aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 14: Cruelty Has A Human Heart

Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is power: and who may stand in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is applied. These two rules describe the essence of a computer programmer trainee

May 11, 2017
Ione, California

Something was horribly wrong.

Gradually it came back to me. I’d tried to fight UNSONG and failed miserably. They’d seized me and presumably my computer too, driven goodness knows how many hours with me in the back of a black van, then deposited me in a cell somewhere. I had fallen asleep. Now I had woken up. I was still in an UNSONG cell. There were guards outside the window.

This was not what was horribly wrong.

The wrongness was subtler than that. It pierced to the bone. It was like hearing your own heartbeat, pounding in your ears, except that it was off, in some way that you couldn’t explain, and you kept thinking maybe you had some rare heart disease that was going to kill you any moment now.

I tried to get up, and was mildly surprised when I succeeded. Whatever was wrong wasn’t physically wrong. I tried to speak and found that I was gagged. Obvious precaution. You capture a kabbalist, you don’t want them speaking. No chance UNSONG was going to forget that.

The cell was spacious – although to be fair my standards had been set by the sort of rooms I could rent for minimum wage in the Bay Area. It was well-kept, as if advertising that UNSONG didn’t need to deny its prisoners any of their physical needs in order to break them. Or maybe I was reading too much into it, because everything around me still felt horribly wrong.

I cleared my mind as best I could.

[Ana, are you there? Where are you?]

There was nothing. Either Ana was far away, or distracted, or asleep, or – I couldn’t make myself think “dead”. I would have felt it if she died. That, I told myself, is definitely how kabbalistic marriages work.

So I banged on the door of my cell, hoping that the guards would hear me and take me away to whatever awful fate was awaiting me, rather than leave me here where something was horribly wrong.

Both guards looked at me. One of them muttered something I couldn’t hear, probably along the lines of “He’s awake”. I was surprised to see they looked like ordinary people. The one on the left wore a sort of serious expression that reminded me of Eliot Foss for some reason. The one on the right looked a combination of pissed off and scared. I wondered if he, too, could feel that something was horribly wrong.

“Mr. Smith-Teller,” he said. I winced internally. I mean, I suppose if they didn’t know my name now it wouldn’t have taken them too much longer to find it out, but it still hurt. Kabbalists are notoriously fussy about who knows their true name. I’m not sure why. When an angel or demon is hidden in some sort of incarnate form, knowing their true name gives you power over them. Knowing the Shem haMephorash does the same to God, or something. I don’t think there’s anything like this for humans, but there’s still just something that feels very careless about letting your enemies have such an important word.

“You’re awake just in time. We’ll be taking you for debriefing now. Please come peacefully or we will have to take measures to enforce compliance.” He didn’t say it in a nasty way, though. I kind of liked the guy. But something was nevertheless horribly wrong.

I nodded, and let them open the door of my cell and march me down the corridor. This was something else. I knew UNSONG arrested people, I knew that they put you in prison for a long time if you used Names without a license, but I’d always heard they used the normal federal prisons. The idea of a secret UNSONG black site somewhere sounded like it was out of Erica’s paranoid anti-government screeds.

It didn’t fail to register that if no one had ever revealed the existence of this place before, that meant either that they were very good with the Amnestic Name, or else no one had ever gotten out of here before. I tried to remember exactly how effective the Amnestic Name was and ironically came up blank. And what about the Confounding Name? I couldn’t remember.

The facility wasn’t small, either. We walked through poorly-lit corridor after poorly-lit corridor. I tried to look for other prisoners, references to the location, even doors with signs on them, but all I spotted were a couple of locked rooms with the UNSONG seal on the front. An aleph superimposed on the United Nations globe, and around it, the name “United Nations Subcommittee On Names of God” and the motto “I TEGO ARCANA DEI”. Begone, I hide the secrets of God. There were deep kabbalistic depths in that phrase, but I didn’t have the energy to think about them, because something was horribly wrong.

We came to a room. A conference room, it looked like. They motioned me to sit down. The sense that something was horribly wrong got stronger. The guards could feel it too. I could tell.

The door swung open.

“Ma’am,” said one the of the guards, politely yet as quickly as possible, and then both of them walked away just slowly enough not to technically be considered running.

Two other guards entered, both looking like people who were in severe pain but had been dealing with it for long enough that they could sort of crack a nervous smile and say it didn’t bother them anymore – and between them, a five foot tall woman of ambiguous ethnicity wearing a purple dress and a pearl necklace.

And I thought: Huh, I’ve seen this person in the newspaper.

“Mr. Smith-Teller,” she said, and smiled at me. “I’m Malia Ngo.”

Okay. So any hope that they were just annoyed at Erica’s secret meetings was gone. This was Director-General Malia Ngo. The head of UNSONG. If she was involved, they thought this was the most important thing happening in the world at this moment. Which of course it was. They knew all about the Vital Name and everything it could do, and they were going straight to the top. Okay. So I was really, really doomed.

When the President and the Comet King had worked together to convince the United Nations to fund UNSONG, leadership of the fledgling bureaucracy had gone to a elderly Brazilian politician who had taken a hands-off approach. He’d gone after the biggest gangs and most blatant serial abusers of Names, talking about “decapitation strikes” against networks of large-scale pirates. The policy was very popular – everyone agreed that having the Mafia in on the Name business was a bad idea – and pretty ineffective, because most unauthorized Name use was by ordinary non-Mafia people who talked to each other online.

He’d died about ten years ago and been replaced by Ms. Ngo, who had joined the organization two years earlier and presided over a famous sting on the medicinal-Name gangs in the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire. She replaced her predecessor’s cautious balance with a scorched-earth approach that won her dozens of powerful enemies – all of whom were carefully outmanuevered. It didn’t hurt that theonomic profits increased about 300% during the first five years of her tenure. Sure, a lot of people thought that was because of blockbuster discoveries like the Precious Name and Zahlenquadrat-boxing, but pirated Names becoming a hundred times harder to find couldn’t have hurt either. Soon any move against her would have half the theonomics bigwigs in the country at the President’s doorstep within an hour, and UNSONG was her private fiefdom. She scared a lot of people, and I’d always thought it was a deliberate attempt to play the bully in order to compensate for her unthreatening appearance.

Now she seemed just the opposite. She wasn’t trying to look scary. She was doing everything she could not to. And it wasn’t enough.

“Mr. Smith-Teller,” she repeated. “I’m sorry you’re in this situation.” She really did sound sorry. “I understand you are associated with several Unitarian groups who have a dim view of UNSONG, and you’re probably laboring under the misapprehension that I am here to hurt you. As difficult as this may be to believe, we’re potentially on the same side. I’m going to take your gag out. If you start speaking a Name, I’m afraid we’ll have you unconscious before you finish the second syllable, and the gag will go back in. I’m sure you can imagine the reasons we have these precautions. Nod if you understand.”

Even her face was something terrible. I couldn’t place her ethnicity at all. Her face looked like it came from one of those weird nightjar birds whose eyes are in the wrong place and don’t look even look like real eyes.

I nodded. She made a motion to the guards. One of them took my gag out.

“Mr. Smith-Teller,” she said. “I’m sorry you’re in this situation, but as you can tell from my presence here we do have to take this very seriously, and I have to ask you a few questions. The Keller-Stern Act of 1988 states that anyone who discovers a Divine Name of potential military value is legally obligated to turn it over to the Untied States government in exchange for fair monetary compensation. Most people aren’t aware of the Act, and we have no interest in punishing them for refusing to follow a law they never heard of. But now you know. So, Mr. Teller-Smith, and please tell me the truth, do you know any Names that might be covered under the law?”

I felt like she would know if I lied. Her nightjar eyes stared into my soul. If I lied to Malia Ngo, something terrible would happen to me.

“No,” I said. “I don’t know any such Name.”

And it was God’s own truth. Because I had forgotten the Name. Because I was a moron. I could have told her more, but she terrified me, and the truth – that I’d known the Vital Name and forgotten it – would be neither believable nor welcome. And part of me was desperately hoping that if I said nothing, she would go away, the wrongness would end, and I would just be in a perfectly normal government black site and everything would be fine.

“Did you speak a Name that allowed you to find the location of the Moon?”

“I did,” I said.

“How did you learn that Name?”

Every fiber of my body tensed at her oppressive closeness. It was a fair question. I had no way out this time. Either tell her what had happened, or lie like a rug and see exactly what those nightjar eyes could do.

I ran through a host of scenarios. I tell the Director-General that I knew the Name and forgot it. She doesn’t believe me and tries to torture it out of me. She doesn’t believe me and tries to torture the Name out of Ana. She does believe me and tries to dissect my brain to get it. She goes to an error correction specialist, fixes the Name, and takes over the world, and I’m still alive to see it.

I am definitely not a hero. I’ve been in one fight, but only because I was drunk, and I ended up with two black eyes. The only thing I’ve ever been good at is studying things and comparing them and trying to understand them.

But the sages of old weren’t your typical heroes either, and they were constantly breaking out of prison by one miracle or another. Rabbi Meir convinced a Roman prison guard to free his friend by reassuring him that if anyone tried to punish his disobedience, he could say “God of Meir, help me!” and God would keep him from harm; when his commander tried to hang him for his role in the escape, the guard cried “God of Meir, help me!”, the rope broke, and he managed to run away to safety. When a whole Roman legion arrived to arrest the great translator Onkelos, he preached to them in Latin about the symbolism of the mezuzah, and the whole legion converted to Judaism on the spot. And when the Romans arrested Rabbi Eleazar ben Perata on five charges, God helped him craft a plausible alibi for each; when the plausible alibis didn’t work, the prophet Elijah appeared at the end of the trial, lifted up the prosecutor, and threw him out of the courtroom so hard that he landed five hundred miles away. I think I mentioned that the Talmud is kind of crazy.

So miraculously breaking out of prison is the sort of thing kabbalists are expected to be able to do, and I daydream a lot, and a long time ago I had come up with a fantasy about the sort of thing I would do if I were ever trapped in a prison, and this was by far the stupidest thing I had ever done, but something was terribly wrong and I needed to get out of here.

“I had a prophetic dream,” I said.

I knew the moment I said it that Malia Ngo didn’t believe me. I could see it in those nightjar eyes. And so I panicked. I gave up an advantage, threw out a morsel I was sure Ngo wanted.

“The dream told me how to use a computer program to discover new Names.”

There. If I was right, and she’d reseached the Moon-Finding Name specifically to catch people using Llull, I’d just told her something she already knew was true, redeemed myself. Maybe she still thought I was lying. But at least she knew it was an interesting lie. One that paralleled the truth. Maybe she’d want to hear me out.

“Tell me more,” Ngo ordered.

I made as if to object. “It was a really, really strange dream.” I said. “Full of bizarre imagery. It was only this weird sixth sense that helped me understand any of it at all. If I told you, it would just sound like random noise.”

And I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this, but caught between the horror of lying to Ngo and the horror of telling her the truth somehow I was going along with it, even though I knew very shortly this would be something to add to my ‘I am an idiot’ file right next to speaking the Moon-Finding Name aloud.

“Tell me the dream,” Ngo repeated.

I looked awkward and abashed, and it had nothing to do with acting. “It was…all these weird images in succession. This is going to sound so stupid. I don’t even know why I remember them so clearly.”

Ngo didn’t even say anything. Just stared at me with those eyes, as if to tell me I wasn’t getting off the hook.

“It all started with…with…it started with a dog having sex with a tree.”

Ngo blinked, but said nothing.

“And Zeus saw this, and he made a river, to drown the dog as punishment. And Shamu – you know, the killer whale – swam down the river, nibbling on somebody’s skull.”

Ngo was still listening. She looked confused, but not suspicious.

“It was the skull of a vampire, who had died reciting a poem about a lantern,” I told the Director General.

I know as much about klipot as any man alive. I was the one who broke NEHEMOTH, I was the one who taught the Singers’ cryptographers half the things they knew, I could see possibilities that everyone else would have thought insane. I was going to do this. I was making it happen.

“Sauron had knighted him once by speaking a secret Name,” I said, “but it didn’t save him. It was the dog who killed him, by lancing him through the heart with a thumbtack.”

For something to be a klipah, four things are necessary.

That the speaker know the Name he is trying to conceal.

That there be a one-to-one correspondence between the klipah being uttered and the letters of the Name being concealed, one which the speaker understands at the deepest level.

That the correspondence not be ad hoc – you can’t turn “Hello how are you” into the Tetragrammaton by declaring on the spot that “Hello” equals yud, “How” equals hay, and so on. There has to be at least an intention or possibility of consistency, rather than a deliberate mapping on to a preexisting pattern.

And that the signal be separated from the noise; that the parts which represent letters are fixed in advance and not separated by other parts representing other letters.

I had invented my mnemonic system to help remember Names through weird stories. It was hard to remember that the first three letters in the Vanishing Name were dalet-samech-tav. But it was easy to remember a dog having sex with a tree.

Given an appreciation of my mnemonic system, a story about a dog having sex with a tree and Zeus making a river was equivalent on a phonetic level to dalet samech tav zayin mem resh. The first six letters of the Vanishing Name.

“Neptune went to inspect the river in his capacity as god of water, and got mad, and started terrorizing it with a rake. Kim Jong-un flew overhead in a lantern.”

Ngo was starting to look very dubious now. I didn’t have much time.

“Moses recited a poem about tacos.”

[Aaron] came a voice from deep in my head. [I’ve come to save you. Are you there?]

[Ana?] A horror. Ana Thurmond was in this place. [Ana, I can take care of myself…maybe…Ana, get out!]

But to Malia Ngo, I said only: “Neptune.”


Don’t use the Vanishing Name, I had said during choir practice, unless you are in a situation where it is absolutely vital to your well-being and continued survival that you be accosted by a different band of hooligans than the ones who are currently accosting you. Right now, being accosted by a different band of hooligans was my heart’s fondest and most desperate desire.

As Director-General Malia Ngo and two UNSONG guards strained to understand my made-up dream imagery, I completed the Name and vanished from right in front of their faces.

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164 Responses to Chapter 14: Cruelty Has A Human Heart

  1. null says:

    Two possibilities for maximum plot: UNSONG expected this, and he’s going to end up in a different UNSONG interrogation facility in exactly the same conditions.
    Or, he ends up in the hands of BOOJUM. Remarkably enough, the first one is safer.

    (Side note: Someone I knew used ‘boojum’ in a course to refer to a member of the empty set. It seems almost fitting.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Very clever, Aaron.

      I thought the sense of wrongness might be some kind of effect messing with his intelligence and memory (after all, if you’re hauling off very dangerous kabbalists and magic-users to a secret interrogation centre, you would want to use magical/kabbalistic security as well as physical security, and messing with their ability to use their talents is one way of doing that).

      I suppose Aaron could end up in, say, a maximum-security prison or the like as an equivalent swap for UNSONG’s holding centre.

      Or maybe Guantanamo Bay, if it’s in operation in this universe and the distances are not too much? (Probably not, isn’t there some kind of distance limitation on the Vanishing Name that I’m too lazy to look up right now?)

      I very much appreciate the William Blake quote as chapter heading 🙂

    • Placid Platypus says:

      Hmm, but the situation he left included someone having just shown up to rescue him. Does that mean someone will be there to rescue him wherever he ends up?

    • alexander hollins says:

      Was the member of the empty set rather… snarky? Heh.

  2. Dirdle says:

    I tried to remember exactly how effective the Amnestic Name was and ironically came up blank.

    Have you ever thought about antimemes? Me neither.

  3. Rob says:

    Typo: “One of them muttered **I** something I couldn’t hear”

  4. sealion says:


    Which is an awfully ironic remark for Aaron’s situation, but I am not sure what the larger significance might be.

    • null says:

      Well, Arcadia is a suburb of Los Angeles, so that’s obviously where UNSONG is headquartered.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Et in Arcadia ego” can mean “Even in the pastoral happy land, I (Death) am present” which fits the threatening image of UNSONG under Director-General Ngo: there is no escape from our oversight, we are everywhere and watching everything.

      Poussin’s painting(s) of the subject are very popular fodder for the Rennes-Le-Chateau type conspiracy theorists (as in Dan Brown’s works).

      I see by Wikipedia Scott picked up on the “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” usage 🙂

      The authors of the pseudohistory The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982), under the false impression that “et in arcadia ego” was not a proper Latin sentence, proposed that it is an anagram for I! Tego arcana dei, which translates to “Begone! I keep God’s secrets”, suggesting that the tomb contains the remains of Jesus or another important Biblical figure

      “Pseudohistory” is a very charitable way of referring to it; I had previously read the SHOCKING REVELATIONS THAT THE SHADOWY POWER-BROKERS DO NOT WANT YOU TO KNOW AND THAT HAVE BEEN HIDDEN FOR CENTURIES! years before that in a historical romance I got out of the library (when not yet old enough to borrow adult books me was permitted to discreetly borrow books from the adult section as I’d read through the children’s section).

      It was a novel about Nostradamus (but of course) and part of the plot centred on a cardinal and his incestuous affair with his sister, both of whom had a tattoo or birthmark or other symbol proving that they were of the Sang Réal bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the line of Merovingian Kings, so the cardinal was involved in a plot to claim the French throne and Nostradamus got dragged into this because of his prophetic gifts.

      So I wasn’t much impressed by a book whose selling-point was “Shocking revelations of secrets that will overturn the Church etc.!” when I’d read them in a work of fiction borrowed from the library of a small Irish town a good ten years before 🙂

    • As someone who hung out on Shireroth for a while as a sort of ambassador to the micronation Dark Arcadia, I wanted to make this comment (although in pure jest, admittedly), but of course I was too late. This is what I get for waiting a week to read chapters.

  5. LHC says:

    In the words of an episode of a TV show I haven’t watched:

    That only raises further questions!

  6. Pickle says:


  7. Marvy says:

    ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL GO WRONG. With Aaron involved? Yeah, right.

  8. Marvy says:

    That was pretty impressive though.

  9. Marvy says:

    Aaron should have said [Ana, I’m about to use the Vanishing Name.]

    Otherwise, saying “I can take care of myself, maybe”, followed by silence is not reassuring.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s keeping to the realistic portrayal of these characters so far, though. Ana finally turns up to rescue him just as Aaron manages to escape (er – if he does manage, maybe UNSONG have managed to Vanishing Name-proof their secret oubliette) and so he’s bounced off to a location of equivalent peril while she is now in peril of being taken up by UNSONG herself 🙂

      A dashing rescue/escape that went flawlessly would not be in character for what we’ve seen so far.

  10. Do stream cipers work as klipot? After all, there’s a one-to-one correspondence between an input letter and an output bit, it’s just that the correspondence depends on the position of the letter. Presumably you can’t implement a one-time pad as a klipah, since then it would have been impossible for Aaron to break it. One way to rationalize this is that a random key the length of the plaintext cannot possibly satisfy that “the speaker understands [it] at the deepest level”. However, its not clear whether a stream cipher with a shorter key can satisfy this criterion.

    Other readers, any thoughts on constructing klipot?

    • Stream ciphers seem like they could work if magic squares do (since we allow dependence on the location), but the shifting method would have to be something you could understand on a fundamental level, which limits its complexity.

      There’s also nothing there about saying the letters out of order, assuming you have a premutation you fundamentally understand.

      But wouldn’t it be nearly impossible to break klipot anyways? You could use a different correspondence of letters to replacements for each name. Since almost no known names have more than fifty letters, you can’t really use frequency analysis to crack it.

      • Seth says:

        As it does for encrypted English words, reliability of frequency analysis would depend not on the length of known names so much as the number of known names, and I don’t think that’s been specified in the story yet.

        What I’m wondering is whether anyone’s ever tried to construct a klipot for the express purpose of compressing names and reducing casting time. It seems like it ought to be possible, but it might be difficult to satisfy the requirement that the speaker understand the correspondence at the deepest level.

        • Seth says:

          Amendment: My comment about frequency analysis was silly. You’d still have to have a large sample of names using the same klipot for frequency analysis to be applicable, which was Coment King’s point.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          OK, since multiple people are making this mistake, I feel like I should point out: “klipot” is plural. “Klipah” is the singular.

        • Decius says:

          It seems that compressing the subset of syllable strings that form a valid word could result in some very compact klipot. The top kabbalists have already done most of the work to understand that at a deep (enough?) level.

          • Your symbols have to be in one-to-one correspondence with the letters though each of which are monosyllabic, so you can’t compress anything to shorter than the original name.

          • Decius says:

            But one could make klipah shorter than a syllable, couldn’t you?

        • Aegeus says:

          In Ch. 10, Aaron mentions that, if you were expecting a kabbalist duel, you could construct a klipah that didn’t count any normal conversation as part of a name. Then you could recite all but the last syllable of the Name in advance, and you’d be able to trigger the name almost instantly.

          Perhaps you could also have multiple, non-overlapping klipot so that you could have multiple names prepared in advance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the military was working on this.

          But The Coment King has a good point – you need a one-to-one mapping with letters and a Hebrew letter + vowel is already a single syllable, so you can’t really get any shorter. Maybe you could clean up some letters that are hard for English speakers, like Tzadik or Chet.

      • Update: I just remembered they have a lot of rules about what can and can’t be a name, which you should be able to use to break simple substitution ciphers in words with repeating letters. Stream ciphers might work better but they’d have to be not too complex.

        Also, It kinda sucks that there are 22 hebrew letters; if there were 23, the space of words of length N would be a vector space over Z/23, which would be simpler to do math over. Z/22 is just a ring (with elements of order 2:( ), which is much more frustrating to work over.

  11. dsotm says:

    “For something to be a klipah it is necessary for the speaker to know the name he is trying to conceal”, I’m assuming this refers to the speaker during the creation (consecration?) of the klipah or it wouldn’t have allowed for it’s use as a licensing mechanism without revealing the name, this however leaves the problem that people can be made to invoke names without intending to by tricking them to say a seemingly innocuous phrase, so the user of the klipah should probably know it’s a klipah and the intended effect of the underlying name for it to work.

    • beoShaffer says:

      My impression was that klipahs are for keeping names from being overheard, not from being learned by the person using them.

    • dsotm says:

      hmm so no homomorphic kabalism, oh well.
      probably doesn’t make much difference unless the creator of a klipah can also deactivate it.

  12. I’m going to guess someone used the amnesiac name on him already to make him forget the Vital Name. TINACBNIEAC.

    • Error says:

      Doubtful. Either they’d be picking and choosing names to make him forget, in which case they couldn’t make him forget the Vital Name, because they don’t know it; or they’d be blanking out his knowledge of all names, in which case he wouldn’t know the Vanishing Name either.

      • I was thinking a third player – maybe Sarah/Uriel/whoever’s running the rescue used it on him back in the house (this would make the most sense if it’s Sarah) to stop him telling it before he got rescued.

    • Error says:

      Also, it would be really awesome if TINACBNIEAC was itself a non-coincidental mapping to some structural element of the story.

    • Asmodeus says:

      -The name is time-dependent. Aaron didn’t forget, he doesn’t know the transformation. Maybe the number of mehs at the end must vary.
      -The kabbalistic marriage is coincidentally a necessary part, and they’ll have to wait some time before they’re ready to give birth again.

      How much does intent matter? Aaron didn’t ensoul some random pen when he discovered the name, right? If it matters a lot, then maybe it matters that Aaron lied to Bill to get that laptop. It’s not rightfully in his possession.

      Vitality might be a limited resource. Can only give away so much before Aaron’s out of spare vitality.

      Probably wrong, but it might outline the box to think outside of.

  13. Grort says:

    The definite-wrongness thing really sounds like devil influence to me. Is Malia Ngo secretly in league with the Devil?

    (It sort of makes sense, with an organization dedicated to suppressing the Names of God, that it would be secretly evil. Of course it also makes sense that the organization would be secretly good, and they’re suppressing the Names because the use of magic weakens reality. But the definite-wrongness thing seems to support the evil hypothesis better.)

    I tried to kabbalah her name, but unfortunately my kabbalah skills are limited to, so what I got is that Malia Gno is secretly a Magnolia tree.

    • LHC says:

      If UNSONG is, in fact, secretly good, then it’s probably a klipot – not in the encryption sense, but in the sense described in “There’s A Hole In My Bucket”.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Yeah, I thought the “wrongness” thing was hinting at Thamiel’s presence.

      And magnolias are symbolic of… uh… something, right?

      • Daniel says:

        Magnolias are apparently (1) symbolic of the Southern US, especially the state of Mississippi, and (2) used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat various digestive problems. I’m not sure what that all means but hopefully someone else can invent I mean, I see what you did there!

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Some quick Googling turns up a number of claimed associations with magnolias (real or not), including: (Victorian) nobility and dignity; (Chinese) Yin; (Chinese) “womanly beauty and gentleness”; (American South) purity and nobility (of a bride); (no culture or time specified) nobility; (no culture or time specified) perserverance; (no culture or time specified) love of nature.

        So, yeah, no idea. There’s also a movie called “Magnolia”, if that’s relevant…

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Go, animal! I’m analog.
      Lo, Gaiman; Ali mango.
      Milan, Goa; Anglo aim.
      Naomi gal Gila moan.
      Lon Amiga gin Alamo.
      Main goal: gain loam.

    • Daniel says:

      Using even more powerful skills I have determined that Malia Ngo is secretly Bitcoin.

    • arboretic says:

      I figured the name “Malia Ngo” had a pretty straightforward connotation. Malia = mal = bad. Ngo = non-governmental organization.

      Although if UNSONG understands the power of names, and doesn’t actively think of themselves as evil, would they really choose to put someone whose name implies “Evil Organization” at their helm?

    • Daniel says:

      Hmm. If there are fallen angels, maybe Ms. Ngo could be a risen demon?

    • MugaSofer says:

      >Is Malia Ngo secretly in league with the Devil?

      She’s 100% either the devil or a devil.

    • Quintopia says:

      Malum is Latin for evil, but mālum is Latin for apple. And worth the obvious resemblance to mango, we get that there’s something very fruity about her… and given that the main mystery of this story is knowledge of the purpose of evil, I know which fruit I’m putting my money on…

      Could she be the serpentine tempter of old?

  14. Typo thread!

    ” If I was right, and she’d reseached”
    Should be “researched.”

  15. fubarobfusco says:

    So, about that ambiguous ethnicity …

    “Malia” is the Hawai’ian form of “Mary”. One of the better-known Malias today is Malia Obama, one of the President’s daughters.

    “Ngo” is a Vietnamese surname. Of course, “NGO” also means something else.

    • naath says:

      The description of the wrongness of her appearance would seem consistent with Malia using some sort of camouflage to disguise her true appearance… maybe she isn’t human, or maybe she is just disguising her identity.

  16. Jack V says:

    Ooh. OK, things progress. Nice escaping, even if that was a terrible idea.

    Is there no other bug-out name that was available before the vanishing name was discovered? Maybe not.

    I’m really curious to see how the “different band of thugs” plays out.

    Terribly wrong. Forgotten name. I don’t *think* there was any mention of that before. So it’s presumably something new, either unsong have made him forget and want to test that, or he or Ana made himself forget. Or maybe there is something terrible about to happen.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      No, he’s just talking about the events of Chapter 7 — the Vital Name didn’t work on Bill’s computer, so he assumed he didn’t remember it correctly. This is nothing new.

  17. Lambert says:

    Interesting that Kim Jong Un exists in this world. Given the closed-off nature of the DPRK, I expect it to be one of the sanest places in that world.

  18. hnau says:

    Being able to use a Name via klipot seems ridiculously easy to abuse. The description of selling written Names in Chapter 1 implies that the name doesn’t have to be spoken to be effective, and nothing in the description of klipot here excludes that possibility. So as far as we know it’s theoretically possible to communicate a Name as, for example, a tap code. In which case even a gag wouldn’t be that helpful.

    I like that we’re learning more about how this stuff works, though. It kind of fits with what we know about the theonomic corporations– they’ve found a way to encrypt Names that gets around even the ‘analog hole’, i.e. even the person who buys and reads a Name doesn’t learn the name as a result. The rules of saying a Name via klipot seem like a plausible mechanism to make this work.

    • I doubt tapping would work, since then UNSONG wouldn’t rely on gags so easily. Also, the person who reads the name does have to know what it is – the commercial use of klipot was to stop people who overhear a name from learning it.

  19. Dennis Ochei says:

    I kinda find it hard to believe that the leader of UNSONG would realize he was trying to use klipot

    • XerxesPraelor says:

      Perhaps she thought he was telling the name of the word in klipot, but not as saying it but rather as how he got the name.

      (on the other hand, I agree that that level on not knowing is somewhat suspicious (though Aaron is apparently one of the best with klipots))

    • Chrysophylax says:

      I’m moderately confident that Malia Ngo is a good enough kabbalist and playing enough levels above Aaron that she not only doesn’t mind him saying the Vanishing Name (probably because she’s set up a very similar situation somewhere nearby), but has figured out much of his system for generating mnemonics and klipot.

      • Galle says:

        Ah, but in that case, the presence of Ana and Sarah could easily derail her attempt to intercept a Vanishing.

  20. anon says:

    I assumed the sense of wrongness was a Name being used by UNSONG for torture purposes. It certainly did seem to make Aaron more pliable.

    Then again, the way these narratives work, if the head of the big bad evil organization calls the protagonist up after capturing him and explains that she’s really on the side of the angels but needs his cooperation and will have it by force, she’s definitely going to be a good guy and a lot of the plot is going to revolve around the protagonist pointlessly getting in the way of her necessary work.

  21. mrkun says:

    “I was going to do this. I was making it happen.”
    Out of curiousity: is this a Homestuck reference or a weird coincidence?

  22. Raiden says:

    Since this shows that a klipot can take the form of a convoluted narrative, maybe it’ll turn out that the Torah is a klipot of the Shem haMephorash, a klipot that Aaron can break.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      a klipot


      • Azriel says:

        In modern Hebrew, a כלי is a tool, or utentil. In biblical Hebrew, in means a vessel, or a pot. So, when the grandparent says “klipot”, what they are really trying to di is to show the correspondence of the translation, showing what a klipa js through a clever demonstration. Right?

    • XerxesPraelor says:

      It would be cool if the boring part of Numbers or 1 Chronicles were actually just rather unsubtle klipot.

    • Galle says:

      Klipot seems like it’s just a specific application of the general principle that Adam Kadmon is a common blueprint for everything – a klipot works because it has the same underlying organizing principle as the name it’s encrypting.

      Uriel said that the Bible was isomorphic to Adam Kadmon, and as a Name, the Shem haMephorash probably is, too. I’m not sure if the Torah alone is, but it seems entirely possible that the Bible as a whole is, effectively, a klipot of the Shem haMephorash.

      • Sonata Green says:

        In that case, the Book of Jezuboad is crucial to discovering the Shem haMephorash. Only once you have Jezuboad do you have the whole Torah, and therefore the material necessary to decrypt the klipah.

        • Raiden says:

          I wonder if anyone other than Sohu was ever exposed to it?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            The Comet King?

            And hey, if Isaac Luria “gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare”, perhaps he somehow got a glimpse of it too in the process…

          • Nemo says:

            In one of the other chapters, I think Perishing Vegetable Memory, Aaron mentions that everyone was surprised when an extra book was suddenly added to the Bible, every Bible. I had assumed Uriel ‘fixed’ all the print copies when he gave Jezuboad to Sohu.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Hm, I’m looking, and I can’t find anything about this. Ana talks about additions to the Bible, but those seem to be additions in the ordinary sense — those sections that were, in actual history, added later than other sections — not additions in some retroactive reality-shifting sense. I certainly can’t find anything about a whole extra book. Although yeah the discussion in Chapter 7 does make it sound a bit like that. Still, the most consistent interpretation I think is that it’s the ordinary sense.

          • MugaSofer says:

            The Book of Jezuboad seems to explain theodicy, or at least have major effects on it.

        • benzrf says:

          Tanach, not Torah. The Torah is just the Pentateuch/Five Books of Moses.

  23. Swimmingly says:

    I wonder if a true master of klipot could figure out kabbalistic mappings to turn a seemingly innocuous phrase into a devestating Name, rather than relying on weird dream imagery like Aaron?

    • MugaSofer says:

      Sure. Aaron’s “I’ll just spell it out in the initials of a sentence” mnemonic could easily be used to construct innocuous sentences, given time.

      I’m not sure this would be useful, however. It makes the name much longer, and you still need to speak, and it’s usually obvious who’s spoken a name once it’s been spoken.

      The Bulletproof Name might be mildly useful if activated stealthily, I suppose, but only if your attempted murder is too stupid to shoot you multiple times.

      That said, Aaron should have been debriefed using a pencil and paper.

      • boris says:

        I’m actually surprised Aaron didn’t have a few ready for a situation like the UNSONG raid. But it seems like klipah are more easily used to conceal the use of names than to facilitate their rapid use in combat, anyway. I suppose the tighter the correspondences, the shorter the klipot for a given name would be; since he’s just mapping each letter into the dream story (not even every word!), it ends up being paragraphs. Maybe theoretically, a single word could correspond to multiple syllables for the purpose in name-shortening klipah, but it’d take some serious thought.

        It is confounding that they’d let him speak at all, given that they know klipah exist, and that he’s well-versed on the subject.

        • It doesn’t look like they did extensive research on him though. From what Ngo said, it sounds like someone set off their moon-finding name and they jumped into action immediately. The only thing they really knew about him was that he was involved with unitarians.

          • boris says:

            I would’ve thought that he’d have been on their radar already, what with the his klipot-hacking paper and subsequent unceremonious exit from academia. It doesn’t seem like Ngo not to have that information available.

        • benzrf says:

          klipah is the singular, klipot the plural :p

  24. Anon says:

    My guess is that the Vanishing Name will interpret the current situation as “imprisoned and about to be rescued”. I’m as interested in who the alternate rescuers are as the alternate thugs.

    • Marvy says:

      Erica and boujoum?

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t know if Aaron would be better off with UNSONG than BOOJUM; Dylan Martinez (if he’s still around and still in charge) seems like the type to start cutting off body parts as an encouragement to talk if he’s not getting the answers he wants. Director-General Ngo seems to rely more on psychological intimidation.

        I’m pretty sure BOOJUM would want the Vital Name as part of its toolbox to bring down whatever it is they want to bring down and very much sure they are not the type to take “No, I don’t think I want to tell you guys” as a final answer.

        • Decius says:

          Boojum wouldn’t instantly know about all that stuff. Fast-talking “I managed to get the vanishing name off and get away from unsong” might be enough to get out of hot water there.

  25. Lambert says:


    The that something is wrong comes from Ana via the ‘marriage’, because that kind of thing was described between her and Erica.

    • Dindane says:

      In that case, why would it get stronger as Aaron gets closer to Ngo? And why would the guards feel it? (Aaron could be wrong about the latter, admittedly.)

  26. John Sidles says:


    (1) Conservative Restrictions versus Progressive Openness

    The Unsong’s fictional “Keller-Stern Act of 1988” closely parallels the real-life legal battle “United States v. Progressive, Inc.” of 1979.

    Here the homologous tension resides in the safe pursuit of conservative science (under US law) versus the open pursuit of progressive science (per The Progressive).

    (2) David Hockney versus Jacob Collins

    The conservative objectives of (figurist) David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge stand in tension with the progressive objectives of (realist) Jacob Collins’ Grand Central Atelier of New York

    An artist’s aesthetic is really the product of his studio practices — that’s what defines the art form. It’s what you do in a very particular way. … [An artist’s] first job is the successful practice of the form itself. And what the form is, for me, is defined by the practice.
      — Jacob Collins

    Here the homologous tension resides in creating great art (Hockney) versus creating great artists (Collins).

    (3) Quantum Supremacy versus the Varietal Aufklärung

    This tension is exhibited in the contrast between John Preskill’s “Quantum Computing and the Entanglement Frontier” (2012, arXiv:1203.5813) versus Haegeman, Osborne and Verstraete’s “Post-Matrix Product State methods: to tangent space and beyond” (2013, arXiv:1305.1894).

    Here the homologous tension resides in creating great STEM-works (via Quantum Supremacy) versus creating great STEM-workers (via the Varietal Aufklärung).

    A Fourth Tension  The SSC essay “Two Attitudes In Psychiatry” of February 24, 2016) reads naturally as a reflection upon the homologous tension between creating great treatment regimens (Attitude 1) versus creating great physician-patient relations (Attitude 2).

    Are these tensions intrinsically irreconcilable?

    Perhaps Malia Ngo is right to say “As difficult as this may be to believe, we’re potentially on the same side.”

  27. LHC says:

    Prediction: not only will the Vanishing Name take Aaron to BOOJUM, but this corresponds with a deliberate summoning ritual used by someone from BOOJUM.

  28. Quixote says:

    Very good. Creepy. It works that something is horribly wrong and we don’t know what. And Aaron is Aaron. Good ole Aaron.

  29. bassicallyboss says:

    I predict that the “wrongness” is some mechanism that UNSONG has for preventing Names (or perhaps only certain Names) from working, and therefore Aaron will not be going anywhere.

    If this is the case, the most likely candidate mechanisms would seem to be:
    -Another Name
    -Some use of Sephirah (assuming that’s the singular of Sephirot, by analogy with klipah/klipot)

    If the latter, it may more specifically involve a collaboration with Thamiel, or else some advanced klipah, perhaps designed into the geometric or acoustical properties of the building somehow. (I have no idea how the latter might work, but it seems plausible that such a thing might exist in this world, and if it does, UNSONG certainly has it.)

    • Sniffnoy says:

      It does explicitly say he vanished from in front of their faces.

      • MugaSofer says:

        That could be Ana, I suppose. Probably isn’t, though.

      • bassicallyboss says:

        Thanks for mentioning that–I managed to forget it, somehow. That does make my prediction rather less likely. Although I have seen phrasing along the lines of:

        “And then x happened.”

        “At least, I thought x would happen”

        more than once in the past. It’s not very common, though.

      • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

        Exact words, maybe? He vanished from “in front” of their faces, it doesn’t say where he ended up.

        BOOJUM is dangerous, but not sure how well their version of hot seat tactics would parallel UNSONG’s. Also, they are apparently based out east at the moment, and the Vanishing Name’s range is an order of magnitude too small to get there.

        My WMG? He’s in a nearly unique situation. In her way, Malia Ngo seems like a distinctively perilous person to be confronted by. There is one angle that is its own complement: a right angle. The UU who was mugged in Dallas then Austin was sent back to the first gang of muggers by the second use of the name. Aaron’s backed into a corner; nothing in range could match. So the Name transports him to Malia Ngo’s interrogation room at the UNSONG dark site in Ione.

        But a Name is not going to be said in vain, it wouldn’t suit. So it at least made sure to send him to the opposite side of the room. From in front of their faces to behind their backs.

        (The best part is? If I’m wrong, it’s because Scott has figured out how to ratchet up the stakes still higher.)

  30. Quixote says:

    I’m posting a follow up to note that Aaron is, upon reflection, a total badass. Yeah he makes mistakes, and these mistakes are with time and distance and the benefit of third party narration, pretty foolish t times. But being perfect is hard. And being perfect, in real time, on the first try, while under pressure, is really really really hard.
    So things he has done: gotten in to Stanford. Objectively, by the numbers, getting into a top tier school is very hard, only a minuscule percentage of the population can accomplish it. Breaking a serious encryption code developed by major corporations and essential to their profitability model. That’s really big. And it relied on original research of a high level that was completed early in his undergrad career. He is (admittedly by his own judgment) one of the worlds foremost experts on Kilpot. Magical dueling like a boss. Again, choosing to battle Unsong the way he did was dumb, but it was very awesome, go back and read that chapter again. Teleporting out of a secret prison while being actively watched by several guards and the very director of Unsong.
    We know in retrospect much of this goes wrong. But AST is a huge bad ass and clearly extremely smart.

    • Yeah. It’s also worth noting that when UNSONG caught up to him he immediately realized how they’d done it (as opposed to Ana, who had no idea).

      I really hope this gets published in dead-tree form someday; I’d really like to have this book on my shelf.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I’d like to see an edited version, that fixes the various inconsistencies. 😛 (It is of course hard to say right now what’s an inconsistency and what is Scott having something up his sleeve that we don’t know about yet. But I expect some of the apparent inconsistencies are in fact just flubs.)

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming back to this much later, I have a take of my own on it.

      Aaron is very smart, but his underlying problem is precisely that he is not a huge badass. He makes choices from weakness, laziness, precisely the sort of choices a “huge badass” would not make. The defining trait of a “badass,” informally, is someone you fear to make an enemy. Aaron… does not make a very fearsome enemy, because defeating him isn’t really that hard, as long as you outflank his one great strength.

      Because in fairness to the man, he does have one great strength: he’s pretty good at creatively solving whatever problem happens to be right in front of his nose, as long as said problem can be solved with applied kabbalah.

  31. sohi says:

    Just wanted to say this was a great chapter. The build up of tensionin the klipot scene ws well-executed. I was saying to myself ‘I dont know what will happen but its going to be awesome, and since its aaron, also probaably catastrophic’

  32. -_- says:

    Okay, so continuing on from last time we got given part of Aaron’s Dominic System ( ), let’s see what new stuff we get here:

    From before:
    K|Kim Jong-un|Knight|Ketchup
    T|T. Rex|?|?

  33. -_- says:

    “It all started with…with…it started with a dog having sex with a tree.”

    “And Zeus saw this, and he made a river, to drown the dog as punishment. And Shamu – you know, the killer whale – swam down the river, nibbling on somebody’s skull.”

    “It was the skull of a vampire, who had died reciting a poem about a lantern,”

    “Sauron had knighted him once by speaking a secret Name,” I said, “but it didn’t save him. It was the dog who killed him, by lancing him through the heart with a thumbtack.”

    “Neptune went to inspect the river in his capacity as god of water, and got mad, and started terrorizing it with a rake. Kim Jong-un flew overhead in a lantern.”

    “Moses recited a poem about tacos.”



    D-S-T Z-M-R SH-N-S V-R-L S-K-N D-L-TH N-T-R K-F-L M-R-T N

    (I’m not combining them, for reasons you’ll see in a bit)
    K|Kim Jong-un|?|?

    Combining it all gives us:

    K|Kim Jong-un|Knight|Ketchup
    T|T. Rex|Terrorize|Tacos,Tree

    First of all, we notice that — as we might expect — form doesn’t matter. N-Verb is “Nibble” as well as “Nibbling”

    But then look at S and T:
    T|T. Rex|Terrorize|Tacos,Tree

    S-Verb we see as both “Sitting” (from last time) AND “Sex”. And T-Object is both “Tacos” and “Tree”.

    This is kinda expected, actually (I mentioned it last time I looked at Aaron’s Dominic System) — Hebrew has (at least) two letters for S — Samech and Sin — and two letters for T — Tet and Taf.

    What ISN’T expected is R:

    There… aren’t two different R-sounds in any Hebrew, as far as I know. There’s just Resh. So what the HECK is going on here?

    Two possibilities: either, (1) the Names of God aren’t in Hebrew letters — Except we’re given here that they ARE, even if they’re not following normal Hebrew phonological rules…

    Or, (2) Somebody messed up.

    The easy way out is “Scott messed up” — which is possible, maybe? He’s messed up before, and usually there are correction threads.

    But there’s evidence against that, here. The only R-Word we had from last time was Roman — everything else is new. Specifically, both the Rake and the River are from THIS time. And he did, later, use River as a null word — “Neptune went to inspect the river…”

    And it’s also worth pointing out, that the last time he thought about this Name, he was teaching it, and moving the letters around the beginning and end.

    You know, the end? Which ended on a single word on it’s lonesome, “Neptune”? The god of oceans, associated with rivers?

    Aaron was focusing a lot on finishing this Name. And he had a lot on his mind.

    So there’s probably a mess-up here. But what if it’s not Scott’s?

    What if AARON messed up the Name?

    • -_- says:

      (Oh, one final thought for this. Last time I was specifically looking for what Aaron’s System might spit out for the significant triples MSS and ARN from Interlude Bet. MSS is gonna be hard — we have Moses, but there are at least two different sets of S-Words, so we won’t get that for a while — but ARN, there’s only maybe two ways of doing it.

      And while the R-Object is in question, the R-Verb we know. And the N-Object.

      The only one left is the A-Subject — but we can guess this: This is Aaron’s Dominic System, after all, and we’ve established that he is nothing if not at least a slight bit conceited. And also, it’d be easy to remember. So what, probably, is his A(leph)-Subject?

      “Aaron”, of course.

      Leaving Aaron remembering A-R-N — the sequence which according to footnote 1 acts as the primary enabler for the Sudden Phase Change and a new Code of Rules — as:

      “Aaron recites a Name.”

      Just something to think about.

    • Aegeus says:


      (3) Only the starting letter matters, not whether it’s a verb or a noun. If this is so, then Aaron can use any word he wants as a mnemonic. The only hairy bit in this case would be remembering whether an S-word is Samech or Sin (and likewise, remembering Taf/Tet).

      (4) Aaron doesn’t use the same klipah for every name. It doesn’t matter that in one case he substitutes River for Resh and one time he substitutes Roman for Resh, so long as he understands the word in question means Resh when he speaks it.

      One thing that I’m wondering now, though: What are the requirements for vowels in a name? Aaron’s system only covers the letters. Does this mean that any set of vowels will do so long as the letters are correct? But if that’s the case, why didn’t anyone die from saying “Jehovah”?

      • Nemo says:

        Becaused it’s pronounced Je-ho-rah, silly.

      • -_- says:

        From Chapter 7, when

        My extreme measure was a variant of something called the Dominic System. Memorize three sets of correspondences between alphabet letters and concepts. The first set is between each letter and a person or animal beginning with that letter. The second set is between each letter and an action beginning with that letter. And the third set is between each letter and an object beginning with that letter.

        Now break down the thing you want to remember into three-letter blocks. Each block represents a person performing an action on an object. Keep doing this, and you have a really weird story, which is exactly the sort of story you are most likely to remember.

        […] It’s Hebrew, so the vowels don’t count.

        (For “Jehovah”, the consonants got changed over time, too — Hebrew has no “J”, that was a “Y”, and originally the “V” was a “W”. Although it’s a “V” now in modern Hebrew, as well.)

    • -_- says:


      “Given an appreciation of my mnemonic system, a story about a dog having sex with a tree and Zeus making a river was equivalent on a phonetic level to dalet samech tav zayin mem resh. The first six letters of the Vanishing Name.”

      So let’s incorporate those letters/associations out as much as possible:

      K|Kim Jong-un|Knight|Ketchup||Kuf,Kaf
      T*|T. Rex|Terrorize|Tacos||Taf,Tet

  34. MugaSofer says:

    I wondered if you could use the fact that everything corresponds to everything to make anything into a cypher for a Name.

    (Incidentally: no sign-language Kabbalah? Surely signs and miracles naturally go together?)

    Malia is latin for “creature”, and invokes mal, evil, so of course Malia Ngo is the malevolent creature of an NGO.

    I admit, I’m disappointed that Aaron said the Vanishing Name, aka the Name of Perfect Uselessness, rather than – say – using the Motive Name to fly away, or the Tenebrous Name to hide, or the Kinetic Name to disarm them, or the Avalance Name to collapse select parts of the ceiling, . To be fair, he *was* distracted by the Sense Of Definite Wrongness, and I’m not sure of the limitations of any of those or the exact physical setup he was in.

    I find it difficult to imagine that any other interrogation under armed guard will be particularly welcoming of a stranger accidentally teleporting in.

    • Aegeus says:

      If he lands in another interrogation room, maybe it’ll be an interrogation room where the guards aren’t prepared to incapacitate him the moment they hear him speaking a name? That would be a step up.

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      Coming at this much later, the thing about the Vanishing Name is that you will usually end up far away, in the presence of someone who wasn’t expecting you personally, unless they very specifically prepared for you to use the Vanishing Name.

      Almost any other Name Aaron could have activated in this situation would have a plausible counter. Malia Ngo presumably knows some kabbalah herself, and she has virtually unlimited access to manpower and equipment.

      If he collapses part of the ceiling, he’s still stuck inside a giant bunker full of enemies, who are now mad at him for dropping the ceiling on their boss. If he plunges the room into darkness, he’s groping around to find the exit in pitch darkness, with guards who probably know the room better than he does and who are a lot better at unarmed combat than he is. If he tries to fly away with the Motive Name, again, still inside a bunker full of enemies; lots of twists and turns to escape and he doesn’t know the layout. And so on, and so on, and so on.

      Essentially, he’s forced to choose between his odds of escape from among a group of his personal enemies who have likely prepared for most of the obvious action hero shenanigans… Or of him being able to improve his odds of escape by trading that situation for an analogous situation. One where the people holding him aren’t personally his enemies and specifically prepared for shenanigans on his part.

      I suspect a lot of would-be escaping prisoners would take that exchange.

  35. kechpaja says:

    So, being a grapheme -> color synaesthete myself, it occurred to me to wonder whether grapheme -> color (or grapheme -> something else) synaesthesia might work as a klipah, or at least the basis for one. You would, after all, understand the system at about as deep a level as is possible, especially if you were a native speaker of Hebrew or had learned the alphabet when you were very young, though it might work even if you learned it later in life (I have color associations for Arabic, Greek and Russian letters, and am not a native speaker or writer of any of those languages).

    If the Name has to actually be *spoken* to be used, you could list off the colors in English or another language that you spoke; otherwise you might theoretically paint them on something or otherwise convey them non-verbally.

    This also leads me to another question about klipot: since angels can’t understand Aramaic, would a klipah that mapped the letters of a Name into Aramaic be non-functional? Or do the names work by an entirely different mechanism?

    • -_- says:

      Ooh, I HOPE so — that would be VERY cool, to have a synaesthetic Kabbalist painting names or something. (Although is it the sort of thing Scott would do? I don’t know his style… fanwork, maybe?)

      Mapping it into Aramaic I’d guess would work — the names are specifically with Hebrew letters*, and the English has no meaning at all except to the person saying it.

      To be honest I’m not sure about writing, though — the four-letter name was stated to kill the person who said it, and it is regularly written down on things (erasing it is not allowed — you have to bury it — but that is less likely to be the trigger). So I’m gonna guess that writing doesn’t work.

      (Unless the trigger is erasing it — like, producing the Name allows whatever energy to enter the world, shaped by the form of the Name, and then when the sounds of the Name dissipate or when the letters of the name are erased then nothing is holding that energy in place any more, at which point it affects the world around it.)

      (*Well, all the names we KNOW/that people have looked for. But we also know that only, as far as we know, one person has looked in the New Testament for Names, which leaves very open the possibility of other places or methods people haven’t looked, and thus leaves very very open the possibility of non-Hebrew-letter Names.)

      • -_- says:

        EDIT/PS: And all languages/cultures were Word-Of-God-ed (out of Universe — as in, Scott said so in the comments) to be Kabbalah-able, and Aaron does use English and not Hebrew in Interlude Bet, so other language Names seems pretty not-completely-unlikely.

      • kechpaja says:

        This is now making me wonder how written names are invoked by the user. A device called a “scroll wheel” is mentioned in chapter one, but unless I’m forgetting something, nobody is ever portrayed using one at any point. I’ve been assuming that the invocation process probably destroys the paper in some way, so that the written name can only be used once, but that conclusion is based more on cynicism about copyright than anything from the story or Kabbalah in general.

        It would be cool if erasing the name *were* the trigger, though — it could lead to some interesting plot twists later, especially if UNSONG (or the UUs) haven’t figured that part out yet.

        My wondering about whether Aramaic would work is based more on the fact that Angels can’t understand the language than that it isn’t Hebrew. However, presumably the names are being heard and executed by God themself, so that wouldn’t affect anything.

    • Daniel says:

      Chapter 1 mentions that written Names are effective, but only if the Name was pronounced out loud while writing it. So there does seem to be something special about speaking them, which fits with UNSONG thinking a gag is enough to stop Aaron.

      Synaesthesia-as-klipah makes sense, though; I could imagine someone having, say, a collection of colourful abstract paintings that are really Name-scrolls in disguise. That kind of thing could even be a key part of spycraft in this world…

  36. Ben says:

    The United Nations are going around aiding the US Military by forcing people to turn over Names to them? I’m kind of offended just by the idea of that. Doesn’t the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire have a Security Council Veto in this world?

    • Daniel says:

      I reckon UNSONG may also be forcing Dragon Empire subjects to turn over Names to the Dragon Empire military, and so on for at least all Security-Council-veto countries. From UNSONG’s perspective it is probably better for kabbalistic weapons to be under centralized supervision and not in the hands of random college dropouts.

      Although, Aaron keeps saying UNSONG was created by the Comet King and the (presumably US?) President, so maybe they are in cahoots with the Untied States after all. If so, it would have to be unofficial and secret, hence the “black site”.

    • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

      That’s assuming Harmonious Jade Dragon is part of the UN. The very existence of UNSONG shows (assuming safely that Scott is not a big conspiracy theorist IRL) that the UN has changed. A UN Subcommittee named UNSONG has field agents and enforcement powers, even in only in the Untied States. That is a huge divergence from the UN in the real world, which is limited to soft power and voluntary cooperation even for the Security Council, which can in theory make “legally binding” decisions.

      Here are my predictions (with amateurish probability setting, new at this):
      * The UN significantly changed, at least in part due the the big upheavals of the 70’s: 90%
      * UN membership is less universal among recognized, Westphalian states than in real life: 60%
      * The UN has more effective authority over member states than IRL: 75%
      * The Unitied States is more like a confederation than the federal union of the United States: 85%
      * Harmonious Dragon is not in the UN: 55%
      * Harmonious Dragon does not give as much authority to UNSONG as the Unitied States do: 70%

  37. AnthonyC says:

    Delayed comment but I just reread earlier chapets. Building on

    If Aaron is R-N and Ana could be his M-S-S in the form of “misses” and/or “messiah,” then Numbers 24 is looking pretty interesting:
    “Amalek was first among the nations,
    but their end will be utter destruction”
    I wonder if the other corporate names can map onto that prophecy?

    Also, gave us the pronunciation of YHWH, which makes the Israelite king Jehoram’s name seem really scary.

  38. Jason says:

    That was a pretty interesting way to use the vanishing name.

  39. Sukil says:

    Two things: Why did the Comet King convince the UN to found UNSONG? That sounds a bit illogical to me (or maybe it’s just me who can’t see the motivation…).
    Another thing (aka long quote with emphasis to denote possible error):

    “Did you speak a Name that allowed you to find the location of the Moon?”
    “I did,” I said.
    “How did you learn that Name?”
    Every fiber of my body tensed at her oppressive closeness. It was a fair question. I had no way out this time. Either tell her what had happened, or lie like a rug and see exactly what those nightjar eyes could do.
    I ran through a host of scenarios. I tell the Director-General that I knew the Name and forgot it. She doesn’t believe me and tries to torture it out of me. She doesn’t believe me and tries to torture the Name out of Ana. She does believe me and tries to dissect my brain to get it. She goes to an error correction specialist, fixes the Name, and takes over the world, and I’m still alive to see it.

    What does discovering the name which let you find the location of the moon have to do with taking over the world? Or maybe, is Aaron presupposing that Malia knew about the discovery of the vital name?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      This was discussed in Chapter 10. What Aaron is assuming, and what seems to be true, is that UNSONG was keeping sentinels on the Moon-Finding Name under the assumption that a person who found it would have done so by finding a way to get Llull to work. Which I think UNSONG could reasonably assume would require something like the Vital Name (and even if they don’t think it does, a reliable way to get Llull to work would still be very powerful, and pretty likely to turn up a name of military application).

    • Galle says:

      > Two things: Why did the Comet King convince the UN to found UNSONG? That sounds a bit illogical to me (or maybe it’s just me who can’t see the motivation…).

      I can think of two possible explanations, under the assumption that the Comet King was a good guy:

      First, that the original point of UNSONG was simply to prevent Names from being used for evil, and that its new purpose of copyright enforcement is a result of regulatory capture.

      Second, that the Comet King decided that his top priority had to be acquiring the power to fix the underlying problems of the world as quickly as possible, that the best way to do that was to allow the theonomic corporations to search for the Shem haMephorash in the most time-efficient way possible, and that it was worth restricting the ability of people to use Names if it meant a better incentives program.

  40. We’re going to find out real soon anyways, but just for the record, I theory I came up with for what happens next:

    Aaron appears in an identical-looking room. “Nice job evading my stunt double. I’m Malia Ngo, for real this time, and you had better tell me what you know or things are going to get real ugly soon.”

  41. Aran says:

    I haven’t quite understood klipot yet. If you can invoke the name with this kind of substitution, then why doesn’t Pig Latin invoke it? Is it because the former leaves the order intact, while the latter moves one letter to the back? Or is there also an aspect of intent, so that you can choose whether or not to invoke a klipah’d name?

    For example: If someone learned Aaron’s code, and tricked him into reciting a text that contained four words encoding the Mortal Name (and no other “code” words), would it kill him if he weren’t paying attention? Or would he have to consciously think of the name and the code?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I had assumed it was just the order…

    • Aran says:

      Oh, and does his code actually use multiple words for the same letter, or do those reflect multiple Hebrew letters? I kept track and found two S actions (“Roman sitting with a lantern” / “Dog having sex with a tree”), two T objects (“Dog having sex with a tree” / “Moses recited a poem about tacos”) and *possibly* two R objects (“Zeus made a river” / “Neptune terrorized it with a rake”).

      Though in the last case, the NTR sentence also contained “river”, but prior to “terrorize”, which would imply one of two things:

      1) The words can be out of order, with the letter order in each sentence being defined by “Person – Action – Object” (making the “rake” superfluous)
      2) The words have to be in order, but the premature “river” doesn’t mess up the name because a code object only counts when it’s preceded by a code action (which “inspect” isn’t).

      Either of these seem a bit odd, though, considering the strict “one-to-one” and “separation of signal from noise” rules.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      IIUC klipot only work if you have in mind the plaintext name and the cipher and you work out the encrypted name on the fly, not if you just have in mind the encrypted name.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        On further thought, that would limit the complexity of klipot to encryption algorithms simple enough that typical clients of theonomic companies (who are presumably not all savants) can do them in their heads — which doesn’t seem particularly likely to me. (Unless there is a Savant Name or something.)

        • Ninmesara says:

          Maybe if you are “intimately aware” of the encryption algorithm you can say the klipot version even if such version was encrypted by a computer. Just a guess…

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          (Unless there is a Savant Name or something.)

          BTW Scott has already used something similar in his fiction. Search Slate Star Codex for “sparkroot”.

  42. Jack V says:

    Okay, I’m rereading from the start. I can’t believe how much gap there was between this and the next Aaron chapter 🙂

    And I’m reviewing this. We don’t know (I think?) what the sense of wrongness is. Something to do with Malina Ngo? An interrogation technique? Something to do with the site? A premonition of something that’s about to happen?

    I think I thought Aaron forgetting about the amnestic name and confounding name was connected. It just seemed really odd he wouldn’t remember at least the basics, it seems like the sort of thing he’d have thought about, especially since he recommended using the confounding name as choir-master. But now I think he probably did just forget.

  43. kornr says:

    “Even her face was something terrible. I couldn’t place her ethnicity at all.”

    Wow, a racist Jew how novel!

  44. Tux1 says:

    where doing it man


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