aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Prologue

I.

In retrospect, there had been omens and portents.

(“We are now approaching lunar sunrise,” said William Anders, “and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”)

Rivers flowed uphill. A new star was seen in the night sky. A butchered pig was found to have the word “OMEN” written on its liver in clearly visible letters.

(“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”)

Lightning struck in clear weather. Toads fell from the clouds. All ten thousand lakes in Minnesota turned to blood; scientists blamed “phytoplankton”.

(“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”)

A majestic golden eagle flew onto the Vatican balcony as Pope Paul VI was addressing the faithful. The bird gingerly removed the Pontiff’s glasses with its beak, then poked out his left eye before flying away with an awful shriek.

(“And God called the light Day,” said Jim Lovell, “and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”)

A beached whale was found hundreds of miles inland. A baby was born with four eyes.

(“And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”)

Pieces of paper with the word “OMEN” written on them fell from the clouds. A beached whale was seen in the night sky. Babies left unattended began to roll slowly, but unmistakeably, uphill.

(“And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”)

One of the additional eyes on the four-eyed baby was discovered to be the left eye of Pope Paul VI, missing since the eagle incident. The provenance of the fourth eye was never determined.

(“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place,” said Frank Borman, “and let the dry land appear: and it was so.”)

A series of very precise lightning strikes seared the word “OMEN” into the rust-red sand of the Sonora Desert; scientists blamed “phytoplankton”.

(“And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”)

The New York Stock Exchange rose by perfect integer amounts eleven days in a row. An obstetrician published an article in an obscure medical journal claiming that the kicks of unborn children, interpreted as Morse Code, formed unspeakable and blood-curdling messages.

(“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of – ” [sudden burst of static, then silence])

II.

If I had to choose a high point for the history of the human race thus far, it would be December 24, 1968.

1968 had been a year of shattered dreams. Martin Luther King was murdered in April. Democratic golden boy Robert Kennedy was killed in June. Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring in August. It felt like each spark of hope for a better world was being snuffed out, methodically, one by one.

Then almost without warning, Americans turned on their televisions and learned that a spaceship was flying to the moon. On December 22, the craft beamed a live TV broadcast to Earth informing viewers that they were about to become the first humans ever to orbit another celestial body. Communications issues limited the transmission to seventeen minutes, but the astronauts promised a second installment from lunar space.

On December 24, 1968, one billion people – more than for any television program before or after in the history of mankind – tuned in for Apollo 8’s short broadcast. The astronauts were half-asleep, frazzled with days of complicated calculations and near-disasters – but their voices were powerful and lucid through the static. Commander Frank Borman introduced the two other members of the crew. They described the moon, as seen up close. “A vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing”. “A very foreboding horizon, a rather dark and unappetizing looking place”. Then the Earth, as seen from afar. “A green oasis, in the big vastness of space.”

Two minutes left till lunar sunrise broke the connection. The astronauts’ only orders from NASA had been to “do something appropriate”

“In the beginning,” read Bill Anders, “God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

So for two minutes on Christmas Eve, while a billion people listened, three astronauts read the Book of Genesis from a tiny metal can a hundred miles above the surface of the moon.

Then, mid-sentence, they crashed into the crystal sphere surrounding the world, because it turned out there were far fewer things in Heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in almost anyone’s philosophy.

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58 Responses to Prologue

  1. OldCrow says:

    Ah, hell with it. Not too ashamed to call first.

  2. And without though or hesitation a new RSS feed is fed to my reader. Looking forward to the fruit that will grow from that seed.

  3. gary says:

    waiting…

  4. Sigil says:

    Not quite sure where this is going, but I look forward to finding out. Added to RSS.

  5. Joe says:

    The last bit reminds me of the Truman Show. The whole world is alien entertainment!!

  6. ilzolende says:

    I notice your header image lacks alt-text. How do “א UNSONG” or “[image:logo consisting of aleph symbol over stylized globe within a wreath] UNSONG” sound?

  7. Jake Wilson says:

    Aristotle was right! Or Aquinas, but I rather hope we get the philosopher’s 47-55 prime movers rather than the saint’s 1.

  8. arachnid says:

    the shell means there must be someone, but also that we cannot reach them.
    (so alone. doo doot doot. doo doo, doo doot.)
    a man alone in the world would have no need to learn the art of counter-deception.
    what can we figure out about someone if all we know is that they’re bad at making their simulations undetectable?

  9. gbear605 says:

    Okay, what could the Aleph (the symbol that’s the favicon for the site, and also the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet) mean? I’m not an expert in the Hebrew alphabet at all, so I did some googling. I found http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_One/Aleph-Bet/Aleph/aleph.html, which seems pretty trustworthy, considering the information.

    It mentioned “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” which is also in this prologue. In that verse, “the heaven and the earth” is spelled Aleph-Tav.

    Apparently the top “arm” of the symbol represents heaven, and the bottom “arm” represents earth, so this has some very obvious connections to the story so far.

    The Aleph means 1 (or 1000), so this could represent how there is only one thing “in Heaven and Earth”

    • zensunni couch-potato says:

      The Aleph is the letter that makes no sound by itself. It is a kind of place-holder in the Hebrew alphabet. It is, if you will, a kind of an “un” letter.

      I think that pun, given that the symbol is an aleph on a UN symbol, means something.

      • ophi says:

        Aleph is also used in mathematics to measure the size of infinite sets; for example, the size of the set of all possible combinations of Hebrew letters.

    • My first thought was that it must surely be a reference to the Borges short story, but that could very well be wrong.

  10. JRM says:

    I am *so in* for this.

    Long-form writing is tougher than the short form, but worst case this is a failed but interesting experiment; best case is Andy Weir’s agent has a new client.

    Yay, Scott!

  11. Eldritch says:

    Judging by the logo, I’m guessing the title is one of those mashed-together UN acronyms. UN [something] On God, perhaps?

  12. Stan-le-Knave says:

    The writing style seems vaguely reminiscent of Peter Watts so far. This is a good thing.

    Eagerly awaiting the next chapter and will be recommending others follow along.

  13. Nomghost says:

    I am so excited for this story, and if possible, even more excited about the feverish speculation I can already see beginning in the comment section.

  14. Muga Sofer says:

    If we’re making predictions, I think this will be less serious than people seem to be predicting. Less Ted Chiang, more Universal Love Said The Cactus Person.

    • 27chaos says:

      I’m anticipating a more humorously self aware and protagonist centered SCP kind of story about coping with or fighting the strange and unknown.

  15. segfaultvicta says:

    Oh -hell- yes. I’ve been hoping for this for a really long time.

    Serious, unserious, I don’t care, this is going to be good and I’m hype.

  16. Faradn says:

    I think it might be possible that some of those things that happened are omens about something.

  17. Fantastica says:

    Hi Scott, great news this! I have been following your writing for a while now and have always loved your fiction posts. I commission for a start up speculative fiction publishing imprint called Fantastica based in Australia, but we look to publish international works that push the boundaries.

    You could no doubt self publish this easy enough, but I want to put Fantastica forward for a possible publishing deal. Would be great to work with you. Perhaps jumping the gun, but you know what they say about early birds.

  18. Artemium says:

    Spoiler alert: 4-eyed baby’s mom had an afair with a Shoggoth.

    Anyway, looking forward to the new chapter!

  19. Joe Lotz says:

    From one obsession to another! I’ll be watching for new releases, thanks!

  20. Seo Sanghyeon says:

    Is the crystal sphere like the one in The Crystal Spheres by David Brin?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crystal_Spheres

  21. Aegeus says:

    You should put links in between chapters, so people who are reading through the archives can follow it easily.

  22. Susebron says:

    I’m a few days late, but I have a few more non-coincidences about the fact that everything starts on the 24th of December. Some of these are just random facts, but people could try to organize them.
    On Dec 24, 1294, Pope Celestine V resigned. He would be the last Pope to do so for over 700 years. He was succeeded by Boniface VIII, who declared that the Pope had temporal power as well as spiritual, declared the first Christian Jubilee Year, and who was featured in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. On Dec 24, 1800, 168 (7*24) years before the story starts, there was a failed attempt to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte. On Dec 24, 1814, the War of 1812 ended. On Dec 24, 1865, the KKK was founded.
    24 is 2^3 times 3. Furthermore, it is 4 (2^2) times 6 (a perfect number, and the product of the first two primes). It is also 4!, the sum of the prime twins 11 and 13, the number of faces on a tesseract, a divisor of the product of any four consecutive numbers, and the largest integer that is evenly divisible by all natural numbers no larger than its square root.
    It is the number of books in the Tanakh. Pure gold has 24 carats. There are 24 Greek letters.The year 24 was the 777th year since the founding of Rome. Marcus Terentius Varro, who was called “the most learned of the Romans”, was a consul in the year 24.
    24 = 23+1. Exodus 23:1 says “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” Exodus 23:1 also gives its name to a song by Pusha T. That song is a diss track aimed at Young Money Records, a powerful record label which has been accused of failing to pay its artists fairly. Pusha T also takes shots at Young Money in his song M.F.T.R., which suggests that artists should leave and take their talents somewhere where they will get paid. Similarly, Countenance does not pay Aaron fairly for his talents, and as a result he leaves them.
    None of this is a coincidence, because nothing is a coincidence.

    • Susebron says:

      Oh, and one more thing: I looked it up, and it seems that the gematria for MFTR would come out to 255, which is one less than 256 and the maximum value of an 8-bit byte (hence why RGB colors usually go from 0-255, and Pac-Man would have problems if you completed level 255).

  23. David says:

    No one else seems to have pointed this out so far but… the Genesis reading took place on Apollo VIII’s fourth pass in front of the face of the moon. Really nit-picky, I know and if that’s the biggest continuity error in this story, it’ll still be in the 99th percentile for continuity, or thereabouts.

    • Remember, Mariner 2 reached Venus six years before Apollo 8 even took off.

      The sky is robust. You don’t shatter the sky just by sending something outside of it. You shatter the sky by…eh, figure it out.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Some wild speculation (obviously not kabbahlistic enough for the level of mysticism of this story)

        Clearly, from the evidence of the following chapters, the servers simulating the universe are suffering a breakdown, probably from technical debt on the part of the programming team. To keep the system running, they have resorted to planned maintenance on Tuesdays, during which the system is reset and data corruption is dealt with.
        Sysadmins (angels) have been seen mixing with underground human cults, although the importance of this fact is not clear yet.

        The cracks in the sky and the Apollo 8 incident appear to be the beginning of the breakdown. The omens are probably the first bugs in the system. Maybe having 3 sentient beings near a different celestial body taxes the already decrepit simulation to its limits? I can’t find neither a real-world nor a kabbalistic reason for this.

        On the other hand, something that seems to have broken down is the fact that the simulation is now being overly accepting of user input without proper sanitation, as reality has started to respond to the names of God. Or has it always responded and only now people are trying to systematically find them out? So far, the story is ambiguous. The only information that tells us that the names of God have worked in the past is Aarons vision, on pronouncing the name, and that might be analogous to a man page for a command, and not a real vision of the past.

        Did anything the astronauts did or say hasten the collapse? The speech is very innocuous… Bible verses must have been said over and over since the omens without disastrous effects (such as cracking the sky). On the other hand, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of” might contain a hidden name of god as a substring (this sentence has probably never been said before, especially before the omens). Another possibility is that the Bible verses said in space might have a different significance. After all, in some MUDs, sysadmins can use special in-game commands. Maybe the system interprets speech in space as special (because space is accessible only to angels), and speaking the word of the Lord, even in English might have some effect.

        I can’t stop thinking that somehow the root account of the universe will be hacked eventually (there are a thousand hacking at the branches of the tree of evil…) and God will take the shape of a fat guy with a beard. After all, God created humans in its image, and it is only logical that a human sysadmin would look like a divine one.

        • Daniel H says:

          Especially given evidence from later chapters, I agree that your wild speculation is probably mostly wrong.

          But one thing I want to point out: they crashed into the firmament. This wasn’t just because they were in space, it was because they were right at the dividing line.

          Obviously the choice of using the Genesis reading was deliberate. I’m not sure whether it was a red herring or not, though.

          • Ninmesara says:

            [SPOILERS!]
            Which part is do you think is “mostly wrong”? The Universe is clearly a simulation, with Uriel in charge. I got that part right. Maybe I got the angels=sysadmins wrong, they might bbe more analogous to normal users in Virtual Reality, but we can’t still tell for sure.

            About the the hacking of the root account, Aaron’s laptop (running Llull) seems to be cracking passowords (Hidden Transcendent Names Of God®) like crazy when we left it, so I wouldn’t count it as wrong just yet.

            Now, about the crash (I so much WANT to see this explained…):

            > the Genesis reading took place on Apollo VIII’s fourth pass in front of the face of the moon.

            Even if they were right at the dividing line, they had been there 3 times before (they were on their fourth pass!). An they would have hit it on the way up anyway, as well as all the unmanned probes that went beyond the moon.

            Something must have happened to make the firmament suddenly impenetrable… Like you, I can’t decide whether the Genesis reading is a red herring or not… And it bothers me :p

          • sohi says:

            Random speculation: It happened when they were at the dividing line and he said the name of God. But not just “God” he said “God bless all of-“. It is not saying “God” that broke it, it must have been the last thing he said: “all of”. What does “all of” sound like: “aleph” aleph stands for infinity and describes the infiniteness of God. Asking god to bless himself infinitely caused the crash (in both senses)

          • Ninmesara says:

            @sohi I am not convinced by the correspondence between “aleph” and “all of”… You’d need a pretty strong accent to pull this off. In any case, the sentence “god bless all of” must have been said hundreds of times since the beginning of the omens (which, I assume, mark the breakdown of the simulation). So, either the universe machinery failed at exactly that moment by coincidence (do these exist in this umiverse at all?) or there is something else…

          • ChronoMager says:

            As of Chapter 34, Aleph = “all of” is now cannon 😉
            Maybe even as of Chapter 32.

  24. Outis says:

    The pope doesn’t say mass from a balcony. I don’t mean habitually – I mean ever. It’s not a place where you can say mass, because it’s not an altar. There are a few notable balconies associated with the pontiff, such as the one at St. Peter’s, or the one at Castle S. Angelo, but the one you’re probably thinking of is the balcony of the pope’s apartment, facing St. Peter’s square. He says the Angelus prayer from there, every Sunday at noon, with a large crowd in the square.

    So I think you can fix this by replacing “Mass” with “the Angelus”. But please do. As it is now, it’s quite jarring – it’s like reading that the President of the US was addressing Congress at the Oval Office.

  25. aphyer says:

    So, I can’t help but notice that the URL of this page is prologue-2. If I replace the 2 with a 1, I wind up on a page that says nothing but ‘comments are closed’. Is this just a technical issue, or does it have some kind of deep kabbalistic implications I am not able to fathom?

  26. Aimee says:

    Tractates of the Talmud always start on page 2, FWIW.

  27. teucer says:

    Say it with me y’all… phytoplankton

  28. Bob says:

    Hahaha the second ‘phytoplankton’ incident gave me a good laugh. Those damn devious plankton have to be STOPPED!

  29. Pingback: RIP John Glenn | shakeddown

  30. Sniffnoy says:

    Martin Luther King was murdered in April.

    You know, it’s really too bad that MLK didn’t get to appear in the story, what with his name being “King” in two different ways.

  31. The coment king says:

    I’ve finally finished mailing (most of) the shirts. Important notes:

    People who’s shirts haven’t been mailed yet:

    There were two people who only gave a street address, and who also either had no paypal addresses or had one that didn’t match the given address. I haven’t sent these out yet – if you think this might be you, please email me (I don’t want to put identifying personal information on here).
    there was also someone who wrote “medium” on the size, but didn’t specify which shirt he wanted. The only medium I have left is the unsong logo (big aleph) shirt, I can send you that one if that’s ok.
    People who still want shirts:

    I have two large shirts of each type that are currently unspoken for, as well as an XL theodicy shirt. email me if you’re interested.
    The images used for the shirt designs, as well as links to the customink designs, are available here, if you want to order on your own: https://goo.gl/photos/iBtab1Lq6Lvs4fpf9
    Thanks for participating, everyone! it’s been great.

    My email’s the rot13 of funxrq.xbcyrjvgm at gmail com.

  32. Bill says:

    … they crashed into the crystal sphere surrounding the world …

    What happened to all the pre-1968 interplanetary probes? There were a bunch that went well beyond earth orbit; the earliest was the USSR’s Luna 1, which was intended to crash into the moon, but missed and went into heliocentric orbit.

    Somehow this would work better for me if it was the scripture reading rather than a physical collision that triggered the odd events to follow..

    • gbear605 says:

      They clarify this somewhere that it was the combination of the scripture reading and the physical location that triggered it.

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