the ear, and the words they are attuned to goes on their forehead according to chapter 2

    >UNSONG agents with the Sentinel Name tattooed above their ear, and the Names involve tattooed on their foreheads, can track your location.

    also, note the typo for “involve”

  28. Bill says:

    I think I lost something. The moon finding name was not copyrighted, was it?

    If it was, I understand what happened.
    If it wasn’t, then why UNSONG was after them? Under what excuse?

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming at this much later:

      UNSONG knows that anyone successfully using Llull would rapidly become very powerful. UNSONG wishes to prepare against this threat, which means setting things up so that they can respond quickly and efficiently to crush any successful Llull user before they accumulate enough Names to become truly dangerous.

      While not all potential successful Llull users would be dumb enough to leave the program set to its default random seed, some fraction would be- so a sensible precaution to take is to be ready to jump on anyone who uses the Moon-Finding Name.

      One part of being ready to do this is to make sure someone copyrights the Moon-Finding Name, then keeps it out of public awareness that the Name is already known. That way, anyone who uses it can easily be identified as a copyright violater, giving UNSONG at least a pretext to raid them.

      So even if the Moon-Finding Name wasn’t already copyrighted when Llull was written, UNSONG would have a strong incentive to arrange for it to become copyrighted.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I spoke the Bulletproof Name, which would protect me from exactly one bullet.

    Fun fact: in Doom, the cheat code idchoppers confers one instant of invulnerability. It was meant to grant indefinite invulnerability, but the programmer confused a countdown timer variable for a flag.

    I like to imagine the Bulletproof Name’s effect is something like this.

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