aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Interlude ר: The Shrouded Constitution

It was February 2002, and America tottered above a precipice.

The Comet King was dead. The Other King was busy mopping up the shreds of resistance in the American West. Singer riots had several cities aflame. BOOJUM’s reign of terror continued unabated. And President Bush had been assassinated by his own teleprompter.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Rumors swirled around newly-sworn-in president Dick Cheney. They said that he was literally heartless, that his blood was pumped by a strange contraption connected to a battery pack strapped around his chest. They said that he carried the Sword of Chang, a Bush family heirloom that made its wielder invincible in political battles at the cost of a portion of his soul. They said he had a ranch down in Texas where he hunted the most dangerous game of all: man. They said that one day when he sat for Sunday services at St. John’s Church, the pastor had read from the Gospel of Matthew -“Who among you, if a child asks for bread, would give him a stone?” – and Cheney had stood up immediately and raised his hand until they informed him it was a rhetorical question.

Cheney declared martial law. He smoked out the various nests of Singers and terrorists one by one the same methodical way he hunted quail. When people started protesting his heavy-handed tactics, he smoked them out too. He threw Colorado to the wolves for the sake of peace with the Other King, and peace with the Other King he got. His armies marched against the bandits haunting the Midwest – Paulus the Lawless, the Witch-King of Wichita – until one by one they lay down their arms in abject surrender to spend the rest of their lives in Guantanamo Bay.

In 2004, he informed the country that there would be no need to trouble themselves with an election. When he was sworn in for a second term, he was observed to very carefully hold his hand hovering just above the Bible without touching it. The traditional medical examination was done, and he was declared fully human, apart from the thing with his heart. As far as anyone knew, he avoided touching Bibles just in case.

Some accused him of desecrating the Constitution. President Cheney would have none of it. Nobody, he declared, respected the Constitution more than he did, and he would prove it. He decreed that out of respect for the Constitution, all copies of the document must henceforth be covered with a silken shroud and removed from human gaze, lest its sanctity be polluted by human sight, human touch, or human interpretation. Old pieces of parchment and modern civics textbooks alike were sealed away in places of honor, where they might be viewed only by those who had performed the necessary purification rituals. The image of Cheney reverently placing a pure white drape over the original Constitution in the National Archives became such a symbol of national unity that people started calling the federal government “Shroudies” by association.

There were a lot of people who thought that America would never go for martial law. They were wrong. It was the mid-2000s, and America was exhausted. The libertarians had made freedom unbearable, the evangelicals had made faith unbearable, the social justice movement had made equality unbearable, the lawyers had made justice unbearable, loud people in Uncle Sam hats had made patriotism unbearable, and the entirety of capitalism over the last two centuries had made industry unbearable. Americans were sick of all the virtues and ready for a straightforward, no-nonsense villain. Cheney and all the other servants of the Shrouded Constitution were only too happy to provide.

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66 Responses to Interlude ר: The Shrouded Constitution

  1. lvn says:

    Great timing. 😛

  2. gwern says:

    The libertarians had made freedom unbearable, the evangelicals had made faith unbearable, the social justice movement had made equality unbearable, the lawyers had made justice unbearable, loud people in Uncle Sam hats had made patriotism unbearable, and the entirety of capitalism over the last two centuries had made industry unbearable

    But the brothels – the brothels are still ok, right?!

    • Deiseach says:

      But the brothels – the brothels are still ok, right?!

      I believe the “legalise sex work, call sex workers ‘sex workers’ not ‘prostitutes’ and by the way, there is such a thing as ‘whorephobia’ so remember to check off one more item on the list of boxes to be ticked to show you don’t belong in the basket of deplorables” element of Social Justice will have subsumed that. Whether that means Americans will also be sick of liberated, empowered, consensual power transactions enactions sex, I leave it to you to decide.

    • Alsadius says:

      If we know anything about the world of UNSONG, it’s that getting screwed is always on the menu.

  3. The Pachyderminator says:

    Short but great interlude. The political stuff in the story gets better and scarier all the time.

    Nitpick: it would ordinarily be written “Gospel of Matthew,” not “Book of Matthew.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, this interlude implies that the Shrouded Constitution happened during/after 2004, but there is a reference to Shroudies in chapter 8, set in 2001.

      As far as I’m aware, only Uriel is capable of pulling off straight-out anachronisms, not Dylan…

  4. The Singers didn’t preserve the Constitution the same way they preserved Names?

    BTW, which Constitution was this?

  5. Sniffnoy says:

    So “The Shroudies” just means “The Feds”, huh? Hm.

    • TNO says:

      I still can’t look at the name without getting flashes of:

      “Hey Chief, you playing corpse or putting the blinds on the Dusties? I thought you were a Deader for sure”

  6. LHC says:

    We’ll probably find out, but I’m beginning to wonder if this timeline ever got Obama, or if Cheney is still President…

    • nipi says:

      Im sure well eventually get a Trump.

    • Lazarus says:

      The story will continue up until the actual end date of publication, correct? So far it’s hewn to the general shape of American history, plus kabbalah. I predict Obama comes in as a Comet King wannabe, is utterly stymied by the Cheney loyalists still in Congress, and flames out when a man whose name cannot possibly be a coincidence riles the people up into a fervor.

      • LHC says:

        He does at least manage to block a sneaky Mormon prophecy fulfillment attempt midway through his presidency.

      • The coment king says:

        Well Barack is Hebrew for lightning bolt, and originally comes from the Hebrew name Baruch, meaning blessed. Someone whose name is literally “blessed lightning bolt” would expect to be the new Comet King.

        However, “Obama” means “to lean or to bend”, which suggests him eventually being stymied by Cheney’s loyalists. It also correlates to the Hebrew “Abam”, meaning alien, predicting the conspiracy theory that he is an illegal alien bringing him down.

  7. sheer_falacy says:

    Coups and dictators. What a lovely vision of the Unti(it)ed states.

  8. Vadim Kosoy says:

    Was there already a discussion about what happens when we run out of letters for interludes? After interlude Yud, I expected the next interlude to be Yud-Aleph. Instead it was Kaf, so Scott obviously doesn’t use Gematria. Does it mean there are only 2 interludes left? Or, Scott is going to use some original numbering system, like following Tav with Aleph-Aleph? Or switching to a different alphabet altogether?

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Does it mean there are only 2 interludes left?

      I’m afraid it does. Chapter 9 strongly suggests there are going to be 72 chapters, 4 books, 22 interludes and maybe even 10 author’s notes. Also I’m pretty sure that Interludes פ and צ used to be just Interlude פ, and the only reason I can’t think for Scott to change that is that he realized he didn’t have enough material for five more interludes.

    • Deiseach says:

      Or switching to a different alphabet altogether?

      We’ll know the end is nigh when something is titled “Alpha and Omega”? 🙂

  9. Anish says:

    The sword of Chang is a real thing artifact from a real ultratraditionallist Chinese dictator.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiang_Kai-shek

    http://gawker.com/jeb-and-rubio-agree-chiang-kai-shek-was-an-imaginary-m-1739415732

  10. stavro375 says:

    But “Laughing to Scorn they Laws and Terrors” has Alvarez reference the Shroudies, and that’s set in 2001 — before the assassination of Bush, even. Continuity error?

  11. Walter says:

    “As far as anyone knew, he avoided touching Bibles just in case.”

    This is a pretty great line.

  12. The coment king says:

    So, this book was mostly planned in advance. Scott knew this interlude would come the day before inauguration day, but definitely didn’t know Trump was going to win. Now I’m wondering if this was modified recently or just a lucky coincidence NOTHING IS EVER A COINCIDENCE.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      My reading: the large-scale structure is planned in advance, the plot arc is planned in advance, but the specifics are not. At least not deterministically.

      It seems like Scott enjoys writing the interludes, including by making connections to current events (and/or topics he’s othewise writing about.) To achieve this takes planning, sure, but also quick wit and most importantly the ability to make any old thing into a meaningful coherent connection. Which is what the story is about, anyway.

      Consider this interlude. We’ll say Scott was planning to have an inauguration-related one. We’ll say he was planning this, and didn’t know at the time if would be Trump or Clinton.

      He has a number of bricks and Chekov’s guns set up, and wants to resolve one of them in this interlude. He picks the Shroudies. And…he sketches two versions of it. These are designed so that people say “Good timing; this is totally about Hillary!” or “Good timing, this is totally about Trump!”, with only slight variations. And there’s a list of potential explanations for the Shroudies, so he just picks one of them.

      I think the same thing is going on with the Kabbalistic interludes. 50% planning, 50% serendipity, 100% humans fixating on magical patterns. Furthermore, I think Scott enjoys doing this enough to write more interludes, so I predict as a result that we have more than 2 interludes left.

      My “source” for this speculation is partly Neil Gaiman, describing how he puts together serialized writing.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      The chapter plays off Cheney’s reputation, which he had fifteen years ago when Trump wasn’t even a reality TV figure let alone a political figure.

  13. J says:

    And the animal rights activists made zoos unbearable

    • J says:

      And the bauxite shortage made aluminum unbayerable

      • J says:

        And the FCC made naughty bits unbareable

        • J says:

          And the drug recall made aspirin unbayerable

          • More Puns says:

            We could also imagine a lack of hops (making barley unbeerable) and a PKI software bug (making digital certificates un-BERable?). And cremation could make funerals unbierable.

          • J says:

            Definitely! And dropping my phone made bluetooth unpairable (and unrepairable).

          • Roman Davis says:

            Cremation makes your loved ones unburyable.

            The NRA makes a citizen revolt unparryable.

            PUAs left women unmarryable.

            Newton made the universe invariable.

            The DMCA made music unsharable.

            Bob Ross made a painting umber label.

            St. Francis rode on bear saddle.

            Okay, I’ll quit.

  14. Sniffnoy says:

    So, not really something that can be changed now, but — IMO it would be better if the meaning of “Shroudies” had been explained earlier. After this long it’s a bit of a letdown that it just means “the Feds”. I mean, this is a good interlude, but I wonder if parts of it should be placed elsewhere.

    (Also, did the “social justice movement” exist as such back then?)

    • Ninmesara says:

      Yeah, I agree. This chapter should have come before for several reasons.

      One of them is that people waiting for an interesting meaning of “Shroudies” have been a little let down.

      The other is that unless something big has changed, Aaron is living under a military dictatorship ruled by Dick Cheney, which certainly colors the events of the story in a different way.

      I also have some criticisms unrelated to its position in the story: unlike the Bush chapter, in which the coup d’etat was interesting and the assassination was clever (even if a little inconsistent with the way names have been shown to work), this chapter makes the sory a little less interesting to me. All this time I’ve been thinking that UNSONG’s power is the result of lobbying used to subvert a Democratic government mixed with some fear mongering regarding the need to build weapons against Thamiel & Co. (to keep the people on their side) and it turns out that there is no Democracy to subvert, because (surprise!) the US is actually a Military Dictatorship. I mean, you can certainly try to convince the dictator, but it doesn’t have the same impact as having to convince Congress and the voters.

      I was also a little surprised by the reference to the “social justice movement” as something who would make justice unbearable at that time, but I’m not American and I’ll let my fellow American readers weigh in on that.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The other is that unless something big has changed, Aaron is living under a military dictatorship ruled by Dick Cheney, which certainly colors the events of the story in a different way.

        Not necessarily. We can infer that the presidency affects all of the Untied States since the all participated in the election. But still geography must intervene; Aaron lives in the Californian Republic, after all, and they probably typically have more influence on his life than the Shroudies based on the east coast.

        Of course, if there’s such a discrepancy, you’d have expected it to be mentioned when e.g. Erica or the Not A Metaphor headed for the east coast, some remark about how they’re going somewhere more closely under the Shroudies’ watch.

        All this time I’ve been thinking that UNSONG’s power is the result of lobbying used to subvert a Democratic government mixed with some fear mongering regarding the need to build weapons against Thamiel & Co. (to keep the people on their side) and it turns out that there is no Democracy to subvert, because (surprise!) the US is actually a Military Dictatorship.

        I don’t think that’s accurate; UNSONG was founded in the 90s, after all. US wasn’t a dictatorship yet.

        Other notes: Other people have already pointed out the continuity error with chapter 8, I assume that will get somehow fixed. But here’s something else that’s bugging me: Previous references to the Shrouded Constitution made it sound like some new document. But actually they didn’t mean the Shrouded Constitution, they meant an event: The Shrouding of the Constitution. This is a little confusing. But I suppose it still makes some sense as written.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Yes, UNSONG was founded earlier, but from its current incarnation (headed by Malia and using a “scorched earth” approach) dates from around the “shrounding of the constitution, right? This is probably a coincidence.

        • MugaSofer says:

          I think the Shrouded Constitution just means “the Constitution as interpreted by Dick Cheney”.

      • JJR says:

        I would guess that something has in fact changed. Even if or no other reason than Unsong presidents tend to follow the real world ones.

        How he gets ousted is the question though. The picture painted here is not one of a man who would relinquish power willingly.

        But what if, spurred on by a Charismatic Senator from Illinois, Congress began impeachment proceeding against Cheney some when in the year 2010. In theory he could stop it before it gets going, but he has the sword and enough loyalists to insure the vote goes his way. Besides, it is nice when ones political enemies stand up and make themselves known.

        As expected he is not convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors. But then the President pro tempore ask Obama if he is satisfied, and will let the matter drop finally. Obama responds that yes, now that the Senate has elected to keep Cheney in office he will respect that decision.

        Cheney has just enough time to realize what happened before he is crushed by a giant pen.

        • David Marjanović says:

          I’m not getting it.

          • JJR says:

            Which part?

            The idea that avoiding impeachment in 2010 would cause Cheney to die? Well that ties in with The Curse of Tippecanoe. Granted, the curse references election specifically, not avoiding impeachment. But both processes involve voting for or against someone. And the Kabballistic meaning of “election” is probably something like, “abdicating a portion of one’s power to be invested in another.” Meaning, if the Senate refuses to impeach Cheney, they technically elect him, and thereby subject him to the curse.

            Or the death by giant pen part? It would have to be a pen. The sword of Chang is a mighty artifact that would protect Cheney from most dangers, but the pen is mightier still.

            I hope this clarifies my thinking.

          • The coment king says:

            Or the death by giant pen part? It would have to be a pen. The sword of Chang is a mighty artifact that would protect Cheney from most dangers, but the pen is mightier still.

            You have managed to inspire the rare combined facepalm-and-salute response. Bravo.

        • anonymous says:

          Clearly he must die from a mysterious letter accusing him of impropriety, possibly containing mysterious white powder: the work of a poison pen.

  15. JJR says:

    And once again I wonder. Did Cheney know Bush was going to get assassinated? And then this was all par of his plan all along. There is that whole curse thing. Which, if it’s widely taken as true in the Unsongverse says something about anyone who would run or office during a year that ends in 0. I’m not exactly sure what it says about them, but it says something.

      • JJR says:

        That’s what I’m getting at!

        During the debates, I would think Bush and Gore would both be asked something along the lines, “You realize you will in office at some point if you win, right? Despite that you have both decided to run for the office of President. Can you give the American people some insight into your thought process here?”

        • Peter says:

          Well, in our timeline, Nancy Reagan hired astrologers and psychics to ward off the curse, and Jimmy Carter said, “I’m not afraid. If I knew it was going to happen, I would go ahead and be President and do the best I could till the last day I could.”

          OTOH, as you say, that doesn’t stop Cheney deciding that the curse is in his favour and now is the time.

  16. Decius says:

    Was the Constitution of the Untied States displayed somewhere similar to the way the Constitution of the United States used to be?

  17. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Inconsistency: Cheney only took office in February 2002, but “Shroudies” are referenced in Chapter 8, which took place on March 20, 2001.

  18. The coment king says:

    Shirt ordering form is now online!
    This should be open until the end of the month (or one week after the next authors’ note, whichever is later). Orders expected to ship within a week of form closing.

  19. linkhyrule5 says:

    You put a shroud on something when it dies.

  20. in (scruti) bubbles says:

    Thank you! This shroud is a great metaphor.

    To value the Constitution in the way it was originally intended, you have to read it. Simply loving it isn’t enough.

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