Wednesday, July 23

we drink elixirs that we refine from the juices of the dying

A blurry form floats in a glass orb of Reanimation Serum, its eerie glow revealing the shape within. Rubber tubes are strapped bound to his arms and a brass device is strapped by leather around his face. There is the clanking of machinery and the yellow glare of gasfed lanterns forms a narrow vertical rectangle over the orb and widens to envelop it.

Twenty feet below, four men in black uniforms enter the chamber and stand single file. They each wear a yellow armband with the Bloodwing Foundation emblem. Their black tophats have Tarot cards tucked in their satin bands. Each entrant carries a metal writing pad under his arm.

A distorted metallic voice scrapes the ears with each syllable. "Page of Cups. Report on regeneration failure."

The first agent stepped forward. His face was grim as he raised the notepad to his chest. He looked down, reading succinctly, looking up intermittently to formally adreess the figure in the orb.

"The equations by the Regeneration Corps were completely off, Dr. Mason. There was an error in your medical records. It said you had made the jump to the Avaria dimension 25 years ago in an accident, as opposed to the controlled experiment you conducted six months ago. Furthermore, there was an inversion of the chronodistance factor variable. Those members of the Cups Division responsible for the error in your regeneration as well as the Rod Chief Archivist are in detention awaiting punishment, Dr. Mason."

"Page of Discs. Report on chronological anomalies."

The second man feeds the pages from the writing pad one by one through a slot at the base of the machine nesting the orb. Magnified series of diagrams and text cascade on the wall projected behind the Agent, who quickly steps to the side.

The floating figure rotates backwards slowly to watch the presentation.

"Page of Rods. Intelligence report."

The Agent opens the metal writing pad to reveal a collection of punchcards. He sorts them in his hands and submits them through a second slot beneath the first. Pages of equations and maps flip past on the screen. Next, pictures Caledon, Steelhead, Steeltopia and New Babbage. Next, pictures of individuals, including members of House Wulfenbach and the High Tea & High Adventure Society. A final image remains after the presentation, that of a pale girl in a magenta and black ruffled dress standing outside a sturcture of ancient Egyptian design.

"Page of Swords. Submit report on the New Erebus mission."

"Our equipment registered that you regenerated three times during the Wulfenbach incursion, Doctor. On the third incident there was a complete dissolution of your psychic signature, requiring a reloading of your identity pattern from the previous year. Furthermore we noticed that the abnormalities in the Cups regeneration report matched the inaccuracies of the Control interrogation, which the Ruler of New Erebus did not proceed to correct."

"Why were the saboteurs not captured and destroyed?"

"There was intervention by the Council of the Cubi, Dr. Mason. They extracted the teams through non-linear space, bypassing the striking range of the near-orbit mass driver emplacements. Furthermore the King of Swords gave the order not to engage due to the onboard presence of the construct built from the Bloodwing artifact, pending your regeneration."

"To all Suits: All experiments are to be placed on hold until further notice. Make daily photostats of all records, including archives. Track any unexplained deviance between versions and submit them to me. Cups: Release the detained individuals. Remove mention of this error from their performance appraisals. Allow them a week in the Balance Chamber to recuperate. Expand production of Regeneration Serum 400 percent."

The Page's jaw dropped. "Sir! That requires a replanting of every seed of an entire bloodfruit! That endangers your immediate supply! The amount of hemoglobin to startd another entire orchard would take..."

"I have made the calculations. In light of experiment cessation, all available personnel are to find expendables to fuel the replanting effort. Starting with YOU for your outburst, Page of Cups."

A hollow note rang through the installation.

"Knights, report to the Emperor's Chamber. Escort the Page of Cups to the Death Chamber."

Masked soldiers entered the chamber from silently opening doors that merged back with the machinery, carrying the screaming servant off to his doom.

"King of Swords: You are immediately demoted for dereliction of duty! Report to the Devil's Chamber for inquiry!"

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