aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 15: O Where Shall I Hide My Face?

You saved your shillings and your last six pence
Cause in God’s Name they built a barbed wire fence
Be glad you sail for a better day
But don’t forget there’ll be Hell to pay

Rebels are we
Though heavy our hearts shall always be
Ah, no ball or chain no prison shall keep
We’re the rebels of the sacred heart
Rebels Of The Sacred Heart

May 11-12, 2017
Ione, California

We Bay Arians (Ana and I had debated multiple demonyms, including Bay Arean and Bay Aryan, before deciding we were more heretical than warlike, and definitely not the master race) tend to to think of the Central Valley as a nightmarish stretch of endless farms inhabited by people who, while not exactly dead, could hardly be called living. So far nothing Ana had seen in the two hour taxi ride to Ione had changed her mind.

Now here was the town itself, in all its glory. There wasn’t anything that looked like a secret detention facility, although she supposed that was what made it a secret detention facility. But it was already dark, and she didn’t fancy looking. She also didn’t fancy waiting until morning; she wasn’t really an expert in infilitrating secret facilities, but night seemed like potentially the best time, even if you could turn invisible.

What was the saying? If Mohammed cannot go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed?

No, not that one. The other one.

“In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, Party can always find you!”

Ana spoke the Bulletproof Name.

It was a calculated choice. New enough that the theonomics were still guarding it closely, but old enough that it had leaked to a few singer groups and the UNSONG sentinels were listening for it. Chosen to lure the dragon from its den.

Then she spoke the Spectral Name and became invisible.

Sure enough, a white van showed up at the gas station where the cab had dropped her off, and some men in black uniforms got out and started looking around. The process of infiltrating them was harder than Ana expected; she couldn’t just open the door of the van and walk in; there was still someone inside and he might notice the doors opening of their own accord. And if the van was full, she was worried someone would try to sit in her lap on the way back to headquarters. And starting any other Names would break her invisibility, so…

She watched in disgust as the men, having finished their search of the premises, got back in their van and drove off. This was harder than it was in stories.

So she rematerialized, spent some of her remaining money on some chocolate frosted donuts from the gas station, and decided to think of a better plan.

In America, Mohammed goes to mountain. In Soviet Russia, mountain comes to you. Or whatever.

She walked vaguely southward. When she felt like it was vaguely southward enough, she spoke the Ascending Name, then the Spectral Name again. Sure enough, back came her friends in the white van. More fruitless ground-combing. Back in the van again. But this time, she was higher than the hills and could see for miles.

A little south of town, the van turned west onto a little country road, went down a couple of miles, and then drove right into a hillside. Bingo.

Ana Thurmond started walking on air.

By the time she reached the hillside it was into the wee hours of the morning, and she was tired, and she wished she’d eaten more donuts when she had the chance. Such the regrets of a heroine. She wondered if the Comet King ever rode into battle wishing he’d eaten more donuts beforehand.

An armored car drove up. The entryway opened to accept it. Ana Thurmond slipped in unseen, and something was terribly wrong.

It was heavy and oppressive, like a heartbeat slightly out of rhythm, but also not like that at all. She couldn’t tell if it was auditory, or tactile, or olfactory. It was just this sense like there was a black hole just out of view, sucking in everything good about the universe. For lack of any better form of navigation, she followed the wrongness.

[Aaron?] she thought as she wandered through the corridors. [I’ve come to save you. Are you there?]

[Ana!] I thought back at her. [Ana, I can take care of myself…maybe…Ana, get out!]

And then she felt my mental trace suddenly vanish from her mind.

A door marked with the UNSONG seal swung open, and a very short woman in a purple dress and pearl necklace stepped out with a very grim look on her face.

Holy euphemism, thought Ana, that’s Director-General Malia Ngo.

Malia looked her Ana straight in the eye and asked: “Who are you and why are you invisible?”

Something was horribly wrong, and Malia Ngo was that something. Ana ran.

“Lock down everything!” the Director-General shouted.

This would have been a good time for Ana to use the Vanishing Name, except that starting it would break whatever was left of her invisibility, and whatever advantage she had came from nobody but Ngo being able to see her. So she just ran.

Several officers – soldiers – let’s stick with goons – congregated around the Director, only to uncongregate and fan out, confused. Ngo grabbed a gun from one of them, and shot at Ana. The woman missed by a mile, and the unexpected recoil knocked her to her feet. No soldier, she.

A guard sat by the entryway, clearly doing his best to watch out for invisible people sneaking towards him. Ana punched him in the face, then hit the lever his presence was lampshading. The exit door swung open and she ran forth into the night.

Malia followed, directing a platoon of guards, pointing out the general direction they should run. They shot at her and missed wildly. Ngo, a quick learner after her firearm mishap, used the Fulminant Name. It missed too, but only barely, singing some of her hair.

Ana jumped off the road, ran into a pile of brush. Her slight advantage was that the Director-General couldn’t really run through scrub in that dress, and was about twenty years older than she. The Fulminant Name was short range, and she was increasing the distance between herself and Ms. Ngo with every step. She ran through bushes, through a creek – anything she thought would deter the lady whose terrible pounding was still on the fringes of her consciousness.

“Who are you?” Ngo shouted at her, from afar.

Obviously Ana didn’t say anything back.

“I won’t hurt you! I know you won’t believe me, but we’re on the same side. This is important, I swear! Please, I just want to talk!”

Right. She believed that one.

Just before she got out of range, Ngo went silent, started saying the Fulminant Name again. Ana braced herself – it was anybody’s guess whether the Director-General could hit from this distance, and though the Name was rarely fatal, it would certainly knock her out long enough to be captured. She ran as fast as she could, trying to get a couple extra meters before –

Then a gust of wind flew all around her, knocked Malia off her feet. The Tempestuous Name. But how?

She kept running, ran until the Director-General and her horrible base had receded into the brightening horizon.

II.

The back of a pickup truck took her as far as Sacramento, and a train took her to Oakland. In Oakland she broke her invisibility, got a hotel room and lay in bed without talking or moving or really thinking for a few hours.

Then she woke up, took a shower, and bought herself a nice breakfast with the last of the hotel till money. She was a little surprised to see that Sarah was no longer in her bag when she woke, but only a little. Let the conspirators play their games. She was done.

If she hadn’t already been a fugitive, she was one now. Director-General Malia Ngo herself had seen her; if she didn’t already know who she was she would soon figure it out. And someone else, someone who could seize Sarah from underneath UNSONG’s nose, was manipulating her in a way she didn’t much like. Ithaca wasn’t safe, her parents’ house wasn’t safe, nowhere in the Untied States or the global community was safe for her. But there were other options.

She started walking west. She walked past the hills, walked past old houses, walked past the lake and the Emeryville Mall, walked past the harbor. She reached the Bay Bridge, went invisible, walked right past the warning signs, past the barricades and the guard towers.

In front of her, a few towers peeked out of the billowing fog. The eye in the Transamerica Pyramid fixed its gaze on her for an instant, its emotions – if it had them – as inscrutable as ever.

She was finished with the lands of men.

She was going to San Francisco.


[Author’s note 2 has been posted. I will be having a series of meetups in the Bay Area for readers of my other blog Slate Star Codex; Unsong readers are welcome to attend and we may have a dramatic reading of upcoming Interlude Zayin if there is enough interest. Current planned dates and times are:

— 2 PM on Sunday April 17 at the CFAR office, 2030 Addison, 7th floor, Berkeley
— 7 PM on Monday April 18 at the Friedmans’ house, 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose
— Afternoon of Tuesday April 19 at the Googleplex, time and exact location tbd
— Evening of Tuesday April 19 at Stanford, time and exact location tbd

Further information will be posted on my other blog and with next week’s chapter]

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106 Responses to Chapter 15: O Where Shall I Hide My Face?

  1. Daniel says:

    So… I think comments to this chapter are vanishing and/or becoming invisible? I see what you did there!

    • I usually delete correction/typo comments once they’re fixed, partly out of crossing-them-off-the-list organization, partly because the mistakes I make sometimes unintentionally reveal things, and partly out of shame at how many mistakes I made.

      • Daniel says:

        Ah, fair enough. Though I liked it better when I thought it was a weird kabbalistic joke! 🙂

      • Bananon says:

        Speaking of typos:
        “Such the regrets of a heroine”
        Should probably include a verb. Might I suggest ‘are’?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        As far as typos goes, in the table of contents this chapter’s title is lacking the question mark.

      • Vladimir N says:

        Typos: “tend to to think of the Central Valley”, “Malia looked her Ana straight in the eye”.

      • Dacyn says:

        Typo: “Untied States”

      • Placid Platypus says:

        When Ngo fires the gun it should probably knock her from her feet or something, not to her feet.

        • Sigivald says:

          That and unless the guards are carrying seriously unrealistically powerful arms (rather than sidearms and intermediate-caliber carbines), even a complete neophyte shouldn’t be physically knocked over by recoil.

          Knocked off aim, sure. Perhaps stunned a bit, or hurt their shoulder (rifle) or have the gun fly out of their hand, fail to cycle, or even hit them in the face (pistol), yes.

          Knocked over, no. f=ma and all that.

      • Berna says:

        singing in “singing some of her hair” should be singeing.

      • Typo: “Malia looked her Ana straight in the eye” to either “Malia looked Ana straight in the eye” or “Malia looked her straight in the eye”.

    • Sukil says:

      A logical / Continuity one: there is no bolded stick (I)!

  2. Why is the Tempestuous name surprising? (At first I thought it was one of the names Ana’d found out on Sarah, but that one’s called the Mistral name).

  3. Daniel says:

    I actually think it’s pretty likely that Ngo really doesn’t intend to hurt her and really is on the same side, but if she wants people to believe that she probably shouldn’t be shooting at them. Perhaps this is the demonic equivalent of Pirindiel’s flowers!

    “BUT WHY DID SHE RUN A—wait, crap, humans don’t like being on fire do they”

    • Sniffnoy says:

      It’s a lot less believable when she shot first with no warning. I mean, there was just no need for that. She had Ana pretty well trapped; she could have just kept talking. Ana might have escaped, yes, but seeing as that required attacking the guard, if she really thought Ana was on the same side, she could probably have bet on Ana, y’know, not being willing to attack first if she just kept talking.

      (Of course, since Ana couldn’t reply without revealing herself, and moreover Ana is a Unitarian, and Ngo had just had Aaron kidnapped, it was likely to turn violent anyway, but…)

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Or like, rather than just shooting, she could at least have said something along the lines of “From your invisibility I can only infer that you have discovered a new Name — one of potential military vale. In accordance with the Stern-Keller act, I am going to have to take you in for questioning. Do you understand?” Followed perhaps by a warning that they’d take her in by force if need be.

      • Daniel says:

        Hmm. Yes, you may have a point.

        It only just occurred to me that whatever bullets they’re using are probably non-lethal (either something about the bullets or maybe they have a healing Name)—they were shooting at Aaron when they took him in, despite wanting him alive for questioning. Still probably a bad tactic in this context, though.

      • Autolykos says:

        Well, it’s quite clear that Malia had no intention at all to negotiate with someone in any position to decline (or possibly fight back). And she should know pretty darn well that anyone who decided to break into an UNSONG facility is not going to trust her or any other representative of UNSONG enough believe her, especially after she just tried to shoot them.
        So it had to be a trick. But it’s a good one, serving multiple purposes:

        – Tricking Anna into answering her taunts, dropping the Invisible Name. If she can see through it, she might know more about how it works.
        – Prevent her from fighting. Non-psychopaths have an incredibly hard time to start attacking people who try to talk to them. Even if they know pretty darn well that those people plan to harm them.
        – And if everything else fails, at least distract and confuse her.
        “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”

    • Deiseach says:

      If UNSONG are the Good Guys, unlikely as it may seem, they may be accustomed to people/entities trying to attack them/teleport into their headquarters and so they’ve developed a policy of “shoot first, hold a séance to interrogate the corpse later”.

      With groups like BOOJUM, if they’re still carrying on the same way as when Dylan assassinated the Board of American Ritual Magic, then waiting for them to knock your head off with the wizard’s staff/cut your throat with an athame/blow you up by a conventional bomb/shoot you in the face first is possibly a bad idea.

      Malia Ngo deciding “Hang on, this might not be a magical assassin, maybe I should try talking to her” makes sense then. It’s still a bad way of going on, but were I expecting to be facing the modern Dylan Alvarez any time I turned the corner, I’d be shooting and casting spells on first twitch as well 🙂

      • Daniel says:

        Mmm. Maybe Malia only decided they were on the same side after she saw Ana running instead of trying to suicide-bomb the building or whatever.

        • Deiseach says:

          Exactly! Now that BOOJUM have at least one presidential assassination under their belt, I’m betting someone like the Director-General of UNSONG is on their hit-list, and Ngo must know that, and be expecting them to try things (maybe, for all we know, they have already made assassination attempts).

          So she walks out the door of a cell in the top-secret interrogation centre used for rogue kabbalists and magical terrorists and comes face-to-face with an invisible and unfamiliar person. If they’re invisible they’re obviously using kabbalah and/or magic, and if they’re not wearing a uniform/ID badge/familiar to you and are roaming around freely instead of locked up with the rest of the detainees, they should not be there.

          Is the first thought on your mind going to be “Ah, this is a perfectly peaceful person dropping in for a nice, civilised chat, I should make them welcome and leave myself defenceless?” or is it “Shoot first, use necromancy later to clear up if that was the right reaction”? 🙂

    • Litho says:

      Maybe she was shooting at Sarah?

  4. America runs on Thamiel says:

    Thamiel is clearly chilling, eating donuts at these unsong facilities. That’s why it feels so terribly wrong when you’re inside of them.

  5. Sniffnoy says:

    Hm — so San Francisco (San Francisco proper, that is, apparently not the rest of the Bay Area) lies outside the realms of men. Which means it’s inhabited by… what? I’d say “angels”, but then obviously the city in question should be Los Angeles rather than San Francisco. So what? Demons? Nephilim? I guess that would fit better with warning signs…

    • Escapement says:

      Women.

    • Dindane says:

      I’m kinda hoping for it to be ruled by Emperor Norton.

    • neptunepink says:

      “Saint Francis of Assisi. . . . became associated with patronage of animals and the natural environment.” It is likely inhabited by Happy Little Forest Creatures.

      • neptunepink says:

        Further kabalisticly relevant evidence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bch1_Ep5M1s

      • Argent says:

        Happy Tree Friends?

      • Deiseach says:

        That’s the “The English like animals better than people, so Anglicans adopted Francis as a saint and he became popular with them because of this notion of Happy Little Forest Creatures, which is not what the stories of preaching to animals are about at all” idea of St Francis. If there are Happy Little Forest Creatures frolicking about, they are more likely to be the Wolf of Gubbio than Disney Anthromorphic Humans In Fur Suits.

        The St Francis of the Spaniards who named that city would be more likely to be the St Francis of the Stigmata and the Vision of the Crucified Seraph, so if you’re going to San Francisco, don’t bother with flowers in your hair but certainly stock up on indulgences and make sure you’re in a state of grace 🙂

        So in the Untied States, how does it work out that cities still have Catholic names? Is this because they were founded pre-cracking of the Crystal Sphere? Why haven’t the names been changed?

        As for Flogging Molly – pshaw! The Pogues Lite 🙂 Try the Turkish Song of the Damned instead!

        • Daniel says:

          I don’t get it—why shouldn’t they have Catholic names? I don’t think we’ve even heard anything about how the sky-cracks affected Catholicism…

          • Deiseach says:

            If kabbalah is so correctly the view of the universe that it can be turned into massive profitability by vast commercial entities, then The Sanhedrin Was Right and Jesus, whomever he may have been, was not the messiah (whether or not he was a very naughty boy is yet to be established).

            So names that are much too denominationally identified, particularly in a secular state (or at least, if any religion is going to be considered next in line of favourability to American Civil Religion, it will be Judaism not Christianity), would be up for change.

            Given that in the real world, people are having fainting fits over city and county seals and logos that have crosses on them (from back when people were so ignorant not to know these kinds of designs were offensive, establishing a state religion, and continuing to oppress the indigenes by Eurocentric cultural colonisation), I’d expect people to try changing names from “in honour of Catholic saint from Europe” (Los Angeles is probably okay given that most people don’t think of its full name as “Our Lady, Queen of Angels” but rather The City of Angels and angels are provably existent in the UNSONG universe):

            Federal courts have, on more than one occasion, found the use of a cross in a government seal unconstitutional. Among those told to remove crosses in the 1990s were Bernalillo County in New Mexico, and the cities of Rolling Meadows and Zion in Illinois.

            Some jurisdictions have acted without being sued. In California, the city of Redlands recently agreed to remove the cross from its logo after the ACLU threatened legal action. The ACLU then received calls complaining about the Los Angeles County seal.

            I note while they were at it they removed the Goddess Pomona from the Los Angeles county seal, so at least the good people of LA County are now protected from Classical Roman paganism as well as Christianity! 🙂

          • dot says:

            The NT is canonically Also Right — that’s where Ana’s Marrige Name came from.

          • Daniel says:

            Dunno. For one thing, in-universe the Catholic Bible also contains Profound Truths; as dot says, SCABMOM is derived from the New Testament, and in chapter 9 Uriel mentions the Catholic Bible as an example of the fractal structure of reality. Then again, Aaron did a good job of extracting kabbalistic secrets from folk songs, so maybe that doesn’t mean much.

            In Chapter 12 we learn that angels are affected by holy water made by (possibly Catholic, though not specified) priests.

            More to the point, though, in the real world Catholic kabbalah used to be a thing; many people believed that kabbalah proved the truth of Christianity, including a non-zero number of Jews who converted on that basis.

            Somewhere Scott mentioned that he would have put in a bunch of Islamic stuff too if he knew enough about it.
            In general it seems like a lot of different belief systems have been semi-confirmed in the post-sky-crack world.

          • Argent says:

            They better include some Discordian numerology then.

          • AnthonyC says:

            @Argent: There are five books in the Torah, and 2×5 Sephirot. Is that a good start on Discordian numerology?

          • Argent says:

            Only if it’s in the story.

      • Daniel says:

        Furries?

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m going to quote from Chesterton’s book about St Francis, from the episode of the Vision of the Crucified Seraph which preceded Francis receiving the Stigmata, for an idea of the kind of thing that might be in the skies above the city of Saint Francis:

      St. Francis saw above him, filling the whole heavens, some vast immemorial unthinkable power, ancient like the Ancient of Days, whose calm men had conceived under the forms of winged bulls or monstrous cherubim, and all that winged wonder was in pain like a wounded bird.

    • Daniel says:

      Don’t know how it took me this long but: OMG FAIRIES. OBVIOUSLY.

      Presumably the awesome terrifying kind like in Terry Pratchett or Greg Bear. This is gonna be great. SCOTT IF IT IS NOT FAIRIES I WILL CUT YOU

    • null says:

      Golems.

      • Dindane says:

        On a feels-like-it’s-related note: corporations? That or golems would adequately explain buildings with eyes, I think. And both are rule-bound entities, right?

        • Daniel says:

          Ooh. The newly-impressionable universe read somewhere that corporations are “persons” and decided to run with it!

  6. ItsGiusto says:

    Above else think that Malia Ngo is going to turn out to be Sohu?

    • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

      I’m starting to wonder.

      I also am slightly scared of what’s in San Francisco. Likely has something to do with Mr. Right Hand of God, who is also on my “too frightening to contemplate” list.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Ooh, good catch about the Right Hand of God, I’d forgotten about that…

      • boris says:

        Well, if the Comet King literally marched to war against Thamiel, Hell must have some kind of presence on Earth. Maybe San Francisco is Hell’s embassy/portal/subject, if the Right Hand of God is indeed Thamiel. That said I don’t think Thamiel would associate himself with God when identifying himself, as pride is kind of his thing.

        If the RHoG is NOT Thamiel — who knows? Maybe it’s just a place where so much of the divine light is shining through the cracks in the sky that really strange, scientifically impossible stuff (like a pyramid with an actual eye) is even more common than in the rest of the world. Which is terrifying enough in its own right.

        • ItsGiusto says:

          I thought that the Right Hand of God was going to be The Comet King. Like, that was how he got started. And of course, Sohu is his daughter, and since the CK founded unsong, it could make sense that she is now the leader.

          • boris says:

            Well, there was a reference to the CK coming from Colorado in the last interlude. Between that, a previous reference to his HQ having been Colorado Springs, the mention in the Nixon interlude that clouds in the Rockies were developing architectural elements, and the sinisterness of the RHoG, I don’t think the RHoG is the Comet King.

            Point in favor of his being Thamiel: we know that Uriel’s power was limited at first by the fact that he was “mostly metaphorical” when the divine light started trickling back into this world. The interlude with the RHoG occurs two years after the sky cracks, on 6/16, so it could make sense that it took a while for the devil to manifest himself, then appear on a really symbolic date, a kind of bridge between metaphor and reality.

            I don’t know where this “Sohu is Ngo” thing is coming from. It’s a definite possibility, but there isn’t any strong evidence for it, Sohu would be too young, and I would imagine she was a public figure from the moment she was born to the CK so it would be general knowledge if she ended up heading UNSONG. Of course, right now we have no idea what happened after her time with Uriel.

            I do really want to know who the Comet King’s wife was.

          • Fj says:

            I just realized the weirdest thing about all this Right Hand of God business: according to Uriel in chapter 13, the right hand of God represents mercy (also “creates and sustains”), while I would’ve expected the Devil to be more like a misguided justice going around pruning and punishing all the things.

            On the other hand (heh), cancer is basically the force of life run amok, also other stuff like miasmatic swamps teeming with life etc. So the usual metaphor for life/mercy vs justice/purification could be easily corrupted and turned the other way around.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yeah, that struck me as well. If it’s Thamiel — which seems unlikely due to the difference in speech capitalization — he could just be, y’know, lying. Or he could be lying anyway. Or he could just think he’s the Right Hand of God. Or it could be related to the apparent right/left reversal that Sohu notes.

          • Daniel says:

            Ch 6: “Well, what had happened to him was better left unsaid.”

            Maybe the Right Hand of God went to war against the Left Hand of God and became a screaming baby head…

      • I’d guess that Thamiel is the Left Hand of God. The right hand is either the CK or in San Francisco (or not yet introduced).

      • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

        Another possibility occurs to me. This “right hand of God” business might not be about Thaumiel or an opposite-hand counterpart. First, let’s figure that the Great Spherical Crackup made it so that psychedelic drugs allow a kind of shamanism that actually shapes the surrounding (not too unconventional a notion, and fits with an acid tripper changing like he does in the interlude). Let’s further figure that this means the hippies ruined San Francisco for everyone.

        The acid tripper wasn’t possessed. His trip became real. Instead of simply feeling a euphoria and a sense of grandiosity, he literally became superhuman and started thinking he was the right hand of God. Enough of a concentration of trippers, emboldened by the much more powerful results, could have ripped reality a new one. San Francisco would then cease to be part of the world of men; it would become a psychedelic Wonderland shaped by LSD-dosed shamans who don’t always have good trips.

        Hence the eye on the TransAmerica building.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I thought of that too, but do the ages work out? Sohu is 8 in 1990, making her 35 now, which is I think too young to be Ngo. Remember Ngo is claimed to be about 20 years older than Ana, who’s a grad student.

      (Also, to bring in information from outside the story proper, Scott has said the Sohu storyline was originally supposed to take place closer to the present day, and that seems unlikely if the intention is that Sohu is Ngo.)

  7. Hummingbird says:

    I suspect that the wrongness is just a form of psychological warfare, to wear down the defenses of prisoners. It seems to affect the guards too; from the last chapter: “The one on the left wore a sort of serious expression that reminded me of Eliot Foss for some reason. The one on the right looked a combination of pissed off and scared. I wondered if he, too, could feel that something was horribly wrong.”
    It’s understandable that Ngo would have some serious names at her disposal, being the head of UNSONG. They seem to have found a Name that allows a person to see things that are invisible, but without invisible people to see, it’s not worth it to give that Name to all the soldiers.
    Ngo is interesting. It’s not unusual that she would believe that she is doing the right thing (and for all we know about the world, she is). But it is unusual that she would be so eager to engage (or appear eager to engage) with her enemies in relatively civilized conversation given her reputation for scorched earth. It’s either a feint or she’s desperate for information.

    • boris says:

      She’s probably trying not to show that she’s pissing herself over the possibility that Aaron & Co. will do exactly what he planned to do.

    • jeorgun says:

      Alternate hypothesis: the reason the other soldiers can’t see her is because they don’t, in fact, have a see-invisible-people name, and Ngo can see Ana because she (Ngo) is some kind of supernatural being. The aura of definite wrongness could add credence to that as well.

      • boris says:

        If Thamiel wants to block the divine light as much as possible–which would make perfect sense, for the Devil–then having a demon in command of UNSONG would be awfully convenient.

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    Whatever this terrible wrongness is that Ngo emits, does the UNSONG facility contain it? It would seem so, seeing as how it apparently comes on suddenly as soon as Ana enters, and was undetectable before.

  9. yomikoma says:

    Wasn’t sure whether this was worth linking, since it’s just an expansion of the Arian/Aryan joke, but the punchline begins to lean toward relevant topics.

    http://tailsteak.com/archive.php?num=184

  10. Rand says:

    “If Mohammed cannot go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed?”

    Mohammed is the Kwisatz Haderach?

  11. redwood says:

    How long are you expecting the berkeley meetup to go?

  12. Since absolutely nothing will go wrong, I’m kind of expecting there to be a high-security facility in San Francisco where an extra inmate has suddenly appeared.

    Also it’s even more clear that Aaron is narrating retroactively. Wonder if he ascends at some point to become the omniscient narrator. (Or if he’s just covertly present from the future, in which case it’s him, rather than the laptop, who used the Tempestuous Name).

    • Marvy says:

      This “nothing will go wrong” business is starting to seem doubtful. I’m thinking that whoever wrote that was either dishonest or just too optimistic. Also, are we sure that was the Tempestuous Name? There is, after all, another name, which “calls the winds”, which is known to someone very mysterious, who can make laptops vanish from right under people’s noses…

    • Ninmesara says:

      I believe this is the most likely explanation. The whole story reeks (in a good way) of time travel since NOTHING WILL GO WRONG statement. Being able to cast the Tempestuous Name on Nalia would require a little more awareness of it’s surroundings from a laptop stuck into a backpack, unless there is either telepathy involved or visual input from a hijacked security camera. Sarah might have discovered some sweet, sweet hacking names (if there is a Bulletproof Name of God, why isn’t there a Hack Computer Name of God?). For extra names, just ensoul and hack (enslave? mind-control? befriend?) a name chanting botnet. Laptop speakers all over the world covertly pronouncing the Hidden Transcendent Names of God. Given our host’s interest in super-advanced AIs, this seems actually at least as likely as the time traveling explanation.

  13. CCC says:

    “Maria Ngo” is an anagram for “I Am Argon”

    Argon is a noble gas, meaning that, chemically speaking, it’s a bit of a loner and doesn’t get along well with other elements. Coincidence?

  14. _ says:

    Malia looked her Ana straight in the eye

    ^_^

  15. Decius says:

    Narrator is a tulpa of Ana?

    • Aran says:

      It’s Ana’s POV, but the narrator still refers to Aaron in the first person. It’s an interesting style…

  16. Quixote says:

    Another good one. On a roll.

  17. Angelkin says:

    This is getting quite tiring, to be honest. The premise is superb, wordbuilding chapters are great, but the plot is composed of short ‘something awesome will happen soon’ ficlets. Each time I start reading new chapter, I think “Now, after what happened last time, there will be a some explanation, plot, consequences’. But its always ‘Nah, another batch of briefly described ultra shocking events that won’t have any aftermath and a cliffhanger to make you yearn for more’.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      This is just what happens with serial fiction. It comes in installments, which give you plot and clues piece-by-piece. As you read it, it’s a guessing game and an emotional tease. Most of what we read is available all at once, so you don’t have this issue. All serial fiction is playing this same game — just most of it doesn’t do it as effectively.

      If you don’t like the game, then just ignore the updates for a couple of months. I have confidence that Scott will pull something together that’s pretty great.

  18. Ninmesara says:

    Back after some time away, waiting for more chapters to binge on!

    The story is great, even the new Sohu chapter (with Uriel and Thamiel). Scott should totally quit his day job to be able to crank out a chapter every day. On a more serious note: I was very happy to have predicted correctly that Scott made had Aaron use an existing program to look for the name for some reason that would be very important in the story. On the other hand, I’m angry because I did not foresee an attack exploring the use of a pseudorandom number generator with a known seed. I placed too much faith on the fact that all names would eventually leak and lull would be careful enough to use a blacklist of known names. Secretly researching a new name just to trap lull is a totally new level of paranoia. I was also totally going to write some alternate universe fanfic on writing and debugging lull, which would kind of break the story afterwards… Well, tough luck!

    Now, what do I think is happening so far? Clearly the most “plausible” explanation for what is happening is that Aaron has somehow got access to a time travelling name and is now giving orders to Ana through Sarah. It was probably he who used the Tempestuous Name. I don’t think Sarah is acting autonomously, because if she was that autonomous, she wouldn’t probably need human help to achieve her own goals, and in that case I don’t see why she would be taking the trouble to save Aaron (unless to save herself from Unsong). More important than that, I don’t see how Sarah could know that NOTHING WILL GO WRONG, unless she knows the Precognition Name. She wouldn’t also be able to get to Sarah alone without a teleportation name… The whole rescue attempt depends on Aaron using the vanishing name (undetected!) while someone tries to rescue him. In any case, the rescue involves many new useful names, and it is unlikely that lull might have discovered them in the hours since Aaron and Ana left it alone (unless Sarah has found a way to secretly infect and ensoul a name chanting botnet; if Scott doesn’t write this I’ll write fanfic about it). I’m not incorporating in this prediction the word battle between Uriel and Thamiel, but I’m pretty sure it will map nicely to the story. On the other hand, I really hope Uriel isn’t secretly directing the plot by mind controlling the protagonists, that is such a cheap shot…

    The main question now is what stopped the ensouling name from working (I don’t believe Aaron has forgotten it, even though from his perspective it is a reasonable conclusion).

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Ugh, I hope it’s not time travel, that just seems like a cop-out…

      • Ninmesara says:

        Well, one someone’s cop-out is someone else’s legitimate plot device 🙂
        You can’t please everyone…

    • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

      Unless Aaron becomes Uriel, somehow, and is trying to handle the mess caused during his human life. But that’s weapons-grade WMG there, and I don’t endorse it!

      • Ninmesara says:

        I was thinking of something like: “the time traveling name allows you to go back in time 72h and can only be used once every 6 months”, not Uriel-grade mad kaballah skillz.

  19. Sniffnoy says:

    Thought: Can Malia Ngo eavesdrop on or otherwise detect Aaron and Ana’s telepathy?

    We know Aaron and Ana have considered the possibility that angels might be able to eavesdrop on them. So far we’ve seen nothing indicating that they can do this. But it would make some sense that Ngo can. She seems to head directly for Ana immediately after Aaron vanishes — she doesn’t sit around in confusion or anything; it seems like she’s detected something new in the building and is tracking it down. Which to me suggests that perhaps she can trace Ana via the telepathy that just occurred.

    This could also be explained by her being able to sense people in the surrounding area, or in that compound specifically, without needing to do something like intercept the telepathy; but I think the telepathy hypothesis makes more sense. And the reason is, she can see Ana, so we already know that Ngo has some power to ignore or interfere with the effects of Names. I think it’s entirely possible that the same power that lets her see Ana, could also have let her find Ana by tracing the telepathy.

    • Daniel says:

      If she was eavesdropping, I think it would be in character for her to have called Ana by name to get her off-balance. So probably detection at most. If she’s some kind of angel, maybe she could normally eavesdrop but Aaron remembered to send this message in Aramaic just in case!

      It does seem like she knew Ana was there before she opened the doors. Could be the telepathy. Then again, maybe whatever she’s using to “see” Ana just goes through walls? Some sort of general soul-detection sense?

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