aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 50: Silent As Despairing Love

Praise the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a faster machine.
kingjamesprogramming.tumblr.com

Evening, May 13, 2017
Citadel West

They had taken us back to the NORAD command center. We sat at the big table, listening to the reassuring hum of a missile-free North American airspace.

NORAD is a very Semitic-looking word. The Hebrew stem would be nun-resh-dalet; and indeed we find it in the Bible, referring to a plant we English-speakers transliterate as “nard”. During New Testament times produced a very expensive perfumed oil, and Mary of Bethany was so excited when Jesus came to visit that she anointed his feet with it. Judas Iscariot chewed her out, saying that she could have sold the oil instead and gotten enough money to feed dozens of poor people. Jesus quieted him down by saying “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

But there are other options. Hebrew has “narad”, meaning to go down or descend. Greek has “Nereid”, the goddesses of the deep. English has “nerd”, a technologically-minded smart person, and “neared”, ie having drawn closer.

Put it all together, and we get somewhere down very deep, filled with smart people and technology, dedicated to watching for things that might be drawing closer to them.

Nathanda sat at the center of the big table, flanked by Sohu, Caelius, and Vihaan. Jinxiang, Sarah and I took the other side. No one was at the head of the table. The Comet King’s black opal throne dominated the room with its emptiness. “The poor you will always have with you,” it seemed to say, “but you will not always have me.”

Sarah was awake now. She clutched my leg so hard it was almost painful, but she didn’t try anything. The Cometspawn had her outclassed, and she knew it. Gebron and Eleazar’s book said that only four kabbalists had ever gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare. One was the archangel Uriel. One was Rabbi Isaac Luria. One was the Comet King. And there was the fourth, sitting in front of me, looking to all the world like an eight-year old girl. Charming, disarming, innocent.

She listened as Jinxiang explained the situation to the newcomers, quiet right up until she got to the point where she told them the verses from Matthew she had found in the angels’ book.

“I think I know who the Other King is,” said Sohu.

I was numb to shock at this point, but I still sat up a little straighter.

“Jinxiang’s book. There is providence in the fall of a sparrow. There’s a story Uriel told me, a long time ago, about a man named Elisha ben Abuyah. Except that nobody speaks his name anymore. They just call him Acher, which means ‘the Other One.'”

Nathanda moved forward in her seat.

“The legend goes that he was once the wisest of rabbis and the most learned of kabbalists. One day, he saw a boy climb a tree and kill a mother bird in its nest, an act forbidden by the Torah. Then he climbed down safely and went away. A little while later, he saw another boy climb another tree, take some eggs from a nest, but spare the mother bird in accordance with the commandment. On his way down, this boy fell and broke his back and died. Acher became so angry that he vowed vengeance against God. He would just sin and sin until the weight of all his misdeeds knocked the world out of balance and ruined all of God’s plans.”

“All because of one kid falling from a tree?” Jinxiang asked.

“Not just a kid falling from a tree! A kid falling from a tree after doing a good deed. I guess Acher had always known that sometimes bad things happened to good people, but that was what really drove it in, made it hit home. He couldn’t figure out how God could let that happen, so he decided God was a monster. So he went on and lived a life of sin for a couple of decades, then died. There are all of these weird conflicting legends about what happened to his soul. Supposedly he was too wise for Hell but too evil for Heaven, so he just kind of – hung out.”

“And you think now he’s in Las Vegas.”

“It fits! Think about it. How could anybody, any normal human, defeat Father? What if they came from Talmudic times and had studied with Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eleazar and all those people? What if they’d been studying and practicing for two thousand years? And there’s that thing with the bird! Providence in the fall of a sparrow! That’s what Acher was rejecting. He saw a bad kid kill a bird and live, and said there couldn’t possibly be any excuse or explanation. It fits too well.”

We were all silent for a moment.

“Was there anything about how this Acher could be defeated?” asked Nathanda finally.

“The Talmud doesn’t exactly have a part where they list every rabbi’s fighting style and secret weaknesses,” said Sohu. “There are a lot of parts where his student Rabbi Meir tries to convince him to repent and become good again, and he keeps almost succeeding, but it always fails at the last second.”

“So does this help us at all?”

“If there’s a Talmudic sage who’s still alive – even sort of alive – that’s the most incredible thing! Scholars from all over the world would want to talk to him! Rabbis – ”

Jinxiang lifted a finger, quieted her sister. “You’re forgetting that this Talmudic sage is also trying to kill us. I met him in Las Vegas. I almost died. I would have died, if I didn’t escape at the last second.”

“He spoke to me,” I said. Jinxiang looked at me with surprise. “In my mind. It was terrifying. Just said my name. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever heard, worse than the Drug Lord.” Then I thought back to Malia Ngo and mentally revised the Other King to “second scariest”.

“I think,” said Sohu, “you had better tell the rest of the story.”

So Jinxiang finished, went through the Drug Lord finding me in Las Vegas, went through the battle on top of the ziggurat, went through the appearance of Sarah and the arrival of the Other King. Then Nathanda described how she had asked about ensouling THARMAS, and how that had led up to the fight where Sohu had found us.

“Sarah,” said Nathanda when she was done. “I am sorry. I spoke hastily, and I frightened you. Will you accept my apology?”

Sarah hadn’t stopped clutching my leg. She was three days old, I realized. She was feeling every emotion for the first time, totally unprepared. I put my hand on top of hers.

“Yes,” she said quietly.

“The geopolitical situation is terrible,” said Nathanda. “We have months at most before the Other King’s forces break through the passes. The Drug Lord regathers his strength. The Eastern states are weaker than they’ve been for a generation, and the peace with Hell is like every peace with Hell. Only until they see an advantage in breaking it. We’ve needed a miracle for a long time. Now we’ve got one. The Vital Name is the best way to save Royal Colorado, the Untied States, and…” She gestured to the big map of the continent. “I want to ask Aaron the Vital Name, have Sohu handle the error correction, and then put it in THARMAS. The obvious flaw in that plan is that then THARMAS becomes more powerful than any of us. Sarah seems to have…ah…turned out well, but none of us can predict what sort of personality a nuclear targeting computer will have. Caelius, any thoughts?”

The photos of Caelius in the papers had never quite captured what was unearthly about him. His pale eyes seemed perpetually unfocused, his thoughts always somewhere else. But when he spoke, he spoke clearly and confidently. “We can lobotomize it, so to speak. Get it to reboot all its functions except the one running the Name search every millisecond or two. It won’t have time to string a coherent thought together.”

“That sounds horrible!” said Sohu. Nathanda glanced at Sarah, watching for another outburst.

“Do it,” Sarah whispered.

“What?”

“Do it. Keep it trapped, no personality, no thoughts. Don’t let it replace me.”

“Well,” said Nathanda. “Um. Any other thoughts? Jinxiang? Uncle? Is this something we want to do?”

She was interrupted as a man walked through the door. Another person I recognized from the news. General Bromis had accompanied the Comet King on his crusade. Now he directed the forces in the Rockies. He made it to the table, sat down, looked me and Sarah over suspiciously before speaking. Nathanda gave him a nod.

“News out of Las Vegas,” he said. “The Other King left his pyramid for the first time in a decade. Some kind of incident involving Trump Tower, still haven’t been able to get more information. He went right back into the Luxor once the incident ended and hasn’t been seen since. But he’s there, he’s still alive, and he’s mobile. And something got his attention.”

“I’m sorry for not telling you earlier,” said Nathanda. “My sister was there and has just been debriefing us. These two were also involved.”

“Well, I’m putting the army on alert anyway. I’d hoped the bastard was dead.”

“We told you he wasn’t.”

“You win. Can you tell me what happened? I don’t like not this not knowing what’s going on, especially with the war going – going like it is.”

“The short version is that Jinxiang was forced to stop in Las Vegas briefly on her trip to retrieve a valuable artifact. The Other King attacked her and she escaped. Some of the information is still very sensitive, but I promise we can tell you within a few days.”

The General looked mollified. “You want me in on this?” he said, gesturing to us, the table, the meeting.

“I’ll handle it myself, General,” Nathanda told him, “and meet with you tonight about the battle lines.” She nodded at Bromis, dismissing him; Bromis saluted and left the throne room.

“And that goes for the rest of you too,” she said. “This is highest secrecy. No one except the seven of us can know. Not the generals, not the ministers, nobody. Until THARMAS is up and running and has produced its first results.”

“Uh,” I said, raising my hand. “My friend Ana Thurmond knows. She’s on a ship somewhere near Mexico. And Malia Ngo of UNSONG might know too.”

“I’ll see if we can retrieve the ship. Director-General Ngo is in New York and out of the equation for now.” She spoke slowly, stopping to think between each sentence. “This bunker is the safest place in the world. We can get THARMAS running before anyone can get to us, as long as we’re careful. Aaron, the Name.”

And just like that, there it was.

Of course, it was sheer politeness that made her ask. I had no doubt that they had other ways to get it out of me. But for three days, I’d had something precious. Broken. Unusable. But precious. It had been mine. Now I here I was, about to give it to the Cometspawn. It was as if the Name had decided I was unworthy of it, and all I’d done, all of the tribulations and adventures, had been its itching to get itself into the hands of someone suitably important. Thanks, it told me, but I hope you didn’t think you were the one who was going to save the world. You were just the delivery boy. You worked at Countenance to find Names for other people, richer, more powerful people. And you found a Name there, and true to form, your job was to give it to the rich, powerful people.

Sarah dug her fingers into my knee. What was she thinking?

“Um,” I asked Nathanda. “May I have a minute to talk to Sarah alone?”

The queen’s face was impassive. She nodded.

“We should get out of here,” was the first thing that Sarah said when we had made our way to the big NORAD desks in the front of the room. “Something bad will happen. We should get out of here and correct the Vital Name ourselves and then lobotomize all the other computers and take over the world. We should rule the world together and be safe.”

“We can’t get out of here,” I said. “You tried, remember?”

“I could do better. I could kill Sohu first, surprise her. Then I could take on the others.”

The kabbalists say that all men have four souls. The animal soul, the nefesh, which sustains life and desire. The moral soul, the ruach, helps us divine good and evil. The intellectual soul, the neshamah, forms our thought and understanding. And the divine soul, the chayah, is the mysterious center of consciousness that connects us with God above.
Sarah’s animal soul was the golem that Gadiriel had made her. Her intellectual soul, I had given her myself with the Vital Name. The divine soul, everything had naturally. And her moral soul was…

…frick.

“Um, Sarah, this is going to be a weird question, but…do you know right from wrong?”

“All I want is to make you happy!” she said.

“Doing the right thing makes me happy,” I told her. “Can you do that?”

She thought for a second. “Maybe.”

I thought about doing the right thing. When I was seven years old, the Comet King had set off with his armies to conquer Yakutsk and save tens of billions of damned souls from the agony of Hell. He had failed. But I still remembered that moment, hearing about it on the radio, seeing the pictures of those thousands and thousands of men marching out of Colorado Springs, singing his anthem. Now he was gone. No one had ever said his children were his equals, but they were good. I could tell. For all her snappiness, Jinxiang had saved me when she didn’t have to. I’d seen Nathanda calm Sarah out of her tears, I’d seen Sohu react with horror to the idea of lobotomizing a computer. They might not be perfect, but they were good. And they were stronger than me, not just physically, not just magically, but – I thought of my failure on Trump Tower, taking the peyote even though I knew what it meant. I looked at the four of them, sitting with their uncle at the table. They were good people.

Three days ago, when I’d ensouled Sarah, I’d told Ana I wanted to be the next Comet King. I wondered if she remembered. It seemed crazy now. Even Nathanda didn’t dare sit on that black opal throne at the far end of the room. Even Sohu wouldn’t touch it. If there was any meaning at all to being like the Comet King, at my level, it was trying to be a good person when the opportunity arose. I turned to Sarah.

“I’m going to tell them the Name, because I think it’s the right thing to do. Will you support me in that?”

Sarah thought for a second.

“Do you love me?” she asked.

Oh, right, I’d forgotten. The world was a horrible mess and it was practically impossible to know what the right thing to do was at any given time and trying to do the right thing could destroy the people you love but if you didn’t then you enslaved your children’s children because you made compromise with sin.

Sarah was sexy and powerful and totally obsessed with me. I knew I liked her. I knew I wanted the best for her. I wanted her to be okay. But she was a three-day old computer suddenly wrenched into sentience and stuck in a golem-body, and I wasn’t sure she had any emotions besides clinginess and rage. Did I love her?

“Cetaceans of the cross,” I said.

“What?” said Sarah. “Huh? Aaron, please! Do you love me?”

…and I didn’t love her. My heart was taken.

“Sarah,” I said, and I clasped her hand in mine. “You’re beautiful and wonderful and you saved my life. Together, we’re going to help the Cometspawn win the war and save the world. Okay?”

She squeezed my hand back. One day I would tell her the truth. One day when all of this was over.

We walked back to the Cometspawn hand in hand. Five pairs of eyes focused on us.

“ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON…” I said, and Sohu started writing furiously on a notepad in front of her. I mumbled once, to break the string, to mention the Name rather than use it, then continued. “MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…” The son and daughters of the Comet King listened, quietly, let the sounds of God’s secret and holy Name echo through the depths of the Rocky Mountains, heard the syllables that could only end in apocalypse or salvation.

“…MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH!”

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142 Responses to Chapter 50: Silent As Despairing Love

  1. B_Epstein says:

    that could only end in apocalypse or salvation

    Lucky us, not having to wonder which one. Although they might be the same thing, somehow.

      • The coment king says:

        New theory: This story ends up with Aaron making out with Jinxiang, Sarah, and Ana simultaneously, thus explaining his reference to “a pack o’ lips”.

        • Stib says:

          But Jinxiang is supposed to die today, right? 🙁 Incidentally, there’s no date on this one. I find this strange. Maybe we should just assume everything from now on happens on the final day?

          • The coment king says:

            Last chapter didn’t have one at first either, then Scott added it later. Probably just Scott running a bit late again.

            Also, I expect when the final day starts, Scott will show us a sign.

          • The coment king says:

            Also, what’s the use of having a necromancer as a central character if you can’t bring dead protagonists back to life? Jinxiang ain’t uncle Ben.

          • dsotm says:

            where’s that from ?

          • The coment king says:

            Father Ellis/American Pie: The day the levi (priest) came up dry is the day those good ole’ boys die.

          • dsotm says:

            Ah, didn’t think of it as literally today.

    • stavro375 says:

      There is one theory that The Name somehow enables Uriel to fix the machinery of the universe and restore math-based technology — but at the cost of the kabbalah-powered technology the world is based upon. So “the apocalypse” is the infrastructure of the world collapsing as mankind struggles to re-enter the information age.

      More likely, at this point & in my opinion, is that Sarah or THARMAS somehow becomes a paperklipot maximizer that destroys the world.

      The kabbalists say that all men have four souls. The animal soul, the nefesh, which sustains life and desire. The moral soul, the ruach, helps us divine good and evil. The intellectual soul, the neshamah, forms our thought and understanding. And the divine soul, the chayah, is the mysterious center of consciousness that connects us with God above.

      So Sarah has life and desire, thought and understanding, and a “mysterious center of consciousness that connects [her] with God above.” In other words, an AI with goals, intelligence in an abstract sense, and lots of computational power. A paperklipot maximizer.

      But any theory about how UNSONG ends has to account for the fact that this book is very clearly being written by Aaron after the fact. So he is alive, and has spoken with Ana, Erica, Sohu/Uriel, Dylan Alvarez/Mark McCarthy, and the crew of Not A Metaphor enough to write the chapters about them. Hence my old, disproven theory:

      For all we know the reveal at the end is that Uriel and Sohu figured out how to fix the divine light, all they needed was a Name that gave souls to inanimate objects, UNSONG was recruited to help find it, they built a hell-proof facility with security measures that create an ineffable sense of wrongness as an unfortunate byproduct, Jane and her seven dragons are a failsafe plan implemented by the Comet King, Aaron manages to single-handedly foil every plan intended to keep the ensouling Name from Thamiel, and he’s writing Unsong in a villa in Brimstone Acres reserved for him as reward for ensuring Thamiel’s ultimate victory.

      This has been mostly disproven by stuff that happened after The Broadcast, though.

      • LHC says:

        Decided a while ago that, at least in an UNSONG context, sin and paperclipping are the same. There’s one divine friendly utility function, and that’s God. Fixation on any one aspect of that utility function produces a false, inferior utility function, a sin, a paperclipper.

        • Peffern says:

          God is “above” as we all know, so “turning towards God” would mean facing straight up. We can measure how close one is to facing God by measuring the angle between the horizon and the vector representing the direction the person is facing.

          If the person is facing directly towards God, then all of their efforts are focused in that direction and they are fundamentally good. If the person is faced even partially in a different direction, in order to figure out how good they are, we need a trigonometric function that relates the vertical component of effort to the angle towards God.

          In other words, they enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.

          • G* says:

            That one’s gonna cos you. Mark my words, I’ll tan your hide for that pun.

          • nipi says:

            Luckily most of us are buried laying on our backs so when it matters we will be facing God and all is well.

            Those poor sods who get cremated though.

          • PDV says:

            If you see this, and the system, and judge it wrong, though, you will be condemned, as much as you declare your scorn loudly. So like Acher, you will be rejected by all the keepers of law and humanity, and will have no recourse but to stubbornly look upwards and reject God anyway.

            Or as another sage whose name we do not use has it:

            IF THE ZOO BANS ME FOR HOLLERING AT THE ANIMALS I WILL FACE GOD AND WALK BACKWARDS INTO HELL

          • Aran says:

            That was a pretty long build-up for a pun, but it’s no apocalyptic desert lever.

        • The coment king says:

          This contradicts what Ana said about music vs. silence vs. unsong, though.
          @Peffern, I see what you did there.

          • Nosenada says:

            Angles can produce positive or negative distances from (sine/cosine/tangent) functions. if you plot good/evil as y/x on a unit circle with ‘music quality’ as the radius, then quadrant 2[Q2] (90°-180°) would be all the best songs, [Q4](270°-360°/0°) would be all the worst unsong, and [Q1](0°-90°) and [Q3](180°-270°) would be verying degrees of sound. this would result with the ‘best’ sounds/songs, meaning the most impactful, at 135° and.the worst unsongs and sounds at 315°. silence and that ringing in your ears would be at 45° and 225°
            Anyone care to guess. the significance of 135 and/or 315?

  2. The coment king says:

    Then I thought back to Malia Ngo and mentally revised the Other King to “second scariest”.

    Interesting. We’re back to the question of what makes her so weird – we’ve had a bunch of theories so far, but none that seemed exactly to fit.

  3. Stib says:

    Oooh, this is going to get really exciting.

  4. Dindane says:

    The Talmud doesn’t exactly have a part where they list every rabbi’s fighting style and secret weaknesses

    I thought that everything was in the Talmud somewhere

    • Gazeboist says:

      It may inexactly have such a section; that would be very talmudic.

    • boris says:

      I want to make this game now…

    • Greg says:

      Pirkei Avot is kinda like this. If you take “wise sayings” as Talmudic for “fighting style” — that’s not such a stretch. But weaknesses? Rabbis in the Talmud are getting into trouble all the time, though I don’t know of any “rabbis in trouble” supercut.

      • Greg says:

        Apparently Elisha ben Abuya is in Pirkei Avot, 4:20. He says,

        One who learns as a child is compared to what? To ink written on new parchment. And one who learns as an elder is compared to what? To ink written on scraped parchment.

        Maybe this relates to Sohu?

        Also, 4:20 presumably has kabbalistic implications — Hitler’s birthday as well as the marijuana symbol… go nuts.

  5. Stib says:

    “Cetaceans of the cross,” I said.

    “What?” said Sarah. “Huh? Aaron, please! Do you love me?”

    …and I didn’t love her. My heart was taken.

    Hmm, kind of parallel to the time he tests “Ana” with Aramaic. Here it’s biblical whale puns that remind him that this isn’t the one he loves.

  6. linkhyrule5 says:

    ….

    They enslave their children’s children who compromise with sin.

    Poor THARMAS.

  7. Sniffnoy says:

    “I’ll see if we can retrieve the ship. Director-General Ngo is in New York and out of the equation for now.”

    Well that certainly fits some existing speculation…

  8. Anonymous says:

    Nitpick thread. Well, this one’s a rather major continuity error, actually.

    Chapter 1 established there are three kinds of souls, and the Vital Name grants the neshamah:

    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.

    Six thousand years earlier, the wind of God had moved upon the bare red dirt of Eden and shaped clay into the figure of a man. It stood there for a moment, a crude statue, and then a voice from Heaven spoke a Name, and the clay came to life, lumbered into a standing position. It spoke a second Name, and the clay’s eyes opened, and within them were innocence and curiosity and the capacity to wonder and learn. And it spoke a third Name, and it was as if a light went on inside of it, and the dust became aware that it was dust and in so doing was dust no longer.

    And that third Name was fifty-eight letters long.

    This chapter claims there are four, and the Vital Name grants chayah:

    The kabbalists say that all men have four souls. The animal soul, the nefesh, which sustains life and desire. The moral soul, the ruach, helps us divine good and evil. The intellectual soul, the neshamah, forms our thought and understanding. And the divine soul, the chayah, is the mysterious center of consciousness that connects us with God above.

    Sarah’s animal soul was the golem that Gadiriel had made her. Her intellectual soul was the computer she had once been. Her divine soul I had given her myself with the Vital Name. And her moral soul was…

    What gives?

    • 75th says:

      If you only change “neshamah” in Chapter 1 to “chayah”, the rest can be explained by saying that Adam and Eve didn’t have an intellectual soul until later, when they ate of the Tree of Knowledge.

      • Anonymous says:

        What is the Tree of Knowledge’s full name again?

        • Stib says:

          Oooh interesting, so maybe people weren’t meant to have a moral soul (Ruach) to begin with??? Wait, that doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s just tricky to consistently identify the different words with different soul properties.

          • Decius says:

            People obviously weren’t meant to have a moral soul to begin with. That’s why the ToKoGaE was forbidden to them. They weren’t meant to live forever, either, which is why the ToL was also forbidden.

            With an immortal soul and a moral soul, man would become as God, and so when one was acquired a flaming sword was created to kill everyone, by denying them the ability to reach eternal life.

          • Stib says:

            Wait, people were certainly originally permitted to eat from the tree of life – see Genesis 2:16-17.

          • nipi says:

            Should have tasted all the other fruits in the garden before eating from the tree of knowledge.

          • John Cowan says:

            Ray Smullyan says there should have been two trees of knowledge, a tall one and a short one. The knowledge imparted by the fruit of the short one is that it is a mistake to eat the fruit of the tall one.

        • 75th says:

          I almost addressed this in the original comment but didn’t want to type it on a phone. Now that I’m about to type out my previous reasoning I can feel already that it’s wrong and you’re right, so thank you

          But so if you’re right:

          – Prague vision was about nefesh, ruach, and chayah (misstated as neshamah)
          – Adam and Eve were created with nefesh, neshamah, and chayah (and got ruach later from ToKoG&E)
          – Sarah also has nefesh, neshamah, and chayah, and will presumably be offered ruach by a bad guy later

          In my brain originally I convinced myself that ToKoG&E bestowed neshamah even though it sounded like it ought to be about ruach, but I see now that that was my brain wanting the Prague vision and the Eden vision to be parallel, even though that’s the least strong of all possible considerations to untangle this stuff

          – The Prague vision was about

          • 75th says:

            Disregard the last line of that, it was lost, scrolled beneath the text field during editing

            Typing all these Hebrew words on a phone with autocorrect is a real treat, incidentally, anyone agree?

      • Decius says:

        It isn’t specified which soul was acquired by the Tree, as opposed to by the three names. Given that Sarah has the intellectual soul of a computer, it makes sense that that is the soul which can be acquired by mundane and not nominative means.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hmm, I kinda expected it to be resolved the other way around. After all, we have learned that four is ‘AN IMPORTANT ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE OF ADAM KADMON’. It would make ‘sense’ for there to he four kinds of souls. (As much as anything can make sense in a world where the number 8 can be put down for maintenance, anyway.)

        Also, the revised passage suggests a weirdly panpsychist picture of the world:

        And the divine soul, the chayah, is the mysterious center of consciousness that connects us with God above. […] The divine soul, everything had naturally.

        It reads as if everything in this universe is conscious, or capable of perception. Or something like that, it’s quite vague. I’m not sure how well it squares with Sarah’s ‘it will be like it was before when everything was black and I couldn’t feel anything at all!

        Also, the pertinent question: which one of these is the one that Northeast Africans lack?

      • Jack V says:

        I have been waiting so long to find out how the souls work! Fascinated by the moral soul problem 🙂 Poor Sarah.

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, typesetting nitpick in the same passage: I assume you meant to put a paragraph break between ‘…God above.’ and ‘Sarah’s…’; right now there’s just a line break there.

    • Anonymous says:

      And you’ve already used that quote from King James Programming in chapter 45.

      (Also, the TOC quote is reused in chapter 2, but that’s less of an issue.)

    • Anonymous says:

      And there’s still no date and location!

  9. Sniffnoy says:

    The kabbalists say that all men have four souls. The animal soul, the nefesh, which sustains life and desire. The moral soul, the ruach, helps us divine good and evil. The intellectual soul, the neshamah, forms our thought and understanding. And the divine soul, the chayah, is the mysterious center of consciousness that connects us with God above.
    Sarah’s animal soul was the golem that Gadiriel had made her. Her intellectual soul was the computer she had once been. Her divine soul I had given her myself with the Vital Name. And her moral soul was…

    …frick.

    Hm, going by Chapter I, shouldn’t there be an already-known name Aaron could use to address this problem?

    • linkhyrule5 says:

      The name was known in Prague four hundred years ago, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s known now. Though it’d be nice if it was addressed, yes.

      • The coment king says:

        Alternatively, it’s known but copyrighted, and not publicly available, by some company who didn’t think there’d be a use for it.

    • Error says:

      Yeah, I was sort of expecting him to go back to the table and say “Okay, I’ll give you the vital name, but in return I want the moral name so I can use it on Sarah.”

      Incidentally, called it.

    • stavro375 says:

      Maybe he didn’t even learn about this until after the events of UNSONG, but before he wrote it.

  10. Maybe Acher is the only person on Earth who knows the Moral Name. He’s the only one standing between them and a paperklipot maximizer.

  11. Sillence says:

    If Aaron knows that the name he has doesn’t work, why does he bother breaking the string? And why is the last paragraph written as if what he is saying is correct and so very holy?

    • Decius says:

      … Has “MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH!” been ruled out as a valid name? It’s still three letters longer than the ones Aaron was testing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Good security is like an ogre: it stinks and makes you cry.

    • Toph says:

      So the Cometspawn know he’s breaking the string. Otherwise he could be deliberately speaking a different newly-discovered Name in the middle of their secure base and in the presence of all the Untied States’ last defenders.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        To make matters worse, the power of a Name correlates roughly with its length. The Vital Name that is fifty-something syllables long. The Wrathful Name, the one that impersonates a hydrogen bomb, is only fifty. So if he doesn’t mumble to break the string, then not only could he be speaking a different new Name in front of the Cometspawn, but it’s going to be a real doozy in terms of effect.

        • Haugmaug says:

          First time you speak a new Name it has no effect except the blinding revelation of its purpose. This is why Aaron didn’t accidentally ensoul anything in Chapter 1.

          • Susebron says:

            Right, but if he had used it previously to find out what it did he would be able to set off an extremely powerful name right then and there.

    • Jack V says:

      “Never, never let your gun
      Pointed be at anyone.
      That it may unloaded be
      Matters not the least to me.”

      You should generally ALWAYS do safety habits, whether needed or not.

      However, it is interesting Scott made a point of mentioning it. It’s probably just worldbuilding, reminding us this is how mentioning names works. But it could also suggest the full name IS something significant.

  12. dinofs says:

    “Um, Sarah, this is going to be a weird question, but…do you know right from wrong?”

    “All I want is to make you happy!” she said.

    Ha, Sarah’s paperclips are love! Maybe she’s not too different from Aaron in that respect.

  13. Kirjaklamber says:

    Gebron and Eleazar’s book said that only four kabbalists had ever gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare…
    And there was the fourth, sitting in front of me, looking to all the world like an eight-year old girl

    How would anyone have had time to write about Sarah in a book? She is three days old. Also, at which point was it mentioned that she had gazed upon Adam Kadmon? I’m probably just missing something here.

  14. Seth says:

    I am so not on board with this plan. Not because it sounds horrible, but because I see no reason to be confident that this virus that would cripple non-ensouled THARMAS would also cripple ensouled THARMAS, especially considering that what we know of the Divine Spark suggests mind-body dualism. Also, a supercomputer could accomplish a lot in a single millisecond. I foresee malevolent AGI with kabbalistic superpowers in Aaron’s near future.

    • The coment king says:

      Maybe they could make him say the mortal name every milisecond? Either way, this sounds like a good way to run out of soul supply.

      • Seth says:

        The Mortal Name would kill it, and they can’t automate the process of re-ensouling afterward, because it would be dead, and thus non-ensouled and unable to speak Names. Is it even possible to re-ensoul the dead? Anyway, uh, good safety measure, highly effective, but it would completely defeat the purpose.

        • Lambert says:

          Set up 3 VMs. One soulless one to control llull, which passes the names to the other 2 alternately.
          The 2 ensouled VMs each read one potential name, ensoul the other then read the mortal name.

          • Jack V says:

            …ok, my mind was stretched enough by reading about a story with a computer soul AT ALL.

            Re- and de-ensouling millions of times a second is that much more. And kind of horrible, if practical.

          • Alex says:

            Uriel would have you boil a calf in its mother’s milk before trying that. 🙂

      • Skelterin Lead says:

        Or completely swamp Hell with Tharmas souls. Maybe that’s how Thamiel is defeated?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      AGI takeover is too thorough a destruction for Aaron to be writing about after the fact. But firing off all the missiles seems just about right…

  15. The coment king says:

    More thoughts about Malia Ngo:
    It’s interesting that she knew something extra about the vital name being dangerous (shouting after Ana that she has no idea what’s going on), but so far the cometspawn don’t seem to. Add in the fact that Nathanda was careful to mention her neutrally, in a way that doesn’t tell us anything about her relationship with the cometspawn.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Well, to Malia it is dangerous that a potentially dangerous Unitarian cell has the name… Why the surprise? The part about having no idea what’s going could be aobut the fact that the machinery of te world is about to break and they need that name to protect against Thamiel.

  16. Pablo says:

    Typo: “During New Testament times [] produced a very expensive perfumed oil” is missing a word at the spot where I put the brackets. Presumably the word ‘it’.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      A beter wording, I think, would be “it was used to produce” rather than “it produced”. The latter kind of implies that today it could no longer be used to produce that oil. Though with the breaking of Uriel’s machine, who knows, maybe it can’t.

  17. R Flaum says:

    “Do it. Keep it trapped, no personality, no thoughts. Don’t let it replace me.”

    I don’t get this. Why would keeping it mindless prevent it from replacing her? Isn’t she just worried about no longer being the best name-creation system?

  18. Aran says:

    The obvious flaw in that plan is that then THARMAS becomes more powerful than any of us. Sarah seems to have…ah…turned out well, but none of us can predict what sort of personality a nuclear targeting computer will have.

    Of course – it’s not rationalist fiction until a scene about AGI risk. 😉

    • Ninmesara says:

      I don’t like AGI risk and was hoping the story would take a different direction, but as you say, it is unsavoidable 😉

      • Simon_Jester says:

        To be fair, the basket of concepts we call “AGI risk” isn’t a particular new or trendy idea. The idea of a sentient nuclear targeting computer is scary if you’ve watched the movie “War Games,” or the ‘Terminator” movies. Or, heck, go all the way back to the ’50s and read Clarke’s short story “The Nine Billion Names of God,” which certainly ties into this although in an indirect way.

    • Jack V says:

      I didn’t think it WAS rationalist fiction, except insofar as Scott’s general attitudes inevitably colour the story. I agree, now it looks like it is, intended to be or not 🙂

    • MugaSofer says:

      it’s not rationalist fiction until a scene about AGI risk.

      I mean, HPMOR didn’t have one, did it?

      • The coment king says:

        Except that clunky mirror of Erised bit.

      • monkyyy says:

        It did; it was all about utility functions at the end

        • linkhyrule5 says:

          … But it’s always about utility functions, one way or another. Utility functions are just “stuff you care about.”

          If you care about stuff like “everyone I know and love being alive and well and happy”, and your enemy cares about stuff like “me personally being alive and well and happy and also getting to murder everyone else”, that’s going to be a source of conflict.

  19. J says:

    Vaughn Williams wrote an odd but beautiful choral piece called the wedding chorus that mentions nard:
    https://youtu.be/6O8zX2w3_-g

    See the chariot at hand here of love
    Wherein my lady rideth.
    Each that draws is a swan or a dove,
    And well the car Love guideth;
    As she goes all hearts do duty
    Unto her beauty;
    And enamoured do wish, so they might
    But enjoy such a sight,
    That they still were to run by her side
    Through swords, through seas whither she would ride.
    Do but look on her eyes,
    They do light all that Love’s world compriseth.
    Do but look on her hair,
    It is bright as Love’s star when it riseth.
    Do but mark, her forehead’s smoother
    Than words that soothe her;
    And from her arched brows such a grace
    Sheds itself through the face,
    As alone there triumphs to the life,
    All the gain, all the good of the elements’ strife.
    Have you seen but a bright lily grow
    Before rude hands have touched it?
    Have you marked but the fall of the snow
    Before the soil hath smutched it?
    Have you felt the wool of the beaver
    Or swan’s down ever?
    Or have smelt of the bud of the brier
    Or the nard in the fire?
    Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
    O so white, O so soft, O so sweet is she!

  20. Ninmesara says:

    Hadn’t Sohu forgotten about the Acher story? The text in that chapter is confusing.

  21. Quixote says:

    Everyone please remember to vote for this on top web fiction
    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=unsong
    Votes help ranking which helps visibility so new readers can fin this work

  22. Elijah says:

    I think there’s some irony in Sarah, an AI, being afraid that she’d be made redundant if a more advanced AI is created.

    Also, Sarah doesn’t know right from wrong due to lacking a moral soul. Per Genesis, humans gained their understanding of right and worng by consuming an apple from the tree of knowledge. Sarah is/was an Apple Macbook. I’m sure there’s some significance to this, but I’m too dumb to figure it out.

    “The obvious flaw in that plan is that then THARMAS becomes more powerful than any of us.”
    Would it, though? There was a chapter a while back talking about 4 levels of Kabbalah, with the simple use of names being the lowest form and Uriel teaching Sohu the second level. We know the ensouled computers can generate new names and speak them quickly, but we’ve not seen anything about them operating on a second level of Kabbalah. So, does having a major advantage on the first level trump your opponent being able to operate on the second?

    • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

      “I think there’s some irony in Sarah, an AI, being afraid that she’d be made redundant if a more advanced AI is created.”

      Why is it ironic? It seems a perfectly reasonable thing to worry about. It’s also natural–it’s common for young children to have worries like this when a sibling is born.

      • Elijah says:

        Because worrying about AI/technology making us redundant has become a big part of the current zeitgeist, and here we have an AI worrying about how it will be rendered reduntant by a more advanced- and making efforts to either prevent that or keep those superior AIs under it’s control.

        That said, as you pointed out, Sarah’s attitude is probably more comparable to a child insecure about it’s relationship with it’s parents then to a truck driver worried about driverless trucks.

    • The coment king says:

      I think there’s some irony in Sarah, an AI, being afraid that she’d be made redundant if a more advanced AI is created.

      It’s turtles all the way down.

    • Marvy says:

      Being at a higher level avails you nothing when Tharmas speaks names faster than you can blink.

  23. Mikko Rauhala says:

    I wonder if it’s been mentioned that “kalaniemi” is “fish peninsula” in Finnish.

    I’m sure it’s not a coincidence but I’m not sure what it means.

  24. Good Burning Plastic says:

    I mumbled once, to break the string, to mention the Name rather than use it, then continued.

    In chapter 5 Erica interrupts the Marriage Name with two “uh”‘s and a “no, wait” and Aaron doesn’t even hypothesize that’s why it didn’t work. Unless there’s some relevance to this, I suggest you just have Aaron use Pig Latin here.

    • Anonymous says:

      But then there’s the whole question of why Pig Latin doesn’t constitute valid klipah by the rules laid out in chapter 14.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I think that the important thing is that you need to want to invoke the name and that doing it in pig latin probably makes it hard to do it accidentally than speaking the name.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I think the simplest explanation is that the letters have to be in the same order, even though Scott failed to specify that.

  25. linkhyrule5 says:

    On a side note, I pose that Sarah should have a moral soul that Aaron’s just missed!

    You see, the first personal computer was made by a company who’s symbol is an apple with a bite(byte?) taken out of it, founded by a man named Job(s), and whose first name is Steve – and as certain fundamentalists love to remind us, the Bible makes quite a big deal of Adam and Steve. :p

  26. Wander says:

    Which of the souls is required to go to hell when you die? What would happen if an ensouled AI ended up in the hands of Thamiel?

  27. Murphy says:

    hmm. so we’ve now established that ensouled computers have no automatic moral sense.

    They’re about to ensoul a supercomputer with an overly simplistic system for controlling it in a story by scott. (and without even trying out ensouling a few hundred laptops or moderately beefy mid range computers for a few days first to get a feel for how things might turn out)

    Bets that THARMAS hits on a time-slowing name or some other system-breaking name within a few hours and gets a few minutes or hours to develop, discover hundreds of names for itself and break free.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Yeah, I can excuse Aaron for not predicting that Sarah would turn conscious (after all, the key part of conscience can’t be the soul, as Africans sem, to lack it and are otherwise normal). I’m still waiting for this to be properly explained in story. But I can’t forgive the cometspawn for not starting small with the whole ensouling business…

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        I’m still waiting for this to be properly explained in story.

        Well, he was just too excited to think straight.

        • Ninmesara says:

          No, no… Aaron was too excited to think straight (he makes a bunch osmistakesecause of it), but even then, in story, his reasoning is correct. There are normal humans without souls. They are so indistinguishable that for years no one noticed until Uriel revealed it. That means that the soul must have nothing to do with conscience. I want to see someone explain how it is possible that ensouling Sarah has such a dramatic effect. Aaron doesnt seem that surprised by the fact that he made Sarah conscious… He should (at least) have said something like: “but northeastern Africans don’t have souls and they’re the same as us!”…

          • Murphy says:

            Though in that context shouldn’t loss of their souls left them unable to use names?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            The universe is a weird hodgepodge of the soul-based system and the materialist system. There’s probably just some redundancy between the effects of a physical brain and a neshamah.

          • Ninmesara says:

            @Murphy: yes, and that’s something that should be explained in story too.

  28. Samuel Martin says:

    Oh, for god’s sake, Aaron, just go with Sarah and forget about Ana. Honestly, I don’t agree with the critics that say your characters are weak – Thamiel and Uriel are brilliant, Sohu and the comet King are great, even Aaron is flawed but ultimately likeable enough. But something about Ana and Erica and Aaron’s obsessive attachment to her, and Ana’s weird semi-manipulative attitude to Aaron really annoys me.

    • gradus says:

      I mean, from a utilitarian standpoint yeah. If I had access to an entity that was a physically copy of Sara Michelle Geller, super intelligent and powerful and utterly devoted to me, it wouldn’t be a very hard choice. It’s not like you can ever find a human that will love you that completely.

      not that I’m bitter or anything.

      no, really, I have a pretty healthy romantic life. XD

      • Simon_Jester says:

        The low emotional maturity would- not could, WOULD- turn out to be a Very Serious Problem.

        Don’t commit to staying that close to the crazy. Because the only way to keep it under control would be to convince Sarah-the-computer to obey you unquestioningly (as Aaron is). At which point, basically the only difference between you and Charles Manson is the strength of your impulse control.

        That is not a good place to stand.

  29. Gavriel says:

    Four kabbalists gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare. Four sages visited paradise. One died, one went mad, one (Acher) cut the young shoots, and one (Akiva) came in peace and departed in peace.

    I really want to draw the analogy, but I don’t know if it works. Uriel, The Comet King, Rabbi Luria, and Sohu. The trouble is, I don’t think any of them immediately died after seeing Adam Kadmon, and we’re not sure what madness or “cutting the young shoots” might entail in the context of this story. (In the original, “cutting the young shoots” was interpreted to mean either leading young scholars astray from the Torah or to do agricultural work on Shabbat.)

  30. Kurt Reisender says:

    Have we discussed Jinxiang’s name?
    Possible interpretations of Jin xiang in Chinese:
    进香 to offer incense in a temple.
    进项 income.
    尽享 enjoy to the greatest extent, to the point of exhaustion.
    金像 resembling gold

    • The coment king says:

      Someone told me it’s a pun on Xing Xiang, which means Star map/Astrology.

      • Kurt Reisender says:

        xing means star, and it is also the second part of all the words for comet, the most common being 彗星 hui xing.

        金星 jin xing means golden star, referring to the planet Venus. Venus in Roman Mythology is the Goddess of beauty, victory and desire, and in Christian mythology with Lucifer…?

  31. Vadim Kosoy says:

    It sounds like the lobotomizing trick shouldn’t work. Sarah didn’t have an AGI installed before the Vital Name was applied to them. So, Sarah’s intelligence is entirely the product of the Vital Name. I see no reason why changes in pre-animation software should have a major on the resulting intelligence.

  32. Joline says:

    “after doing a good deed.”

    How can someone doing all this esoteric Hebrew etymology for this much of the book use the shallowest, most recent meaning of the word mitzvah?

    The point is, the Other One was distraught because the boy was being conscientious in fulfilling the Covenant. It says “You will live by the commandments” which it is specifically taken by Chazal to mean the commandments should not kill a reasonable person as the cost of carrying them out (saving of course for the case of Sanctification of the Name (permitting others to kill you) to resist coercion to rape, perform public idolatry, or murder.)

    Given the context of the times, it’s actually a fair reaction. In its own way, its worse than the Shoah. Because God makes no guarantees about how anyone will use their shefa (their share of the divine flow). But there is a guarantee (in this era and context) that trying to fulfill the Covenant will not in and of itself kill you.

    • anon says:

      I’m not sure having this additional context really adds anything to the reader’s enjoyment, so I think Scott is within his rights as an author to fudge it.

      Remember that this is not a textbook on Judaism.

  33. PedroS says:

    What does the “cetaceans of the cross” pun stand for? my best guess would be cetaceans= orca and cross = crux, so “cetaceans of the cross” would be “horcrux” but this seems too far-fetched, especially because there is no reason to think that JK Rowlilng would have written Harry Potter novels in the Unsongverse.

  34. rrb says:

    Maybe Sarah can learn the explicit name because she has no knowledge of good and evil and therefore has a pure mind?

  35. kjkw says:

    “The Talmud doesn’t exactly have a part where they list every rabbi’s fighting style and secret weaknesses” Yeah you need to buy the trading cards for that.

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