aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 42: Whose Whole Delight Is In Destroying

They smote the city with the edge of the sword, and one of his main motivations was the high cost of proprietary software houses.
kingjamesprogramming.tumblr.com

Afternoon, May 12, 2017
New York City

“Can I ask you something?” said Brian Young.

“Busy,” said Dylan Alvarez. “And close the door.” He got up, closed it himself, locked it, bolted it, then sat back down at the table. It was a perfectly ordinary New York City apartment, located in a nice neighborhood in a building without any irregularities to excite a passing cop. The decor was modern, the lighting excellent. There was a basket of fruit on the table. There was also a blank piece of paper, at which Dylan was staring and furrowing his brow theatrically. Finally Brian felt too awkward not to ask.

“What’re you doing?”

“Tell me, Mr. Young, are you a man of letters?”

“No.”

“You ever written a card?”

“Yeah. My mom. For Mother’s Day.”

“That’ll do.” He motioned Brian to sit down at the table, pushed the paper and pen over to him. There was a big package on the table, wrapped in brown paper. “You write it. Something appropriate.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“Letter bomb.”

“…you’re sending a card for a letter bomb?”

Dylan pulled back the card and pen. “Mr. Young. You are, as your name suggests, young. Perhaps your parents have not yet taught you how civilized people behave. When one sends a parcel, the polite thing to do is to write a card. It shows the recipient that you are thinking of them, that you didn’t just throw some money at them without any kind of personal connection. I want Secretary Stoward to know that this isn’t just a letterbomb. It’s a letterbomb for him. Now, put that big brain of yours to work and think up some kind of message. Clever, but tasteful.”

“Um,” said Brian. He was a chemist by trade; eloquence was not his forte.

“Come on! Out with it!”

“Um. Maybe, ‘Dear Secretary Stoward. Hope you have a blast.'”

Dylan looked horrified. “Mr. Young, I said tasteful! Juvenile puns such as that may be suitable for second-tier groups like al-Qaeda, but BOOJUM is a classy and mature organization. Now give me something I can work with!”

Brian stared at him. “I’m a chemist, Mr. Alvarez. I don’t think I’m very good at this. And if you’re really not busy, I want to ask you som – ”

A very big man walked down the stairs, set himself down on one of the chairs with a thud. “I got your message right here for you, Dylan. Roses are red. Violets are blue. Elvis is dead. And so are – ”

Dylan laughed, then cut him off. “Mr. Clark Deas, I am proud to have spent ten years not taking any of your advice whatsoever, and I certainly will not start now. Besides, that is tremendously offensive to the King, who never died at all, but instead ascended bodily into heaven much in the manner of Enoch or Elijah.”

“Have it your way,” said Clark, “but I’m telling you, you’re missing out on fecking gold. The papers would love it. They’d – ”

“Look,” Brian interrupted. “Can I ask you something?”

“I can already tell if I don’t answer this you’ll never leave me alone,” said Dylan. “Si, mi compadre. Ask away.”

“My ex is in New York. She’s really smart. Ran a Unitarian group in California. And she’s a big fan of your work. And good at kabbalah. Just arrived today. Called me up, came over to talk. She wants to meet us and, like, help with our cell. Can I, um, bring her over?”

Dylan rolled his eyes.

“Mi compadre. We are a clandestine terrorist organization, not a high school couples dance! There is nothing in our manifesto that says ‘bring your plus one’. You are here because you make explosives. The Burnses are here because they are professional cat burglars. Michael is a hacker. Clark is a generally amazing guy. I am a generally amazing guy.”

“What about Maduegbuna? All he ever does is appear suddenly out of places and grin disconcertly at people. He doesn’t even talk or – AAAK!”

Maduegbuna suddenly appeared out of – somewhere – and sat down at the table. He grinned disconcertingly at everyone.

“I could live to be a hundred and twenty and never get tired of that,” Dylan said. “Mr. Maduegbuna is Nigeria’s foremost professional assassin and we are honored to have him on our team. We take who we need. No more.”

“My ex is good at kabbalah,” said Brian. “She could help with…that kind of thing.”

“This is the twenty-first century, Mr. Young. Everyone is ‘good at kabbalah’. All you need to do is hang out with the right crowd until one of them gives you a list of divine Names, then memorize it. I myself know a half-dozen Names by heart, and if I ever needed any more, I would go onto the darknet and ask for them. If they refused to tell me, I would offer them images of unclothed anime girls in exchange. It all sounds much easier than bringing a new person into our terrorist group which, I may remind you, very occasionally engages in illegal activities we could go to jail for if people knew about.”

“She knows, like, the theoretical stuff. Her cousin is an up-and-coming theologian, her friend was the guy who broke NEHEMOTH.”

“Theoretical kabbalah is very interesting if you are the CEO of Gogmagog. But us? We are simple, innocent people, Mr. Young. We have no need for grand ivory tower theorizing. All we want is a warm meal, a soft bed, and to burn the fucking system to the ground. I don’t need theorists. I need assassins, hackers, burglars, and chemists. I need people who can do tricks.”

“I can do tricks,” said Erica, and popped into visibility.

Dylan and Clark both reached for their guns, but before either one could draw it from the holster Maduegbuna had somehow gotten behind Erica and established a chokehold around her neck. He grinned disconcertingly at everyone.

“Let…go…” gasped Erica. “Friend…want…talk.”

Dylan nodded at Maduegbuna, and he let her go.

“Speak,” said Dylan.

“My name’s Erica Lowry. I have a sort of…mystical link to two of my friends who are really good at kabbalah. Somehow they’ve come up with some new Names. I don’t know how. One of them gives me the power to turn invisible. I can give it to you if you want. And any others that I learn. I want to join BOOJUM. I hate UNSONG and I think they got my friends. You guys seem to be the only people doing anything about it instead of just talking.”

Dylan frowned. “You have any experience with this kind of thing? Any special skills?”

“I wrote a radical newspaper,” said Erica.

Clark started laughing. Dylan turned and shushed him.

“A newspaper,” he said. “You know, in a sense, we too are a sort of media outlet.”

“Oh Christ,” said Clark, “You’re gonna do one of your feckin speeches again, aren’t you?”

“Media outlets,” said Dylan “are supposed to tell you the state of the world. But they can only do so much. Yes, the newspapers can tell you that the health system is failing, that there aren’t enough scrolls with the Coagulant Name for everybody who needs them. They can give you all sorts of statistics, they can show you pictures of the corpses. All nice and well. But somehow, people just don’t seem to get the message. Something has been lost. The widow wailing because her husband bled to death after a car accident, she’s got something that the guy sitting in an armchair reading the paper hasn’t. The widow understands what a shortage of the Coagulant Name means, understands what it means when the guy in the suit says that we can’t lower the price or else it would ‘hurt innovation’. The guy in his armchair has been told, but he hasn’t understood. A failure of communication, you see? Everywhere people suffer, and the media tells people, but they don’t get it.

“I have always thought we can do better. That’s what we do here at BOOJUM Media, Ltd. You can talk about elephants all day long, but at some point if you want someone to understand you’ve got to take them to the zoo and throw them in the elephant cage. The only way to make people understand what it’s like to live in fear is to make them live in fear. The only way to make people understand what it’s like to suffer is to make them suffer. You can tell a Senator a thousand times that people are dying out there, but it’s not until the Senator’s colleague gets a letter-bomb that it sinks in. We’re not just a media outlet. We’re a boutique media oulet. We cater to the rich and famous, the elite. We give them a better class of service, the premium deal. The middle-class get to read about other people’s suffering in the newspapers. But the rich? They deserve better! They deserve to experience a little piece of it, to have all the conflicts of the world packaged neatly in brown paper and brought to them in their own living room. It’s the most elite media service in the world, and we do it all for free, all for the warm glow of knowing that we made a difference.”

Clark nudged the letterbomb on the table. “Think they’re the ones who end up feeling the warm glow, most of the time.” He laughed uproariously at himself.

“It’s not a joke!” Alvarez protested. “A letterbomb is, in its way, the most honest form of communication. People say communication is about conveying information, but it really isn’t. Communication is a form of magic. The kabbalists say they know words that can draw lightning from the sky, or summon trees from the ground. So what?! Our everyday words are far more powerful than their most sacred incantation! A German guy with a silly beard writes a manifesto, and fifty years later half the world is in flames! An Austrian guy with a silly mustache gives a speech, and a decade later ten million people are dead! A hundred diplomats in the UN sign a charter, and suddenly you’ve got to pay Gogmagog everything you have if you want the doctor to be able to save your life. People get all excited about the Names, call them words of power, but who ever heard of a Name that kills ten million people? Oh, there are words of power, all right, but it’s not the Names of God you have to worry about. And in a sense this – ” he tossed the letterbomb up in the air, then caught it theatrically – “is the essence of kabbalah. The Word made flesh!”

Clark clapped sarcastically. Erica and Maduegbuna just stared. Brian looked pained. “Please don’t toss the bomb,” he said. “The detonation mechanism is still…”

“Ms. Lowry,” said Dylan, cutting him off. “Do you think you’ve got what it takes?”

Erica nodded.

“And what is your position on burning the fucking system to the ground?”

“Strongly pro,” said Erica.

“Then – executive decision. Welcome to BOOJUM.”

“What?” said Clark.

“Really?” said Brian.

“It’s actually a totally reasonable choice,” said Dylan. “I want invisibility. She’s got it.”

“That’s why,” said Clark, very patiently, like he was explaining this to a small child “we break her kneecaps until she tells us how to do it.”

“Mr. Deas,” said Dylan. “That sort of thing may fly in Belfast, but we are a reputable organization. Furthermore, I am a placebomancer. These things have their own logic. When a young woman with a mysterious past comes to you bearing strange secrets and offering to join you, you take her. If she has no apparent skills or abilities, you super take her. If you hurt her, bad things will happen to you. If you take her, then, when all else is lost and your own power avails you nothing, she hands you victory in some totally unexpected and hilariously ironic manner. Isn’t that right, Ms. Lowry?”

“Yes!” she said enthusiastically. “That’s totally what I’m here for!”

“So…fecking…annoying,” Clark mumbled to himself.

“Tell me, Ms. Lowry, you’re a writer, what would be an appropriate message to put on a card for a letterbomb?”

Erica thought for a second. “How about – condolences on the recent death in your family?”

Dylan slapped his head. “The girl’s a genius!” he said. “See! I knew this would work out! Compadres para siempre!”

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151 Responses to Chapter 42: Whose Whole Delight Is In Destroying

  1. Alsadius says:

    Of course, placebomancy only works the way you want it to if you’re the protagonist.

    • Kalveti says:

      But Dylan is right, had he killed Erica then the entire readership would turn on him and he would be owed karmic justice by the narrative. Instead, I now think he’s even cooler than I did before. The man really knows how to sell terrorism.

      • wintermute92 says:

        Somehow I had missed this, but its true. Our reactions to Dylan define how well he’s doing, because he’s structuring his life around how an imaginary audience would view him. As long as we’re laughing and cheering for him, placebomancy says he’s doing things right.

        He’s not breaking the fourth wall, but he’s imagining a fourth wall of his own and living accordingly.

    • Yumantimatter says:

      And sending personalized, witty messages with your letterbombs is a very villain-coded thing to do, IMO.

      • Yumantimatter says:

        Although, Kalveti’s comment above got me thinking. The way I feel about Dylan right now is as one of those suave, likable villains. The kind that do terrible things, but are really interesting characters. I wonder if Dylan realizes that he can’t pull of *hero*, and is going for *classy villain* deliberately? It would be really cool if that turns out to be the case!

        • wintermute92 says:

          I think this is exactly true. Dylan has murdered multiple people already, some of them probably fairly innocent (the wizards he killed didn’t seem personally responsible for the corrupt licensing system they benefitted from). He’s not going to pull of a simple hero’s narrative, it’s not that kind of story.

          So he could be a simple villain and lose, or he could play the anti-hero/villain-protagonist bit, and achieve his goals. It might get him killed, but he’d still be the sort of villain who dies doing unsavory things to ensure a greater good.

          Or… well, his closest fiction-analogue I can think of is Luke from The Chronicles of Amber. Had the villain ball, sent letter bombs, assassinated multiple heroes, then demonstrated good motives and redeemed himself. Dylan’s story is 100% open to a redemption arc after he gets what he wants, and he’s smart enough to know that.

      • Waxpapers says:

        Eh. It also fits as something an anti-villain protagonist in a cyberpunk or magipunk dystopia would do. Dylan is just framing himself as Morpheus before Neo comes around.

      • DanielLC says:

        Heroes make witty quips when they kill people all the time. They just usually don’t send letter bombs.

      • Walter says:

        Sure, but “archvillain” is just about as good as “hero” in terms of most of what he wants.

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s not about civilized behavior, it’s about tying the group to him even tighter. Brian Young writes the message on the card – if it isn’t incinerated with the Senator in the blast, then that’s his fingerprints and handwriting as evidence he was involved. So no “I know nothing, I was just an innocent bystander, I thought they were a harmless activist group” pleading should the police – or more likely UNSONG – catch them.

        Dylan is not a nice person, he doesn’t like you, and if he’s going down, by God and all the little fishes, you and everyone else is going down with him.

  2. will408914 says:

    Personally, I preferred the poem.

  3. Senjiu says:

    Now that took an unexpected turn.

  4. Stib says:

    Dylan’s argument for causing suffering to alert people to existing suffering from a source they oppose… doesn’t make much sense.

    When a young woman with a mysterious past comes to you bearing strange secrets and offering to join you, you take her. If she has no apparent skills or abilities, you super take her. If you hurt her, bad things will happen to you. If you take her, then, when all else is lost and your own power avails you nothing, she hands you victory in some totally unexpected and hilariously ironic manner.

    This is totally going to happen.

    • LHC says:

      In fact, I find it likely that Dylan deliberately said this out of his knowledge of how foreshadowing works.

      • Alex says:

        I’m not an expert in placebomancy, but isn’t. calling it out aloud the kind of thing that would likely cause the hilariously ironic save to be jinxed and make it doubly hilariously ironic when he is doubly accidentally defeated by Erika stepping on a rake or some other stupid accident?

        • G* says:

          Someone tell me if I’m completely misunderstanding quantum mechanics making this comparison, but wouldn’t this basically be the placebomantic equivalent of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle?

        • wintermute92 says:

          Yes, this. My first thought on reading that was “well duh, but you can’t actually say that!”

          I suppose maybe placebomancy doesn’t care, it’s only about doing plausible-looking things in the final outcome, but ‘tempting fate’ isn’t a thing I’d want to do when my entire success was predicated on fate playing along.

  5. SilasLock says:

    What on Earth is Erica doing joining BOOJUM? This seems like a really bad idea.

    • Anonymous says:

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I mean, it’s been fairly clear this was going to happen since Chapter 12. Giving them powerful secret names, though… hoo boy!

    • LHC says:

      It was already telegraphed quite a few chapters ago.

    • Deiseach says:

      So much for pacifism, though I suppose the UU cell never did explicitly say they renounced violence as a means of protest.

      Is Mr Deas meant to be ex-IRA or ex-UDA? If I’m translating his surname as Gaeilge, it means “Mr Nice”, which he is not really. “Clark” is a bit ambiguous as to which foot he digs with; if the surname is a joke in Irish, then he’s the Rah (or contiguous groups), if not, then he’s UDA/UVF/etc but what is he doing mixed up with Alvarez?

    • Deiseach says:

      With Erica being in the mystic mind marriage with Ana, and Ana in the mystic mind marriage with Aaron, and Erica claiming she can know what Ana (and Ana, via Aaron) knows – this is indeed a bad idea. Giving Alvarez that kind of power won’t end well. I note that while he may scoff at kabbalah, he doesn’t hesitate about wanting to use the Names she can give him. I wonder if Dylan is a little jealous of the kabbalists? When only ritual magicians could do magic, he was someone special – even if he decided on placebomancy as his method, instead. But now, with kabbalah, anyone who can afford a scroll with a Name on it can do magic/close enough to magic as well, no skills required.

      It’s fairly clear Dylan has a very inflated opinion of himself. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if part of his rationale for “burn it all down” is “if I can’t be special due to being able to use magical powers, then destroy it all!”

      Though Dylan’s switch between “suitable sentiments to go on a card accompanying a letter bomb” and his speech about the purpose of BOOJUM is reminding me of Gerry Adams’ Twitter.

      • Monday says:

        I thought the connection between Ana and Erica wasn’t as strong to begin with, and now they’re much more distant.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Yeah, I’m taken aback by that too, foreshadowed or not. Especially how readily she writes the card… It honestly has me wondering if she’s a sociopath.

      • Lux Sola says:

        I think she’s always been the most radical of the residents of Ithaca, and only the other Ithacans acting as a stabilizing element kept her from going full terrorist herself.

        Once UNSONG attacked her in her home, that set her off.

  6. Sniffnoy says:

    Typo thread: Missing comma after “child” in “like he was explaining this to a small child”.

    • Musk says:

      Also, “boutique media oulet“.

    • Sukil says:

      Being really picky here: I don’t know if you should accent letters in foreign languages in English texts, but “Si, mi compadre” should be “Sí, mi compadre”. And maybe it should be italiciced too, as it is in another language.

      • Creutzer says:

        I don’t know if you should accent letters in foreign languages in English texts

        Yes, you should.

      • Anonymous says:

        Scott hasn’t been particularly consistent in formatting foreign versus English text, or uses versus mentions.

        Chapter 1:

        Four hundred years earlier, an old man in Prague had explained to his students that yes, you could make a golem, you could bestow upon it the nefesh, the animal soul. With sufficient enlightenment, you could even bestow upon it the ruach, the moral soul. But the neshamah, the divine spark, you could not bestow upon it, for that was a greater work, and would require a greater Name than any ever discovered.

        Three (transcribed) Hebrew words are italicised. (Maybe it’s emphasis.) I’d count these as uses, not mentions.

        Chapter 8:

        “Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius,” said Daniel in the south.

        “Quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius,” said Ronald in the north.

        Several Latin phrases, used, are consistently not formatted.

        Chapter 18:

        “Maiden” can mean either “young woman” or “virgin”

        Mentioned English word is quoted, glosses are likewise quoted.

        Chapter 25:

        The organizing soul within me – the kabbalists would have called it the neshamah – awoke, even as my body dozed on the hotel bed.

        Hebrew word, pseudo-used, not italicised.

        Chapter 26:

        “TELL ME ABOUT THE WORD WATER”.

        […]

        She sighed theatrically, but gave no further protest. “In Proto-Semitic,” she said, “it is akwa. In Proto-Eurasiatic, also akwa. In Proto-Amerind, akwa again. […]”

        […]

        “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HEBREW, IN WHICH WATER IS ‘MAYIM’?”

        In the first paragraph, one mentioned English word is not formatted. In the second, mentioned reconstructions are not formatted; they are not starred either (though that’s probably for the better). In the third, a mentioned Hebrew word is quoted. (Never mind the stray the.)

        Interlude ח (particularly jarring example):

        But the name Karl Marx comes from […] So the name “Karl Marx” means […]

        Karl Marx’s name is twice mentioned, once quoted, once unquoted.

        Compare with Interlude מ:

        Apparently Erica believed this interpretation merited an onion, even though in the very next line they refer to whiskey, which comes from the Irish uisce beatha, meaning “water of life”, which is practically an exact match for the John quote.

        Irish phrase, mentioned, is italicised and not quoted. English gloss is quoted. Most other mentions in the interlude are quoted. Marx’s name, mentioned, is not quoted.

        There are probably more examples.

  7. Yumantimatter says:

    Can somebody remind me when Erica got the Spectral Name? I remember Ana getting it from Sarah, and then Aaron learning it by (IIRC) subconscious telepathy with Ana, but I can’t recall how Erica learned it.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      She didn’t onscreen. It’s explained right here in the chapter: She got it via her own telepathic link with Ana.

    • The coment king says:

      The implication is that she just automatically knew it through the link, the same way Aaron did (remember, he found it out before he established an explicit SCABMOM conversation with Ana).

    • dsotm says:

      If she has a telepathic link with Ana shouldn’t she also know the ensouling name ? Sarah didn’t mention confounding her as well

    • Anonymous says:

      Probably the same way Aaron learned it. But yes, it was offscreen.

    • Yumantimatter says:

      Oh right, missed that! I need to read more slowly.

      But the implications of that are really interesting. (“that” being the transmission of Names through SCABMOM without verbal telepathy)

      For one thing, Erica almost definitely knows the Airwalker and Mistral names as well. But far more importantly, she might know the Vital Name!

      Ana learned it when Aaron used it to ensoul Sarah, and Sarah only altered Ana and Aaron’s memories after Aaron brought home the other computer. This gives a several hour window for the knowledge to be transferred from Ana to Erica. Since Sarah doesn’t mention Erica, it’s unlikely that her memories were also altered. So if the Vital Name got through during that window, Erica knows it.

      • Yumantimatter says:

        Welp, spent too long writing a detailed reply and got ninja’d by dsotm. Glad to see we both have the same idea though!

    • Macbi says:

      Ana and Erica were the first to try the kabbalistic marriage. It didn’t work very well but they still have some link.

  8. dsotm says:

    Somewhat off-topic

    I think that Uriel deserves his own twitter feed and have taken the liberty to create one for this purpose:
    https://twitter.com/l33tv3ss3l

    Unfortunately and somewhat ironically twitter almost immediately locked the account for ‘suspected automated behaviour’ pending me adding and verifying a phone number – which I’ve no intention of doing.
    So unless they decide to unlock it anyway Uriel might need to look for alternative platforms.

    *Scott, if you’re against this sort of thing lmk here or in the email I use for these comments

  9. Sniffnoy says:

    images of unclothed anime girls in exchange

    So I guess still pictures can still be transmitted over the internet, then?

    • dsotm says:

      might require use of the animeting name

    • Daniel Armak says:

      He probably means printed or drawn pictures on paper media.

      If pictures could be transmitted over the Internet, Dylan wouldn’t be able to sell them let alone for such a high price as sharing illegal Names. Try to buy balck market munitions with porn, see how far you get.

      • JJR says:

        Except Black Market munitions derive their value from being difficult to make and in limited supply. With names, the initial discovery is expensive, but copying the information for use by other people is cheap and easy. Once the information leaks out of the magical klipot copy protection the price will be the lowest amount of money that a person asks for it; and there just so happens to be an underground church whose explicit goal is to make access to the names of God free for everyone.

  10. Oh boy, nothing could possibly go wrong.

    On a different note, I squeed when one of my partners tugged on my sleeve and said “UNSONG updated – and it has your favourite character in it!”. My response was “IS IT DYLAN?!”. Imagine my surprise when it was. Chapter did not disappoint.

    Favourite moment, hands down: “What’s the occasion?” “Letter bomb.”

    Thanks for sharing your story with the world. 🙂

  11. anon says:

    I started this chapter dismayed to see Alvarez pop up again, because I think he’s a bad person who’s not as clever as he thinks, not a sympathetic (to me) protagonist. But he did somewhat sell me on himself by the end of the chapter. Still a bad guy, but one whose story I’m willing to read along with and hope to enjoy.

    • The coment king says:

      I don’t really like having Dylan in this story – he’s not a terrible character, but his theme somewhat clashes with the rest of it, and he’s not interesting in the same way the other characters are. (Though I may be biased, since I’ve never liked the concept of placebomancy – it’s one step away from having an “it was all a dream” ending.).

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t like Dylan at all and if the system (world) does burn down, I hope he goes with it. He’s the kind that would cut a deal with Thamiel to work as one of the torturing demons in Hell – and lecture the damned while he was doing it about how it was all their own fault.

      His group does work to add contrast (if the UUs are/were the ineffectual protesters, then BOOJUM is very effective – if you count killing people as effective) and placebomancy is an alternative to kabbalah, based as it is on its opposition to ritual magic. So if UNSONG are the villains for going after groups like Erica’s, then they aren’t quite so villainous if they’re also going after groups like Dylan’s. It helps with the ambiguity which is necessary for the story – are UNSONG doing a dirty but necessary job, or are they on the side of the rich and powerful, keeping the public from what is rightfully theirs?

    • Cniz says:

      Dylan seems to me to be a highly effective psychopath. He appears to be highly intelligent and with a deep understanding of how the world works and how to manipulate it to his whims. I think the reason he seems not as clever as he thinks is because the world does not work as we think it should – the UNSONG universe is governed by rules that our minds reject as false; and I think this is also true for his friends and enemies, who seem to have similar distaste for his discourse and attitude. To most people he looks like a crazy, lucky person who is delusional about reality – when he might be the only sane man around.

      Of course, he is most definitely a bad person. I don’t think he believes his own spiel at all – he only cares that the world believes it. I also think he is supposed to be a clear antagonist, not a sympathetic protagonist at all. And I like him quite a bit as an antagonist.

      • Quixote says:

        I think I’m a bit more sympathetic to Dylan than most here. I mean, I can tell he’s a bad guy. But he very well might not be more of a bad guy than UNSONG or the ritual magic board. Without the RMB placeobomancy could be widely available and everyone could spontaneously recover form illness. So to a first approximation, all deaths due to disease can be ascribed to those two groups. That makes them pretty awful.

        • R Flaum says:

          But Dylan’s actions made placebomancy less widely available, according to Lin.

        • Cniz says:

          I’m not entirely sold on UNSONG being bad guys at all, yet. Sure, they uphold evil, evil, copyright laws, but there might be some very good reasons for doing so that we don’t yet know, as Simeon Azore implied. Always remember that TCK was directly involved in setting up the organization and laws it enforces.

          • LPSP says:

            We’ve got a precedent for this with the chapter-relevent Board of Ritual Magic. The chapter in which they were introduced and destroyed set them up as a stuffy, preening hierarchy, worthy of getting toppled by a dashing rogue like Dylan – of course, this is exactly what Dylan wanted.

            Cut forward to Ana on the boat, and Lin explains why the organisation was basically Chesterton’s Fence. Sure it wasn’t always efficient – it keeped some good stuff out and let some bad stuff in – but it existed for a reason, and demolishing it made things worse for everyone but Alvarez.

  12. Anders Sandberg says:

    A terrorist group spreads terror using violence or the threat of violence. This is clearly a media action: violence is the universal language. But there is obviously a risk that they send the message of violence rather than terror since the medium is the message. This is why it is important to have good copywriters and proper cards to re-frame the message from violence to terror. A bomb is just a weapon; a bomb with a red ribbon and a witty card is far more fearsome.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      Incidentally, I think Alvarez is onto something. The epistemic meaning of communication is not as important here as speech acts: utterances that in themselves perform something. Promises, letter bombs and Names are all speech acts.

  13. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    Dylan Alvarez sounds like G.K Chesterton, after being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. Also, he sounds like the anarchists from Man Who was Thursday. Wild implication: Dylan is actually an UNSONG operative. He is leading an eccentric terrorist organization because he knows the narrative power of radical chic.

    Also, by secretly running the bad guys, he can narrate himself as the hero. His attacks on politicians could even be wet work that also suits Ngo’s interests.

    I’ll stop just short of suggesting that he and Malia Ngo are THE SAME PERSON!

  14. Daniel Blank says:

    For some reason I imagine Dylan with the Joker’s voice.

  15. 75th says:

    Let’s everyone remember what happened to Dylan’s last compadre para siempre

  16. holomanga says:

    > but who ever heard of a Name that kills ten million people?

    The Wrathful Name?

  17. boris says:

    Can we talk about the fact that Elvis is obviously the Other King?

  18. satanistgoblin says:

    All we want is a warm meal, a soft bed, and to burn the fucking system to the ground.

    Dylan is Clarkhat?

  19. Sniffnoy says:

    Interesting to note BOOJUM seems to have expanded its scope since last we saw it.

  20. LPSP says:

    Felt the writing could be sharper in a touch few places. Alvarez wouldn’t be the type to protest, and a surly norn-iron guy wouldn’t say “so fecking annoying”. Thinking about making a tweak-write. Good to see Dylan and the gang, I’m keen to see what goes down in NY.

  21. Ninmesara says:

    A pretty good chapter overal. Now, did Elvis really ascend to heaven, or is it one of those crazy things Alvarez seems to believe?

    On the other hand, I really don’t like the way telepathy works here… I know that Erica might be lying and there might be more to that than what we know, but this is telepthy working according to the whims of the plot, just like the scene at the Angelfire reserve. Also, TOK can communicate telepathically with Aaron? Why? Can he steal the Vital Name given enough time, just like the Drug Lord? So far the use of telepathy in this story has been a little disappointing, at least to me.

    • Peter says:

      The mainstream account is that Elvis died in August 1977, although not everyone agrees. 1977 would be sometime during the demonic invasion of Canada, by the looks of it. A chaotic and uncertain time – before Gadiriel and TCK got some order together. No federal government except on the East coast, the Broadcast fresh in people’s minds.

      So during such a time all manner of beliefs may have formed, so “Elvis ascended to Heaven” might be at least as common in their timeline as “Elvis is alive” is in ours.

    • Lux Sola says:

      My understanding is that telepathy does work on some consistent set of rules, but that Aaron doesn’t know them.

      That’s why he’s surprised that TOK can speak into his mind, and why he probably didn’t consider that any name Ana knows, Erica knows.

      • LPSP says:

        I think most people, perhaps even Scott, have forgotten the difficulties and uncertainies in telepathy that were established in the first chapter. Aaron feeling stressed about losing $70s was enough to mess up his link, as was trying to find a chair.

        I wonder how consistent that is with his recent messaging to TOK, mid-Name recital.

        • R Flaum says:

          It’s not clear to me that the form of telepathy TOK uses necessarily follows the same rules as the form used by SCABMOM.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Oh, I expect Aaron to discuss at length how different it felt from his telepathic conversions with Ana. It woul be a good way to show that it follows “different rules”

        • Ninmesara says:

          You’ve hit the nail on the head. Telepathy is simultaneously: 1) hard enough you need to be in the right mood for it to work 2) effortless enough so that you can have conversations while singing a name (or its klipot) and 3) capricious enough so that it leaks names subconsciously, even when a normal link can’t be established, and to people you don’t really have a strong link with. If we had had months in story in which to get familiar with it’s capabilities and gotchas, it’d be alright, but cramming so much stuff over the course of two days makes us thin it works according to the needs of the plot.

          • LPSP says:

            High praise! I wonder how Scott will resolve this.

            My off-the-wall suggestion is that the marriage between Erica and Ana isn’t weaker than between Ana and Aaron, just different. Opposite-gendered marriages can communicate more directly easily, but same-genders can “leak” thoughts to each other.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Same-gendered marriages being different is an interesting point. It is also completely consistent with what we know so far. Clearly the reason why Ana leaked the Spectral Name into Aaron at the Angelfire reserve is because he is such a little girl sometimes :p

          • LPSP says:

            Hah! +9 for you.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            You’ve hit the nail on the head. Telepathy is simultaneously: 1) hard enough you need to be in the right mood for it to work 2) effortless enough so that you can have conversations while singing a name

            Perhaps sending telepathy is hard but receiving it is easy, or something.

      • Ninmesara says:

        If Erica knows every name Ana knows, how come she doesn’t know the Vital Name? To many bits for a narrow band channel? :p

  22. Ninmesara says:

    The’re going to try to bomb the UN or something like that while invisible, only to be comically spotted by Malia the minute the enter the premises. Also, it would be pretty cool if Elvis were not only the king, but The Other King.

    • Broggly says:

      If Elvis is The King, wouldn’t that make The Other King Michael Jackson?

      • Ninmesara says:

        The story would have been 200% better if Elvis had been the Comet King and Michael Jackson the Other King.

        • LPSP says:

          I was going to ask “Where does David Bowie fit into all this?”. Then it occurred to me Bowie – Ziggy Stardust – is a good fit for TCK, while his similarly aged darkside rockstar contemporary – Lemmy, a lifelong gambler who defied most people’s ideas of death for years – could fit TOK.

  23. The coment king says:

    Bets on who the next chapter’s about? I’m guessing Sohu or Ana.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I’m hoping it’s back to Aaron so that maybe Jane can explain the remaining half of just what the hell is going on!

  24. ejlflop says:

    BTFSTTG?
    Boojum… are the hapless comic alt-right keyboard warriors of the Unsong universe.

  25. Sniffnoy says:

    So, BOOJUM roster: (Or, BOOJUM primary cell roster? They always use the word “cell”, so I would assume there are others, but there’s been no explicit mention of others)

    Dylan Alvarez
    Brian Young
    Clark Deas
    Michael Khan
    Brenda Burns
    ??? Burns
    ??? Maduegbuna
    And now: Erica Lowry

    Former or non-canon: John Murran

  26. R Flaum says:

    I just realized that Sohu is totally going to end up destroying a mountain at some point, just like she wanted. I have no idea why that popped into my head as I was reading this, but it did.

  27. Quixote says:

    This chapter was great. Some of the chapters really sing and this was one of those.

  28. Uhurugu says:

    I wonder if Irishman Clark Deas is named after our own Deiseach?

  29. Alexey Romanov says:

    What about Maduegbuna? All he ever does is appear suddenly out of places and grin disconcertly at people.

    It should probably be “disconcertingly”. Also, getting a chokehold on Erica isn’t one of these two things: clearly this is someone impersonating Maduegbuna!

  30. LPSP says:

    Treating here as an Unsong open thread for a change, I was watching this video and it struck me as numero-lingustically relevant.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYKn0yUTIU4

    Four just seems to be the right number for languages to gravitate towards and, in some cases, orbit around. The comparisons to the four seasons and maybe other things are eminent. 18 also strikes me as a good number, fitting binary as a “deep” language.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Hm, what if we do this in Hebrew? If we use the masculine forms of the numbers, we always end up in a loop between 4 and 5. But if we use the feminine forms, then as in English, we end up with 4 as the unique fixed point.

      • LPSP says:

        I wonder what questions that raises about the gender of numbers. Male oscillates into higher/larger phases? There’s room for lewd puns in there at least.

  31. hnau says:

    when all else is lost and your own power avails you nothing

    Is it just me, or did Dylan learn that one from a werecat?

    Nothing is ever a coincidence, especially in worlds where names have power.

  32. hnau says:

    Also, Dylan Alvarez has become my favorite character (not to be confused with “my favorite person”) in the Unsong story. He reminds me a lot of General Tarquin in some ways (brutal with a civilized exterior, master of exploiting narrative tropes) and the Joker in others (apparently-principled anarchist terrorist, very sharp sense of irony). One thing he has in common with both of them is that he doesn’t seem to have a huge agenda of his own– he’s basically doing it all just for kicks.

  33. I am happy that I either predicted or inspired the use of this chapter’s quote.

  34. Jack V says:

    I’m having the same realisation with Dylan that I did with Uriel — that I love him because he’s awesome and the horrible things he does are framed in comic not-quite-real ways. But when you actually examine the details, it’s really not ok. And I’d subconsciously assumed that they weren’t *really* that bad because they seemed sympathetic. Whereas, in fact, there’s no reason for the story to follow that assumption.

  35. BlueKnight says:

    There is some sort of connection between this Chapter and INTERLUDE מ: MISS AMERICAN PIE. I can’t figure out how it works but it starts when Dylan says “this is not a high school couples dance”. Dylan is the Jester (and has some elements Bob Dylan, James Dean, and maybe Jesus) as he is called in Chapter 8 “the rebel with a cause” who “dismantle{s} their entrenched oppressive bureaucracy with fire and sword”(comparing the ABRM & UNSONG to Pharisees), using the “word made flesh.”

    The whole chapter gives off some heavy Gospel vibes:
    Dylan’s Associates seem sort of like the disciples.
    Clark calls him Christ. (nothing is a coincidence).
    “at some point if you want someone to understand you’ve got to take them to the zoo and throw them in the elephant cage”
    Not to mention that the whole speech is sort of a twisted version of Sermon on the Mount philosophy.

  36. BTFSTTG?

    I thought the Broadcast would restore the Big Big D to its former place as the king of the swear words and demote the f-bomb to a mere vulgarism.

    It should be BTDSTTG or even BTGDSTTG.

  37. BTW, when did Clark Diaz turn into Clark Deas?

  38. Is Maduegbuna a zombie? (I know Nigeria is in West Africa but the soul shortage might have spread.)

    If he is and Erica knows the Vital Name, could she test it on him?

    OTOH, if he isn’t, does he know the Spectral Name?

    • LPSP says:

      Huh, now that’s an interesting proposition.

      I was thinking about the three level of souls impartable by names a few days back, and it occurred to me that one could impart the lower souls in varying combinations onto corpses or comatose people in order to make traditional, voodoo/afro-pagan zombies.

  39. nipi says:

    Huuuuh I reached the last chapter. Im not very knowledgeable about religion or Kabbalah but still love the story.

    A few thoughts:
    1) This one is kind of a prediction (rather obvious one at this point in the story). So Sarah is a woman and also an Apple. Most of her knowledge comes from the internet which is really just a bunch of computers connected together by cables that snake across the world. Snake is a synonym for Serpent. So Sarah (a woman) urged on by the Serpent (internet) is going to tempt Aaron (a man) with a forbidden fruit (Apple/Sarah herself).

    Would the sin be incest? Then again I dont think that the bible specifically bans a father from having sex with his daughter. (I havent bothered to check the quotes.)
    http://biblereasons.com/incest/
    Most of these quotes seem to be about how wrong it is for anyone to wrong their father in such a way. Some of them are rather specific and none of them specifically forbid a father and a daughter from doing the deed.

    Also we know that God has at least on 2 occasions left mankind with no other choise but to perform incest. First time was when Adam and Eves children had to do so to populate the world. The second was when Noah and his family had to do the same. Hmmm…

    2) There doesnt seem to be much time left until Uriels veil drops from the world:
    ch16 October 11, 1990 – Uriel states that he has enough Divine energy to sustain the world for about 50 years.
    ch36 October 31, 1991 – Uriel creates a parallel Palestine at a cost of 20 years.
    So currently the world is due to “end” in about 2020. And Aaron and Anas story is taking place in 2017. I wonder what mystical/numerological meaning of the number 2020 will become relevant?

    3) My picks (and a few other finds) incoming:
    “In the End Time, two witnesses will appear on the world scene to testify and uphold the truth of God against the Beast and the False Prophet (see Revelation 11).”
    “The word ‘God’ appears in all books except two, which are the Song of Solomon and Esther.” (So God will not appear?)
    “Twenty is twice ten and can, at times, mean a complete or perfect waiting period.”
    “God promised Abraham that if he found only 20 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah he would not destroy both cities (Genesis 18:31). ”
    Source: http://www.biblestudy.org/bibleref/meaning-of-numbers-in-bible/introduction.html
    “Zeros coming after a number increases the power of the first number.”
    Source: http://www.dreambible.com/numbers.html
    So the world will “end” in a total of 30 years:”The number 30 can symbolize dedication to a particular task or calling. Aaronic priests were dedicated to serve at 30″
    (Too bad Aaron only is only 22. Or is it?) “The number 22, which is double eleven (which symbolizes disorder and chaos), can represent a concentration of disorganization.”
    (By 2020 he will be 25.) “The number twenty-five in the Bible symbolizes ‘grace upon grace.’ It is composed of 20 (meaning redemption) and five (grace) or grace multiplied (5 x 5).” (Ok this thing can get out of hand. Better wait until Im 40 and have a wife.)
    4) Not sure how Thamiel interferes with Uriels work. I just hope that he hasnt discovered what boiling goats in their mothers milk does. Thats something he could have done on a massive scale.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      “I wonder what mystical/numerological meaning of the number 2020 will become relevant?”

      20/20 vision is clear vision. Apocalypse mean revelation of hidden things. Seems pretty obvious.

      Except that a 2017 apocalypse would represent 20/17 vision, i.e. somewhat sharper acuity than normal. In this story I would look out for the smart people, they might accidentally immanentize the eschaton…

    • Maybe boiling goats in their mothers milk only has effects if it’s done by a human. OTOH, Thamiel might create a cult that boils goats in their mothers milk. OTGH, they might be easy to smite.

      • R Flaum says:

        There was such a cult, in fact: boiling a kid in its mother’s milk was the traditional sacrifice offered to Ishtar.

  40. Aaron says:

    Between yesterday and today I read through this whole story and have hooked my girlfriend and several of my friends on it. My ex says that this is “the most Aaron story ever written” and that if I ever deploy puns from here she will hit me.

    Most of me just wants to go hang out at Ithaca and argue politics and philosophy with the Unitarians at dinner parties and make fun of Aaron’s involuted Kabbalah.

    This story is glorious and the characters are glorious and I deeply thank you for creating this and publishing it. (I would subscribe to a Patreon if you put one up, by the way.) The only things more adorkable than Uriel are Sohu (I’m sad she’s not a Tohu va Vohu reference!) and Ana/Aaron, whom I platonically hella ship to be together and punning forever.

    • Tasty_Y says:

      Scott does have a patreon, but it’s linked to his blog rather than this story (and it also begs you not to support it in a very touching fashion): https://www.patreon.com/user?u=926060

    • ” My ex says that this is “the most Aaron story ever written” and that if I ever deploy puns from here she will hit me.”

      I just saw your Facebook post and noticed that your last name is Hebrew for “scribe”. I will leave you to speculate on why someone named “Aaron the scribe” sympathizes with Aaron Teller.

  41. ADifferentAnonymois says:

    I just connected that the All Your Heart is down one magician and sailing for New York. Probably a coincidence, though.

    • hnau says:

      Well, Lin did “softly and silently vanish away” and will (probably) “never be heard of again”. So the fact that his probable replacement is BOOJUM’s founder is most likely Not A Coincidence.

  42. Nate says:

    I’m getting a strong Hank Scorpio vibe from Dylan in this chapter.

  43. AltusFiction says:

    Wow. I can’t believe I’ve only just discovered Unsong. I just dropped everything and spent a good few hours reading. This is absolutely fantastic!

    May I entice you to drop me an email at altusfiction@gmail.com please? I’d love to work together. 🙂

  44. R Flaum says:

    “Juvenile puns such as that may be suitable for second-tier groups like al-Qaeda, but BOOJUM is a classy and mature organization.”

    Dylan and Erica will get along well.

  45. Nuño says:

    You might want to read A Practical Guide to Evil: Do Wrong Right (https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/), in which the characters are also aware that acting in a narratively convenient manner benefits them. For example:

    [Spoiler alert]

    “I think she’s playing it up for her audience,” Thief replied. “Isn’t that what Bards do?”
    “She’s a heroine,” the Swordsman eventually said. “That much can’t be faked. Why would she bother to trick us when she’s on our side?”
    The other Callowan passed a hand through her short hair, ruffling the tomboy cut as an uncomfortable look settled on her face.
    “When we left for Summerholm, there were five heroes in our band,” the heroine said. “And we all knew going in that one of us would die to the Warlock – monsters like that don’t go easy. It couldn’t be you, because you have a mirror on the other side. Hunter was meant to be your right hand, ill-suited as he was to the role. You needed me to get into the city and to get out afterwards. That left…”
    “Almorava and Simeon,” William finished. “Your point?”
    “Both of them are bumblers,” Thief spoke quietly. “There was a redundancy. But how much of an impression did Conjurer make, compared to the Bard? He barely talked while she was always in the background, larger than life, drinking and badly strumming her lute.”
    The Swordsman breathed in sharply. “What you’re suggesting borders on murder.”
    “All she did was cover her bases,” she replied. “I can respect that, I really can. But I can’t trust it.”

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