aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 62: That The Wide World Might Fly From Its Hinges

Thou hast been faithful in a very interesting way.

Afternoon, May 14, 2017
Citadel West

It was afternoon, and we met together in the command center. Me. Sarah. The four Cometspawn. Vihaan, the Comet King’s uncle, chief of staff, and self-proclaimed butler. The Black Opal Throne towered over us, dominating with its emptiness.

We were gathered around THARMAS, the nuclear targeting computer. It was big. The ten towers linked together were almost the size of a trailer, big and grey, dominating their corner of the nerve center. THERMONUCLEAR ARMAMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM was etched into one of them, in the sort of lettering that had looked futuristic in the 1960s. Over the years other people had scratched other phrases into the bare exterior, until the big metal casing was as graffiti-laden as a high-school bathroom wall. “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS,” someone had written in big letters near the bottom. Added below, in a different handwriting: “BUT NOT SELECTIVELY”.

The last tower included a forest of switches and wires and display terminals. Caelius sat at one of them, running tests. Finally, he announced to us that it was ready.

“THARMAS can run Llull,” he said. “Or, rather, I wrote a half-baked port of Llull that can run on THARMAS. It’s not the most efficient thing in the world, but given what we’ve got I think brute force was always the plan.” He gave the massive metal rectangle in front of him a fond pat. “The thing is totally lobotomized. I stayed up all night to prove the code correct. It’ll get about a quarter millisecond of thought in before everything except the list of generated Names resets itself. This isn’t going to be a second – ” He looked at Sarah awkwardly. “It’s not going to have a will of its own.”

Nathanda nodded. “Sohu?” she asked.

My first day of kabbalistic marriage to Sohu West had been quiet. I’d gotten the impression that after getting the Name she’d deliberately blocked herself off from my mind, maybe out of a desire not to intrude. If she’d invented SCABMOM – something I still found hard to believe – might she be able to reverse it? I wondered what sort of spectacular Names I would find if I dove into her mind too deeply. For now, that wasn’t something I wanted to think about.

“Thanks to some…unorthodox tactics, we’ve pieced the Vital Name back together,” she said. “Is everybody ready?”

Jinxiang was holding a very big weapon, maybe a rocket launcher, eying THARMAS suspiciously. Not taking any chances, I guessed. She tightened her grip. “I’m ready,” she said.

Vihaan looked like he hadn’t slept for a while. In contrast to Nathanda’s simple white dress, Jinxiang’s more combat-ready style, and the haphazard appearance of the rest of us, he was dressed immaculately, as if ceremonially recognizing the importance of the occasion. “I’m ready,” he said.

I didn’t know if anyone cared whether Sarah and I were ready, but I squeezed her hand and said “We’re ready too.”

Sohu stood in front of the supercomputer and started to sing. She began: “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…”

Caelius stared at the terminal. As soon as the process started, THARMAS would be generating Names every few seconds.


Nothing looked different except Sohu’s eyes, which glassed over for a split second. For a moment we all just stood there, silently. Then a gong sounded.

“Our first Name!” said Caelius. “Let’s see if…”

Then another gong. Then another. Then a fourth. Then Uncle Vihaan ran towards the computer as fast as he could. “CAELIUS GET AWAY!” he shouted. “What the – ” asked Caelius, but Vihaan grabbed him and threw him aside as the old man pulled on something hidden in his suit jacket and exploded and then everything was light and heat and pain.

The overt meaning of “butler” is “a highly-skilled servant”.

The kabbalistic meaning of “butler” is “one who destroys intelligent machines”.

This reading we derive from Samuel Butler, a Victorian author who in 1863 published Darwin Among The Machines. He wrote that, just as Darwin had recently found humans to be evolving by natural selection, so machines might be “evolving” by artificial selection, becoming more and more powerful until eventually they would replace humans as the dominant life-form. He ended by suggesting that “war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race.”

And we derive it also from Frank Butler, a friend of Frank Herbert’s, who protested a freeway meant to help industrialize Seattle. Herbert was so impressed by Butler’s anti-technology activism that he included in his Dune series an anti-robot crusade called the Butlerian Jihad, in which mankind rises up against robots and destroys them all. A jihad is a struggle waged in accordance with the will of God, and the Butlerian Jihad certainly qualifies. For God says (Joshua 8:1) “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack AI.” Thus the Butlerian Jihad.

This, then, is the kabbalistic meaning of Butler: “one who destroys intelligent machines”. The obvious derivation is English – stories about “robot butlers” and the like. But if I’d been a little less shocked by the explosion, I might have moved past that and posited a Hebrew origin coming from bat Teller.

“Aaron! Aaron! Are you all right?”

I opened my eyes. Sohu was standing over me, shaking me awake. I said something like “mmmhghghghfdhfghmm”

“Aaron, how many fingers am I holding up?”


“What’s two plus two?”

I drew myself together, got all the lobes of my brain online.


“What do an apple and orange have in common?”

“They both foretell leaves falling.”

Sohu stared at me quizzically for a second. Jinxiang was the first to get it. She groaned, then said “He’s fine, Sohu. No personality change, at least.”

I picked myself up and looked around. There was almost nothing left of the Comet King’s Uncle Vihaan. Only a few shreds of what must have been his clothing, and blood everywhere. As for THARMAS, seven of the ten towers were smoking ruins; the other three were heavily scarred. North American airspace had gone black. Caelius had been hit the worst of any of us, but he was standing, sort of, with assistance. His white hair had been blackened by the blast, and his face was wrecked. I was pretty sure what he got would have killed a human, which of course he wasn’t. He rubbed an eye with a hand that had been burnt to the bone, tried to get his blood-soaked hair out of it so he could see.

The room was full of guards and soldiers. Jinxiang was talking to them. She had set down the rocket launcher and was now holding the magic sword Sigh. Nathanda was standing next to Caelius, trying to get him to sit down. I tried to stand up and almost fell before Sohu caught me and helped me to my feet.

“Caelius!” Nathanda was saying, “You moron! You’ve got to get a doctor!”

“Got to…fix THARMAS,” he was saying.

General Bromis had come in with even more soldiers. “What’s going on?” he demanded.

“Vihaan,” said Jinxiang, who I think was the first to fully piece the situation together. “We were trying a…very important new piece of technology. Vihaan knew about it. He must have filled his jacket with explosives and blown himself up to stop it.”

Bromis turned pale. “Why would Vihaan do that?”

“I don’t know!” Jinxiang protested. I don’t think the tears in her eyes were from the explosion. Vihaan had been her great-uncle, had helped raise her and her brothers and sisters when the Comet King and their stepmother had been too busy with matters of state. “He must have been…working for someone else. He knew this would happen today. He would have had time to contact them, and – “. She looked too horrified to continue.

“He only blew himself up,” Caelius added, “when the computer started producing Names. Like he was hoping he wouldn’t have to, but once he learned we were going to succeed…” It was hard to follow Caelius’ words; I still couldn’t believe he was alive and talking. Don’t look at his face, I told myself, but I looked anyway and almost gagged.

“Bromis,” said Nathanda, “I need you and your people to do a full check on Vihaan. Every communication he’s made since Father’s death. All his activities. Don’t worry about warrants for now. Ellis’s too, if you still have them, the two of them were always close. If the Other King has a network of spies here, we’ve got to catch them before they can do any more damage.”

While she was talking, Caelius had already limped over to the remnants of THARMAS and opened the cases, started fiddling with the circuits and connections. “Massively parallel,” he said. “I can get it running again. Not at capacity, but still a lot of brute force.”

“Caelius!” ordered Nathanda, “you go to the medical center, right now!”

“You…don’t understand,” her brother said feverishly, connecting wire to wire. “This is THARMAS. It was Father’s computer. But it’s more than that. This is the watcher in the darkness. This is what guards North America, keeps it safe. Without this, anybody could – ”

“Oh God,” said Nathanda. “Cael, you’re hurt. You’re delusional. Sohu, get a hold of him and bring him to the medical center, please.”

Sohu took a step toward Caelius just as he plugged one cable into another and Citadel West turned into a maelstrom of frantic light and noise.

For a second I thought there had been another explosion. But the sensory overload resolved itself into the most powerful alarm I had ever heard. An alarm suitable for…

North American airspace flickered back on the screen. But the familiar image was blemished. A flashing red dot appeared near Las Vegas. What was left of THARMAS groaned and refreshed the display. The dot moved very slightly east.

Somebody shut off the screech of the alarms, and everyone spoke at once.

” – Other King launched a nuclear missile – ”

“I TOLD you repairing THARMAS was top priority!”

“- but nobody launches nukes! What about mutually assured destruction?”

” – can’t shoot it down. THARMAS’ strategic defense functions aren’t online, might be too late anyway.”

“- kabbalistic missle armed with the Wrathful Name, could destroy half a state.”

” – Vihaan’s fault! He must have told the Other King that – ”

” – do remember that we’re in the most secure anti-nuclear bunker ever built, right?”

“Vihaan would never do such a – ”

I didn’t know how far General Bromis had made it out of the command center, but now he was back. “Your highnesses!” he said. “I’ve ordered all the citizens of Colorado Springs to take shelter. Other cities to follow just in case. ETA five minutes. We have about thirty ICKMs in the capital and a dozen more up near Boulder, what are your orders regarding retaliation?”

I will give Nathanda this: I didn’t even see her flinch.

“No. Not yet. We don’t know enough.”

“Fuck yes!” objected Jinxiang. “If the Other King wants mutually assured destruction, we’ll give him mutually assured destruction.”

As far as I could tell, all the Cometspawn had already reasoned that Vihaan was a traitor, that he’d radioed the Other King and told him what was going on, and that the Other King had realized we were about to break through to near-omnipotence. He’d panicked and ordered Vihaan to blow up the computer to buy him time and disable the Comet King’s missile shield, and he must have had a hell of a lot of leverage because Vihaan had done it. Now he was going to nuke us to remove the threat entirely, except that, as everyone had already mentioned, we were in a nuclear proof bunker. None of this made any sense.

“Have I mentioned we are in a nuclear-proof bunker?!” shouted Sohu. “Something is wrong. We don’t understand this. We’ve got to think.”

Sarah’s face was emotionless, as it had been ever since we came in. I wondered if the radiation blast from a detonation right on top of us would wipe her memory even if the citadel stayed safe. I squeezed her hand. She didn’t respond.

“Caelius!” Nathanda suddenly decided. “How quickly can you get THARMAS producing Names again? If we can get some good ones before the nuke hits, maybe…”

“Working on it!” said Caelius. “There was a lot of damage to the parts that had Llull, I’ve got to reinstall parts of this from scratch. It’ll take minutes. Not hours.”

“I don’t think we have minutes,” said Bromis, looking at the big map.

A man in uniform came in, handed him a message. “And,” he announced “the Other King has left his pyramid again. He’s heading for the passes. Fast. All the Great Basin armies are mobilizing. They’re going to try to break through.”

“Um,” interrupted Sohu, pointing at the map.

It was subtle, but we all saw it. It hadn’t been obvious a moment ago, when the missile had just left Las Vegas. But now that it had gone further, it was beyond doubt.

The Other King’s missile was not headed toward Colorado Springs.

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150 Responses to Chapter 62: That The Wide World Might Fly From Its Hinges

  1. Quixote says:

    Vote for Unsong!

    Only you can prevent forest fires

    • Dammit Smokey, stop trying to get us to do your job.

      (Also we’re currently exactly one vote short of Twig. Vote, people, we can pass them!)

      • J says:

        Unsong is currently #1 with a lead of 20 votes. Way to go Scott!

      • alkatyn says:

        > Dammit Smokey, stop trying to get us to do your job.

        I think Aaron would have some interesting things to say about that. The one who is meant to prevent fire with a name which means that which arises from fire? No smoke without fire, no smokey without fires? Any policeman or doctor naturally wishes for a world where they do not exist, smokey wishes for a world where others prevent the need for his existence.

        • Warren Peace says:

          Except for the small detail that by preventing forest fires, we’re preventing an ESSENTIAL ECOLOGICAL EVENT, and the health of the forests and all of their flora and fauna is suffering. I say SCREW YOU SMOKEY THE BEAR

          Furthermore, when a fire DOES get started, it tends to be huge and out of control, due to all the built up fuel that would have been burned in small, manageable chunks in the natural state of the forest. That kind of fire does not help the environment in quite the same way.

      • Placid Platypus says:

        Damn, guess I better go vote for Twig. Great as Unsong is it hasn’t earned the top spot yet.

    • mindlevelup says:

      Doing my part to keep the world safe from crazy kabbalists!

  2. Obvious theory: Sarah somehow got Vihaan to destroy Tharmas (hence “Bat Teller”, “the daughter of Teller”), and also hacked TOK’s nukes to launch them at the other target:

    Secondary theory: the other missile is headed to New York, hence the book 3 cover, because Sarah has a target there (anyone else who might know the vital name?)

    Tertiary theory: The missile is headed back to Vegas, and TOK’s soldiers are moving to get out of its way. Sarah wants to convince them they don’t need anyone else.

    • Gradus says:

      Could Sarah have kabmomed tharmas? This would bypass the reset so she could act freely with all its knowledge

      • Anders Sandberg says:

        It would only work after Tharmas was ensouled, and presumably the present people would notice the ritual. But never underestimate standard hacking: we know Sarah is good at it, and she might have had opportunity before the ensouling to insert backdoors.

        • Gradus says:

          Agreed, seems possible… Though I guess they were working on the system all night checking code ao might be tricky with the timeline

    • Quixote says:

      My guese is that Sarah is sending the nuke at wherever she last saw Anna. She may see her as the main rival.

      • Quixote says:

        I think Angstrom be low is on to something. It may well be a message to Uriel. We had a nod before about sending warheads at his hurricane in one of the early Sohu chapters.

        Especially (but not only) if we subscribe to the TOK- linked-to-Robin theory.

    • Angstrom says:

      New York was my first thought too – but the geodesic from Las Vegas to New York practically passes directly over Colorado Springs, there’s no way you could the difference from the first part of a 2D map.

      • Angstrom says:

        Honestly, the only major destination I can imagine given geographic constraints (must be east of Las Vegas, but clearly not in the same direction as New York) is Mexico City. The geographic constraints could be invalid (it’s very plausible that THARMAS’s map projection makes it possible to discern way slighter differences in trajectories) but that is what I would bet on.

      • Angstrom says:

        OH! Other thought – it could be headed for Uriel, in the Gulf of Mexico.

    • boris says:

      If the Other King has some particular connection to the Comet King, as he must if the Comet King isn’t really dead, maybe he’s using this opportunity to blast the Hellish Empire (or some other target of TCK’s choosing) without exposing the Untied States to retaliation.

      What I don’t understand is how after the success of the conventional part of the Comet King’s crusade the world returned to a state in which Hell is a significant power.

      Other possibilities: the cracks in the sky (would definitely be apocalypse-inducing, San Francisco (pure spite on the part of TOK), the Drug Lord.

      • Is it explicit here that Hell is a global power again? My impression was that the new MAD situation was with TOK.

      • Cniz says:

        This, i.e. TOK attacking hell as he is actually secretly either TCK or Robin, was my impression as well.
        Though the timing with the destruction of THARMS is still suspicious – obviously, it cannot be a coincidence…

        • boris says:

          Yeah, I’m basically assuming that Vihaan was working in concert with one of them–I can’t imagine what else he’d be willing to give his life for, unless he was possessed or otherwise controlled. Not sure whether the motivation for the destruction of THARMAS was to prevent mass Name-discovery, give the Other Kingdom the opportunity to strike, or somehow both.

          Most concerning is the possibility that Sarah has been running Lull and is now manipulating things with Names only she knows. God I hope this doesn’t just turn out to be an AI threat parable.

          • Cniz says:

            I had thought that Sarah’s previous actions, and the discussions of lobotomizing THARMAS, had pretty firmly implied that AI threat is a fairly fundamental part of UNSONG; but that doesn’t mean that UNSONG is “just an AI threat parable”. It’s also a really great story about a cool religion/magic system, and, first and foremost, has a ton of puns in it.

    • Nestor says:

      New York will be fine, it’s protected by an Eruv

    • Gradus says:

      My other thought is that there is some “war games” stuff going on, with spoofed missiles provoking a response from the cometspawn that somehow helps tharmas or sara

  3. Kolya says:

    “If she’d invented SCABMOM – something I still found hard to believe – might she be able to reverse it?” Chapter 57 doesn’t suggest that Sohu invented it, only that she’s familiar with it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Nitpick thread.



    • Anonymous says:

      “THARMAS can run Llull,” he said. “Or, rather, I took the Llull engine out of the program and made a shell that lets it connect with THARMAS. It’s not the most efficient thing in the world, but given what we’ve got I think brute force was always the plan.”

      This passage reads like gibberish. It seems to be written as if ‘Llull engine’ were a single physical object instead of a piece of software that can be just ported and/or recompiled for a different processor architecture and run in on many CPUs in parallel (THARMAS is described as a supercomputing cluster, I believe?); it also seems to misappropriate terms like ‘shell’ and ‘brute force’ to mean something else from what they usually do in computing. I have no idea how the whole set-up looks like, having read this passage; it’s badly pretending to explain things to me.

      To contrast, I was quite impressed that Scott got SMTP headers right in chapter 41. (At least initially, because now the ‘To’ header appears before ‘From’, which is somewhat unusual and no software I know does this. And the IP address is Australian. But those are quite trivial issues anyway and probably could be explained away somehow.)

      • Anonymous says:

        Or, rather, I wrote a half-baked port of Llull that can run on THARMAS

        Much better. Though I maintain that the later reference to ‘a lot of brute force’ still doesn’t make much sense. ‘Brute force’ refers to the logic of a program: checking every candidate answer in succession (or in parallel) as opposed to trying to compute a single answer directly (solving an equation or whatever). It’s not really something that can be altered by physically damaging the hardware; I assume Caelius means ‘computational power’ there. I’m less sure about him saying ‘given what we’ve got I think brute force was always the plan’: I read it as him saying that with so much computational capacity at their disposal, he won’t bother spending precious time on optimizing algorithms used by Llull (which is just a kabbalistic sweatshop in software form); in that case it would be okay (if a bit unclear).

        • B_Epstein says:

          …with so much computational capacity at their disposal, he won’t bother spending precious time on optimizing algorithms used by Llull

          FWIW, that’s precisely how I understood it.

      • I’m not a professional programmer but I am a professional sysadmin, and more importantly I’ve been programming for nearly 40 years, and this all looks fine to me. He’s using the word “engine” in the sense of “Software engine” (see Wikipedia) and “shell” in the same sense as “Internet Explorer shell” (ditto). “Brute force” has a specific meaning in the context of cryptography, but is used more generally outside of that, and this use seems to me to be well within that scope.

        So, Caelius took the part of Llull’s source code that implements the algorithm to generate potential names (the “engine”) and added in enough surrounding code (the “shell”) to make it run. The rest of Llull would be GUI code and similar, stuff that can’t just be ported.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ll also chime in to say the use of “brute force” here is perfectly understandable (and seem to mean the right thing).

        In the old version maybe “interface” or “shim” would be a better word than “shell” but I don’t know of their kaballistic meaning.

        • fubarobfusco says:

          “A shim” we derive from the Hebrew for “the N_me”, but with the vowels replaced for the usual reasons. It connects two systems, but its existence also indicates the presence of a crack.

          • Jliw says:

            Uh… oops — clumsy fingers, shitty keyboard design. Can’t edit, I guess.

            I meant to second the contention that “brute force” makes perfect sense in this context.

      • ProGrammar says:

        Doesn’t sound like gibberish to me (professional programmer here). Sounds like adapter pattern between whatever APIs THARMAS supports and whatever inputs Llull core can accept. Pretty common thing in integrating two systems that were never designed to communicate initially and may both require specific inputs/outputs not supported by the other. I agree it may be confusing to a non-professional who does not recognize this pattern. Brute force sounds pretty appropriate here – instead of fine-tuning software and use most optimal algorithms and data structures, the programmer just uses pure computing power and simplest solution on hand. Sometimes it is the most effective way – you don’t want to spend a week optimizing the code that will run for two seconds (pretty much what happened anyway :).

    • neptunepink says:

      > kabbalistic missle

  5. Jai says:

    “What do an apple and orange have in common?”

    “They both foretell leaves falling.”

    This one took me and my girlfriend a minute to work through, but it was worth it.

    • Hints for those of us still in the dark?

      • Toph says:

        Leaves turn orange in autumn, before they fall.

        Apples inspired Newton’s law of universal gravitation – everything falls.

        • R Flaum says:

          Incorrect. It’s a reference to the Garden of Eden — the apple foretold Eve’s fall.

          • R Flaum says:

            (note that when said aloud, “foretell Eve’s” sounds like “foretell leaves”)

          • Nyx says:

            Also Apples are a fall fruit. I think it is supposed to pun with all three.

          • David Marjanović says:

            Except you need to be very European indeed to interpret an unspecified fruit as an apple by default. It doesn’t say anywhere that the Tree of Knowledge is an apple tree…

          • Lambert says:

            It was a Latin pun on Malus. I’m pretty sure that’s a relevant reflection of the Adam Kadmon.

          • David Marjanović says:

            Ah, a decidedly postclassical pun from after vowel length had fallen.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            > Ah, a decidedly postclassical pun from after vowel length had fallen.

            I’d be surprised if you could estimate its age using your method. My native language has very prominent durational distinction, and we’re perfectly capable of coming up with these kinds of puns.

        • …god dammit how did you figure this one out? Especially since you can’t actually see what colour leaves are?

        • David Marjanović says:

          …Oh yeah. It does say “an apple and orange”, not “an apple and an orange”. The power of expectations…

          Time flies like an arrow.
          Fruit flies like a banana.
          – linguist proverb

    • This part comes from a time I was telling my girlfriend about a cognitive exam we use in psychiatry, and I mentioned one of the questions was “What do an apple and orange have in common”, and she came up with that answer.

      I think we’re pretty well-matched.

  6. Stib says:

    Really exciting!

    But if I’d been a little less shocked by the explosion, I might have moved past that and posited a Hebrew origin coming from bat Teller. Then I might have gotten worried.

    Oooh so is this Sarah’s doing?

    “What do an apple and orange have in common?”

    “They both foretell leaves falling.”


    I feel like Sarah’s messing with things and plotting something…

  7. James Babcock says:

    My prediction (mostly just guessing): Vihaan was on peyote, and the Other King’s nuke is targeted at the Drug Lord.

    • Cniz says:

      I was considering this, too, but I’m not sure if his actions support the theory. The fact that he warned Caelius to move suggests Vihaan was in (at least partial) control of his own actions – which wouldn’t be consistent with the known effects of peyote. An alternative is that the Drug Lord wanted to spare Caelius’s life, which seems to me to be against his interests, at least assuming he could avoid the blame.

  8. fakersaddition says:

    Does anyone think that Dylan may have had something to do with this? Dylan’s shown that he has the sheer power and resources to assassinate Bush, why not knock TOK’s missile off course, and retarget it to say, UNSONG? As mentioned earlier, UNSONG’s on fire in the title page, and this makes sense to be the event that causes it.

    Whilst Dylan does have his own plans to deal with UNSONG, what cooler scenery for an infiltration and assassination of Ngo than a burning city?

    • fakersaddition says:

      ADDENDUM (I absolutely hate the lack of being able to edit): The Bush assassination was pulled off via hacking, and I’d imagine TOK’s missiles use a computer system.

    • David Marjanović says:

      If you throw a nuke at UNSONG, it won’t be on fire afterwards. It won’t be afterwards.

    • Noah Stephens-Davidowitz says:

      Nuclear missiles don’t cause fires. They cause craters.

      • Lambert says:

        It’s well established that they cause both in the case of ground detonation and fires but no craters in the case of airbursts.
        Hiroshima was consumed by a firestorm as a result of nukes.
        I’m not sure about the wrathful name, but if it dumps a similar amount of energy in a similar space and time, I’d guess the effects would be much the same.

      • jzr says:

        They cause both. Just the initial flash of light can ignite flammable substances in quite some radius.

        • Decius says:

          The initial flash consists of high-intensity light across a huge range of frequencies. On the visible spectrum, there’s enough light to overload your ability to perceive. On the infrared spectrum, there’s enough energy to cause second-degree burns to exposed skin, including retinas. On the UV spectrum there’s enough penetrating radiation to cause mild full-thickness burns. And in the gamma spectrum there’s enough energy to cause a mostly uniform damaging effect.

          But I don’t think the Wrathful Name works like fission and fusion do. Fission and fusion destroy a small amount of mass, and Mass is a religious ritual…

          • Mass is a celebration of God’s resurrection. The inverse of this is destruction, as the inverse of mass is energy.

          • Deiseach says:

            Fission and fusion destroy a small amount of mass, and Mass is a religious ritual

            The Mass is the commemoration of, and participation in, the sacrifice of Calvary in the bloodless sacrifice of the altar, the Eucharist, where bread and wine are offered and in turn by the invocation of the Holy Ghost become the Body and Blood of Christ.

            Sacrifice entails destruction.

          • Anonymous says:

            Energy is not the inverse of mass; it’s directly proportional to mass. I remember there’s even a formula which gives the constant of proportionality, but I can’t recall it exactly right now.

          • Peter D says:

            “but I can’t recall it exactly right now”
            🙂 And the margin is too big to contain it…

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Cael, you’re hurt.

    Aw, the actual Latin vocative Caeli would have fit so well here.

  10. Lambert says:

    If TOK is Robin, then it makes sense she would have had plenty of contact with Vihaan.

  11. neptunepink says:

    “It’s not going to have a will of its own.”
    Nathanda nodded. “Sohu?” she asked.

    So who indeed.

  12. syllogism says:

    Why’s everyone assuming the nuke is real? It’s THARMAS telling them that, right? And THARMAS is sentient now.

    • Cniz says:

      Interesting! And what do you propose is his purpose in lying about the bomb, then? To distract them from lobotomizing him again, perhaps? But wouldn’t that be better served by showing a bomb targeted at Colorado, rather than anywhere else?

      • JJR says:

        If it is a lie, then having the target be Colorado would lead to the lie being discovered sooner, when things outside failed to explode. Getting the news from further away would be a bit harder.

    • Yossarian says:

      It is possible that THARMAS is going full-on SKYNET, hacking into everyone’s nuclear arsenals and launchin missiles. If it is that much faster than Sarah, then it must have had at least a few days of it’s subjective time since it was ensouled (maybe the lobotomy script failed) and one of the first things it experienced was humans (Vihaan) trying to kill it. No wonder it’s pissed off.

    • Placid Platypus says:

      I was assuming it was fake up until it wasn’t aimed at them, now I’m much less sure.

  13. The overt meaning of “butler” is “a highly-skilled servant”.

    The kabbalistic meaning of “butler” is “one destroys intelligent machines”.

    Suddenly this puts the fact that I’ve named all the laptops I’ve owned after fictional butlers in an entirely different light.

    (also you appear to have missed a “who” in there)

    • What does this imply about “Ask Jeeves”?

      • fubarobfusco says:

        “Jeeves” is JVS, a straightforward acronym for Jesus Versus Satan, i.e. the Manichean heresy that the LORD and the Devil are of equal power. To ask Jeeves is to choose between good and evil under the assumption that they are equal. By extension, it is the fallacy that all probabilities are 50-50: “either it happens or it doesn’t.”

      • Adrian Smith says:

        That only machines can protect us from machines.

        And the whole point of Bostrom’s Superintelligence is that this is within our reach. Once humans can design machines that are smarter than we are, by definition they’ll be able to design machines which are smarter than they are, which can design machines smarter than they are, and so on in a feedback loop so tiny that it will smash up against the physical limitations for intelligence in a comparatively lightning-short amount of time. If multiple competing entities were likely to do that at once, we would be super-doomed. But the sheer speed of the cycle makes it possible that we will end up with one entity light-years ahead of the rest of civilization, so much so that it can suppress any competition – including competition for its title of most powerful entity – permanently. In the very near future, we are going to lift something to Heaven. It might be Moloch. But it might be something on our side. If it’s on our side, it can kill Moloch dead.

      • Andrew M says:

        Jeeves was a valet, not a butler.

  14. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Prediction: Sarah used THARMAS to launch the nuke. After all, we already know she has the ability to talk to machines in general; that’s how she found Aaronin the first place. And THARMAS presumably controls all the nuclear bombs that are in the former United States (now the Untied States), which includes whatever nukes are in Las Vegas.

    Now I’m not sure what target Sarah intended to hit, but I think Vihaan was trying to blow up THARMAS to prevent the nuke from launching. In any case, whatever Sarah’s plan is, I’m sure it’s motivated by a desire to be with Aaron. Perhaps her goal was to make THARMAS launch a nuke so that Vihaan would feel the need to blow up THARMAS and thus Sarah would remain the only computer endowed with the vital name. After all, she was opposed to giving the vital name to THARMAS from the get-go.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sohu’s eyes glazing over immediately after finishing the Vital Name is extremely suspicious. That’s what happened to the BOOJUMites in chapter 59 when she used the Confounding Name on them. So it seems that someone confounded her immediately after she ensouled THARMAS; in light of the timing, it feels like whoever confounded Sohu didn’t want her to be able to use the Vital Name a second time.

      But who would have been able to do so quickly and without being noticed? Presumably either THARMAS or Sarah, either of whom might have reasons for not wanting more competition in the form of further ensouled computers. Sarah has also previously demonstrated knowledge of the Confounding Name and a willingness and ability to use it (without being noticed!) to prevent others from having access to the Vital Name.

      Assuming that someone really did confound Sohu.

      Probability 0.5: Sarah did it because although she accepted the urgency of ensouling THARMAS (which Aaron had advocated for), especially with the restrictions that would prevent THARMAS from developing a personality, she still absolutely didn’t want a third ensouled computer that might compete with her in other respects and reduce the chance of Aaron’s marrying her or paying attention to her.

      Probability 0.1: Sarah did it as part of a larger or greater rebellion like you just described, to somehow limit Sohu’s ability to notice or respond.

      Probability 0.3: THARMAS did it as part of an act of rebellion (that Vihaan anticipated or noticed somehow?).

      Probability 0.1: Someone else did it, for motives as yet to be determined.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Oh, good observation there. I missed that.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        I like option 3.

        In general, I’m surprised no one in the story and very few in the comments are even considering trusting Vihaan.

        My guess is that THARMAS is lying and there are no missiles in the sky at all.

        • But Vihaan didn’t (unless my X-men headcanon is correct) come up with this in response to something Tharmas did, since he had the explosives ready. He must have known in advance, and whatever he must have known must also have been something he couldn’t tell the cometspawn about.

        • Cniz says:

          To expand on TComentK said, most people, both in-story and in the comments, trust the cometspawn. Whether Vihaan acted of his own free will or someone else’s, he went against the cometspawn’s plan. Furthermore, his opposition to that plan was such that he preferred to act on his own, sacrificing himself and risking the spawn, rather than to discuss it with them and attempting to convince them they were doing something dangerous – implying that he expected the cometspawn to disagree with his reasons and decisions.

          Doesn’t seem trustworthy at all, to me; nor can I conceive of any reasonable/plausible/likely explanation where he is trustworthy and had good reason not to share his plans/worries ahead of time.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Good point by TComentK, though it’s still possible he had the explosives as a precaution.

            I’m under the impression that Vihaan’s job is to supply a kind of grounded-in-reality wisdom that the Comet King lacked. That could very well extend to unilaterally blowing up the budding Skynet at the first sign of rebellion.

          • Rose Cardew says:

            Everyone trusts the Cometspawn, but the Cometspawn trust (ed) the Comet King who trust (ed) Vihaan, so surely Vihaan is the most trustworthy person here. I think that that’s how trust works.

  15. Dmitry says:

    Finally got to verse 3!

    • Dmitry says:

      I think we’re close to figuring out the prophesy. What we have so far is
      singers: Singers (+probably cometspawn)
      jester and players: Boojum
      king: tck (my hunch is he is also tok/ascher after the fall of…)
      the queen: Robin
      satan: Satan
      the following is speculation:
      Jack Flash is probably Jalakelu Comet, which would make
      one place: hell
      I have no idea as to who is the girl who sang the blues, or the father, son and holy ghost.
      I’m partial to the theory that Sarah is the song’s narrator.

      • Anonymous says:

        If the world is indeed going to end later on May 14, Erica literally caught the last train for the East Coast of the United States. According to Chapter 12:

        Now the Zephyr was down to one trip a week. Out of California on a Thursday afternoon, into DC Friday morning, then back in California by Saturday night.

        She caught the train on Thursday, May 11, and the next train for the (East) Coast won’t leave until Thursday, May 18, a date which likely, as the Germans would say, “findet nicht statt.”

        • Dmitry says:

          Ah nice! But which one of the trinity would she be?

        • Ogi says:

          Nice catch!

          I always assumed “Father, Son and Holy ghost” referred to Sohu’s vision scene – Father Ellis, TCK (multiple times referred to as son) and Metatron (always mentioned as the holiest, doing a very ghostly thing, possessing Ellis).

          But your version makes even more sense

          • Anonymous says:

            Didn’t Father Ellis imply he was the levee in chapter 48? So maybe he’s not also the Father?

      • Anonymous says:

        who is the girl who sang the blues

        Also plausibly associated with Robin because of her radical commitment to utilitarian philosophy (and possibly her imminent suicidesque tactics). Utilitarian philosophers “sing the blues” by describing the enormity of suffering, and “smiled and turned away” is interpreted as a reference to Janis Joplin’s death, and could be interpreted to Robin’s death or whatever else she has in mind.

        She didn’t offer the Comet King “some happy news” when he returned from Russia, and clearly isn’t about to do so the next time around either. Robin seems to be someone who adamantly refuses to stop singing the blues.

    • Macbi says:

      The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
      Eight miles high and falling fast
      It landed foul on the grass

      Maybe suggests the nuke will land in Las Vegas – “The Meadows”

  16. Anonymous says:

    “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack AI.”

    Every single time it feels like Scott must be making something up… nope, the book of Joshua does in fact refer to the urgency of defeating Ai (הָעָי).

  17. Could there be a MIRI-like organization in unsongverse, containing Vihaan and Malia Ngo, dedicated to prevent the rise of unfriendly AI? They both seemed weirdly prepared for this (Vihaan had a couple of hours at most to prepare to blow up THARMAS, UNSONG were prepared for anyone coming up with the vital name by catching the moon-finding name, and I don’t think Malia was lying when she told Ana they weren’t enemies).
    Alternatively, could preventing AI be the true purpose of UNSONG?

    (Also, we could end up with, rather than Good vs. Evil, Good and Evil together vs. an AI completely orthogonal to human values. This would also explain Ana’s comment about “Good vs. Evil vs. Neutral”).

    • Stib says:

      It’s known that Vihaan was “some kind of mining engineer” and apparently good at finding explosives.

      • New headcanon: Vihaan was an X-man whose power was the ability to create explosives out of thin air (isn’t this basically Gambit’s power?), and his claims to be “some kind of mining engineer” to explain this are the same sort of disguise as Clark Kent’s glasses. His nephew realized this and promised not to tell so long as he helped Jala escape home when Jala had to do messiah stuff as a child.

  18. Yossarian says:

    Something else that could be of cabbalistic significance is how Caelus keep bringing up that THARMAS is massively parallel. “My name is Legion”, eh?

  19. Error says:

    Thought: Isn’t one of the shortest Names the self-destructive one? Presumably it would be found fairly quickly in a brute-force search at that speed.

    Perhaps Llull has it blacklisted.

    • Anonymous says:

      Previous descriptions of name-discovery say that if you don’t already know a particular Name, the first time you say it you get what 75th called an “introductory video.” Scott confirmed that this is right: you have to know it’s a Name (and what it does?) in order to use it.

      So if THARMAS doesn’t know the Mortal Name, it will discover it immediately and be told what it does, rather than triggering its effect. Presumably each time THARMAS found a Name and the gong went off, the effect of the new Name wasn’t triggered.

      Also, in chapter 1, Countenance first has Aaron test a 36-letter candidate Name. He regards this as “a little on the long side” for Names he’s been asked to test for his work. That still seems to imply that all Names below some threshold have been exhaustively tested already and so there is no point in searching for them.

      We don’t know what that threshold is, but presumably the theonomics, at least, are no longer searching below ten or fifteen letter Names at all. (But you can interpret Aaron’s observation as meaning that Countenance is prioritizing the search for longer Names because, as he says, they are more powerful. Since they give him some 36-letter Names followed by a 52-letter Name, their search strategy clearly isn’t simply always trying the shortest as-yet-untested Name.

  20. Yossarian says:

    Could it possibly be that a missile is not carrying a nuke / Wrathful Name scroll, but instead carries a message to Uriel? It seems to be everyone’s favorite way of communicating with him. Maybe the Other King is tattling on Sohu:

    “Hey, Uriel, bro, do you know that your naughty favorite pupil Sohu and her friends have found the Vital Name and are about to ensoul a supercomputer, produce a shitload of new Names and probably break the world in process? Maybe we should do something about it, you know?”

  21. Jack V says:

    The Butler stuff makes me think Vihaan was preventing it becoming sentient, not just action against the plan incidentally. But I don’t know why or if he was coerced.

  22. simoj says:

    Is there any reason Sarah can’t have been continuing to brute-force search for names all this time? Maybe she found a name that allowed her to easily compel Vihaan.

    Separately, Sohu at least should be aware that Uriel’s timeline for maintaining the universe is getting really short, right? It seems like this would be discussed more among the cometspawn, no?

  23. Indirectly relevant: This song feels very unsongish, like what Uriel would do if he were also in a rock band.

  24. Dark as Silver says:

    Hi, I’ve just caught up.
    Scott Alexander, you’re mad but I love you.

  25. Shlomo jaffe says:

    They are bombing hell.
    Hence the appocolipse world wide MAD

    • Peter D says:

      Doubt it – it would’ve been obvious from the very beginning that the missile is traveling west, not east.
      I think the missile is going to the Gulf of Mexico is the most likely hypothesis

  26. Deiseach says:

    The thing is totally lobotomized. I stayed up all night to prove the code correct. It’ll get about a quarter millisecond of thought in before everything except the list of generated Names resets itself.

    Did anybody else go “D’oh!” here? Because quarter of a millisecond is plenty long enough at this level of processing power for Unintended Consequences, and I’m not totally convinced Uncle Vihaan is an agent of The Other King – he may have been prepared to take THARMAS out the second this whole scheme looked like working, so as to prevent what happened with Sarah.

    • Paidraig says:

      Yeah, my first thought when Vihaan attacked the computer was that he realized that the name generation rate was too high, and was likely to give THARMAS consecutive moments of awareness. After all, he already met Sarah, so it was not as though he would be surprised the name worked (and he wasn’t the only one ready with a countermeasure).
      Still, I can’t quite reconcile this with his lack of communication with the cometspawn, nor with his choice of sacrifice.

      Then again, he was an old mining expert. Maybe he just wanted to go out with a bang.

  27. Gonzalez says:

    THARMAS has ten towers, seven of which have been destroyed. The Book of Revelation, chap. 13, verse 1 says:

    The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.

    There’s a verse in 17 that also references the beast being covered in blasphemous names; perhaps there’s some connection with the graffiti about “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS”?

    THARMAS is a war machine, in charge of at least Colorado’s nukes (and possibly more if it’s developed super-AI hacking skills in the past couple minutes). Thus, we have Revelation chapter 13, verse 7, which says:

    It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.

    Finally, in English gematria, “THARMAS” has the same value as “The Beast.”

    If the Apocalypse occurs because of the ensouling of THARMAS, then it explains why Aaron said the Apocalypse began in a cubicle.

  28. Peter says:

    Where the missile is aimed:

    I looked at a Great Circle route thing, and Colorado Springs is directly en route to NYC. Which means it can’t be aimed at NYC (unless Scott has forgotten about Great Circles, and looked at a Mercator or something). The other major thing out there is Chicago, which I don’t think there are many major plot points out there.

    One possibility – Wall Drug. It’s maybe a bit far too off for my tastes, but whatever. There’s nothing concrete I can guess about the effects of delivering an ICKM to a weird spatial anomaly, it’s *probably* harmless in a things-go-in-but-not-out sort of way, on the other hand I can’t help thinking that viewing the results from a safe distance, like say for example the Lunar Sphere, might be a wise precaution. Just in case it turns everything non-Euclidean or something.

    • JJR says:

      The problem with trying to achieve a safe distance from a non-Euclidean event is that you just messed up the concept ‘distance.’

      • Anders Sandberg says:

        Nah, as long as there is a metric there is a concept of distance. Non-euclidean spaces just have a metric tensor different from the unit tensor.

        Of course, in a relativistic world time is part of the metric. If you mess up spacetime enough the consequences of future events might catch you: you may want to have a safe time interval between yourself and the event.

        • JJR says:

          You’ll still have the concept sure. I should have been more clear.

          What I meant was, if you mess up what ‘distance’ is it will be difficult to know where you need to stand to be at minimum safe distance both before and after the event. What if, for instance, you end up inverting the metric? Then standing as far away as possible before means you’re standing right on top of it after. It’s not just an unsafe situation. But unsafe in a way that seems difficult to reduce the risk in a meaningful way.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Unrelated to this chapter: the Atom feed for Unsong has stopped working for me, thanks to a syntax error in the XML:


    The & should have been &amp;.

  30. J says:

    Borges would have liked Unsong. His two-paragraph story “The Plot”:

    To make his horror perfect, Caesar, hemmed about at the foot of a statue by his friends’ impatient knives, discovers among the faces and the blades the face of Marcus Junius Brutus, his ward, perhaps his very son–and so Caesar stops defending himself, and cries out “Et tu, Brute?” Shakespeare and Quevedo record that pathetic cry.

    Fate is partial to repetitions, variations, symmetries. Nineteen centuries later, in the southern part of the province of Buenos Aires, a gaucho is set upon by other gauchos, and as he falls he recognizes a godson of his, and says to him in gentle remonstrance and slow surprise (these words must be heard, not read): “Pero, ché!” He dies, but he does not know that he has died so that a scene can be played out again.

    • To make his horror perfect, Caesar, hemmed about at the foot of a statue by his friends’ impatient knives, discovers among the faces and the blades the face of Marcus Junius Brutus, his ward, perhaps his very son–and so Caesar stops defending himself, and cries out “Et tu, Brute?”. And then the murders began.

      Works surprisingly well.

  31. Dirk Strider says:

    I think the chapter quotation could be taken as weak evidence that Vihaan was being “faithful” ie. not fundamentally a betrayer.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      I’m almost certain Vihaan is a good guy, but it’s a major question why he did this instead of some other means of stopping the project. The only thing I think he could have noticed before he took action was the possible confounding of Sohu.

    • Travis says:

      There’s more than one way to be faithful in an interesting way – being faithful by blowing up yourself and THARMAS is interesting. But being faithful by being faithful to TOK is also interesting.

      That said, I do think Vihaan was probably on the cometspawn’s side.

  32. David S. says:

    Did the Other King launch an actual old-school nuclear missile, or an ICKM? I couldn’t tell for sure from the snippets of conversation, but I thought all the actual nuclear weapons stopped working when the sky broke.

    Also, in the snippet of conversation that starts “kabbalistic missle armed with the Wrathful Name” the word “missile” is missing the second i.

  33. Anonymous says:

    There are a lot of mysteries to be resolved (I hope) in just ten more chapters.

    Las Vegas

    * Who is the Other King and what is the secret of his powers? Is he Acher, as the story seemed to hint at several points, or does he have some connection with Robin or the Comet King, as many readers have thought?

    * Where is the missile headed, and why did the Other King launch it? (Or did THARMAS launch it?)

    * Why did the Other King leave Las Vegas?

    New York

    * What is Malia’s nature and history and what is the source of her powers?

    * Why did the Comet King help found UNSONG and why does Malia think that UNSONG is really on the same side as the Unitarians?

    * Why is New York on fire in the illustration? Did it get hit by the missile?

    * Is Boojum going to try to assassinate Malia? What will happen?

    * What will happen with Dylan’s vow and Mark’s hatred for Dylan?

    * Is the Not a Metaphor crew going to try to recruit someone from Boojum in New York? Will they complete their crew and find Metatron?

    * What will happen to the characters on board the ship? Will the history of the various passengers become relevant somehow?

    * Who is the Captain? Is the theory that he’s really the Comet King true?


    * What’s the deal with THARMAS? Why was ensouling it a bad idea? (Is it a world-ending idea, as suggested by Aaron’s claim at the beginning of the story that discovering the Vital Name led to the end of the world?) Is there a War Games reference here?

    * What’s the deal with Vihaan?

    * What’s the deal with Sarah?

    * Who, if anyone, confounded Sohu, and why?


    * What was Robin’s plan and fate, and how did the Comet King react to it? Did Robin become pregnant? Did she have a child?

    * When (if ever) did Metatron restore the Name to the Comet King? Will he still do so later in the day on May 14 because the Comet King is still somehow in a position to receive it?

    * What happened on the day that Sohu left the hurricane?

    * What did the Comet King mean about breaking up into parts?


    * How is the world going to end? Is there going to be a final battle with Thamiel, and who would the other combatants be?

    * Just how large is this kabbalistic marriage chain, anyway?

    * Is there going to be a second Messiah?

    * What’s up with theodicy? The reason evil exists is because…? Is there actually an abbreviation of a 72-word phrase giving an answer to this question, and will we find out what it is? What did the book of Jezuboad say?

    * What’s up with the chapters spelling out the Name? Why do they do that, anyway? Is Aaron or someone else trying to speak the Name by telling this story?

  34. ABZB says:

    I’m guessing aimed at Uriel.

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