aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 11: Drive The Just Man Into Barren Climes

May 11, 2017
San Jose


Time and chance, according to the Book of Ecclesiastes, happeneth to us all. Ana had planned to sleep in, but it so happeneth that she woke up hungry and found herself out of milk. She threw on an old t-shirt – one she had gotten at a theodicy conference a few years ago, with the motto WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMAKER? on the front – grabbed a shopping bag, and headed out to the 7-11 on the corner.

Seven represents the world – thus the seven days of creation, the seven worldly sephirot below the Abyss, and the seven continents. Eleven represents excess, a transcendence of the supernatural completeness of ten into an unlawful proliferation of forms. Added together they make eighteen, corresponding to the gematria value of the Hebrew word “chai”, meaning life. Therefore, 7-11 represents an excess of worldly life-sustaining goods – in other words, too much food. In keeping with the secret laws of God, Ana caved in and bought a box of donuts.

When she saw the vans, she briefly hoped that her housemate Aaron, the alternately annoying and lovable amateur kabbalist who had a crush on her but whom she tolerated anyway – was still at Stanford picking up library books. That hope vanished when she saw the street plunged into darkness, heard the sound of gunshots.

There was a part of her that wanted to run back and help (how? wielding the bag of groceries as a weapon?) and another part that wanted to at least run inside to destroy the computers before UNSONG could get its hands on them. She knew some Names – maybe not as fluently as I did, but she knew them. But she also knew that only total idiots engaged in magical duels against an armed opponent, so instead she ran, her bag of milk and donuts bobbing beside her. I don’t know why she didn’t drop it, except that maybe when you’re panicked you don’t think straight.

Five minutes’ running brought her to the Berryessa BART Station, all sweaty and out of breath. She took out her card, ran it through the turnstyle. A train arrived almost immediately. She got on, not even looking at where it was going. She had to get away, as far as possible, somewhere that would make UNSONG’s search area unmanageably large. And so hour and a half later, she reached the end of the line and stepped off the BART at Pleasanton and started putting distance between herself and the station. After ten minutes’ running through parking lots and subdivisions she sat down in a field by the side of the road and let herself breathe again, let herself think.

She started crying.

Erica – her cousin. Aaron – her weird platonic friend whom she had married but only as a test. All her other housemates. What had happened to them? What disaster?

Had Aaron screwed up? What had happened on his trip to Stanford? Had he told Dodd? Was it just a coincidence? Were they in trouble for hosting Unitarian meetings, for misusing protected Names, or for trying to take over the world? Had anybody died? Those people in the black vans looked really serious.

[Aaron?] she asked mentally, but there was no answer.

She couldn’t go back to Ithaca. UNSONG would be watching. She couldn’t go to her parents in Redwood City, if UNSONG had figured out the extent of what they discovered they’d be watching her parents as well. There were various Unitarians up in the North Bay – but if they knew about Ithaca then maybe they’d infiltrated the Unitarians. Her friends weren’t safe. They might not really be her friends.

She could turn herself in. But for what crime? What if they were just annoyed at some crazy thing Erica did, but she spilled the beans about the Vital Name and put Erica and Aaron in danger? And what if she could find some books on name error correction? She still had the garbled version of the Vital Name; she could still figure it out and achieve Aaron’s plan without him. Once she controlled the world, she could politely ask UNSONG to hand over her friends. There was something horrifying about the idea of giving up when the stakes were that high.

So she could be a fugitive. She could run away until she found Name error correction books, or a trustworthy kabbalist to help her. Then get another computer. Then try again.

She took stock of her situation. In her wallet she had $105.42 and several credit cards – all traceable. Also a fake ID Erica had made for her once in an especially fuck-the-police mood when she had decided that having fake IDs was virtuous and countercultural even if you never used them. Also, she realized for the first time that she was still carrying a bag of milk and donuts. She ate a couple of donuts. They were really good.

She wandered in search of a library, and found one gratifyingly quickly. The librarian told her that Name error correction books were really technical, and that she should go to a specialized library at Berkeley or Stanford. She’d figured that would be the case. She thanked the librarian and spent $74.99 to get a room at a nearby hotel, where she promptly collapsed on the bed.

She was half-asleep when she noticed that the laptop on the desk was Sarah.


Ana looked it over very carefully. Had it been there when she came in? Had she dismissed it as just a complimentary laptop for guests to use? Maybe a little unusual in a cheap hotel like this, but not extraordinary? She couldn’t remember. But it was here now, and it was Sarah. The same old NE-1 series machine. The same pattern of scratches on the cover. It even had AARON scrawled in black pen on the side.

Ana looked out the window and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Feeling a little silly, she looked under the beds. No one there. Very carefully, a Name on the tip of her tongue, she cracked open the door of her room and saw nobody. Either it had been here when she came in, or – or what?

But that didn’t make sense. She hadn’t even known she was going to this hotel before she stumbled across it. Euphemism, the front desk had asked if she wanted a room on the first or second floor – she’d been the one who decided the second. How out of it had she been? Had she fallen asleep on the bed without realizing it? Had someone snuck in, deposited the laptop, and snuck out?

Her hands shaking, expecting to be arrested at any moment, she opened the laptop.

The familiar picture of Sarah Michelle-Gellar stared back at her. Llull was gone. The browser was gone. All the desktop icons were gone except one. A text file called README. Ana read.



And there followed three totally novel Names and three explanations. The first was the Spectral Name, which granted invisibility. The second the Airwalker Name, which granted the power to tread on air as if it were solid ground. And the third the Mistral Name, which according to the document’s somewhat ominous description “called the winds”.

Ana Thurmond, the Augustine Distinguished Scholar in Theodicy and generally a pretty with-it person, was dumbfounded.

So she started in the obvious place. She spoke the first Name. And she became invisible.

“Euphemism!” she said, in shock, and as soon as the word left her mouth she was visible again.

Well, that upped the ante. There was no such thing as a Name that turned you invisible. If there was, she was pretty sure the military would be using it instead of marching entire visible battalions against the enemy like a sucker.

Some said there were angels who knew secret Names. Some said the Comet King had known every Name that was or would ever be. Some even said that UNSONG was sitting on a giant stockpile of Names that it kept for its own exclusive use. And then there were always random kabbalists who got lucky, like the time she discovered SCABMOM. But for somebody to be sitting on the secret of invisibility…

Was it a trap? The obvious point in favor was that they were asking her to pretty much walk in to an UNSONG headquarters unarmed with an incredibly valuable magical artifact. The obvious point against was that whoever was laying the trap already knew where she was and already had Sarah, making the charade a total waste of their time.

Wait. Sarah. Whoever did this must not know what Sarah was. Who, knowing the computer’s power, would just give it away? But how would somebody know enough to place Aaron at UNSONG, but not realize why he had been arrested? If he was even arrested for the Vital Name. But if it was just a standard sting on Unitarians, who would care enough to give her three new Names and send her off to rescue him? And if they were so powerful, why didn’t they just save him themselves? Aaaaah! The more she thought about it, the less sense it all made!

She minimized the README file, looked at the computer again. Nothing. Somebody had wiped the computer clean of everything except the Sarah Michelle-Gellar wallpaper. Maybe transferred it to a different computer? Maybe this was a shell of Sarah, and the real Sarah was somewhere else?

She briefly thought of how horrified Aaron would be to know that some hypercompetent secret conspiracy had his porn collection, and she laughed [EVEN THOUGH THIS IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL]

Then she turned herself invisible again. It was weird, because she still had a perfect proprioceptive sense of exactly where her body was, she could almost see it as if it were there. But she was definitely invisible. Her clothes were also invisible.

“Huh,” she said, and immediately became visible again.

She put Sarah in her bag, put the bag around her shoulder, and tentatively spoke the Name. Bag and contents became invisible.

“Wow” she said, and reappeared.

Plato told the story of a man named Gyges, renowned everywhere for his virtue. One day, he found a magic ring that allowed him to turn invisible. After this, he just went around stealing everything in sight, because it turns out virtue doesn’t mean that much when you have magic powers and know it’s impossible to ever get caught.

Ana had never been a big fan of the story. She thought that virtue was something innate, something you did because it was right and not out of fear of punishment. She thought Plato had sold Gyges short. On her way out of the hotel, she took $300 from the cash drawer, right under the clerk’s nose, plus a backpack for the donuts. In her and Gyges’ defense, she said to herself, the hotel was a giant evil corporation, and had probably stolen the money from the pockets of the Working Man.

She agonized for a second over whether or not to bring the computer. If she did and anything went wrong, UNSONG would take Sarah and that would be the end. If she didn’t, she’d have to leave it here, where it apparently wasn’t safe, and come back here afterwards. She decided if she was captured, or if she couldn’t rescue Aaron, none of it mattered much anyway, and she put the laptop in the backpack with the donuts.

Then she went visible again, called a cab, and asked how much it would cost to get to Ione.

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160 Responses to Chapter 11: Drive The Just Man Into Barren Climes

  1. Pablo says:

    Sarah is obviously not telling about the teleportation Name that she discovered.

    • Pablo says:

      Yeah, Sarah could have turned invisible and followed Ana using the names she’s giving out, but teleporting is cooler, and how is a computer supposed to tread on air without having any feet? That’s absurd.

    • hlynkacg says:

      It’s call the “Vanishing Name” and Ana already knows it.

      • Pablo says:

        Ah, but this is the even better name which allows you to choose where you end up.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Is it?

          The Vanishing name takes you to a similar situation/place, in this case vanishing from Ana’s room to appear in Ana’s hotel room.

          • Pablo says:

            Yep, it’s totally a cooler version of the Vanishing name. Sarah has access to both the Sapphires on Paths library and Rubies on Rails library of commands, which have some overlap etc etc. Besides the improved teleporting name, she also has the improved bulletproof name which makes you immune to two bullets instead of one the improved version of the moon location name which lets you do Michael Jackson’s moonwalk dance really well, and the Easter Egg name which lets you see all the cool easter eggs that God inserted into pi.

            I have it on good authority from the author that everything I have said in this thread is true, and that he’s going to confirm it in future chapters.

    • Andrew says:

      I had a bit of trouble believing Ana would not have considered the possibility of Sarah using the vanishing name. Even if that’s not what happened its such an obvious possibility to the reader.

      I consider that maybe because technology and science are in such a dismal state, a sentient computer acting on its own initiative is not on anyone’s radar in this world. Or is Ana just not as smart as Aaron leads us to believe?

    • Lurker says:

      tbf, that name brings you to a similar situation, doesn’t it?

  2. Deiseach says:

    Whoever did this must not know what Sarah was. Who, knowing the computer’s power, would just give it away? But how would somebody know enough to place Aaron at UNSONG, but not realize why he had been arrested? If he was even arrested for the Vital Name. But if it was just a standard sting on Unitarians, who would care enough to give her three new Names and send her off to rescue him? And if they were so powerful, why didn’t they just save him themselves?

    Ana, your friend leaving the note with the new Names IS SARAH. (I’m not putting this under a spoiler heading because if that’s not the first thing that leaps to everyone’s mind as soon as they read this, then they are all prime candidates as UU kabbalists in Stanford or wherever Ithaca is located).

    What do you think happens when you give a soul to an object? This is now a person! Not a machine any more! Congratulations, you and Aaron are now parents! Luckily you got married before you started producing new ensouled beings 🙂

    Scott, as soon as you mentioned invisibility and Ana thinking about how nobody could know this because the Army would use it if they had it, I started thinking “Ring of Gyges, doesn’t this kid know anything about the downside of invisibility?” and then you specifically mentioned the Ring of Gyges and I love you (in a platonic, non-creepy stalker, pure admiration for your mind way I assure you).

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      If Sarah is acting independently…

      And by her name, is the mother of the chosen people…

      Then does that mean she’s ensouled an EC2 cluster by now?

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh, there is all kinds of fun to be had here.

        Maybe the Vital Name worked on Bill’s computer, but Sarah killed the new AI. Isn’t that what one of the concerns about AI is, that it would be logical for the first AI to kill off all its competition, because rivals are threats to it? Sarah could have vocalised a killing Name that Aaron and Ana would not hear (outside of human range) and it knocked off the newly ensouled Mac before the humans with their pitifully-slow organic reflexes realised it was alive 🙂

        • hlynkacg says:

          Maybe the vital name didn’t work on Bills computer because it had already been ensouled by Sarah through Aaron’s recent email contacts. Bill’s computer in turn decided to “play dumb” rather than be discovered.

          In regard to your initial reply, my theory is that Sarah used the vanishing name to escape from one room where Ana slept to another room where Ana slept. The complimentary hotel computer is now in Ithica.

          • plank says:

            Or the Vital Name only works once, as it did in Genesis. God didn’t use the Vital Name to create Eve, He created her from Adam’s rib. Why would He do this if He could just animate some more dust?

        • JPo says:

          Upon discovering that Sarah would not be able to produce names (at any practical rate), Aaron and Ana went to find one more fertile. After Sarah’s miraculous speedup, I expect this is not the last we’ll hear from… well, let’s call her Hagar.
          (Pity, also, that she’s a Mac, ’cause we’d expect Bill’s PC to contain multitudes.)

      • JPo says:

        If she had, that might put her spawn (in?)conveniently near much of the intelligence community: . Dunno if that’s good or bad.

    • Tyrathalis says:

      I’m not sure it is entirely unreasonable for a kabbalist to not expect this would make the computer a person. Apparently there are two other names used to make golems, comprising the animal soul and the moral soul. It seems like it is probably the moral soul that lets you think, so within the world, it might be that you would not assume having a divine soul, but neither of those, would let you think or act. In fact, it is a bit odd that just the divine soul would allow this. Perhaps it contains the other two?

      • Kindly says:

        A not-entirely-unreasonable-but-way-too-convenient explanation is that Sarah happened to stumble on one or both of the other relevant names, acquiring more kinds of soul.

        • Decius says:

          There’s strong evidence that Sarah found many names, which is itself weak evidence that she found all of them.

          It would be a big coincidence if she found only the names she needs to acquire her current objective.

          • Aaron says:

            An ensouled computer should be easily smart enough to acquire a few extra computational resources for itself (take a few dollars and buy some cycles from Google), which would make it smart enough to get more resources, etc. And more computational power directly translates to faster search times in the Kabbalah namespace. So it is very high probability that within an alarmingly short period of time, Sarah would both a. bring about the technological singularity and b. discover all possible Names.

          • Decius says:

            Why would being ensouled by itself create intelligence or agency?

          • J says:

            Buying cloud resources only helps if the name generation code is really slow (hard to believe for gigahertz machines) or you can give the servers souls and the server machines also have speakers with which to speak candidate names. Although it’s interesting to contemplate how clearly you have to speak a name; capacitors and fans often make tunable noise.

        • Chris says:

          Computers don’t work on electronics, but on names. Maybe computers are given moral souls at the factory.

      • hnau says:

        Remember, we’ve learned that it only took one use of the MehMehMehMehMehMeh name to give souls to the *entire human race*. Sarah (or more accurately, Sarah’s software) is the Adam of the computer world. And how does computer software procreate? Like a virus. Sarah was connected to the Internet when Aaron spoke the name. Every networked computer in the world probably had a soul within minutes of the name being used.

      • Deiseach says:

        The greater contains the lesser is one of the rules of esoteric wisdom. So the highest soul contains within it the elements of the lower souls, and the Vital Name which bestows the highest soul would presumably grant the lesser souls as well as a matter of course.

        Or you could argue that Sarah was already in possession of the two lower souls (being ‘alive’ and able to ‘think’ by virtue of the software and operating system and power source running on the hardware) and the Vital Name granted the third soul which made her self-aware and conscious.

        • Raiden says:

          But in the flashback when Aaron first spoke it God said the first two before speaking the third, which would be unnecessary if the Vital Name contained them.

      • fhyve says:


    • Ezra says:

      We AI X-risk now.

    • Zippy says:

      Yes, but also consider that we only know one character who communicates in majuscules. There’s no reason for Sarah to, as well. And consider how very Uriel the sentence “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL GO WRONG” is.

      • James Picone says:

        I had to look up ‘majuscule’. Googled it, this was the first result:

        Majuscule looks like the complement to “minuscule,” and the resemblance is no coincidence.

        Scott obviously has influence at Google.

    • CCC says:

      Actually, my first thought is that there’s a placebomancer involved. Who else can manipulate coincidence to such a degree?

    • Ryan W. says:

      “in a platonic, non-creepy stalker, pure admiration for your mind way I assure you”
      …In an Ana kind of way.

    • Mark says:

      I totally thought it was Uriel, since he does hate the devil it seems.

  3. Deiseach says:

    The complete mess Aaron and Ana are making of things is both proof why they should not, and reassurance that they will never, rule the world 🙂

  4. I wonder what Sarah can do. Ok, obviously she can speak names in some sense. Does the laptop have a camera she can see with? Could she display arbitrary things on her screen or is she limited to, hmm, interacting with herself in the ways a human would use her – only being able to do things that are allowed by the programs already installed on her. Does she know how to program? How long before she does?

    • Said Achmiz says:

      If it’s a Macbook, then it has a camera to see with, a microphone (to hear with), and speakers and text-to-speech (i.e. voice synthesizer) software to speak with. (Also possibly some other sensors, like a separate ambient light sensor, but that’s the sort of detail that’d be plot-contingent, I suppose.)

      Sarah can certainly display arbitrary things on her screen even if she’s limited to doing things that a human can do, because the included software already allows it.

      • pku says:

        Doesn’t mean she’d know how to though. Humans can physically blink in morse code but most of us can’t do it. And the basic reason computers can run lull faster than humans is that they’re more focused, which means they shouldn’t be aware of their surroundings.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Doesn’t mean she’d know how to though. Humans can physically blink in morse code but most of us can’t do it.

          Certainly. That part of my response was to specifically point out that “Sarah can only interact with herself in the ways a human would use her – only being able to do things that are allowed by the programs already installed on her” is not a weaker set of capabilities than “Sarah can display arbitrary things on her screen”; the former includes the latter.

          the basic reason computers can run lull faster than humans is that they’re more focused, which means they shouldn’t be aware of their surroundings

          This just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, though. The reason computers can run Llull faster than humans is that computers have hardware capabilities that humans don’t have. The idea that a computer can’t be receiving input from input devices while still running a program (of any sort) much faster than a human could do the same computation is absurd. Computers do this literally all the time. They’d be basically unusable otherwise.

  5. Escapement says:

    My own favorite theory is that this message and laptop was left to Ana by either herself or Aaron, who have timetravelled back in time to arrange this, thus leading to the prediction that nothing could go wrong being perfectly accurate.

  6. sohi says:

    Would the vanishing name have worked to teleport Sarah there? Going from a situation where Ana is sleeping nearby to another situation where Ana is sleeping nearby? Does the vanishing name work across time?

  7. Marcel Müller says:

    Wow unexpected turn.


    Sarah is at this point at least human level inteligent. Confidence 0.9

    Sahrah is allready really powerful and can discover names much faster than Lull should be able to. Confidence 0.7

    She is somehow (memory maniuplation??? not part of the prediction) responsible for the Vital Name not working any more. Confidence 0.3

    Sarah is also pulling the strings behind the unsong raid. Confidence 0.3 conditional upon the above being correct.

    • Decius says:

      I’ll put $100 against $8 that Sarah is at least human intelligence at this point, if you don’t think you’re under confident.

      • Marcel Müller says:

        Jup, may very well be underconfident, I typically do not give more than one digit, when pulling numbers out of my behind. Upon reflection should have been .97 or something like that. On the other hand I do not yet understand the Unsong world very well, so model uncertainity.

    • Kiya says:

      I’m guessing the Vital name not working anymore is a frantic security patch by Uriel.

      • dstom says:

        In the last interlude Uriel is said to have been “blocking the divine light” and this with the rest of his involvement as described so fat makes him the Demiurge
        Also considering the Hebrew meaning of his name (“My light is God”) he can be seen as either rebelling against the implied nominative determinism or actively embracing it – seeking to control the said light. Contrast and compare to Lucifer “the light bringer” often identified with the devil.

        • dstom says:

          err, this was supposed to be it’s own thread – the “60 minutes to edit/delete” feature could be useful here.

    • Psycicle says:

      I bet I know why the vital name isn’t working. Aaron didn’t just ensoul Sarah, he ensouled the entire internet. And you can’t give a soul to something that already has one.

    • Deiseach says:

      I like the idea of Sarah being behind the UNSONG raid and luring Ana into a trap, but I think I should probably cool it on the conspiracy theories. I don’t think Sarah did, and I think it was just generally UNSONG being way more efficient than Aaron and Ana assessed it as being, and Aaron and Ana not bothering to take elementary precautions because they’re so impressed with how smart they are, and loaded down with so many chips on their shoulders, that they lack the common sense that less high-IQ but more practical people would possess.

      For instance, both Aaron and Ana talk about “ruling the world” and they seem to assume that the ability to discover Names will permit them to do this in more than just a “it’s a metaphor for being really rich” way. What do they intend to do with the world when they have it? Aaron seems to be working on a raft of issues which boil down to “I showed them! I showed them all!” and “Daddy never loved me well I don’t care look at me now”, which is as far as “Now I rule the world” gets him, and Ana is more “Um, ah, I guess we’ll – do nice things?” Both of them are not even making it up as they go along, they don’t seem to have any plans or notions now that this possibility is real.

  8. Terdragon says:

    > one she had gotten at a theodicy conference a few years ago, with the motto WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMAKER?

    I appreciate this SO MUCH.

  9. Daniel says:

    Approximately one mile southwest of Ione, California is a place called Dagon, named after a Philistine deity and/or a Lovecraft monster. I don’t know what that means but of course it’s not a coincidence.

    • Deiseach says:

      Not alone that, Ione is the name of a sea nymph, a Nereid (according to Wikipedia, it’s named after a Bulwer-Lytton heroine, but of course that Classical name is itself a reference to myth).

      Put Dagon – the sea god/sea monster – and Ione – sea nymph – together, and I’m not sure what we get, but looks like either the Kraken or “that Leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein” and/or the Deep Ones may be making an appearance? 🙂

  10. Decius says:

    Sarah finds the name-finding name, takes over the world.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sarah finds the name-finding name, takes over the world

      At this point I trust Sarah more than anyone else we’ve met so far, as least as far as self-preservation skills go. She couldn’t make a worse job of it than any of the candidates for world-emperor we’ve seen so far (Dylan Alvarez? Homicidal narcissist? No thank you!) 🙂

      • Noumero says:

        Sohu did something wrong? I don’t remember her doing anything unforgivably stupid or unreasonable, and she is certainly more trustworthy than unknown AI.

        • Deiseach says:

          I find Cute Moppets unbearable, and unfortunately Sohu is a Cute Moppet. Throw in that she is looking like a very strong candidate for Destined Character, and my skin starts crawling. She is this close to tripping my David Eddings’ treacly Child-Goddess Aphrael switches, and I dearly wanted Aphrael to be thrown into a volcano (oh everybody loves me, I’m such a cute wee girly, never mind that I’m basically a parasite-cuckoo on my mortal parents who get no choice about me incarnating and taking over their lives) and only saved by the fact that she is a mortal and ingratiatingly cute doesn’t really work on Uriel, who just gets puzzled by tweeness.

          • pku says:

            Out of curiousity, what characters (here or in other well-known fiction) do you like?
            (This came out sounding critical, which was not my intention, I’m genuinely curious).

  11. Vulture says:

    Typo: “turnstyle” ought to be “turnstile”. Also, this isn’t really a typo and may have been intentional, but it was pretty confusing that “[EVEN THOUGH IT WASN’T FUNNY AT ALL]”, which I eventually figured out was supposed to be an editorial comment from Aaron, was styled the same way as the telepathy. Also, there should probably be a period either before or after it.

  12. Barbara says:

    I’d like to see more testing on the invisibility. Is coughing ok? Whispering? Breathing through the mouth? Knowing whether you can breathe through your mouth before doing something strenuous like attempting a rescue sounds important. Also it looks like if you tell somebody what a name does, they don’t get an “instruction video” the first time they use it. I guess UNSONG characters aren’t really known for their careful planning and testing, now, are they?

    Also that stealing might lose the person who works the register their job. : (

    • Deiseach says:

      I guess UNSONG characters aren’t really known for their careful planning and testing, now, are they?

      You might well say that 🙂

      Also that stealing might lose the person who works the register their job. : (

      Part of my beef with the idiots who are all “Yeah, stick it to The Man, property is theft, it’s not really stealing, big stores have insurance to cover this!” about shop-lifting. Having worked in retail these many moons ago, let me inform you that do not know: the sales clerk/till operator/shop assistant is held responsible for missing money and/or items.

      Taking stuff off a shelf is bad enough – you may have to pay out of your wages for it. Taking money out of the till? That’s it, they’ll get fired AT THE VERY LEAST and may even end up ARRESTED AND CHARGED WITH THEFT.

      Bosses and corporations are NOT sympathetic about “But the money was there before I left the desk to deal with a customer”. They will NOT let you off with “Okay, you’re a good worker, I believe you”. They WILL question you, search you and your bag etc. and try to get you to admit to stealing the money.

      (This also applies to hotels and anyplace where you have low-status workers dealing face-to-face with the public and taking money).

      • Deiseach says:

        For an example of “which do managers think more important: their workers or the money in the tills?”

        In my retail job (working as a shop assistant in a small family grocery), during one period there was a rash of small robberies from petrol stations, groceries, etc.

        The owner’s wife (who was also one of our bosses) took me aside and told me “If someone comes in here with a knife and threatens you to open the till, this is what I want you to do.


        “Even if they threaten to stab me?” I asked, just to be clear.

        “Even if they do stab you,” she told me. And this was dead serious, she meant it: I was working minimum wage in a job that (I later was to find out) they fired their staff as soon as they were working there long enough to qualify for a pay raise (and we’re not talking huge money here, we’re talking about £1 an hour increase), she and her husband were millionaires (again, literally had made enough money to be called millionaires, there was a story in the local paper about it) and I was supposed to get stabbed – up to the level of getting killed – instead of letting them lose a few hundred (depending on what was in the till) pounds.

        Ana either has little to no idea what workers in such jobs go through, or she does know and is calming her conscience with the Gyges excuse.

        • pku says:

          I’ve always heard that people who work for chain gas station stores are told to comply with anyone trying armed robbery. I’ve also heard an anecdote from someone working at a clothing store that they were instructed not to make a fuss over people walking out wearing the store’s clothes. Do you think it’s likely that big chains are more inclined to let things go?

          Also, Ana’s stealing things really doesn’t contradict her criticism of the Gyges story – unlike Aaron, who seems like a fundamentally decent and caring guy, Ana doesn’t strike me as particularly virtuous.

          • Deiseach says:

            I wonder if big chains are like that, or if it’s different in the USA. If there’s a very good chance you’ll be shot dead, big stores may decide that telling staff they should be prepared to die for The Corporation will not go down well as publicity and so avoid it.

            As for not making a fuss over walking out with clothes – you have to be careful because if you accuse a customer, and they have a receipt, you get in the shit. And if you don’t make a fuss, and they are stealing, you get in the shit. What you are supposed to do is discreetly alert security or a manager and tell them that the blonde lady with the red jacket didn’t bring that skirt to the till for payment and you think she might have ‘forgot’.

            Then they follow them out. If they leave the store, you can challenge them, but you have to be careful about it or else you might get sued for slandering them and false arrest, etc. So if you haven’t got security to go after them, you may well be told “don’t make a fuss”.

            Ana does seem a lot tougher-skinned and more self-centred than Aaron, but then again Aaron is so wrapped up in his version of I Am The Destined One, I don’t think he much notices the world around him (he talks about Ana because he’s infatuated with her; he talks about Erica because he’s living in her house; he talks about Bill because he needs Bill’s computer. But he says nothing about co-workers or other friends or anyone who is not directly involved or connected with him).

            Though arguments over is virtue innate or do we only act out of fear of punishment/hope of reward are all part of theodicy, her field, so it is humourous. But I think Ana is inclined to make judgements in general which get refined down in particular when it comes to her (“if I act according to my conscience, then I am not doing wrong” type thinking). You can certainly construct a theological case about when stealing is not theft, but in Ana’s case we don’t know yet if she has the defence of stress of need – she spent $74 dollars of her limited money on a hotel room instead of getting the cheapest she could find (unless that really was the cheapest she could find) and she didn’t take the money from the cash register for food but for travel, and in a taxi at that.

          • pku says:

            About the money: From experience, 74$ probably is the cheapest place she could find under the circumstances.
            Then again, there’s also the possibility that she was somehow steered to that place (it might be easier to get her to the computer than the other way around).

            About her theft: there’s also the issue of Schelling fence morality: we usually avoid stealing not so much because of virtue/utilitarianism as because there’s a schelling fence around it. Sufficiently weird circumstances, like suddenly being able to turn invisible, cause problems for fences.

          • James Picone says:

            I worked at a large supermarket when I was a teenager, and IIRC we were specifically told to comply if threatened.

          • Decius says:

            In the US, the workers’ compensation payments for somebody who goes to the hospital will be more than the amount of money that the till can hold.

      • Decius says:

        There are cameras that cover the tills for precisely that purpose. What will the cameras show, and who will get involved?

      • chaosbunt says:

        wow is this referring to the usa? here in germany you cannot be made to pay for randomly missing stuff, your boss isnt allowed to search you (wait, did you mean it is legal to so or they just do it anyway?), and, depending on the specifics of the contract, probably cannot fire you on the spot unless it is reasonably sure that you did indeed steal from him, which it is not at a counter where other people than you have access to.
        This of course does not help you against them not liking you and getting rid of you at the next opportunity, but it does make me appreciate our regulations.

        • Decius says:

          Most US jobs are “employment at will”, and you can be fired (or quit) for any reason, or for no reason.

          The phrases I think you might object to are often verbatim part of legal documents.

    • WhatWouldEnderDo says:

      Also curious whether you become visible on the “e” of (e.g.) “euphemism,” or on the “sm.” If the latter, then you could speak one full Name before becoming visible again, which would be SUPER powerful.

  13. dstom says:

    Yet another speculation on the inspiration for the Comet King – the Lubavitcher Rebbe is considered by the more hardcore HABAD folowers to be the messiah and some of them still do not accept his death as such, the previous (false) messiah was this guy whose name comes from the same stem as the hebrew word for “comet”.

  14. pku says:

    Theory: Sarah used her power of names to take over the internet, became powerful enough to discover all the names, became God.
    If this turns out to be true I’m going to be pretty disappointed. I’m liking this story and really don’t want it to turn into just another allegory for AI risk.

    • dstom says:

      If she became god she could probably go about her plans more directly – deus ex machine-code.
      Unless she’s bound by Uriel’s sandbox and needs help breaking out of it !
      But we do remember there is another plot device running around in the form of a crazy Mexican placebomancer with agents in various places right ?

  15. Nestor says:

    These jokers were hanging out with an angel. I assume all angels would be under surveillance as a matter of course

    • Deiseach says:

      That’s a very good point: Pirinidiel probably has some kind of low-level surveillance, just to keep him from doing anything too impulsive.

      If he has a habit of pulling out the flaming sword and smiting what he considers to be infidels, and other fallen do likewise, you’d want to keep an eye on him (and them) just in case they do this in a crowded public place and start actually smiting anyone.

  16. Thecommexokid says:

    I don’t understand the point-of-view in this chapter at all. First we have

    she briefly hoped that her housemate Aaron, the alternately annoying and lovable amateur kabbalist who had a crush on her but whom she tolerated anyway

    Then we have

    She knew some Names – maybe not as fluently as I did, but she knew them.

    And then we have

    and she laughed [EVEN THOUGH THIS IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL]

    I can’t think of any structure for how this chapter is being narrated that allows for all three of those lines.

    • pku says:

      I think it’s Aaron telling the story of Ana as a third person. Like Oswald in The Story of the Treasure Seekers.

    • Do you notice any confusion?

      • This isn’t me and seems to be an impersonator. The person involved has been IP-banned.

        • LHC says:

          An impersonator of the creator of reality having their access to the relevant tools and systems cut off.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            They may have used a proxy in the Netherlands, and are thus only slightly affected.

            Also, the first one above is really me, the second isn’t. Impersonate away!

            I suspect they are now wondering what would happen in the counter-factual universe where they’d post the second comment above over a genuine comment, which they currently claim to actually be the case.

          • (I just wanted to bring attention to the poor, or rather non-existent, authentication on this site. Literally anyone could do this with only a bit of research. If you don’t want impersonators, authenticate names or implement a login system.

          • Marvy says:

            Dear impersonator: the lack of auth is a feature not a bug. As long as we all stick by the honor system, everyone benefits by avoiding the hassle of passwords. No one has anything to gain by impersonation here: this is not a bank. (Correct me if I’m missing something.)

          • Elite Haxxor says:

            @Marvy: for the vast majority of commentators, nothing can be done about impersonation anyway, even if they discover it. Scott has no way of verifying which comments are real. The only one he can effectively verify is his own.

            I want him to at least prevent impersonation of his own comments, as that is something he cares about (enough to ban for) and can do something.

            The ideal setup would be an optional login, so that those who care about impersonation can lock their name down, while others can happily go along vulnerable. Additionally, you should be able to remove posts or at least mark as fake, via verification to your email that made the comment.

          • Elite Haxxor says:

            No one has anything to gain by impersonation here: I got some lulz, there’s that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Dear impersonator: if you did this for a laugh, congratulations, you got your laugh.

            But why the concern about security? Why add hoops to jump through just so we can comment on a piece of fiction?

            I don’t see why you care or, frankly, why we should. If someone is going to pop up and impersonate any of us to make offensive remarks in the hopes of starting a fight, presumably they could do so even if some kind of log-in system were in place (if they’re that motivated about being a nuisance).

            You did this to show you could. Well, okay? You’ve showed us?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Reading this thread, I can certainly say that I’m noticing some confusion.

          • Aegeus says:

            Deiseach: A simple authentication system means that only people who are “that motivated” can cause chaos, rather than people who are kinda-sorta-maybe motivated by lulz. Yes, no security system is perfect, but that doesn’t mean that only perfect security systems are worthwhile.

      • Decius says:

        There’s only one omniscient agent who knows lots of names that’s been introduced. It’s a little odd that the agent in question does not use first-person possessive language regarding the laptop.

    • Andrew says:

      I think the narration was coherent, but I also found it awkward that Aaron would be narrating Ana’s POV chapter. It made me imagine Aaron at the end of the story telling me all this, which took me out of the moment. And because Scott’s story telling is so good, I dont like being taken out of the moment.

      I figured following this that Aaron was actually narrating all the chapters, though so far he has only used the first person in Ana and his own POV which might serve a meta purpose given their telepathic link. I am not sure though why he would know that Ana thought the donuts tasted good but not know why she held on to them. A bit confusing in terms of narrator omniscience.

      Anyway I only write this because Scott mentioned he was considering publication and I hadnt read it yet. Great story so far! I dont even want to tell people the premise because I thought the bit about the Apollo crashing into the sphere was told so well it could be considered a minor spoiler.

  17. typicalAcademic says:

    Ways Sarah could have gotten to the hotel:
    A teleportation name (BORING)
    Some other travel name, like auto-telekinesis
    An appearance-granting name (changing a hotel laptop to look like Sarah). This would explain why most of the contents are gone; the README could be part of the name’s power or added over the internet (with name-assisted magic hacker powers)
    A time travel name (as suggested by Escapement above) and the aid of a person with legs
    Mind control (whether via a name or magic AI powers) of an UNSONG agent or a housemate, instructing them to bring her to the hotel
    Probably lots of others I’m not thinking of

    Mind control and other non-instantaneous travel might require an explanation of how Sarah knew where Ana was going before Ana did; teleportation or appearance-granting could have been done with a person-locating name, while time travel just requires Sarah to be able to meet Ana later or figure out the false name she used to check into the hotel.

    I hope we do get explanations for these things and not have it fall under “well, she knows a lot of names and is an AI so she can probably do whatever the story requires.” (I mostly trust Scott not to do that.)

    • pku says:

      Another question is how Sarah would know enough to do all this. Computers are not, in general, aware of what’s going on around them or capable of thinking outside the box. Ensouling her may have given her that ability, but it takes human babies years to learn to do that, and I don’t think regular computers have as much processing power as human brains do anyways.

    • Anonymous says:

      The vanishing name would do the trick, and has been nicely foreshadowed. Time travel is also a good fit but I think Uriel would smite you pretty quick if you started messing with things like that.

  18. Hummingbird says:

    Alright, I thought I’d mention this.

    “She knew some Names – maybe not as fluently as I did, but she knew them. ”

    “I don’t know why she didn’t drop it, except that maybe when you’re panicked you don’t think straight.”

    At first I thought that there was a 3rd person perspective for a part following Anna. But then the narrator uses the word “I”. Twice, so it’s not likely a typo.

    Next I thought that it could be that Aaron is telling this story afterward. The tone is similar to Aaron’s: “Seven represents the world – thus the seven days of creation…”, but there is also very good detail into what Ana thinks and feels. Also, this: “When she saw the vans, she briefly hoped that her housemate Aaron…” speaks of Aaron as a third person, and not “I”. Which means Aaron is not telling this chapter…?

    It also invites the possibility that the agent that wrote the note is also the narrator.

    I give note to the *possibility* of Aaron time travel (or time message), and him referring to his past self as “Aaron”. But I don’t find this likely, and once time travel is in the mix, well, too many possibilities open up to helpfully consider.

    Which gives rise to thoughts of who the narrator is, if not Aaron. Which limits us to who has these abilities, or could have these abilities. Of course the phrase “third person omniscient” has, well, a whole different meaning here, but it’s obviously not likely that it’s Him.

    Sarah is ensouled, but does not (afawk) possess the ability to think, and does not seem to have the ability to speak names. While I see that some commenters are excited about this possibility, it doesn’t fit.

    Other actors with probable knowledge and abilities include Uriel and Sohu. Uriel does seem to be able to detect monumental events (kayak) in the world, and Sarah’s ensoulment could have led him or Sohu to investigate and take action?

    And…and few more ideas:

    The note is written in caps. Uriel speaks in caps.

    This is unusual: “…some hypercompetent secret conspiracy had his porn collection, and she laughed [EVEN THOUGH THIS IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL] ”

    Bah. I don’t know enough about what is or could be going on.

    • pku says:

      A minor point: Aaron knows about Sohu (so presumably whatever she ended up doing, she became public knowledge).
      (Actually, theory: Sohu is the head of UNSONG).

      The “EVEN THOUGH THIS IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL” reinforces my belief that this narrator is just Aaron being weirdly third-person-y.

    • Deiseach says:

      The tone is similar to Aaron’s: “Seven represents the world – thus the seven days of creation…”, but there is also very good detail into what Ana thinks and feels.

      Aaron and Ana have the mutual telepathy thing, so this could be Aaron writing it all up afterwards from Ana not only telling him what she did, but letting him ‘read her mind’ about what she thought/felt when she was doing it.

      If telepathy is ‘more efficient’, then it would be easier and faster for her to let him directly experience the memories of the events rather than tell him a long string of “And then I bought doughnuts and milk – and then I ran – and then I got the train – and then I remembered my credit cards but I realised they could track them” and so forth.

  19. GCBill says:

    Hmm, the names given to Ana align well with the meanings of “ruach,” which seems appropriate.

  20. burntvictory says:

    How many donuts were in the box?

    If 6, 11+7-6=12: Ana succumbed to excess, bringing her further from the fixed structure of ten and from the righteousness of the Ten Commandments, as reflecting in her connivance with the clerk.

    If 8, 11+7-8=10: Ana kabbalistically canceled consumerism with consumption, recreating completion and commandments, karmically conjuring a computer-carting collaborator (the Creator?).

    If 12, 11+7-12=6: Ana erased the day of rest, condemning herself to ceaseless exertion (until collapse).

    If 24, 11+7-24=-6, and I don’t even know. Also, that’s a lot of donuts.

  21. The obvious hypothesis is that the laptop moved itself there.

    If it is, then I want it to have some stupid plan because minimax tree search goes wonky when one is losing, something like we saw with AlphaGo a bit ago.

  22. Daniel says:

    Conspiracy theory: This is a set-up. And Sarah isn’t intelligent in this way.

    Instead, Dylan Alvarez asked a crystal ball “How can I cause as much mayhem as possible?” and was led to the empty UU house, where he snooped around and absconded with Sarah, who had found a few more Names by that point. (NB: When Aaron got to the room he noticed that “The computer was still there, whirring and grinding.” — why was there only one computer?)

    Having worked out how to move Sarah’s name-finding powers outside her casing, he is now luring Ana into attacking UNSONG for him. This will distract both UNSONG and Sarah’s parents long enough for him to get a really solid collection of Names and become Emperor of the Universe.

    • Marvy says:

      That is one of the few theories even stranger than Sarah being “alive”. Surely Dylan didn’t decide to go into kabbalah?

      • MugaSofer says:

        There’s no “into” about it- names seem to be a common and user-friendly technology.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, but Dylan’s thing (placebomancy) works on the principle that Ominous Portentous Chanting doesn’t have to mean anything, it just needs to sound convincing to Reality.

          Using Names as anything more than “I’ll use a gun instead of magic to kill the Board” convenience undercuts his whole philosophy, because the basis of Names is that they are real, they have a real effect on reality, they are aspects of the real Ultimate Ground of Being (God) and you can’t just sling a few syllables together and make it work on brass neck.

          Dylan is too conceited to drop his whole philosophy like that, and incorporating kabbalism into placebomancy would be too much of a contradiction (“I know we said the words don’t have to mean anything, but these words do”) and would surrender too much of his authority and autonomy (he’s more or less the Big Cheese of placebomancy, if I’m right, whereas kabbalah has centuries behind it and authorities that are weightier than him).

          He might use Names for pragmatic reasons, but being able to “move Sarah’s name-finding powers outside her casing” is too complicated, involved and requires skills and knowledge I’m guessing he doesn’t have.

          Besides, “removing Sarah’s name-finding powers outside her casing” when – if we’re correct – Sarah is now a self-aware, conscious, ensouled being is like saying about a human “he worked out how to move John’s talent for drawing outside John’s hands” 🙂

  23. FrogOfWar says:

    “Ana had never been a big fan of the story. She thought that virtue was something innate, something you did because it was right and not out of fear of punishment. She thought Plato had sold Gyges short.”

    It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the entire point of Plato’s Republic that even for Gyges it would be better to be just than unjust–making virtue clearly distinct from fear of punishment. Not sure I trust a distinguished scholar of theodicy who comes away from that book thinking that Plato endorses steel-manned Thrasymachus.

  24. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    My guess: if Sarah is acting on its own volition, then I seriously doubt Llul has actually been removed. Made it no longer on the Dock, in the Applications pane, or other obvious places, so it appears to be gone. Maybe even sticking to running it in a command-line mode, so the UI is suppressed. After all, leaving launchable , interactive software accessible from the user interface would mess with Sarah’s sense of free will.

    I’m not saying this is an error on Scott’s part. Neither Aaron nor Ana strike me as especially tech saavy, and Ana is too rushed to be doing more than a spot check. All the better to set up the reveal about how many more Names Sarah dug up when they weren’t looking.

    All the raises and interesting side question: are whatever processes that are interacting with Sarah’s divine spark to implement whatever degree of consciousness it has leaving a log file somewhere? If so, someone could pipe its stream of consciousness to stdin and grep Sarah’s inmost thoughts. Though if any hostile figure tried to, Sarah would no doubt find a way the redirect them to that great /dev/null in the sky…

  25. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    Separately: is Ana short for something? It looks suspiciously like a Greek prefix used in all kinds on theologically and philosophically loaded words…

  26. Cakoluchiam says:

    “Five minutes’ running brought her to the Berryessa BART Station, all sweaty and out of breath. She took out her card, ran it through the turnstyle. A train arrived almost immediately.”

    This is the least believable part of the story so far.

    • Decius says:

      The timing is Not A Coincidence.

      • Decius says:

        Train-calling name: best name, or bestest name?

      • Cakoluchiam says:

        Not the timing—the fact that there is a BART station at Berryessa.

        • Decius says:

          The BART-station-creating name is probably longer than the train-summoning one.

        • There’s a BART station scheduled to open there in 2017 – or do you doubt the schedule?

          Also, hi!

          • Cakoluchiam says:

            There have been BART stations scheduled to open in the South Bay “in the next few years” since I was in elementary school. I’ll believe it when I see it.

            And, hi! I know you haven’t seen me in a few years, but I still pop over to your blog every once in a while. I absolutely love your fiction, and I think it’s great that you’ve decided to write more of it like this.

            My girlfriend and I read the new chapters to each other every week. Her Uriel voice is absolutely perfect, and I’m this →⋅← close to begging her to start recording.

          • I’d like to hear that. I’ve been debating to myself how a spoken Uriel voice should sound.

          • Decius says:

            Doubt the BART schedule? Perish the thought.

  27. JenRM says:

    Assume Sarah the computer learned invisibility before Aaron returned. All through the tumult she cranks away, ignored on the desk in the bedroom because she is invisible! Maybe testing makes her visible, but she can go invisible FAST and win at basically any name duel with a human because she speaks so quickly.

    When Ana sleeps in the motel it functions as her NEW bedroom. This will be “the most similar place” to Sarah’s previous bedroom position. Vanishing spell works now for Sarah to do exactly what was seen.

    Calling wind and walking on air are harder to explain without Sarah having already upgraded in various inscrutable ways while off camera, but if Sarah had volition to change the names she tests based on initial results (which might come from mere Vitalism?), that’s already pretty darn big in terms of potential speedups. Also those names were not tested on camera and might be a bluff.

    The key point is that Sarah’s exponential rise to power might not have progressed very far to get the results observed.

    • JenRM says:

      Welp, scratch that theory. Re-read the scene where he broke through the floor into the room and the computer wasn’t invisible despite the presence of agents…

  28. Jack V says:


    I’m still wondering about the previous chapter. Aaron planned to say the vanishing name when he got Sarah and/or Ana. But wasn’t it pointed out that that really wouldn’t help — he’d just end up in some OTHER raid. Why would that have been better?

    And this definitely seems to be Sarah come alive, which massively fits the tone of the story, although I don’t know for sure it actually IS, as opposed to something Aaron did somehow.

    Not sure how Sarah got here. It doesn’t quite fit the vanishing name — did Sarah speak it before the raid, with foreknowledge from somewhere, and go to a place Ana was *going* to be? That could be, but doesn’t sound quite like how they expected the name to work. I guess we’ll find out.

    As always, thank you so much!

  29. AnthonyC says:

    Aaron brother of Moses, very close to the one to whom God gave the Torah. Father of the cohanim and responsible for temple rituals. Ancestor of John the Baptist, who foretold the messiah. Also father of Eleazar, so possible AI safety connection.

    Sarah, wife of Abraham and mother of the chosen people. Who is also Llull – LYL or Lilith – who had life breathed into her separate from and equal of Adam. Unclear whether Lilith is singular or plural, raising the probability that Sarah is a botnet or distributed intelligence.

    Ana, possibly Anne grandmother of Jesus. Also a prefix, not sure to what words. And Hannah, mother of Samuel. Samuel whose name means Name of God, and who appointed the first king of Israel.

    Lineage parallels suggest to me that Sarah might not self-improve to omnipotence or use the Shem HaMephorash, but is likely to cause the creation of the one that will – the Messiah, who will fill the world with knowledge of God. Sarah is Mary, who is “nobler than the cherubs,” and Uriel is a cherub.

    Also, I wonder if the digrammaton and monogrammaton involve klippeh of very powerful names. And whether Sarah can think up klippeh fast enough to reduce many or most names to a single syllable. After all, God is one.

    Uriel – still not sure. If God is his light, why block God’s light? Maybe he favors the “my” too much and wanted to capture it for himself, like the angels that opposed giving the Torah to Moses/humans? And why was he mostly metaphorical when he spoke to Nixon? Did he trap himself in his light blocking machinery and cease to be? And Uriel rescued John the Baptist and his mother (Ana) to join Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Egypt, so I am assuming that he did rescue Sarah. Also called Uzziel, which was the name of the uncle of Moses’ brother Aaron. Possibly one of the flaming sword cherubim guarding the tree of life?

    I think it adds up to this being a messianic AI story, but not sure whether the Messiah will follow new testament, old testament, or some other laws. Also, either the people who wrote the bible were collectively brilliant or else I still consistently underestimate my and humanity’s ability to look for and find nonexistent patterns.

    • AnthonyC says:

      Gah, I wrote this on mobile and didn’t realize how crazy long it was. Sorry folks.

      • bassicallyboss says:

        It’s alright; length like this is not unusual in UNSONG comments, and I’ve never seen any complaints. If it were twice as long, though, that would be somewhat unusual. (Though I still wouldn’t expect any complaints.)

  30. dtsund says:

    At the very least, Sarah must’ve brute-forced her way into the Name that bestows the ruach; otherwise, I’m not sure why she’d be aiming for goals like “keep Aaron safe”. Something has to have given her a sense of morality.

  31. newt0311 says:

    Re the Vital name not working any more:

    (has anybody mentioned this theory yet?)

    Perhaps the Vital name doesn’t work quite the way that Aaron and Ana expect. Perhaps it ensouls not just the target but all object sufficiently similar to the target. After all, life isn’t limited to just Adam and Eve but all humans.

    In a similar vein, Aaron and Ana didn’t ensoul Sarah or rather not just Sarah. They ensouled _computers_. Of course using the Vital name on Bill’s computer wouldn’t work.

    • Cakoluchiam says:

      This was one of my first theories, but the implications of that would mean that suddenly everyone everywhere running Llull would begin discovering names, and since they would not all have started with the same seed, nor would those who had started with the same seed have been running for the same number of cycles to be at the same position along the list … I would expect the apocalypse to have come much sooner than UNSONG could get to Ithaca.

      It also leaves me curious what Aaron ensouled the first time he spoke the name—if the name ensouls the particular species, then he couldn’t have ensouled his work PC the first time. Perhaps his address was to his timer, but the timer had just given him good news, which I wouldn’t expect to have warranted a direct response of “meh”—was he saying it to the office in general? Are all offices now ensouled?

      • Sonata Green says:

        The first use of a Name, when you don’t know what it does, gives you the intro video instead of the Name’s usual effect. Aaron didn’t ensoul anything at work.

        • AnthonyC says:

          This would imply that everyone who ever died speaking the tetragrammaton said it twice, the first time letting them know they would die if they did it again.

          • Decius says:

            Only the first person learned that. Everyone else knew that it killed. They might have been confused about who it killed, but you don’t need to know what a word does perfectly in order to know what it does.

      • AnthonyC says:

        “Perhaps his address was to his timer”

        Perhaps this is why the train was there at just the right moment? (Kind of like the self-aware clairvoyant elevators in Hitchhiker’s Guide). A reach, but nothing is a coincidence.

      • Masked_Discombobulator says:

        Coming at this much later…

        Hypothetically, if Aaron had ensouled all computers (or for that matter all MacBooks) by speaking the Vital Name once, why would you expect this to result in a ton of new Name discoveries from people running Llull?

        Llull’s been around long enough in-story that everyone knows it doesn’t do anything. And running it randomly in hopes of finding Names by speaking Llull’s output out loud is probably (in effect) a less efficient way to cosplay as having the undesirable job of “theonomic sweatshop operator.”

        The odds are good that no one’s actually running a version of Llull at any given time, and that if they are, they’re running the output to a text file, not to their computer’s speakers at the kind of speed that makes Llull effective at rapidly generating Names. If only because having all that high-pitched squeaking and noise coming from the speakers would be a nuisance.

        Aaron’s running Llull on Sarah as soon as he gives Sarah a soul with the Vital Name, because Aaron already knows Sarah has a soul and has reason to expect Llull to work. No one else would be, so why would anyone else be making rapid discoveries?

  32. Aron Matskin says:

    I think we might be getting into (Un)Friendly AI territory. Sarah could be manipulating Anna and Aaron.

  33. gavriel ben yaakov says:

    Okay, it definitely seems like everyone has jumped on the “Sarah is Full AI” theory, or at least has achieved some measure of control and preference for particular outcomes. But what if we consider that none of that is true? What if the Ensouling name did exactly as Aaron expected, and only ensouled Sarah? I feel like we’re losing out on a lot of interesting perspectives here by believing in the AI theory alone. Why not a rogue angel, or perhaps Uriel himself? Why not a placebomancer? What if there’s a mole in the Unitarian Church? It just seems like too much of a stereotype for everything to be placed on the computer’s shoulders, especially in a world where MAGIC exists as a separate entity from technology.

    • pku says:

      Yeah, I’m starting to be more convinced by this. From an in-universe perspective, it doesn’t make much sense that Sarah would do exactly what was expected for the first couple of hours and then go full-on singularity over the next few (like, theoretically possible, but extremely unlikely).

      Out-of-universe, Scott’s generally pretty good at avoiding the failure mode of making you whole story look like a transparent analogy for some political or rationalist issue (well, except for the “Transhumanist fables” post, but that was intentional and doesn’t count). I guess this still leaves the possibility of his having thought of a way to make a story about superintelligent AI where the human characters actually manage to be interesting, but that seems unlikely.

  34. Decius says:

    Theory: The ensouling name does not create a new soul, it simply transfers the soul of the speaker into the soul of the target.

    Any contrary evidence to date?

  35. Quixote says:

    Another really good chapter. Thanks!

  36. Quixote says:

    I’m also going to note that everyone is ascribing actions to Sarah, but I’m still at least partially on the “its Uriel” theory. Both last minute patching the ensouling name and moving Sarah away from Unsong.

  37. Jason says:

    How could Sarah speak any of the Names anyways?

  38. Aran says:

    Whoever did this must not know what Sarah was.

    Maybe Sarah did it.

    Maybe the Vital Name did make her sapient after all! Or maybe there is another name that grants an ensouled but non-sapient speaker sapience (pretty narrowly applicable, I guess), and Sarah found it through Llull.

    Either way, though, I can’t imagine a scenario where the bad guys have the laptop and Aaron and Ana’s location and would still benefit from giving her the laptop. So – not a trap, I think.

  39. Anon says:

    Why didn’t Ana go to Pittsburg/Bay Point, which is farther away from San Jose than Pleasanton is?

  40. Outis says:

    She knew some Names – maybe not as fluently as I did, but she knew them.

    I found this a bit jarring. If Aaron is not an omniscient narrator, it is weird for him to go in such detail on the mental state of other characters as he does in this chapter. Yes, he and Ana have a telepathic link, but it doesn’t mean he gets to read her mind, and it’s not clear why Ana would (or even could) go into such detail on her emotions when telling him the story at a later time.

    Of course, this doesn’t matter if Aaron is Scott, since Scott is the author and *is* omniscient as far as the Unsong world is concerned.

    She took out her card, ran it through the turnstyle.

    You don’t run your card through the Bart turnstile, you tap it.

    NE-1 series machine

    I don’t know if this was mentioned before, but that’s a really unlikely name for a computer made by Apple in the XXI century.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I didn’t even notice the “NE-1” bit before. Obviously it’s intended to sound like “anyone”. Significance? No idea.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Stories ostensibly narrated by one of the characters but including details the narrator character couldn’t possibly have known at the time of the story have lots of precedent, e.g. some of the Sherlock Holmes stories or How I Met Your Mother.

      You don’t run your card through the Bart turnstile, you tap it.

      Surely the loss of efficiency of technology also affected RFID tickets?

  41. Walter says:

    Guys who of you play Pokemon GO? Incredible game, yesterday i caught rare pokemon Blastoise using
    pokebusterbot ! No ban so far, still using it. You should too.

  42. Anon Cowherd says:

    Grammar nit: “in Redwood City, if UNSONG had” should have a semicolon in place of that comma. HPMOR’s internal monologues are frequently marred by comma-splices, but it’s arguably okay because those monologues are from the point of view of a child; comma-splices are inexcusable when Ana is the point-of-view character.

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