Exurgent morturi et ad me veniunt: There is a first matter, which existed before man and beast and earth, and it is the material from which they are born, from which all things are born. The alchemist cannot transmute anything back to this first matter, but only to the particular sperm of the species of which the matter belongs, and then only through the use of philosophic mercury. The first matter can be extinguished, however, resulting in the rebis, or last matter, from which all potential is removed. It is the remainder of the final death, from which nothing can return. The rebis can only be reached through an elaborate process, undertaken by the most skilled of alchemists. It is the process by which the Revitalization Technicians remove the corpses of their enemies from the book of life.

Vons Serin and I were in Oklahoma, driving rural roads in as close to a random pattern as we could manage. The trunk of the car, lined with black garbage bags, contained most of a man named Berthelot, who was an instructor in the spagyric science, until he was reached by the Revitalization Technicians. I had met him once, in a church basement filled with missing children, and he looked at me and said "You know, I can sell you an infant which will never grow old." I asked him why I would want such a thing, and he smiled, and said "You'd be surprised what people want." Vons Serin believed there was enough left of him to make an oracle of him, to soak his body in sesame oil for forty days, until the head could be removed from the body at the first vertebra and speak its wisdom. She claimed to love this man as a daughter loves a father, and yet she wanted to fix him in a death-in-life in order to receive oracular wisdom. "If the Final Wisdom reaches him before we can get to the midhouse, he'll be given much worse," she said. "They will remove him from history, from memory, as though he never existed. I can't let that happen, not now. I'm too close." I stared out the window at the winter-bright stars, the moon in hiding, the snowless winter plains empty of even radio towers and farm town clusters of streetlights. Soon she will sleep, I thought, and I will kick her out of the car, and bury Berthelot somewhere down the road, where no one will ever find him, and I will turn myself in at the next police station. These were the times I doubted her guiding influence, these times of doubt, but after an hour of sleep it all seemed perfectly reasonable again, but it seems obvious now that I was approaching the end of my training.

the exit is hidden within the exit