aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Interlude ק: Bush

I.

January 20, 2001
Washington, DC

The clock struck inauguration day; unfortunately, no one had yet figured out whom to inaugurate. Absent a winner to step down in favor of, President Clinton continued to to govern. More and more grievances and countergrievances with the electoral process made their way before a ploddingly slow Supreme Court. The nation waited.

By early March, the Court had thrown out Gore’s strongest case, a set of hanging chads in Salish, and the smart money shifted towards the Singers and Republicans with only an outside chance that the Democrats would make up a few thousand votes in Georgia.

But they didn’t call Bill Clinton “Slick Willie” for nothing. The 42nd President declared that he wasn’t feeling well – a touch of the flu, maybe – and resigned his office. Vice-President Al Gore took over as acting President and promptly launched several new court cases revolving around obscure details of the constitutional amendments admitting Ontario to the Union. The Democratic strategy became apparent: drag out the electoral process as long as possible, while Gore gradually become so established in the Presidency that there would be immense pressure on the Supreme Court just to continue the status quo. Protests filled the National Mall. But of course everything was perfectly legal, and even if it hadn’t been, the Supreme Court’s schedule was booked until next October.

The Untied States Army had been through a lot. They’d resisted Thamiel’s invasion in the 70s and mostly been massacred. They’d fought the War on Drugs in the 80s and still had nightmares about hundreds of thousands of drug-addled soldiers marching against them in perfect coordination. They’d invaded the Persian Gulf in the 90s to defend the Eridu-Xanadu Consortium from Saddam Hussein. Many of them had only just gotten back from marching with the Comet King against Yakutsk. More than anyone else, they understood upon how thin a ledge the country balanced.

Now that ledge was starting to shake precariously. Demons had been spotted in Siberia again. The Other King’s necromantic sorties around Las Vegas were seamlessly transitioning into a full-fledged zombie apocalpyse. The Comet King, the one civilian leader whom they really respected, was missing in action. And all the civilians could do was spend four months debating hanging chads while a giant leadership vacuum gaped at the very top of the command structure.

Dick Cheney, Bush’s vice-presidential candidate, was a former Secretary of Defense and Halliburton CEO. He knew the military-industrial complex like he knew the back of his skeletal claw-like hand. So he started talking to people. Wouldn’t it be nice, he asked, if a friend of the military held power during this difficult time? Instead of that pinko Gore? Instead of (God forbid) Ralph Nader, who wanted to give up the Names that provided our only strategic advantage against the inhuman forces surrounding our borders?

And so in mid-March 2001, with no fuss at all, a group from the Pentagon walked into the White House and declared George W. Bush the 43rd President of the United States on account of his clear victory in Georgia which the Supreme Court would no doubt confirm very shortly. A second group from the Pentagon walked into the Supreme Court, had a couple of friendly words with the justices, and lo and behold they very shortly confirmed Bush’s Georgia victory. A third group quite strongly insisted that Al Gore accompany them to a nice place in the country so he could consider the implications of the Supreme Court decision free from outside distractions. And a fourth took Ralph Nader to another place in the country – far away from Gore, just to make sure they wouldn’t distract each other.

It all went so smoothly that the American people were left with only a vague sense that something unusual had happened behind the scenes. But who cared? The long dispute was finally over, Al Gore’s underhanded tactics had failed him, the Supreme Court had made a ruling in record time, and the right man was in the Oval Office at last.

On March 20, only two months late, Bush put his hand on the Bible, swore the oath of office, and told the American people:

“We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet, his purpose is achieved in our duty. And our duty is fulfilled in service to one another. Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life. This work continues, the story goes on, and an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.”

I’m glad that nowadays our country requires our president-elect to undergo a medical exam to prove he is human. But I wish there was also a rule that he had to consult with a kabbalist before deciding to end his inauguration speech with a reference to the Book of Job.

II.

January 29, 2002
Washington, DC

President George W. Bush stood before the assembled Untied States government. Executive, legislative and judicial officials alike stared back at him.

“As we gather tonight, our nation is at war; our economy is in recession; and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our Union has never been stronger,” he lied.

As lies went, it was a venial one; presidents have been giving the State of the Union address for centuries, and no matter what disasters may be unfolding outside the Capitol, within its walls the state of the union is always “strong”. Still, this year it sounded particularly jarring.

“We have,” admitted the President, “experienced many setbacks. The divisions of the last election still hang over us. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia have seen rioting by so-called Singers. Thanks to the work of our law enforcement officials, we have sent these factions a clear message: that though everyone has a right to express their opinion, nobody has a right to use violence and disruption in the service of a political message.”

Unbeknownst to him, a group of protestors had unfurled a “FREE REVEREND STEVENS” banner just outside the Capitol Building. If television still worked, no doubt the news shows would have cut to an image of the demonstration; as it was the radio broadcasts passed them by. Stevens himself would die in jail a few months later due to what the coroner would rule “natural causes”.

“This year also saw our nation mourn the death,” Bush continued, “of a man who was a hero to me and to an entire generation of Americans. None of us will ever forget Jalaketu West, the Comet King of Colorado, who died in battle in the Never Summer Mountains last July 29. He was a ray of hope during a difficult time, and one of the rare figures who could gather bipartisan support at a time when our nation has been far too polarized. We continue to support Coloradan militias in their battles with the so-called Other King and wish for a swift and peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Great Basin.”

There were few Coloradan protesters outside, because even then the transit over the Great Plains was difficult, but the President was well-aware that some of his western constituents were far from happy with the amount of support the federal government was giving Colorado. There were even accusations that Washington was trying to stand aside in the hopes that it would prove to be an intra-state conflict and that the Other King wouldn’t bother the Union if the Union didn’t bother him.

“Finally,” said Bush, “we need to remain strong against the threat of terrorism. My good friend Senator Henderson was slain earlier this year in a letter-bombing condemned by all peaceful and civilized people. The terrorists hate what we represent. They hate our freedom. They will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life. But we are fighting back. We’ve identified the cell responsible for the Senator’s death, a group called BOOJUM led by rogue placebomancer Dylan Alvarez. They’re the same group believed to have conspired with Lord High Magician Mark McCarthy in the murder of the Board of Ritual Magic. But with the help of all the brave people in different government departments and all around the country working on this case, we’ve got Alvarez on the run and are tightening the noose around his neck. Some of these people are here with us tonight. People like Robert Mueller, director of the FBI. Like Michael Gellers, a police officer who successfully defused a BOOJUM bomb in Philadelphia. Like Sonja Horah…”

President Bush spontaneously caught fire. “HELLLPPP!” he screamed as the entire executive, legislative, and judicial branches watched on in horror. “HELLLPPP…HELL…”. By the time Secret Service agents reached him at the podium, he was already a charred corpse.

In the midst of the word he was trying to say – in the midst of his laughter and glee – he had softly and suddenly vanished away – because Dylan Alvarez had hacked his teleprompter to display the Mortal Name.

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82 Responses to Interlude ק: Bush

  1. gwern says:

    Typos: “even it it”; “only two months’ late”.

  2. seb says:

    I’m not sure I understand the last line. Is that a reference that I don’t get?

  3. LHC says:

    George Bush would actually be the fifth president of the Untied States, wouldn’t he?

  4. Bambamramfan says:

    I really should never have doubted there would be a burning Bush.

    I guess I am unclear how worldly kabbalah works. If you say the syllables without meaning any effect, like Bush just did, it triggers. But if you use Klipot the Name triggers too, but only so long as you have the Name in mind as you say it?

    Also, nice intermittent return of the first person there. Are we all sure it’s Aaron?

    • LHC says:

      Reminder of the strange case of Ayn Rand, who died by accidentally speaking an English phrase equivalent to the Mortal Name (existence exists).

      • Lehua says:

        Reading a name is probably more similar to tearing a scroll with the name written on it: even though you don’t know what the name sounds like it still acts like a name because the person who did the WRITING knew what the name was while doing that writing. It even works if you don’t know that the name is a name (eg. non-ensouled rockets are able to release the wrathful name from where it has been written, even though obviously they don’t have the capacity for knowledge or thought). So Alvarez does the writing, Bush essentially just tears the scroll.

      • Astra says:

        Where’s this stated? I tried searching “existence exists” “unsong” but I couldn’t find it.

    • 75th says:

      Hmm. Scott said earlier that you could speak the syllables of a Name if you weren’t thinking the tiniest bit about an intent or possibility of using them. Maybe Bush realized what he was enunciating before the last syllable was fully spoken?

      • 75th says:

        Or, maybe the Tetragrammaton, being the original and (tied for the*) shortest Name, requires far less thought to take effect. Maybe the longer the Name, the more concentration is required to invoke it?

        * Scott said in the N-grammata interlude that the Mortal Name was the shortest Name, but then in Chapter 8 he said there was a famous four-letter Name “AGLA”. I noticed this at the time but never got around to posting it until now

        • teucer says:

          The Mortal Name is the shortest Name that does anything. The shortest Name that is in any sense a Name is H.

          • nipi says:

            Let me guess it crates helium atoms. Global warming and energy crisis are a thing of the past. Now if only I didnt have to pay for those H scrolls to refuel my car.

          • Warren Peace says:

            Hydrogen. You mean hydrogen atoms

  5. Ben Finkel says:

    The tetragrammaton works across word boundaries? Ouch.

    • Ninmesara says:

      So this must mean that the tetragrammaton can’t be a substring in any valid name, right? This must eliminate a bunch of combinations!

    • Ninmesara says:

      Or maybe the Shem Hamephorash ends with the tetragrammaton, which means the one who uses it must sacrifice his life in order to invoke both names at the same time. Maybe TCK actually chickened out of invoking the name when he discovered it. And maybe Robin tried to invoke it, thus sacrificing herself but it didn’t work for some reason (maybe she was not powerful enough).

      • JJR says:

        The Comet King does not seem like the type of person to chicken out of doing a hard thing. Also, Mettatron took the name away from him, and he seemed to not like that. If he were not going to use it anyway, I don’t think he would have cared.

        • Ninmesara says:

          In the next chapter TCK wonders if he can say the name without dying. I might be closer than we both think 😉

          • Ninmesara says:

            The above is me.

          • Warren Peace says:

            How about not posting comments about things that haven’t happened yet? Use your head , man, think first please. About other people, not just yourself. I’m afraid it’s necessary to add that last part, sadly

  6. Saint Fiasco says:

    We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet,

    Growth mindset!

    • The coment king says:

      +1 to my theory that this story is all to hide the fact that Scott discovered the Shem Hamephorash IRL, and this story’s his way of being dramatic about saying it until the end, at which point he’ll say it and turn the whole world to run on unsongverse physics.

      • 75th says:

        Yeah, the stuff in Chapter 44 (about Sohu traversing the Four Worlds and learning to turn into lightning by fully comprehending multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously) really gave me the sensation that if I were smart enough to be able to really follow Uriel’s instructions, or to write that chapter or any Unsong chapter for that matter, then I could teleport, too

  7. K25fF says:

    “HELLLPPP…HELL…”

    How very Singer-ian.

    • moocow1452 says:

      Did come from a Burning Bush.

      • Yossarian says:

        Now, the question is, whether the instruction meant to help hell as in the suffering sinners there, or to help hell as in Thamiel and his demons. Could easily turn this instruction around to something quite anti-Singerian.

  8. The coment king says:

    Damn, that’s a direct quote from Bush’s actual inauguration speech. Including the part about an angel in a whirlwind directing the world. No coincidences indeed.

    • gradus says:

      what the actual everliving fuck. how does he DO that? like, is Scott retroactively hacking the collective unconscious to insert this shit into the fabric of the universe?

    • Quintopia says:

      At least it has finally been made clear why he put Uriel’s base in a hurricane. He’s been setting us up for this one for a year now.

  9. sealion says:

    Not only a burning Bush, but one which speaks the Mortal Name (Exodus 3:14). Given the kabbalistic similarity between Moses and Messiah–not to mention all the historical/prophetic similarities–surely the Messiah was present, or at least in the radio audience?

  10. Arancaytar says:

    Sonja Horah

    Sonja Horah

    Oops

    • Arancaytar says:

      Also, well crap. I had this image of the name being sort of… clean and instantaneous. More of the Combustive Name than the Mortal Name, apparently.

      • 75th says:

        Perhaps the Mortal Name kills the speaker by the most kabbalisitically appropriate method available to kill a single person with no side effects

      • Brian says:

        As the shortest Name, it kept working long after the flow of divine light into the universe had dropped to a trickle; there were records of men dying by speaking the Mortal Name as late as Jesus’ time.

        There very well could have been this huge catastrophe the Sunday afterwards when every Christian church suddenly went up in flames. But the Tetragrammaton is famously difficult to pronounce, and the true pronunciation, which turned out to sound sort of like “JA-HO-RAH”, came as a total surprise to everyone, wasn’t in anybody’s liturgy, and actually doesn’t even quite correspond to the Hebrew letters involved.

        Sounds like it just caused the speaker to drop dead in the Temple period, but after the sky cracked it went back to the full powered fiery version.

        Also, nice hidden reference here:

        It wasn’t the same sort of primal horror as sticking the Tetragrammaton in the middle of something, but no kabbalist I know has ever voluntarily eaten at El Pollo Loco either.

  11. x says:

    Isn’t this a scene from Death Note?

  12. stavro375 says:

    I like how Alvarez just used Chekov’s Gun to assassinate someone. Who was it that coined the phrase “playing russian roulette with Chekov’s gun”?

    I would also like to point out that I appreciate the work put in to justify the constitutional coup of Washington, since the United States is the third-most politically stable society in world history.

  13. gradus says:

    I dissapointed that this timeline doesn’t allow for an analogue of Sept 11, as I’d be curious what, in this universe, would take its place.

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      Scott has mentioned, I forget where, that he had initially planned to have the Comet King’s death occur on Sept 11, 2001, and later decided to change it. All I remember is that it was changed because the dates lining up seemed too implausible, but I think there might have been something else, too.

  14. Sniffnoy says:

    So the question still remains which desert Bush got us stuck in, namely, the middle east or the southwest (or somewhere else?).

    • The coment king says:

      Scott said (when I met his at solstice) that he meant it as a reference to the invasion of the Eridu-Xanadu Consortium.

      (Sidenote: This also provides confirmation that the guy I met at solstice who claimed to be Scott, and looked and acted exactly how I’d expect Scott to be IRL, was in fact Scott).

      • Ninmesara says:

        Did you have a medical examiner to confirm on the spot that that particular incarnation of Scott was human?

        • Lambert says:

          I suppose Scott is a medical examiner, so you could have asked him whether he was human. You’d probably need to double blind the test to avoid foul play.

          • The coment king says:

            Even if you can rule out his being a mechanical golem, how do we know he isn’t some sort of elaborate bio-engineered golem, based on an AI reading his post and designing a bio-golem that would be consistent with a human who’d write that?

        • Lambert says:

          Inauguration: When the Roman high priest (Pontifex) performs augury to declare the Emperor to be the rightful ruler. Providence in a bird, anyone?

  15. Peter says:

    Good to see the Curse of Tippecanoe at full strength in this timeline.

    • JJR says:

      I wonder if Unsong Chenney knew this was going to happen in. Not specifically of course, but at some point the curse is gonna kill Bush and then he gets to be president.

      Hell, I wonder if Bush knew. The media was already unironically saying that a man named ‘Speaks’ became the White House press secretary in accordance with ‘normative determinism during the Reagan administration. The curse isn’t exactly a secret.

  16. ariel says:

    Bush’s “angel rides in the whirlwind” is not a reference to Job. Rather, he is quoting John Page (writing to Thomas Jefferson): “We know the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Do you not thing an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?”

    But Page didn’t write that either, he’s also quoting. The first part is from Ecclesiastes, and the second half is from The Campaign, a poem by Joseph Addison: “So when an angel by divine command / With rising tempests shakes a guilty land, / Such as of late o’er pale Britannia past, / Calm and serene he drives the furious blast; / And pleas’d th’ Almighty’s orders to perform, / Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm.”

    If I had to pick an Old Testament whirlwind passage that best fits, I wouldn’t pick Job. Ezekiel 1 fits better. I don’t think Addison meant to make a specific reference though, I think he’s just generally talking about angelic whirlwinds as an instrument of the wrath of God.

  17. nipi says:

    Hmmm… I wonder why and when Bush utter the mortal name for the first time? I mean obviously he had already had his tutorial vision.

  18. alkatyn says:

    Nice to see that in a world with the literal forces of hell on earth Dick Cheney still manages to be the bad guy.

  19. Peter D says:

    Like Michael Gellers

    Any connection to Sarah Michelle Gellar?

  20. David S. says:

    Two days ago I discovered that my Calibre library had dozens of books that I had tagged with the string “Apocalypse” … and three that I had accidentally tagged with the string “Apocalpyse”. Somehow I made that same typo three different times without noticing it. I am very happy to see that Scott made the same typo in this chapter. I’m not alone!

  21. Quixote says:

    Love it!

  22. If the mortal name is that easy to say, why doesn’t it kill lots of babbling babies?

    • JJR says:

      Maybe it does?

      But nobody realizes because all anyone knows is that one day they woke up to find their baby had died. SIDS in the Unsongverse

    • Simon_Jester says:

      Pure speculation, possibly unfounded:

      Maybe babies have some component of the soul only partially formed, and lack the will/spark/whatever required to speak a Name?

      Or, in sort of the opposite direction from that possibility… Someone else commented higher up, “Scott said earlier that you could speak the syllables of a Name if you weren’t thinking the tiniest bit about an intent or possibility of using them.”

      Babies wouldn’t have any idea that Names can produce supernatural results, and therefore would be able to speak them without having an effect at all.

      Furthermore, it looks like the first people to speak Names in Unsong were real kabbalists and Jewish religious figures (like the Lubavicher Rebbe who saved New York). People who would expect Names to have power in an age of miracles like the post-1968 Unsong Earth. Even without the concrete evidence of them working.

    • The coment king says:

      Also, it uses throat syllables that are pretty hard for babies to say, three of them in a row. It’s probably rare enough to not be a significant cause of infant death.

      • Warren Peace says:

        Which Uriel can explain to the one mother who complains loud enough and long enough to get his attention after this actually happens

        • Warren Peace says:

          “IT USES THROAT SYLLABLES THAT ARE PRETTY HARD FOR BABIES TO SAY, THREE OF THEM IN A ROW. IT’S PROBABLY RARE ENOUGH TO NOT BE A SIGNIFICANT CAUSE OF INFANT DEATH. UM. SORRY.”

  23. AnthonyC says:

    Somehow my brain insists I shouldn’t say “Sonja Horah” out loud…

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