aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 51: He Wondered That He Felt Love

February 1984
Colorado

“What can I do for you today?” Robin asked the Comet King.

He was in his study, sitting at his big desk of Colorado pine. On the shelves he had gifts given him by various ambassadors and heads of state. A medieval orrery from the European Communion. A Faberge egg from the Cyrillic Union. An exquisite bonsai tree from the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire. From Israel, a lovely turquoise sculpture with a microscopic listening device planted in it – which he usually covered with a piece of Scotch tape, but into which he spoke clearly and distinctly whenever he wanted to pass false information on to the Mossad.

And of course books. Books lining the walls. The walls were fifty feet high here, so high they looked like they could break through the top of the mountain and show him blue sky on the top. He had filled forty feet with shelving, and it was growing all the time. When he needed a reference, he would speak the Ascending Name, float to the appropriate level, take the book, and then sink back to his desk. He worried that in a few years he would have exhausted the available space.

His one-year old daughter Sohu was curled up at his feet, grasping her Bible, trying to memorize the thing. She was up to the Song of Songs already, more than halfway done. He approved of this. It kept her quiet.

“I just wanted to spend some time with you,” he told Robin. “Get to, uh, know you better. Since we’re…getting married, and all.”

She was in a light blue dress. It was, he noticed, the color of a robin’s egg. He wondered if that was intentional. Was it okay to ask if that was intentional?

“I read your book,” he said, handing her back the work by Singer. “Would you like to talk about it?”

Robin looked skeptical. “Aren’t you busy?”

“No. Well, yes.” He pointed to a map stretched out on his desk. “There is much to do, but many years to do. Like with Moses, this generation cannot be the one to enter the Promised Land. There are too few of us. We have no heavy industry. The collapse and the wars have hit us too hard. We need ten, twenty years to rebuild and reproduce, increase our numbers before we can take the war back to Hell. And there are other things to do in the meantime. Defeating Hell will mean nothing if I cannot destroy it. I must find the Explicit Name of God. They say that only those who can chase down Metatron upon his golden boat can obtain it. I think with enough knowledge it may be possible. I am designing a ship, but it must be perfect. It will take years to get right. And then the war itself. I will need guns, tanks, airships. Strategic nuclear defense systems. An economy to support all of this. And logistics. Marching a million men from Colorado to Siberia will not be easy, even if I can part the Bering Strait, Moses-style. Which I think I can. And…yes, I am busy. But not so busy we cannot talk.”

“But why are you telling me all this? I thought the whole reason we were getting married was so that you wouldn’t have to talk to people.”

“I just…wanted your input.”

“Don’t you have better people to give you input? Generals? Rabbis? Advisors? I can find some people if you want, I have some connections, I can get people from DC or Sacramento over, I’m sure they’d be happy to help you. ”

“Of course I can talk to them. But I wanted to talk to you too. We’re going to be married soon. We should talk.”

“I thought we were getting married so you didn’t have to talk to anyone.”

“I know I don’t have to. I want to. I…hold on a second.”

The Comet King turned into a lightning bolt and flashed out of the room. He materialized again in front of Father Ellis, who was eating lunch in the dining room with little Caelius and Jinxiang.

“Father!” he said. “How do I tell Robin I like her?”

“Repeat these words,” said the priest. “Robin, I like you.”

“Are you sure that works?” asked Jalaketu.

“Positive,” said the priest.

Another flash of lightning, and Jalaketu materialized in the study, sitting in front of the pinewood desk. Sohu was reciting Song of Songs to Robin, who was cooing approvingly. “Daughters of Jerusalem…!” Sohu incanted, in as theatrical a voice as a one-year-old could manage. The Comet King glanced at her, and she went silent.

“Robin,” he said. “I like you.”

“Okay,” said Robin. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” he said frustrated. “Robin, I like you.”

“Oh,” said Robin, suddenly understanding.

An urge to curl up and hide somewhere safe underground, only partially relieved by the knowledge that he was already in a nuclear bunker two thousand feet beneath the Rocky Mountains.

“Oh,” she said again. “Well, uh, how can I help?”

“I don’t know!” said Jalaketu.

“What if I did something really unattractive? I could dye my hair some kind of awful color. What if I gained weight? Or lost weight? Would that help?”

“Probably not,” said the Comet King. “It’s deeper than that, more like an appreciation of your fundamental goodness as a person.”

“That sounds tough,” Robin admitted. “I could travel to the opposite side of the world.”

“No,” said the Comet King glumly. “I would probably just hunt you down.”

“Hmmmm,” said Robin. “I could just refuse to talk to you.”

“No,” said the Comet King. “I would probably court you with some kind of amazing magical music or poetry.”

“Hmmmm,” said Robin, and thought for a second. Then “Hmmmmmm”. Then, tentatively, “We could kiss.”

The Comet King thought for a while. “I don’t see how that would help.”

“Well,” said Robin, “my father told me a story about how he once dated a girl he knew, and he really liked her, and then he kissed her, and she was a terrible kisser, and he stopped being attracted to her at all.”

“It is worth a try,” said the Comet King.

And he leaned in and kissed her.

A few moments. Then a few more.

“That did not help at all,” said the Comet King.

“That did the opposite of help,” said Robin.

“We could try again,” said the Comet King.

“It can’t hurt,” said Robin.

“DO IT!” said Sohu.

The two looked at her. They had forgotten she was there.

“Sohu, leave the room.”

“But Daddy…!”

“Leave,” said Jalaketu.

Sohu took her Bible and left the study. The Comet King shut the door behind her, and she heard a little click as he turned the lock.

She shrugged and went to the command center, where she curled up on an empty chair and watched North American airspace for a while. Then she retrieved her bookmark and got back to the Song of Songs:

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.

Then place it like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

I am a wall,
and my breasts are like towers.
Thus I have become in his eyes
like one bringing contentment.

Come away, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag
on the spice-laden mountains.

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76 Responses to Chapter 51: He Wondered That He Felt Love

  1. Yair Morgenstern says:

    So… there is providence in the fall of a Robin?

    • Ninmesara says:

      It does seem like a much more plausible interpretation than Aaron’s kabbhalistic ravings (we can see he’s desperate when he reaches out for Arabic 🙂 ). “There is providence in the fall of a sparrow” – something good comes from the death/fall/whatever of Robin. Maybe something that leads to the defeat of TOK. Had we known her name at the time (we already know she has died), I think this would be the most likely interpretation on everyone’s minds (it doesn’t mean it is correct, of course).

      It might mean that TCK’s crisis of faith might cause something good. If TCK is still alive and disguised as the Captain, the prophecy might still be fullfilled.

  2. Aran says:

    “That did not help at all,” said the Comet King.

    “That did the opposite of help,” said Robin.

    Most adorable couple ever, and this is in a story that contains Aaron and Ana’s incessant cetacean puns.

    • otterbee says:

      The status of Aaron and Ana as a “couple” is debatable despite their kabbalistic marriage. (I am not disputing that asexual people can be romantically involved with people but Ana has tried to express “we are not together” several times despite her general affection for Aaron so I think they need to talk things over, probably).

  3. meme says:

    Robin confirmed for fucking shit up.

    • Psycho says:

      Oh god Thamiel sent her.

      Thamiel sent her.

      Oh, god.

      • linkhyrule5 says:

        Er? That does not seem to follow.

      • Haugmaug says:

        Thamiel rhymes with Gargamel. And Robin is not wearing blue because it’s the colour of a robin’s egg, it’s because she’s the Smurfette! It all fits!

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Hm.

        Well, either Robin is a straight-up artificial pseudo-person (a golem or whatever), or she’s a very, very good actress, or she’s real.

        If she’s real I’m pretty sure Thamiel couldn’t create someone like that.

        If she’s an artificial pseudo-person, you’d think the Comet King would have noticed, because he is famously not stupid. And he’s already had the experience of dealing with Reagan. So the women who came to him asking to marry him presumably passed screening to make sure they weren’t a golem or whatever.

        I am not sure someone could act well enough to fool the Comet King on a permanent basis like this but it’s at least possible.

  4. Pickle says:

    *shipper mode: engaged*

    *makes noise like whistling teakettle while spinning in tiny circles*

  5. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    Excellent use of Song of Songs!

    So Sohu and the other Cometspawn are also uncannily precocious, I see.

    • Alsadius says:

      She was what, 8 when she went to Uriel? And she had the Bible memorized at that point. Precociousness was already pretty apparent.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        I think there might have been a few fully human children who had memorized the Bible or done something similar by the age of 8, but I’m over 90% sure that no fully human one-year-old (at least, no nonfictional one) has ever done anything remotely close to even memorizing the Genesis.

        • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

          G.B.P.: That’s pretty much what I was thinking. Having the Bible memorized by 8 is at the limits of natural precociousness. A one-year-old carrying a book around walking, shipping, and having already memorized a quarter to a third of the Bible is supernaturally precocious.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            And yet she complains that learning every human language isn’t something a person can realistically do!

          • Marvy says:

            Re: Sniffnoy: she is actually in a good position to learn all languages. Why? The obvious reason is that she seems to be some kind of prodigy/genius type who learns the entire Bible at an impossibly young age. But the second reason only occurred to me a week or two ago. She’s 8 years old forever! Everyone knows it’s easier to learn languages when you’re young, but the trouble is that learning a language takes time. So you can learn maybe less than a dozen languages or so during the ideal time for language acquisition, but after that you have to work harder at it. She gets to stay on easy mode forever! (Unless she just has no talent for languages at all, but we’ve seen enough of her lessons with Uriel to rule that out.)

          • Murphy says:

            Possible exceptions: Savants.

            I could imagine Kim Peek doing so easily by 8. His wiki says he was memorising books(plural) by 16–20 months.

    • otterbee says:

      I am not a biblical scholar but I was taken by the excerpts from the Song of Songs at the end so I looked them up. Seems to be a composite of different phrases from different parts (first group seems to be from chapter 2, second group is from chapter 8). I’m not sure I understand the meaning of the Song in the first place, and I’m wondering whether the composite version has any special significance beyond sounding good (I’m sure it does, because nothing is ever a coincidence). Does anyone want to take a crack at it?

      • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

        It uses one of the main refrains of the book, which is somewhere between a charge and a warning. Mentioning how love is as strong as death, an unyielding fire. (Since we have an inkling that something that happens to Robin is part of how the Comet King breaks.) Then the bride’s retort to her brother’s attempt to warn away her lover, and closes with a line from one of the love scenes in the poem.

        Another day I would put my former-seminarian skills to more use, but today is not that day!

  6. ” Israel-Palestine Anomaly”

    Doesn’t that not happen until later? Uriel doesn’t set things up so that there’s the two overlapping areas until after Uriel goes to the conference?

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s an anomaly. What do you expect?

      Though yeah, it’s yet another Uriel’s anachronism. Cease this Uriel, or soon I’ll be looking for a goat to boil in its mother’s milk.

  7. LHC says:

    Why is there an Israel-Palestine Anomaly in 1984?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ugh, yet another filler chapter.

    *thump* Ow! *thud* Ow! Okay, okay, I’m sorry! *crunch* Ow! *thud* Stop hitting me!

    Seriously, though, we haven’t learned anything new here.

  9. Indubitably says:

    Cute. Father Ellis’s long-suffering and patient attitude with tCK is always amusing. Also you’ve left out the accent aigu on Fabergé, unless in this universe Fabergé has for some reason lost its third syllable.

  10. fubarobfusco says:

    Sohu’s reading the Bible. She gets to the Song of Songs and her dad’s getting it on. What happens when she gets to Lamentations?

    • Decius says:

      She curses her father’s name?

      • Chuka says:

        No, we know sohu has completed the bible by this point, and she has a little time left before she dies (assuming she doesn’t escape through celestial kabbalah). I wouldn’t want to be Robin when she reaches Lamentations though.

        • Elijah says:

          Pretty sure the prophecy specified CK’s grown children, and Sohu isn’t fully grown.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Prophecies can be quite literal. If Sohu gets out on a technicality of having already “cursed her father’s name” at some earlier time, I would be very not surprised.

          • Decius says:

            She hasn’t grown as much as most people do, but she’s fully grown all she’s going to (barring manually advancing her age).

  11. Decius says:

    Perhaps The Comet King should not have discussed his Ship in the presence of his Ship.

  12. Error says:

    An urge to curl up and hide somewhere safe underground, only partially relieved by the knowledge that he was already in a nuclear bunker two thousand feet beneath the Rocky Mountains.

    I feel like this just reading it. O_O Ow ow ow.

    …but I ship that anyway.

  13. Error says:

    Incidentally, I like how Jala’s decision algorithm for dealing with things he doesn’t know how to do is to find someone who knows better, ask them what to do, and then actually do that thing.

    • TheVerbiageEcstatic says:

      Yes, well, if one is of angelic descent and filled with the divine spark, it becomes possible to reach rarified heights of sanity beyond the reach of mere mortals…

      • Simon_Jester says:

        It also really, really helps that he has a fiancee so understanding that he can teleport away, ask for relationship advice in thirty seconds, come back, and carry out the advice. Most people wouldn’t be able to get away with something like that.

  14. Quixote says:

    I liked this chapter. Short, but enjoyable. I do still want to know what happens next though.

  15. nipi says:

    ” Strategic nuclear defense systems.”
    Didnt the Breaking make all nukes useless? Or did Uriel fix that?

  16. Vadim Kosoy says:

    Okay, so I got a new spin on my OK=CK theory.

    In Chapter 17, the CK says “We remember that those we love are still in bondage and can never be saved.” Also, Robin is not mentioned there and we know for a fact they died. What if, by some quirk of Kabbalistic law, Robin ended up in Hell? This can explain the failure of the siege of Hell (Thamiel used them as a hostage). This creates a neat parallel between the story of the CK and the story of the Acher: the CK feels the injustice of God first hand, there is an obvious Kabbalistic relationship between Robin and the birds in the story (also, there is providence in the fall of a sparrow, and where was providence in the fall of Robin?). And this explains how the CK lost their marbles, so to speak, and became the OK.

    • dsotm says:

      A slight spin: they switched places , Acher is the captain of the not-a-metaphor trying to get answers from Metatron

      • Cniz says:

        I’m convinced. This sounds entirely reasonable, and a great twist to pull; there were plenty of hints for Acher being the OK and Nemo being CK, which people picked up on, but the revelations (or speculations) by people in-story have come too early, dramatically speaking; it is placebomancily-assured that another twist is coming up, and this sounds perfect.

        • Ninmesara says:

          This story hasn’t had many twists so far (the only twist I can think about is the fact that American Pie is actually a prophecy that must be interpreted kabbahlistically and Aaron seems to be misinterpreting it). I think the obvious interpretation is probably correct.

    • Travis says:

      I have also been thinking hard about the possibility that OK=CK. It seems quite plausible to me.

      The Other One is so named because people wouldn’t think that Elisha Ben Abuyah would do such atrocities, but in fact The Other One was Elisha Ben Abuyah.

      So, the parallel would be: people would never expect The Other King is The Comet King because The Comet King would not do such atrocities…. but in fact the Other King is the Comet King.

    • dsotm says:

      It would also need to explain ToK besieging Colorado, it might be a protective siege that’s designed to keep the children safe and army mobilised and alert.
      But while this all sounds nice but so far the story has been low on plot twists so it’s more likely that TcK is on the boat and ToK is EBA is in vegas.
      But if not – dibs 🙂

  17. Ninmesara says:

    The chapter was appropriate, I guess, but… waiting one week for this? I loved it when chapters used to be a little meatier. I feel like the Comet King timeline is just stalling the story and stealing space that could be used for other purposes. The last three Comet King chapters could have been condensed into one or something.

    • Marvy says:

      The chapter length is fine, our perspective is just being distorted because we’re waiting a whole week for them. I’m pretty sure I’ve read books where some chapters were this short. (You could make the case that one chapter per week is too slow, but our esteemed author has already agreed about that, but decided to avoid changes midstream.)

      • Ninmesara says:

        the chapter length is not fine for the medium, that’s my point (sorry if I didn’t make myself clear). This chapter could benefit from a long kabbahlistic rant for example, or from having been merged with the previous Robin chapter.

        • Marvy says:

          As someone who follows several web comics, this book’s plot moves pretty fast, in relative terms. In absolute terms… well, I’m sure the original readers of Dickens had the same complaint 🙂

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I have to agree with Ninmesara here. A number of the chapters don’t contain very much, but this is especially little. There’s hardly anything new here, unless you really care about learning more about the particular characters involved.

          • Decius says:

            If you don’t care about the characters, are you just here for the pun of it?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I mean, the plot, the worldbuilding, the wonderful sequences of associations and kabbalistic reasoning… and as far as characters go, I care about Aaron and Ana a lot more. IDK, this chapter just isn’t that interesting. Partly because it’s backstory, but contains hardly any in the way of story. And, the Comet King is a lot more engaging when he’s being superhuman and badass, IMO. I don’t think this should be cut, because it’s an important scene. But it seems to add very little to Chapter 47; it’s basically inevitable given it. And it doesn’t even contain any good kabbalistic sequences. So I think it would be better merged with it, or merged with a later chapter (probably the latter, the former seems like it wouldn’t work very well).

          • Sniffnoy says:

            The bit about it being backstory is important, though. Like, if we imagine a version of Unsong that was told in chronological order, this would be a perfectly fine chapter, I think.

  18. Ninmesara says:

    I really loved the dialog between the lovers, and using the Song of Songs as a background is extremely appropriate.

  19. Susebron says:

    “he spoke clearly and distinctly whenever he wanted to pass false information on to the Mossad”

    What, is he sending them fake mathematical equations? I’m pretty sure that standard hearing doesn’t count as clear and distinct perception.

  20. Bland says:

    There are a few comments that refer to Sohu “shipping.”

    I have no idea what “ship” means in this context. Could someone please explain?

  21. Daniel Kokotajlo says:

    Nice! Personally, the Comet King storyline is my favorite. Aaron, boojum, Uriel, are all just worldbuilding for me. 🙂

  22. Timelord says:

    I liked this chapter and can not understand why people think they ought to criticize its length or contents. When reading a novel in any medium there will always be the odd chapter here and there that are not as engaging to a particular
    person, its part of what makes us all different.

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