aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 37: Love That Never Told Can Be

May 13, 2017
Las Vegas

“Sinner” in Biblical Hebrew is “aval”, no doubt kabbalistically connected to our English word “evil”. The gematria value of “aval” is 106. Bishop Ussher, the Biblical chronologist who fixed Creation at 4004 BC, tells us that 106 years passed between Noah’s flood and the Tower of Babel. This is unsurprising; the decision to build a tower to Heaven out of vanity is a sinful act; thus instances of 106, the number of sinners, will appear around it.

Jane and I were eating breakfast in the Top Of The World observation deck/restaurant on the 106th floor of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. All around us, floor-to-ceiling glass windows presented a view of Las Vegas that would normally require a flying kayak. I wondered if Jane had contacts in Los Angeles who would retrieve her boat for her. It seemed like too wonderful an artifact to just abandon.

“So the plan,” said Jane, in between bites of crepe, “is to take the bus to Rogue Toys on the strip, which everyone says has pretty much every Beanie Baby ever made. We’ll get the purple dragon, then get out.”

She was serious. She had her luggage with her and she’d bought me a backpack. We weren’t even coming back to the hotel afterwards. We were getting that dragon and then getting the hell out of Vegas.

“Get out where?” I asked. Colorado was besieged; getting through enemy lines would be almost impossible. Were we going straight back to Los Angeles?

Jane smiled. “You’ll see,” she said. At least now her obstinate denial of information was pleasant instead of confrontational. She’d still made me sleep gagged and handcuffed to the bed last night, but she’d sounded a little apologetic about it. I was starting to hope she’d just been in a temper after the debacle at the Angel Reserve, and that she could be nice enough when she wanted to be.

Should I tell her about the Beanie Baby hidden in my Apple-Ade? Part of me wanted to abandon my suspicions and commit to working with Jane. Part of me even wanted to walk back on the the plea for help I’d given Ana, tell her that things seemed sort of under control, that I was with a genuine Coloradan who was showing me the world, luxurious hotel by luxurious hotel. But – I thought – Jane would replace her Beanie Baby at the store today anyway, and all I’d do by telling her was lose her trust. Better to let her buy a replacement, then trash the Apple-Ade bottle with her never the wiser.

A reluctance to meet Jane’s eyes drew my attention to the great glass windows. The Las Vegas Strip shone in a thousand gaudy colors. Everyone had expected that being taken over by an evil necromancer would be bad for business, but the opposite had been true. The Other King saw Las Vegas as a giant piggy bank for his arcane endeavours. He’d met with the city’s business leaders and given them a solemn promise to leave its industries entirely alone. Entirely alone, they had asked him? Entirely alone, he had answered. Since then, no building ideas had been too colossal, no form of gambling or prostitution or “adult” “entertainment” too salacious. People from all over the Untied States had been invited to come and depart unmolested, none the worse for their stay in the city of the dead save lighter pockets and a lot of explaining to do to their spouses. And if any of those visitors tried to take advantage of their gracious hosts, whether by counting cards at a blackjack table or by copping a feel of a stripper who wasn’t interested, skeletal faces in black robes would come have a talk with them, and they would never be seen in the city again. All in all a beautiful well-functioning machine, with the Other King asking nothing in exchange for such endless prosperity save a tax of twenty percent on all commerce, non-negotiable.

But the city’s seeming normality didn’t fool Jane, and it certainly didn’t fool me. I read the Strip like a kabbalistic text, symbols of evil lined up in array to those who could decipher them. There was Luxor – Egypt, Biblical Mizraim, the land of bondage. There was Caesar’s Palace – Titus Caesar who had destroyed Jerusalem, Nero Caesar of the persecutions so dire that the Book of Revelations had warned against him obliquely through the gematria value of his name, an even 666. There was MGM, the three-letter Hebrew root for “magim”, the magicians, the wielders of occult curses. There was Trump Hotel, whose etymology traced back to triumph and thence to thriambos, the orgiastic rites of the pagan gods of chaos. And there behind them all loomed Red Rock Mountain. “There is shadow under this red rock,” Eliot had written in The Waste Land. And then:

“Come in under the shadow of this red rock,
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

“Aaron Smith-Teller?” someone asked, and I turned around to see a horrible old man holding out a handful of dust.

I hadn’t seen him come in, even though he must not have been there very long. He was the opposite of all the fashionable tourists and gamblers who made up the restaurant’s other patrons; unkempt, unwashed, looking like a homeless man straight off the streets. When he spoke he almost spat. But he knew my true name. I hadn’t even told Jane my true name.

“Who are you?” I asked. Jane was watching quietly, with the intensity of something waiting to pounce.

“I’m the Drug Lord,” said the old man. When he said it I noticed the dilated pupils, the far-off look. “I have your friend, Ana Thurmond. You have a Name I want, the both of you, and since your minds are linked I can’t take it from either one alone. Come meet me as I really am, and I’ll take the Name and let both of you go unharmed. Refuse and I will kill your friend.” He poured the dust into my hand, and I realized it was ground peyote.

“How do I know you really have Ana?” I asked, before Jane could interrupt. “Ask her for some sign, something only she would know.”

The old man closed his eyes, paused for a few seconds.

“Orca the covenant.”

“DAMMIT!” I said so loud that people at neighboring tables turned to look at us.

“Okay!” said Jane. “I’ve heard enough of this!” She grabbed the old man by the wrist. “How did you find – ”

“Huh?” said the old man, his pupils snapping into focus. “What? Who are you? Where am I?” He started drooling. Jane dropped him in disgust, and he made a hasty escape. The waiter walked over to our table, started to ask if there was a problem, met Jane’s eyes, and then retreated somewhere safer.

Now Jane looked at me, all of the old mistrust back in an instant. “Explain.”

My body was ice all over. The Drug Lord had Ana Thurmond. She was going to die.

“Um,” I said, making up the fastest lie I could, “she’s a good friend and colleague of mine. She helped discover the Name that turns people invisible. I guess she must have fallen in with a bad crowd and taken peyote.”

“No,” said Jane icily. “I don’t think that’s all. He said your minds were linked. How are your minds linked, Aaron Smith-Teller?”

Frick. She knew my true name now. I knew it was silly, but kabbalists have a thing about true names.

And the stupid thing was, there was no reason not to tell her about the kabbalistic marriage. Ana had just discovered that one time, by looking at a part of the Bible nobody else was clever enough to look at. But Jane would never believe it. Nobody had two secret Names, just by coincidence. I could already see her paranoia grinding away, and if I told her there was a Sacred Kabbalistic Marriage of Minds and I knew about it, I would be done for.

“Love,” I said. “Our minds are linked by love. It’s the strongest force in the universe.”

“What?! No, that’s stupid!” Her eyes flicked to the peyote powder in my right hand. “Give me that.”

She reached for the powder. I dumped it into my pocket, stood up, took a step away from her.

“Aaron,” she said. She was trying to be quiet, not to make a scene, but there was ferocity in her voice. “Don’t be an idiot. The Drug Lord is everyone’s enemy. He can’t use Names, but he has friends who can. If he gets the Spectral Name, things get a lot worse.”

“My friend is going to die!”

“People die all the time!”

“Not Ana! She’s never died at all!”

“Aaron, you are being foolish. Give me the peyote.”

So I ran.

Jane ran after me, and I knew I couldn’t beat her. I spoke the Avalanche Name, shattering a window, creating a portal to the open air. Then I jumped off the one hundred and sixth floor of the Stratosphere Tower.

For a second, I just hung there, stupidly, feeling the air rush around me and seeing the skyscrapers of Las Vegas grow closer and closer below. Then I spoke the Ascending Name and slowed my descent. I watched Jane jump from the same window, a black dot above me, growing closer and closer.

If this had all happened two days ago, it would have ended there. Instead, I spoke the Airwalker Name and started walking away.

Jane spoke the Ascending Name and hovered, her mouth open with disbelief as she watched me walk off. “How are you doing that?” I didn’t answer.

She hung there, helplessly, almost pitifully at first, and then all at once her rage came back to her. “You idiot! What are you doing? You can’t give the Drug Lord what he wants! I’m sorry about your girlfriend, Aaron! Really! I am! But he’s a monster, Aaron! You don’t know what he is! He’ll kill us all! Whatever he wants from you, he can’t have it! Aaron! Stop!”

I didn’t even look back at her, just kept walking through the air. I muttered the Spectral Name and went invisible, then walked a mile or so down the strip. A big gold monolith gleamed in front of me. Trump Tower. When I came to it, I lowered myself down until my feet touched the roof.

There I was. Finally free.

Sort of. I scooped up the peyote from my pocket. There was no better place to take it. Erica had taken peyote once, and she told me the only safe way was to do it on top of a skyscraper. You’d use the Ascending Name to go up, then again to go down when you were finished. But while you were drugged, you were trapped. The Drug Lord couldn’t speak the Names; not himself, not through the humans he was possessing. If you took peyote on the ground, as likely as not you’d make a beeline to the nearest drug dealer, get more peyote, redose before you started coming off it, and never be free again. If you took it atop a skyscraper, you could experiment, feel what it was like to be occupied by something infinitely larger than yourself, but not give your possessor any opportunity to extend his claim. The Drug Lord, for his part, seemed to go along with the plan; there was no point in making people jump off skyscrapers when they might become useful later. Yes, Erica had told me, taking peyote on a skyscraper was totally safe.

Except that in my case none of it mattered. It had taken me a moment, but when Jane had talked about how the Drug Lord couldn’t use Names, I’d figured out his angle. He couldn’t use Names because he didn’t have a human soul. If he could get a human soul, he could use Names. He wouldn’t just be a single consciousness occupying millions of supernaturally determined bodies. He would be a single consciousness occupying millions of supernaturally determined bodies, every one of which could recite the Names of God and call flame and terror down from the heavens on demand. The whole War on Drugs had been built on our only advantage: we could use Names and he couldn’t. He was stuck using obsolete technology subject to the vagaries of Uriel’s machinery; we could field whole legions of kabbalists.

Unless I let him have the Vital Name. Then his teeming multiplicity would overpower our helpless armies. He would overrun Royal Colorado, Texas, the California Republic, and the rest of the Untied States.

I’ve always thought of myself as a pragmatic person. When Caiaphas says in John 11 that “better one man should die for the good of the people than let the whole nation be destroyed,” I always nodded along. However tragic a single death, surely a million deaths are a million times worse. And sacrificing a person to save an entire continent should have been the easiest decision I’d ever made.

The problem was, things that make perfect sense when you’re talking about people you don’t know who have been dead for two thousand years become a lot harder when you’re talking about people you love.

I thought of my last conversation with Ana. “Do you need rescuing?” she’d asked me. “I think I might,” I’d answered, even though my situation was far less dire than hers was now. And she hadn’t dithered, or complained, or told me that she had problems of her own. Just said she would get off at the next port. She would risk her life for me willingly, happily. I had dragged her into this mess, screwed up everything, and she’d stuck by me. I pulled at the telepathic link. Nothing. She was somewhere far away.

I started crying. I loved Ana. I knew she knew it, but I’d never told her. And I wouldn’t, even if everything worked out well, even if we spent a thousand years together. Everything came rushing back to me. Her in her white dress, telling us about the Book of Job, always doubting, always wondering. Why evil? Why the Drug Lord? Why a universe at all? Why am I in this position? I screamed at her, across the dinner table in Ithaca. What am I supposed to do? What is God’s plan? Does He even have one? If there is providence in the fall of a sparrow, how come we, who are more valuable than many sparrows, get flung around in darkness, with no hint of a way out anywhere? I wished Ana were here, so I could ask her. That just made it worse.

I saw her, sitting next to me as Erica stood behind the podium in our basement. “Once to every man and nation,” Erica was reciting, “comes the moment to decide, in the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side.” Fuck you! I shouted at imaginary Erica. Sure, that’s easy for you to say, just do GOOD and avoid EVIL. That works really well in the real world, doesn’t it? What are you even at? Imaginary Erica just answered “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.”

We like to think of ourselves as weighing various causes and considerations upon the scale of philosophy, then choosing whichever side carries the most weight. Maybe we even do, sometimes, for the little things. That moment, atop Trump Tower, I threw everything I had onto the scale, saw it land again and again in favor of hurling the peyote into the street and walking away, and again and again I knew I wouldn’t.

I looked down. Las Vegas hummed beneath me. There on the side of the building was a giant golden ‘T’. T for tav. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter of apocalypse. Jesus was crucified by being nailed to a lowercase T; there beneath me was an uppercase one, ready to finish what he started. Fitting, just like everything else.

I threw out the whole scale, weights and all, and I focused on that one sentence. They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin. Well, of course they do. And dooming the world for the sake of a friend – even a friend who was my weird Platonic sort-of-girlfriend except we were just friends and I wasn’t supposed to call her that, a bond stronger than death – wasn’t just making compromise with sin, it was forfeiting the whole game to Sin, handing over everything, giving up. But agreeing to let Ana die, and running away from this place, getting the Vital Name back, building an empire, and living happily ever after in exchange for nothing but the one insignificant little life of my best friend – that seemed like a compromise with sin. Which was of course the total opposite of how I was supposed to interpret the passage. But then, it is not in Heaven.

I remembered something abominably stupid I had said just a day before. “My dream is to become the new Comet King”. God Most High! Had I forgotten what happened to the last Comet King? I realized then that of course this was how all of this ended, that by that phrase alone I had set this kabbalistically in motion and now I had nothing to do but to play it out to the bitter end.

I thought of all the things I could say to excuse my decision. My father had abandoned my mother and me; now I was horrified at the thought of abandoning others. My telepathic bond to Ana made me especially sensitive to her suffering. The Talmud said that to save one life was equivalent to saving the world, and to end one life was equivalent to ending the world, so really it was evenly balanced either way and I might as well do what I felt like.

None of them rang true. The truth was, I wasn’t the Comet King. I was a scared twenty-two year old boy. I knew everything about everything in the Bible, and in the end it all paled before the weight of Romans 7:19 – “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

I swallowed the peyote before my better side could talk me out of it.

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171 Responses to Chapter 37: Love That Never Told Can Be

  1. Evan Þ says:


    I guess we’ll see soon enough whether the Vital Name still works.

    And yes, Aaron is a fool.

    • The coment king says:

      He is… but I don’t know that I’d have done any differently. When it’s all the people of the world you’ve never really connected with, against the one person who ever made you feel like you weren’t alone, the decision you have to make is obvious. And it’s the opposite of the one you should.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yes, but it’s not just “all the people of the world you’ve never really connected with”. It’s Erica and his fellow misfits at the UU house, it’s Jane, it’s the people he worked with in the theonomics sweatshop, it’s everyone he’s met in however trivial a way.

        Maybe he really doesn’t care for anyone in the world but Ana, but that is not sufficient reason. Pick someone out of those teeming billions and tell them their loved ones, families, “the one person who ever made you feel like you weren’t alone” all have to be sacrificed for the sake of some woman thousands of miles away they never met, and they’ll make the same impassioned appeal about “Why should I care about a stranger? Why should my darling four year old daughter be given up for her sake?”

        • wintermute92 says:

          There’s a moment in The Dresden Files where (spoiler), Dresden says that to save his daughter from danger he would burn the entire world. And later, he’s called to account for that by an angel. He’s shown the people he loves most, and asked if he would let them burn, each of them. It’s specifically noted that sacrificing “the world” is far easier than sacrificing even a few of the people in it.

          Which doesn’t offer an answer, of course. There are times when every possible choice is unacceptable, unforgivable. But balancing a soul against the world isn’t nearly as hard as balancing it against each other soul individually.

          • I don’t remember that. (I remember him saying that, and at the end of the next book I remember Uriel showing him his friends, but that seemed more like a “so you can make your peace” thing than about her).

      • Anonymous says:

        I find it really hard to say. In real life, it’s plausible to assume that kidnappers don’t want a murder charge unless they have to, and having got a payoff be willing to be shot of the whole encounter. (Whether or not it would be better for everyone to collectively to refuse to ever give in to threats is harder.) But, how would it end well for Ana if the Drug King gets the vital name? Did he even say he would let her go? If everyone else succumbs, does it help Ana to be the only free person? That doesn’t sound like a good deal 🙁

        • Deiseach says:

          Also, “I’ll kill your friend” is a bit ambiguous. Why kill her? If they really have her, all they have to do is force-feed her peyote. There you go, another host for the Drug Lord! Considering he (it?) wants as many bodies as he can get, why kill a perfectly good host body?

          So “I’ll kill your friend” could be (a) a bluff, Ana is safe and they don’t have her (b) death of personality – Ana will be turned into another one of the drug-people.

          And if option (b), there’s always a chance Aaron can find some way to save her.

          • Shieldfoss says:

            Or, if you have Timeless Decision Theory (which the Drug Lord might well have what with Scott being in the LW sphere) you do kill her, because the best way to be believed is to be the kind of person who is known to be truthful.

  2. Aran says:

    Jesus was crucified by being nailed to a lowercase T; there beneath me was an uppercase one, ready to finish what he started.

    Aldous Huxley allegorically replaced the cross with an uppercase T in Brave New World. This is not a coincidence because etc. etc.

    • His T represented Ford’s Model T, and I rode in a Model T at the Henry Ford Museum yesterday, the same day I wrote that paragraph. Also not a coincidence.

      • Inty says:

        Ford = to attempt a difficult crossing.

        So the Ford Model T is to attempt a difficult crossing of the apocalypse?

        • Decius says:

          But a Model is a small-scale replica, so the real meaning is to create a small replica of a difficult crossing for an ending. Thus “Washington Crossing The Delaware”, an image of a difficult crossing resulting in the end of the British Colonial Era.

    • Quintopia says:

      I recall seeing somewhere that the sort of crosses the Romans typically employed did actually better resemble uppercase Ts than lowercase, and so any historical Jesus would have been crucified on the capital T.
      Is this not true? If it is, wouldn’t Aaron know it?

      • Andrew G. says:

        The association of the Greek letter tau ( Τ or τ ) with Roman crucifixion was well-known (or iconic / archetypal) enough for Lucian (writing in the second century AD) to use it as the conclusion of The Consonants At Law (in which the letter Sigma sues Tau before a court with the vowels as judges, complaining that words are being stolen from him):

        Men weep, and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up the erections on which men are crucified. Stauros the vile engine is called, and it derives its vile name from him. Now, with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths? For my part I know none bad enough but that supplied by his own shape —that shape which he gave to the gibbet named Stauros after him by men.

  3. anon says:

    Wait, still no book end?

    I remembered something abominably stupid I had said just a day before. “My dream is to become the new Comet King”. God Most High! Had I forgotten what happened to the last Comet King? I realized then that of course this was how all of this ended, that by that phrase alone I had set this kabbalistically in motion and now I had nothing to do but to play it out to the bitter end.

    But did the Comet King make the same decision, or the opposite one?

    • Gazeboist says:

      Ana needs to react, probably. Her or the Drug Lord. That would make next week the likely end of the book.

      • Thecommexokid says:

        I can’t help but notice that there have been well-reasoned theories for why the next chapter, surely, will be the end of Book II, for the last approximately nine hundred chapters. I’ll believe it when I see it and no sooner.

    • boris says:

      “What about you?” I asked. “You know, the Comet King’s wife was…”

      The Comet King’s wife was… his undoing? FINISH A STATEMENT AARON DAMMIT.

      I suspect he found a wife and found out, to his detriment, what exactly it is to be human. Suspect we’ll find out in the next chapter.

      • Deiseach says:

        Given that the Comet King personally impregnated four women, are they all to be considered his wives? Or did he marry only one of them? Or was she a different woman and if so, how did he meet her?

        I agree that it’s a fascinating question, one of the many things to be revealed (if they ever get revealed at all).

  4. But will the Other King come up with a plan?

  5. dsotm says:

    What is “aval” in biblical hebrew that is supposed to mean “sinner” ?, the closest I can think of is avla/עוולה or avel/עוול which means wrongdoing (as opposed to wrongdoer) which is kinda fitting but neither is 106 unless you omit one vav and get עול, but that would be ‘yoke’

  6. Mark Dominus says:

    Peyote spirits and evil necromancers, okay.

    Magic powers from the secret names of God? Fine.

    A guy kicking a table through a skyscraper window? Impossible.

    You have to fix this.

      • Mark Dominus says:

        1. The problem isn’t just that the glass is strong. It’s that the table is heavy too heavy to kick far.

        2. Also, despite being too heavy to kick, the table is a lot lighter than Garry Hoy.

        3. Also, the table has no convenient place on it to kick. If you kick it under the flat part, it will just tip over.

        4. Also, Hoy’s window didn’t even shatter; it popped out of its frame.

        Aaron can’t even kick a restaurant table through an open door, much less a skyscraper window.

        • Partisan says:

          The tensile strength of glass declined after Uriel’s latest fit, clearly!

          • LHC says:

            Uriel’s physics engine is glitching out in typical physics engine fashion. Aaron’s foot just clipped through the table and the table hastily corrected this by leaping away.

          • Fred says:

            Or maybe it was some action movie inspired placebomancy.

          • ketura says:

            Or rather, with no pesky government regulations, the glass was built according to the plans of the lowest bidder…

          • DVH says:

            It seems like Scott has changed it to Aaron using the avalanche name, which is a lot more convenient anyways, in that sort of a hectic situation.

    • Decius says:

      Surely kicking a table through a window requires no more force than kicking through a window, if the table is next to the window the way it would be in a location that put tables next to windows to provide a good view.

    • darkus says:

      Its a light table with ceramics tips obviously:

  7. Aran says:

    Also, whether or not Aaron does have the real name in his memory*, unless something *really* screwy is going on it shouldn’t work for the Drug Lord any more than it does for Aaron. (*Which seems like the more likely hypothesis. I mean, Ana knows it too, and didn’t correct Aaron when he failed the second time. Did they both misremember it in the same way?) Of course, if he does have the wrong name, then the Drug Lord might derive the true one, which is bad.

    How did Ana get captured, I wonder? She was last seen getting invited to dinner with Simeon. Maybe one of the drug guys got to him and then had him drug her?

    • The coment king says:

      Alternative: Ana wasn’t captured, but the drug lord can intercept telepathic communication, found out about the vital name, and is now bluffing.

      • LHC says:

        This was exactly my suspicion.

      • Deiseach says:

        Definitely Aaron should consider the possibility that this is a bluff, since there was nothing came through on Mystic Telepathy Hotline like a muffled “Aaron – help, I’m – ” and then fades out in a burst of static in the best cliffhanger fashion.

        I’m sorry, Aaron, but anyone five minutes in the company of you or Ana cannot help but pick up on your pun mania, and with the distributed intelligence computing power of millions of linked minds, The Drug Lord could figure out “Hm, these two like using Bible whale puns”.

        At least wait until you get the traditional severed finger before betraying the entirety of humanity, okay?

        (Is it for the sake of love Aaron is doing all this? I remain to be convinced – he’s twenty-two, so he has the excuse of being young and stupid, and he certainly hasn’t the emotional maturity to handle this kind of stress and we know he’s psychologically fragile; he is massively needy, has fixated on Ana who has made it very clear she is not romantically/sexually interested in relationships, and even if he tells himself this is unrequited love there’s a disturbing whiff of Nice Guyness about it – ‘if I agree to be her friend and do all this stuff for her, she’ll see I’m a Nice Guy and the Right One For Her and fall in love with me!’)

        Also, where I strike my forehead with the palm of my hand and go “Really, Aaron? Really?” is this part:

        Ana had just discovered that one time, by looking at a part of the Bible nobody else was clever enough to look at.

        Five thousand years of exegesis and close reading of the text and analysis with kabbalah, gematria, and every nutcase’s favourite theory from discovering Bible Codes to Pyramid Inches, and your friend just happens to notice something nobody else ever noticed because she’s Just That Smart?

        Aaron, how can you really believe that just happened like that? I’d be more sympathetic to him were it not that he consistently impulsively jumps into dangerous situations and is then shocked, shocked! when something bad happens.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Seems likely. Somewhat foreshadowed in Chapter 7, where we learn Aaron and Ana started learning Aramaic in case angels could eavesdrop on their link.

    • DanielLC says:

      The Drug Lord had Ana, but it wasn’t enough. Maybe Aaron couldn’t use the name the second time because Ana wasn’t with him.

    • Walter says:

      He just overheard her nerd punning with Simeon. No need to actually capture her.

    • Ninmesara says:

      I argue in a comment bellow that given the dates of this chapter (13 May at Noon, just after breakfast) and chapter 33 (May 13, just before the bell rings for dinner), and given the fact that Enseñada is almost the same longitude as Las Vegas, it is physically impossible for the Drug Lord to have Ana. Aaron doesn’t know it, of course, because Ana’s conversation with Simeon lies in the future. Unless there is some kind of time travel here. Which is of course perfectly possible.

    • Unmaker says:

      Actually, the last hint we had was her in an arc getting introduced to the Queen of Angels. Who else was going to bribe the Queen of Angels with invisibility and control of winds?

  8. The coment king says:

    Nooooooo we’re going to have to wait a whole week to find out what happens next.
    Actually we’ll probably get a couple of Erica and Sohu chapters now and won’t find out anything new about this for a month. Dammit.

  9. Anders Sandberg says:

    “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” – the next few lines in The Wasteland is from Tristan and Isolde. Famous lovers brought together by coincidence and chemistry to cause tragedy.

    And of course the entire poem is full of grail legend references. Note that it shows up in a city ruled by a wounded ruler, an evil fisher king.

    And David Zindell used locations from the poem for the city of Neverness in his trilogy “A Requiem for Homo Sapiens” – fits the apocalypse. In the trilogy the key to spaceflight is mathematics: pilots prove themselves from point to point. Fits nicely with Uriel’s machine.

  10. teucer says:

    I vote that it’s entirely possible Aaron actually just found the winning move.

    He doesn’t know the Vital Name correctly right now, and neither does Ana. The Drug Lord has been demonstrated to be willing to keep his deals, so he has a moderately high likelihood of actually letting Ana go. The chances that he actually gets the Name out of the deal are pretty slim.

    • The coment king says:

      It seems more and more like there’s a prescient chessmaster controlling these events: Aaron and Anna have exactly the names they need to dead with their circumstances. I’d say it was Sarah, but that seems too coincidental – as Aaron pointed out, it’s a somewhat unbelievable coincidence that he and his friend discovered two powerful unknown names like this, so I’m guessing it came before Sarah (unless Sarah is, somehow, a basilisk, or has time travel).

      In this case, whoever made them forget the vital name (or made it stop working) may have predicted this as well.

  11. The coment king says:

    A bit late, but: we found out from Uriel that while using names doesn’t use up divine light, giving souls does (he had no problem using names against Thamiel, but didn’t give souls to Ethiopians to save up on divine light). What if the vital name stopped working because the divine light ran out?

    • LPSP says:

      That’s an interesting idea. There’s the humourous possibility that Aaron’s careless messing around used literally the last drop of Divine Light… to ensoul a Mac. Then there’s also the more pragmatic probability that Sarah has instead already ensouled a small army of followers and is presently careening towards a DL-deficit.

  12. Nate Gabriel says:

    Nero Caesar’s name isn’t an even 666. The Greek version is, since Neron Kaiser transliterates to “nrwn qsr,” but without the spare N it’s 616.

    (The Number of the Beast is also 616 in the oldest surviving Revelation fragment.)
    (This one actually is coincidence.)

  13. What would it take to Ensoul the Internet?

  14. Anon says:

    Note that May 13th is associated with Mary in many different ways, the miracle at fatima, greatest miracle of 20th century for catholics.

  15. Anon says:

    Also the last of the Ice saints falls on May 13th, so named cause of the late frosts that came in Europe often around that period, or “black thorn winter”

  16. Mengsk says:

    Typo found: Part of me even wanted to walk back on the the plea for help I’d given Ana, tell her that things seemed sort of under control, that I was with a genuine Coloradan who was showing me the world, luxurious hotel by luxurious hotel.

  17. Ninmesara says:

    We (not Aaron!) know that the Drug Lord doesn’t have Ana. She is Ok on May 13 just before dinner:

    The dinner bell rang.

    “Join me for dinner?” asked Simeon.

    “I’ll…I’ll have to think,” said Ana. “You’re not getting out of this one this easily.”

    This chapter happens at Noon of the same day (May 13), just after breakfast. This means that we, the readers, know Ana’s Ok (even if Aaron doesn’t). I don’t think this is really up for discussion.

    The Drug Lord knows that: (1) Ana is important to Aaron (2) Aaron and Ana are hiding a name (3) their minds are linked. I don’t buy the part in which the name can’t be extracted. The Hidden Transcendent Names of God are random-looking strings of letters, and humans store them as such in memory, unless they use mnemonics. Even in Unsong’s crazy universe, it is very strange that the Drug Lord couldn’t extract a sequence of letters from Ana’s mind because their minds are linked. If he had told Aaron that Ana had forgotten the name (unlike Aaron, she is not an expert mnemonist!), I’d find it believable. Now, the Drug lord certainly knows a lot about Aaron and Ana. How is this possible?

    Can he actively get into their minds? Probably not, otherwise he wouldn’t need to hold Ana hostage (or pretend to do so).

    Can he passively eavesdrop on telepathic conversations? Maybe. The Vital Name has been transmitted through telepathy only once or twice, and if he has missed those times (for any reason), he’d know the name exists, but not the name itself. But why would he be able to eavesdrop on telepathy? I can’t find a good reason.

    There is a third possibility, though. Remember, Erica has taken peyote (we don’t know when, though). Erica knows that Aaron and Ana share a telepathic bond (she is the only one that knows this!). Erica knows that Aaron’s in love. Erica knows that Aaron and Ana love biblical whale puns. Erica knows how Aaron looks like.
    From Erica’s single peyote trip, he might have learned almost everything he needs in order to find and blackmail Aaron! When Aaron arrives in Las Vegas:

    Beggars and prostitutes and drug dealers started knocking on our car windows at the stoplights, making their respective pleas.

    Probably one of those beggars or drug dealers is under the effect of peyote, and the Drug Lord will be able to identify Aaron (who has been missing since the raid).
    The only thing missing is the fact that Aaron has the Vital Name. This part is the hardest one for me to explain…

    He can’t use Names, but he has friends who can.

    Is he friends with Unsong? Does he have (sober) people looking for the Moon Finding Name with the Sentinel Name? Is he in league with the Other King (who can afford the best name-finding sweatshops to emulate Llull until they find a Name)? Maybe he has detected unprecedented action by Unsong in the last few hours looking for a fugitive (he must have druggies everywhere spying for him) trying to look for someone, and the fact that Aaron has the Vital Name might be just an educated guess.

    • This is my mistake, sorry. I’ve edited some of the timing and will edit it more later.

    • The coment king says:

      Damn, that’s a good point. But why couldn’t Aaron talk to her telepathically then? Was it just agitation? It can’t be distance, Ensade to Vegas isn’t an order of magnitude larger than LS to San Francisco and they managed that fine.

      Also, did Scott actually change any of the times? Chapter 33 still has dinner, and this one still has breakfast.

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh, you’re right! Erica taking peyote is a whopping great clue! “Just take it once and nothing will happen to you” – yeah, right, you’ve just let a sentient, possibly spiritual, plant entity put a tendril into your mind when everyone and his dog knows the Drug Lord mind-controls his consumers/devotees/slaves.

      Even better, Erica is already mind-married to Ana! Remember, she was the trial run before Ana used it on Aaron! So if the Drug Lord has some way of tapping into Erica’s mind (because she used peyote), he can certainly be aware of the link between Erica and Ana and maybe even piggyback on it to get a fuzzy, hazy reading of Ana’s mind?

      Not good enough for his purposes, so he then sets up this trick to get Aaron to docilely hand over the Name. And Aaron (so far) seems to be falling for it – unless he has some super-clever plan of his own to trick the Drug Lord.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I’m working on the assumption that once the effect of peyote wears out the Drug Lord loses the conection for ever, so he wouldn’t actually “leave a tendril in her mind”. If he can keep the connection open even when the drug effect wears out, then it’s just too easy for him to know about Llull and the moon finding name. It would be enough for a high level Unsong employee (Malia?) to have taken peyote just once, so I’m not even thinking on this possibility.

        The whole premise of my previous comment was that the Drug Lord had had an oportunity to mine data from Erica’s mind, and then lost contact forever. I was trying to show that even with that single trip he had enough information to find and blackmail Aaron.

        • Deiseach says:

          It depends when Erica took the peyote as well; before or after Ana did the mind-marriage thing? If afterwards, that would be the perfect opportunity for the Drug Lord to get a peek at Ana’s mind.

          I think if there are sufficient people trying peyote “just once, it’s perfectly safe if you do it like this” (and where have we heard that all along in this story? “nothing can go wrong”?), the Drug Lord must be getting something out of it; even if it’s just a one-time connection to someone’s mind.

          He’s old enough, non-human enough and has enough linked hosts for memory storage that he can easily keep salient facts gleaned from someone’s mind in storage even if the connection burns out after one use (after all, if the person decides they liked peyote enough to try it just one more time, how risky could that be?, then he already has information he can use to hook into their mind and keep them taking more peyote).

          • Ninmesara says:

            It depends when Erica took the peyote as well; before or after Ana did the mind-marriage thing? If afterwards, that would be the perfect opportunity for the Drug Lord to get a peek at Ana’s mind.

            Yes, but I don’t think peeking into Ana’s mind at that point would be any different from just peeking at what Erica knows about Ana. The SCABMOM between Ana and Erica is not very important for the questions we’re asking here, I guess.

            He’s old enough, non-human enough and has enough linked hosts for memory storage that he can easily keep salient facts gleaned from someone’s mind in storage even if the connection burns out after one use

            I agree completely: I believe he can store peoples’ memories somewhere (he is a god or something, so he probably has lot’s of spare space in his mind) and retrieve them in the future in case they turn useful! That’s what I was trying to say, and I’m sorry if I didn’t make myself clear.

            after all, if the person decides they liked peyote enough to try it just one more time, how risky could that be?, then he already has information he can use to hook into their mind and keep them taking more peyote

            This would make it too easy for the Drug Lord to have access to any piece of information in anyone’s mind (So you’ve tried payote at a party once when you were in college and now you’re head of Unsong? Tough luck, Malia!). It is certainly possible that the Drug Lord has this power, but I’d like a theory that worked even in case he hasn’t.

      • Did the Reverend Stevens ever use peyote? What if the anti-Unsong movement was for the purpose of keeping humans from discovering Names?

    • Vamair says:

      If the Drug Lord is not lying and the only reason he can’t get the Vital Name from Ana is the link she’s sharing with Aaron, then Aaron’s death would destroy the link and let the Drug Lord know the Name. Unless the link transcends death, and I doubt that. And Aaron is conveniently placed on a roof of a skyscraper.

  18. What would happen if someone took peyote and LSD simultaneously? Would the Right Hand of God and the Drug Lord fight it out?

    What would happen if all four Cometspawn took peyote simultaneously? The Comet King was able to overpower the Drug Lord. Could his children also do so?

    • The coment king says:

      What would happen if the Comet King took LSD? Could he convince Neil Armstrong to come back down? (I doubt it, any more than he could convince Thamiel to be nice).

  19. Ninmesara says:

    Is The Other King Fnargl? Invulnerable, now stationary, revenue maximizer?

    • uncle joe says:

      You’re correct to note that he’s behaving in the way economic theory famously predicts a highly rational, selfish tyrant would act.

      Additionally, this is certainly not a coincidence. Scott obviously enjoys applying standard economic analysis to fictional scenarios; hence the idea, for example, of sweatshops devoted to producing Names. And I’m sure he’s aware of the idea of “stationary bandits”.

      However, I wouldn’t read any story implications into it beyond that point. It seems like the point is simply that the Other King is in fact a highly rational and selfish tyrant.

  20. It’s not the Samyazaz Tower?

  21. Yossarian says:

    The only way I see this happening is if the druggies managed to slip some drugs into the food supply of the Not A Metaphor, and so as everyone went to dinner, they became possessed.

  22. B_Epstein says:

    This chapter was posted on 9.11 – the kabbalistic implications are terrifying.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Not a great time to be hanging out on towers, no.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Sarah crashes a (kabbalah powered?) airplane into Trump tower, just before the Drug Lord can gain control of Aaron. As the tower crumbles, when his control over Aaron is still incomplete, the Drug Lord can either let Aaron fall to his death (losing the name in the process), or relinquish control, allowing him to use the ascending name. Not wanting to lose the name, the Drug Lord allows Aaron to fly away safely to be caught another day.

  23. Good Burning Plastic says:

    There was Trump Hotel, whose etymology traced back to triumph and thence to thriambos, the orgiastic rites of the pagan gods of chaos.

    There on the side of the building was a giant golden ‘T’. T for tav. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter of apocalypse. Jesus was crucified by being nailed to a lowercase T; there beneath me was an uppercase one, ready to finish what he started. Fitting, just like everything else.

    Sounds like you (Scott, not Aaron) are really scared by the possibility that the Republican candidate wins the upcoming US presidential election.

  24. ReversionOfTime says:

    Aaron doing drugs on top of Trump Tower. There is a Mexican joke somewhere there, I’m sure.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, the drug is peoyte after all.

    • Anonymous says:


      After chapter 11, some readers assumed that Ana’s attempted rescue of Aaron ensured that he would land in the Strategic Angel Reserve and be rescued by Jane after using the Vanishing Name, and the entity which wrote this message predicted all this. It’s not that much of a stretch of imagination to assume that it would also have the power to predict that Ana would land on the All Your Heart/Not A Metaphor and Aaron would end up being blackmailed by the Drug Lord. I was suspicious of its benevolence before, but now I seriously doubt it.

      Hypothesis (which actually I have been brewing since chapter 28): the Vital Name did not grant Sarah just any random soul. It gave a body to Thamiel. It explains why the Name didn’t work again. Maybe when Uriel disincorporated Thamiel in chapter 33, he did it so well that Thamiel was unable to re-coalesce on his own for a long time — but was still able to influence the world in subtle ways, like giving the Vital Name to a selfish kabbalistic sweatshop worker with delusions of grandeur. Also, this:

      Erica’s voice from the hallway: “Are you doing dark rituals in the bedroom again?! If you burn that carpet, I swear, you can summon Thamiel himself and all of his terrors will be as nothing compared to what I will put you through if…”

      So maybe in fact they did that. (Maybe even the creation of Adam was actually an act of “evil” forces and gave him an “evil” soul.)

      On the other Hand (ha!), some character dialogue seems to imply that Thamiel is already back in 2017:

      “So,” asked Ana. “If you’re going to be the new Comet King, does that mean you’re going to go declare war against Hell, kill Thamiel, and save humanity?”

      “Yeah,” I said, although I hadn’t thought much about it. It did seem like the right thing to do, although I remembered reading something about how Thamiel was a facet of God and couldn’t actually be killed.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ugh, I meant to make this a top-level comment.

      • Deiseach says:

        (Maybe even the creation of Adam was actually an act of “evil” forces and gave him an “evil” soul.)

        Not by conventional Christian exegesis; matter is not intrinsically evil, see the readings from Genesis for the Easter Vigil, culminating in “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

      • Ninmesara says:

        I’ve been reading lots of theories about how the Vital Name really works. Aaron got an “intro video” ton discovering the name, which is something that happens when people discover a new name. Do you think the “video” and the feeling of being bathed in the divine light is a fake? Would it be easy to fake?

        • Anonymous says:

          Maybe the “intro video”, as you call it, is misleading or vague, even if true. I mean, for the longest time people couldn’t understand how the Mortal Name works; if the “video” explained everything, it probably wouldn’t have happened.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Yes, it is certainly possible. I imagine the “intro video” for the Mortal Name would say something like “This name brings the speaker closer to God”, which, from a certain point of view, might be true.

      • OTOH, wouldn’t Thamiel regard the Drug Lord as a rival?

        • Ninmesara says:

          The Drug Lord’s army is currently too weak to stop Thamiel. On the other hand, I can see Sarah join forces with the Drug Lord to fight Thamiel with an army of ensouled p-zombies armed with the names that Sarah and other ensouled computers can discover faster than everyone in Mexico combined (after being ensouled, of course).

  25. Jack V says:

    When I read the beenie babies chapter, it took me a little while to realise they were actually beanie babies. I assumed they were magical statues that aaron called beanie babies sarcastically. Or possibly, beanie babies with something smuggled in. Eventually I realised it was just literal. Although I’m not at all surprised they’re important SOMEHOW in this universe, either kabalistically (really likely) or useful to the comet king somehow.

  26. Two McMillion says:

    Unfortunately, this seems like one of the weakest chapters in the book thus far. It’s especially disappointing because the last interlude was so strong.

    Ultimately, the problem is that the characters, while quirky and entertaining, have little depth (with the possible exception of Ana during her theodicy moments). Since most of the story has been jumping back and forth between a lot of characters very quickly, it hasn’t taken much away from the story before now. We’ve been getting a 10,000 foot view of the world, so the depth hasn’t been necessary.

    But this chapter absolutely hinges on our connection to Aaron. Since Aaron seems to lack depth, the chapter comes off as flat. We don’t share his love for Ana and therefore the choice he has to make isn’t emotionally compelling.

    I think a lot of the problem with Aaron is a character is that the kind of thinking he engages in because of the Kabbalah is rather alien to most readers- more like the disjointing thinking as you’re falling asleep than the kind of thinking you do day to day- makes him seem alien and unreal. My experience is that such characters often work better when they’re not the viewpoint character; then we see their quirks from outside, where we can be entertaining without missing a deeper internal life for them.

    • Deiseach says:

      I know I’m being dreadfully hard on Aaron but I do find it easy to believe that he is exactly stupid enough to destroy the world All For Love.

      Then again, you should hear my opinion of the Great Tragic Love Story of Paolo and Francesca ; very inspiring to the Romantic poets and certain of the Pre-Raphaelites, but although Dante swoons away with pity, I don’t approve (and later on in the poem, Virgil scolds him for too-easy pity) 🙂

    • Ninmesara says:

      I agree that this chapter is much weaker than the previous interlude, but I find it easy to empathize with someone who doesn’t want to sacrifice a friend, especially his best friend. I don’t agree that “this chapter absolutely hinges on our connection to Aaron”. Having to choose between a friend and the World is a common narrative trope, with or without unrequited love.

      Where I feel the chapter is weak is the fact that there is the fact that it brings very little to the story in terms of plot. From the previous interlude, we already know that Aaron will have to choose between Ana and the World.

      So, this chapter starts, the Drug Lord forces Aaron to choose between Ana and the World, and he chooses Ana. The end. We don’t even get the aftermath of the choice. We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see how it goes.

      Of course, we have access to Aaron’s thoughts, which give us some world-building, some kabbalistic musings (not the best in the book) and explains why Aaron was totally on board with going to the city of the Necromancer to escape there (it is actually a well run city, and the Necromancer seems like a nice mayor), and even some daring jumps off buildings and walking on air, but in terms of actual juicy plot it is certainly disappointing.

      The interesting part is that the only reason this chapter might be disappointing is the fact that this book is a serial with lots of plot lines that publishes a chapter a week. If this were a finished paperback novel, in which I knew the aftermath of the choice was just a couple of pages/minutes away (instead of weeks) I’d be totally on board with ending the chapter here.

      • Deiseach says:

        We don’t seem to have commented yet on the picture of Las Vegas we get here; a city that is already so corrupted, making a deal with a literal necromancer is simply good business sense. And they can all get along cozily even with the new undead revenant ghouls acting as casino enforcers: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

        Calling down fire from heaven may seem a bit drastic, but Uriel, if you were going to wipe out a major city, why pick Madrid over here? 🙂

        • Ninmesara says:

          The problem is not that he is a literal Necromancer, it’s that he crucifies enemy soldiers and possibly civilians after conquering a city. That’s the only really evil thing he has done, I guess. Using undead revenant ghouls as casino enforcers is just good business.

          Also, given the fact that the US government has made an alliance with Thamiel, I don’t think that making a deal with The Other King is going to shock anyone.

      • Two McMillion says:

        Where I feel the chapter is weak is the fact that there is the fact that it brings very little to the story in terms of plot. From the previous interlude, we already know that Aaron will have to choose between Ana and the World.

        I think in a way these are two sides of the same coin. A story can really be driven forward by one of two questions. It can be driven by, “What is going to happen?” or “I already know what is going to happen, but I want to know how.”

        By telling us what was going to happen in the last chapter, we already know what was going to happen. So the thing that can make the story interesting is now seeing what will happen. And the way it plays out, as you said, isn’t particularly moving or interesting.

        I agree with you about the way the web serial medium affects things.

        • LPSP says:

          Ultimately “how” is the appeal of the entirety of Unsong, and is largely what I attribute to its success: we already know Scott will cause the acopocalypse and are reading to see the steps that were taken.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Where I feel the chapter is weak is the fact that there is the fact that it brings very little to the story in terms of plot.

        This criticism doesn’t make sense to me. The details are quite important here! Like, if it had been revealed in the last chapter that his choice was between Ana and giving the Vital Name to the Drug Lord, then yeah, you could say this chapter didn’t add much. But that isn’t the case; all we knew was “Ana vs. the world”.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Well, I think that it was obvious that someone would be holding Ana for ransom in exchange for the Vital Name, as that’s clearly the piece of knowledge that can end the world.

          The only new (plot relevant) info is that it’s the Drug Lord holding Ana for ransom (or bluffing). The problem is that for this chapter, it doesn’t matter. It could have been the Other King. It could have been Malia. It could have been Dylan Alvarez. It could have been the president of Ethiopia who wanted to get souls for his citizens in order to compete with the Theonomics in Silicon Valley.

          The whole point of the chapter is that Aaron is making a choice we already know he would have to make, and the repercussions will be dealt with in the far future (in a few minutes in story but maybe weeks in real time).

          Nothing in this chapter explores the fact that the kidnapper is the Drug Lord. Why does Aaron believe the (admittedly silly) thing about him being unable to get a name from linked minds, when he can get everything else (it is possible that the drug lord is telling the truth, but you have to admit it seems fishy, and it should seem fishy to Aaron)? Does Aaron ever think he might be bluffing? Does he ever think that the Drug Lord might know about the puns from Erica’s trip? Does he ask the Drug Lord something only he and Ana would know (puns don’t count)? Does he ask for zombie Ana to be put on the phone so he can recognize the voice instead of relying on the puns which are not secret? No. Do we deal with the consequences of a name-using zombie army (as compared to Malia, the Necromancer, Dylan or the president of Ethiopia having access to the Vital Name)? No, it is postponed to a later chapter. There is nothing Drug Lord specific here.

          The meat of the chapter is a moral dilemma (which we already knew we’d have), which is so generic that you could replace the
          Drug Lord with any of the characters I’ve mentioned above, without changing a word. The choice Aaron takes is extremely predictable. It would have been more surprising and interesting if the choice to save the world by dooming Ana had lead to the apocalypse, for example. I’m also a little disappointed by Aaron’s lack of skepticism during the whole hostage situation.

          I believe there is a shortage of new stuff in this chapter, and that’s my criticism. You might disagree on how much new stuff is appropriate for a new chapter, and in that case we are arguing over quantity instead of quality.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yeah, I think I’m just going to have to disagree with you here, because I didn’t consider it obvious at all that someone would be holding Ana for ransom in exchange for the Vital Name!

          • Ninmesara says:

            I understand perfectly. If you’re not expecting a hostage situation, the chapter is new and surprising, and none of my reasons to dislike it make sense from your perspective.

  27. Rob says:

    I feel like this song is about this chapter

    Well, another crazy day
    You’ll drink the night away (take the peyote)
    And forget about everything
    This city desert makes you feel so cold (vegas the desert city. cold as in calculating)
    It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul (the drug lord has so many people)
    And it’s taken you so long
    To find out you were wrong
    When you thought it held everything

    You used to think that it was so easy (to make the moral choice)
    You used to say that it was so easy
    But you’re trying, you’re trying now

  28. Quixote says:

    I like this chapter. This is a good chapter. But man. Aaron. Why are you so dumb? Its ok to have feelings but its not ok to destroy the world because of them.

    • Deiseach says:

      Aaron reminds me of the Pearl Jam song “Jeremy”, so that I keep thinking of the chorus as fitting his situation:

      Daddy didn’t give attention
      Oh, to the fact that mommy didn’t care

      Daddy didn’t give affection, no!
      And the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear

      Aaron is very needy and feels a deep and continuing lack of parental love and of being valued for himself (and not for his intellect which his mother hopes would lift them both out of poverty and make them rich, and which his father seems to have acknowledged but rather in a ‘yes, we’re all smart in this family, so what?’ manner).

      So he’s glommed on to Ana who, if she’s not willing to be a conventional girlfriend, still does care for and about him. He’s put all his eggs into one basket and he cannot bear to lose her affection, so he’ll count the world well-lost for love.

      (Whether Ana will still want anything to do with him afterwards doesn’t seem to have occurred to him, but he’s young, immature and very stressed, to the point where he thinks taking the peyote makes sense).

    • LPSP says:

      That’s how feelings work, o windmill chasing knight. They compel you to treat things as important and valuable and act on them, at a cost to things which don’t have feelings telling you to value them.

      It’s a good chapter because it shows Aaron trying to have a broader scope, but failing because he’s 22 and a highly-educated fuckup with at least 3 chips on his shoulder. It’s a recipe for disaster.

  29. J says:

    The Intel 4004 was the world’s first integrated microprocessor.

  30. Vadim Kosoy says:

    “Love,” I said. “Our minds are linked by love. It’s the strongest force in the universe… I remembered something abominably stupid I had said just a day before. “My dream is to become the new Comet King”. God Most High! Had I forgotten what happened to the last Comet King? I realized then that of course this was how all of this ended, that by that phrase alone I had set this kabbalistically in motion and now I had nothing to do but to play it out to the bitter end.

    So, maybe Aaron’s phrase about love also set something kabbalistic / placebomantic in motion and now his apparently stupid decision will turn out to be the winning move? Maybe the Drug Lord and Thamiel will annihilate each other somehow? Also, there’s an obvious parallel between Aaron’s “irrational” love for Ana and the Comet King’s “irrational” love for his children, and this might have something to do with the Comet King’s demise and the prophecy about his descendants but I’m not sure what…

  31. Anonandonandon says:

    I think Erica was behind a lectern, not a “podium.”

  32. Ninmesara says:

    Even though I don’t believe the Drug Lord has Ana, let’s imagine how it might have happened. The crew wouldn’t have a reason to betray Ana. They are too busy making big bucks from the trip. The guests, on the other hand, are interesting possibilities. There are three guests: Edgar, Simeon and Erin.

    1) Edgar is a member of a family who is losing a war against the Other King. Maybe the Other King has promised him help in exchange for the Vital Name. After all, if he as the vital name, his armies will be unstoppable, and Edgar might be just stupid enough to accept. This requires the Drug Lord to know about the Vital Name before taking over Ana. Edgar is impulsive, and has a big ego. I can imagine him agreeing on an Alliance with the Drug Lord, but it is probably a stretch. I think he is not the traitor.

    2) Simeon can also be tempted with the Vital Name. If he captures Ana, then both he and the Comet King will use the Vital Name for their own purposes: Simeon can ensoul a supercomputer and get unlimited names. The Drug Lord will have an army fit for the 20th century, an army that runs on kabbalah and not on flaky technology. The problem of this theory is that I can’t see Simeon agree on these terms. If he is afraid of Thamiel he will be afraid of the Drug Lord too, so I think he is not the traitor.

    3) Erin is a drug addict on heroin withdrawal syndrome. If one of the Drug Lord men “accidentally” dropped some Peyote on the boat, she might get curious. It might even be good for her withdrawal symptoms! At the same time, she’s on a boat, so she won’t exactly escape to the next peyote dealer. It’s almost as safe as being on top of a Skyscraper. The problem is that once she is under his control, the Drug Lord might use her to feed peyote to the crew (peyote which the workers may have hidden for that purpose, for example). In this case, the Drug Lord doesn’t even need to know about the Vital Name before taking over the boat. He might discover it only after taking over Ana. He might want the boat for himself, demand a ransom for the crew, or simply add more minions to his army, in which case the discovery of the Vital Name is a pleasant side effect. If I had to bet on who the traitor is, I’d choose Erin.

    On the other hand, the part about being unable to get the Vital Name without Aaron’s cooperation is very, very strange. I believe he is bluffing and doesn’t actually have Ana.

    • The coment king says:

      Yeah, having a drug addict on a ship being boarded by the drug lord seems like a bit of a coincidence nothing is ever a coincidence.

    • The coment king says:

      Also, alternatively, he got the name off Ana, tried it, and it didn’t work, so he’s hoping Aaron remembers the right version (Ana remembers he doesn’t, but maybe the drug lord’s reaching here, or maybe Aaron’s knowledge of Kabbalah could work through the error-correction algorithms better).

      • teucer says:

        The scariest is if the traitor is Simeon, who has precisely the resources the Drug Lord would need for error correction. (And if Erin drugged everybody, that gets us to the same place.)

    • Stib says:

      There’s this quote from Ch. 33.

      One of the druggies introduced himself to James as Ivan Colero, a naval repair technician in the Mexican navy. They’d paid well, he said, very well, and they’d gotten themselves the best.

      I’d thought this was somewhat ominous (along with Simeon’s “join me for dinner?” then being “already gone”). If this was intended ominously, it would seem to imply that the Drug Lord knew what he was going to get by getting Ana?

      • teucer says:

        Kabbalistically, Ivan Colero must be essential to the entire narrative. His surname, “Colero”, can be derived from the Spanish -er- affix seen in vaquero “cowboy”, Santeria “working with the saints”, cocinero “cook”, etc. The root, to give that form, must be colo, cola, cuelo, or cuela, of which only the second is meaningful – it’s the word for tail. His given name “Ivan” we may link to the famous Russian tyrant Ivan the Terrible. Ivan Colero is therefore one with absolute dominion over the tale.

  33. The coment king says:

    There’s an interesting observation here about Ana’s theodicy comments from the beginning. She said that God wanted there to be evil, and that anyone who tried to get around that would find their way blocked somehow. And we see that both TCK and Aaron are blocked in similar ways – they have to choose between the abstract good and people they know and love, and they (or at least Aaron) chose the latter. It might be an explanation – God has infinite distance and can see all equally, but humans cannot and care about things through personal connection.

  34. Lumi says:

    Congrats on getting first place this week on top web fiction, Scott!

    • Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I hope I’m not cheating by asking people to vote in the book itself.

      Also, does anyone know if I have any control over the listing? I’d like to make it point to the Table of Contents instead of the Prologue, and maybe have a cool banner like Worm does. But I don’t see any way to edit it directly.

      • anon says:

        If no one here knows, surely you can email or otherwise contact the topwebfiction people themselves.

      • MaddiroseX says:

        For the listing, just go to the main webfictionguide page, log in, and select “Info and Submissions”. On the right side of that page under “topics”, click “submissions” and you’ll be able to edit your listing information, including the address the link points to.

        As far as the banner, I don’t think it’s documented anywhere, but you have to email a PG-rated, non-animated, 468×60 banner to the admin at It’s a manual process, so it sometimes takes them a bit.

        Your banner will only show up if you’re in the top 15 on TWF (given that my work is on TWF and yet I voted for Unsong, I hardly think this will be a problem for you)

  35. DVH says:

    This is the three ways I’m guessing the next chapter plays out:

    1) Aaron fucks the world and Ana is indeed captured.

    2) Aaron fucks the world and Ana isn’t captured.

    3) By giving the vital name Aaron incidentally ends the war on drugs. Why? Think of Sarah. When Aaron spoke the vital name and gave her a soul, she (presumably) gained individual autonomy. If the the drug lord had the vital name spoken upon his possessed bodies, they’ll also gain individual autonomy again, maybe even as a completely different person.

    The drug Lord could be unwittingly screwing himself here. But maybe not, as he was only introduced a couple of chapters ago, and it doesn’t make much sense story wise to destroy him immediately. Just a theory.

  36. anon says:

    I’ve chewed it over for a bit and I have one problem with this chapter. And that is… it’s spoiled by the preceding interlude. What could have been a tense “will he or won’t he” became a resigned “OK, we were explicitly told Aaron’s going to fuck up here, and now near the beginning of the chapter we know how he’ll fuck up, so now we’re left to read his idiotic reasoning for why he fucks up, which has already sort of been outlined already.”

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      it’s spoiled by the preceding interlude

      Yes, spoiling his own story is the worst thing Aaron did, including hiding away Jane’s seventh beanie dragon and including dooming the world rather than Ana.

    • Aran says:

      The interlude just says it was a tough choice, not what he would do.

      I mean, I already thought Aaron would do the stupidly heroic thing because it’s what he’d do (like he broke into his house while it was crawling with agents), but I don’t think the interlude spoiled it in advance.

  37. OhJOhN says:

    I wonder if Ana actually HAS been drugged when Aaron gets the message. Looking back at chapter 33, the timeline could fit:

    1. James leaves the ship at dawn, returns presumably quickly (they had eyes on him the whole time, and his goal was to find a single person and ask for help, then gtfo).

    2. No word on what time of day the druggies start fixing the ship, but when they arrive Ivan tells James “he and his men would just need a day, maybe less.” I’d estimate that means in the 6-10 hour range. Given that they finish up right before the dinner bell (maybe 6pm?) that would have them starting between 8am & noon. Morning seems reasonable, given how efficient the Drug Lord is, and how he seems to be catering to their desire to leave ASAP; it wouldn’t be surprising if they arrived soon after James had returned.

    3. Ana and Simeon have a ~10 minute conversation about thenomics right when the druggies start working. There’s narrative exposition about the Drug Lord, and then… the druggies are done and leave, it’s dinnertime, and Simeon is pushing the exact same point he made directly before the narrative time jump. They could have drifted off into silence for the intervening hours, or kept arguing, but it seems suspicious that what Simeon says flows so nicely from their conversation much, much earlier. If you remove the exposition, it reads like a contiguous dialogue.

    4. Peyote takes 10 hours to wear off in this universe, and people have no memory of that time after the fact. We have no knowledge of what happens between (a short conversation’s worth of time after) the druggies start working and when they finish, and 8am-6pm isn’t an entirely unreasonable guess at that time frame, which is 10 hours– enough time for Ana to have been drugged and sober up, and have the conversation pick up where it left off.

    5. Aaron is eating breakfast in this chapter, which could reasonably happen at 10am, giving the Drug Lord a couple hours to find him after assimilating Ana.

    Am I reading too far into vague timelines?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Scott has confirmed that he has made a mistake with the timing (he didn’t tell what the mistake was), so I guess that Ana must have been drugged after the events in chapter 33. Besides, people remember being drugged, and sometimes even specific details of the trips (the old men remmebered the spiritual fight between the Comet King and the Deug Lord, for example. If this is the case, Ana wouldn’t just forget about the trip unless someone had used the Confounding Name or the Amnesiac Name. These names raise interesting possibilites for the narrative, and they might be the key for some strange things like the vital name failing fo work (did Aaron cause himself to forget?).

    • teucer says:

      Most drugs, including peyote, don’t normally cause amnesia. Those that do, often used in combination with local anesthetics (eg how I got my wisdom teeth out) don’t cause a clean cut like that.

      • OhJOhN says:

        Peyote acts differently in this universe:

        Then the sky cracked, and peyote changed. […] When the peyote wore off, in ten hours’ time, all they could remember was a feeling of supreme confidence and self-assuredness, like everything had been planned out and it was all going according to plan.

        And it looks like it can cause a pretty quick “jump” in consciousness experience:

        “Okay!” said Jane. “I’ve heard enough of this!” She grabbed the old man by the wrist. “How did you find – ”

        “Huh?” said the old man, his pupils snapping into focus. “What? Who are you? Where am I?”

  38. R Flaum says:

    Okay, wait. If the Drug Lord can’t use Names because he lacks a human soul, and angels can’t use Names, does that mean that angels don’t have human souls? Is Aaron going to give Uriel a soul at some point so he can use Names?

    • Deiseach says:

      that mean that angels don’t have human souls

      Yes. That’s basic theology. Humans are incarnates – we have body, soul and spirit. Angels are spirit.

      I’ve been thinking a little bit about this, and the only way I can see this working out (which is not to say it is the only way it can work out) is if Aaron is relying on the principles of placebomancy.

      That is, he believes the Drug Lord is bluffing, he does not have Ana, so that means Ana is free. To do something like, say, a heroic last-minute rescue when Aaron is in direst peril. The principle of narrative causality will then force Reality, because Aaron has performed the big romantic self-sacrificing deed, to ensure he gets rescued at the last minute (he can’t get rescued any earlier because come on, that’s not how Narrative works).

      So that’s why Aaron is running away from Jane and not asking for any help – for this to work, he has to act as if he believes Ana really is captured and that it’s a “the world versus love” trade-off. He can’t afford to stick around and let Jane persuade him that it’s all a bluff (even if deep down he’s relying on it all being a bluff), he has to do to the dumb romantic thing – like get to the top of a skyscraper to take peyote so he can trade everything most important in the world for the one person who is the most important in the world to him.

      (Reality is sitting there with a box of paper hankies and a box of chocolates, waiting to watch all this go down and sob “It’s so romantic!” before narrative causality means surprise, surprise! Ana is really free! And guess who’s busting in to rescue Aaron? So the world is really not in danger after all!)

      • R Flaum says:

        I don’t think placebomancy is that powerful; it seems to mostly weight probabilities, not actually rewrite history.

        This sort of thing, though, is one reason why I winced when I saw placebomancy show up. I’ve seen similar ideas in other works, and any story that has placebomancy ends up being a story about placebomancy. It’s like time travel in that regard.

    • Aran says:

      If archangels like Uriel can’t use Names, that seems like an abstract limitation at most. His control of reality is such that it can seemingly do anything a Name can, or even more.

  39. grort says:

    “You have a Name I want, the both of you, and since your minds are linked I can’t take it from either one alone.” — does this seem weird to anyone else? He can take Aaron’s name and likeness from Ana’s mind, and he can take the fact that they have a new Name. But he can’t actually take the Name? It’s just, like, eighty characters. Ana’s even heard it on her own, so it’s not like it resides only in the link.

    My counter-theory: he already has all the names, and now he wants to kill Aaron so that Aaron can’t give the names to the humans.

    I’m paranoid, though. 🙂

    • grort says:

      Wait, no, nevermind. If he wanted Aaron dead he’d have just shot Aaron…

    • Decius says:

      What if the Drug Lord isn’t trying to acquire the name for his own use, but to remove the knowledge from the world entirely because he likes the world and doesn’t want it to end quicker?

  40. Pan Narrans says:

    So, I already noted that you have a mystical and evil man, who crucifies people, centre his power in Vegas, as happens in a Stephen King book. Then, while discussing this person, you quote pretty much the same part of the Waste Land as King did at the start of another Stephen King book.

    This is not a coincidence because it’s probably on purpose. I don’t suppose that “Stephen” correlates to “Other” via kabbalah?

  41. Aran says:

    Why a universe at all?

    I only spotted the Alpha Centauri reference on reading it again. Good old Miriam!

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