Chapter 1: Dark Satanic Mills
It is good practice to have your program poke around at runtime and see if it can be used to give a light unto the Gentiles.
May 10, 2017
The apocalypse began in a cubicle.
Its walls were gray, its desk was gray, its floor was that kind of grayish tile that is designed to look dirty so nobody notices that it is actually dirty. Upon the floor was a chair and upon the chair was me. My name is Aaron Smith-Teller and I am twenty-two years old. I was fiddling with a rubber band and counting the minutes until my next break and seeking the hidden transcendent Names of God.
“AR-ASH-KON-CHEL-NA-VAN-TSIR,” I chanted.
That wasn’t a hidden transcendent Name of God. That wasn’t surprising. During my six months at Countenance I must have spoken five hundred thousand of these words. Each had taken about five seconds, earned me about two cents, and cost a small portion of my dignity. None of them had been hidden transcendent Names of God.
“AR-ASH-KON-CHEL-NA-VAN-TSIS,” ordered my computer, and I complied. “AR-ASH-KON-CHEL-NA-VAN-TSIS,” I said.
The little countdown clock on my desk said I had seven minutes, thirty nine seconds until my next break. That made a total of 459 seconds, which was appropriate, given that the numerical equivalents of the letters in the Hebrew phrase “arei miklat” meaning “city of refuge” summed to 459. There were six cities of refuge in Biblical Israel, three on either side of the Jordan River. There were six ten minute breaks during my workday, three on either side of lunch. None of this was a coincidence because nothing was ever a coincidence.
“AR-ASH-KON-CHEL-NA-VAN-TSIT” was my computer’s next suggestion. “AR-ASH-KON-CHEL-NA-VAN-TSIT,” I said.
God created Man in His own image but He created everything else in His own image too. By learning the structure of one entity, like Biblical Israel, we learn facts that carry over to other structures, like the moral law, or the purpose of the universe, or my workday. This is the kabbalah. The rest is just commentary. Very, very difficult commentary, written in Martian, waiting to devour the unwary.
“VIS-LAIGA-RON-TEPHENOR-AST-AST-TELISA-ROK-SUPH-VOD-APANOR-HOV-KEREG-RAI-UM”. My computer shifted to a different part of namespace, and I followed.
Thirty-six letters. A little on the long side. In general, the longer a Name, the harder to discover but the more powerful its effects. The longest known was the Wrathful Name, fifty letters. When spoken it levelled cities. The Sepher Raziel predicted that the Shem haMephorash, the Explicit Name which would capture God’s full essence and bestow near-omnipotence upon the speaker, would be seventy-two letters.
People discovered the first few Names of God through deep understanding of Torah, through silent prayer and meditation, or even through direct revelation from angels. But American capitalism took one look at prophetic inspiration and decided it lacked a certain ability to be forced upon an army of low-paid interchangeable drones. Thus the modern method: hire people at minimum wage to chant all the words that might be Names of God, and see whether one of them starts glowing with holy light or summoning an angelic host to do their bidding. If so, copyright the Name and make a fortune.
But combinatorial explosion is a harsh master. There are twenty-two Hebrew letters and so 22^36 thirty-six letter Hebrew words. Even with thousands of minimum-wage drones like myself, it takes millions of years to exhaust all of them. That was why you needed to know the rules.
God is awesome in majesty and infinite in glory. He’s not going to have a stupid name like GLBLGLGLBLBLGLFLFLBG. With enough understanding of Adam Kadmon, the secret structure of everything, you could tease out regularities in the nature of God and constrain the set of possible Names to something almost manageable, then make your drones chant that manageable set. This was the applied kabbalah, the project of some of the human race’s greatest geniuses.
I should have been one of those geniuses. Gebron and Eleazar’s classic textbook says that only four kabbalists have ever gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare. Rabbi Isaac Luria. The archangel Uriel. The Comet King. And an eight year old girl. I won’t say I had gazed upon it bare, exactly, but in the great game of strip poker every deep thinker plays against the universe I’d gotten further than most.
Then I fell from grace. My career was ruined before it even began when I was expelled from Stanford for messing with Things Mankind Was Not Meant To Know – by which I mean the encryption algorithms used by major corporations. Nobody wanted a twenty-two year old kabbalist without a college degree. It was like that scene in the Bible where God manifested Himself upon Mount Sinai, but only to those Israelites who had graduated from Harvard or Yale.
Not that I was bitter.
Now here I was, doing menial labor for minimum wage.
It would be a lie to say I stayed sane by keeping my mind sharp. The sort of mental sharpness you need for the kabbalah is almost perpendicular to sanity, more like a very specific and redirectable schizophrenia. I stayed functional by keeping my mind in a very specific state that probably wasn’t very long-term healthy.
The timer read 4:33, which is the length of John Cage’s famous silent musical piece. 4:33 makes 273 seconds total. -273 is absolute zero in Celsius. John Cage’s piece is perfect silence; absolute zero is perfect stillness. In the year 273 AD, the two consuls of Rome were named Tacitus and Placidianus; “Tacitus” is Latin for “silence” and Placidianus is Latin for “stillness”. 273 is also the gematria of the Greek word eremon, which means “silent” or “still”. None of this is a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.
Just as the timer on my desk dropped into the double-digits (59 – the number of different numbers in the Book of Revelation) a man dressed in a black uniform stepped into my cubicle and told me he wanted to talk. I followed him into an empty office and he sat me down and told me I was in trouble.
(This isn’t the part that led to the apocalypse. That comes about an hour later.)
“Have you been feeling tired lately?” he asked in what he probably thought was a kindly manner. He was trying to sound like a therapist, but ended up sounding like a police officer trying to sound like a therapist. I looked above his ears for Hebrew tattoos. He didn’t have any, which meant he hadn’t caught me himself. He was the guy whom the guy who had caught me had sent to do the dirty work.
“A little,” I admitted. I knew where this was going.
“We had a report of somebody speaking the Wakening Name directly,” he said. Directly, vocally, forming the sounds myself instead of buying a scroll upon which someone else had written the letters while they were speaking them. Yes, I had done it. Yes, I knew it was illegal. Yes, I knew there was a chance of getting caught. But I’d done it a hundred times before without any problem. So had half the people in this office. I guess my luck had finally run out.
I nodded. “I was really tired,” I said, “and the coffee machine was broken. And I’d left my scroll wheel at home. I’m sorry. I know it’s against the law. I promise I won’t do it again.”
The officer gave me a kindly smile. “I know it can sometimes be tempting to use Names directly,” he said. “Especially in a place like this, where you’re working hard to develop new Names yourselves. But you get your salary because people use Names the right way. They buy the scrolls from the company that owns them, and use them as directed. It’s dangerous to use them yourself, and it’s not fair to the people who worked so hard to discover them. Right?”
There were many things I could have said just then. But I just said “Right,” and looked bashful.
He wrote me a ticket for $70. A whole day’s wages. Not to mention the number of nations into which humankind was scattered after the Tower of Babel, the “threescore and ten years” limit of the Biblical human lifespan, the number of Israelites who entered into the land of bondage in Deuteronomy 10:22, the number of years of God’s wrath in Zechariah 1:12, the year in which the Second Temple was destroyed, and the number of years that copyright law grants a creator exclusive rights to their work. A bitter, hopeless number. Then he warned me that the penalty would be higher if I was caught again. Warned me that he and his were watching me now, that maybe I had been living like this for a long time, but that wasn’t going to fly anymore. Then he gave me some sort of pat on the shoulder which I think was supposed to be manly, maybe even paternal, and sent me back to work.
I had missed my break. That was the worst part of all of it. I’d been humiliated, I’d lost seventy dollars, and I’d missed my break. I needed to vent. I lay back in my chair, closed my eyes, and concentrated as hard as I could:
[Narwhals of Jericho]
No answer. Figured. I was too wired up to telepathy straight.
So I reset the timer. One more shift. One more hour before I could go home. The computer fed me my next Name candidate. I spoke.
I hated to admit it, but the lost money really hurt. Ever since I lost my scholarship I’d been treading water, trying to avoid starving to death until I could claw my way back into the intellectual world. For six months I’d been telling myself that the job at Countenance was a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Maybe I could impress people here and move up from production floor drone to scientific advisor, become one of the guys who finds patterns in the Divine Names and helps narrow the search space.
I could have done it. I’d already made discoveries in the field – small ones, but bigger than some made by theorists with good reputations and nice offices. But I had to get my foot back in the door. I was saving a couple hundred bucks a month. With enough time, I could get enough money to supplement loans, maybe find myself another scholarship somewhere else, even a community college would be better than this, make something of myself. And now all that was seventy dollars further away. A minor setback, but still somehow infuriating. Maybe something that put me in the wrong frame of mind, changed how I interpreted what was to come.
The minutes on the timer ticked down. The words on the computer kept coming. My energy slowly seeped away. The domino whose fall would precipitate the End of Days teetered.
There were forty seconds on the timer when the computer gave me a monster. It started ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN… and it just kept going. Fifty two letters. Two longer than the Wrathful Name. It was the longest Name I’d ever been given to test, by far. I was shocked Countenance would even bother.
I incanted: “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…” until I reached the end of the word. It was not a Name of God.
I incanted: “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…” until I reached the end of the next one. It wasn’t a Name of God either.
I incanted: “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…” and just as I finished, my timer reached zero and told me I was finished, for today, free until tomorrow morning crashed down on me and I started the same thing all over again.
“Meh,” I said. “Meh. Meh. Meh. Meh. Meh.”
That was the part that led to the apocalypse.
I was struck by a wave of holy light. The heavens opened and poured into me. My soul rang like a bell.
Four hundred years earlier, an old man in Prague had explained to his students that yes, you could make a golem, you could bestow upon it the nefesh, the animal soul. With sufficient enlightenment, you could even bestow upon it the ruach, the moral soul. But the neshamah, the divine spark, you could not bestow upon it, for that was a greater work, and would require a greater Name than any ever discovered.
Six thousand years earlier, the wind of God had moved upon the bare red dirt of Eden and shaped clay into the figure of a man. It stood there for a moment, a crude statue, and then a voice from Heaven spoke a Name, and the clay came to life, lumbered into a standing position. It spoke a second Name, and the clay’s eyes opened, and within them were innocence and curiosity and the capacity to wonder and learn. And it spoke a third Name, and it was as if a light went on inside of it, and the dust became aware that it was dust and in so doing was dust no longer.
And that third Name was fifty-eight letters long.
It began: ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA-KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER-GALISDO-TAHUN…
And it ended: …MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH.
All this I saw, as in a dream or vision. Six months and five hundred thousand nonsense words of pointless suffering, suddenly redeemed. The possibilities swam in front of me, began to take form. This wasn’t just a Name. This was the royal road. And it was mine. It was none of the candidates my computer had fed me; it was six syllables longer than any of them, Countenance would never find it. As I walked out of the office and headed for the CalTrain station, I tried to calm myself, give my mind the stillness it needed for telepathy to work. Finally, I sent out a feeler.
[Baleen shem tov] I said.
A feeling, something more than nothing. Somebody was there.
[Anger] said an internal voice that was not quite my own, although the telepathic link radiated only love. Then, [Moabite Dick]
[I hate you] I thought back, but I sent through a burst of fondness. Ana and I had a running contest to come up with the worst Biblical whale pun. She always won.
[Ana. Something amazing just happened. You know our bets?]
[Yes,] the other voice said.
[I bet you I can become emperor of the world within a month. If I win, you have to give me a kiss.]
A feeling of surprise, not my own. Then suspicion. [And what do I get if you can’t?]
I hadn’t thought that far ahead. [Um. I’ll buy you dinner.]
A pause. [No. You’re too stingy. You wouldn’t promise to buy dinner unless you were sure you could win. So what’s going on? Fess up!]
[I’ll be home in a few minutes. I’ll show you!]
[You know we have choir tonight?]
[I forgot about that. I’ll show you afterwards, then.]
[Tabarnacle,] said Ana.
[I will hate you forever,] I thought cheerfully, then stepped onto the CalTrain. The bustle of finding my seat broke the connection, which was just as well.
We would start tonight. By the end of the week, we would have results. By the end of the month, the whole world would have changed. It was so clear to me. It was spread out before me, like Moses’ vision of the Promised Land.
“Palo Alto!” announced the train’s loudspeaker. “Palo Alto!”
Palo Alto is Spanish for “tall tree”. The phrase “tall tree” appears in the Bible, in Daniel 4:10. King Nebuchadnezzer has a dream, and it goes like this:
“I saw a tall tree out in a field, growing higher and higher into the sky until it could be seen by everyone in all the world. Then as I lay there dreaming, I saw one of God’s angels coming down from heaven. And he shouted, ‘Cut down the tree; lop off its branches; shake off its leaves, and scatter its fruit…For this has been decreed, so that all the world may understand that the Most High dominates the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he wants to, even the lowliest of men!’”
“Palo Alto!” announced the loudspeaker again. “Doors will be closing shortly. Palo Alto!”
This was not a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence.