Chapter 10: Bring The Swift Arrows Of Light

Notice also that the sharing is what enables us to increase the trespass of thy brethren.

May 11, 2017
San Jose

Campus library hadn’t changed much since I got expelled. I checked out three big books without even so much as a “You don’t look like an Ana Thurmond,” let alone UNSONG goons hauling me off somewhere. Thank goodness for automatic card reader machines.

On the other hand, there were UNSONG goons in front of my house.

I spotted them as soon as I got to our street. Three big black vans parked in front of Ithaca. There were about a dozen officers? – soldiers? – let’s stick with goons – in black uniforms organizing somne kind of formation to knock on the door.

My mind ran through all of the scenarios. Somehow Bill had found out why we needed his computer and ratted on us. No, there was no way for him to figure that out, and even though I didn’t like the guy he wasn’t a Judas.

Okay, maybe UNSONG had just gotten generally tired of us hosting secret Unitarian meetings. It was possible. They’d gotten that group in Colorado. Maybe they were cracking down. Except that would mean that the whole thing with the Vital Name was a coincidence, and nothing was ever a coincidence.

Then I thought of the drop-dead simple, blindingly obvious answer, which was that Llull was well-ordered. Unless you gave it a random seed, it would always start in the same part of Maharaj space and go in the same direction, checking potential Names in the same order. So if UNSONG ever wanted to catch anyone who had found a way to make Llull work, all they would have to do is retrace Llull’s steps by hand. Through unfortunate coincidence, it was only a couple of hours before Llull got its first Name, the sort of performance a good sweatshop could replicate in a week. UNSONG had handed the Llull Maharaj ordering over to a sweatshop, gotten the first Name out of it – that stupid Moon-Finding Name, no less – and then tattooed it on the ears of their sentinels. Just in case. Frick. They were smart. They were operating at a level so far above me I couldn’t even see them. I had really, really blown it.

“S stands for secret,” I could hear my great-uncle intoning from beyond the grave, “you’ll keep it forever – provided there’s nobody else who is clever.”

Well, other people had been clever. Ana was right. “Nobody else can possibly be as smart as I am” was such an Aaron Smith-Teller way to think. If I’d thought for two seconds I would have given Llull a random seed, and…

Ana. Ana was in that house. Ana was in danger. Also Erica. Also depending on who had been able to pay their rent last month somewhere between six and eight other Stevensite Unitarians whom I was on moderately good terms with. And Sarah. What happened if UNSONG got Sarah? It was too terrible to think about.

And yet approximately zero percent of my brain’s emotional capacity was devoted to worrying about my superpowerful magic computer. Ana, my limbic system screamed. She was my weird Platonic sort-of-girlfriend except we were just friends and I wasn’t supposed to call her that. That was a bond stronger than death. Ana was in danger. [Ana!] I thought. No answer. Obviously too stressed for telepathy right now.

The overt meaning of teller is “someone who narrates a story.”

The kabbalistic meaning is “someone who calls down destructive celestial energies.”

This reading we derive from my great-uncle, who also had a bad track record for making reasonable choices and avoiding apocalypses.

I blew up the front wall of my house.

It was a simple name, the Avalanche Name, only eleven letters, not very good at hurting people but excellent for collapsing buildings. Also good at getting people’s attention. Ana was a sound sleeper. Once she’d told me she wouldn’t wake up even if the house fell down around her. I figured she was exaggerating. I guess we would find out.

UNSONG’s attention was also gotten. The agents turned, looking around frantically. I had crouched behind a car and they didn’t see me. They started to fan out, pistols at the ready.

One reason that people become singers is the lure of fighting a magical duel. It would be pretty neat, wouldn’t it? You chant terrible warlike Names, your shadowy opponent deflects or neutralizes them with the power of his own arcane knowledge, and at last the most esoterically learned man wins, standing dreadful above a pile of rubble while onlookers gaze in awe and think “There is a kabbalist”.

In reality, saying even a very short Name takes three seconds or so. Pressing a trigger takes a tenth that. So magical duels are right out, unless your opponent has forgotten his gun, which one can usually count on UNSONG not doing. If you had the right klipah, you could work out a system where almost no regular speech counted as continuation of a Name, start it at leisure, and then say the last syllable when you needed it – but of course I hadn’t prepared anything of the sort. And great masters like the old rabbis or the archangel Uriel could access higher worlds where all bets were off. But me? I was going to need three seconds, during which I was a sitting duck.

I spoke the Tenebrous Name and plunged the street into darkness.

Fighting a magical duel was incredibly dumb, but no one had ever claimed it wasn’t awesome.

While they were adjusting, I spoke the Bulletproof Name, which would protect me from exactly one bullet. Names must be spoken clearly and distinctly. Unless you’re the Comet King or something, you can’t get much more than eight or ten letters a second. The Bulletproof name was forty letters , which meant four to five seconds. That meant I wasn’t so much safe as “safe from anyone who couldn’t shoot me twice within a four second interval”. Once again, I did not expect UNSONG to have that problem.

My goal was to get Ana, get the computers, and speak the Vanishing Name.

The darkness of the Tenebrous Name was near-absolute, but three flashlights clicked on before I’d crawled out from the car. I had to admit my chances of getting in the house looked pretty slim, as three of the agents had taken to guarding the porch.

So I ran to the side of the house. The Ascending Name would send me up to the balcony, but they would probably hear me, either through the Sentinel Name or the normal channels. My options were kind of limited. I spoke it anyway, fast as I could, and got hit by a bullet. It hurt. I jumped through where the front window would be if I hadn’t collapsed the front of the house and made it into the apartment above ours.

I spoke the Bulletproof Name again. Six seconds. Then I used the Avalanche Name to punch a hole in the floor and fall into my bedroom.

Ana was gone.

That was good. It meant she had spoken the Vanishing Name and escaped.

The computer was still there, whirring and grinding.

That was bad.

Five UNSONG agents were pointing their guns at me, daring me to start chanting.

That was very bad.

I’m…not exactly sure what my endgame had been here. Like, breaking into the room had been an achievement, but probably the reaction of the agents who had already made it into the room would be to point their guns at me? Like they were doing now? Like, my knowledge and practice of magic had been impeccable, no one could have faulted me for that, but in terms of common sense I had utterly dropped the ball.

This might be a good place to mention I’d never actually been in anything remotely resembling a magical duel before. Or a non-magical duel. Any kind of duel, really. I had been in a bar fight once and ended up with two black eyes.

“Put your hands up and keep your mouth shut!” said one of the agents.

Slowly, I put my hands up.

An agent came from behind and blindfolded me.

Someone put a gag in my mouth and cuffs on my hands.

I was led into what must have been the big black van.

We drove off.