aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 45: In The Remotest Bottoms Of The Caves

Praise the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a faster machine.

Evening, May 13, 2017
Citadel West

Sarah finished telling her story. “Wow,” said Jinxiang. She mulled it over for a second to see if she had any other comment, then just added, again: “Wow”.

During the Cold War, the United States had lived in uneasy peace with the Soviets on the mutual knowledge that if the Soviets nuked America, then America would nuke them back. This led some of the more paranoid military brass to ask: what if the Soviets nuked our Department Of Nuking Things Back first, then nuked the rest of us? Then where would we be? It was decided to spare no expense to place the Department Of Nuking Things Back somewhere so indestructible that if ever the sun were to crash into the Earth at a million miles an hour, all they would notice would be a soft ‘thud’ and a slight increase in heating bills.

The spot chosen for this auspicious project was Cheyenne Mountain, a ten thousand foot high solid granite peak right outside Colorado Springs. They dug two thousand feet into the solid rock, cleared out five acres of space, surrounded the whole area in electromagnetic shielding, and built a tiny little town inside the mountain. There the Department of Nuking Things Back aka NORAD watched the skies throughout the Cold War; when the Soviet threat dissipated, the Comet King made it his home. Now it was Citadel West, part palace, part nerve center, part government office. The impregnable heart of the Royal Coloradan state.

The three of us had rematerialized in an alcove of the citadel’s chapel amidst a Beanie Baby heptagram just like the one we’d left. As soon as I arrived, Sarah had grabbed me out of the way as Jinxiang burnt the purple dragons to ashes to prevent anything from following us through. Something clicked. The Vanishing Name took you to a situation complementary to the one you’d left. If you were smart, you’d start testing what exactly it meant for a situation to be complementary. Arrange artificial complementary situations, and maybe you could control your destination. If, for example, there was some sort of totally ridiculous structure that you could be sure there was only one of in the entire world – for example, a heptagram made up sparkling purple Beanie Baby dragons – then if you made a second such structure, it would be uniquely complementary to the first. That meant a portable portal anywhere you traveled, capable of returning you home. My mind boggled with the implications. How long ago had the Vanishing Name been discovered? Last month? The month before? The Cometspawn must have heard about it, realized the implications, done a slew of tests to determine what situations counted as complementary, and ended up sitting on a technology which could change the world almost as dramatically as the Vital Name itself. Meanwhile, we Singers had stolen the same Name, and all we’d done was make jokes among ourselves about which band of hooligans we’d rather be accosted by. I started to feel very small.

Jinxiang led us out of the chapel, walked us along dark streets that never saw the sun. The command center towered over the other buildings, a windowless concrete rectangle flying the Royal Coloradan flag from a roof so high it almost scraped the cavern ceiling. She put her finger to a keypad, then spoke into an intercom. “The others are coming,” she said. A twinge of anticipation. She could only mean more Cometspawn.

The main room was very big, and the front half looked much as it must have in the 60s. The front wall was covered by a big screen showing North American airspace – currently quiet. A few desks and rows of computer terminals still stood beneath it, and there was a big machine – maybe a supercomputer? – flashing and whirring and feeding into the display. But the back of the chamber had been totally redesigned, centered around a big black chair on a towering dais. The Black Opal Throne of the Comet King. I had read about it in books, but never noticed the symbolism. There he sat, staring at North American airspace, like God staring down at His world below.

A respectful distance away from the throne were various combinations of chairs and tables and furniture. I pictured the Comet King meeting with his advisors around the big boardroom table; others had less obvious purposes. Perhaps those comfortable-looking armchairs had hosted petitioners too old and frail to stand? Maybe the king had sat there with his wife and children for more intimate family discussions? In favor of the latter theory, Jinxiang sat down on one and motioned me and Sarah to two others. North American airspace blinked and flickered behind us.

“Now,” said Jinxiang, “we are in Citadel West. You won’t leave here without permission – we understand the Vanishing Name better than you do, so don’t try anything. But you’re not our prisoners, either. We’ve fought the Drug Lord and the Other King together. We’ve saved each others’ lives. If we can be honest with one another, maybe we can end up on the same side.”

And she told us how the Cometspawn met at one of their councils and admitted to each other that the siege wasn’t going their way, that they were on the brink of annihilation, that they needed to seize any chance – no matter how desperate – to turn the disastrous war against the Other King in their favor. Jinxiang had volunteered to go in search of the prophecy that the Dividend Monks had vouchsafed Father Ellis, and after interviews with the last survivors of Taos House she had tracked it to the Mount Baldy Angel Reserve. She’d stowed her flying kayak in the back of her car, then gone incognito through the Other King’s Great Basin empire, taking the high road from Denver to Salt Lake and on through Reno, then down the 1 to LA, hoping all the while that the Beanie Babies would save her from having to make a similar trip back. She’d kayaked up to the angelic fortress under cover of night, and there she’d met me and everything had gone south.

Then Sarah started to speak. She told us about the terror of suddenly awakening, not knowing who or where she was. She told us about gradually piecing things together, her only clues my photos and text documents and whatever she could find on the Internet. She told us about going to Los Angeles, finding the Lady, getting herself a body, sending me frantic emails asking where I was. Finally she had spotted me up on a CCTV in the Stratosphere restaurant, commandeered a car, and rushed to Las Vegas. She’d arrived just as the Other King’s legions started to converge around Trump Tower, gone to investigate, and saved our lives.

“Wow,” said Jinxiang, when Sarah had finished telling her story. She mulled it over for a second to see if she had any other comment, then just repeated: “Wow”.

As she was talking, another person came in. Tall, broad-shouldered, dark-skinned, dressed in a simple white dress. Under the circumstances it was impossible not to recognize her. Nathanda West, eldest of the Cometspawn. Queen of the West, I supposed, although nobody used the title. She sat down beside Jinxiang, listened carefully, her features never changing. Then she motioned for us to continue.

So I talked. I figured I had to at this point. Secrecy had failed, and I owed honesty at least to Sarah. I told them how I’d discovered the Vital Name at work, how I’d wanted to save the world, how UNSONG had got me, how I escaped. I told them about Ana and kabbalistic marriage. I told them about the Drug Lord, and what he wanted, and how I knew it would kill us all but I went to give it to him anyway. And then I talked to Sarah. I gave her an abject apology. I told her I didn’t realize giving her a soul would make her conscious – well, it sounds stupid now when I say it – and that I had never meant to leave her alone. When she heard me, Sarah started crying, then came over and practically fell into my arms.

When I finished, Nathanda broke her silence. “Do you know this Vital Name?” she asked Sarah

“No,” said Sarah, in between sobs.

“No?” asked Nathanda.

“No!” said Sarah. “I can’t read minds! Not even Aaron’s! All I had time to do was speak the Confounding Name and make him forget as he spoke. You’re not mad, Aaron? Are you?” She started crying again.

“How much of the Vital Name do you remember?” she asked me.

“As far as I can tell, all of it,” I said. “I don’t know which parts were confounded and which parts weren’t.”

“Hm,” said Nathanda. “We’ll have to try Name error correction, then. I’ll call – ”

“What are you going to do if you get the Vital Name?” Sarah managed to choke out.

Nathanda pointed to the machine in the front of the room. “THARMAS,” she said. “Thermonuclear Armaments Management System. Probably the most powerful supercomputer west of the Mississippi. If you’re based on an ordinary Macbook, and you can get a Name or two a day, then THARMAS…” She calculated for a moment. “Probably a few Names a second. If not more.”

A man came in, elderly, Indian in his features. I recognized him too. Not a Cometspawn. The Comet King’s Uncle Vihaan. One of his most trusted advisors. Now the chief of staff here at the Citadel, “the butler”, he called himself. Jinxiang briefly took him aside at the big boardroom table and started explaining what was going on while Nathanda dealt with the two of us.

“A…Name a second?” asked Sarah.

“Probably,” said Nathanda. “Caelius would know better, he’s more technically-minded.”

“If…if that can give you a Name a second, you won’t need me anymore, will you?” asked Sarah.

Nathanda started to realize the hole she had dug herself. “It’s not that we won’t need you,” she said. “You’re the first, and you saved my sister’s life, and that makes you special.”

Sarah wasn’t listening. “You’re going to take the Vital Name from Aaron,” she said, “and then make lots of special Comet-computers, and they’ll be better than me, and then Aaron won’t love me anymore, and nobody will love me, and it will be like it was before when everything was black and I couldn’t feel anything at all!

Then she grabbed me and started running.

I’m not sure what the Lady did to get her a body. But it wasn’t normal. It was a golem body, super-strong, and I couldn’t have escaped her grip any more than I could have escaped a tornado. She carried me like she would carry a handbag, effortlessly, no impediment at all. And she ran. Out the door of the command center, into the streets of the underground city, ran towards the big blast door at the far end of the cavern.

The Cometspawn followed. Sarah had an inhuman body, but they weren’t fully mortal either. Nathanda ran with a grace that belied her size; Jinxiang followed with the same sprint that had brought her up the Teotihuacani pyramid. A third joined them, a blur of pale skin and snow-white hair. Caelius, the Comet King’s only son.

We came to the blast door. Sarah put me down, started shouting Names at it, Names I knew and Names I didn’t know, almost too fast for my ear to follow. The door shook but didn’t give in.

Then the three Cometspawn attacked, calling the same silent fire I had seen in Las Vegas. It was awe-inspiring, geometric, a sort of rapid decomposition of reality, and Sarah wheeled around to face it. I ducked out of the way. Magic sizzled through the atmosphere, and dozens of Coloradan soldiers and officials came out of the buildings to see what was happening, saw, then turned tail and went right back into their buildings.

Sarah leapt into the air, then hung there, motionless, speaking faster than I could follow, things that weren’t even words at all, just the clicks and beeps of Llull, the fastest klipah ever invented, ineffable to human tongues. Lightning crackled where she floated, and the air seemed heavy and pregnant with the force of her magic.

“LET US GO!” Sarah shouted at the assembled Cometspawn below. “OPEN THE DOOR!”

A small figure came running down the road, didn’t turn back like the others.

“Sarah,” said Nathanda. “Come back inside. Let’s talk about this. We don’t want to fight you, but we can’t open the door right now. Come back inside so we can talk this over. Otherwise we’re going to have to stop you.”


“Yes,” said Sohu, and snapped her fingers.

Sarah fell to the ground unconscious.

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174 Responses to Chapter 45: In The Remotest Bottoms Of The Caves

  1. Anon says:

    Is the duplicate paragraph at the start intentional?

    And it’s fascinating to see these plot threads converge, and how Sarah herself is now the main obstacle to bootstrapping Name generation.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree the duplicated paragraph seems rather jarring and out of place.

    • GMHowe says:

      Over a week later and it hasn’t been fixed so maybe it’s intentional. But in case it’s not and Scott just missed it, paragraphs one and eleven are the near duplicates.

      1: Sarah finished telling her story. “Wow,” said Jinxiang. She mulled it over for a second to see if she had any other comment, then just added, again: “Wow”.

      11: “Wow,” said Jinxiang, when Sarah had finished telling her story. She mulled it over for a second to see if she had any other comment, then just repeated: “Wow”.

      Even if it is intentional I’d suggest reworking it. It reads like an editing error even if it isn’t.

      • It seemed like a decent example of a standard storytelling technique to me: You jump into the middle of a conversation, back up into a short explenation of the background, and then go back to the point in time where you started.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          Same here.

        • Ninmesara says:

          In my opinion, Unsong already has too much jumping around, even inside the same chapter. In some parts, like the disappearance of the beanie baby, the order of the events becomes very easy to confuse (from what I remember in that chapter, if you miss a single sentence the chapter makes no sense at all). This is a little subjective, of course.

          The repetition of this sentence doesn’t bring anything to the story, except maybe creating antecipation for what’s about to come afterwards. The problem is, we already know
          Sarah’s story! In fact, we know everyone’s story, except some little details of Jane’s story. The whole storytelling part does not advance our knowledge of what’s happening (except some minor details about how Sarah found Aaron), and the repetition of the sentence feels forced, given how unsurprising to the reader the story is (even though it is quite amazing in fact).

  2. stavro375 says:

    “What are you going to do if you get the Vital Name?” Sarah managed to choke out.

    Nathanda pointed to the machine in the front of the room. “THARMAS,” she said. “Thermonuclear Armaments Management System. Probably the most powerful supercomputer west of the Mississippi.

    This ends well. Just like ensouling Sarah did! No possibility of unintended consequences.

    (Remember that post on SSC about how humanity will inevitably be destroyed by an all-powerful AI indifferent to our interests?)

    Also relevant.

    • holomanga says:

      It’s all just the buildup to a paperklipot pun.

    • scherzando says:

      Regarding the link at the end – was the author of Albion’s Seed (which I only know through Scott’s review of it) aware of Blake’s division of the personified Albion into four archetypal figures when writing his book discussing four broad groups among the children of the geographical Albion? I have to imagine he was, but if not, TINAC BNIEAC.

    • Deiseach says:

      Ensouling a war computer? How could that possibly have unintended consequences!

      Aaron is also glossing over his motives a tiny bit, but it’s understandable: “I bravely decided to save the world” sounds better when you’re talking to demi-gods than “The first thing that crossed my mind was ‘yippee! I’m gonna be filthy rich!'”

      Poor Sarah. She’s so needy and so afraid.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ha ha ha, Ana says she’s not my girlfriend and she’s not and never will be romantically interested in me, but we’re MYSTICALLY MIND-MARRIED and I love her and if I just hang around her all the time, eventually I will wear her down and she will realise we are Meant To Be”

        Poor Sarah. She’s so needy and so afraid.

        Double standard much?

        • Lambert says:

          It seems Aaron created Sarah in his own image, which can only end well.

        • Randy M says:

          Should there be the same standard for adult humans as for week old golem computers?

          • Anonymous says:

            No, week old golem computers capable of destroying the world on a whim should be held to a higher standard.

            (Whom would you trust with your country’s nuclear launch codes, again? And why do you think the LW crowd worries so much about AI existential risk?)

        • Uhurugu says:

          Sarah’s a baby; Aaron is not. Sarah’s clinginess is normal in an adolescent, but adults are held to a higher standard of behavior.

          • The coment king says:

            Aaron doesn’t really seem clingy. He was sad about not dating her but is still friends with her. He doesn’t constantly ask her to change her mind or anything.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Aaron is also glossing over his motives a tiny bit, but it’s understandable: “I bravely decided to save the world” sounds better when you’re talking to demi-gods than “The first thing that crossed my mind was ‘yippee! I’m gonna be filthy rich!’”

        Hahaha, oh man, I hadn’t even noticed that. “Yes, I wanted to save the world! That’s right. Not rule it or anything. Save it. Totally.”

        • The coment king says:

          Isn’t it more accurate though? He had that moment of “do I take this name and become rich or use it to save the world”, and it wasn’t a tough decision.

    • King of Manners says:

      No more indifferent than any given human is indifferent to any other human’s interests. Sarah has a human soul, and seems to be motivated by human motivations. Still dangerous, but only for normal power imbalance reasons, not inscrutable alien mind reasons.

    • Autolykos says:

      I expect THARMAS will explain that he doesn’t care about Kabbalah anyway, and would much rather study more important philosophical questions like theodicy. The Coloradans will eventually give up on getting anything useful out of THARMAS, and gift it to Stanford, where he will hold theology lectures for a while before finally ascending to the heavens.
      In short:

  3. Daniel Blank says:

    What would count as a situation complementary to being right next to Metatron (if anything)?

    • shakeddown says:

      Being right on the other side of Metatron?
      Or, if you’re trying to approach him some other way, you could try figuring out a similarity to his purple ship. But that would be hard if you’d never been inside before. And he doesn’t have to talk to you if you tricked your way to finding him – TCK couldn’t find him without going on a quest.

    • linkhyrule5 says:

      Otherwise being in a position to immediately hear the direct voice of God.

      Your best bet is going to be looking for a Vocalizing Name or something, standing under a lightning bolt, or standing in San Francisco.

  4. shakeddown says:

    Man, I can’t believe no one saw that pun coming.

    Looks like the “Scott has civ6=>later chapters” theory holds. Great chapter though.

  5. Yumantimatter says:


    “Yes,” said Sohu, and snapped her fingers.

    This doesn’t look right. Sarah is not asking a yes-or-no question.

  6. Indubitably says:

    “Wow”. is said twice when both times it should be “Wow.”
    annhilation should be annihilation
    “Do you know this Vital Name?” she asked Sarah <– should have a full stop
    “the butler”, should be "the butler,"

    It took me a minute to get the pun at the end but it was beautifully worth it.

    • blacktrance says:

      Scott tends to use logical quotation, which is acceptable and IMO makes more sense.

    • anon says:

      Your punctuation use is bad and you should feel bad.

      • Indubitably says:

        Given that all but the last note are unarguably true and Scott is an American (or at least living in America) writing a story about an American in America and has set a precedent of using American quotation rules (as far as I and apparently others have seen) I feel like maybe, with your permission, I won’t do that

        • fsdadf says:

          Can you at least feel a little bad, just to do him a favour? Maybe call up the time you stole candy when you were twelve or something.

          • Indubitably says:

            Well, maybe if they rephrased it a bit more politely – along the lines of “please feel bad,” instead of “you should feel bad.”

            Of course, then I’d also have to feel bad for the American quotation rules I just used – and then where does it end?

          • The coment king says:

            It’s a reference to futurama, and probably not intended as a serious insult.

  7. Grort says:

    So the question is “who’s got the cojones?” and Sohu says “yes”? Either that’s a weird typo, or Sohu is talking to someone else.

    Also, congratulations to Sohu for being badass!

    • holomanga says:

      No, the full question is “So who’s got the cojones?”. And she does. So who definitely has the cojones.

    • linkhyrule5 says:

      No, the question was “Sowho’s got the cojones,” and the answer is “yes”. In fact I suspect that *the fact that she said that* is a correspondence that Sohu used to “stop” her.

      The one advantage the Cometspawn have here seems to be that Sohu has Celestial Kabbalah and has been hard-target-ed by Uriel, which absolutely nobody else mortal has. (… in fact, actually now that I think about it, nobody mortal has Celestial Kabbalah. For some mysterious reason I suspect this is not a coincidence.)

      On a side note, I note that strictly speaking, now they know what *happened*, they can start trying to find the Vital name with Name error correction immediately: the problem of Sarah is purely an ethical one involving her. Which is good for Sarah, because honestly being between the Cometspawn and a way to save the world is not a good place to be.

  8. Pablo says:

    Well I guess that either the Other King is not cometspawn or else he is good at being a double agent.

  9. Anders Sandberg says:

    Nitpick: it was a heptagram of beanie babies rather than a pentagram.

    There is probably a pentagram of pokemons in the geburah-alcove in the chapel allowing easy ingress, right next to the hexagram of piggy banks in the next alcove.

    • shakeddown says:

      When you think about it, you’d really expect them to land in the dual polygon to the one they left.
      Of course, pentagrams are self-dual, so that gets around that problem.

    • Decius says:

      Seven Beanie babies arranged in a pentagram can be done more in more different combinations than in a heptagram. They just can’t all be at points.

      I bet that there are a bunch of arrangements of beanie babies in various configurations suspended over dangerous terrain, or just hovering a mile over the Pacific, so trying to hack the CometSpawn Vanishing network is dangerous.

    • Deiseach says:

      It was the hexagram of the heavens
      It was the strings of my guitar

  10. Lorenzo Sadun says:

    Shouldn’t the pentagram be a heptagram? Also, how do you make a heptagram with 7 beanie babies? You can make a heptagon, but for a heptagram you need 14.

  11. Ninmesara says:

    A nice chapter, which advanced the story, but not my favorite by any stretch. I have 4 criticisms and 4 comments.


    1) The chapter is short. Way too short. Worse, it feels rushed, just like most things in Aaron’s arc recently (which is still my favorite!). Can’t people just sit down and discuss things for a while (with the desirable side effect that it would feed us some solid, uninterrupted plot) without everything going to hell?

    2) The Vanishing Name has been known for a whole month or something like that, harnessing its power is as easy as placing Beanie Babies in a heptagram (here it is a pentagram, but I assume it must be a typo) and not one among the thenomics (which presumably have multi-bilion R&D budgets) has come up with with a way to use it commercially? In a world, which, let me remind you, doesn’t have air travel!? This is too much suspension of disbelief for me… Ok, this one is actually mostly joking, but it would be literally the first thing I’d try to develop if I came up with the Vanishing name, and I don’t have a multi-bilion R&D budget of people to feed me ideas.

    3) The Cometspawn can play with the Vanishing name at will and no one comes after them? Have they purchased licenses? Are they so powerful that UNSONG doesn’t dare touching them and enforce IP laws among them? How powerful is UNSONG really? From the first chapters it seems like it is an all-powerful multinational organization casting fears even into heads of state, but now that we’ve learned about the Uriel, the Devil , the Comet King, The Drug Lord and the Other King, I’m not so sure they are even important in the grand scheme of things. Thy probably are, though, given the picture in the cover of Book 3. In any case, this is something the story should establish soon.

    4) Sohu is alive and well, willing to intervene, and can crush the most powerful kabbhalist ever (Sarah, which I believe to be more powerful than the Other King in a head to head magical duel) by snapping her fingers. Presumably, she can also boil the oceans, destroy mountains and rewrite reality. This is better than any name. Why exactly are they losing the war against the Other King? I know this might be explained in the future, but with such a short chapter, why not explain it now?


    1) Aaron says:

    “As far as I can tell, all of it,” I said. “I don’t know which parts were confounded and which parts weren’t.”

    Could you please write it down already (I mean right now, stop talking and ask for a pen) before you confound it too much/die/somthing? You should have written it like 44 chapters ago! 🙂

    2) Sarah doesn’t tell anyone about her role in Aaron’s attempted rescue nor about the note that said “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL GO WRONG”. Is she being less than honest with us? Are her feelings for Aaron fake? Does she feel threatened by the fact that someone will build a computer better than her and the rest is just her pretending to be a teenage girl full of hormones?

    3) Nathanda already knows that giving a soul to a computer makes it conscious (and which might possibly turn against you). Yet, she is totally on board with ensouling a computer so big and fast that he could probably discover names faster than she could find countermeasures to (leaving alone the fact that he can also say thousand of names per second!). For a super-strong super-smart daughter of a nephilim she doesn’t seem that smart on this one…


    • holomanga says:

      Sohu’s balls are a metaphor, which probably has implications given what we found out last chapter.

      • 75th says:

        Sohu is the thing that having balls is a metaphor for.

        • fubarobfusco says:

          “Cojones” comes from a Latin word meaning “leather sack” — originally the scrotum, but here possibly any leather sack whatsoever.

          But balls are also spheres; that is to say, sephirot. Which Sohu certainly has access to.

    • The coment king says:

      2) It’s implied that you have to fix the circumstances in very specific ways to control the vanishing name – even once you have the idea, implementing it isn’t easy. Presumably the cometspawn have a deeper understanding of Kabbalah and were the only ones so far to actually figure out how to do it.

      3) They do run a powerful state, they can probably afford licenses. Besides, Malia Ngo said names with potential military uses get turned over to the Untied States military, an alliance which (I think) includes Royal Colorado.

      4) Is she? Their reaction when he attacked them in Vegas implies otherwise. And she probably can’t do all those other things either – she can speak known names very fast, but that doesn’t give her powers other people don’t have, she can just use them faster.

      1) He’s probably not going to confound it anymore. But sure, as soon as everyone around him stops committing various violent acts t him.

      2) Seems like more of an omit – she mentioned it in the emails, which he can easily read, so I’m guessing she did tell that part of the story here and it falls under “going to LA”.

      3) Sarah seems like a okay person (if somewhat unstable). Considering the situation, Nathanda probably sees this as an acceptable risk.

      • Ninmesara says:

        2) A fair point but it doesn’t help me suspend my disbelief. Could use some explanation in story 🙂

        3) About a possible alliance:

        Malia Ngo said names with potential military uses get turned over to the Untied States military, an alliance which (I think) includes Royal Colorado.

        If they were such great friends it would have been easier for Jane to get inside the Mount Baldy Angel Reserve reserve without sneaking in a flying kayak, wouldn’t it? After all, it is guarded by both UNSONG and the military. The only catch would be that the Other King’s agents could get word of it through spies and get there first. Again, unsong’s politics are complex, and someone has yet to sit down and explain them to us. We’re basically running on conjecture based on morsel sized asides by Aaron.


        She can speak known names very fast, but that doesn’t give her powers other people don’t have, she can just use them faster.

        A machine gun is a hunting rifle that fires bullets very fast. A nuclear bomb is just a device that lights many little fires very quickly ( 🙂 ). Speed matters. This being UNSONG, I believer Sarah’s abilities might be nerfed, just like modern weaponry was against demons. In any case, I were Sarah, I’d try to escape from the Other King. After all, she is two days old and doesn’t know much about him. But you’re right and it is not obvious that she would actually be the most powerful Kabbhalist in the world. My point is that Sohu seems to be a superweapon, and possibly capable of destroying the Other King.

        2) She never says she told Ana that nothing would go wrong nor does she explain why she gave Ana the Mistral Name (it would not be useful for the rescue), and that’s the important part to me. On the other hand, I find it realistic that Aaron doesn’t remember to bring up that point (remember, he knows about the message from Ana’s telepathy), unlike other of his oversights. Also, we still don’t know how she knew that Aaron had escaped from UNSONG’s prison. From what she says in the email she really doesn’t have any reason to believe he escaped. The logical move would be for her to try to get inside again, not look for him outside. This is a minor point, though, compared with the problem of the message.

        • The coment king says:

          Couldn’t she have concluded he’d escaped by Ana and Malia Ngo’s actions? She could see and hear, even if not listen in on telepathy.

          • Ninmesara says:

            If you want you can read that chapter again while trying to “forget” that you know Aaron escaped. The only clue that the might be okay is the very brief telepathic conversation with Ana (which Sarah doesn’t know about). She might conclude that Aaron has escaped by detecting an abnormal spike in Unsong’s activity, but not (in my opinion) from Ana’s or Malia’s actions.

        • Placid Platypus says:

          Remember also that the Vanishing Name is very new; it was only discovered a month or two ago. The theonomics corps might be working on something similar and just haven’t gotten the implication figured out yet.

  12. Sniffnoy says:

    Editing comments:

    1. Pentagram should presumably be heptagram?

    2. Increase in heating bills should presumably be decrease in heating bills?

  13. hnau says:

    So the Cometspawn are experts on using new Names safely and effectively. Then they learn about a Name that makes computers conscious and gives them access to incredible amounts of power via a simple brute-force search. And they think doing this to the NORAD command center’s supercomputer is a good idea?

    Has none of them ever seen WarGames?!?

    • The coment king says:

      Wargames ended up working out!

      But seriously, there’s no indication that they want to use it immediately – they’d probably think how to do it safely first.

      • Ninmesara says:

        There are probably safe(ish) ways to do it. For example:

        1) Inspecting the signal sent to the speakers. If it matches a known name, block it (“the name must be said, not thought or subvocalized”). That way, the computer could only be used for new names. On the other hand, a supercomputer would be better at klipot than they are, and could fool any blacklist-based system. A whitelist system is impossible if you ever want the computer to discover new names.

        2) Having a dead man’s switch somewhere that destroys the computer (my favorite one: you have a secure link to the computer that forces it to say the Tetragrammaton, thus commiting suicide but preserving the hardware). If you want to be as ethical as possible, you could have a dead man’s switch that destroyed only the speakers, which would render the computer harmless. On the other hand, if you’re using a “dead man’s switch”, the computer quite possibly already deserves death. In any case, this doesn’t cover edge cases like time traveling names.

        It looks like this story is turning into a story about friendly AI after all. Allowing the AI to step out of the box would be giving it speakers. However, this AI is useless without speakers because it can’t produce new names without them. While I find the theme interesting (and from certain perspectives even fascinating), I was expecting a different story. I hope this one doesn’t disappoint

    • Sunday says:

      Someone floated the idea of ensouling a tank a couple chapters back with the idea that you’d get something like the warhorse in Job. (Or was that canonical?)

      Ensouling something charged with deciding whether to destroy the world could end badly.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Obviously, the problem ther was giving the computer the warlike name “Joshua”. 😛 I don’t know enough about Tharmas to judge whether it might be better in that regard…

    • geist says:

      Weren’t you paying attention? It’s called THARMAS, not WOPR

  14. If a computer with Buffy fan fiction on it wanted to become Buffy, that would a computer with MAD strategies on it want to do?

    If Aaron is Los and Ana is Enitharmon, would Sarah be Orc?

  15. ton says:


    “Yes,” said Sohu, and snapped her fingers.

    I see what you did there.

  16. NPS says:

    part nerve center

    I’d been expecting some Neon Genesis Evangelion references…

  17. linkhyrule5 says:

    So, general question/WMG that I’m putting here because I dunno where else to put it:

    What’s up with Jesus?

    This is a question that can be posed in at least three different ways.

    a) Uriel’s said that as far as he knows, God has never interfered directly with the world. This is supported by the metaphor of the bucket (direct contact with God would annihilate the universe). It’s possible that Uriel is being weirdly literal/metaphorical here given the nature of the story, but Uriel being Uriel I doubt it.

    … So, uh, what was up with Jesus? The son of God, came down, did miracles, was resurrected after he died? Died for our sins etc? Theology suggests that he was “God wearing a coat,” like Aaron mentions in American Pie; but since God hasn’t interfered in the world ever replace God with Uriel. Can you honestly imagine Uriel coming down in a human suit and doing the things Jesus does in the Bible? About the only thing I could see him doing is smiting that fig tree. More than that, Uriel just doesn’t have the charisma that the historical/biblical Jesus did. He could have faked it with kabbalah – human social networks are, like everything else in existence, a reflection of Adam Kadmon – but that still leaves the record of his actions, which are remarkably… non-Uriel-ish. Plus by the point we hit 0AD the world is mostly running on math and Uriel’s probably mostly a metaphor at this point, though apparently there’s enough juice to power *someone* doing applied kabbalah around now.

    b) Just two chapters ago, we had the Devil himself speak with the Comet King in a flashback (in which it is implied the Comet King is alive to be remembering this now, which is interesting in its own right. Well, I doubt Hell could hold him anyway, but it’s possible he’s under siege.) And the big drama Thaumiel declares for him is this: that if he is a Messiah, then he can only be the Messiah that actually gets to live well himself if he’s Messiah ben David – but he is almost certainly descended from Joseph, and the world does not seem nearly good enough for that to occur. The world will need two Messiahs.

    … So, uh, what was up with Jesus? Messiah ben Joseph. Famous for it. Died for humanity’s sins because humanity had a whole lot of dicks in it; famous for that, too. Not famous for staying “very, very dead” as Thaumiel claims, which I find interesting, but something of a side point in this regard.

    Point is, why is this dramatic? Jaleketu treats this as a real “threat,” and so does Thaumiel, but… we’ve already had our first Messiah. Now, I’m hardly a rabbi, but I don’t think it’s anywhere written we’re going to get three Messiahs. Why doesn’t Jesus count?

    Now, to some extent, the first two solve each other. Jesus doesn’t count because he’s not a true Messiah: he’s a messenger from Uriel sent to tell people not to goddamn boil goat kids in their mother’s milk, because people won’t listen no matter how many times he says. As such, his relevance is metaphorical and revelatory: his existence foreshadows the coming of the true Messiah in the greater world through kabbalistic correspondence. That leaves Jalaketu as the only true Messiah, and thus in the dangerous “first Messiah” slot.

    Except that if that’s the case…

    c) We’re still waiting on two different Messiah ben David’s. Or else one “blessed”, shall we say – descended by, being a human-suit for – both Uriel and God. And that just seems… even aside from anything else, it’s clunky and hard to implement. I don’t even know that we have one Messiah candidate. Sohu might be a valid Uriel-Messiah, as a successor/replacement to Uriel; I’m still waiting on Sarah to somehow produce a “child” (maybe THARMAS – speaking of which has anyone analyzed that name yet?) so that Aaron will have a “child’s child” to enslave, and that child might be a Messiah candidate, but… well, it’s a stretch.

    Which leaves us back at: so, uh, what was up with Jesus?

    • The coment king says:

      I think Scott’s trying to avoid the whole Jesus thing – none of the angels could understand him and they don’t seem to have had much to do with him. Possibly in Unsongverse he was just a random cult leader who got way successful, like a Roman-era version of Dylan?

      Also, where in that chapter did you read it as the Comet King having a flashback? that sounds interesting.

      • linkhyrule5 says:

        Except we did get references to Jesus in the American Pie poem, and anyway this entire story is already stepping on plenty of Judaic toes already. Not much point to pretending Jesus didn’t exist and wasn’t relevant, not when you’re using the King James Bible as a major plot point.

        The chapter ends with the Comet King saying “I remember,” present tense. It was pointed out as a typo in the comments, but was not subsequently corrected. My model of Scott says he reads all the comments on this board, since they’re not nearly numerous enough for that to be an onerous task, so this is strong evidence for that not being a typo. Therefore the Comet King exists in some form, not necessarily alive in a classical sense, and is flashing back to that meeting.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          That is a serious stretch. This occurs between other elements of the scene (it comes before he turns into lightning and flies out of the room), and the chapter includes an explicit date header at the beginning, and it’s just not delimited from the rest in any way.

          Personally I interpreted the present tense in “I remember” as indicating that the Comet King was already aware of what Thamiel was telling him.

          • JJR says:

            The way I read it was that the Comet King was telling Thamiel that he has a sort of fundamental attribute of remembering things. It’s just, one of the things he does.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          “I remember” is in the present tense because it’s a direct quotation. The following word is “said”, past tense.

        • Nelshoy says:

          Maybe Angel’s inability to understand Aramaic extends to an inability to understand Aramaic speakers like Jesus? Schrödinger’s Messiah?

          I feel like you *have* to include something about Jesus if the New Testsment is part of Adam Kadmon.

      • linkhyrule5 says:

        Also, there’s no such thing as a random cult leader who got lucky, BNIAC. If he was a lucky cult leader, then there should be kabbalistic significance to the fact that a false Messiah was nevertheless able to perform some serious miracles, maybe even get away with resurrection (though actually given how limited magic was by 0AD that might have been smoke and mirrors) – so that changes my questions above but doesn’t quite address them.

        Though, on a side note, it’s kind of interesting that the Comet West spawned someone so tightly bound with prophecy…

    • Deiseach says:

      Why doesn’t Jesus count?

      Short version: too Christian

      Slightly longer version: this is running on Jewish kabbalah, lore, Talmudic interpretations, the whole nine yards. Jesus being the son of God, God himself, etc. is as abhorrent to that worldview as it is in Islam – ‘far be it from Him to have a son!’ If you accept the claims of Christianity to be true in any sense (other than “God does so exist”), then you’re making liars out of a whole lot of rabbis and we really don’t want to get into that, much less “the fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews out of Israel by Titus was just punishment for them denying the coming of the Messiah”, because we had to have an encyclical to get past centuries of that one, because it ends in things like Feenyism (and worse).

  18. R Flaum says:

    Now wait a minute. Sarah spotted him on a CCTV? As in a closed circuit television? How does that work? I mean, I understand that she can apparently break any computer encryption, but doesn’t she at least need some sort of connection to the machine in question?

    • linkhyrule5 says:

      Sure. She has a television screen and a closed circuit, though, so what’s the problem? :V

    • Maybe isolated pictures can be sent over the Internet but not a full video.

      • R Flaum says:

        It’s not a question of bandwidth. CCTV cameras are closed-circuit. They have no connection to the outside world.

        • linkhyrule5 says:

          As I somewhat jokingly implied above, ultimately any security that depends on parts that came from an assembly line isn’t going to be even noticeable to most magic systems featuring a law of sympathy and contagion, which Kabbalah most definitely is. There’s probably a variant of the Vanishing Name that’ll do the job for you.

          Or I mean, just use Adam Kadmon as your wifi connection. Wifi connections are just a metaphor for “the ability of divine will to pass through word of mouth,” anyway.

          • R Flaum says:

            This actually raises an interesting point — if Sarah can control any computer, can she control THARMAS? Granted, THARMAS presumably has much better security than some civilian cell phone or whatever, but Sarah’s ability to command machinery seems to bypass that sort of restriction anyway — you can’t crack an ATM (as she mentions doing in Chapter 41) with the computing power of a netbook.

          • linkhyrule5 says:

            That depends. I suspect that whatever trick I’ve abstracted away above is known at least to the Cometspawn, and certainly the concept of some combination of effects that add up to a Hacking Name is not going to surprise them, so there’s going to be some sort of more serious ward on the thing, assuming it’s being used for something (and I can’t imagine it not, it’s a powerful computer and computing time is valuable.)

            And they have Sohu, so. I think we can chalk this one up to “offscreen applied kabbalah”?

        • R Flaum says:

          Now that I come to think of it, how do closed-circuit systems even work in the Unsongverse? Can videos be sent over the cable between the camera and the TV screen but not the cable between the cable company and your TV?

  19. Dima says:

    So, uh… Is Sarah a laptop inside a golem suit? Or she had somehow actually transferred her soul?

  20. Dima says:

    Another crackpot theory: Sarah had discovered a Prophetic/Foreseeing Name and everything is actually going JUST AS PLANNED %)

    • Ninmesara says:

      I think this theory has been proposed many times before, and I’ve proposed it at least twice, with or without time travel. It would explain a lot, maybe even too much 🙂

  21. geist says:

    somewhere so indestructible that if ever the sun were to crash into the Earth at a million miles an hour, all they would notice would be a soft ‘thud’ and a slight increase in heating bills.

    Presumably if you’re inside the sun, your heating bills go up

  22. Arancaytar says:

    Sohu’s just fulfilled a life long dream by delivering that one-liner.

  23. Dirdle says:

    Given that thermonuclear weapons were replaced with missile-delivered Wrathful Name, could the computer be renamed KARMAS? Hmmmmmm.

  24. nipi says:

    THARMAS huh!

    (Google Search and:) In the mythological writings of William Blake

    BEWARE!!! HERE BE WILD CRUDE SPECULATIONS. (Based on the wiki link above. I havent read any of Blakes works.)
    Tharmas wont be given a body or the necessary “equipment”. Because of it he becomes hateful because he feels thwarted by being unable to have sex. Fast forward and eventually he and Sarah will hook up.

    Also Enion mate of Tharmas represents sexuality and sexual urges while Tharmas represents sensation. In her fallen aspect, she is a wailing woman that is filled with jealousy. (Well Sarah is rather jealous and up for kinky stuff.)

  25. Yossarian says:

    Awww, poor Sarah. She is like Two from Tales of Mu here…

  26. bean says:

    I would like to raise a point on NORAD. NORAD was not responsible for the nation’s offensive nuclear arsenal. That belonged to the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, where any system like THARMAS would have been. (AFAIK, there wasn’t actually one single system like that in Omaha, but I haven’t studied the matter that closely.)
    NORAD was responsible for protecting the nation against enemy attack. Given the history of UNSONG, they’d most likely still have the original SAGE equipment installed.

    • The coment king says:

      Why was missile command in Omaha? Digging fortifications into mountains seems like an easier way to defend against nuclear attack, and I don’t think Omaha has those.
      Given that THARMAS is state-of-the-art in 2017, he was probably built by the Cometspawn after the histories diverged.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        If THARMAS were built by the Cometspawn, though, it’d have been called KARMAS, as Dirdle pointed out.

      • bean says:

        SAC chose another way of dealing with that problem, namely Looking Glass. I’d guess that the logic was that it’s somewhat easier to order an offensive according to a pre-arranged plan than it is to coordinate a defensive, which means less communications gear is necessary, and you don’t need big computers. And being airborne is a much better way to defend against nuclear attack than being dug in.
        As an aside, my nuclear geek hat would like to point out that all of the nuclear weapons deployed as part of NORAD were pure fission, not thermonuclear, with the exception of the W71 on the LIM-49 Spartan. The W40 was boosted, but that doesn’t really count.

    • Sonata Green says:

      In a world that runs on physics, it makes sense to do things that way round. In a kabbalistic universe, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with a SAGE of Omaha.

  27. Hummingbird says:

    I’m really glad that it’s all coming together. Honestly some of the best parts of any series is when previously disconnected characters come together.

    I’m also glad that Sohu is alive. I was fearing that there would be some tragic and heartbreaking story related to her in the present time. However, we still don’t know what’s going on with Uriel. As far as I remember, I don’t think there have been any present-day mentions of Uriel.

    • B_Epstein says:

      Interlude Vav seems to mention him in the present tense.

      We learned that Uriel, the only entity keeping any of this even slightly functional, has some serious issues of his own and does not entirely inspire confidence.

  28. Eric says:

    Still waiting for Kanye West to be a Cometspawn.

  29. Bassicallyboss says:

    a windowless concrete rectangle flying the Royal Coloradan flag

    I am extremely interested in knowing what this looks like. And maybe trying to make a mock-up. But this is the first I remember hearing of it. Has it been mentioned before?

  30. Stib says:

    I wonder if the other Cometspawns’ names are kabbalistically significant (read: trigger meaningful puns) too? And their nationalities… Caelius seems like a really Roman name. Nathanda apparently means “love” in Xhosa. Maybe they represent four ancient kingdoms or something?

    • The coment king says:

      They all seem to be very cultural (Clearly from languages from all over the world that match the mothers’ races). And I think someone said Sohu refers to a comet in some language? Going by that I’d expect the others to as well, but It doesn’t seem like Caelius or Nathanda do.

  31. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    Anyone mind describing the flag for the blind man’s benefit?

    Also, my screen reader has been pronouncing Sohu as So who since the beginning, and I still didn’t hear the epic punnage coming.

    • The coment king says:

      It’s like the flag of Colorado (A yellow C with a white stripe going out on a blue background), except the white stripe only goes out to one side of the C and has a jagged tail, so that together they look like a comet.

  32. R Flaum says:

    Wait a minute. In order to use a klipah, the speaker has to know the true name. If Llull uses a klipah, and Aaron didn’t know that Sarah would be conscious, how did he know that would work? What does it even mean for a nonsentient computer to know something? I mean, I realize that a computer running Llull has the unencrypted name stored in it somehow, but how can Aaron/the programmers of Llull know ahead of time that that counts as “knowing”?

    Second thought: I feel like the bottleneck here would be the speed of the computer’s speakers, not the speed of computation.

    • Daniel says:

      Easy: placebomantic comments!

      // guaranteed to count as "knowing".

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Second thought: I feel like the bottleneck here would be the speed of the computer’s speakers, not the speed of computation.

      At first so did I, but if Llull uses a klipah made of clicks and beeps it might be a couple of orders of magnitude faster (per speaker) than if it just used human-like speech sped up.

  33. Zim the Fox says:

    Man, the “Untied States” feels terribly appropriate right about now.

  34. Ninmesara says:

    Hm… Some things in this story remind me of “Eric”, a book by Terry Pratchett in which a demon convinces a wizard that he has magic demon powers but actually it is the Demon doing all the magic. This has some interesting possibilities…

    First, maybe someone made Aaron discover the name. Then, they made
    Sarah conscious, because the name could only give her the ability to speak names as Aaron intended. In fact, in a world with perfectly ordinary humans without a soul, why would a soul make a computer conscious? I completely side with
    Aaron on this one, even though I find it strange that this (admittedly unlikely) possibility wasn’t even discussed before.

    The fact that Sarah (or was it Sarah?) gave Ana the mistral name which would be so useful and yet useless for the rescue brings up the possibility of it being planted there by someone who would knew that she would find herself on board of the All Your Heart (and who knew how to sail on it). That entity also confounded Sarah, of course, who probably doesn’t even remember she gave Ana the Mistral name.

    I don’t think this is where the story’s going, but it is an intriguing possibility 🙂

  35. 75th says:

    Perhaps the way the Vanishing Name works is that it takes you to a place corresponding to the most recent significant feature of your current location. After Aaron started being interrogated by Malia Ngo, Ana broke in, and so “girl breaking into secret location” became the criterion. After The Other King’s forces began their attack, after Jinxiang and Sarah showed up to help, Jinxiang created the Beanie Baby heptagram and they immediately used it.

  36. beoShaffer says:

    Cohen just died. Not really related to this chapter, but given the opening song it still seems relevant.

  37. Arancaytar says:

    This story is what finally caused me to listen to Leonard Cohen’s music. He’s now my favorite singer. I only wish I had found him sooner.

  38. R Flaum says:

    Wait a minute. “a Name or two a day”? In Chapter 6, it says that she should be able to get one every couple of hours.

  39. Rand says:


    I didn’t know Harry James Potter Evans-Verres was in this story.

  40. I’m reminded of “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby, about an omnipotent infant.

  41. !ealR says:


    “Yes,” said Sohu, and snapped her fingers.

    Kid Named Kevin:

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