aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 63: My Wrath Burns To The Top Of Heaven

So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky!
John Dryden

Afternoon, May 14, 2017
Gulf of Mexico

Blue sky and fair winds, like every day in the eye of a hurricane. Multicolored symbols circled and sparkled round. Invisible celestial machinery kept up its steady pulse.

Uriel turned his gaze east. In Cuba, a farmer’s only goat had just had a kid. Uriel’s threat-assessment algorithm placed him at 2.9% risk of boiling the kid in its mother’s milk within the next week. Years ago, he would have smitten the farmer, just in case, and never worried about it again. Sohu had put an end to that. Now he tweaked the parameters of his algorithm, told it to alert him if the probability increased further, and moved along.

He turned his gaze north. In New Jersey there was a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside some white chickens. For some reason if anyone touched or moved it then the whole Southern Hemisphere crashed. He had spent aeons of subjective time trying to figure out the problem and finally given up. Now he just monitored the wheelbarrow carefully, ready to smite anyone who came too close. His monitoring program told him that the nearest human was a child at play, thirty meters away, just outside the perimeter of the danger zone. Something was gnawing at the corner of the archangel’s mind, trying to grab his attention, but there was too much work to let himself get distracted. He confirmed the child’s trajectory and moved along.

He turned his gaze west. In Los Angeles, the angel Gadiriel had finished removing the overgrown vines and tribal masks from her palace and replaced them with whiskey bottles and steer heads. She looked in the mirror as she tried on a vintage cowboy hat. “Lookin good, pardner,” she told herself in a perfect Texas accent. Diagnostics confirmed that the machinery continued to limit her power at the same rate as all the other angelic and semi-angelic beings. He confirmed that the laws of physics remained mostly intact in her presence, and moved along.

Before he could turn his gaze south, he felt it. Something was happening. A pulse from Gevurah. Harshness. Destruction. A pulse from Yesod. Mechanism. Nature. Balance.

Uriel reached out and felt the Tree, teased the sephirot back into balance. He was among them and he was of them, he partook of them and he maintained them. They were his children, and they would be safe in his care.

He opened his eyes. A missile pierced the cloud-wall of the hurricane.


He caught it in his outstretched hand. The message was very small. He held it right up to his eyes so he could see it clearly.

The message was: Sorry.

Then there was fire, and hurricane and archangel and machinery alike disintegrated into nothingness before the awesome power of the Wrathful Name of God.

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111 Responses to Chapter 63: My Wrath Burns To The Top Of Heaven

  1. boris says:

    I’m guessing he won’t be able to recoalesce for Plot Reasons.

    • James Blair says:

      Or it could take him too long. How long does it take for an apocalypse to happen anyway?

      • The impression I meant to give with this chapter is “a couple of seconds”. If it’s not a guy in Cuba boiling a goat, it’s a kid in New Jersey knocking over a wheelbarrow, or Gadiriel gaining her full 100% powers and deciding to turn the whole world into a movie set, or…

        • lunatic says:

          It might have been more effective if you’d described Uriel taking more actions as well as monitoring. The impression I got was “there’s a lot that could go wrong, but usually things hold themselves together”

        • Cake&spoon says:

          This chapter very much reminded me of the dragon interlude in worm, where she “wakes up” and goes over the s-class threats. Was this inspiration? (have you read worm?)

    • Not necessarily; the point of the attack may have been to destroy the machinery rather than to destroy Uriel.

    • Amelia Kelly says:

      At this point, the reservoir of divine light in Uriel’s machine is all but empty. Recoalescing probably requires a significant amount.

      • But with Uriel’s machine broken, divine light will go back to raining freely on the world, so Uriel should recoalesce in normal time. Assuming Thamiel doesn’t do something with his trident, anyway.

        • Ansis says:

          I’m confused. I thought the world depends on the machine to exist, and would dissolve into alphabet soup the moment the machine stopped. Like, atoms, and everything made of them, would just go poof. This is not the case?

          • nightpool says:

            I think the answer is “we shall see”

          • fubarobfusco says:

            Uriel seems to have believed that. It is possible that Uriel is not entirely reliable.

          • My impression was that it’d just go back to how it was before he made the machine, when Thamiel was on the verge of ruling the world.

          • gradus says:

            Uriel replaced the world with an identical one made of atoms. this simulation will be destroyed. but the true world, made directly of divine light pouring down through the sephirot, would still exist. the problem with this is that Thamiel then has all his powers.

      • CalmCanary says:

        According to Chapter 20, angels not killed by Thamiel always recoalesce, so it should just be something Uriel does naturally, not something which requires expenditure of divine light.

        On the other hand, (1) it’s possible that angels only recoalesce in the old, divine light-saturated world, not in Uriel’s version, and (2) it’s possible that the angels in Chapter 20 were not yet aware of the Wrathful Name, and it can also kill them permanently.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Oh, huh, it seems you’re right — I’d misremembered Chapter 16 as saying that it uses up divine light when Thamiel recoalesces, but in fact it does not say that, rather it talks about Uriel using up divine light in order to kill him.

        • JB says:

          I think angels can’t use names since they do not have a human soul. That’s why the Drug Lord wanted to get the Vital Name, so that he could force a non-possessed human to use it on him.

  2. Phisheep says:

    So who’s going to run the world?

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    Hm. Is Uriel’s “machinery” physically located in his hurricane? I had assumed it didn’t really exist in usual space.

    Well, if so, this is obviously very bad…

  4. Concommentant says:

    This makes me wonder what prevented someone from nuking Uriel before. It seems like he should probably have a system for that? He has a predictive algorithm for people boiling goats in dairy, it seems like he should have something set up for determining whether or not a missile is ‘safe.’

    Though if he did have such a system, this one plainly circumvented it. Ouch.

    • Aside from the fact that you would have to be crazy to want to, the main barrier is the Cometspawn sitting on top of a magically-augmented continent-wide missile defense system in NORAD.

      • Warren Peace says:

        Norad would certainly know about it, being able to do something about it is a totally different problem

  5. Wait a moment … Isn’t Uriel also Urizen?

  6. Arancaytar says:

    Oh damn.

    … there are plenty of people who might kill out incapacitate Uriel, but I can’t think of many people who would apologize first. Sohu perhaps?

    • Anon says:

      Comet king.

      • Dylan, maybe. Though I don’t think he had time to arrange this, and he would probably have boasted more if he had.

        • Seth says:

          Can’t be Dylan. Maybe he would have boasted, maybe not, but he certainly would have done this with more bravado and wit, giving no indication of any doubt in his mind that nuking Uriel is definitely the right thing to do. Remember the chapter where he was fixated on composing the perfect letter bomb message?

        • gradus says:

          I don’t understand why anyone would assume this was done by anyone other than the Other King, who we can now assume is the Comet King in disguise.

          We saw the other king launch missiles in the last chapter. we saw they weren’t heading toward Colorado, but were headed east from Nevada. These are clearly the same missiles.

          We now know that the the Other King apologized to Uriel first– implying a familiarity and moral qualm.

          With what we know about how the fight between the other king and comet king ended under mysterious circumstances, the comet king’s mental state, his quest to get into hell, the prophecy about his children cursing him, and most recently the fact that the comet king’s uncle was working for the other king, it’s pretty clear he switched identities and faked his death.

          So we are led to assume that this is part of his plot to overthrow hell, that he is acting to be both the most righteous and most wicked of the generation, and that somehow unleashing all the divine light back into the world will help him get into hell/use the ultimate Name to destroy Thamiel.

          • Shoefish says:

            Yes, nukes out of Las Vegas kinda spell out TOK whoever that is.

            If it is Robin/TCK maybe they just want to bring about the apocalypse now, If it includes the dead rising again wouldn’t that empty hell?

          • Definitely agree that this is TOK at work. Dunno if he is TCK or not.

          • Warren Peace says:

            Why make so many assumptions? I see no indication that this is suddenly a given. Readers are weird

      • Seth says:

        Point in favor: This could be why the cometspawn shall die cursing their father’s name.

    • Supporting evidence for it being Sohu: She could’ve teleported from Colorado to warn him, maybe.
      …dammit, I’m too sad to try figuring this one out. We’ll see in a few weeks.

      • Seth says:

        That is strange. She wouldn’t have wanted to risk getting caught in the blast, and they were acting on very short notice, but teleportation is pretty damn quick. And once they figured out the NORAD compound wasn’t the target… I’m fairly sure that only leaves Uriel and the Drug Lord as possibilities.

        Barely possible explanation: She tried, but couldn’t get Uriel’s attention.
        Somewhat more likely explanation: Some other crisis immediately popped up and kept her occupied. THARMAS still semi-functional and out of control? Sarah out of control? Something arranged by the one who launched the missile? Something to do with Vihaan’s betrayal?

        • Please say I mentioned somewhere that Citadel West is protected against teleportation.

          • Yossarian says:

            Nope. And also Aaron, Jane and Sarah teleported in via Vanishing Name (or is it only protected against the turn-into-lightning-bolt sort of teleportation?)

          • Yossarian says:

            Unless you count this bit:

            “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.

          • Anonymous says:

            In Chapter 51, TCK teleports to Father Ellis and back while within the bunker.

            An urge to curl up and hide somewhere safe underground, only partially relieved by the knowledge that he was already in a nuclear bunker two thousand feet beneath the Rocky Mountains.

            Although this is 1984 and he doesn’t technically move out and back in unless he’s in a different plane while in lightning form.

            Abusing Scott’s reply here, it looks like the missile is probably from Sohu and is used to temporarily disable physics and THARMAS.

            (Can’t reply directly to Yossarian’s inner most comment here for soom reason.)

          • Seth says:

            I wouldn’t count the warning against the Vanishing Name. It was vague, and I took it to mean something like “we can track you easily if you use the Vanishing Name and will only be annoyed if we have to waste a few minutes getting you back here”, because if the Vanishing Name doesn’t even work in Citadel West, why mention that? Just let people try it, and then enjoy the confused looks on their faces.

            Plus, as mentioned, Sohu doesn’t bother with the Vanishing Name since she knows applied kabbalah, and protection against the one does not imply protection against the other. They wouldn’t need to mention protection against applied kabbalah, and it’s not obvious that they’d want protection against such, because who but Sohu can use it? Thamiel? The explanation in the Robin/Thamiel interlude about how Thamiel is everywhere and simply becomes more present when summoned would seem to imply that he needn’t bother with either known style of teleportation.

          • Seth says:

            Or maybe the cometspawn suspect that their father is still alive and that his goals are no longer aligned with theirs. Maybe they suspect, as the readers do, that he is TOK. That would be a excellent reason to ward Citadel West against applied kabbalah teleportation.

          • Stib says:

            Sohu explicitly teleported to and from the Boojum rehearsal, so I’m pretty sure it’s not protected against teleportation?

          • Seth says:

            That just means that the dress rehearsal stage wasn’t warded against teleportation. It was never specified in that chapter that Sohu teleported directly from or to the interior of Citadel West.

          • Calecute says:

            “He stopped the car with a screech, grabbed her in his arms, flew into the air, turned to lightning. He shot southwest, burning through the sky like a meteor. The great blast doors of the bunker-palace opened before him as he landed, changed back. ”

            This seens to imply TCK couldn’t teleport into the bunker, even thou he was in a hurry

    • Dindane says:

      I think the obvious-seeming thing makes sense here: if the missile is from TOK, and TOK = Acher, it seems fairly in-character for Acher to apologize to Uriel. After all, it’s God that he’s angry with…

      • dsotm says:

        Or his Comet padawan

      • Lorem Ipsum says:

        If it is TOK, he could still be doing exaclty what they thought he was last chapter. THARMAS relies on electrical engineering to function, and without Uriel’s machinery it’s just a sentient lump of silicon.

    • Peffern says:

      It’s gotta be TOK right?

    • CalmCanary says:

      The “sorry” can be interpreted as either a sincere apology for killing him or a sarcastic reply to his last statement. If the former, the Comet King or at least someone in his family seems to be the most likely candidate. If the latter, it would have to be someone who predicted he would hope for a message from a friend and who was hostile to him, so probably Thamiel.

  7. Greg says:

    “So much depends upon” didn’t come close…

  8. dsotm says:

    So either ensouled THARMAS decided that Uriel and his machinery are a threat (and Vihaan somehow got the prophecy from Ellis and tried to prevent it ?) Or just it being detected offline made ToK seize the opportunity and wrath-nuke Uriel –
    the ‘Sorry’ note suggest the later as judging from Sarah’s behaviour a freshly-ensouled computer would not have felt the need to do that.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Sarah doesn’t have a moral soul. She would apologize to Aaron if she believed doing so would protect their relationship, but I’m not sure she would apologize to an arbitrary sentient being.

    • dsotm says:

      The letter bomb incident with the Senator might implicate Dylan, by chain-SCABMOM infilitration but there’s no joke/pun in the note.

  9. fakersaddition/consomme says:

    My prediction of UNSONG was utterly thrashed. This is far worse.

  10. Quixote says:

    Vote for Unsong!

    This is your brain on Kabbalah

  11. A rather lousy note. Too back whoever wrote it didn’t have Erica at hand.

  12. dsotm says:

    btw was there an explanation about how ICKMs work ? – with names needing to be consciously invoked by an souled entity at their target it would be tricky. delayed-execution name accepting another name as input ?

  13. Metacelsus says:

    Somebody prepared Explosive Runes that morning . . .

    • chelofthesea says:

      I can see Tarquin in the Unsong-verse as a Placebomancer.

      • Seth says:

        Well, yeah. I mean, he [i]was[/i] a placebomancer in his own universe. [i]OotS[/i] canon may not use the term, but that hardly matters – his abilities work the same way. Same goes for Elan and Scoundrel.

        • Peffern says:

          Yeah I would say examples of Placebomancy from other media include Scoundrél from OOTS and Doc Scratch from Homestuck. Come to think of it they all have the same personality too.

          • Gamzee Makara says:

            I dunno about Doc Scratch; I think he follows tropes because he enjoys it in a Dirk + Equius way/it’s the structure he inevitably knows will play out, not that he actively draws power from them.

  14. Anders Sandberg says:

    I was wondering about the wheelbarrow and chickens, since I do not normally associate New Jersey with chickens (yes, I know there are rural parts). So I did a quick google and found that it is a fairly well-known 16 word poem by William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963). The Wikipedia page is many, many times the length of the poem. And there are real literary essays on it and what it truly means. So much depends on that tiny poem.

    Unsong is very educational.

    • For anyone too lazy to look it up, the poem is (link):

      so much depends

      a red wheel

      glazed with rain

      beside the white

    • Eva Candle says:

      The Sohu-compatible meaning-enjambment of William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”—Williams being himself a paradigmatic physician-writer—mirrors the Uriel-compatible physics-enjambment of Robert Laughlin’s essay “Physics, Emergence, and the Connectome” (see also Laughlin’s arXiv:1306.5359 “Hartree-Fock computation of the high-Tc cuprate phase diagram” for the humus-munching computational details).

      The Unsong-compatible point is that in research areas of as diverse as condensed matter theory, quantum gravity, neuropsychology, AlphaGo, and strong AI, researchers are finding that “rational explanations” emerge from (what might be called) “pre-rational explanations” by very much the same computational mechanisms by which, in loop quantum gravity (LQG) for example, “geometry” emerges from “pre-geometry.”

      Humanity’s literature of “pre-rationality” is at present a Babel of mutually incomprehensible cultures and languages…the search for a sharable culture-and-language and a universalizing “pre-rational” cognitive dynamics is why so many folks are reading “Yellow Books” nowadays.

      The result is our present scientific age…and age is happy/wonderful/awesome/fearsome for everyone except the Uriel-type folks who imagine (or hope) that “the world is (or is evolving to be) everything that is that case.” Williams’ “Red Wheelbarrow” poem captures this emergent reality, and humanity’s hopes for it, very beautifully.

      Prediction: whoever blew up Uriel did it from love…having arranged (by means yet to be revealed) that the reconstituted Uriel will have a wiser appreciation of these realities. I.e., “the world is more than is the case; it is also the pre-rational dynamics that distills the case.”

      May Uriel find healing in a newly-born appreciation of “Red Wheelbarrow” pre-reality! 🙂

    • gradus says:

      Yeah as an english lit major I found this reference to be a fantastic easter egg. well done scott.

      • Eva Candle says:

        William “Kabbalist” Williams:

        A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant.

        Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy.

        As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character. In a poem this movement is distinguished in each case by the character of the speech from which it arises.

        Therefore, each speech having its own character, the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form.

        The effect is beauty, what in a single object resolves our complex feelings of propriety.

        William “Pessomancy” Williams:

        the back wings
        of the

        hospital where

        will grow lie

        in which shine
        the broken

        pieces of a green

  15. Inty says:

    Not the universe! That’s my favourite place!

  16. Rand says:

    I’m going with it being the Other King (which isn’t a stretch, given that the last chapter says the Other King launched the nuke), who I’m still saying is Robin.

    Pretty sure Vihaan was working for Robin and/or the Comet King.

    And this should take care of Sarah and Tharmas (or at least their processing advantages, given that the divine-light -> physics engine is broken).

    • Deiseach says:

      THARMAS perhaps, not so sure about Sarah. Or indeed, everyone else. Humans run on physics, too! If the human characters can survive this, then Sarah – who has been ensouled – can survive. Can she retain her abilities? Good question. I don’t see any reason why she can’t, if we grant that humans in the “divine light” world could retain different abilities (someone is stronger, someone is smarter, someone is more beautiful, someone can run the fastest, etc.) from one another, then ensouled Sarah can retain those abilities which are native to her.

  17. David S. says:

    Last week’s chapter was nerve-wracking, but this is worse.

  18. Ian says:

    TCK wrote that “basis for modern rocketry” in about a minute when thinking of shfitingthe moon’s orbit, so this being his doing kind of makes sense.

  19. Shlomo jaffe says:

    Wait so is that it? The machinary running the world is destroyed? So does that mean. The world, and the story, are over?

    • not_a_linguist says:

      No. It’s “just” the machinery that Uriel set up to convert the world to mathematics (see: ). Hence technology stops working, Thamiel’s power ceases being constrained, but the world continues existing (for now) and WoG still work.

      I wonder what happens to THARMAS’s soul now that it’s stuck in a useless lump of metal.

      • Aegeus says:

        I wonder how far back “technology stops working” covers. Medieval times? Colonial times? WWII?

        The concept of technological advancement goes pretty far back. Even in Genesis, there’s the story of Tubal-Cain, who made weapons of bronze and iron, and a poem in which he boasts about the power he wields.

        Now, getting knocked back to the Iron age would be a disaster for mankind. But it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for technology to get knocked back to pre-industrial levels either. America plays a pretty central role in the plot, and America’s founding mythology, its narrative, requires a certain amount of technology. You can’t sing about “the rockets’ red glare” without rockets. You can’t have a statue “whose flame is imprisoned lightning” without electricity.

        Hmm. Or maybe you can, it just stops being a metaphor and becomes literal imprisoned lightning. That would be pretty cool. I wonder how many other things in human technology are metaphors for something?

        • Decius says:

          You can certainly have a statue whose flame is imprisoned lightning without the science of engineering. You just have to be powerful enough to imprison lightning.

        • jzr says:

          I believe it was already stated somewhere that most modern technology, including computers, already didn’t work on pure physics, and is somehow patchworked from simpler machines and Names. That incidentally explains somewhat the statement that the name-finding software detects hits by detecting a certain “feeling”, which in context of digital computers is utterly meaningless. It’s entirely possible that THARMAS (and Sarah, for that matter) is still operational.

        • Jubilee says:

          All things in human technology are metaphors for something. Every thing is a metaphor.

  20. anon says:

    Well, that’s one way to stop Strong AI.

  21. Yossarian says:

    Darn, it’s probably the shortest chapter this far and it again ended up with WTF??? and it’s gonna be another week until next chapter. Scott must be taking torture and bioethics lessons straight from Thamiel…

  22. Murphy says:

    I’m kinda curious why uriel didn’t just put up a building around the wheelbarrow rather than murdering any children that stray within 30 yards….

  23. Elijah says:

    TCK told Sohu in one of her interludes that he’d made plans to kill Uriel if it was ever necessary…

  24. Peter says:

    The story starts with “The apocalypse began in a cubicle.”, the event being the discovery of the Vital Name.

    If the existence of the Vital Name merely causes THARMAS to be taken down temporarily, creating a window of opportunity for TOK to bring about the apocalypse… This seems a little weak. OK, Aaron will exaggerate his own contribution to the apocalypse, but it seems like the real cause[1] of the apocalypse was something pre-existing, this just removes an obstacle.

    If on the other hand THARMAS itself was responsible for sending the missile, then Aaron’s discovery feels much more truly apocalyptic. “Sorry” could be, “I’d prefer to do this another way, but the goons who are constraining me leave me no other choice”.

    [1] According to one branch of intuitive metaphysics of causation, that is.

    • not_a_linguist says:

      I don’t think that we know remotely enough to be able to judge this yet and we should trust Scott. Off the top of my head, I can think of several other scenarios where the discovery of the Vital Name is the cause of the apocalypse in a more meaningful sense than just being the trigger for damaging the missile shield.

      a) The necessary conditions for the sending out of the missile were both the missile shield being down and THARMAS just having been ensouled.

      b) Sarah is the cause for the damaging of THARMAS (and the only reason a potentially hostile agent was allowed this near, was due to the excitement caused by the discovery of the Vital Name).

  25. K25fF says:

    “the machinery continued to limit her power at the same rate as all the other angelic and semi-angelic beings”

    The cometspawn are semi-angelic. As is the Comet King, if he is still alive.

  26. hon says:

    He exploded before he could turn his attention south…what is so important that it takes up an entire direction?

  27. Michael Foster says:

    I think it would have been more fun if the message had been “Sorry. :(“.

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  29. Hugo Guzman says:

    I’m gonna cry is Uriel is dead.

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