aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 35: The Voices Of Children In His Tents

Fast cars! Fast women! Fastidious adherence to the precepts of the moral law!
Steven Kaas

Spring 1982
Citadel West, Colorado Springs

Somehow the Comet King had become an adult. He had skipped puberty, telling Father Ellis that it sounded like too much trouble. One day he was a child; the next, his voice dropped, white hair grew on his chest, and he declared he would be having children. All the children.

His logic was simple. His heavenly descent gave him special powers. Intelligence, wisdom, physical strength, spiritual mastery. He, in turn, would pass these on to his children. The more children, the more supernaturally-gifted warriors, administrators, engineers, and scholars they would have for the dark times ahead. An army of Cometspawn, growing to adulthood faster than any mortal, each one pushing forward the day when they could march across the Bering Straits and drive the demons back below the Earth. He requested that the women of Colorado step forth to help him in the project.

“Now hold on,” Ellis told him. They were in the newly-completed throne room deep beneath Cheyenne Mountain, in the underground fortress that had once housed NORAD. The Comet King sat on a throne covered with black opal. Father Ellis’ official title was Royal Confessor, but the Comet King consistently denied having anything to confess; his real role was advisory. Some days he didn’t have any advice either. Today was not one of those days. “This is madness, Jala. You can’t just impregnate every woman in an entire state.”

“If you are talking about sexually transmitted diseases,” the Comet King answered, “I will screen for them carefully.”

“I’m talking about the natural law!” said Father Ellis. “Marriage! Family! Partnership between a man and a woman who join together into one flesh, help complete each other!”

“I am complete,” said the Comet King.

“You told me that you were keeping me around to tell you how to stay human. Now I’m telling you. Having children isn’t something you do for anyone else’s convenience. It’s a sacred act. If you do this, you’re taking a step away from humanity, and it’s going to come back to bite you.”

“Perhaps you are right. I accept the slight cost to my humanity as an acceptable risk, given the possible gains.”

“It doesn’t work that way! Sin isn’t a ledger that you balance. It’s about…about…can you feel it, Jala? Goodness isn’t just numbers. It’s something palpable, something burning and beautiful. People talk about having a relationship with God, but it’s closer than that. More powerful. More immediate. And what you’re saying…it takes away from that thing. It’s not in line with it. If you could feel it, you wouldn’t be calculating how many strategic deviations from doing the right thing you can allow yourself.”

“Father, have you become a mystic?

“No, I just…I feel like I’m trying to explain the nature of virtue to a rock. Either you can see why what you’re saying is crazy, or…call Vihaan. You listen to Vihaan. He can explain what I mean.”

Uncle Vihaan’s official title was Chief of Staff, but he always called himself “the butler”. He managed the Comet King’s growing circle of advisors, visitors and petitioners, and organized his schedule around the constant meetings required of the fledgling government. When somebody finally found him, he came into the throne room disorganized, still carrying a stack of papers.

“What is it?” he asked. The Comet King started to speak, but Ellis interrupted him.

“Jala wants to have kids with half the women in the state! He wants to…breed some kind of conquering army! Tell him this isn’t how people do things!”

Vihaan’s face fell. “What about marriage?”

The Comet King thought for a second. “I would rather not have to worry about it. But if it were important to you, I could marry them all, like Solomon.”

Vihaan’s head was bobbing back and forth in exasperation. “Everyone from our family…” he said. “You come from a good family, Jala. Marrying good people. No sex before marriage. It wouldn’t be…proper.”

“Proper?” asked the Comet King. “I come to you with a plan to fight off Hell and save the world, and you tell me it isn’t proper?”

Vihaan stared at the priest, as if begging him to step in. “I swear,” said Father Ellis, “it’s like explaining the nature of virtue to a rock”.

“Do you know,” interrupted Jalaketu, “that whenever it’s quiet, and I listen hard, I can hear them? The screams of everybody suffering. In Hell, around the world, anywhere. I think it is a power of the angels which I inherited from my father.” He spoke calmly, without emotion. “I think I can hear them right now.”

Ellis’ eyes opened wide. “Really?” he asked. “I’m sorry. I didn’t…”

“No,” said the Comet King. “Not really.”

They looked at him, confused.

“No, I do not really hear the screams of everyone suffering in Hell. But I thought to myself, ‘I suppose if I tell them now that I have the magic power to hear the screams of the suffering in Hell, then they will go quiet, and become sympathetic, and act as if that changes something.’ Even though it changes nothing. Who cares if you can hear the screams, as long as you know that they are there? So maybe what I said was not fully wrong. Maybe it is a magic power granted only to the Comet King. Not the power to hear the screams. But the power not to have to. Maybe that is what being the Comet King means.”

“Do you think,” asked Ellis, “you’re the first person to ask the Church to compromise its doctrines because you have a good reason?. It’s…no, you won’t listen to me. But you might listen to your people. Ask the people, Jala. They’ll tell you.”

“WE’RE NOT YOUR BABY FACTORIES” read the signs of the National Organization of Women, who held a demonstration in the Garden of the Gods against the plan. “The Comet King is proving he sees women as objects, as walking wombs,” Mary Lutha, the organization’s leader, told an NBC reporter. “I think the women of Colorado want the Comet King to know that they reject this denial of their agency.”

The Comet King did not grant interviews, but a source close to the citadel mentioned that when confronted with the claim, he had stated matter-of-factly that the twenty-four thousand applications he had already received were quite enough and Ms. Lutha’s help would thankfully not be needed.

‘SHAME ON COLORADO EUGENICS’ read signs held by the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who held a demonstration beneath the Shrine of the Sun against the plan. “The Comet King needs to know that the black and brown people of Colorado aren’t going to stand for his plan to create a master race of blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies and then kill the rest of the population.”

The Comet King was not known to grant interviews, but a spokesperson assured everyone that killing the entire population was the last thing on the Comet King’s mind, and also how was a dark-skinned man whose mother came from India supposed to create a race of blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies anyway?

“This is madness,” he told Ellis and Vihaan in his throne room beneath the mountain. “The people have always gone along with my plans before, even when they were dangerous, even the ones that led to privation and difficulty. Nothing could be simpler than this. A few thousand women, no cost to anyone who does not volunteeer, and the kingdom will be unstoppable.”

“Vihaan is against it,” said Ellis. “The people are against it. And I’m against it. Listen to your advisors, Jala.”

“The people are confused,” said the Comet King. “Once they have pictures of smiling babies to make them happy, they will realize my children are no scarier than anyone else. Vihaan, we have applications. Find me a handful of women willing to go first. Make sure they are physically fit, intelligent, and free from genetic disease. And make them all different races; that will quiet the blond-hair-blue-eyes crowd. I will start with just a handful of children, to show the people there is no danger, and once the protests quiet down we will start the full breeding program.”

“I still don’t think this is right,” protested Vihaan.

“I respect your advice,” said the Comet King. “But I have made my decision.”

Vihaan muttered something about how he was just the butler, and far be it from him to disobey an order. But Ellis wasn’t satisfied. “I’m not your servant, Jala, I’m your confessor. And it’s my job as a confessor to tell you when you’re sinning, and not to be okay with it, no matter whether you’ve made your mind up or no.”

“Fine,” said the Comet King. “Go petition the Dividend Monks. See what they think. See if there are any prophecies.”

It was an obvious attempt to get rid of him. It worked. Ellis set out for Sawatch. Vihaan stayed behind to sort through the paperwork. Of the twenty-four thousand applicants, he carefully selected four. They met with the Comet King below Cheyenne Mountain. One of them went to the tabloids later and described the Comet King’s lovemaking as “efficient” and “peremptory”.

A week later, Father Ellis returned from the Sawatch, bearing a message. The abbot had sat upon the Continental Divide, entered a trance, and from that place amidst the Pillar of Mildness issued a prophecy. All the descendants of the Comet King, he said, would die screaming in horror and agony, cursing their father’s name.

Nine months later, four physically fit, intelligent women gave birth to four genetic-disease-free, racially diverse babies.

The Comet King had no more children.

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178 Responses to Chapter 35: The Voices Of Children In His Tents

  1. alkatyn says:

    I feel like the protestors were a bit strawmannish, but otherwise good chapter.

    The comet king seems to be becoming more and more like Uriel in his attitudes to humanity, its not just that he doesn’t agree with them, but he genuinely doesn’t anticipate the objections and public reaction. Which is weird given he has lived his whole life among humans, but perhaps it’s a side effect of Kaballah?
    [HE could also probably have dealt with the problem by having a semi competent PR department]

    So the cometspawn are all doomed to horrible deaths. Though given the kaballistic things of this story “cursing their fathers name” could mean many things.

    • Fred says:

      It is worth noting that at this point he is barely six years old. Superfast aging or not, that leaves him lacking some experience.

    • Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

      I would say real protesters are often weakmen for their positions. It may not be charitable, but it’s not unrealistic.

    • Deiseach says:

      When you announce a plan to create a large minority of superior children who will grow quickly, be more intelligent and capable (and possibly super-powered) than ordinary humans, and whose purpose is to be the leaders and commanders for the mass of plain people, especially when you use a term like “army” – then really, you have to learn from history and expect “reacting on emotion not cool-headed consideration” protests from the public.

      People who have tried breeding an army of superior genetic stock have, unfortunately, also gone for the blue-eyed blond(e) master-race ideal. The protestors may have their jackets stuffed with straw but they’re not being totally unreasonable here.

      And the Comet King and Uriel are both showing their major flaw here: they love orderly systems. Uriel preferred playing with his maths to interacting with the other angels; that was the first indication that he felt unconnected with them and not sharing common interests. Then he decided to replace the way the universe was run with a system based on science and maths and logically-derivable physical laws, and look how that turned out. Theory is a lot neater than messy reality, and both Uriel and the Comet King are demonstrating impatience with humanity and the material world for not behaving the way they ‘should’ behave in the perfect model, and trying to force them to behave that way, even if they have to shove some square pegs into round holes (and eradicate the entire city of Madrid and surrounds) while doing so.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        Uriel turning the universe into math did work out well though

        • Deiseach says:

          Except for planes and trains not working and the number eight sometimes being unavailable and other little things like that.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            But that was caused by the thing crashing after having worked for thousands of years- and if it had never been implemented the world probably would have been taken over by Thamiel (and planes and trains would never have worked).

        • alkatyn says:

          Not for the angels though, they all died/were put into suspended animation and would have remained that way if not for Apollo messing things up.

          Imagine if a human came to you with a plan that necessitated the elimination of all humans, but would allow Chimpanzees to grow and take over the planet?

          Uriel also didn’t think about how the angels would react to this, and assumed they’d go along with their own destruction because it was the best thing to do

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            Thamiel would have probably won if Uriel didn’t turn the universe into math though.

  2. JoeScott says:

    The end of this chapter does not bode well considering the nearing of the end of this book and the dramatic appeal of having very bad things happen to characters…

  3. Daniel Blank says:

    1. Could the women have gotten abortions and prevented the Cometspawn from experiencing immense pain (possibly via Thamiel?)

    2. Is the prophecy likely to be self-fulfilling?

    • Marvy says:

      re: 2: well, if his original plan would have worked, but he cancelled it due to prophecy, they could all die at the hand of Thamiel, cursing him for abandoning his original plan.

      • Psycho says:

        The prophecy doesn’t say whether or not it mattered if he followed through on with his plan: just that they would all die cursing his name. Unless it was fated that he would abandon his plan, regardless of numbers, they would have all died cursing his name.

        There was no escape clause: just a proclamation.

        • Marvy says:

          This is typical of self-fulfilling prophecies. See Oedipus for instance: if his parents hadn’t attempted to evade the prophecy, do you really think it would have come to pass?

    • dsotm says:

      It is likely that father Ellis has fabricated the prophecy to discourage Jala from his plan, notice Scott is careful to describe it as a hearsay coming from him.

      • Anonymous says:

        Doubtful. Ellis is a priest, and lying is also a sin.

        • dsotm says:

          hmm, What’s the pope doing in this universe ? – he could have convinced him to decree that this is the prophecy that was given thereby making it the truth.

          • The coment king says:

            getting his eyes pecked out by eagles.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            It might not need to be said, but this is, uh, not how it works.

          • Decius says:

            If the Pope has the ability to create truth by proclamation, I see a cheese solution. What are the limits of Papal Proclimation to e.g. fix the flow of divine energy?

          • anon says:

            I’m not Catholic – well, not anymore – but my understanding is that he’s supposed to have the power to know and speak things that he is divinely assured are true, not will whatevery he says ex cathedra into being true.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            anon is right, with additional caveats: the infallibility extends only to matters pertaining to the Catholic faith; and the decree must be made in specific circumstances that, in practice, only rarely come into play.

            In addition, Jesus is believed to be the definitive, ultimate revelation of God. If anyone receives subsequent visions or messages, these are considered “private” revelations, and are never the subject of an infallible declaration. At most, the pope might declare that Catholics are allowed to believe in them, but no one is required to. This applies to things like Guadalupe, Fatima, etc., and would also apply to the Dividend Monks’ prophecies.

          • Deiseach says:

            If the Pope has the ability to create truth by proclamation

            Nope. Papal infallibility means that by the exercise of the teaching power of the chair, on matters of faith and doctrine, the pope will not teach heresy.

            It does not mean the pope can issue a bull saying “Orange is the new black” and lo, so it was. A pope ruled on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but if a pope tried to deny the Virgin Birth, no invocation of infallibility would save him from being declared in error.

        • LPSP says:

          It seems perfectly inline with the Father Ellis we know to me. He isn’t willing to compromise with the Church’s/popular notion of sin for good, utilitarian, consequentialist reasons, so perhaps he’s willing to do the opposite and commit bad things for the sake of preventing those sins.

          • R Flaum says:

            That would also be a violation of doctrine. The official position of the Catholic Church is that “You shall no do evil that good may result.” For instance, Augustine and Aquinas both say that there is no situation in which lying is acceptable, even to save a life. Of courese, that doesn’t mean every priest actually lives up to that standard at all times — Ellis is a human being, and perhaps he compromised his principles in this instance.

          • LPSP says:

            So you’re saying that includes doing evil that evil may be prevented? There is a distinction and I don’t know if Catholicism recognises that (of course, as you say Ellis is human and may operate indepedently anyway).

          • R Flaum says:

            As I understand it, you’re not supposed to lie even if there’s a murderer at the door (though, at least according to Augustine, while all lies are evil, not all are equally evil — lying to prevent a murder is less bad than lying for selfish reasons).

            Interestingly, there is a distinction for the double-effect. That is, while you’re not allowed to do something evil so that a greater good will result, you are allowed to do something that has both good and evil effects if the good effect outweighs the evil one. The distinction between these two things can sometimes be a bit fuzzy. (Aquinas says that this is why you’re not allowed to lie to defend yourself but are allowed to kill in self-defense, but I must confess that I don’t really understand his reasoning here)

          • LPSP says:

            That example strikes me as wiggle-room tastic, given specific time-frames and perspectives for self-defense, prevention of harm and so on.

            Sort-of redundant here, but what of the classic example of the clearly-murderous lutanic who says he’s looking for a guy who it happens is your friend, and you have the chance to lie and misdirect him so your friend escapes murder – does catholicism compel the good man to facillitate his friend’s needless stab-murder?

          • R Flaum says:

            As I understand it — and here I’m not going by any official source but just by my recollection of what a Catholic guy once told me, so take this with a grain of salt — you’re not allowed to directly lie to the murderer, but you are allowed to refuse to answer the question, or to give him a technically-true but misleading answer. The example I was given is of someone sheltering Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany — if the Nazis come to your door and ask if you’re sheltering “Jewish scum,” you can say “There are no Jewish scum in this house” (because in your opinion the refugees aren’t “scum”), but you can’t say “There are no Jews in this house.”

          • Dacyn says:

            Actually the Church doesn’t really have a clear position about the Nazi / murderer situation. For example here is a Catholic arguing that it is OK to lie to the Nazis (actually lie, not just give a misleading answer): On the other hand, some Catholics such as Aquinas believed that even giving an intentionally misleading answer is wrong. I believe the position that misleading answers are OK but not literally false ones is normally associated with the Jesuits.

          • Nadav says:

            And just for the sake of spelling it out, in the context of the story I believe this whole bit is obviously meant to make us think of “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin”. The story seems to take, or at least consider, a rationalistic approach to judeo-christian faith: if God gave you some rules that are absolute, and God is the ultimate judge of what is “good” and “right” in the universe, then it follows that whenever an absolute rule clashes with a heuristic, like “Thou shalt not lie” vs “letting people die is wrong”, the rule always wins. And if something rational like creating an incredibly powerful army of superpeople clashes with something sacred like the sanctity of marriage, or the declaration that premarital sex is wrong, than it is wrong inasmuch as extra-marital pregnancy is completely forbidden by God (which is admittedly not indisputable). Also, this chapter should makes us all think of Genesis 6, the story of the Nephilim. According to some common interpretations, the events described in that story correspond to the events of this chapter. The “Sons of God” (presumably angels, paralleled here by TCK) wish you sleep with the fair daughters of man, perhaps as a means to an end: the creation of powerful, long lived hybrids. God is angered by this, and consequentially limits the human lifespan. The hybrids already born become mighty heroes. Anyway, the message is that god dislikes human-angels hybrids.

      • DanielLC says:

        It’s also pretty likely that Rabbis made up the thing about angels not knowing Aramaic. That didn’t keep it from being true. Placebomancy will ensure that prophecies are always right.

        • Eliezer says:

          “The Torah is not in heaven”

          This means that on issues of Torah, Rabbinical consensus can overrule the voice of G-d. Angels speaking Aramaic is an issue of Torah, therefore the Sanhedrin has the power to declare that they do not(this takes effect retroactively).

          In fact, according to the mystics, the Sanhedrin rewrote the fabric of reality multiple times.

          “Idolatry was rampant, and the sanhedrin knew that to preserve the jewish people something had to be done. They destroyed the impulse to idolatry, but in doing so removed prophesy from this world (others say “removed the visibility of G-d from this world”). They attempted to destroy the impulse to commit adultery, but in the morning the chickens laid no eggs and no calves were born. In the end, they removed or weakened the impulse for many sins, including incest, at unrecorded cost”

    • That means the aborted fetuses would die in horror and agony cursing their father’s name.

    • Deiseach says:

      (1) If the Cometspawn are aware while in the womb (as many legendary figures have been said to be), particularly if they grow faster than ordinary humans, then being aborted would cause them immense pain and suffering.

      Though the nine-month gestation period suggests they did not develop faster than normal, so the “growing faster to adulthood than any mortal” possibly means that they still take years to grow up, just not so many as plain humans.

      (2) Prophecies are always self-fulfilling. Just ask Oedipus.

    • Decius says:

      1. Possibly, but for various reasons they probably chose not to or couldn’t find someone to perform the procedure. Given that they were volunteers and then further selected, and if they put stock in the prophecy then they would update strongly on fetal pain of cometspawn given abortion of cometspawn.

    • If they try aborting Cometspawn, they might create E-telekeli

  4. Marvy says:

    Today’s lesson is: if everyone says it’s a bad idea, talk to the dividend monks.

  5. LHC says:

    > One of them went to the tabloids later and described the Comet King’s lovemaking was “efficient” and “peremptory”.

    Should be as, not was.

  6. dsotm says:

    So TCK is a King in the mountain

    He requested that the women of Colorado step forth to help him in the project.

    As one often does, but why restrict it to Colorado ?

    • dsotm says:

      There also remains at least one unintroduced cometspawn, maybe he can be the other king in the spirit of the Arthurian legend ?

      • The coment king says:

        One? So far we have Nathanda and Sohu (unless you’re jumping to the conclusion that Jane is also one, which sounds probable, considering both her origins and the racial diversity goals).

        • dsotm says:

          hence at-least one.

        • Jacob says:

          Speaking of racial diversity goals, here’s Malia Gno:

          “a five foot tall woman of ambiguous ethnicity”

          “I couldn’t place her ethnicity at all.”

          Then again,

          “Her face looked like it came from one of those weird nightjar birds whose eyes are in the wrong place and don’t look even look like real eyes.”

          Cometspawn or something weirder?

          • Jacob says:

            (On one hand, it seems a little awkward in a story set in the present to make every “racially ambiguous” character related to TCK. On the other hand, UNSONG is the family business….)

          • Anonymous says:

            Not completely impossible. But she hasn’t been revealed as such.

            Chapter 24:

            I could expect better treatment from the Cometspawn than I was likely to get from Malia Ngo

            Chapter 14:

            He’d died about ten years ago and been replaced by Ms. Ngo, who had joined the organization two years earlier and presided over a famous sting on the medicinal-Name gangs in the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire.

            If Malia were a Cometspawn, I think she’d have been in UNSONG from the start, not “joined” it.

          • LPSP says:

            Malia could be a cometspawn in disguise. Perhaps one was disgraced and went into hiding. Sided with TOK, or Thamiel, or a watcher?

          • anon says:

   Note the “nightjar bird” translation. Maybe Malia Ngo is Lilith? Though there are many Liliths in mythology, so it wouldn’t be a complete answer.

          • Daniel says:

            anon, oh dear, a little further up on that same page: “The early 5th-century Vulgate translated the same word as Lamia.”


          • Cake&spoon says:

            And what about Ngo? I have an idea about that- it’s not Ngo, it’s NGO, as in Non Governmental Organization. It’s a hint that unsong no longer is under the control of the un, it has been taken over by malia, who uses it fe her own purposes.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          The thing is, if Jane is one of the Cometspawn, oughtn’t Aaron to have recognized her?

          • dsotm says:

            Scott said Sohu would be instantly recognizable but that might be because she’s perpetually 8 y.o. or would become famous in her own capacity (filling in for Uriel while he’s trying to clear up the Madrid mess ?)
            Maybe there’s an incognito name ?

  7. Lux Sola says:

    Why didn’t the Comet King consult the Dividend Monks before consulting the public?

    • Elijah says:

      I imagine because it takes time to go to the monks and back, as is suggested in

      Ellis set out for Sawatch.

      The Comet King doesn’t strike me as the kind to wait for someone else to doublecheck his plan when he’s already certain.

  8. Psycho says:

    Sohu can’t die: at least, easily. She is fated to die.

    This will be interesting.

  9. The coment king says:

    Nooooo not Sohu! NOT SOHU!!!
    …but this does make the question of his wife even more intriguing.

    • The coment king says:

      Wait, this is even worse than I thought. Sohu didn’t even get mad at Uriel after being tortured by Thamiel. What would it take to bring her cursing her father with her dying breath?

  10. Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

    “Perhaps you are right. I accept the slight cost to my humanity as an acceptable risk, given the possible gains.”

    All the descendants of the Comet King, he said, would die screaming in horror and agony, cursing their father’s name.

    They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin. Though that does seem to be a little harsh. And why would the Comet King be a utilitarian if utilitarianism wasn’t the objectively correct metaethical reflection of Adam Kadmon?

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      Objective morality doesn’t really make any more sense in the world of Unsong than it does in ours

      • Decius says:

        I’m not sure. There is someone that could be asked about that, but apparently it’s hard to find and talk to Him.

        • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

          I mean, I don’t think the concept of objective morality makes sense even if god himself tells you. An is can’t be an ought.

          • Decius says:

            You can’t derive an ought from an is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find out what “ought” is.

      • Directed Acyclic Wrath says:

        I agree that a particular ethical system being the natural structure of the universe and a reflection of God would not be sufficient reason to accept it as your own. However, I doubt TCK would think of himself as having personal values that were not the correct reflection of the structure.

        The question can be modified to “Why would TCK embrace utilitarianism if Metatron wouldn’t have supported that?” if you want a more value-relative way of speaking about it.

    • The coment king says:

      Yeah, I’ve wondered for a while if this sentence was going to come back and bite the Comet King. I have a (low probability) theory that his narrative will go something like this: He makes compromise with sin* and as a result his invasion of Hell fails and his wife dies (continuing his analogy to Moses).
      He spirals into despair, and ends up finally fulfilling his childhood fantasy of burning away and leaving his body behind (though he injures TOK on his way out, to spare his children for the moment, he knows nothing he does will save them long-term. He ends up back on his ship, looking for Metatron again to ask him for some answers to his despair. But he can’t get Metatron to talk to him again – either because he’s no longer pure, or because Metatron’s like the Childlike Empress and you can only talk to him once, so he gets other people on board, hoping one of them can find him. Calling on father Ellis to join him also sounds like something he’d do in these circumstances.

      *Regarding the question of what his sin is, the obvious answer would be something to do with founding UNSONG, which ties the two parts of the story together under its name. The other option would be lacking faith, implied here in the line “your faith was strong but you wanted proof”, and supported in that this is also what cost Moses the chance to enter Israel. The third option is something to do with his wife – feels like she’s going to be important, and she’s mentioned in the poem, but it doesn’t seem like Scott’s style to do a straightforwards “The world or your wife” climax for him.

      • The coment king says:

        actually, update to that theory: what if it wasn’t Jala who spoke to Metatron? What if it was his wife?
        Jala never said he spoke to Metatron. He very specifically said he’d found him, and that he’d learned the name. And the poem seems to imply that “she” (presumably, his wife) was involved in that meeting somehow.
        Theory: Metatron doesn’t speak to angels, only to humans. He never spoke when the angels sang around him because he doesn’t speak to them. And he didn’t speak to Jala, who was half-angel. He only spoke to Jala’s wife, who was both human and worthy of it.

    • Utilitarianism may not be the objectively correct metaethical reflection of Adam Kadmon, but it still seems to have some kabbalistic significance. In particular, it seems like Uriel (and none of the other archangels) is a utilitarian.

  11. Immanentizing Eschatons says:

    OK, I might have just missed something but Scott, I’m not sure how to put this but, uh, the way this chapter was set up bothered me and also I’m kind of worried it is confusingly written in a potentially… inflammatory… way.

    When the Comet King starts talking about his breeding program at the beginning of the chapter- it’s really not made all that clear that he intends to use volunteers, and combined with the Ellis’s traditionalist objections it’s rather… startling in the lack of a voice for anything like liberalism. But so far so fine I guess form a story perspective.

    But this is then followed by the protesters who are seemingly meant to be somewhat a parody. The thing is… It’s still not yet made clear that Jala wants to ask for volunteers, not forcefully impregnate people*. Which made it seem kind of like, well, the protesters were being made fun of for not wanting to be impregnated against there will*.

    This is made clear offhandedly in the next paragraph, but I feel like it really should be mentioned in a clearer manner earlier in the chapter.

    *also, like, Jala killed his mother by growing to fast. I might have forgot something mentioned before but would they have a way to communicate with the new comet spawn to tell them not to do this? If not that would be even much more disturbing.

    • dsotm says:

      that the twenty-four thousand applications he had already received were quite enough

      I think ‘applications’ implies it was quite voluntary, otherwise they would be dossiers.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        No, yea, like I said that is were it is confirmed he is using volunteers. I feel like it should be clearer earlier, is what I mean.

        Earlier it says he “requested that the women of Colorado step forth to help him in the project”, which does, admittedly imply volunteering and maybe it was just me with my tenancy to read faster than my comprehension… IDK.

        • dsotm says:

          I think it’s in-character, that there might not be enough volunteers is not even being considered by him as a real possibility.

          he *requested* that the women of Colorado step forth to help him in the project

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            Right, I’m not saying there would be anything wrong with having the Comet King as a character say that- I’m saying that the protesters should not be made an object of parody until after it’s quite clear that hes using volunteers. Was it clear?, IDK it might have just been me.

          • Deiseach says:

            When you have a celestially powered king who is (so far as anyone can tell) Humanity’s Last Best Hope against Thamiel and Hell, a “request for volunteers” is likely to be interpreted as the Army method of volunteering, i.e. “We need three volunteers for this – you, you and you, step forward” 🙂

          • Walter says:


            “It takes a brave man not to be a hero in Comrade Stalin’s army!”

        • Marvy says:

          It could have been made a bit clearer a bit sooner, but it came within a paragraph or two. Good enough I think.

    • dsotm says:

      More interesting though, what about the mothers parental rights ? – Did they have to relinquish them as a condition for the application or do they participate in their upbringing ? Are they being given official status as royal comet concubines ?

    • dsotm says:

      Re them growing up to fast so as to endanger their mothers during pregnancy – Sohu seems to be more or less a normal 8 y.o. when she arrives to Uriel while also being chronologically 8 y.o. so maybe the growing up too fast part isn’t hereditary, which in turn suggests that other traits TCK was doing this for aren’t either and does raise the question how he thought that would work for the mothers if it they were to turn out to be hereditary.

      • The coment king says:

        Sohu isn’t full-on CK, but she is unusual (how many normal 8-year olds have the bible memorized?). She seems a lot more human than Jala, but with some extraordinary abilities left.

    • Deiseach says:

      I agree that it doesn’t sound as if the Comet King is thinking of volition on the part of others. He has a plan. All his plans are right. This plan will benefit humanity. Of course the mortals will fall in with it, because (a) his plans are always right and this one will benefit humanity and (b) they fell in with all his plans before.

      Why would women care about whether or not they want to be the mothers of his children? It is for the benefit of humanity, surely they can see the beauty of the reasoning and that will convince them to do so!

      Because the Comet King has skipped out (partly of necessity) on so much of being human by forcing his growth to adulthood and full powers, and thereby he lacks the experience of growing up in a human body under the limitations of slowly gaining abilities and capacities and understanding, he can’t understand the emotional and non-rational values people have.

      And yeah, this is a pretty clear God-Emperor Friendly AI analogy here 🙂 (He wants to help us, and he’s going to help us, whether we like it or not!)

      (Also, to allude to Christianity here for a moment, this is why the twenty or so years of “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” when Jesus grows up with His parents is important; there’s a lot of speculation about “so what did He do in all that time?”, even getting as far afield as going to India/China/Glastonbury, studying Buddhism, etc. What He was doing, of course, was learning to be human).

    • Decius says:

      I also observed ambiguity. I assumed that the moral discussion was about nonconsensually impregnating “all the women of Colorado”, presumably all at once via magic. And I believed that CK would stoop to that, and I believe that a large number of readers will have a big negative reaction to that.

      A couple of sentences of dialog where a character also believed that, immediately followed by either a compromise or clarification (depending on how CK should be interpreted), would clear it up for the audience faster.

      As is, there’s someone to whom I now cannot recommend Unsong.

      • Eve Matteo says:

        I definitely have no clue where the idea that he was talking about unwilling people came from. He asks for a request for volunteers. That’s the first method of implementing his plan. Why would “please request that the women step forward” translate into “I’ll impregnate them whether they want to or not”?

        He’s famous. Plenty of women tend to throw themselves at famous people. I’m sure he’s had women throwing themselves at him since he took the throne regardless of his age (from the “I’ll wait the five years for him to finish growing” crowd). That’s why he knows he can ask for volunteers and get a whole bunch of them.

        None of this is meant to condemn those women. I’m female. My choice of partner is mostly based on a combination between his intelligence and his physical potential. The comet king obviously has incredible amounts of both. I’m hoping our children will be physically and mentally capable children, but I’ll love them regardless. If I could’ve met a man who could guarantee that our children would be physically and mentally capable, I’d probably have gone for it. The only thing about have the comet king’s child that would’ve given me pause is the fact that he killed his mother by growing too quickly. If that’s not common knowledge (which I highly doubt that it would be), then there’s nothing stopping those women from going for the chance of a millennium.

        • Decius says:

          It was “You can’t just impregnate every woman in an entire state.” followed by (paraphrased) “I’ve resolved the logistical problems with that already.”

          If it had been followed with “I don’t need all of them, just the suitable volunteers”, I would probably have never jumped to “oh, he didn’t mean all at once and by magic” on my way to “volunteers only”.

  12. The coment king says:

    Welp, there goes my theory that Sohu’s ability to do celestial kabbalah came from her mother’s side, if her mother was just an ordinary woman and not TCK’s wife. How does she have an ability even her father doesn’t then?

    • dsotm says:

      What kabalistic ability has she shown that her father hasn’t so far ?

      • dsotm says:

        And wiggle ears, that makes sense but when reading it the first time I just assumed that TCK had it in basic capacity and that’s why he recognized it in Sohu and sent her to study under Uriel but it makes sense that he himself is only limited to knowledge uploaded to him by Raziel.
        What if Sohu’s mother was actually Gadiriel’s avatar ? – that would make her 3/4th angelic vs. Jala’s 1/2

    • We that Sohu’s mother (assuming she is CK’s daughter, I don’t think that was explicitly confirmed yet) was carefully selected out of twenty-four thousand applicants. There’s no reason to assume she’s ordinary.

  13. R Flaum says:

    If the Comet King is this bad at understanding people, how does he expect to be a good king? Understanding people is a big part of that job.

  14. The coment king says:

    I can interpret this chapter as saying something interesting about being human: Being human isn’t something you do because you can, it’s something you do because you can’t help it.
    Jala wasn’t convinced to be human by arguments or appeals. But when it was his own children who would die cursing him in agony, even though the utilitarian calculus still says it’s clearly worth it to improve your chances of destroying Hell, he couldn’t do it.

    • Seth says:

      It looks to me like the prophecy wasn’t a factor in his decision. He had no more children after hearing it, yes, but by that time, he had already narrowed the thousands of applicants down to four and impregnated all of them. I get the feeling that was the plan from the start, and that telling his advisers that he wanted to impregnate all the women was a haggling tactic, in anticipation of their objections. If he were going to let the prophecy affect his decision, he’d have waited until he had heard it to impregnate anyone, and if he really intended to have as many children as possible, he’d have been much less choosy and much busier spreading his seed during that week.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think his original plan was to impregnate as many women as possible and suitable (he needs an army, after all) and the choice of four was a compromise; Ellis and Vihaan were unhappy and objecting, so I think he scaled back on his “mass donor insemination programme” and selected four volunteers as a means of “see, everything went fine, you were worrying about nothing” and quietening their qualms before going ahead with the mass pregnancies.

        *I don’t see any reason for him to personally have sex with the women when IVF will do as well or even better; I think all of this was PR based on the bad reaction to the announcement of his plans. He’s good at manipulating people based on his theories of what really drives them, i.e. their own self-interest, and how to make it look as if you’re giving them what they want and it’s all their own idea. I don’t think this means he understands people as such, but he’s able to impose by force of personality and powers and by cynical/rational (take your pick) assessment of what people really want versus what they tell themselves they want or should want. Nobody wants to think of themselves as selfish or greedy but if he gives you something that you want wrapped up in “you are doing a good thing”, then you’re happy.

    • DanielLC says:

      If his children die in agony and curse him with their dying breaths, that might suggest that the plan will fail.

  15. Marvy says:

    “No, not really”.

    The next paragraph is some pretty hardcore ethics. Pretty much the exact opposite the
    gravitational theory.

    • TheAncienGeek says:

      The gravitational theory is refuted by the fact people care much more about one of their own compatriots being thrown into a stinking cell by a foreign dictator than they do about one of the dictators own citizens. Why, it’s as if ethics were centrally a societal sort of thing.

    • LPSP says:

      Thinking back on that post, I wonder if certain sorts of social situations, including arrangements, sports/competitions/rivalries, politics and cross-country interaction/immigration, don’t work like Electromagnetism somehow. Both sides are stronger for interacting with and bouncing off the other, while left alone they need to fracture and dilute out.

  16. R Flaum says:

    I feel like creating thousands of superhumans, even if they also have superhuman morality, might have some drawbacks. Especially if their children are also superhuman. The King’s basically creating an extremely durable aristocracy/commoner division and I’m not sure he’s fully thought through the implications of that.

    • Yossarian says:

      Well, creating thousands of superhumans didn’t work out that well for the Emperor of Mankind.

    • Decius says:

      I’m sure he has. Have you thought about the implications of choosing not to improve the lives of a fraction of humanity?

    • The coment king says:

      It seems to dilute pretty fast. TCK’s roughly halfway between human and angelic, and Sohu’s mostly human except for a couple of things she’s weirdly good at. Go down another generation, and you’d probably hardly be able to tell the difference.

      • R Flaum says:

        It actually seems to me that TCK is offset from us in a way orthogonal to the human/angelic axis. Angels in general don’t seem to have superhuman intelligence, for instance (Uriel has a sort of superintelligence, but it’s highly specialized, and seems to be inferior to TCK’s in at least some respects). But I suppose we haven’t met Raziel, so maybe he’s a genius among angels.

  17. Quixote says:

    I enjoyed the chapter for the information it conveyed, but overall its not one of my favorites. Too much information not enough jokes. Even though the jokes sail over the head of certain audience members, UNSONG is really at its best when it’s funny. Unsong works better as Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy than as Dune.

    I feel like this chapter was almost without puns.

  18. R Flaum says:

    Wait wait wait. Was the abbot’s message verbal or written? Maybe they just have an extremely painful method of dying their hair.

    • Decius says:

      Maybe the cometspawn aren’t actually the comet king’s children, and the prophecy is about the empty set and is trivially true. Maybe “cursing [a] name” has enough different meanings to be interesting.

      “All the descendants of the Comet King, he said, would die screaming in horror and agony, cursing their father’s name.”

      -“I hate you, dad!” “Damn Jala”: too obvious, would only be a result of multiple subversions
      -using a Name that is the Comet King’s for some intentional purpose: singly subverts the prophecy, would require either exactly one twist or at least four; not likely from a literary perspective.
      -speaking the Tetragrammaton to defeat Thamial: subverts the implication of not being worth it, subverts the idomatic reading, subverts “name”, and subverts “father’s”. I’m betting at 3:2 that this is the correct outcome, with an exposure limit of 40 non-currency units.

  19. The Cement King says:

    “it’s like explaining the nature of virtue to a rock”

    “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


  20. Walter says:

    What does it mean that the Dividend Abbot sat “amidst the Pillar of Mildness” ? Am I forgetting something?

  21. Major Failing of the Planetary Corps says:

    All the descendants of the Comet King, he said, would die screaming in horror and agony, cursing their father’s name.

    I’m very suspicious that this prophecy of the Dividend Monks is going to be subverted in the classic way, where it comes to pass in the form of some hidden second meaning to its words (perhaps even their kabbalisticmeaning), or it is straightforwardly true but will have some other hidden opposite effect when it occurs in its true context.

    The only kabbalistic clue I see would be “cursing their father’s name”, which could clearly have to do with using a Name of God, rather than cursing the Comet King. My immediate half-baked theory was that the Cometspawn might commit suicide by saying the tetragrammaton (which we know to be fatal) as a means of invading and attacking Hell.

    Which is super speculative. But I think I’m barking up the right tree by assuming the prophecy to be misleading and/or kabbalistic.

  22. LPSP says:

    Really cashing in on the theme that God doesn’t like angels accomplishing too much good, and especially nephilim. Singing praises, sending messages and slaying daemons are all groovy, but the moment one half-angel talks about breeding a superhuman army, out wheel the prophecies.

    A detail no-one has talked about – a throne of black opal. Last I checked, fire opal (not the same thing but oh well) was associated with the sfira Hod, the Splendour, which occupies the base of the justiciary/extractive pillar of life. Meanwhile the colour black is associated with Binah, the Understanding which sits at the top of that pillar and which Sataniel and Thamiel corrupted, leading to the “shattering” of the six beneath it. Thrones themselves are associated with this sfira, as it the name of its associated choir of angels, the Ophanim.

    Altogether this is painting a dark picture of Jalaketu, as a king associated more with punishing, taking and avenging that doing good, and which is loosely aligned in some spirit with the devil, at odds with his father, the master of the merciful/giving pillar of life.

  23. The coment king says:

    Note that if he had four children, this might ruin the “Elijah was at TCK’s Seder” theory (seven people = four children, Jala, Ellis, and Vihaan.) Unless TCK or Vihaan somehow counts as Elijah.

  24. The Comet King should have just gone on Tindr.

  25. Lux Sola says:

    To be fair though, it wasn’t a terrible idea.

    Or rather, it was, but not for any of the reasons that anyone said. They were all terrible narrow-minded childish reasons, with no basis in fact.

    They objected because it was taboo to them, in a manner not unlike people protesting gay marriage.

    The difference here is that there are very good reasons for the Comet King not to have 24k children.

    The first being that he’s creating a race of superhumans who will coexist with the normals. Unless he (quite sensibly, because incest isn’t wise) creates a perpetual proclamation against them interbreeding, he’s creating an aristocracy that will doubtless rule over the rest of them, whether or not they like it.

    The second being that he cannot possibly control that many children, especially if they have the powers he wants. What happens when kid number 12765 turns out to be almost as powerful as TCK himself is, and also extremely evil? Or just self-serving?

    The third being the reason real life kings tended to stick to one wife, rather than an army of consorts. If you have hundreds of kids, all born within a couple months of each other, who is the successor? If you have 24k kids, all born within a couple years, all of whom are superhuman, how many seconds do you think your kingdom will last following your death, before it either shatters like glass, or erupts into civil war?

    These are all good, sensible reasons, which no one brought up to him.

    Frankly, the fact that no one even bothered pointing those out strikes me as evidence that he has some shitty advisors.

    • The coment king says:

      The last reason is probably more of a feature than a bug to him. He very specifically mentioned he doesn’t want Colorado to stay a monarchy after his time, and 24k children would more easily go back to democracy than one.

    • Anon says:

      “Terrible childish narrow-minded reasons, much like opposition to gay marriage.”

      Not sure if you’d notice but in this universe things like boiling a goat in its mother’s milk and gay marriage were both discouraged/forbidden by Uriel earlier on, the former has caused Uriel to kill who knows how many people.. this universe has a logic that is very different from our own, andit seems in general it is a good idea to listen to what religious authorities suggest very often, for example the goat thing.

    • Decius says:

      Those are all equally good arguments against humans reproducing in the same aggregate number.

    • The second being that he cannot possibly control that many children, especially if they have the powers he wants. What happens when kid number 12765 turns out to be almost as powerful as TCK himself is, and also extremely evil? Or just self-serving?

      From my reading of it, I thought he didn’t want to control them, just increase the odds that Thamiel could be defeated. (The risk that someone with that kind of power would grow up to be evil if part angel and part human seems like it would be low enough that it would totally be a net benefit.)

      …granted, the word ‘army’ is used, but I admit I read that as ‘large and threatening amount of’ rather than ‘militaristic and strictly hierarchical group’.

      I don’t know, I guess I don’t have much of a point. 🙂

      • R Flaum says:

        Sataniel turned evil, and he was entirely angel.

        • Sure! That said, I’m actually not entirely sure what your point is, since you make it sound like you’re disagreeing with me? Maybe I was unclear.

          (1) I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just that the odds involved of his children (or anyone non-demonic, really) being good rather than evil are probably not terrible. The emphasis is on ‘net benefit’.

          (2) Beyond that, I’d honestly expect the ‘part human’ aspect is kind of important – as we’ve seen angels are super gullible, after all. (That said, they are allegedly really good at ‘smiting evil’ – but I’m not sure what to make of that in the context of the Sataniel/etc stuff, so I was disregarding that.)

          • R Flaum says:

            Fair. Raziel apparently decided that having a kid would be better than intervening himself, which implies that the human side might be adding something.

        • LPSP says:

          Only after Thamiel *himself* worked him over the course of 366 days. Thamiel never entirely converted another angel to evil again, he just lied to them like Sataniel did.

          In addition, it’s implicit in Sataniel’s displacment of Tsaphkiel that there’s something wrong with Sataniel and his role in the council of Archangels in the first place. Certainly no other angel seemed bothered about boring a whole into the middle of God’s creation – no matter the time or energy rendered – just to poke about in the innards.

  26. Yossarian says:

    It’s been the longest stretch without interludes so far. Starting to feel pains of withdrawal. Wonder whether we’ll get one this Wednesday, or I shall have to resort to time-proven technique of injecting cocaine-heroine mixture straight into my balls…

  27. R Flaum says:

    If I were the Comet King, I’d invest a lot of resources into setting up a fast method of communication with the Dividend Monks.

    • Marvy says:

      Au contraire, how then would you get rid of Father Ellis when he gets annoying? (Though considering what happened here…)

  28. Marvy says:

    I just realized: the Comet King’s first child is already dead. Reread the Passover bonus, paying attention to how he says “firstborn”.

    • Peter D says:

      Hm, possible, although very speculative. He, of course, was reciting the ten plagues, but seems like something really bad just happened to him, which could be litteral or figurative death of his firstborn. But could it be that the Other King is one of his children???

      • Peter D says:

        I doesn’t mention his son’s death here:

        The Comet King had other problems now. His great crusade had failed. His wife was dead. He kept to his room, leaving the day-to-day work of governance to his Cometspawn.

        But if TOK is his son, then firthborn death could be understood as metaphorical and it would be an interesting twist on the Darth Wader/Luke Skywalker theme

        • Walter says:

          The Comet King has a wife? Who is that? She must be amazing!

          • The coment king says:

            Aaron referred to her early on (“you know, the Comet King’s wife was – ” then Anna cuts him off). The second Book Cover Hallelujah variation also seems to refer to her.

        • teucer says:

          TOK was also thought *actually dead* at one point, before found exactly what you would expect from the dead leader of a necromantic cult and becoming not dead anymore.

        • Ninmesara says:

          The chapter about the other king says:

          In the mid ’90s, Las Vegas was on edge with rumors of some kind of necromantic cult. The Comet King had come to the city, smoked out the cultists, and personally executed the leader.

          I don’t think the Other King’s death would have been described like this if the Other King were the son of the Comet King… A father killing a son would be noteworthy enough to be included even in this brief summary, I guess. Unless no one actually knows they’re family (except for the Comet King, of course).

          • Peter D says:

            Agree… The only reason I raised this possibility is that TOK seems very powerful and this power could have come from TCK, as originally planned. He could also be the undead Acher, as oters suggested.

  29. Galle says:

    Continuity error: Gadiriel-as-Reagan said that Jala looked like he was fifteen years old.

  30. Caprico says:

    Can we skip the reactionary whining?

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