Stacked Deck
Graham S. Johnson

they're coming.
I know.
the boy, too.
where one goes, the other follows.
you know where they'll go.
of course.

    The room was small and bright. It contained one door and a simple desk. A man sat at the desk. He did not face the door. He sat, his elbows resting on the table top and his hands pressed against each other with only the fingertips touching. The room was silent save for a faint mechanical hum.
    The man's face was expressionless as he removed the ID badge clipped to his jacket. Using his right hand, he placed the badge on the table. It made a sharp metallic clink that echoed in the room. The name on the badge read 'KANDORI.'
    He pulled out a sealed deck of cards from a vest pocket. He broke the cellophane sealing and removed the cards from their case. With his left hand, he placed the empty card case and cellophane wrapping on the table. Then he began to shuffle the cards.
    He shuffled them once, and then cut the deck. He turned one pile of cards over, so that they faced upwards. He then shuffled the deck again. And again, he cut the deck in two and turned half the cards over. He repeated this process a total of seven times, reversing half the cards' facing each time. He then sat the deck on the table directly in front of him. As his hands set to work, his mind started to wander.

    Reversed king of hearts, two of diamonds. Reversed four of clubs, reversed ten of diamonds. Seven of spades on top. He'd had a pleasant enough childhood. His father had been a wealthy businessman and provided plenty for the child. Unlike many other children, he never had to wear patched clothing or eat makeshift meals. He'd had the choice picks of everything. Of course that meant schools too.
    Reversed three of diamonds, nine of diamonds. Reversed queen of clubs, ace of hearts. Five of spades on top. He'd attended St. Hermelin High. School had always been easy for him. To succeed, to do what others could not, just seemed natural to him. He had grown up hearing that he would do great things one day, and had always been sure he would. He'd had a good childhood. The only black mark on his youth was his mother. She'd left when he was very young. And although it wasn't easy for a small child to adjust, he learned how to deal with it. He'd simply had to grow up a little faster than most.
    The man carefully laid a reversed seven of diamonds in the center of the structure, forming a solid base for the next levels. All in all, he thought his childhood had more than empowered him to deal with life.
    Two of hearts, ten of spades. Two of clubs, reversed seven of clubs. Nine of spades on top. He'd never had much interest in romance. When he was younger he'd experimented a few times, but found it unrewarding. Instead, he focused his time and energy on his studies, his ideas. He wanted to do great things, and knew hard work is the only way to achieve anything. But no matter how hard he worked, how much he achieved, he kept moving forward. Passion burned brightly within him.
    Six of hearts, five of diamonds. Ace of diamonds, reversed three of hearts. Jack of diamonds on top. He never became close to any of his classmates or colleagues. Perhaps it was his impressive childhood, or perhaps the brilliance of his newer projects that drove people off. It did not matter much to the young Guido Kandori, for his mind was occupied with other matters.
    The man set down a reversed nine of clubs, completing the level. As a young man, he'd pushed his mind's eye as far as it would go, trying to see what others, perhaps, had not.

they had help.
yes. your brother. and..
is that so?
..they're not my concern anymore.
if you say so.

    Four of diamonds, eight of diamonds. Reversed six of diamonds, seven of hearts. Ace of clubs on top. He started working at Sebec when he was 23. The environment there was quite different from what he was used to. It was tough, and the workers competed against each other for prestige and resources. He wasn't fazed by this for long. He adjusted quickly to the circumstances. Within 2 years he was head of the department and working full-time on his own project.
    Three of spades, reversed nine of hearts. Reversed ten of hearts, reversed six of spades. Reversed two of spades on top. It was a big project. It was the project he'd wanted his whole life. It was also a difficult project. He gave it everything he had, and put everything he'd ever learned into the project. But it wasn't enough. So he waited. It was the hardest thing he could have done. And eventually, it paid off. One of his scientists solved the final few problems. The machine was built, and it actually functioned.
    Reversed three of clubs, lifted off the top of the deck and placed on top of the ace of clubs and the reversed two of spades. It may have been his finest hour. He had finally begun to realize his life-long dream.
    Queen of hearts, reversed eight of hearts. Jack of hearts, five of clubs. Reversed six of clubs on top. It was then that he first encountered the girl, Maggie. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, and she was the only thing he'd ever loved. He hadn't complete faith in his plan of action at the time, but Maggie took all doubt away from him. He thought of her and knew he was doing the right thing.
    Jack of clubs, queen of diamonds. King of diamonds, jack of spades. King of spades on top. There were five of them then. Three were in the city now, but only Nanjou returned.
    Five of hearts completed the platform. For a moment, he'd been king and headsman of the world. Afterwards, he was nothing.
    Reversed ace of spades, four of spades. Reversed king of clubs, eight of clubs. Eight of spades on top. He'd had plenty of time to think afterwards, and he hadn't been been pleased by what he found. Not that it mattered to him anymore. Then Tatsuzou called him, and he'd been obligated to answer. Not that he minded one way or the other.
    Queen of spades, ten of clubs. Reversed four of hearts on top. And here he was. He was aware of that woman, and what she wanted. She would just have to accept the situation, just like he had.
    The man looked down at the final card lying face-down in front of him. He placed his thumb on the card, and slid it to the edge of the table.

they're here.

    He picked up the card with his forefinger and thumb, and held it up. He stared at the back of the card. He didn't need to see it's front to know what it was.

the boy will interfere.
yes, he will.

    The door opened suddenly, and a gush of air knocked all of the carefully laid cards off the table. A young red beret came through the door.
"Mr. Kandori, sir! Ther-"
"I know." The last of the cards settled on the floor.
"But Mr. Kandori, si-"
"Have a squad meet me by the 3rd floor secure access lift. And fetch that kid."
"Yessir! Bu-"
    The soldier gave a hasty salute and quickly backed out of the doorway. His footfalls rang loudly as he ran down the hallway. The man at